world view

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?


You never know who you’ll meet in a gallery…

This morning I downloaded all of my weekly podcasts for this week, and in the afternoon, while in the jacuzzi at the gym (which provides the perfect environment for a soak, a sweat, and a listen-to of all of my ~30 minute New Yorker Fiction podcasts) I heard something that so strikingly paralleled my novella, Degrees of Freedom, I couldn’t help but crank up the iPod. Chang-Rae Lee (author of “Daisy”) read Don DeLillo’s “Baader-Meinhof” or, in English, “Art and Terror” and discussed it with The New Yorkers fiction editor, Deborah Treisman. (Right-click here to download).

Theme, theme, theme. This is what Degrees of Freedom and “Baader-Meinhof” have in common. They both chronicle the chance meeting of a man and a woman in an art gallery; the woman sitting there staring at an art piece; the man sauntering in; both of them wondering about the other; both sizing up the other; both challenging each other to assess the paintings, and life, and everything else, even death…

But the relationships turn quite different corners.

How they vary is what really fascinated me. First, in DeLillo’s piece, the characters are staring at pieces of photography illustrating the terrors of the Holocaust and the rope burns and anguished faces of death, while in Degrees of Freedom, Pietri and Marguerite stare at the Spanish masters. Beautiful works. Works in Mannerism. Works where the artists mask every blemish. Works where creamy, buttery skin is sacrosanct. Where the subjects you’d swear have had Botox. Jewels drip. Puppies sit on laps.

The two works are also written from different points of view. Degrees of Freedom is written from the perspective of Pietri, a Maltese professor who is visiting his daughter in Seville, Spain, who meets Marguerite, a former art professor who is partially blind.  And in Delillo’s work, the two aimless protagonists have neither a job nor, it seems, much of a direction in life.

While I kept my characters largely within the art museum, in discussions that alternated between children and the merits of a Seville orange versus a Maltese fig, Delillo takes his characters out of the museum. But they take the photography with them, it seems, as they are forever changed by these horrific pieces. They seem less secure, less bounded by their relationship. In fact, once they leave the museum, their hours-old relationship falls apart. Undoubtedly, the photography in the museum changed Delillo’s characters,  shook them into walking zombies as they left the museum, rendered them unaccountable for their actions, unsure, not tethered to anything other than shock at how vile humanity can be. Pietri and Marguerite took the paintings to heart too, but they used the Spanish painters — Zurbaran, Murillo — as a connection, as a charged force that brought them together. Their relationship proved to be boundless.

You never know who you will meet in an art gallery. Regardless, it could be a while ride.

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.

For the Memory, Not the Moment

Visitors at the Louvre: some engage directly with the art while others take pictures of pictures.

That NYT photo tagline above sums it up: museum crowds often snap a steady stream of photos for the “been there, done that” memory (think Mona  Lisa), not the  “aha moment” — the long, lingering introspective ponder that results in a myriad of intellectual streams to wander down and eons more insight into the artist’s world view.

A NYT “experiment” captured the museum scenario: for two hours the author watched passersby approach — and then walk by — the art on the walls.

A few game tourists glanced vainly in guidebooks or hopefully at wall labels… Almost nobody…paused before any object for as long as a full minute…

…tourists… wander through museums, seeking to fulfill their lifetime’s art history requirement in a day, wondering whether it may now be the quantity of material they pass by rather than the quality of concentration they bring to what few things they choose to focus upon that determines whether they have “done” the Louvre. It’s self-improvement on the fly.

The author mentioned that he and his 10-year-old brought along sketchbooks to St. Peter’s in Rome, “just for the fun of it… to help us look more slowly and carefully at what we found. Crowds occasionally gathered around us as if we were doing something totally strange and novel, as opposed to something normal, which sketching used to be.”

But is sketching enough? The author never posits how, exactly, we should look at art. Do you get the best “view” when you can get a grip on what appears beyond the actual paint, the charcoal, or the pencil to see the artist’s political motivations? How about the social undercurrents? Here lies the difference between an artwork’s “Visual” portrayal and it’s “Narrative” portrayal.

Just to flesh out some of the varying perspectives, I cobbled together this list of “how to look at art”:

  • Art is not just about the execution, it is about the concept. The concept of most nonrepresentational art is about the pleasing or satisfying arrangement of shape and color (art society).
  • to see how the pieces at the Met come together to tell a broader story–not so much a narrative, but a story (the Atlantic)
  • The way museums (art museums are often the worst) are designed today is terrible. You have a wall-spanning painting or massive sculpture, and then the only informational context is a 5 inch plaque next to it — often showing only the artist, the year, and perhaps the period/genre. Put interesting things there. Put how it fits into the region, the time, the culture. Put stories about how the artist had to hide it from his patron because he didn’t like it, or how that person in the foreground is actually based on his mistress, or how this type of paint had to be smuggled in from Egypt. (the Atlantic)
  • To really get into art, all you need to do is ask yourself a few questions that will get you thinking about what you’re looking at. There are only two questions that you really need to look at art, and those are: “What’s going on in this picture/sculpture/building?” and “What do I see that makes me say that?” (The Art History Blog)
  • 1. figure out what’s worth stealing
    2. move on to the next thing
    rinse and repeat (somebody’s Flickr page)

Another question is, how long do you have to perform the “lingering moment” before you can really get into the head of the artist? To figure out his world view?

For me, the jury is still out.

