Saturday, December 19, 2009

Let's See

I keep reading this book "Let's See, Writings on Art from The New Yorker" written by the art critic Peter Schjeldahl I usually choose a chapter or two related to my latest interests, for a short reading.

Seventy five of his articles, published in the New Yorker have been selected to compose this book.

The subjects are very diverse , from reflections on Minimalism, American Abstract to Rembrandt, Hitler as an artist...

These articles were written to be published in a magazine, thus, their length. The author manages to bring in these two to three pages a concentrated knowledge of the subjects.

His style is elegant. He is an independent art critic and is not afraid to bring up some controversy and fresh ideas. He shows honesty in his critics. He knows how to criticize an artist, brings all the arguments and in the last paragraph, softens his tone and leaves us with the opportunity to see the work of the artist with a new knowledge and new ideas.

I always keep this book close by ... and added this link to my favorite websites

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Several events are taking place as a side show to the big fair in Miami. One of them involves graffiti art in the Miami's Wynwood art district.
What about graffiti? It is the bad brother of the art family. Wikipedia is a great resource to learn more about this kind of art.
Unfortunately, the line between graffiti and mural has become blurred.

Is the meaning of this spontaneous art, its violent gesture now tamed for the galleries? Do we have to transform a powerful form of expression into another money making expedition?

This art represents the escape for individuals raised in environments where there is no hope.
It needs to stay the bad brother of the family. Graffiti cannot be recuperated by any institution including galleries or collectors. I could understand the eventual preservation in museums, because it represents an underground society, its aspirations, its fights.

Now graffiti art is put in frames, literally, sold like posters.

This yearly event of commissioned art at the occasion of Art Basel Miami Beach is taking away the message of the graffiti, and makes it become a decoration. Should "graffiti artists" be called a different name, like "mural artists"?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Where art meets money

Setting: the Convention Center located in the (dilapidated) Art Deco District of Miami Beach.
The tickets were available at the lower level, then, the crowd had to stand in lines to get in the exhibition area. The bags were screened mainly for cameras by burly guards who were enforcing the rule and made me leave mine at the cloak room (which is ludicrous, the visitors were making pictures with their phones!)

Finding the galleries was very difficult even with the floor plan in my hands. I felt caught in a maze at times, and the art was poorly displayed. The space was so crowded that it was not possible to see one piece and take a step back. This made it tiring for the eyes and the mind. The lighting also was poorly set up, so bright in an area that it made a beautiful collection of Calders look like soundless chimes. A Calder needs to be seen with its shadows. I made the comment casually to the gallerist who just went back reading her newspaper. (see picture attached from ARTOBSERVED
Can you guess where are the sculptures of Calder?

One gallery was showing next to each other a blue painting from Yves Klein, Fernando Botero and paintings from the actor such a confined space that it was impossible to take a great look at any of the works. The paintings from Sylvester Stallone were out of place next to outstanding artists. He is a great actor. I was not there when he visited the fair. I got this picture from the site "ARTOBSERVED", already linked above.
His paintings are in the background.

The well known galleries brought small works from well known artists. and the young galleries brought mediocre to poor works from unknown artists.

I was glad, the Galerie Thomas from Munich (present at the FIAC) brought its treasures to Miami. As an added treat, a small booklet of the works on display for each fair is available for the visitors to take as a souvenir. My preferred work is a painting from Kandinsky. This "chef d'oeuvre" made the trip from Paris to Miami.

The crowd was not interesting/interested. From schoolchildren brought by buses to well groomed South Americans VIPs conducted by guides through the galleries , the crowd was confused and tired. The areas to rest were very limited and occupied at all times.

I found the whole fair dragging me down. I came back the following day to spend more time and was not able to stay more than two hours, again exhausted by the presentation of the works.

I read the local papers and blogs and figured out that Art Basel Miami Beach is really a succession of private parties where it is important to be seen. This year, Lance Armstrong and Naomi Campbell made the headlines...

