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”

Odalisque

Odalisque paintings were hyper-pervasive icons of 19th-20th century art. These paintings are characterized by the reclining, nude, exoticised female figure surrounded by patterned decorations and furnishings Europeans believed to be emblematic of a Far East harem. In the 19th century, the West became very interested in Eastern countries and the Middle East— Turkey, Morocco, Egypt and Persia (now Iran) — and became fascinated by harems. As a result, it became very popular for European women to dress up in far East costume for portrait paintings. Collectively, this is trend in art is referred to as Orientalism. Many artists visited these countries and began to paint scenes with models dressed in foreign garb that romanticized harems, exploiting women as sex objects by “othering” them with a foreign ethnicity. Some scenes painted by Orientalists were true to life, but most odalisque portraits were exaggerations of harems that failed to provide a comprehensive understanding of Far East culture.

Europeans believed and perpetuated the falsehood that harems were orgy-tastic retreats where wealthy, royal men kept their mistresses who were, of course, experts in sexual gratification; specifically experts on how to sexually gratify a man (in conservative European culture sex was not meant for proper women to enjoy). In reality, harems are far less explicate though no less interesting. Typically the harem housed several dozen women, including wives, the Sultan’s mother, daughters and other female relatives, as well as eunuchs and the slave girls who serve the aforementioned women. Sometimes the sons of the Sultan also lived in the Harem until they were of an appropriate age to appear in the public and administrative areas of the palace. Basically the harem was merely the private living quarters of the sultan and his family within the palace complex. It was also commonly said in Ottoman culture that “the empire was ruled from the harem” which indicates the political power these royal women yielded in their own right. Two of the most powerful political figures in Ottoman history were women, Hürrem Sultan (wife of Suleiman the Magnificent, mother of Selim II) and Kösem Sultan (mother of Murad IV). So clearly harems were the sacred seats of power from which these influential women lived and ruled and where caed for— they did NOT spend all of their time doting on the sultan’s every need. These were NOT royal whore houses.

The French word “odalisque” originates from the Turkish odalık. It’s Turkish root “oda” means “chamber” and refers to a chamber girl or attendant. These attendants were not only unpracticed in the sexual arts, they did not have the privilege of sexually pleasing the sultan. They were slaves at the lower end of the Ottoman hierarchy, responsible for tending to the sultan’s wives, daughters, and concubines. There was small chance that an odalık might distinguish herself and join the concubine realm, but it was not common occurrence. The shift in the term’s definition as it transitioned from Turkish to French to it’s English usage, illustrates how Europeans objectified Far East culture, belittling and exploiting these people. By the 18th century the term “odalisque “referred to the eroticized artistic genre in which a model, a European woman posing as an eastern woman, lies on her side on display for the spectator. Instead of building a cultural exchanged based on a comprehensible understanding and equality, these Europeans paintings belittled these people and their culture for entertainment

Western artists were so taken with the idea of a sex retreat that their paintings of harem slave girls ALWAYS insinuated a woman experienced and used for sexual gratification of a royal male ruler, a male viewer.  Therefore we have a prevailing assumption that odalisques were exotic objects of inspiration for artists of the Orientalist school. These artists began to combine European standards of beauty with the inappropriate European concept of a harem woman, so we have an exhaustive number of paintings bearing the title of Odalisque from the 1800s to as late as the 1920s. Some notable artists were Henri Matisse, Eugène Delacroix, Jules Joseph Lefebvre, Lord Frederic Leighton, Richard Parkes Bonington, American Frederick Arthur Bridgman, Italian Ignace Spiridon and Spaniard Mariano Fortuny. Common themes in many of the paintings were turbans, striped harem pants, embroidered or beaded slippers, fur pelts, tasselled pillows and expressions or poses of willingness.  In these paintings, the woman was put on display purely for the viewing pleasure of the male gaze. Unlike Sargent’s Madam X who commanded her sexuality, these serpentine odalisques were submissive and compliant, offering themselves shamelessly for the pleasure of male viewing.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the most famous odalisque painting pretty much ever. French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ 1814 The Grand Odalisque was a royal commission. Ingres produced with his usual stunning clarity an elongated and reclining nude with her long back turned toward the viewer. Wearing a turban she glances passively and expressionless over her shoulder as she lies on a divan, surrounded by rich blue fabrics which serve to contrast against her creamy flesh. Of course the model looks more like a classic French beauty than a true  descendant of Middle Eastern, which makes her turban all the more ridiculous to look upon (or maybe the farce is ridicules only to me). I must confess I hate, and have always hated this painting. Matisse’s Post-Imresionists paintings of odalisque women at least had a charm about them due to his experimental approach and having his models act out roles (he always often used actual foreign women at times) but Ingres’s doe-eyed and vacant woman has always irked me. She is bland and at the same time eery and alien. Its a strange combination that is as off putting as the overly ornate divan. Her torso is a few vertebrae too long and I find it painful when I look too long at the strained curve of her back and tension in her shoulder and arm area. Oh and the anatomy in her legs is wrong too, the left knee, the one under her, should be bent upwards like that with foot resting on calve and I think that one is awkward too. I will not deny that this is a remarkable painting for its draftsmanship, structure, attention of detail, light, contrast, composition, blah blah blah, but its subject disturbs me. This woman is clearly a fantasy, a grotesque overly worked fantasy. But I will let you decide for yourself.

