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: 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

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.

 

 

An Oak Tree

“An Oak Tree” Michael Craig-Martin, 1973

Conceptual art can be challenging and polarizing. Generally this is because the nature of conceptual art tends to be abstract, obscure, and elusive as the primary focus is the “idea” of the piece rather than any form or sense of aesthetic. There are very few guidelines and little to nothing available to prepare viewers for what to expect. The lack of  definitive structure allows the viewer freedom to conceptualize and muse over the “idea” of the art piece, and while this can be liberating and exciting for one it can just as easily push away another who wants simply to enjoy something aesthetically pleasing.

So all of that babble was to pump you up for the the conceptual instillation An Oak Tree! An Oak Tree was created by Michael Craig-Martin and first displayed in 1973 in his own gallery. The original is in the National Gallery of Australia and an artist’s copy is on loan to the Tate gallery. The installation is comprised of two units arranged according to specific presentation guidelines: the object is a pristine French Duralex glass of water measured to the artist’s stipulation placed on a glass shelf fixed to the wall with metal brackets exactly 253 centimeters above the ground, also mounted on the wall is a text. The text appears in red on white paper, and upon its debut was dispensed as a handout. Craig-Martin has stressed that the components should maintain an immaculate appearance and in the event of deterioration the brackets should be resprayed and the glass and shelf replaced.  

Now for the good stuff. The text makes the assertion through a semiotic argument that Craig-Martin was changed the glass of water into an oak tree by means of transubstantiation. He was able to do this without altering the “accidents” of the glass of water; and accidents are defined as color, weight, size, feel… etc so the “actual oak tree is physically present but in the form of the glass of water.” Craig-Martin asserts the impossible with that sentence, clarifying specifically that no, this is not symbolic of an oak tree but that a real oak tree is present, right in front of you, in the form of a glass of water.

“I have changed the physical substance of the glass of water into that of an oak tree. I didn’t change its appearance. The actual oak tree is physically present in the form of a glass of water. [And] it would no longer be accurate to call it a glass of water. One could call it anything one wished but that would not alter the fact that it is an oak tree.”

I am sure there are some of you wondering what is going on, why Craig-Martin would claim that he has transformed a glass of water into an oak tree and how this is art. First it is important to understand that transubstantiation is the same device that the Catholic Church uses during the Eucharist to transform bread and wine/juice into the body and blood of Christ when the worshipers take communion. They also assert the impossible and ask worshipers to believe the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood during Eucharist while maintaining an unchanged appearance. In the same way Craig-Martin’s text asks the viewer to believe that the glass of water has become an oak tree without altering the “accidents” of a glass of water. One simply has to accept that the artist is right, relying on mutual belief between artist and viewer.

Secondly An Oak Tree deconstructs transubstantiation demonstrating that the belief of both artist and viewer has significant power over the formation of art, and in fact belief can be understood as the most basic and essential element of art. At least in this example of conceptual art. Craig-Martin considered the work of art to demonstrate the confident faith of the artist in his capacity to speak and the willing faith of the viewer in accepting what he has to say

The reception of the piece was divided to say the least. Richard Cork called its original display in 1974 “one of the most challenging moments” of contemporary art. Some artists and critics were highly admirable while others where full of straight up scorn. I would read comments from Damien Hirst praising the piece as one of the greatest sculptures ever then shortly after find out that critic David Lee had ranted that “Some of the stuff that’s called art is just damned stupid. I mean, ‘That glass of water’s an oak tree’ kind of thing.”

More divisive opinions abound with critics criticizing each other’s opinions of the work as well. In response to Nigel Gosling’s praise of the work, Giles Auty sarcastically, though poignantly, observes, “How would the self-same critic react if, on ordering oak planks for an outhouse, he were sent instead a bucketful of water? Would he gently muse on ‘the subtle and obscure waters of identity’—or make immediate reflections on the mental well-being of his timber suppliers?” Michael Daley also condemns Craig-Martin’s admirers saying that they should have been snubbing the “self-deluding, pretentious offerings of Craig-Martin and his like” instead of  “eulogising” them for the past twenty years.

In my opinion, I believe that the lasting effect an artwork has, what significant contributions the piece adds to the cannon of art history be it in the form of discord or admiration, adds to its importance over time. I don’t think anyone could say it better than Sir Nicholas Serota in his Richard Dimbleby Lecture on November 23:

 “We may not ‘like’ Craig-Martin’s work, but it certainly reminds us that the appreciation of all art involves an act of faith comparable [to belief].”