Let's not forget, UBS is the principal sponsor of this event.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Art Basel Miami Beach

I am leaving tomorrow to attend Art Basel Miami Beach. This is the sister fair to Art Basel.
How to prepare for my first visit ?

I went to the website...and was overhelmed at first.

Then I printed the floor plan, and looked at the galleries and artists.

Well, it must be what it advertises... the biggest fair in the United States, 250 galleries and 2000 artists.

From A to Z the galleries, from A to Z the artists, the list was long and tedious.
What to do, I am not a professional, I am an amateur.

The site is almost dull in its presentation. Maybe the point is get to the point and not get distracted.

No informations are available about the price to attend the fair, a day? two days? I am unable to buy the tickets on line...Oh well, we'll see.

Going to Miami is the only way to have an idea about the fair.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Emerging artist

This word "emerging" has been used to describe artists with greying hairs, adolescents with pimples, at the extremes. This word has been an excuse to present mediocre artists and add a zero at the end of the price of their productions.

"Emerging" has been misused. Art dealers, gallerists have been implying that the artist has a future when they use this word. Emerging means: nascent, beginning, being born.

So many artists have been introduced by galleries to never reappear, swallowed in the oblivion of time. "Emerging artist" has become another slogan.

Galleries should describe their goals, their missions instead of considering the viewers as fishes they can catch with a word they think is a good bait.
photograph by the author

Thursday, November 26, 2009

living sculpture

The artist Laurent Tixador was living in the cubicle for four days during the FIAC, according to the sign near the sculpture called "Jumping Beans."
I did not detect any sign of life when looking at it in the "Jardin des Tuileries" near "Le Louvre".

The crowd was very interested and made comments like: "How is he going to the bathroom?"
or "How did he get there?"

And I asked myself : "Should we judge a piece of art by the comments it brings from the viewers?" If we did, this sculpture would be an F .

I also asked myself: "What is the purpose of this? Will the artist emerge and be enlighten and produce the most interesting piece of art of his career after meditating four days ?"

What is the statement of this sculpture? The artist places himself above us and from his height judges his viewers. The ironwork makes it appear almost like a prison where the artist isolates himself. Is he trying to protect himself from the world?
The artist is inaccessible.

I read about another artist in Japan who is living a whole year in a cell.
I forgot his name.

The artist was enclosed in his version of an "ivory tower".

I am curious to see what the artist is going to produce next...

photograph by the author

Monday, November 23, 2009

The art world

I just read a book "Seven Days in the Art World." by Sarah Thornton.

The seven days cover one subject per day: The Auction, The Crit, The Fair, The Prize, The Magazine, The Studio Visit, The Biennale.

The author is educated in Sociology and Art History.
She is obviously well connected and allows us to participate in the life of well known characters, for a few hours.

Her writing is fast, witty, fun to read. She uses some cynicism to describe the food-chain of the art world.

It is an informative and entertaining book that can be read in less than 7 hours.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The auction

ARTDOCS is a non profit organization in New Orleans since 1999, geared toward bringing free medical care for artists who cannot afford health insurance.
The annual art auction was held at the Hefler warehouse on Magazine Street ( New Orleans) in the evening last Thursday.

I went to the auction, as a spectator, but learned a lot from the experience.
Most of the art was donated by local artists or local galleries.
This is New Orleans, as we were perusing through the art before the auction started, there was music, free food and drinks (for a nominal fee at the entrance) all offered graciously by local restaurants and the local brewery.

The crowd was very cheerful. Nobody was there for serious business but in the true spirit of New Orleans, people came to have a good time and help a good cause.

This is what I learned:

- Do your homework. This appears obvious, and I thought I had done so... till I was surrounded by more than 70 pieces of art and that many artists names. I had gone through the lots which were available for viewing on the Internet, but it was overwhelming to be surrounded by all of them.

I should have selected a few pieces, do some research on Artprice or other site and decided how much I was willing to spend on each.

- Next is evaluating the condition of the work. One panel in acrylic was damaged and this would not have been obvious on the Internet (some people were bidding on the phone).

