concept

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…

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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?

So What Type of Artist Are You?

View of Julian Schnabel’s hot-pink high-rise at 360 W. 11th

I’m in the middle of Calvin Tomkins’ book “Lives of the Artists” (2008), which is a compilation of his short artist bios in the New Yorker. He profiles the top contemporary artists (well, according to his calculations): Hirst, Sherman, Schnabel, Serra, etc. What do they all have in common? They’ve all dabbled in many types of media. And in doing so, they’ve taken heat for it.

Schnabel started off as an artist, but has since worked in film — two of which have met great acclaim: “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)” and “Before Night Falls” (2000). When someone recently asked him if he was switching to film-making, he responded, somewhat indignantly, “I’m a painter. I’m a painter. Does that answer your question?”

Cindy Sherman is another artist who has straddled the abyss of not knowing (or caring) what medium she “falls into.” More to the point, at the beginning, she was never really accepted as part of any community/medium. She takes photographs, but she is not considered a photographer — at least not in the vein of documentary or fine-art photography. But once others slapped a genre on her work — when her photographs were put up in Christie’s auctions in the “contemporary art” category (rather than photography) — they flew like hotcakes.

But this evolution is key. Artists styles are always morphing, changing, evolving, aggregating, spinning off into different directions, and this, I think, is what characterizes the best artists.

Open Your Eyes! It’s Proust on Art…

The Silver Goblet
Musee du Louvre, Paris

I’m in the midst of one of Alain de Botton’s erudite and vastly introspective essays on life — this one’s titled “How Proust Can Change Your Life“. In this barely 200-page book, de Botton relays a Proustian essay that details how Proust set out to “restore a smile on the face of a gloomy… young man”. This young man was lamenting how ugly and banal his surroundings were: the mundane scene of his mother doing her knitting, a cat curled up in the windowsill, unfolded laundry in a basket. The young man longed to visit the Louvre, where he could “feast his eyes” on gilded paintings and magnanimous sculptures to take away his gloom.

But Proust had plans for this young man.

Instead of writing into the plot that the young man finds happiness meandering through the great halls of the Louvre in the halls of richly ornamented works, Proust surrounded the young man in a tiny room with the  simple works of Jean Baptiste-Chardin.

Jean Baptiste-Chardin didn’t paint queens or palaces or riches. He painted ordinary things: milk jugs, bowls of fruit, coffeepots, loaves of bread. But, the outcome — however simplistic the subject — was extraordinary.

Chardin’s paintings succeeded in being extraordinarily beguiling and evocative. A peach by him was as pink and chubby as a cherubim; a plate of oysters or a slice of lemon were tempting symbols of gluttony and sensuality… There was a harmony, too, between objects: in one canvas, almost a friendship between the reddish colors of a hearthrug, a needle box, and a skein of wool.

With subdued colors and mellow lighting, Chardin’s work celebrates the beauty of commonplace subjects, with intimacy and domesticity.

Take that, young man! Look around you. The world is rich, wondrous, beautiful. Just open your eyes.

At the Intersection of a Museum and a Book: Orhan Pamuk

One of my favorite authors, Orhan Pamuk, has a new book hot off the presses The Museum of  Innocence. To complement the book, he is opening a museum. I’m not positive, but this seems the first time such a thing has been done. Here’s a description from the UK’s Guardian:

 The Museum of Innocence… contains a locator map for his museum, and a free entrance ticket. The actual museum, in an Ottoman-style house along a stretch of antique shops in hilly Cukurcuma, will hold Istanbul ephemera that Pamuk gathered for inspiration while writing his Proustian … epic of lost love. … He told me his “museum of the everyday”, which holds everything from ferry tickets and women’s hair clips to a quince grinder, would have a display for each of the novel’s 83 chapters.’

Pamuk describes the relationship of the museum and novel: “The museum is not an illustration of the novel and the novel is not an explanation of the museum. They are two representations of one single story perhaps.”

Pamuk’s other literary ventures have been laced with art, including My Name Is Red, which details the murder of a miniaturist painter in the Ottoman Empire. And I thought his breathtaking descriptions of Istanbul in his memoir Istanbul (which details his life growing up in the Turkish city) were poetic and extremely visual, like landscapes launching off of the pages into your lap. Also, according to the New York Review of Books, “As a young man, his great hope was to become a painter, and he started, he notes wryly, by producing imitations of Monet and Sisley and Pissarro…” It seems Pamuk turned from copying the masters to absorbing himself in the awe of everyday people and life and painted a verbal canvas.

I’m thinking Turkey might be the country we indulge ourselves in next summer, and if so, this is one museum I’m not going to miss!

Distortion, Glorious Distortion

modiglianiElongation, distorted hands, feet, necks. This is the single-most characteristic that I look for and admire in works. If it’s stretched, pressed, enlarged, or diminished beyond its normal state, I love it. And for this, I cannot get enough of Modigliani.

Those necks! Those eyes!

Less obvious is the use of elongation in Caravaggio’s The Supper at Emmaus. The elongated right hand of the disciple sitting at the table draws the viewer in to the painting.

caravaggiosupper_at_emmaus_national_gallery_london

And distortion can portray a sense of the grotesque, the humor, the abstraction of a figure or scene. I especially like the abstraction in Eastern European art, particularly Russian art, like Kandinsky, which inspired some of those in the surrealist movement.

kadinsky