Monday, April 26, 2010


For the first time, aboriginal art is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with fourteen works painted mostly during the past decade.
Developed in the course of 20 000, maybe 40 000 years of history, representing more than 600 groups, aboriginal art can be considered as modern. It is born the year 1971, in the community of Papunya in the Northern Territory where a young art teacher encouraged schoolchildren and Aboriginal men to draw tribal symbols on bark, walls, canvas. Till then, the signs had been traced in the sand with a stick and were a tool to communicate between aboriginal tribes who had different languages. They were also a mean to reach the Dreamtime.
Each symbol has a different level of interpretation and cannot be understood without some initiation. To quote the introduction to an exhibition of aboriginal paintings "Dot and Circle", 1985 in Melbourne, Australia:
"Andrew Crocker sees the paintings working effectively on at least four levels:
a) mnemonics for the stories which are depicted and which are also sung and which comprise Aboriginal lore and law;
b) cartographic mnemonics which inform and remind of topography and proprietary rights to land according to Aboriginal law;
c) religious expression. The paintings have scrupulously omitted esoteric subjects. Often, however, while the painting is ruled safe, the full story associated with it cannot be revealed;
d) the authentic artistic expression of a contemporary painter."
Since the paintings have been made with acrylic on canvas, aboriginal art has flourished and is shown in galleries and museums in Australia. The recognition of aboriginal culture in Australia is almost parallel to this art movement represented by several groups, some from the Northern Territory, others from Central Australia or Western Australia.

This did not happen without reservation by some members of the tribes who felt that these secret, sacred symbols should be viewed only by initiated tribal elders. Within the tribe, not all members were allowed to look at the signs, especially women. It is ironical that, according to an article in Artnews, "today some of the most sought-after aboriginal painters are women".
Prices are climbing with a triple digit gain since the 70s.

The anthropologists have lost, the art world has gained. The art viewer can be introduced to a secret world, inspired by this vast land. But could "aboriginal art" be considered neo-colonialism, or is it a natural adaptation to a new world?

photograph by the author

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Trees, arbres, sunflowers and more

Spring, Joan Mitchell is "the" artist of the season in New Orleans. Her works are displayed in three venues: the CAC. the NOMA and the Newcomb Gallery.

Starting with the CAC, downtown, the first floor is filled with lithographs and etchings.

Joan Mitchell's works can appear difficult to view at first. She is a well-known Abstract Expressionist painter who developed her own style, which can be recognized after looking at a number of her paintings. She had different periods, some darker, others more luminous. Her technique and her vision are unique. When one looks at her series on trees, we could call her Impressionist ( some may cringe). The trees are seen at different time of the day, and they appear dark, menacing with the light yellow illuminating the painting in the background. She is clearly giving an impression of the late time of the day, dusk.
The series of sunflowers could be described as dynamic, vibrant. She is not painting sunflowers. She is concentrating a lifetime of looking at sunflowers.

Uptown at the Newcomb gallery, a different set of works can be viewed, pastels and watercolors all inspired by nature. The presentation of the exhibition is well done and the bright colors of the works glow in the soft light of the gallery. The visitor can understand the different periods of the artists. One room is dedicated to a diptych which occupies a whole wall. Done the year of her death, it is an apotheosis with rich colors, movement, a story of the painter's life.
Joan Mitchell is one of the artists who, dealing with their own mortality composed brilliant pieces, like a final message, and at the same time, a hope for the future.

Joan Mitchell's works need to be looked at again and again: poetic, with impressions, colors, movements and intellectual talking about life, death.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Art in the desert

During my visit in Las Vegas, I wondered where this city of almost two millions inhabitants and thousands of visitors was hiding art.

My search on the Internet before the trip was pretty discouraging. The Las Vegas Art Museum and the Southern Nevada Museum of Art located for a while in the Neonopolis are closed since 2009.
The Bellagio's art gallery is also closed. I was told by the concierge that it would reopen the 1st of May for a new exhibition.

Well, what is happening on the art scene in Las Vegas? I just read that the architect Frank Gehry who designed the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Cent for Brain Health, just completed, likes it!

But I can see unfinished buildings and The City Center, whose story has been filling the pages of the Wall Street Journal, is one of them. It appears near completion. I visited the site and got my first impression: big, a city within the city. Not revolutionary in design, it boosts to be in technology and is a "green complex of buildings". The numbers are staggering: 76 acres, the biggest, the most expensive, a 40 million dollars art collection with a sculpture from Maya Lin, a painting from Frank Stella in a lobby, works from Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg...

I stumbled on the unavoidable sculpture from Moore in a courtyard. The place is so gigantic that the art is lost in the decorations and becomes decoration itself.

Will visitors come just to see the art? I did. I found the architecture. It is a new flavor for Las Vegas, away from the playful themes of the other casinos.

The economy has whipped out the art in the community, so complaints the local newspaper. .
Which makes us reflect on art and the economy... or the community?
I guess, the function of the city is not conducive to the art.

The rooms I am sitting in the whole day listening to a conference, are called: Titian, Veronese, Bellini...

I will have to cross this hall to reach the casino,
Las Vegas (The Strip) after all, is a big amusement park for adults.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


MFAH stands for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which is composed of two buildings and the sculpture garden. The new building hosts two exhibitions from Sargent, "Sargent at The Sea" and "Houston's Sargents", and also watercolors from Prendergast, produced during his two trips to Italy... The succession of portraits and the seas from Sargent did bore me. The watercolors from Prendegast were also abundant, some of them unfinished.