You have to understand that An Oak Tree was one of the first of its kind. It laid a foundation for later conceptual artists to build upon. We knew that art could take many forms thanks to the modernism and Dada, but Crag-Martin demonstrated that art can be created from abstract ideas, faith held between two believers. And An Oak Tree only works if a mutual belief is shared between viewer and artist. In this sense it is almost an intimate understanding, a mutual agreement almost like a shared secret or religious bond.

Both the Irish Museum of Modern Art and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy praise the piece, recognizing it as a turning point in the development of conceptual art. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy records acclaim such as “to fail to consider it a great work of art because it fails to give rise to a distinctively aesthetic kind of pleasure does not actually undermine the project at all. Conceptual art, as we now know, is about conveying meaning through a vehicular medium, and not to provide its audience with experiences of, say, beauty. Any attack on this fundamental feature of conceptual art targets not so much an individual piece but the artform as such.”

 So what I hope to persuade you with this post is that yes, I get it, conceptual art is not for everyone. But having said that, I think it is important for everyone to recognize when something is significant to a larger social and historical context whether they like it or not. Liking art is arbitrary to the influence it held during its time and continues to hold ever after.

Here’s the text so you may read it:

Q. To begin with, could you describe this work?

A. Yes, of course. What I’ve done is change a glass of water into a full-grown oak tree without altering the accidents of the glass of water.

Q. The accidents?

A. Yes. The colour, feel, weight, size …

Q. Do you mean that the glass of water is a symbol of an oak tree?

A. No. It’s not a symbol. I’ve changed the physical substance of the glass of water into that of an oak tree.

Q. It looks like a glass of water.

A. Of course it does. I didn’t change its appearance. But it’s not a glass of water, it’s an oak tree.

Q. Can you prove what you’ve claimed to have done?

A. Well, yes and no. I claim to have maintained the physical form of the glass of water and, as you can see, I have. However, as one normally looks for evidence of physical change in terms of altered form, no such proof exists.

Q. Haven’t you simply called this glass of water an oak tree?

A. Absolutely not. It is not a glass of water anymore. I have changed its actual substance. It would no longer be accurate to call it a glass of water. One could call it anything one wished but that would not alter the fact that it is an oak tree.

Q. Isn’t this just a case of the emperor’s new clothes?

A. No. With the emperor’s new clothes people claimed to see something that wasn’t there because they felt they should. I would be very surprised if anyone told me they saw an oak tree.

Q. Was it difficult to effect the change?

A. No effort at all. But it took me years of work before I realised I could do it.

Q. When precisely did the glass of water become an oak tree?

A. When I put the water in the glass.

Q. Does this happen every time you fill a glass with water?

A. No, of course not. Only when I intend to change it into an oak tree.

Q. Then intention causes the change?

A. I would say it precipitates the change.

Q. You don’t know how you do it?

A. It contradicts what I feel I know about cause and effect.

Q. It seems to me that you are claiming to have worked a miracle. Isn’t that the case?

A. I’m flattered that you think so.

Q. But aren’t you the only person who can do something like this?

A. How could I know?

Q. Could you teach others to do it?

A. No, it’s not something one can teach.

Q. Do you consider that changing the glass of water into an oak tree constitutes an art work?

A. Yes.

Q. What precisely is the art work? The glass of water?

A. There is no glass of water anymore.

Q. The process of change?

A. There is no process involved in the change.

Q. The oak tree?

A. Yes. The oak tree.

Q. But the oak tree only exists in the mind.

A. No. The actual oak tree is physically present but in the form of the glass of water. As the glass of water was a particular glass of water, the oak tree is also a particular oak tree. To conceive the category ‘oak tree’ or to picture a particular oak tree is not to understand and experience what appears to be a glass of water as an oak tree. Just as it is imperceivable it also inconceivable.

Q. Did the particular oak tree exist somewhere else before it took the form of a glass of water?

A. No. This particular oak tree did not exist previously. I should also point out that it does not and will not ever have any other form than that of a glass of water.

Q. How long will it continue to be an oak tree?

A. Until I change it

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

So where do I start with this outrageous character of Dada legend and lore? Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven is pretty much the founder of Dada in New York during the 1913-20’s. (Dada came about as a reaction against the academy’s stuffy rules regulating, defining, organizing, and otherwise controlling an understanding/definition of art; the anti-art scene then escalated into anti-culutre movement in part as a search for meaning and consolation in the catastrophic aftermath of WWI.) Marcel DuChamp, her contemporary and friend, credits her as being the original dadaist stating that, “she is not a futurist, she is the future.”

