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

 

 

 

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”

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.

Robert Rauschenberg: A Belated Birthday Post

“Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. I try to act in that gap between the two. A pair of socks is no less suitable to make a painting with than wood, nails, turpentine, oil, and fabric.” — Robert Rauschenberg

“Canyon”

Hello friends! I know, I know, I am slacking on the posting, but I have been busy with a local artist group, complex thing right here in my own community. I am amazed everyday by the collaborations going, so I get distracted, take on too much with this, that and the other, and I get too tired to type out anything. My apologies! So the place I am volunteering/working at is called Lowe Mill, and it is fantastic place of art and music, and even food, enrichment. There are hundreds of artists working out of what used to be a actual mill. And I have been asked to research and correct the history of the place and I could not be more thrilled by this opportunity.

Here’s the link to their website for those curious: http://www.lowemill.net

and here’s one to their FaceBook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lowe-Mill-ARTS-Entertainment/221839969152

Truly, what is happening here with these artist collaborations is amazing and exciting! I will probably start posting about what the artists and myself are up to every once and a while just for fun.

Ok so now, onto Robert Rauschenberg! My intention was to do a brief biography-summary-thing in honor of his birthday, which was last week on the 22nd, and I so missed it. Rauschenberg proved difficult to sum up— the man was prolific to say the least. So now this is a belated Birthday post.

I love Rauschenberg. He is one of those modern artists that gets me all excited and I get angry thinking about how his body of work is often pigeon-holed into one category, taken for granted, and constantly described in terms reductive of Marcel Duchamp. We could argue all day back and forth about whether Duchamp really had a great influence on Rauschenberg or not, but regardless Rauschenberg unquestionably took his art beyond Dada’s ideologies. (Plus “Rauschenberg” is so much more fun to say than “Duchamp”.) There is  quit a breadth of diversity to his work, and he influenced several art movements as well as initiating projects outside of art.  He was very versatile in his choices for both creation and expressing himself using oils, sculpting with “junk” and other debris he found inspiring, making prints for frescos and other artistic pursuits, dabbling in photography, and working in theater as a designer, choreographer, and performer. Rauschenberg even participated in scientific collaborations. And despite challenges and changes he faced throughout his life, Rauschenberg never stopped making art. Basically, Rauschenberg is the definition of a Renaissance man regarding the arts.

The artist was born as Milton Ernest Rauschenberg in Port Arthur, Texas. Rauschenberg studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Académie Julian in Paris, France, where he met the painter Susan Weil. In 1942 Rauschenberg put art making aside and served in the U.S. Navy Reserve until 1945. Later, this experience inspired his break through series the “Shelter Drawings”. Two years following his service, during 1947, he attended the Academie Julian in Paris. From there, during 1948 to 1950, he attended the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. There, he studied painting under Josef Albers, a founder of the Bauhaus. Albers’ preliminary courses relied on strict discipline that did not allow for any “uninfluenced experimentation”. Rauschenberg later decided he would do exactly the reverse of Albers’ instructions. Eventually, John Cage would have an abiding influence on Rauschenberg’s work, and Hazel Larsen Archer’ photographs would inspire Rauschenberg to emphasize personal vision over technique. Finally, in 1952 Rauschenberg studied with Vaclav Vytlacil and Morris Kantor at the Art Students League of New York, where he met fellow artists Knox Martin and Cy Twombly.

Art historians categorize Rauschenberg’s approach as “Neo Dadaist,” a label he shares with the painter Jasper Johns. His art is often compared to Duchamp’s earlier Dada works, like “the Fountain”. But I feel that the qualities cited as reminiscent to Duchamp’s are only coincidental. Rauschenberg always said that he wanted to work “in the gap between art and life” suggesting that from the beginning he questioned conventional distinctions between art objects and everyday objects. At the same time, Rauschenberg was moving beyond questioning what is art and who can make, and began to redefine the role of the observer in creating art’s meaning also.

In 1951 Rauschenberg created his monochromatic “White Paintings”. The purpose of this series was to reduce painting to its most essential nature allowing for the possibility of pure experience. The “White Paintings” were shown at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery in New York during October 1953. They appear at first to be essentially blank, white canvas. However, one commentator said that “…rather than thinking of them as destructive reductions, it might be more productive to see them, as John Cage did, as hypersensitive screens – what Cage suggestively described as ‘airports of the lights, shadows and particles.’ In front of them, the smallest adjustments in lighting and atmosphere might be registered on their surface. Rauschenberg himself said that they were affected by ambient conditions, “so you could almost tell how many people are in the room”. The “Black Paintings of 1951 like the “White Paintings” were executed on multiple panels and were single colour works. Here Rauschenberg incorporated pieces of newspaper into the painting working the paper into the paint so that sometimes newspaper could be seen and in other places could not.

