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…


Can’t Escape Gauguin…

Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven

I felt very cultural this weekend: on Sunday I went to see the symphony AND spent time at the Gauguin exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. And I put the finishing touches on my rockin’ gingerbread house entry for the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s annual gingerbread show (which is actually a fantastical Museum of Contemporary Art made out of gingerbread). Whew!

This was my second trip to see the Gauguin show (first take I wrote about here), and I’m sure I’ll go back several more times before it leaves in January. But my impressions (Take II) were more complex (delightedly!) than the first round.

I’m not sure what other artists are so “self reflecting” — that is, in newer paintings, they physically paint in/allude to previous works — but Gauguin surely is a master. His motifs are bathers, pitchers, the color yellow, the white Brittany hats. I mentioned this in my previous blog, but it was even more apparent to me at Take II.

Gaugin’s use of yellow, particularly in his later years in Tahiti, is prolific. Perhaps it started in Arles with his Yellow House days with van Gogh and transcended time. The show’s catalog states that at first Gauguin claimed credit for van Gogh’s adoption of yellow as a favorite color. But ultimately the opposite was true: Gauguin embraced yellow after being impressed by van Gogh’s yellow-on-yellow paintings of sunflowers. And Gauguin used canary yellow paper for a series of zincographs (medium where an artist draws directly on a metal plate with a black crayon) that chronicled Gauguin’s early career and travels to Martinique, Brittany, and Arles and reiterated his motifs. (Interestingly, the CMA owns a complete set of the zincographs, which is rare, because Gauguin only made an edition of 30.) The zincographs were a watershed in Gaugin’s work: the motifs are resemblant of Claude Monet’s grainstacks and Jasper Johns’ stenciled number paintings.

I also noticed that Gaugin has a tendency to paint mid-pose — he captures a boy fixing his shoe, and blossoms just beggining to bud (rather than in full glory). I was struck by his interest in the non-interesting stages of hum drum daily life. But capturing these humdrum moments makes the viewer stop, go back, and look again. It’s inspiring that the humdrum can, in fact, be interesting.

And he disdained pointilism!


Gauguin’s Gals

Joys of BrittanyThe Cleveland Museum of Art is hosting “Gauguin: Paris 1889”, featuring a recreation of the “radical independent exhibition that Gauguin organized (and shamelessly self-promoted) on the grounds of the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris”.

It was unbelievable.

The exhibition is only exhibiting in two places — Cleveland and Amsterdam — hence the CMA’s insanely awesome marketing: “The man shunned civilization. (So it’s only appropriate that he’s making just one US stop.)”.

What struck me about this exhibit is Gauguin’s sensitivity to the people he saw and painted, much moreso than Van Gogh (and they lived in Arles together, painting for several months). Although I think that Van Gogh’s portraits and subjects are richer, more intense, electrifying, I think that Gauguin had a better way conveying people and their moods, and well, the reality of their lives. In this exhibition, the innocense and movement in his subjects (specifically his primary subject matters in this exhibition, which were the Breton girls dancing and the woman with red hair in the waves) is arresting, and I have thought about these anonymous people over and over again since I saw the exhibit last weekend. And so they are striking in a different way than Van Gogh’s studies.

In this exhibit, Gauguin’s oils, chalks, sculptures, and wood carvings all run central to two themes: his life in Brittany and life in Tahiti. And he keeps dabbing a brilliant red/orange to make a tiny splash on each composition (a single carnation on each of the Brittony girls ‘dresses; the vibrant red hair on the girl in the waves). We walk through daily life in Brittany — largely seen through children’s eyes, and the series aptly named “Voipini Suite: Joys of Brittany” — but we also see very deep, intellectual themes running through, particularly with the violent green waves and the woman thrust in them. Her body takes up the entire picture, so that the viewer feels almost caught up in the waves with her. In the end, when he was in Tahiti, he created a self-portrait with his face very dark (disturbance, insecurity), and in far in the background, off to the sides, are a small white cloth (indicating the white Brittany hats of the women and children there) and a red swath of paint (indicating the woman’s vibrant red hair). In this exhibition, Gauguin came full circle with his themes and his work.

In the waves

Got Inspiration in the Gallery?

