Happy Thanksgiving 2014

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a pretty major event every year, so I thought it’d be neat to talk about it a bit and post some pictures of the parade from the 1920’s. But as I was looking it up I was surprised to learn that the parade was started by first generation immigrants, which struck me as a little ironic. I say “ironic” because immigration is a major and divisive topic in the US these days. But regardless of how you feel immigration policy should be conducted, I am excited to know that something as “American” as the Macy’s Day parade was largely founded by the influx of European immigrants.

In the 1920’s Macy’s department stores were largely staffed with immigrant workers. These new Americans were very proud to be part of this country and wanted to celebrate with a parade much like how they would in Europe. There was already an annual Thanksgiving parade in Newark, New Jersy started by Louis Bamberger for the Bamberger store, but in 1924 it was transferred to New York. The Macy’s employees marched to Herald’s Square dressed in vibrant costumes they made. They dressed up as clowns, cowboys, knights, sheikhs and elves. The first parade had floats, had professional bands and borrowed animals from the Central Park Zoo (it wasn’t until 1927 that the parade had giant balloons, the first being Felix the Cat). At the end of that first parade Santa Claus made his appearance at Herald Square, a tradition that has continued ever since. Over a quarter of a million people attended the parade, and Macy’s immediately monopolized on its success by declaring it an annual event. By 1933 the gathered crowd numbered over a million.

The parade has become bigger and bigger every year, with new floats, balloons, bands, and performances all backed by lots of marketing investments. But it is important to understand how influential immigrants were to the shaping this iconic event in our culture. We all need to be reminded of how this country was founded and supported by immigrant peoples. The Macy’s Parade is a wonderful example of how America is at its best when we are inclusive and celebrate our diversity instead of attacking it. Unfortunately our country is too often caught up in consumerism, race, fear mongering politics, and misbehaving celebrities to take the time to be united in mutual thankfulness and brotherly love. I suppose those are in part my own sentiments.

Anyway, I am glad that I can say I am thankful for many things about living in America despite the problems that we still struggle to resolve. Nothing is perfect. So this season I suggest that you gather your loved ones close and celebrate yourselves, much like those first generation immigrants who started a parade because they were so happy to be a part of this nation.

And I want to quickly thank you guys for reading my blog. I am still surprised by the number of people who read it, and I am glad y’all do.

Dia de los Muertos

Day of the Dead is a holiday widely practiced in Mexico. Families come together to honor dead loved ones and encourage their sprits to visit with various gifts. Evidence of ceremonial rituals meant to attract the spirits of the dead and honor them can be traced back to Pre-Colombian times. Aztecs dedicated a month long festival starting around August to the goddess Micteozcihuatl, the precursor to today’s Catrina. Over time beliefs of the indigenous peoples combined with Catholic beliefs, producing a three day celebration that starts on October 31st and lasts until November 2nd. Each day holds specific significance. On the first night, called Dia de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) children make altars for the angelitos (spirits of young children or babies) encouraging them to visit. The next day called All Saints Day honors adult spirits and on the last day, All Sous Day, families gather in cemeteries to decorate the graves of relatives and friends who have passed. The traditions of this festival spread through out the region and now similar holidays for the dead are practiced in Spain, Brazil, and some areas of Europe, Asia, Africa and America.

There are specific icons that make up the visual lexicon of Dia de los Muertos. The most readily recognized being sugar skulls (calaveras de azúca) placed onto graves as oferenda (offerings). These decorations made of sugar and can be bought, but are often homemade. The sugar is shaped into a skull and brightly decorated with patterns in multi-colored icing, shiny foil, sequins and glitter. These are not morbid items, but are cheerful reminders to the dead of the love their living relatives still have for them. Marigolds are the flowers of the dead and are thought to attract spirits. The flowers and sugar skulls populate art inspired by Dia de los Muertos themes. Faimlies also paint their faces in a likeness of the sugar skulls and wear marigolds in their hair.

