Month: April 2009

Obsessed, Deluded, & Dirty in Bologna

I was researching galleries in  Bologna, Italy (long story), and stumbled on the Galleria Marabini. Currently, they are showing Turps Banana 2, an exhibition of works by twelve painters (one of whom is Damien Hirst) that range anywhere from “technically sophisticated paintings of ‘fairy tale’ like pictures that are attractively odd and enticing” to “Victorian paintings that have been changed, adapted or interfered with to the point of the ridiculous and macabre.”

But what is most interesting is the curator’s description of their bi-annual art journal and themselves. Gotta love artists. (And what’s up with the name of the journal?)

turps-logo(Turps Banana)

No Advertising.
No Backers.
No Professional Critics.
No Life Style Drivel.

Just obsessive, self absorbed, deluded, lonely, dirty, penniless, alcoholic painters discussing what they love most.

Turps Banana is the only painting magazine written exclusively by painters.


Inserting Yourself in Art

Is there a better way to capture the essence of art than to insert yourself in it? This is exactly what Antony Gormley is trying to do with an empty plinth in Trafalgar Square. But do you think it will resonate more to the exhibitionists balancing on top of the monument or to the gawkers walking by?

Antony Gormley's One & Other

Antony Gormley’s fourth plinth commission is built around volunteers from the public. Photograph: PR

The fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, London, was built in 1841 to carry an equestrian statue of King William IV but the money ran out. Since then there has been much discussion – and no agreement – about what to put permanently on top of it. The latest idea, from artist Antony Gormley, is to let 2,400 people stand on it for one hour each, 24 hours a day, for 100 days. “This elevation of everyday life to the position formerly occupied by monumental art allows us to reflect on the diversity, vulnerability and particularity of the individual in contemporary society. It could be tragic but it could also be funny,” Gormley says.

The Art of Process

Conceiving a piece of work (a painting, a novel, a poem) can take 3 days or 3 years. Or it can happen spontaneously, as the brush hits the canvas. I’d think that more commonly artists chew on  the threads of a concept for awhile, as they brainstorm, twist, challenge, sharpen ideas that will eventually take form on paper, canvas, or in clay. This is all a part of the creative process. No less creative, however, are those whose art is conceived spontaneously, and even moreso, without the deliberate intent of the artist.

Zeng Fanzhi, "Untitled 08-12-19", 2008, Via Acquavella Galleries
 Zeng Fanzhi, “Untitled 08-12-19”, 2008, Via Acquavella Galleries

Consider Chinese contemporary artist Zeng Fanzhi‘s technique, as shown at Art Observed:

He holds two –sometimes even four- brushes at a time, allowing him to create and to destroy form simultaneously.  As a result, the paintings convey a sensation of spontaneity and sentiment.

Holding two or more brushes in hand, an artist can conceivably control only one brush; the others are simply stragglers making their own design. Looking at Fanzhi’s works, however, you can’t separate what was spontaneously created or what was conceptually premeditated, as the two techniques are seamlessly intertwined to create the “sensation of spontaneity and sentiment.” The viewer can’t distinguish between which brushstrokes were intently applied and which ones were stragglers.

In some ways,  I think this mimics daily life. With several brushes in one hand, we meticulously guide just one brush to paint our actions; the other brushes represent our scattered, non-focused, actions. Our friends (the viewers) often cannot tell what actions/comments are deliberate brushstrokes and which are not.

And so Fanzhi has captured the process of human nature: we paint our lives with many brushes.

Get Too Fancy, Lose the Message

prada061      prada03
Prada’s Transformer structure in Seoul, South Korea

In its efforts to combine architecture with fashion, Prada has created a bohemeth of a structure to display a 100-skirt exhibition in Seoul, South Korea. And by bohemeth, I mean sort of bizarro when the twain meet. I like the skirts, and I like the structure. But the two doth not mix.

“Waiste Down — Skirts by Miuccia Prada” will be displayed in the Transformer, a white tent-like structure that will metamorphose into various new shapes/structures. In successive morphings, it will host an art exhibition, film festival, and fashion show.