Patricia Piccinini - The Stags (2008)

Patricia Piccinini - The Stags (2008)

Inspiring! Some of these should not be reserved just for writers. My favorite technique is to sit in the gallery on a bench and watch people’s reaction to a painting as they stare up at it. You can capture many more viewpoints than you’d ever dream up yourself.

From 15 Ways Modern Art Galleries Can Inspire Writers by Joanna Penn on September 2, 2009
Tate Modern, London

I love modern art galleries and go to them whenever I am in a large city. I find they spark creative ideas and I leave feeling refreshed and ready to write more! Here are 15 ways Modern Art Galleries can inspire writers and authors.

  • Writing Exercise: Sit before a piece of art and describe the piece and what it says to you. Modern art is fantastic because you can’t just say “It’s a portrait of a young woman with a dog”. Often the pieces are entirely based on your interpretation.
  • Use as a setting in your novel. Describe the physical details of the place, the various rooms, how you could use them. Would your characters meet here in the vast white open space of the main hall? or in one of the obscure video dark rooms?
  • Write notes from the display description. Copy down phrases that touch you in some way. What images are conjured up?
  • Free associate from one of the pieces. Just write down all the words that come to mind. Do it in a mind map format.
  • Listen for dialogue. Sit in the lobby or a public area and listen for snatches of conversation. Write notes on what you hear.
  • Browse the giftshop for marketing ideas. Can you use some of these ideas in your own marketing?
  • Use it as your Artists Date. An Artist’s Date is time out to refill our creative wells and allow new ideas to surface and spark.
  • Change your writing scene. Buy a coffee in the Gallery cafe and sit and write for an hour.
  • Use it as a venue for a meeting with another author.
  • Understand the Body of Work. This book we are working on is one piece of a whole lifetime, a whole body of work embracing all we are and all we want to express in the written word.
  • Research one of the Artists for a character sketch. Google them and use this for a character sketch.
  • Research one of the Artists and evaluate their online presence. Do they use multi-media? Do they blog?
  • Use your visit to inspire a blog post.
  • Be silly. I did tracings on coloured paper with crayons on one exhibit.

Antony Gormley: Life Beyond the Fourth Plinth

antony gormley, domain field, garage center for contemporary culture

Like Antony Gormley? The contemporary artist who asked volunteers to set up their own “piece of artwork” on the top of Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth? (see my write ups here and here.) Well, he’s got a new exhibit at Moscow’s Garage (get ready for some Cyrillic) right now called “Domain Field”. The works on display are of the human form. Cool stuff.

On Gormley’s website, he lists all of the places where he has his work on display publicly. BRAVO to the public works people at the below cities for recognizing the value of exhibiting art. Look where you can find Gormley’s art on your way to the metro/home/school/park/grocery store:

OUT OF THE DARK, Martinsplatz, Kassel, Germany, 1987
SCULPTURE FOR DERRY WALLS, Derry, Northern Ireland, 1987 – 2001
SOUND II, Winchester Cathedral, U.K., 1989
OPEN SPACE, Place Jean Monnet, Rennes, France, 1993
IRON:MAN, Victoria Square, Birmingham, U.K., 1994
HAVMANN, Mo I Rana, Norway, 1995
BEARING III, Tongyoung City, Korea, 1997
ANGEL OF THE NORTH, Gateshead, U.K., 1998
RHIZOME II, Expo Parque, Lisbon, Portugal, 1998
QUANTUM CLOUD, The Thames, Greenwich, London, UK, 2000
WELL, Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, The Hague, Holland, 2000
PASSAGE, Caumont, Picardy, France, 2000
PLACE OF REMEMBRANCE, Oslo, Norway, 2000
MIND-BODY-COLUMN, Osaka, Japan, 2000
STEHT UND FALLT, Jakob-Kaiser-Haus, Dorotheenblocke, Berlin, Germany, 2001
HERE AND HERE, Hoganas, Sweden, 2001
PLANETS, British Library, London, UK, 2002
INSIDE AUSTRALIA, Lake Ballard, Western Australia, 2002/ 2003
BROKEN COLUMN, Stavanger, Norway, 2003
ANOTHER PLACE, Crosby Beach, Merseyside, UK, 2003
FAI SPAZIO, PRENDI POSTO, Poggibonsi (part of Arte ‘all Arte 9), Italy, 2004
YOU, The Roundhouse, London, UK, 2006
RESOLUTION, Shoe Lane, London, UK, 2007
ANOTHER TIME XI, Exeter College, Oxford, 2009
PLANT, MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge, 2009