Ingres, “La Grande Odalisque” 1814

 

For comparison here are a few of Matisse’s odalisque paintings from the Post-Imressionist era. Though they are still Orientalist in theme, but I find that I admire these paintings for the way Matisse captures a moment with the women. I get the impression that these are women with personalities and responsibilities that give them a life beyond being viewed. They are still exaggerations of reality, but I believe Matisse was more concerted with his expirmental treatment of painting techniques than to exploiting a culture or women’s sexuality. Plus I love his brilliant color and pattern.

Matisse, 1920’s

 

Matisse, 1920’s

 

Matisse, 1920’s

Matisse, 1920’s

Maud Lewis

Maud Lewis, Three Black Cats, 1960

Folk art has an undeserved reputation of being plain, uninspired, dull, or the worst of these “crafty.”  “Folk” is confused with “unskilled” which is not accurate. Folk means the art was produced for utilitarian purposes by an uneducated, in fine arts, creator. It also encompasses art by an indigenous culture. Because the artist did not receive a form art education, the images may lack traditional (Western) rules of proportion and perspective, but that does not make these works any less valuable, significant, skilled, or enjoyable.

Take for instance the art from Maud Lewis. I just can not get enough her her vivid color pallet and simple but emotive style. Born Maud Dowley in South Ohio, Nova Scotia on March 7, 1903, this artist began painting small Christmas cards to for her husband to sell in an effort to overcome their poverty. Together they lived in a small one room house with sleeping loft, without benefit of electricity or plumbing. Her husband Everett made a living selling fish from door to door, and her Christmas cards became popular with his customers who eagerly bought them as gifts. Eventually Maud began to paint on small canvas, none of her paintings are larger than 5 ft x 1 ft.6 inches, and expanded her subjects to include birds, insects, flowers, landscapes, oxen, and other animals. All of her paintings are bright and feature  a unique, flat stylization of her own invention. She never mixed colors; her technique was to first draw an outline and then apply pure paint straight from the tube. She also painted birds, flowers and butterflies on various parts of the tiny house in which they lived, and many articles within the house.

Maud Lewis’s house

As a child, Maud suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis resulting in physical deformities of her hands and face. Despite discomfort and sometimes pain, Maud painted through it, and eventually her work gained a localized following, and between 1945-1950 people began to come to her home seeking her paintings. She sold them for a modest two or three dollar, and only in the last three or four years of her life did they begin to sell for seven to ten dollars. She achieved national attention as a result of an article in the “Star Weekly” in 1964 and in 1965 she was featured on CBC-TV’s Telescope. Unfortunately, her arthritis prevented her from completing many of the orders she was inundated with. In recent years, her paintings have sold at auction for ever increasing prices. Two of her paintings have sold for more than $16,000, and her highest seller was “A Family Outing” going for $22,200.00. The painting was sold at a Bonham’s auction in Toronto Nov 30, 2009.

In the last year of her life, Maud Lewis stayed in one corner of her house, painting as often as she could while traveling back and forth to the hospital. She died in Digby, Nova Scotia on July 30, 1970. A large collection of Maud’s work can be found in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, which has restored her original house and installed it in the gallery as part of a permanent Maud Lewis exhibit. Most of the Maud Lewis paintings on display are on loan to the AGNS. A steel memorial sculpture based on her house has been erected at the original site of her house in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia. An imitation Maud Lewis house has been built a private museum in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.

There are several books about this incredible artist, a particularly good one is The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis, and three National Film Board of Canada documentaries: Maud Lewis – A World Without Shadows(1997), The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis (1998) and I Can Make Art … Like Maud Lewis (2005), a short film in which a group of sixth graders are inspired by Lewis’ work to create their own folk art. In 2009, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in conjunction with Greg Thompson Productions presented a play on Maud Lewis at the AGNS. A Happy Heart: The Maud Lewis Story was written and produced by Greg Thompson, the same writer and producer who brought Marilyn: Forever Blonde to the AGNS in 2008. Thompson wrote the one woman play on Maud while in Nova Scotia in 2008 after being inspired by this incredible woman.

SO now do you think “folk” means “bad” art? Its just like assuming a BA means you’ll make great art! Theres a great quote from Picasso that I can not recall off the top of my head, but in it he claims that after his formal art education he realized that in order to make great art advances he would need to “spend the rest of my life learning how to paint like a child.” There is some wisdom in that thought.