NASREEN MOHAMEDI: Becoming One

Open and inquisitive, Nasreen Mohamedi embarked on an intimate, personal artistic practice without precedent in Indiana art dominant during her career.  Her simple works are quiet, reflective, and sensitive but absolutely resolute; and this focused quality is what characterizes her oeuvre. Mohamedi’s centered vision allowed her to develop a distinctive art practice, which would later mark a pinnacle for modernism in Indian art, becoming essential for progression.

Her body of work possesses a totality of perspective, unity of thought and fluid merging of action. The purpose is absolute, surrendering extravagance, conflict, and contrast for order, direction, and cohesion. No matter what media Mohamedi chose, ink on paper or through lens on film, her controlled gaze perceived all connections and cemented what seemed separate into a singular, co-dependent whole. She did this by breaking down structures to establish order with the essence of form. This process is constant and continuous; with time losing its meaning and space becoming infinite.

The Photographs series are not abstract but neither are they representational, citing instead encounters of tangible-ness. Stripped of color leaving only dark and light, they seem to transcend into something greater than the apparent structures on the surface. They reach out to the viewer, perceiving you as the artist once perceived their convergence of nature and individual. This series reminds me of Agnes Martin and other minimalists, but though Mohamedi knew of the techniques of her contemporaries, grouping her work within the context of a European movement, such as minimalism, would be a mistake for omitting an understanding of her vision of order, direction, and unity to the art evolution in India.

The Series drawings, rendered simply on graph paper, defy their diminutive size with a monumental presence. Their simplicity, differing only slightly by stroke of the line, connects them all, implying tangible, embryonic systems, that posses a delicate and continuos life of their own. The most personal of all her works is her Diaries (1968- 1988). Again, they are small, palm-sized, but by encapsulating the experience of two decades they underscore the intensity and strength of Mohamedi’s commitment to her cynosure. Words and forms, inspirations and struggles life and art, all co-exist on the pages as a singular unite, one unable to exist without the other.

Nasreen Mohamedi was born in 1937 in Karachi, India and moved with her family to Bombay in 1944. She studied at St. Martins School of Art in London from 1954 to 57 and later in Paris from 1961-63 under a French Government scholarship. On her return to India she joined the Bhulabhai Desai Institute where she came into close contact with artists Tyeb Mehta, M.F. Husain and V.S. Gaitonde. And in 1964 she accompanied M.F. Husain to Rajasthan as a photographer while he worked on his film ‘Through the eyes of the painter’. Mohamedi joined the M.S. University, Faculty of Fine Arts, in Baroda in 1972 and continued to teach and work there until 1988.  Sadly, Nasreen Mohamedi passed away in 1990 in Kihim, India.

To honor her oeuvre the Talwar Gallery in New York is hosting an exhibition titled Becoming One of her photographs, drawings, and diaries from September 13, 2013 through January 25, 2014, offering a chance for viewers to observe Mohamedi’s focused vision. This exhibit will also include her never before seen works.

Happy Birthday John Singer Sargent

Today is the birthday of American portraitist John Singer Sargent. To celebrate I want to talk about one of his controversial portraits Portrait of Madame X, because despite it’s blatant objectification of women, I find the portrait to be stunning. I have always loved and admired the mysterious woman for her controlled and powerful sexuality, just oozing from within the painting. Perhaps because I feel that the woman is employing the power of her beauty and figure at her own will, I am more forgiving to Sargent for the shameless exploitation of female sexuality. And I admit I may have a bit of a lady-crush on the stunning Madame X.

But first a little about Sargent. The painter was born on January 12,1856 and is regarded as the leading portrait painter of the Edwardian era for his rich oil and watercolor evocations of elite luxury. During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings. His oeuvre documents worldwide travel, from Venice to the Tyrol, Corfu, the Middle East, Montana, Maine, and Florida— though he lived in Europe for most of his life. Through out his career Sargent’s commissioned works were consistent with the grandiose manner of portraiture, while his informal studies and landscape paintings displayed a familiarity with Impressionism. In later life Sargent expressed ambivalence about the restrictions of formal portrait work, so his work evolved as he devoted more of his energy to mural painting and working en plain air (which means “in the open air,” and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors, which is also called peinture sur le motif (“painting on the ground”) in French.)