It is right that DuChamp should be so admirable of The Baroness. She brought Dada to the fore front of culture in at the start of the new century in New York by pushing the boundaries of elite culture. Dada’s darling went to war with the bourgeois, attacking decency with her explicit dadaist poetry, constructed ready-mades that upset traditional art making practices, crafted dangerously anti-religous sculptures, and designed her own elaborate costumes from found and stolen items. The Baroness did not just cause a riot, she was a riot, making scene with her outlandish, ridiculous behavior everywhere she went. In short, the woman was a hot mess. Today we’d call her a ratchet, with the singular gift of provoking everyone around her into a hissy fit.

The Baroness was born July 12,1874 in Germany, she studied art in Dachau, near Munich before marrying her first husband in 1901, Berlin-based architect August Endell, at which time she became Else Endell. Ever one for a good scandal, she lived an avant-garde bohemian lifestyle, having an open relationship with her husband while working as an actress and vaudeville performer. She had numerous affairs with artists in Berlin, Munich and Italy, and in 1902 she became involved romantically with a friend of Endell’s, the minor poet and translator Felix Paul Greve (later the Canadian author Frederick Philip Grove), and all three went to Palermo in late January 1903. They then lead a faery nomadic lifestyle, traveling to various places, including Wollerau, Switzerland and Paris-Plage, France.  She found work modeling for artists in Cincinnati, and made her way east via West Virginia and Philadelphia.

Elsa became a baroness by marrying Baron von Freytag-Loringhoven in 1913 and maintained that title the rest of her life, despite numerous affairs. She exploited her aristocratic status as a weapon to assault bourgeois taste. One of my favorite Baroness antics was her single-handed effort to present futuristic fashion to the bohemians of Greenwich Village, by scandalizing her neighbors parading about semi-nude along 14th Street, barely covered with feathers. It is evident that her preferred method for undermining the avant-garde was to always be as naked as she could get, even wearing nothing but tea-balls on her breasts while reciting poetry on street corners.

Until recently, The Baroness was best known for her  provocative poetry, which was finally published in a 2011 posthumous compilation of her writings Body Sweats: The Uncensored Writings of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Irene Gammel. (The New York Times praised the book as one of the notable art books of 2011.) She liked to experiment with punctuation and grammar to challenge the structure of langue. She made good use of dashes to set unique tempos and almost actual motion within her sentences, and created portmanteau compositions that made a mockery of coherency with non-sensical phrases.  As the poem “Loss” states:  “She is mad— / I am lost— / Utter.” (Loss, 234)

When reading her poems you often have to pause to rethink her meaning. I find I have to recompose the poems, decide which statements are spoken by which voice/persona, in what order lines are meant to be read, and in what combination with the lines surrounding it.  Take a second look at the tercet cited above—here the two-syllable word line “Utter” may be a command “to utter” and if so who is to speak?  Is the command directed to her, us, or is it the owl in the poem? Or is “utter” not a verb at all but a displaced adjective, one which should be read as if it precedes the word “lost” in the penultimate line? And if so does The Baroness ask the reader if this refers to utter loss? And who utterly lost and what was it? Or is the speaker utterly lost? Or is she talking about a random cow’s utters?! By being evasive with layers of meaning, The Baroness wrote very polarizing poetry, causing some people to either find their meanings very personal to each reader or very isolating and shallow. Ezra Pound was not always her biggest fan, but what does he know?

Another one of her stylistic elements is her laudable exploration of the thin line—made up of one to three syllables and streaking down the pages like a stripe, an arrow’s shadowtrail. At times these tiny lines create a clipped, staccato pacing, at others they embody speed and slippage; are aquatic in their rush. This is especially true in poems where sound seems beyond control, tumbling and falling

And of course she is never shy about discussing sex. A lot of her portmanteaus are highly explicit, such as “Kissambushed” and “Phalluspistol.”  The Little Review put her on the map in 1918 by publishing 20 of her poems and more than a dozen of her essays and notes. The magazine thereupon gave the baroness a forum for the next four years, establishing her among Dada luminaries. One of the Baroness’ poems, reproduced by Gammel, reads:

No spinsterlollypop for me!
Yes! We have no bananas
I got lusting palate
I always eat them…
There’s the vibrator
Coy flappertoy! …
A dozen cocktails, please!

