Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei is photographed inside his studio in Beijing on June 16, 2014

Ai Weiwei is building portraits of imprisoned human rights activists onsite at Alcatraz out of legos. The portraits total 176 and feature political exiles like South African leader Nelson Mandela, Tibetan pop singer Lolo and even American whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The work is part of an exhibition titled “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz”  that opened on September 27th and will run through April 26th. The instillation is organized by For-Site, a San Francisco producer of public art. The portraits will be located in the prison hospital, A Block cells, dining hall and the former laundry building.

Weiwei’s project will bring awareness to limitations on freedom of expression across the glob. I know it is hard for Americans to really understand how censorship abroad works (not to say our government never casts shade on topics) because our freedom to express seems unbound when compared to the degree of persecution human rights activists, artists, musicians, and political rebels face in say Russia or the Middle East among others. Weiwei has himself fought to resist efforts by the Chinese government to stop his artistic efforts.

And now the answer to the question on everyone’s mind. How many Legos did Weiwei use to build his portraits? The artist estimates the final count will total around 1.2 million pieces.
Heres a link with a video about the project and an interview with Weiwei:

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/sep/24/ai-weiwei-alcatraz-lego-extraordinary

 

 

 

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Jeff Koons in 150 Words

I have been on a hiatus for some time now, and through it all I have missed blogging very much. My time has been monopolized by work lately because recently I was hired to a few new part time jobs. I am very glad to have these jobs, but I do miss my time blogging. So rather than feature lengthy posts that require lots of time to research and fact check, I am going to post shorter bits, like this, so I can still satisfy my need to write about art, however briefly. I am calling them 150 Words (yes I did try 100, no I could not keep it that short) This does not mean that I will never do a long post, but they will be infrequent. For now these shorter entries are much more convenient for me and I hope you will still appreciate my contributions. I promise that I will include more pictures!

Ok, the Jeff Koons part starts now:

Jeff Koons is a contemporary artist who makes art that comments on material culture. He draws attention to the fickle nature of fashion, pop culture, commerce, and media. Materials he works with include metals like chromium stainless steal for it’s shining and seductive qualities, found objects, and even topiaries. Using these materials Koons transforms banal objects into high art icons. Good examples include his “Balloon Dog” sculptures and vinyl “Inflatables”. These sculptures are striking for the contrast between material subject; hard, shining metal we know is heavy and dense, conjuring the likeness of a light, fragile balloon.

His paintings and sculptures make critical observations on celebrity culture with a variety a art techniques, demonstrating his varied interests. Drawing on stylistic markers of Surrealism, Dada and Pop his “Banality” series brought him fame in the 1980s. This series featured pseudo-Baroque sculptures of pop artists like Michael Jackson with his pet ape.

 

“Micheal Jackson and Bubbles” 1998

eff Koons, Antiquity 3, 2011. From Antiquity

 

“Woman in Tub” 1988.

 

“Rabbit”

 

“Gazing Ball”

The YBAs

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

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

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

Rachel Whiteread, cast of an apartment complex, 1992

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

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

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

Tracey Emin, “My Bed” 1999

Tracey Emin, “Tent”

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

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

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

Frieze Exhibitors:

Brilliant! Exhibitors:

Other YBAs

Marc Quin, “Kate Moss”

Damien Hirst, “Dot Painting”

 

Gavin Turk

 

Sarah Lucas, Spamaggedon (2004)

Gavin Turk, “Gavin Turk Takes the Biscuit” 2006

 

 

Jeffery Gibson and the Shoshana Wayne Gallery

Contemporary artist Jeffrey Gibson effortlessly blends the past and the present to create unique, hybrid objects that wittily pair two disparate influences: traditional then and present now.  Moving beyond a habit of pastiche, Gibson makes art that appears more to be rooted in contemporary remix culture.  His style incorporates traditional Native American pattern and color in with a modern inclusiveness. THe result is very refreshing, vibrant, and respectful to Native American peoples, remembering them as they were while concurrently reminding us that they are still here.  Interestingly, the gallery statement of his latest exhibit at Shoshana Wayne Gallery notes:

“This mash-up of visual and cultural references comes from the artist’s Choctaw and Cherokee heritage, moving frequently during his childhood—to Germany, Korea and the East Coast of the U.S. , and his early exposure to rave and club cultures of the 1980s and 1990s. Gibson cites that the sense of inclusiveness and acceptance, the celebratory melding of subcultures and an idealistic promise of unity all galvanized by the DJ’s power to literally move an audience to dance to his beat, continues to serve as a primary inspiration for his inter-disciplinary practice.”

Often and sadly, Native American works are marginalized in Western art history cannon because of the singularity of thestyle. The bright colors and buzzy patterns have been called abrasive, tackless, and worse “crafty.” Native American beading and weaving are highly skilled techniques that deserve as much or more appreciation in art history discourse as any Western art medium.  The gallery statement continues about the relationship between Native American and Western art: “The paintings are done on elk rawhide stretched over wood panels. Gibson arrived at this format after years of looking at painting techniques found in various non-Western art histories, of paintings on shields, drums and parfleche containers (animal hides wrapped around varying goods). The paintings also read within a modern and contemporary art context whereas artists from the 1950s and 1960s were looking towards traditions such as Native American and Oceanic art to create ideals of spirituality, animism and purity.  One can infer artistic influences from Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, and Donald Judd.”

Using his artist statement, Gibson cleverly appropriates the past and inserts himself and his heritage into art history by mixing and remixing, trully giving history a new look with his artist’s eye.