From the beginning Sargent’s work was characterized by remarkable technical facility, particularly in his ability to draw with a brush, generating admiration as well as criticism for a supposed superficiality. But despite the international acclaim Sargent enjoyed, he was not without controversy and critical reservation. His early submission to the Paris Salon of 1884, none other than the famed Portrait of Madame X, was intended to consolidate his position as a society painter. But the entry resulted in a scandal that ruined his chance at establishing a career in Paris; though he became infamous in Britain and America.

Portrait of Madame X

Portrait of Madame X is a study in opposition by characterized by the woman’s pale flesh tone contrasted against the deep blacks of the dress and background. With jeweled straps just gracing her pale shoulders, the sitter is practically falling out her fine black satin dress, tightly fitted to her form— it is a dress that reveals and hides at the same time. Her high forehead, graceful neck, shoulders, arms, full bosom and shapely figure assert a careless but controlled sensuality. The recessive browns add to her mystery and provide further contrast to the skin tones. The final result is a fixation on the whiteness of her skin, an overt contrivance of “aristocratic pallor”; by contrast her red ear is a jarring reminder of the color of flesh unadorned. The pose is Sargent’s careful selection: her body boldly faces forward while her head is turned in profile. A profile is both assertion and retreat; half of the face is hidden while, at the same time, the part that shows can seem more defined than full face. The table serves the dual purpose of providing support and echoing the woman’s curves and stance. At the time, her pose was considered sexually suggestive. Her unnaturally pale skin, cinched waist, severe profile and emphasis on aristocratic bone structure all imply a distant sexuality “under the professional control of the sitter,” rather than offered for the viewer’s indulgence. Though the viewer does receive a salacious and bold display of woman flesh, she is also aloof, mysterious, and clearly unattainable.

But what was most disconcerting to the viewers upon the painting’s debut, is that the woman is clearly upper-class; adding to the image’s unsettling erotic suggestion. The sitter is young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau, an American expatriate who married the French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities. Gautreau represented the parisienne, a new type of Frenchwoman recognized for acquiring her sophistication through soliciting. The English-language term “professional beauty”, referring to a woman who uses personal skills to advance to elite status, was also used to describe her. Her unconventional appeal made her an object of fascination for several and Sargent was also impressed. He anticipated that a portrait of Gautreau would garner much attention at the Paris Salon, and increase interest in portrait commissions. In a letter to a friend he wrote:

“I have a great desire to paint her portrait and have reason to think she would allow it and is waiting for someone to propose this homage to her beauty. If you are ‘bien avec elle’ and will see her in Paris, you might tell her I am a man of prodigious talent.”

Although she had refused numerous similar requests from artists, Gautreau accepted Sargent’s offer perhaps because Sargent was an expatriate also. But if their collaboration was motivated by a shared desire to attain high status in French society, its controversial reception amounted to the failure such a strategy. The attempt to preserve the Gautreau’s anonymity was unsuccessful, and the sitter’s mother requested that Sargent withdraw the painting from the exhibition. Sargent refused, saying he had painted her “exactly as she was dressed, that nothing could be said of the canvas worse than had been said in print of her appearance”. Later, Sargent overpainted the shoulder strap to raise it up and make it look more securely fastened. He also changed the title, from the original Portrait de Mme ***, to Madame X – a name more assertive and title dramatic that by accenting the impersonal, gave an illusion of the woman archetype.

The poor public and critical reception was a disappointment to both artist and model; Gautreau was absolutely humiliated by the affair. Soon after Sargent left Paris to move to London permanently. Sargent brought the painting with him and hung Madame X in his studio. Starting in 1905, he displayed it in a number of international exhibitions and finally in 1916, Sargent sold the painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He wrote to the museum director “I suppose it is the best thing I have ever done.” and honestly, I find I am of a like mind with Sargent. Even though he created many remarkable paintings of incredible places and people, Madam X remains my favorite for the reserved sexuality she masterfully unleashes upon the viewer.