Altars made for the dead can become large and complex, filled with sugar skull, paper decorations, food and drink favored by the deceased, candles, flowers, toys and pictures. These altars are made to attract the spirits during the days of the holiday when they can visit. Special bread is baked called pan de muertos (bread of the dead) and also placed on graves. These elaborate alters are quite beautiful and reenforce the celebratory themes of the holiday. Below I have attached some pictures of altars and other items from Dia de los Muertos. Later this week, my work place will participate with Dia de los Muertos by having private and public altars for the community to visit. I am very proud to be able to contribute to this long tradition as well as excited to be a part of it. I will try to take some good pictures of the altars to share later this week or early next week.

Thanks for reading guys, and whether you chose to celebrate Halloween or Dia de los Muertos or both, I wish you all the best.

 

Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei is photographed inside his studio in Beijing on June 16, 2014

Ai Weiwei is building portraits of imprisoned human rights activists onsite at Alcatraz out of legos. The portraits total 176 and feature political exiles like South African leader Nelson Mandela, Tibetan pop singer Lolo and even American whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The work is part of an exhibition titled “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz”  that opened on September 27th and will run through April 26th. The instillation is organized by For-Site, a San Francisco producer of public art. The portraits will be located in the prison hospital, A Block cells, dining hall and the former laundry building.

Weiwei’s project will bring awareness to limitations on freedom of expression across the glob. I know it is hard for Americans to really understand how censorship abroad works (not to say our government never casts shade on topics) because our freedom to express seems unbound when compared to the degree of persecution human rights activists, artists, musicians, and political rebels face in say Russia or the Middle East among others. Weiwei has himself fought to resist efforts by the Chinese government to stop his artistic efforts.

And now the answer to the question on everyone’s mind. How many Legos did Weiwei use to build his portraits? The artist estimates the final count will total around 1.2 million pieces.
Heres a link with a video about the project and an interview with Weiwei:

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/sep/24/ai-weiwei-alcatraz-lego-extraordinary

 

 

 

(At Least) 150 Words: Shamsia Hassani

So before the word count lets have a quote shall we?

“I am from Afghanistan , the country which is famous by War-Bomb – …lets change the topic of news about Afghanistan . lets bring PEACE with art , lets make it famous by ART not by WAR.”— Shamsia Hassani

Ok the count starts below*:

Shamsia Hassani is a graffiti artist working in Kabul. She is afghan, but grew up in Iran where freedoms were limited because of her nationality. Shamisa was not allowed to study art until 2006 when her family moved to Kabul. As a girl Shamisa practiced art on her own, but gravitated towards graffiti after attending a work shop by a UK artist. Today she teaches at Faculty of Fine Arts, Kabul University and is a founder of Berang Arts Organization,.

Shamsia has four main reasons for making street art:

  • Create positive and empowering imagery to “cover up bad memories” left after years of war.
  • Introduce art to a community of people who have no other means accessible.
  • Use meaningful images to express her messages because “the picture is more expressive than words.
  • Create awareness of the plight of afghan women.

Standard subjects include women in Burqas, fish, and symbols representing ambient atmosphere. Her street art generats positivity in communities damaged by war. Of course she cannot freely express herself in this country because of censorship and the dangerous associated with voicing opposition. As a result one of her most well known projects is a collection of her preliminary sketches drawn over prints of pictures taken from different parts of Kabul she calls “Dream of Graffiti.”

Shamsia’s continued effort’s to exchange her street arts experiences with her students and present more artists to the community. She was selected as one of Top10 for the 2nd Afghan Contemporary Art Prize in 2009, and since then has been part of solo and group exhibitions inside and outside of Afghanistan (e.g. Germany, Australia, India, Vietnam).  

Links:

http://www.streetartbio.com/#!shamsia-hassani-interview/c19pn

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shamsia-Hassani/252100761577381

http://artradarjournal.com/tag/shamsia-hassani/

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/feb/24/graffiti-street-art-kabul

*I didn’t really do a word count. I might be over 150.