-Arrive early. I did and I was able to select a seat in the middle of the room, in front of the stage, but I decided to wander around. Later, I had to stand on the side...and missed a bid.

-Eat well, and even have some coffee, make sure you took care of all your natural needs for the next three hours.

-Unless you are really interested in a piece to be sold in the first half hour, try to hold your bidding till the last part, of the auction. There is a palpable fatigue of the bidders who are very enthusiastic at the start and then "are done".

What happened to me that evening: sloppy research, did bid on one piece but this was not aknowledged because I was not aggressive enough and not well situated, the auctionner did not see me.
I left early with a big part of the crowd because I had to work the following day.
I missed some interesting work, but it was my first auction.

CAUTION: this activity could be addicting.

Monday, November 9, 2009


During my recent trip to Paris, I went to Centre Pompidou to see the retrospective about Pierre Soulages, opened till March 8th 2010. The paintings were representing a period from 1946 till 2009.

This is an exhibition not to miss if visiting Paris.
(photographs were not allowed, the photograph on the left was made at the FIAC).

Going through the rooms, one can appreciate the artist's different periods. His uniqueness stays as a lasting impression.

Pierre Soulages is known to use the whole range of the color black and I never thought so much could be told with one color and it could become so many colors. (as opposed to Yves Klein who created one color, the "International Klein Blue").

The succession of paintings help us follow the path of the artist.
The first pieces are like an alphabet. He is experimenting. The paintings are flat, strokes of brushes. Then he develops volumes, depth. They become a whole language and send us messages.

Soulages works on the color black till it becomes alive, threatening at times and creates mystery. When using other colors, it is only to underline the color black and make it blacker.

On some of the later paintings, the surface of the canvass is covered with a thick coat of paint which is then sculptured with some tool, most likely a knife. The lines are simple, but the black becomes the light it reflects.

The space is well used and even with the crowd going by, one can sit in the middle of the room and enjoy this very special moment when the viewer can feel totally immersed in the work.

One room is mysterious, like a place where a special event is taking place: the spectator is in the dark and the black painting is shining, light in the dark. This is when we understand the term "outre-noir" (beyond black) created by Soulages.

In the last rooms, black panels are hanging from ceiling to floor and I do not appreciate this period as much: the black is dull, the panels flat...too japanese.

The exhibition is well researched, showing the different periods of the painter. It is on the top floor of the Centre Pompidou, and the view is breathtaking, even when it rains.

This work is emotionally, intellectually, philosophically enlightening. There is before and after this exhibition.

A lot has been written about Soulages and his art, but I will quote him:
"C'est ce que je fais qui m'apprend ce que je cherche." ( "It is what I do which teaches me what I am looking for.")

"The reality of a work is the three way relationship it establishes between the thing that it is, the painter who made it and the viewer who sees it."

I felt privileged to be the viewer in this three way relationship.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

This is the question

Why art?

"Art represents the highest task and the truly metaphysical activity of this life".

"The Birth of Tragedy" Nietzsche.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The triangle

Since my return, I had a lot of thoughts about the role of the viewer, the spectator, the "amateur d'art". It appears to me that in the triangle artist-work of art-viewer, the viewer's role is increasing recently. Academic art is art to be admired. Abstract art engages the viewer. He/she has to project himself/herself in the piece of art.

Is there art without a viewer?
The extreme is making art just to engage the viewer and "look at the reaction". This becomes the only purpose of art: to provoke the spectator who ultimately creates the message. At the theater, the actors stand motionless on the scene and the spectators reaction becomes the play. At the FIAC, I overheard an artist walking by, who had a heated discussion with another: "I just did this piece to see people's reaction ".
A painting becomes a mirror for the viewer.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Day three, four and after

Day three was spent at the "Cour Carre du Louvre' to visit younger artists. The "prix Duchamp" was announced that day. Art was political, philosophical, vigorous at times in its statement, but not enough. War of course was the subject for a few artists. None of these works took my breath away: not strong enough, not engaged enough, not violent enough.
They were more photographs which may reflect the market for these, younger and cheaper?

