Saturday, January 21, 2012

Theory and Practice

The little book by Wassily Kandinsky "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" was written in 1909 and first published in 1912.
Only eight chapters, the essay is dense, bubbling with ideas. The artist who was also a founder of the movement Der Blaue Reiter was the intellectual of the group.

I read the book, written in Russian and German, in French. The style is outmoded with long-winded sentences but the content is revolutionary. Not only about the spiritual in art, it also lays out a theory of abstract art.

The author discusses how the artist becomes the link between the crowd and the spiritual, and his subsequent loneliness on top of the triangle, with the crowd at the bottom.

In the longest chapter, he describes the theory of colors and shapes. Of course, the artist was not alone in his search, he was influenced by other artists and philosophers. He also inspired generations to come. It is a testimony of the intellectual life at the time. Kandinsky develops a grammar for the artists and brings parallels with music. Synesthesia was one of his favorite theory.

He brings back art to a spiritual function. Art creates a spiritual atmosphere and promotes meditation. Art does not only stimulate the senses but also the soul.

The book is full of great quotes. Here are a few:

"The artist must not only train his eye, but also his soul"

"Is beautiful what proceeds from an inner necessity of the soul. Is beautiful what is inwardly beautiful."

"The artist must have something to say, mastery over forms is not his goal but adaptation of form to its inner meaning."

photographs Wikipedia Commons:

Wassily Kandinsky

"Der Blaue Reiter" Wassily Kandinsky, 1903

"On White II" Wassily Kandinsky, 1923

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Social minimalism

Thanks to the Biennale Prospect.2 in New Orleans, the art galleries invite out of town artists, among them Ivan Navarro, a Chilean artist now living in Brooklyn. The last few days of Prospect.2, I visited the UNO Art Gallery on Saint-Claude Avenue to see the site specific work, a reminder of his installation Fence, 2011, at the New York Armory Show. The message is quite clear, fences are frustrating, divisive, usually ugly, represent authority. Fences are also an invitation to jump over and a challenge to the individual. The decorative fence at the gallery encloses a grey dead space, empty, a luxury in this neighborhood.
It makes me think of the rails along cemeteries, maybe jumping this fence with its pale white light would bring me to paradise. I imagine a world of lost souls and phantoms populating the empty space. Minimalism requires the viewer to get involved!

Looking back, the whole event and its location brought up a deep frustration. The building in the tough neighborhood even on a Friday at noon, is enclosed behind a locked iron door and one can see the cameras on both sides to deter intruders. The Art District in Saint-Claude is an island and I cannot find the purpose of art galleries if they are excluding the locals. What is the accomplishment of the art galleries promoting "art for the few" other than exclusion and eventually gentrification of the neighborhood? The artist's message was obviously not directed to the people who feel the impact of the fence in their lives: migrants, prisoners, political activists... A few like me were able to see the work.
The setting is hypocritical and tarnishes the artist's message.

Ivan Navarro was just featured in the January issue of ARTnews in the article Man of Refraction.

photograph by the author

Friday, January 13, 2012

Side shows

Art Basel Miami Beach Fair is also about all the side shows. A visit of the Wyndwood Art District is a must.
With limited time, one has to be selective. The oldest fair, Art Miami is located in the District, with Red Dot and and Pulse across in temporary tents.

For the occasion, the neighborhood is transformed into a giant parking lot and local artists are creating a festive atmosphere with music and performers. However, the decorations along the streets cannot hide the blight of the neighborhood, a conglomerate of soulless buildings surrounded by overgrown grass. The graffiti which have generated so much publicity for the area can be seen when driving by, they appear rehearsed and lack spontaneity.

The highlight of the day was the visit of the Margulies Collection. Arriving in front of the building, I thought the GPS had gone crazy...but, first surprise, the graceless warehouse with a few wood benches in front, right across a footwear and human hair/beauty supply center, on this abandonned street was it. More was to come going through the door. De Kooning's giant sculpture "Seated Woman" was standing at the entrance, tormented, loud against the white anonymous wall. Being able to measure the sculpture and feel the physical presence of such a work is an experience that no other venue could provide.

The wide space in the main area allowed the display of gigantic sculptures, giving them their full impact, like pieces from Donald Judd, George Segal, Frank Stella, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Tony Smith, which found a volume for their sizes. The second floor, like a mezzanine allowed a skyview of some of the works and more displays like "Home Sweet Home, 2004, from Ronald Moran, "To Be Titled", 2005, from Jacqueline Humphries among others. A sizable area is also reserved for works from local artists, still unknown.

A small fee was collected at the entrance to support a local women shelter.

A great collection which includes 4500 works of art...

photographs by the author:

"Seated Woman" de Kooning, 1969-1981

"Bene Come il Sale" Frank Stella, 1984-85

"Untitled" Donald Judd, 1979

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Beads, twigs, glass, etc...

Like in a museum of anthropology, the tribeless costumes are waiting to dance and sing at the Newcomb Art Gallery on the Tulane campus in New Orleans. The lifeless suits called Soundsuits by the artist become a colorful display and the visitor can imagine the primal scream produced by "Soundsuit", 2006, made of twigs, the joyful Jazz tune from the festive creature made of fabrics or a dark, deep sound from a towering costume which could belong to a secrete society. The display is at home in New Orleans just before Mardi Gras and I am waiting to see the suits dance and hear the music flow. The artist, Nick Cave was trained as a dancer and his background influences his works heavily. The visitor regrets not to be able to see the show and feels frustrated, standing in front of the mute costumes. A video of a performance by the artist would have brought the full dimension to the exhibition.

The main gallery is occupied by the works from Joyce Scott made of beads, wood, porcelain, glass. The medium gives a folk artsy flavor, but the message is deep and even violent. The artist travelled extensively to acquire her techniques, Central America, American Southwest, South America...
Her "Decapitated Tanzania Boy Head", 2009-2011, representing the head of an albino-African boy with white beads, her black-blond females sculpted in wood with their yellow beaded wigs make the point: being different is deadly. The artist also knows how to use irony with her porcelains, disturbing the gentle scenes of countesses and their well-behaved companions, with small sculptures of wooden African goddesses calling these works Still Funny Series. Using ancestral techniques, Joyce Scott has developed her own language keeping the viewer between smile and repulsion.

Off the Beaten Path: Women, Violence & Art is a side show with several works dedicated to the subject. Among them, Susan Plum's Luz y Solidaridad resumes the condition of females in too many countries with these giant brooms designed like long ponytails.

From beads, sequins, glass and more... to very serious subjects.

photographs by the author, from top to bottom:

Nick Cave's display at the Newcomb gallery

"Cobalt Rain", Joyce Scott, 2011

"Luz y Solidaridad" Susan Plum , 2006