Short Bit: David Lynch, the Retrospective at Pennsylvania Academy

I just finished Twin Peaks last night. I am very glad I watched this early 90’s soup opera murder mystery directed by David Lynch. Despite being canceled after two seasons, it gathered a large cult following, and I can see why. It was ahead of its time for featuring complex idiosyncratic characters like Agent Dale Cooper, pretty impressive set designs and just over all stunning cinematography. So I decided I wanted to know more about director David Lynch. Well it turns out my timing could not have been more perfect as the Pennsylvania Academy is hosting a retrospective of his work titled “David Lynch: The Unified Field,” starting Sept. 13. I was, as you can imagine very excited to discover that Lynch was a trained and skilled visual artist as will as phenomenal director. I don’t think its too much to suppose that his background in art making facilitated in part his success as a film and tv show director.

Here is an article about the exhibition I encourage you to read: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/31/arts/design/museum-show-for-david-lynch-who-began-as-a-visual-artist.html?ref=design&_r=0

My favorite part of this article is this quote from executive director of the Drawing Center in New York Brett Littman, “He’s not James Franco.” Mr. Littman, who curated a smaller show of Lynch’s photographs and works on paper, is referring to the art world’s collective hesitation in embracing Lynch’s work. Often art administrators become suspicious of actors and musicians claiming they are artists also. But thankfully Robert Cozzolino, the senior curator of the Pennsylvania Academy, saw fit to gather five decades worth of paintings and drawings form Lynch and organize this retrospective.

Lynch’s paintings fascinated me. As a collection they are dark, atmospheric renderings that feature ambiguous images on richly worked surfaces. He gives them names like “Rat Meat Bird” and “Nothing Is Making Any Sense For Instance Why Is That Boy Bleeding From The Mouth” that cause me to reflect on visceral and bodily topics reminding me how venerable my body is to injury. Some of the paintings even look much like open wounds. He also has a series of drawings titled “Bunch” featuring thick black marks of abstract design on tan colored paper. Some of the imagery contained in this series are skulls, bones, simplified architecture, and graphic markings.

Lynch claims there is no logic to his paintings saying that,”What I’m trying to do with each canvas is create a situation in which the paint can be itself, which means letting go of any rationalization. It’s important to let ideas blossom without too much judging or interference…Your intellect can hold back so many wonderful, fantastic things. Without logic or reason, there’s always something else, something unseen.”

I found Lynch’s website and it turns out that Lynch makes his designs furniture and many of the props for the sets of his shows, composes soundscapes, and writes song lyrics. Lynch is truly a man of many talents and if you’re lucky enough to be near the Pennsylvania Academy you need to check out his retrospective.

As for me, I am going to have to start watching more of his movies on Netflix!

Oh, here’s the link to his website: http://www.thecityofabsurdity.com

The Celebration of the Cameleon

 

Blind Man’s Experiment

 

Dr. Howl’s Philosophy

Rat Meat Bird

Dog And Child Near My House

Wounded Man as a Tree Creating Bugs

Bunch 3

Bunch 8

A Flea Holds It’s Head High

Billy Finds A Book of Riddles

Cardboard S

 

Jeff Koons in 150 Words

I have been on a hiatus for some time now, and through it all I have missed blogging very much. My time has been monopolized by work lately because recently I was hired to a few new part time jobs. I am very glad to have these jobs, but I do miss my time blogging. So rather than feature lengthy posts that require lots of time to research and fact check, I am going to post shorter bits, like this, so I can still satisfy my need to write about art, however briefly. I am calling them 150 Words (yes I did try 100, no I could not keep it that short) This does not mean that I will never do a long post, but they will be infrequent. For now these shorter entries are much more convenient for me and I hope you will still appreciate my contributions. I promise that I will include more pictures!