Day 4, I walked in the "Jardin des Tuileries" and went by the sculptures presented outdoors.
I used my camera. I had to read the artists statements to understand the presentations. Usually, it is not a good sign for me.

Saturation may be part of feeling somewhat deflated today. I will have the length of a trip back to the States to digest all of this.
photograph by the author

Friday, October 23, 2009

FIAC day two

By day 2, I was fully oriented and was able to go back to special paintings or sculptures I wanted to see again. I made photographs.
I took my time to look at paintings from Soulages, Nicolas de Stael, Miro, Kandinski, Tanguy to name a few, sculptures from Tinguely, Brancusi...I wanted to remember each of these, they will be most likely bought by a private collector, and I will not be able to see them for a long time.
I enjoyed that day even more.

I spent a lot of time looking at these pieces of art. Why? I will not forget these. They are now in my visual bank. These encounters are thought provoking or create an aesthetic emotion which follows me like a perfume or a tune.
photograph by the author

Thursday, October 22, 2009

FIAC day one

It is my first visit to the FIAC (Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain). Its location is perfect, on one side "Le Grand Palais" and the other side "La Cour Carree du Louvre" with a walk from one location to the other through the "Jardins des Tuileries".
I chose to start with a visit to " Le Grand Palais". I walked through the galleries first to "get the feel" and of course bought the catalogue which is worth its price in content and ...weight.

I was amazed to see so many high quality works, paintings, sculptures that I did expect to find in museums. They could be bought. It was a real pleasure and I was like a child in a candy shop. I decided to stay till saturated and come back the following day. The gallerists were pretty relaxed (or appeared so) and it was a different experience than visiting a gallery. I felt no pressure to buy (it was obvious I was not a buyer) and was able to appreciate all these beautiful pieces at my own pace. Photographs were permitted.

I will not go in details about all the pieces I saw, they were so many , I may come back in other blogs about a few of them. But the galleries brought their best collections and made this event memorable.
photograph by the author

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Waiting for the FIAC

Today, I visited Soulages at "Centre Pompidou", I will need more time to talk about this visit. I convinced myself to visit the temporary exhibition called Elles@Pompidou.
Nikky de Saint-Phalle greeted us at the entrance of the exhibition, as pictured left.

I find it sexist to have a show of female artists only.
Most of works presented females and their sexuality. Very few works if any, brought up subjects like spirituality, politics, childbearing. The closest reference I found about motherhood was the work from Annette Messager. She knits covers for dead birds, and aligns the dead birds in little boxes. She also embalms some of them and wraps them like mommies. The artists explains that one time in Paris she walked on a dead bird, and following this experience, she started this work.

Cindy Sherman tries to make herself look ugly on a self-portrait. She makes us reflect about beauty and ugliness and confirms my previous thoughts: it is all in the heart.
The walk through this exhibit reinforced my dyslike for such presentation.

The view from "Centre Pompidou" is always great, rain or sun.
photograph from the author

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I could not miss the exhibition called "Deadline" at Musee d'Art Moderne de la ville de Paris.
From Martin Kippenberger to Joan Mitchell, Robert Mapplethorpe and others, the message is moving. The exhibition is presenting pieces they created after being diagnosed with terminal illnesses.

Starting with Kippenberger, in the first room, are the portraits for "Das Floss der Medusa". This is the boat he chose to cross from life to death. Poignant self-portraits with expressions of great suffering are lining up one side of the room while on the other side, the portraits are showing the back of the artist who already left us.

The exhibition also presents Absalon with one of his cell- like apartment, all white, small, like a cocoon.

Hans Artung is showing great energy and appears taken by a colorful frenzy to produce , like Wilhem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell.

Robert Mappelthorpe's room is chilling: a parade of black and white photographs including a skull. Presiding over these, a photograph of the artist's face and a hand holding a cane with a skull, floating on a black background. He is looking intensely at The other photographs are Greek statues from Apollo, Hermes and other young gods, glowing in their eternal beauty and helping us reflect on our own mortality.