Cool idea. At first. But then when you think about what the real point of it is, I’m not so sure. Mustn’t Prada sell skirts to stay in business? However, in the designer’s obsession to engage the “cool factor” I think I’m forgetting what the whole darn point is about. Which is… the skirts! (Right?) But I’m more blown out of the water by the structure than the skirts. In fact, skirts? What skirts? I guess the bottom line doesn’t always have to be about the business line, but in this case, why bother if you lose the skirts for the metaphorical trees?

It’s important to create a marketing environment that doesn’t overpower what you are trying to sell. The environment should enhance, not overwhelm the VIP (or VIS – Very Important Skirts). A little more “white space” perhaps would give the viewer more breathing room to enjoy those skirts. Prada, don’t be so overzealous. Though I’m still jealous. Of your skirts.

Art Triumphs Over Politics

In an earlier post, I discussed the relationship between art and politics, and how they can be inextricably linked. Often the relationship is fuzzy, or roughly equal, I suppose (each in a mutually beneficial relationship; think Bono and others performing at the inauguration festivities). Perhaps the most profound case of where art triumphs over politics is the case of the Berlin Wall, where artists are retouching murals that they’d created in 1990, only months after guards had left their patrols. Not only was the gallery declared an historic monument by the city of Berlin, but it is also now one of the city’s leading tourist attractions.

We can only hope that democracy reigns, which in this case, would mean that art would too.

Critiquing the Critic

"Winter Stories #49" (2008). Digital C-Print, 40 x 50 in.

"Winter Stories #49" (2008). Digital C-Print, 40 x 50 in.

Often when I read reviews by seasoned art critics, I’m struck by their own profound take on the art. It’s as if the critics themselves have an ethereal power to bring a piece of work to life, to move it beyond the place at which the artist even “sees” it. Maybe the impact of the art is partly predicated on what the reviewer has to say about it. Which, if you are an art critic, is a pretty powerful place to be in.

So I was clicking through my sites this morning and fixated on one particular piece describing Paolo Ventura’s works. I was musing over his dioramas (he creates the dioramas by hand, scrapping together random bits of material, and then photographs the display), which are surreal, and my mind kept wandering back to my own idea of fantastical places, like carnivals, foggy vistas, smoky lampposts. So I thought that I had been struck by the art on my own volition.

But then I realized it was the title of the review that really struck me from the get-go, and probably snagged me: “The Invented Worlds of Paolo Ventura.” (Twenty seconds later, after a few more sips of coffee, I realized that the “invented world” was actually Ventura’s characterization of his art, not the critic’s. But regardless, the description certainly takes you to “that place.” At least the reviewer was smart enough to latch on to that unique characterization in the interview with the artist.)

Anyway, I started jumping around to the critic’s powerful phrases: “startlingly evocative tableaux”  “distorted the commonplace” “precise way the light and shadow play out” “faded carnival.” The critic’s review was able to evoke the artist’s world, to take us into his mind, then back to ours, then bounce all around in regions inexplicable.

In Art: Is “Timeless” a Dirty Word?

“Timeless” always seems like a dirty word that removes the flesh from great artists and renders them almost inhuman.

That quote hit home to me. I had always thought that too, almost secretly, because to say that to artists who aspire to be timeless, so that their aura would “live on” somehow, well, that’s just plain putting on the boxing gloves. And then I realized that most artist DO aspire to be timeless. But first, artists mimic the “timeless” artists to gain their own launching point.

When I started to dig deeper, to think about who or what art is considered “timeless,” there are a lot of “timeless” examples that artists aspire to.

How about Katherine Hepburn? MC Escher? What about Rothko? Or Monet? In fact, the more that I think about it, all of the great masters are timelessly reproduced. Here’s an example.  A friend of mine is exhibiting in a show in NYC, and he posted a picture of an entire wall of works. On that wall were several canvases that ran the Impressionist vein. They looked like Monet, the Second Coming. How closely we classify Monet with Impressionism! How about when someone creates a tempestuous landscape and we think: Turner! Or when someone paints broken up bits rectangles stuck together and we think: Picasso/Braque (Cubism)!

Face it: everyone aspires to create “timeless.” Because they want to be copied, in art studios, by thousands of fledgling artists, again and again. To be mimicked is a sign of greatness. Only then can an artist consider themselves “timeless.”