From the fall of 1952 to the spring of 1953 Rauschenberg traveled through Europe and North Africa with Cy Twombly where, in Morocco, he created collages and boxes out of trash. He took them back to Italy and exhibited them at galleries in Rome and Florence. A lot of them sold; those that did not he threw into the river Arno. From his stay, 38 collages survived. By 1953-1954 Rauschenberg had completely abandoned his White Painting and Black Painting series, and established his Red Painting series. These paintings were created with diverse kinds of paint applications of red paint, and with the addition of materials such as wood, nails, newsprint and other materials to the canvas created complex painting surfaces, and were forerunners of Rauschenberg’s well-known Combine series.  For the Red Paintings, the artist used trash and objects interesting to him picked from the New York City streets. He claimed he:

“wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to use the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of finding surprises. And if it wasn’t a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was. So the object itself was changed by its context and therefore it became a new thing.” —Rauschenberg

Another example of Rauschenberg’s unique way of reestablishing worn definitions of art and its purpose is the Erased de Kooning Drawing famously cited from 1953. Rauschenberg obtained a drawing from de Kooning for the express purpose of erasing it as an artistic statement. The resulting work asks the viewer to reconsider the process of art, question attitudes regarding the permanency or “scared” qualities of art, and other conventions related to understanding of art tanned for granted at the time.

 

“White Paintings series”

Rauschenberg’s commitment to explore the gap between art and life is also evident in his “Combines,” which bridged the gap between Pop art and Abstract Expressionism. He created these pieces from 1954 to 1962. “Combines” are pieces of sculpture created from pieces of “junk” and, later, silk over lays. He preferred this type of artwork to drawing, which he had pretty much rejected by this point. The “combining” method of art form is Rauschenberg’s own invention and soon became what he is most known for as an artist. “Combines” differ from earlier collage-like pieces for including clothing, urban debris, and taxidermic animals. These works served to completely delineate and breakdown the boundaries between art and sculpture so that both are present in a single work of art. Rauschenberg made his first Combine in 1953, where a camera bellows and its mount protrude from the canvas. Another early “Combine” titled  Bed (1955) was created by dripping red paint across a quilt. The quilt was later stretched and displayed as a work of art. Some critics from The Daily Telegraph considered the work to be a symbol for violence and rape. Rauschenberg submitted the collaborative combine, Short Circuit (1955), for an annual exhibition at Stable Gallery in 1955. He invited friends to produce small pieces that could be smuggled into the exhibition in his cabinet-shaped construction. A painting by his former wife, artist Susan Weil, appears behind the right door, and a flag composition by Jasper Johns once sat behind the left door. (It went missing in 1965 and was replaced at Rauschenberg’s invitation with a facsimile by the artist Sturtevant.) The work also includes a Judy Garland autograph, an image of Abraham Lincoln, and a postcard of grazing cows, among other items. This piece really pushes the role of the artist in making art by being so dependent on a community of contributors.

“Bed”

Critics originally viewed the “Combines” for their formal aspects of art, shape, color, texture, composition and arrangement of these. The traditional method for critiquing art is limited and served only to impede the larger aspirations of Rauschenberg’s work. His art challenged and transcended conventions, and so cannot be fairly judged by them. Thankfully the 1960’s view has changed over time so that more recently critics and art historians see the “Combines” as carrying coded messages difficult to decipher because there is no apparent order to the presentation of the objects. His cross-medium creations explored the blurry boundaries between art and the everyday world, challenging modernist art critic Clement Greenberg‘s  doctrine on medium specificity. Rauschenberg’s impetus to combine both painting materials and everyday objects continued throughout his artistic life.

Rauschenberg is also a notable forerunner of American Pop Art. In 1962, Rauschenberg evolved the concept of combining from found objects to found images and began to  transfer popular imagery onto his canvas using the silkscreen process. Previously used only in commercial applications, Rauschenberg revolutionized silkscreen printing and was able to address issues relating to commodity, multiple reproducibility of images, and the consequent flattening that the experience implies. His work had a tremendous influence on Andy Warhol. In 1963, Warhol made Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a homage to Rauschenberg in which Warhol used silk screening to transfer multiple images of a photographic self-portrait by Rauschenberg and pictures Rauschenberg had taken of his family onto a canvas.

“Combine”

Combine

Rauschenberg also had a few projects outside of the art sphere.  In 1966, Billy Klüver and Rauschenberg officially launched Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) a non-profit organization that promotes collaborations between artists and engineers. In 1969, NASA invited Rauschenberg to witness the launch of Apollo 11 and the artist created his Stoned Moon Series of lithographs in response to this landmark event. The lithographs involved combining diagrams and other images from NASA’s archives with photographs from various media outlets, as well as with his own work.