Several works from Chen Zhen are presented, one of them is quite unnerving with sounds of women giving birth, sick people moaning, coughing, vomiting.These sounds are coming from a coffin made with two hospital beds wrapped with bandages , pieces of torn hospital gowns.
More artists can be found on the website.

This exhibition is of great quality and is opened till January the 10Th.

Monday, October 19, 2009

On the beaten paths in Montmartre

Today I chose to visit l'Espace Dali , near Place du Tertre in Montmartre... just because it is Dali. It is described on numerous websites.

The temporary exhibition is presenting Gala's jewels (which were created to be unwearable). It appears to be a way to promote Dali's jewels and ... more business. Maybe the tourists are not buying copies of lithographs anymore and the melted clocks are "passe" now. What is new? Small reproductions of the melted clocks but with shiny diamonds or of "Alice" with hundreds of small diamonds, turning on a pedestal.
Dali created these jewels to be looked at:"Without a public, without the presence of spectators these pieces of jewelry would not fulfill the purpose for which they were created. Therefore, the spectator is the final artist. His sight, his head,his spirit -with more or less an ability to understand the creator's intend- give life to these pieces of jewelry." This is a quote from Dali himself.
The problem is that his work has been misused in so many occasions that I can hardly get the message anymore.

However, it is a great adventure to visit "Espace Dali" . The presentations include paintings, drawings, lithographs and of course sculptures. Hanging on the walls are real jewels to look at.

On my way back, I stopped by the gallery 3 F ( 58, rue des 3 Freres 75018) and visited the temporary exhibition of a photographer who shows flamenco dancers swirl like dervishes. His name is Andre Rigaud.

photograph from the author

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Off the beaten paths in Montmartre

Today, the crowd was thick near Place du Tertre and I decided to visit Les Halles Saint-Pierre(2, rue du Ronsard)
The building is a redeveloped Pavilion Baltar at the foot of Montmartre.
The space is divided into two galleries, a library, a tea room, ateliers. The galleries are on two levels and have the shape of hexagons. The exhibitions are presented in a very pleasant way: the lighting is very efficient, the presentations are not crowded and have appropriate labelling. A biography of the artist is posted on a big board and can be read at the start and/or the end of the visit.
This is a municipal project to be visited primarily by the locals and the texts are in French only.
The mission of the "Halle Saint-Pierre" is to exhibit: "Art brut, populaire, contemporain".

Roger Chomaux(1907-1999) was an eclectic artist: painter, sculpture, architect, poet, he also raised bees, made a movie. I would call him also a philosopher. He lived like an hermit (but received visitors) in the forest of Fontainebleau where he created a "Village d'Art Preludien".
Here is the site (in French) to read more about his life.

The works presented till March 7Th, 2010 at the Halle Saint-Pierre are worth a visit. Unfortunately, photographs are not allowed and the pieces selected on the website are not the most interesting.
The artist was prolific and grew through different styles and use of materials. My preferred creations were made of scrap metal like " Tete Hallucinee" and "Fetiche". The titles are very appropriate. It is a feat to make this material speak with emotion. "Tete Hallucinee" makes me think of a Christ's head. "Fetiche" is more primitive and refers to Voodoo with nails used to define the features of the head made in wood.

The totems from the "Village Preludien" are also very interesting, usually white and black , also made of scrap metal. They are ironical but at the same time inspire respect.
There is a congregation of sculptures representing mutants, chiseled from a soft porous stone. These appear peaceful and detached from the world like Buddhas.
Further, they are works made of chicken wire covered with melted plastic and broken colored tiles glued on it to create the facial expressions of the heads. These are the opposite, full of torments.Numerous paintings are hanging along the walls. I did not much care for these.

Chomo was also a writer, poet using a phonetic writing and I copied this sentence, which for me, resumes his quest: "Moi-crucifie-de-solitude-je-pin-aveqdelarme-un-sourir-de-FAME".
I would translate this as: "Me, crucified with solitude, I paint with tears, a smile of Fame"
He was a loner, but was longing for recognition. He deserves to be better known.