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

 

 

 

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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”

Damien Hirst and Authorship

Hirst, 2014 GQ cover

A few weeks ago I attended a pretty great lecture about copyright issues artists often face. I kind of forgot about it until I did that post on the YBAs and found out a lot more about Hirst and the suspicions of idea stealing casting shade on his work, reminding me of the copyright lecture. So I decided to investigate a little further into these claims, since it was too much of a coincidence to ignore.

But first a quick summary of Hirst’s rise to stardom:

Damien Steven Hirst (born in Bristol on June 7, 1965) has managed to stand out among his YBA peers by becoming a savvy entrepreneur marketing his art. He was first inspired by Francis Davison after seeing his exhibit at the Hayward Gallery in staged by Julian Spalding in 1983. Davison made abstract collages from torn and cut coloured paper to which Hirst responded with “blew me away.” Well Hirst was so blown away that for the next two years he claims he modeled his own work after Davidson’s collages.  Hirst was then admitted to Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London in 1986, after two attempts, where he studied through 1989. In school Hirst was again inspired, this time by Micheal Craig-Martin when he saw his senior tutor’s piece An Oak Tree.

But Hirst’s art really got attention when death became his focus, providing finally the platform for his great success, and his chance to outshine the rest of the YBAs. While a student, Hirst was placed at a mortuary, and it was most likely this experience that compelled him to explore the theme of death and internal structures of the body in his most well-known works. His art features an menagerie’s worth of animals, dead and often dissected, preserved in formaldehyde. Probably the most familiar of these is a 14-foot (4.3 m) tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde in a large vitrine (clear display case) titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Hirst also made “spin paintings,” created on a round, rotating surface, and “spot paintings”, which are rows of randomly coloured circles created by his assistants.He is internationally recognized as the richest UK artist.  Some compare him to Jasper Johns and Jeff Koons in his ability to command huge prices for his works.

Hirst continued to do well by selling prints and accessories bearing his signature styles and images through his company, Other Criteria which he co-founded in 2005. But his biggest cash-in took place in Septemeber 2008 at Sotheby’s, London, where Hirst took an unconventional tactic in art exhibiting and auctioned his work directly to the public; by-passing his usual galleries. This two day auction, called “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever,” exceeded all predictions and brought in roughly $198 million for 218 items. He broke his own sale record with £10.3 million for The Golden Calf (an animal with 18-carat gold horns and hooves, preserved in formaldehyde) as well as the record for a one-artist auction— by ten fold!  Hirst was undoubtedly pleased, though according to the Independent the artist was not on board with the idea at first and had to be convinced by his business advisor.

 

Hirst, from his Butterfly Paintings

But his rapid accumulation of wealth and prominence did not shield him from critical attacks questioning his authenticity. Since 1999, Hirst has been called a plagiarizer in articles by journalists and artists. In 2010, Charles Johnson described in The Jackdaw 15 cases accusing Hirst of plagiarizing other work. Examples included Joseph Cornell’s claim that Hirst’s Pharmacy was a copy of a pice he made in 1943; Lori Precious who had made stained-glass window effects from butterfly wings from 1994 several years before Hirst; and John LeKay who did a crucified sheep in 1987. A spokesperson for Hirst said Charles Johnson’s article was “poor journalism” and that Hirst would be making a “comprehensive” rebuttal of the claim.

But many other critics point out that Hirst’s spin paintings and installations, particularly one of a ball on a jet of air, are barely altered versions of pieces made in the 1960s, hardly original. And the accusations just kept on coming.

Chef Marco Pierre White said Hirst stole from his Rising Sun, on display in the restaurant Quo Vadis, to make Butterflies on Mars. In 2000, Hirst was sued for breach of copyright over his sculpture, Hymn, which was a 20-foot (6.1 m), six ton, enlargement of his son Connor’s 14″ Young Scientist Anatomy Set, designed by Norman Emms, 10,000 of which are sold a year by Hull-based toy manufacturer Humbrol for £14.99 each. Hirst was forced through legal proceedings to prove his authorship which led to an out-of-court settlement requiring him to pay an undisclosed sum to two charities, Children Nationwide and the Toy Trust as well as a “good will payment” to Emms. This “charitable donation” was much less than what Emms hoped for, but Hirst also agreed to restrictions on further reproductions of his sculpture.

In 2006, Robert Dixon, a graphic artist, former research associate at the Royal College of Art and author of ‘Mathographics’, alleged that Hirst’s print Valium had “unmistakable similarities” to a design from his book. Hirst’s manager contested but his refutal did more damage than good. This explanation was that the origin of Hirst’s piece came from the book The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Geometry (1991) not realizing this was one place where Dixon’s design had been published.