Yup. Those are blatant phallic references. By today’s standards perhaps these aren’t so shocking, but in the early 1900s worn were still admired for their gentle and modest qualities. And even men could get into trouble for being so open about sex acts.

The Baroness also worked with found object making assemblage sculptures and collage paintings while in New York. Her habit of collecting rubbish and refuse to create sculptures of anti-art greatly offended art critics. But her radical behavior impressed and inspired her contemporaries. She was feared and admired by the likes of Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and Djuna Barnes who all, like Ezra Pound, found themselves discussing her work in verse whether they liked it or not. And the very first movie made by Duchamp and Man Ray was about Elsa, titled The Baroness Shaves her Pubic Hair. The film cements her status Queen of Dada, but sadly only a handful of film stills have been salvaged by history. She is featured in many other Dada artists works, adding further testament to the depth of her influence and the admiration held to her by contemporaries.

Being friends with DuChamp, The Baroness was likely also involved in the conception of the famous ready-made, Fountain (1917). As Irene Gammel has documented, the choice of a urinal as art work is more in line with Freytag-Loringhoven’s scatological aesthetics than with Duchamp’s.  Moreover, Duchamp indicates in a letter to his sister written in 1917 that a female friend of his had sent him the urinal for submission at the Independents Exhibition. Rediscovered by the Whitney Museum in New York City in 1996, her Portrait of Marcel Duchamp (no longer extant) is an example of her ready-made pieces. She also contributed to New York Dada by collaborating with Morton Schamberg on the 1917 assemblage sculpture God, which is constructed of plumbing materials.

Unfortunately her death was not a glamorous or scandalous as her lifestyle. Finding herself finically insecure, in 1923, The Baroness went back to Berlin, expecting better opportunities to make money. Instead she came home to an economically devastated post-World War I Germany. Regardless of her difficulties in Weimar Germany, she remained there, penniless and on the verge of insanity. Though she still had several friends in the American expatriate community, in particular Djuna Barnes, Berenice Abbott, and Peggy Guggenheim, who provided emotional and financial support, she continued to deteriorate over the next few months.  She died on December, 14 1927 of gas suffocation after the gas was left on in her flat. She may have forgotten to turn the gas off, or someone else may have turned it on; the circumstances were never clear. She is buried in Paris, France at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

So there you have it. The Baroness is the original socially unacceptable bad girl. Her life reminds us that Miley Cyrus only wishes she could be as naughty as The Baroness, and Madonna and Lady gaga have nothing on her scanty outfits. I leave you with what is my favorite poem, for now, and I’ll also leave a few of images of her art and costumes. I highly recommend you read the Gammel book and check out this link to her digital library hosted by the University of Maryland digital library: http://www.lib.umd.edu/dcr/collections/EvFL-class/index.html

Ah Me!

Trust me
I do agree
Madam—I firmly stand that ground
Coitus is paramount
Ab-so-lu-te-ly!

Nay—Mr. Twitch do me allow
To cool define: when you know how!
As poetry—coitus urges
Driven courses rhythmic surges
Energy—
Executive ability.
Fancy’s wing composed complex
Genius sex’
Bagpipe spell
Sunsirens’ crimsoncruising yell
It is—

Else:
Hell!
Well?
Saucerorbs agog enorm
Smirks he
Ah me!
I don’t perform. (43)

“God” Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Limbswish, sculpture 1917-1919

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven 1874, Swinemunde, Germany – 1927, Paris Portrait of Marcel Duchamp 1919 Collage, pastel, and ink on board 31 x 46 cm

The Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven in her Greenwich Village apartment, December, 1915

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven Wheels are Growing on Rose Bushes, 1921-22 Ink on paper, 5 3/4 x 8 3/4 inches

Maria Lassnig: Body Awareness

I realized that I have done y’all, dear readers, a huge disservice. I have failed to post anything on one of my FAVORITE artists in any genre EVER. Her name is Maria Lassnig, she hails from Austria, born September 8, 1919 in Kappel am Krappfeld, Carinthia. Lassnig built her artistic career by bravely exploring the insecurities associated with the internal sensations of the body by shamelessly exhibiting, for our viewing pleasure, her own body in paintings and drawings.