 

Joan Miró

Joan Miró i Ferrà is a world renowned Spanish Catalan painter, sculptor, and ceramist working through out the early to mid 1900’s, and had a significant impact on defining the role of art during and after WWI. Miró maintained an independent approach to making art and never formally joined an art group, though it was acclaim for his  Surrealist paintings that brought him international fame. His style is singular and cultivated from his expressed contempt for conventional painting methods as a way of supporting bourgeois society. He spent his career at war with convention and famously declared an “assassination of painting” in favor of upsetting tradition. Miró experimented with many art techniques, the the final work always expressed his unique style that embodied his Catalan heritage and anti-art ideology with child-like whimsy.

Miró was born in Barcelona the son of a watchmaking father and a goldsmith mother on April 20,1893. No doubt his parents’ occupations privileged him with early exposure to art. Drawings by Miró have been recovered dating to 1901, when he was only 8 years old. Miro enrolled at the School of Industrial and Fine Arts in Barcelona until 1910; during his attendance he was taught by Modest Urgell and Josep Pascó. After overcoming a severe case of typhoid fever in 1911, Miró devoted his life entirely to painting at the La Lonja School of Fine Arts in Barcelona, taught by Francesc Galí. In 1918 set up his first individual exhibition in the Dalmau Galleries, still in Barcelona. His works at this time reflect the influence of  many different art movements, such as the pure and brilliant colors used in Fauvism, shapes taken from cubism, influences from folkloric Catalan art and Roman frescos from the churches.

Joan Miró Painting of Rooster

From the start Miró had a very precise style, picking out every element in isolation and detail and arranging them in deliberate composition. But in 1920 he took a trip to Paris and the art he witnessed there inspired a radically altered style.  Miró befriended Andre Masson and participated in developing Surrealist movement. In Paris, under the influence of Surrealist poets and writers, he developed his unique style: organic forms and flattened picture planes drawn with a sharp line.  Miró’s style has been interpreted as Surrealism combined with the playfulness and whimsical nature of a child born from his use of automatic drawing – a way express the subconscious by allowing the hand to move randomly across the paper. Miró was interested in automatism for its anti-art technique and in the use of sexual symbols (for example, ovoids with wavy lines emanating from them), and he and André Masson were among the first artists to develop automatic drawing as a way to undo previous established techniques in painting. But Miró still purused his own interests and ideals; as displayed by his additional involvement with Expressionist and Color Field movements.

Joan Miró Painting of Tol

Because of his work with Masson and love for automatism, Miró is associated with the founding of Surrealism as an art movement and is often considered a Surrealist. Historians further theorize that Miró’s surrealist origins evolved out of “repression” because during World War I Miró was forced into exhile to escape the Franco regime pursecution of Catalans.  Miró, however, refused to subscribe to any art movement, despite apparent evidence that his style was influenced in varying degrees by Surrealism, Dada, and the war. This refusal demonstrates Miró’s pursuit of complete freedom to experiment with any artistic style he wanted. He pursued his own interests in the art world, ranging from automatic drawing and surrealism, to expressionism, Lyrical Abstraction, and Color Field painting. 

In 1921, he showed his first individual exhibition in Paris, at La Licorne Gallery. The culmination of his early style was The Farm (1921–22). The rural Catalan scene it depicts is augmented by an avant-garde French newspaper in the center, showing Miró sees this work transformed by the Modernist theories he had been exposed to in Paris. The concentration on each element as equally important was a key step towards generating a pictorial sign for each element. The background is rendered in flat or patterned in simple areas, highlighting the separation of figure and ground, which would become important in his mature style. He concentrated his interest on the symbol, not giving too much importance to the representing theme, but to the way the symbol emerged as the piece of his work.  In 1928, he exhibited with a group of surrealists in the Pierre Gallery, also in Paris, but as always Miró maintained his independent qualities when adopting ideologies of different art groups.  Miró made many attempts to promote his unique work, but his Surrealist colleagues found it too realistic and conventional, and so he soon turned to a more explicitly surrealist approach. From 1929-1930, Miró began to take interest in reconstructing the object through collages. This practice lead to his making of surrealist sculptures. His tormented monsters appeared during this decade, which gave way to the consolidation of his plastic vocabulary.

Joan Miró “Carnival of Harlequin” Print – 1924-1925

Miró dabbled in Cubism too; though he started after Picasso and Braque had established Cubism as a monumental art movement in Paris. Specifically, Miró responded to Cubism by declaring that he would “break the guitar” referring to Picasso’s paintings, with the intent to attack the popularity and appropriation of Picasso’s art by politics. He also experimented with many other artistic forms, such as engraving, lithography, water colors, pastels, and painting over copper. He created over 250 illustrated books known as “Livres d’ Artiste”  (the book was displayed in “Joan Miró, Illustrated Books” at the Vero Beach Museum of Ar in 2006).

It was at the end of the 60´s when his final period was marked and which lasted until his death on December 25,1983. During his final years, he concentrated more and more on monumental and public works. The murals are characterized by the same art language and freshness with which he carried out his canvasses, as well as the special attention he paid to material and anti-art informalism. In the final decades of his life Miró accelerated his work in different media, producing hundreds of ceramics, including the Wall of the Moon and Wall of the Sun at the UNESCO building in Paris. He also made temporary window paintings (on glass) for an exhibit. In the last years of his life Miró wrote his most radical and least known ideas, exploring the possibilities of gas sculpture and four-dimensional painting. Four-dimensional painting was a theoretical type of painting in which  Miró proposed that painting would transcend its two-dimensionality and even the three-dimensionality of sculpture. Truly Miró was a visionary with a singularly eccentric style that is the embodiment of his unique approach to his artwork.

Joan Miro Painting “Sonnens”

Joan Miro Painting “Daybreak”

Joan Miro Painting “Kissing”

 

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”