In 2007, artist John LeKay  again accused Hirst of stealing his ideas, but this time asked only that Hirst acknowledge his him as an effluence. LeKay said he was once a friend of Damien Hirst between 1992 and 1994 and had given him a “marked-up duplicate copy” of a Carolina Biological Supply Company catalogue, adding “You have

Hirst, “For the Love of God”

no idea how much he got from this catalogue. The Cow Divided is on page 647 – it is a model of a cow divided down the centre, like his piece.” This refers to Hirst’s work Mother and Child, Divided—a cow and calf cut in half and placed in formaldehyde. LeKay’s goes on to say Hirst copied the idea of For the Love of God from a crystal skull he made in 1993, and pleaded for credit for his work saying, “I would like for Damien to acknowledge that ‘John really did inspire the skull and influenced my work a lot.'” Hirst’s copyright lawyer Paul Tackaberry reviewed images of LeKay’s and Hirst’s work and saw no basis for copyright infringement claims in a legal sense, but it does make one wonder about the legitimacy of LeKay’s accusation and the rest of  the allegations charging Hirst of plagiarizing. It seems that Hirst built a career in art making by not only sage marketing and promoting strategies (the man was undeniably an innovative entrepreneur) but also by deftly navigating the thin space between appropriation and stealing.

Finally, Jim Starr’s upheaval over Hirst’s GQ cover shot of Rihanna as the snaked-headed monster Medusa is the most recent blow to his authorship. Starr claims to have been the first to “portray the sexy snake-haired woman.” But I take issue with Starr on this one. By now Hirst has become an easy target, but Starr has little backing to his charge since there is an entire cannon of images of Medusa that outdate both Hirst and Starr. I suspect plagiarism claims are redundant when artists have been depicting something for more than 2,500 years. She was a popular icon through out Greece and even Carvaggio was inspired by her snaky charm enough to make her an unlikely icon of baroque art in the 17th century. In fact, Carvaggio’s Medusa, a “portrait” of the monster painted on a shield, is one of the most incisive images of myth ever created. So in this instance I will charge Hirst, and Starr as well, of being guilty of  creating dull art, ordinary, uninspired, and redundant of better works.

 

 

The YBAs

YBA=Young British Artists. Both title and acronym refer to a loose group of visual artists who began to exhibit together in London 1988. The first use of the term “young British artists” was by Michael Corris in ArtForum (May 1992) and the acronym  “YBA” (or “yBa”) was coined by Simon Ford in  1996 in his feature “Myth Making” for the March issue of Art Monthly magazine. Since then it has manifested into a historic term because most of the YBAs were born in the mid-1960s, with an active period from the 1980s to the late 1990s, though many still make art today— just not large group exhibits. Though strictly speaking, it includes only those artists who showed at Freeze, or Sensation. However, the name is also used in a broader sense to embrace all progressive, avant-garde British artists who achieved recognition during the late 1980s and 90s. A new termPost-YBAs has been coined to describe British artists emerging in the 2000s. They include Darren Almond, Mike Nelson, Tim Noble, Oliver Payne, Nick Relph, Eva Rothschild, Simon Starling, David Thorpe, Sue Webster, Carey Young, and others.

Most of the YBAs graduated from Goldsmiths in the BA Fine Art course in the late 1980s; studying under the likes of Michael Craig-Martin and Richard Wentworth who undoubtably had a huge impact on the approach to art making these young artists made after graduating. From the humble start of exhibiting in warehouses their innovative and provocative shows quickly gained popularity, attracting the attention cultural royalty like Charles Saatchi. The post-war authority of things socially acceptable, Saatchi  invested much of his money in supporting and collecting his favorites like Damien Hirst and Rich Wentworth. Saatchi even went beyond funding and collaborated with Hirst and Wentworth in organizing exhibitions. Art from the YBAs also provided the catalysis so desperately needed to rejuvenate the British art scene, and even starting artistic atmospheres where previously there had been none. 