Since the 1940s, her self-portraits boldly explore “body awareness,” her term for these paintings, to reveal insights into Lassnig’s own feelings of sensations within her body. The viewer is invited to share with Lassnig, the senses felt within her own skin and we don’t just observe, we experience her fright, or timidness, or violence, or confusion. Her paintings are meant to make the viewer feel uncomfortable and the powerful effect of her images ironically comes from their vulnerability. Her naked, bald, and wide-eyed self-portraits brazenly posit her bare body for examination. Looking at them we see exposed, fragile, fleshy, soft fgures, naked with enlarged eyes full of feeling., and we empathize with these exposed figures.

Lassnig’s approach to painting is rooted in rendering only the parts of her body that she can feel while painting. Through this approach she has created an oeuvre originating with the recognition of the human body’s potential as a medium for generating images,  constituting a sort of autobiographical attempt to render her inner states on canvas. A lot of her portraits and later figures are shown without limbs, clothes, or hair because these are parts of herself she cannot sense while painting. In her large-format works Lassnig investigates themes like gender-roles, with figurative elements presented against monochromatic backgrounds in a colour-palette that  prominently features a neon-ish sea green, characteristic of her work. The spectrum of motifs ranges from a double-portrait (“Adam und Eva,” 2010) and the presentation of a couple making love, an amorphous green creature seeming to float above them (“Die Inspiration,” 2010), to a half-portrait of a young man who literally reveals his innermost, insofar as he opens up his chest with his own hands (“Der Jüngling,” 2011). Being completely unafraid of taking on unpleasant topics, Lassnig produced a series of paintings that places the violence of rape uncomfortably before the viewer, with the intention of allowing us to experience the victims’ terror and helplessness while simultaneously relating to the dominance and pleasure felt by the rapist. A lot of her self-portraits in later life are such dualities that comment on youth and age.  She exposes similar feelings of helplessness felt by the very young and the very old by juxtaposing a childhood companion, the teddybear, with her frail and aged body (“The teddy is More Real than Me,” 2002).

“The teddy is more real than me”

Following her graduation from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in 1944, Lassnig contributed greatly to the emergence of art informal in Austrian in the early 1950s. She met and befriended Arnulf Rainer and Josef Mikl and the three abstract painters exhibited in Vienna around this time. During this time she was part Hundsgruppe, which also included Arnulf Rainer, Ernst Fuchs, Anton Lehmden, Arik Brauer,  and Wolfgang Hollegha . The works of the group were influenced by Abstract Expressionism and action painting. Later, in the 50’s, she joined with Surrealist Andre Breton and Benjamin Peret. Lassnig’s early exposure to Art Informal, Surrealism, and Gutal left apparent influences in her softened graphic, but still brutally honest style. She remained singular from her contemporaries for the linguistic interests she pursued in her portraits. She also left her mark on the development of feminist art in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. In 1980, after living for several years between Paris and New York, Lassnig returned to Vienna for a position at the Academy of Art, becoming the first female Professor of painting in a german-speaking country. She was also the first woman artist to win the Grand Austrian State Prize in 1988, and in 2005 she was awarded the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art.

Lassnig has also exhibited extensively through the world.  She represented Austria, with Valie Export, at the Venice Biennale in 1980, and has twice exhibited at documenta. In 1996 a retrospective of her work was held at the Centre Georges Pompidou. For the  2005-2006 year she she designed the large scale picture (176 m2) “Breakfast with Ear” as part of the exhibition series “Safety curtain” the Vienna State Opera. In 2008 an exhibition of her recent paintings was shown at the Serpentine Gallery which also travelled to the Contemporary Arts Center in the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, (2009). The exhibition was curated by Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist in association with Rebecca Morrill and featured thirty canvases and seven films. Lassnig’s recent solo exhibitions include, It’s art that keeps one ever young, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany, (2010), ‘Maria Lassnig. Films’, Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York NY, (2011), and THE LOCATION OF PICTURES, Deichtorhallen; Hamburg (2013).

Finally, Lassnig received the 55th Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, awarded at the Biennale’s June 1 opening, with the Italian artist Marisa Merz. Lassnig is now 93 and it is a great honor to be awarded this in honor of her long and prolific career. In old age, many artists are criticized for becoming soft, conventional, “losing their style/vision/fire/<insertcritique> but Maria Lassnig has proven that age cannot be held up as a barrier to art making, to impact-full art making, and she continues to produce art that pushes boundaries to expose dualities to reveal insights into ourselves, bodily and conceptually.

Art Term: Pointillism

 Lets all shout ‘yay’ for the second art term post— YAY! The topic for this one is: Pointillism. “Yay pointillism!”

