Sunday, December 19, 2010

Katrina at the O

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans (the O) is presenting an exhibition titled: "One Block: A New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilds" by Dave Anderson.
One more exhibition about Katrina and its aftermaths, really? I saw some photographs on the website and decided to go anyway...I am glad I did.

The photographs are centered around one block of the lower 9th Ward in New Orleans and its rebuilding after the hurricane.
The subjects are people I meet in New Orleans daily, confronted with their worst fear: loosing their homes, which is more than walls, it is their history, their only refuge and legacy, a home.
The photographer is catching them in their despair, but knows also how to bring humor like in "Mystery Chicken", a pair of chicken parading in the street totally out of context, or "James on a Ladder", the prank pic we would do of a member of the family to laugh at during a later reunion.

Augustine and Stacy on each side of the fence one white, one black, and so close, united in the same story, the same tragedy.
Then, a lighter note, the child playing in the grass, oblivious.
"Maxine Blue" or "Maxine at Dusk", Maxine devastated, still alive , already gone.

The new houses appear bright, so defiant , better than before, but empty. Where are the scratches done over the years, where are the souvenirs, A lifetime has been cleaned and there is no going back. It is poignant, life will never be the same.

The photographer in this sobering exhibition catches a resume of countless lives.

photographs by the author

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Duchamp School

Carrying on my business one recent day (in Paris), I went to the BHV, where I last expected to find an art exhibition, but the title gave me a hint: "Courant d'Art au Rayon de la Quincaillerie Paresseuse." (approximately:Flavor of art at the lazy hardware department)

On the top floor, at " l'Observatoire du BHV", the (not too busy) shopper could take a few minutes to look at the works from fifteen young (and not so young) artists but all alive, made under the duchampian approach of the "ready-made" objects.

I noticed the French adjective to define works derived from Marcel Duchamp 's ideas: "duchampien" now also used in English, duchampian.

I thought about it and found that if we look at every object of our daily life as potential art, life becomes complicated. An object is an object. The esthetic (color, shape, decorations...) can be improved, the function should not be compromised.

Duchamp had a genial idea at the time, and became famous because of it.
The next step is the work from Arman with his
Accumulations, Coleres and more. He destroys, multiplies the object, and in the process gives it a new dimension, creating a work of art. The object cristallizes emotions and the artist interacts with the object.
Duchamp, indeed... the School of Duchamp ? Cute idea from BHV, great advertisement and a nice stroll for the not too busy shopper. But I do not need so many locks on my bicycle, one will suffice.

photographs by the author

"Sans titre", 2010 John M. Armleder

"Marcel Brancusi, Demultiple Marcel", 1987, Gerard Collin-Thiebaut

"Sans titre", 1999-2010, Richard Fauguet

Monday, December 6, 2010

on Art and Artists

A few days ago, I came upon a book written by the artist Raymond Mason (1922-2010) "At Work in Paris: on Art and Artists." The painter who became a sculptor was born in England and lived in France for most of his productive life.

In this book, Mason talks about artists he met, interacted with, admired ...or not. The final product is a great medley of characters from Giacometti to Balthus, along with Picasso, Duchamp, Matisse and more, also the Who's Who of the time, including art collectors, gallery owners and art critics. The book is a candid report of daily, sometimes mundane conversations, in-depth analysis of the works from artists like Rodin, Giotto, Jacques-Louis David, also here and there texts related to Mason's works, written for exhibitions catalogues.

Several chapters are dedicated to Giacometti. Mason had great respect for the artist, 20 years older, who he considered one of his masters. His writings make us also appreciate the man, modest, generous with others, detached from daily preoccupations and money, driven by his work.

The notes related to Balthus are enlightening for me, I never understood the artist. Mason states that his first meeting with Balthus changed his life and he recognized "the second pillar, with Giacometti, on which a new art of the figure and the figurative world could be built."

Dubuffet is described as heartless, Picasso cruel and superficial, Cartier-Bresson optimistic...

One day, Giacometti interrupted Mason: "You are just a mondain."
A few photographs of the works from Mason made me reflect about the writer...His work appears populist and he was trying to be understood and appreciated by all viewers, regardless of their backgrounds. The sculptor is a great critic of other artists but has little insight about his own productions. At some point he compares his works with Giotto's.

Mason was not afraid and made his opinions known, discarded Minimalism and embraced figurative art reintroducing colors to sculptures.

The book is entertaining, it starts like a biography, but very quickly becomes a succession of sometimes disconnected short chapters. The author knows how to sprinkle some humour and makes us reflect about art.

"La Foule Illuminee" Andre Mason

"Girl at a Window" Balthus

"Walking Man II" Alberto Giacometti

"The Departure of Fruit and Vegetables from the Heart of Paris, 28 February 1969" (1969-1971) Andre Mason

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Along the Vltava river

The walk to the Kampa Museum located on the bank of the Vltava river in Prague is very romantic, especially a month ago, with all the colored foliage. The island is a park, and the building hosting the museum has a long history starting in 1393. It used to be a water mill, of course was damaged during wars, burned, was rebuilt...and after more recent incidents was finally acquired by the City of Prague which allowed the museum to open in 2003. It looks like the week-end residence of a rich aristocrat, with its main building hosting the permanent collections and the Stables exhibition hall, the temporary exhibitions.
Meda and Jan Mladek, Czech-American collectors, contributed to most of the permanent collection, which includes more than 200 works from
Frantisek Kupka (1871-1957) and sculptures from Otto Gutfreund (1889-1927). These two Czech artists' works occupy two levels of the museum and are displayed in a chronological order. Kupta's path is a history of the abstract movement and the Parisian life. I discovered Gutfreund and his cubist sculptures like "Don Quixote" (1911-12), or Cellist (1912-13), dynamic, full of character, powerful. It is poignant to look at his post-war works, academic, emotionless, like the artist had disappeared from his works. He was well-known then, professor at the College of Decorative Arts in Prague. He drowned in the Vltava river in 1927.
The permanent collection of Central and Eastern European artists is rich with hundreds of paintings, sculptures, drawings from Polish, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian artists from the 60's to the 80's and later years. Several donors added works to this already rich collection, including George Soros.

In the Stable exhibition hall, next to the museum, a temporary exhibition was dedicated to Ladislav Novak (1925-1999), who is an original Czech artist. An action painter of a kind, he created "Decollages", "Fumages" and the famous "Froissages", creating a dreamlike world. A fairy like, lonely character is the center of a story, and annotations in French are inscribed with a pencil at the bottom of the works, giving clues about the character depicted. The works could be the illustrations for a book.

One cannot escape the history surrounding these works. Most artists , living in exile or in hiding, could not be silenced and this museum is a testimony to the power of their creativity.

A quote from Jan Mladek is encrypted on the entrance of the Kampa Museum: " If a nation's culture survives, so does the nation". The Czech Republic should fare well.

"Madame Kupka among verticals" (1910-1911) Frantisek Kupka
"Don Quixote" (1911-1912) Otto Gutfreund

photograph by the author:
"Rose" (1978) Ladislav Novak
view of one room, permanent collection at the Kampa Museum