Oh, and here’s some Cyrillic, just to give you your fix for the day: «Поле притяжения» Энтони Гормли

Museum of Knowledge

Mental Maps

Mental Maps

I walked into an exhibit in Budapest, and to my horror, I thought I had walked into my office back in the States. Plastered across the barren-white walls were posterboard-sized mental maps (“mind maps” I call them, for sorting/aggregating/classifying topics and ideas). But the more closely I looked, I realized that at the Dorottya Gallery on ultra-chic Vorosmarty ter, that a new kind of musem was born: The Knowledge Museum.

Here, Bucharest-based artist Lia Perjovschi “proposed an imaginary museum… which comprises drawings, objects, charts, photos, and color prints, [and] is an objectification of the mass of information the artist has acquired through reading, travelling, and creative work. The ‘mental map’ thus created offers a view into those processes of selection that define the artist’s attitude towards the world, her methods of associating things, of building her own understanding of the world.”

First of all, we all need to create a mental map to declutter and organize our messy lives. Everyone’s map would be vastly different, and quite foreign to the next person, but strikingly clear and concise to its owner. All of this is very exciting. Sharing mental maps would be like peeking into your lunch bag in the cafeteria.

“Whatchu got?”

“Reese’s Cups. Whatchu got?”

“A fruit cup.”

[Mortified stare by Mr. Reese’s Cup]

Perjovschi, a collector, created the idea in part because of her interest in “shifting the focus from the spectacle to the learning process.” A disagregated collection, or one where all the parts don’t flow together in some organized way can create 1) bad feng shui, and 2) the anxiety that each individual piece should knock your socks off. But how about if that one particular piece is there not on its own accord, but because it was placed to round out the rest of the collection? To round out your mental map/world view?

Someone could write a thesis on this topic. Or a brief. But I… won’t. THAT’s really too much like work.

Budapest: Art’s Home Is Its Castle

Buda Castle

Buda Castle

Before I leave for a gluttonous trip to Budapest for a week (too short, I know) I wanted to research a few of Hungary’s more well-known artists of the past century. I was starstruck!

If a culture’s level of art appreciation is correlated with the architectural importance of the building in which its art is housed, Budapest must be madly in love with its art. The Hungarian National Gallery (HNG) is housed in Buda Castle — the historical castle of the Hungarian kings in Budapest — first completed in 1265. It’s undergone some rough times: during the siege of Budapest in 1945, it was the last major strongpoint of Budapest held by Axis forces, and artillery fire rendered the palace to ruins. It was subsequently rebuilt, and in 1959 the HNG moved in.

Currently on exhibit this summer is The “Művészház” 1909-1914. The exhibit tells the story of the turn-of-the-century organization of artists in Budapest called the Artists’ House (“Művészház”) which organized significant exhibitions of Hungarian and international modern artists, including classic Hungarian painting, impressionist works held by private collectors, and recent works by French, German, Japanese, and Hungarian artists (Austrian artists included Klimt). The organization introduced young artists by organizing jury-free exhibitions which provided an opportunity to artists rejected by other institutions. The Artists’ House also published a magazine and established a free art school.

The HNG features in its permanent collection many prominent Hungarian artists, including Margit Anna (1913 – 1991). Anna’s life tells an interesting story, perhaps one similarly embedded in the cultural fabric of the Hungarian people. In 1937, on a trip to Paris with her husband, Imre Amos (also a painter), she met Chagall and his influence became evident in her early work. After her husband died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1944, Anna’s style became harsher and more elemental and a new motif appeared in her pictures: puppets symbolizing man exposed to history. After 1949, she stopped producing work for awhile, eventually starting to paint again in the 1960s. Her works at that point symbolized suppressed tragedy, with surreal metamorphoses of the puppet motif.

Margit Anna "The Thinker"
Margit Anna “The Thinker”

Meet you here with some (hopefully) magical stories when I get back!