George Seurat, “A Sunny Day on La Jatte.” 1884-1888

Pointillism is a technique and style of painting invented by the  French painters Georges-Pierre Seurat and Paul Signac in 1886. The objective of pointillism is to create the illusion of your subject/solid space by using dots, only dots, and nothing but dots, of any pure color or size. This technique relies optics, utilizing both the art’s and the viewer’s perceptive ability of eye and mind to optically blend the color spots into a fuller range of tones. This is similar to the four-color CMYK printing process used by some color printers and large presses that place dots of Cyan (blue), Magenta (red), Yellow, and Key (black). Televisions and computer monitors use a similar technique to depict images using red, green, and blue (RGB) colors. Today artists can achieve this effect with a variety of tools, such as a pen, pencil or tiny paint brush; but the image must be rendered through the application of pure pigment with small distinctive dots (points).  As you can imagine this is a very time consuming and meticulous process requiring patience and discipline.

Seurat made pointillism famous when he debuted his painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte(1884-1888) at the eighth annual and final Impressionist exhibition in 1886. It took two years of painstaking dot application for Seurat to finish the painting, which immediately changed the course of vanguard painting by initiating a departure from Impressionism that came to known as “Neo-Impressionism” and later inspired Divisionism. (But in general discussion you can refer to Pointillist painters as post-Impressionsits, remember from that other post?)

However, Seurat’s painting received a withering reception within Impressionist circles. Seurat’s innovation was a deliberate challenge to Impressionism’s first practitioners, such as Renoir and Monet.  Impressionist critics and artists disliked Pointillism because the technique was a flagrant departure from traditional methods of blending pigments on a palette. Impressionism was all about creating images with a variety of brushstrokes, and Pointillism removed brushstrokes all together thus eliminating texture and the ever venerated “hand of the artist.” Art critics even intended the name “Pointillism” to ridicule these paintings— though it no longer carries that earlier mocking connotation.

Signac became Seurat’s faithful supporter, friend, and successor by embracing Pointillism to develop his own color theory. Signac’s color theory became the foundation for his more technical adaptation, Divisionism. They differ in that Pointillism is concerned about the mechanics of dot-work used to apply the paint, not necessarily the science of color separation. Divisionism is concerned specifically with the science of color separation and  juxtaposition of small dots of pure color.  Either way, both are concerned with the additive aspect of light and color, much like the RBG image you are staring at on your screen right now.

Paul Signac, “Portrait de Felix Feneon.” 1890

Pointillism continued to evolve through the experiments of later artists like Van Gogh, Jean MetzingerRobert Delaunay, Warhol and to some extent in Pop Art with Roy Lichtenstein‘s exploration of print media. Oh! And of course Yayoi Katsuma, remember? The technique is still used today, and even I did a dot drawing with ink in high school. Though with pointillism, the artist sacrifices depth and texture, the variety and richness of colors achieved after much diligence is simply stunning.

Van Gogh, “Self Portrait with Felt Hat.” 1887

Jean Metzinger, “La Dance (Bacchante).” 1906

Roy Lichtenstein “Drowning Girl.” 1963

Robert DeLaunay, “L’honne a la Tulip.” 1906

Henri-Edmund Cross “Madame Hector France.” 1901

Henri-Edmund Cross “La fuite des nymphes.” 1906

Joe aka Casa-nova, This pointilism portrait by artist Joe aka Casa-nova took over 50 hours to complete, 2010

Sakura Chrno “Sun.” contemporary

Claire Ellis, “untitled” contemporary

*Bonus: Pointillism is also a kind of music that developed in the mid to late 20th-century. Different musical notes are made in seclusion, rather than in a linear sequence, giving a sound texture similar to pointillism.  This type of music is also known as punctualism or klangfarbenmelodie.

  1.  “Pointillism.” Artcyclopedia. Artists by Movement. John Malyon/Artcyclopedia, 2007. Web. http://www.artcyclopedia.com/history/pointillism.html
  2. Ruhrberg, Karl. “Seurat and the Neo-Impressionists”. Art of the 20th Century, Vol. 2. Koln: Benedikt Taschen Verlag, 1998. ISBN 3822840890.
  3.  Nathan, Solon. “Pointillism Materials.” Web. 9 Feb 2010. http://www.si.umich.edu/chico/emerson/pntmat.html
  4. Britannica – The Online Encyclopedia http://www.britannica.com/