Rauschenberg eventually began to work out of his his home and studio in Captiva, Florida, around 1970. His first project on Captiva Island was a 16.5-meter-long silkscreen print called Currents (1970), made with newspapers from the first two months of the year, followed by Cardboards (1970–71) and Early Egyptians (1973–74), the latter of which is a series of wall reliefs and sculptures constructed from used boxes. He also printed on textiles using his solvent-transfer technique to make the Hoarfrosts (1974–76) and Spreads (1975–82), and in the Jammers (1975–76), created a series of colorful silk wall and floor works. For the most part, the Jammers comprise stitched fabrics in pure, solid colors, affixed to rattan poles or hung directly and loosely on the wall; whereas in works such as Sprout (1975) and Caliper(1976), the unadorned poles are the principal formal element, propped against the wall. Urban Bourbons (1988–95) focused on different methods of transferring images onto a variety of reflective metals, such as steel and aluminum. Additionally, throughout the 1990’s, Rauschenberg continued to utilize new materials while still working with rudimentary techniques, such as wet fresco, as in the Arcadian Retreat (1996) series, and the transfer of images by hand, as in the Anagrams (1995–2000). As part of his engagement with the latest technological innovations, he began making digital Iris prints and using biodegradable vegetable dyes in his transfer processes, underscoring his commitment to caring for the environment. In 2003 he began to work exclusively out of his home studio. He worked until his dying day, on May 12, 2008.

So hopefully we can now all understand the wonder that is Rauschenberg and appreciate the singularity of his contribution to the art world. Happy Birthday (belated as it is) Rauschenberg! You are missed!

Michelle Stuart

Niagara Gorge Path Relocated 1975

Michelle Stuart is a multimedia artist working since the mid-60’s, working in every medium from drawing, sculpture, photography, video, installation, to site-specific earthworks. Her diverse body of work is inspired by her lifelong interest in the natural world and the cosmos and desire to connect to it. She has engendered a subtle and responsive dialogue with the natural world, distinct from the epic gestures of contemporaneous Land Art. Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in her work, and Anna Lovatt, the 35-year-old British art historian and lecturer in Modern and Contemporary art history at the University of Manchester, UK, has organized a show at the  Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, N.Y highlighting six decades of Stuart’s amazingly diverse body of work. The show titled “Michelle Stuart: Drawn From Nature,” will last through October 27, and features Stuart’s drawings and land art projects made between 1968- 2011, but the exhibition does include more than 50 of her sculptural assemblages, photographs and works on paper.

Ms. Stuart, who is now 80, has immersed herself in the culture, history and archaeology of different regions, transforming six decades of travel into a lifetime of art. She is inspired by archeology, history, earth and the cosmos.  The renowned piece  “Niagara Gorge Path Relocated,” from 1975 illustrates the artist’s take on the history of archeology. The work was an immersive project, the 460-foot-long scroll was perforated by smashing rocks into the paper and then unfurled down an escarpment at a spot where Niagara Falls was situated 12,000 years ago. The piece traces history and links the past with the present, and through contemplation retrospectively connects the viewer to a time long gone. Two more highlights from the show are 12-foot-long paper scrolls from in 1973 in upstate New York, their surfaces covered with intricate marks made by placing the muslin-backed paper on the ground and rubbing pencil or graphite across it.

The curator Cornelia Butler, who has included her work in drawing surveys at the MOMA and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, said that Ms. Stuart was one of “maybe only a handful of artists of her generation who made a significant contribution during those early moments of land art” around 1970, when mostly male artists like Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson began sculpturing lakes and canyons. Ms. Butler, now chief curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, points out that not only did Ms. Stuart “incorporate the earth into her drawings,” but she also “brought drawing into the landscape,” as with the Niagara Gorge project.

Personally, I am always struck with Stuart’s monumental, labor-intensive scrolls, a series begun in 1970, when she reinvented Surrealist frontage by working with, and against, the earth. THere have been lots of Landscape Artists, and a lot of female landscape artsits put themselves into the work, such as Marybeth Edelson with her “Goddess” photos and Ana Mendieta in series of “Siluettas.” (All from the 60’s-70’s) These kinds of explorations of earth and nature, that subject a woman’s body, are too often unfairly dismissed as “goddess” worship art and primitivism and tossed aside as feminist. unlike their male contemporaries, such as Clemment Greenberg and Carl Andre, are considered to be minimalist and innovative protest against the perceived artificiality, plastic aesthetics and ruthless commercialization of art.Stuart’s photographs, sculptures, assemblages,and scrolls, however, are devoid of a human figure and so escape the feminist stereotype. For some reason her style reminds me greatly of Agnes Martin despite how massive and grand they can be. A lot them are still very thoughtful and I think the quality of her works that appeals to me most is how personal they are despite how far back towards the past, or high towards the stars they reach.

Nazca Lines Star Chart. Nazca Lines Southern Hemisphere Constellation Chart Correlation 1981-82

 

Baltic Book, 1985

 

“Nazca Lines Star Chart”