The six exhibitions the serve to unify this loose group of art affiliates were held between March 1992 and November 1996 at the Saatchi Gallery, London. The genesis of the YBAs can be traced to a 1988 warehouse show in London,  entitled Frieze and it was curated by none other than Damien Hirst. Hirst exhibited works by himself and 15 of his fellow Goldmiths’ students, including Angela Bulloch, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas, Richard Patterson and Fiona Rae. Subsequent group exhibitions cemented the artists’ reputations for independence, savvy entrepreneurial skills and the ability to manipulate the media. The warehouse show Modern Medicine (1990) in particular demonstrated the artists skill at transforming different media and was also curated by Hirst, but in this instance he partnered with journalist Carl Freedman (b 1965) Later Freedman curated Minky Manky (1995; London, S. London A.G.). But the consolidation of the artists’ status was cemented in 1995 with a large-scale group exhibition Brilliant! held at the Walker Art Center a respected art museumin Minneapolis, USA.

Rachel Whiteread, cast of an apartment complex, 1992

Works by Young British Artists include all forms of painting, a wide range of sculpture and assemblage, contemporary video and installation art, a variety of photography, and conceptual art.  Thus famous works of Britart have included: maggots and dead animals (Hirst); concrete casts of whole houses (Rachel Whiteread); a bed surrounded by highly personal detritus including condoms (Tracey Emin); found objects crushed by a steamroller (Cornelia Parker); elephant dung (Chris Ofili); and frozen blood (Marc Quinn) and many more varied materials. Numerous YBA works have also employed a number of controversial references some of which are such as Jenny Saville’s paintings of grossly obese nude female forms and the Chapman brothers’ savagely mutilated shop-window dummies. They force us to consider these topics with shock tactics and they were quite successful. Other artists made conceptual video art like Mark Wallinger’s Turner Prize exhibit, a 2-hour film of a person wandering around an art gallery in a bear suit; or Gillian Wearing’s video of actors dressed in police uniforms who stood still for an hour in total silence; or Martin Creed’s installation of a white room with a single light bulb blinking off and on. Despite the varied showcase of subject matter, styles, and medium, there remains a common “anything-goes attitude” to materials and the creative process. Their works also share clear influence from Marcel Duchamp in the prominence given to conceptual art, found objects and unconventional, even humorous interpretations of everyday life.

Damien Hirst, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” a tiger shark suspended in formaldehyde, 1991

I also think they all model after Joseph Beuys in their experiments with positioning the artist within society, asking what is the artists’s purpose or message? Gavin considers how his art is influenced by time passing showing his work through the lens the future as if we are looking back at his work, and in some cases as though he were already deceased. Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (tiger shark, glass and steel, 1991; London, Saatchi Gal.) also underscores the prospect of imminent death. Sarah Lucas’ Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab (photograph, fried eggs, kebab and table, 1992; London, Saatchi Gal.) asks us to consider issues of sexuality with food items foreign to the gallery environment. The signature pieces of Gavin Turk, like Cave (ceramic, 1991; London, Saatchi Gal.), explore the relationship of the artist to his work and his public. Other aYBAs include Chris Ofili, Marc Quinn, Rachel Whiteread (featured in Freeze the first of Saatchi’s group exhibitions), Dinos and Jake Chapman and Ron Mueck.

Tracey Emin, “My Bed” 1999

Tracey Emin, “Tent”

Even  though the group enjoyed much success, YBAs were heavily criticized for their lack of craftsmanship and other artistic traits, by numerous art critics the composer Simon Rattle, and the playwright Tom Stoppard. But by and large the British public have enthusiastically embraced the YBAs for their contributions to the visual arts establishment. One reason for this, is that there works have rescued in almost every aspect Britain’s  contemporary art, significantly raising museum attendance figures in the process. They also contributed to the success of a whole new generation of contemporary galleries, including Jay Jopling’s White Cube, Victoria Miro, Karsten Schubert, Sadie Coles, Maureen Paley’s Interim Art, and Antony Wilkinson Gallery -as as increasing the circulation of contemporary British art magazines.

Another one of the best aspects of this group, in my opinion is the evident contributions of female artists. Gillian Wearing, Tracey Emin (nominated in 1999 Turner Prize for My Bed). Fiona Rae,  (1963 Untitled, Emergency Room) and Jenny Saville and more have all benefited from the publicity of associating with the group finding much success and a generally equal amount of respect and fame as their male peers as well as receiving respect from their male contemporaries.

Here is a listing of the artists that exhibited with the first two shows (the shows that bonded the group) and a list of additional artists who exhibited with the group at later dates.

Frieze Exhibitors:

Brilliant! Exhibitors:

Other YBAs

Marc Quin, “Kate Moss”

Damien Hirst, “Dot Painting”

 

Gavin Turk

 

Sarah Lucas, Spamaggedon (2004)

Gavin Turk, “Gavin Turk Takes the Biscuit” 2006