Sunday, September 18, 2011

First in Houston, TX

The first art fair in Houston took place from the 16th till the 18th of September at the George R. Brown Convention Center with eighty-three galleries participating.

Greeted by a giant sculpture from Dubuffet, the visitor had no difficulty finding the galleries with each booth labelled with names and numbers and plenty of space in the aisles.

Twelve galleries from Houston, eleven from Miami, ten from New York City, South America and Europe were also represented.

Each gallery brought plenty of works in the mid-range prices (most a few thousand dollars, a few above 20 000) from not so well-known artists. The exhibitors were conservative and there was no "star" stealing the show.
New Orleans was represented by the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery with a booth filled by Dan Tague's works.
The works from known artists were not of great quality like the only painting from Joan Mitchell or a few from Rauschenberg.

Warhol's works could be acquired at several galleries. Unsigned, they were authenticated by the "Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board". The Brillo fiasco would make me cautious when buying a Warhol (anyway his works are not on my virtual shopping list).
Overall, the fair was well organized, very pleasant. A catalogue with the list of the galleries made it easy to navigate. I found it somewhat dull without surprises from young artists. The Saturday crowd was well-behaved, the gallerists were wearing dark suits and black dresses and did not celebrate sales loudly with champagne like at the FIAC!

But art fairs are about business and the Houston fine art fair reports 6 millions sales and 10 500 visitors, a success for a young fair. It is also about educating the viewers and ultimately transform them into collectors.

photographs by the author

"Incarnation Incantation", James Rosenquist, 1989

"Sally with Skull", Milton Avery, 1946

"Untitled", Harold Shapinsky, 1984

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gordi, local artist and beyond

The Contemporary Art Center presents an interesting exhibition: "Patterns and Prototypes: Tina Girouard and Robert Gordy" curated by Dan Cameron.
Displayed across each other on the whole top floor, the two artists are from Louisiana. I had seen a few works from Gordy in the past, but never a whole exhibition composed by twenty-three paintings.

He exemplifies the Pattern and Decoration movement started in the mid-seventies. His paintings are a repetitive pattern of shapes, like stencils underlined by black lines in an attempt to add a third dimension. Human subjects with a Fernand Leger's flavor are scattered in these busy landscapes. The colors are sometimes bright, sky blues and white but mainly black and dark colors, with vibrant oranges, purples, greens. The paintings overall lack rhythm and could be repeated indefinitely, producing a wallpaper or fabric like feeling.

The pattern and Decoration movement was a weak response to Minimalism and did not produce memorable works. The paintings engender boredom and I did not find this technique inspiring.

Still, Robert Gordy, a local artist, reached a bigger audience due to his style which at the time was in favor.

photographs by the author

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sampling Warhol

Coincidence? It is a Warhol week: 30 Polaroid photographs, one silkscreen, a book of interviews and a movie.
The Newcomb Art Gallery on the Tulane campus presents Pop Shots: Polaroid Portraits by Andy Warhol. The exhibition consists of 30 Polaroid photographs of famous and/or rich models. The framed portraits are lining the walls of one room. Warhol would make fifty to one hundred of these photographs at a sitting and select one shot for the next step, a giant silkscreen portrait of the sitter. A local figure of New Orleans is featured with several Polaroids and the resulting silkscreen work. Warhol became so popular that the subjects were not hiring the artist, they were begging the artist to have a portrait made.

The same week, I found a book about Andy Warhol: "I'll be Your Mirror, The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews", consisting of Thirty-Seven Conversations with the Pop Master, edited by Kenneth Goldsmith, and spanning 30 years, from the 60's till the 80's. I learned a lot about how to interview a reluctant interviewee. Warhol was a man of few words. "What is Pop Art"? answer "Yes", etc... The artist was known to be shy, but his technique during the interviews becomes affectation. After all, he was eager to be in the spotlight. Warhol became more loquacious over the years and even volunteered some information about his lifestyle in his latest interviews including his thoughts about deeper subjects like art.

Finally, I watched a movie on Netflix "13 Most Beautiful...Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests", a succession of approximately five minutes movies lasting for a total of 59 minutes. Each clip is one actor filling the screen, just the face. The subjects are exercising their facial muscles in front of the camera and girls, boys, girls, good actors, manage to stay expressionless with an occasional show of emotion, like a fake tear. The last piece is a girl brushing her teeth for five minutes. The movies are in black and white and play with light and shadows. Considering that they were made in the 60's, they have some historical interest. Andy Warhol preferred to leave the movies unedited for fear of spoiling the subject. I have to confess, I fast forwarded the movie to last twenty minutes. The songs are worth buying the soundtrack.

What is Pop Art? The artist wants the viewer to define the art. We are used to the artist filling his/her work with meanings, symbols and the viewer looking superficially at the art. Andy Warhol braggs that he made the work in an hour for consumption and the viewers are giving value to the piece of art by spending time and money.

This is the art of Warhol, the viewer is filling the cans of soup with symbols, the interviewer is answering the questions, the reader is reading between the lines, the moviegoer is making up his own plot.
His works are a commercial success and he has given a flavor to Pop Art: superficial and empty.

Andy Warhol has become an icon, by picturing famous persons he has become famous. He claims to be the ultimate artist: money and fame. His philosophy? Pop. Business acumen or art? "Making money is art, and working is art and good business is best art".
One can be impressed by the amount of material produced at the Factory and some of the movies are still sitting at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg, unseen. Warhol liked to document his life with movies or tape recordings. Anxiety? Precursor of reality TV shows? Performance art?

Warhol succeeded in making the viewer create not only the art, but also the artist.

Photograph by the author:
"Tina Freeman", Andy Warhol, 1975