Month: May 2010

Bringing Yourself to Art

"The Artist is Present" A viewer sitting with Marina Abramovic at MoMA - New York

Performance art is a difficult art media to understand — one which people may be less comfortable with or familiar with, than say visual art. Marina Abramovic, perhaps one of the most well-known performance artists who began her work with the emergence of the form in the 1970’s and ’80’s, is exhibiting at MoMA in a work entitled “The Artist is Present”.

In this work, she simply sits in a chair. Across from her is an empty chair in which viewers can sit for as long as they like. Some viewers sit for 5 minutes, some sit all day. A camera crew is present to photograph these viewers, many of whom are very emotional; some cry and others show extreme anguish). This is striking. What can possibly be so interesting about Marina’s face, her hair, her body, her expression?

It appears that she takes on a luminescence, that she somehow is able to look through the viewer. In interacting with others, we usually have their full attention — there is engagement. This performance art seems to keep the art on display and the viewer distanced, yet I wonder if Marina’s movements or changing facial expressions reflect the viewer’s response? After all, aren’t they also reacting to the piece and being photographed as the art? In essence, is the viewer actually part of the art? And is the title of her show “The Artist is Present” yet another clue that may allude to the viewer also being the artist?

The photos that the photographer has taken of these viewers are surely fascinating to look at, and cause me to wonder if indeed they will, in the future, be an accompanying piece to any writeup or essay on this exhibition, where the viewer is artist…

Is Art Love Really So Fickle?

Bringing Forth the Fruits of Righteousness from Darkness, 2008
Damien Hirst’s famous butterfly paintings
Currently on loan to the Cleveland Museum of Art

The two major art auction houses -Christie’s and Sotheby’s – held their Spring auctions recently. Record prices were set, record lows were recorded. And in the past year, some famous artists’ works have received zero bids. ZERO.

What’s causing all of this fluctuation in the art market? The international economy. And just like in a recession where we revert back to comfort food – meat and potatoes – so too does the art market switch from flamboyant Damien Hirst to the comfort of a Renoir or Monet.

Another factor leading this is the increasing share of Asian collectors holding up the auction paddle. Relatively new to the scene, Asian buyers choose “safe” bets, like European impressionists.

Other characteristics of art that sell in a recession is rarity. Count Jasper Johns in this category. Many of his works were owned by the late Michael Crichton, and when his estate went up for sale, people realized what they’d been missing and so they pounced.

Some classic artists who have enjoyed previous fame have fallen out of favor with new collectors – Pierre Bonnard being one of them. It was one of his works that had no bites at an auction last year. Edvard Munch (The Scream) is another example of an artist whose work is sputtering.

Undervalued works are also snatched up more feverishly in times of recession. A good deal of prospecting goes on, and surprisingly, Alexander Caulder’s works fall into this category.

Damien Hirst, who had his origins as a Young British Artist (YBA), has gone dormant in auctions as of late. As mentioned above, rarity whets the appetites of collectors, so perhaps this is his intent. I stared at one of his butterfly wing works (the series features butterfly wings that mimic stained glass windows) at the Cleveland Museum of Art this past weekend and I found myself up close, sorting the butterfly wings to see how many repeats there were, rather than stepping back to capture the piece in its holistic form.

The art market is fickle, but that’s what makes it all exciting.

Inspired by Design Shows

The Cleveland Institute of Art is holding its annual CIA Spring Show, and it is nothing short of inspiring. When I walked through the exhibits, glossy marketing posters shone under the white curvilinear walls in Case Western University’s Peter B. Lewis Building (designed by Frank Gehry, by the way). I snuck a peak at Industrial Design, Interior Design, Communication Design and small portions of Ceramics, Enameling, Glass, Jewelry + Metals.

In the Design Environment, there were re-styled foodmarts based on adult vs. teen preferences, an American Greetings kiosk which merged their card selection and a candy outlet, ergonomic chairs (that often looked really uncomfortable), re-thought ways to re-brand hip-hop music from illicit lyrics to clean lyrics, restyled totes/water bottles/coffee mugs, and wallpaper inspired by Viktor Schreckengost, the industrial engineer who was an instructor at the Cleveland Institute of Art. (Another aside: Schreckengost was a powerhouse. His foundation’s webpage says this about his work: “Every adult in America has ridden in, ridden on, drunk out of, stored their things in, eaten off of, been costumed in, mowed their lawn with, played on, lit the night with, viewed in a museum, cooled their room with, read about, printed with, sat on, placed a call with, enjoyed in a theater, collected, been awarded with, seen at a zoo, put their flowers in, hung on their wall, served punch from, delivered milk in, read something printed on, seen at the World’s Fair, detected enemy combatants with, written about, had an arm or leg replaced with, graduated from, protected by, or seen at the White House something created by Viktor Schreckengost”.)

All in all, it was an inspiring show. Now I’m really ready to figure out how to satisfy that 20-years-long design annoyance: how to create a nailpolish bottle and a brush long enough to scoop up that last bit at the bottom?