Among the endless enfilade of rooms (especially the rooms dedicated to Europeans paintings and sculptures ), I discovered Frederic Remington, a great Western painter who depicted vivid scenes of the Far West, so harsh, like this corpse hanging of a cliff and the party coming at the rescue or this soldier, falling from his horse, death already in his eyes. The movement, the lighting, make the scenes very real. The rest of the permanent collection is somewhat light in paintings from Impressionist and Modern Art.

The highlight of this visit, for me, was the temporary exhibition titled: "Ruptures and Continuities: Photography Made after 1960 from the MFAH Collection". A diptych by Hatakeyama, "Blast 2005" greets the visitor. It is startling to see the fragments of rocks and the dust flying. One can almost hear the sound of the explosion when looking at the photograph. The exhibition is very well curated, presenting more than 200 hundred photographs from 80 artists. The photographs are grouped in different sections: Self-Performance, Transformation of the City, Directorial Mode and Constructed Environments, New Landscape, and Memory and Archive. Notable for New Orleanians was a photograph from Robert Polidori titled "New Orleans 2006" depicting the desolation of one area in the city. Photographs from Brian Ulrich, William Eggleston, Lewis Baltz and many more were part of the exhibition. An installation from Boltanski "La fete du Pourim", 1989, was included: photographs of Jewish children, aligned along a wall with a rusty biscuit box below each picture, like a small altar, leaving each child with a familiar object. Every household in France had a similar tin box, the pictures on them differed (I can still remember the box at my house). Simple garlands of white light bulbs decorate the installation, like votive candles. A quote from the artist accompanied the exhibit: "A good work of art can never be read in one way. My work is full of contradictions. An artwork is open- it is the spectator looking at the work who makes the piece, using their own background".

An installation from Boltanski was just presented at le "Grand Palais". Another is scheduled to occupy the Park Avenue Armory starting May the 14th.

The other building, with other permanent collections (Islamic, African, Chinese), hosts a unique display of pre-Colombian gold objects. How could the Conquistadores leave so many beautiful pieces!

The works from a prolific artist, Alice Neel were allocated a large space for a temporary exhibition.. She is memorable as a female painter and also because of the subjects she chose to depict: daily scenes from her neighborhood in New York City, political figures or well-known artists.

Unexpected, an installation from Damien Hirst was surprising the visitors in the underground passageway between the two buildings.

photograph by the author

Monday, April 5, 2010

Here and there

Works from Maurizio Cattelan are scattered among the permanent exhibitions at the Menil Collection. The pieces surprise the visitor, like a dead horse lying on the floor of a room lined up with (great) paintings from Magritte.

The view of a life size woman crucified in a packing crate (viewed from the back) dressed in a short white gown near a virgin Mary from the french Middle Age is shocking at first, it si so unexpected.

The artist is challenging the viewer. I saw Magritte better, I looked at the statue better. The pair of dogs lying in a room full of Byzantine art made me acutely aware of my surroundings.
The installation called "All", nine sculptures of body covered by shrouds already seen at the New Museum in Manhattan is there occupying a whole room, but is missing the singer. The voice brought solemnity.
The "Ave Maria" is saluting in one room, bringing a lot of comments from the visitors. A waxed hand with missing fingers but the third, is hanging in another room, a wink from the artist.
At the end of this unique exhibition of Cattelan's works, one realizes that they mingle very well with other art. The artist is provocative, but should not art be provocative at times? The shock of the images brings reflection. A whole room filled with the works from Cattelan would loose the purpose.

The drummer boy was there on the roof, playing on time every hour, reminding us that after all none of this is too serious.

photographs from the Menil Collection's website

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lights and Silence

Was Dan Flavin's installation created for the space or Richmond Hall created for the installation?
The 1930's building was a grocery store, then a bar and a dance hall. Dan Flavin considered part of the Minimalist movement created the design. The work itself was completed posthumously and he never saw the finished work.
The biggest installation occupies the hall, and cannot be appreciated without walking through. The visual effect is created by the pattern of the lights and their shadows: two sets of vertical neon fluorescent lights pink, yellow, green blue separated by an horizontal line of dark violet lamps (blacklights) with a repetition of the colours along both walls (approximately 128 feet long).
Two major details disrupt this otherwise flawless work. The ceiling with the attachments for the air conditioning, breaks the lines created by the shadows of the neon lights which would make an arch. The floor is uneven and the light is not "pooling" like described in the catalogue. The light simply dies.
The other notable piece is one of the "monuments" to V. Tatlin (they were fifty of these "monuments" to V. Tatlin), which occupies a previous storage room in the same building.

The next stop is the Rothko Chapel. The octagonal room is lined up with huge paintings from Mark Rothko which are dominant black to dark purple. It is an invitation to introspection and there is no distraction for the eye from the ground of grey bricks to the sober shape of the building. The mind cannot wander in the space which appears harsh and soulless in its perfection. Maybe this chapel has never been used for its purpose and lacks the spirituality that fills places of worship. I found the Chapel sterile and uninspiring.

Walking out of the chapel, the visitor is met by the "Broken Obelisk" from Barnett Newman. This is a powerful work which defies the laws of gravity. The purity of the design is striking with its reflection in the pond surrounding it. Unfortunately, the space has shrunk around the sculpture which is becoming overgrown by shrubs limiting the view of this impressive work.

photograph above by the author

photograph to the right from the website (1987)