Someone said you can’t measure it (good point):

Timing people and picking the arbitrary minute as a measuring stick to differentiate who breezes through and who really stops and drinks it in seems unfair. If we go to a museum and its crowded, then the intimacy is harder to attain. If one goes with friends it might be a social occasion as much as an art encounter. Talkative friends at a museum can be a very different visit than going alone or with one’s wide-eyed-drink-it-all-in kid. Lots of people study a room full of Sargeant’s paintings longer than I do, but few people linger in front of a Franz Kline or Rothko or Milton Avery than I do. I check in on every room if I can, want to see everything everytime but my wife wants to see just an exhibit or two. I can’t get my daughter out of the Asian wing of the MFA. My wife was a ballerina so looking at paintings of Degas has a hundred more layers for her than some people. (the Atlantic)

All that I really know is that the curator around the corner would be most pleased if you stopped, stared, and ogled, only twenty minutes later coming to, not having realized that you had been drooling, lost to the world.

How To Look At Art (like an artist)

Life, Seen Through Art: Starting Young

A cherubic young girl lies in the bath, dark hair floating from her head. She is revelling in a moment of tranquil pleasure. In this self-portrait, 11-year-old Georgia Marshall Evangelou said “In other countries people would not have this water, or the time, to do such a thing.”

Nathan Roach, 17, presents a stark photographic image of himself hands stretched out in front, as if to escape the mass of dark images surrounding him, “the many pressures teenagers experience, the feeling of being trapped or suffocated under pressure to succeed, fears of being bullied because of the way we look and dress”.

The work of Emily Daniel,16, shows a girl’s face, the mouth held tight with a collection of safety pins, a strong representation of how young people feel silenced, censored and watched.

These are some of this year’s entrants in the Equality and Human Rights commission’s Young Brits at Art competition. The kids had a lot to say, socially, politically, but they are also young and inexperienced in technique. So why does this work as art?

Art is expression: the process starts with feeling some sort of emotion about some sort of something, and kids in their teens are just emerging into newer, fresher ideas, thoughts, concepts. They are trying to find a home for their new feelings, and so they are thinking deeply and trying to express themselves in ways other than through verbal or physical avenues. They are just emerging into the social sphere on a wider level, and so they have an unadulterated and perhaps unique perspective.

One competition judge said that she reviewed all the works based on the “emotional response” she felt from each work. And since younger artists have likely seen fewer and less varied works of art, they are therefore drawing from a more organic (less pre-defined or concrete) sense of expression. If so, a child’s work may convey a concept much differently than a more seasoned artist would. There’s a lot to learn by unlocking whatever runs rampant in the heads of kiddos.

Prague’s Version of the Biennale: Rough, Robust, and Real

Karlin Hall facade

Karlin Hall facade

In art, to each his own, and Prague is ringing in its own version (4th annual) of Venice’s storied Biennale through the end of July. Only Prague hasn’t done it up like Venice does (with, according to the NYT, flotillas of big shiny yachts and huge crowds elbowing to see art in labyrinthine Gothic palazzos). From what I’m reading about Prague’s version, it may be more honest as this stripped-down, bare-bones, low-budget endeavor (perhaps Venice’s started out this way; nah, not likely). Prague’s Biennale is housed in Karlin Hall, a massive and decayed former industrial space. Karlin’s enigmatic appeal prompted one viewer to write on his blog

It was such a refreshing and compelling staging that I wandered, virtually alone in the alleys almost the whole day. I loved that the works were only lit up by natural light, offering a precious and quite unique way to look at Art; no orange spots nailing a painting nor buzzing fluorescent lights disrupting the moment… [it] looks clearly held together by the fierce will of the artists, curators and gallerists who participated.

What does the look of the space matter? Prague is able to boast that at 230 artists, it’s showing the most artists of any biennale, proving that glitz and glamour is not what success requires (even though the woman in the pink wig looks suspiciously like Karlin sold out and in a “deer in headlights” moment roughed up some guerilla glitz and glamour).

Bravo, Prague!

Pinault’s Emerging Artists



So who does Francois Pinault consider “emerging artists” such that he would include them in his collection now on view at Venice’s Biennale?  (For more on Pinault and the Biennale, see article below.) Apparently, he’s plucking artists that others (Saatchi, etc.) have already identified as gems and have given a shot at a big-time exhibition. So it sounds like he’s letting others (Saatchi) do his guesswork for him, just like how he may tap Mellon or UBS to help choose his business investments (Pinault holds the Gucci group and numerous other well-known establishments). If Pinault has similar success with picking winners in art as he has with his businesses, then roll the dice, I’m placing my bets with Pinault’s list.
So what are Pinault’s picks doing in terms of their art? What are their visions? Here’s two:
Matthew Day Jackson – in his Saatchi Gallery bio he says he’s “a sculptor who repurposes frontier symbols for political aims” — a unique concept and pretty fascinating on many levels, from the historical perspective to re-engineering “found” pieces. In Sepulchre, he took his punk t-shirts and stitched them into a mast. Is he saying that punk are the new pirates? I’m waiting for the eyepatch to come into fashion. 
Adel Abdessemed

Adel Abdessemed

Adel Abdessemed — Personally, I don’t know how he is still considered an “emerging” artist. His  CV is PHAT (10 pages!): solo and group shows all over the world, from Turin to Tenerife, and including the Pompidou and the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. His works are big: at David Zwirner’s gallery in Chelsea he installed “Telle mère tel fils (which translates as “Like Mother Like Son”), which was created out of the nose and tails sections of three commuter airliners; connected by a tunnel made of white felt, the piece twists and turns like a giant serpent.” And like Matthew Jackson, he uses a lot of “found” pieces. His work has evolved from his upbringing in Algeria, but rather than focusing his art on the political climate there, he reacts to politics on a global scale.

He takes an interesting perspective on his “organic” work versus pop art:




My work is organic, constantly evolving. All of my artworks spring from an intuition of an image in construction. Things change as the work comes to life and it’s the direct experience of this construction that produces the result—as opposed to Pop Art, where the object is already finished before the work of art is created.

OK, will look at more of Pinault’s pics in the next post.