Ok, the Jeff Koons part starts now:

Jeff Koons is a contemporary artist who makes art that comments on material culture. He draws attention to the fickle nature of fashion, pop culture, commerce, and media. Materials he works with include metals like chromium stainless steal for it’s shining and seductive qualities, found objects, and even topiaries. Using these materials Koons transforms banal objects into high art icons. Good examples include his “Balloon Dog” sculptures and vinyl “Inflatables”. These sculptures are striking for the contrast between material subject; hard, shining metal we know is heavy and dense, conjuring the likeness of a light, fragile balloon.

His paintings and sculptures make critical observations on celebrity culture with a variety a art techniques, demonstrating his varied interests. Drawing on stylistic markers of Surrealism, Dada and Pop his “Banality” series brought him fame in the 1980s. This series featured pseudo-Baroque sculptures of pop artists like Michael Jackson with his pet ape.

 

“Micheal Jackson and Bubbles” 1998

eff Koons, Antiquity 3, 2011. From Antiquity

 

“Woman in Tub” 1988.

 

“Rabbit”

 

“Gazing Ball”

Short Bit: Alfredo Jaar

“The Eyes of Gutete Emerita” 2004

Currently a large portion of artist Alfredo Jaar’s oeuvre is on display at Kiasma titled “Tonight no Poetry Will Serve” it opened on April 11 and will show through September 2014. Named after a poem by the late American writer Adrienne Rich (1929-2012), an important source of inspiration for the artist, the retrospective occupies two floors comprising more than 40 works from 1974–2014. It features real ground-breakers like “Lament of the Images,” “The Silence of Nduwayezu,” and “The Sound of Silence”. But the premium piece is Jaar’s re-creation of “One Million Finnish Passports;” the striking and historic landmark work shown originally in Helsinki in 1995 and was destroyed right after the exhibition.

The Chilean native has lived in New Year since 1982, gaining international fame as an ethical artist, architect and filmmaker with installations and public interventions. The overriding theme in Jaar’s body of work is social morality. He challenges us to question the practicality of our principles, revealing the holes in Western society’s attitudes regarding righteousness and social justice. His large scale installations, films, photographs, objects, and neon works examine human and social morals by negotiating the balance between our responsibility for ensuring self well-being and that of others. With art he tackled the Rwanda holocaust, gold mining in Brazil, toxic pollution in Nigeria, and immigration issues between Mexico and the United States. In a lot of the works, Jaar contrasts light and dark to expose moral disparities or focuses on eyes as points of entry into another person’s experience, effectively eliciting empathy and real compassion. Though he also distances the viewer from the human aspect to provide “room” for reflection upon the full implication of a problem, the spread of injustice in situations like immigration and persecution. Many of Jaar’s works are extended meditations or elegies, including videos like Muxima (2006) that portrays the extreme contrast between poverty stricken Angola and the oil economy and “The Gramsci Trilogy” (2004–05). The latter is a series of installations documenting Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s imprisonment under Mussolini’s Fascist regime.

details from Biennial exhibition

He has exhibited individual works in Finland in both the 1995 and 2011 ARS exhibitions and in 2010 as part of the Capital of Culture year in Turku Archipelago. Among Jaar’s many awards are a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award (2000); a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award (1987); and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1987); and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1985). He has had major exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2005); Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rome (2005); Massachusetts Institute of Technology, List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge (1999); and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1992). Jaar emigrated from Chile in 1981, at the height of Pinochet’s military dictatorship. His exhibition at Fundación Telefonica in Chile, Santiago (2006), was his first in his native country in twenty-five years. Jaar lives and works in New York.

SEGMENT  Art21 follows and films Jaar in his native Chile during a major retrospective of his work, which he shares for the first time with the Chilean public.

http://www.pbs.org/art21/watch-now/segment-alfredo-jaar-in-protest

 

“Lament of the Images, version 2,” 2002

“Lament of the Images, version 1″ 2002

From Rwanda project

“Geometry of Consciousness” 2010

“Lament of the Images, detail” 2002

“Gold in the Morning”

“Real Pictures”