Busy week guys, apology with some screen prints by Andy Wilx

I am so sorry guys. This week work has been crazy. I have been doing gallery rotations, simultaneously accommodating new artists while wrapping things up with the artists who are leaving. So you may know show it gets frantic in the office as you try to keep track of all your duties as well as everyone else’s ditties for the closing AND opening receptions and tracking all of the sales. And I am happy to say the artists have been making plenty of sales 🙂
SO though its been tiresome, I have been very happy to be running frantically through out the building, gallery to gallery, because selling art is a great thing and I love that our featured artists are doing so well. BUT that means I have been slacking on the blog posting.

So as an apology I thought I’d share some pics of one of my favorite screen printers, Andy Wilx. Rain Birds is my favorite print, so its first. I love the patterns Wilx uses in his prints and the super vivid colors. And the way he abstracts the animals in his prints to incorporate texture, design and organic motifs, I just find it all very rich and stunning. So I think you will like his work. Here’s the link to his website so you can browse his work for yourself, but I did post my favies— so enjoy!

Rain and Birds

Two Crows

Dreaming of a Fish

Bear in a Boat

Urban Horse

Girl and Lion: Purple

 

Light Seagulls

Happy 2014! And Some Art Market Predictions for 2014

Happy New Year everyone! I hope that 2014 is off to an excellent start for everyone. To get the year rolling, I thought I would share my thoughts on this article of art market predictions by Ben Davis I found on Blouin ArtInfo.com. I’ll put the link below for y’all to read:

http://enjp.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/998386/where-next-four-art-world-predictions-for-2014

And here are my summaries and musings on his four predictions.

1. MUSEUMS GET MORE IMMERSIVE
Awesome! Museums need to start incorporating interactive technology into their exhibits as artists and audiences become more and more reliant on social media as a means of communication and expression. Plus let’s face it, the wealthy are the main art buyers and it is becoming apparent that the people getting rich are the ones inventing or are otherwise invested in technology. So I am all for it.

2. THE SILICON VALLEY CHALLENGE IS ON
So like I said, the techies are the ones making the money and it’s the wealthy that maintain the stability of the art market. And rather than spending their money traveling to banals and exhibits in other cities and countries, the high-brow of Silicon Valley have decided to host two art fairs at home, the Silicon Valley Contemporary in April and Art Silicon Valley in October. This is actually really interesting and (I think) good, because having these events suggests that even though we are in a tech-driven society the elite are still wanting to invest in the arts.

3. MFA BACKLASH REALLY SETS IN
Sadly this is a story that we all know well enough. The risk of obtaining an MFA is that you will never earn back the money you spent on your degree. (On a personal note, I am dealing with this now as I consider whether or not to pursue an advanced degree in art history.) Critics also complain about how art students risk becoming too educated and this degrades contemporary art into commercial regurgitations of previous art. I don’t completely agree with this because the innovative artists of this generation will rise above the rest to drive expression and creation like they always have before.

4. THE ART MARKET DOES NOT ESCAPE THE GRAVITY OF THE NON-ART MARKET
So the prediction is that what happens to the art market in 2014 depends on what happens in the “real” economy. This is based on the theory that because art is being sold as the new safe asset, like gold, dealers are paradoxically encouraging more people to speculate on it. Its also based on how the art economy of 2013 happened to correlate with emerging markets and the resulting investment craze. An example are the “BRIC” nations— a term coined by a Goldman Sachs economist to refer to the fast-growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Pundits made a big deal about the importance of the art economy of these countries, but the Chinese market is already in decline along with the the larger economy it’s part of (the world’s second largest). So maybe we should hope that art can continue to dodge the pitfalls of the international recessions that will most likely continue in 2014. Sorry guys. But at least in the past art investments have been able to maintain their value despite stock market declines, so lets stay positive this early in the year and hope that 2014 will continue to have record breaking sales at art auctions.