Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gloom and doom

The CAC (Contemporary Art Center) in New Orleans is presenting a collection of mainly paintings, few installations and sculptures with nature as a theme, selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation.

The colorful display occupies the first and second level. Featuring numerous artists, the different style's works are of uneven quality. After walking through the exhibition, two thoughts came to mind. Digital photography has changed the vision of contemporary artists. The influence is overwhelming with painters like Torban Giehler with "Mont Blanc",2002, (link is to "Matterhorn", same technique), Jack Goldstein or Timothy Tompkins with his sculpture "Highway 89A". Integrating digital photography in the process of their works, the artists are transforming the landscapes into patchworks.

Another message from this exhibition is that nature is not a benign, nurturing mother earth. Nature is wild, scary. The background for the blue, white flowers is bloody red in "Klenator Draculas", 1977, from Billy Al Bengston, the sunset is cold-violet not warm-orange in "Vrindaban", 2003, from Andy Moses, twigs are dry, threatening.
Cindy Wright's butterfly is bringing bad omens. Where are the fruits, the green pastures, the calming scenes a la Corot?

The new paysagists are seing violence, destruction, gloom.
Are they predicting other disasters?

Are we still living in harmony with nature?

top photograph: view of the First Floor Gallery at the CAC
"Klenator Draculas", 1977, Billy Al Bengston
bottom photograph: Massoud Yasami "On the Edge #5", 1988

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Decadence Now: Vision of Excess"

The title is promising and the exhibition quite ambitious.

Located in the Rudolphinum (Prague, Czech Republic), one of the oldest concert hall, hosting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the Gallery focuses on contemporary art and, for this exhibition, on decadence in art going back over the past 30 years.
Upon crossing a vast hall, climbing a staircase to reach the gallery, the visitor is overwhelmed by the quiet, heavy atmosphere and plunges into the first room, a collection of self-portraits from well known artists like Maplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Catherine Opie, David Wojnarowicz, Joel-Peter Witkin, Damien Hirst to name a few.
Deformed bodies, inflicted pain, degradation of the self, the photographs are disturbing.
Four more themes are the subject of the exhibition: Excess of the Body: Sex, Excess of the Beauty: Pop, Excess of the Mind: Madness, Excess of the Life: Death.

One feels repulsion, horror, fascination and intense emotions. All taboos are transgressed and the artists have reach a point beyond which there are no limits.
The media used for some works evokes pain , death, like the artist's blood for "Dessin au Sang #1" (1997) from ORLAN, Erwin Olaf' s academic portraits of princesses with blood splashing across their angelic faces or Geza Szollosi's work with "Project Flesh" (2004), which includes a female pelvis in formol.
Religion with "Saint Sebastian" (1978), "Was the Jesus Heterosexual" (2005) from Gilbert and George, "Veronica wipes the Face of Jesus" (2004), the Stations of the Cross Series from David Bailey and Damien Hirst, or pornography with Jeff Koons's "Blow Job-Ice", 1991, are followed by the last room occupied by works related to death.
At some point, I feel saturated. To rekindle the interest, I try humor, but this does not work, the subjects are very serious indeed.
Yes, it is disturbing, remote because in a museum, but close because of the subjects brought up by these works. We can all agree on the quality of the exhibition, bringing together great works.
"Room #13" is an extension to the theme Excess of Beauty, located across the street at the Museum of Decorative Arts and presents decadence in fashion and design. It is definitely weird with a collection of dolls complete with their death certificates.
More decadent exhibitions are taking place, at the Brno house of Arts with works of Joel-Peter Witkin, at the Gallery of West Bohemia in Pilsen with works of Ivan Pinkava, at the DOX gallery in Prague with works of Gilbert and George...

The booklet advertises decadent movie festivals, conferences, concerts, discussions...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Destination Prague and no time to prepare for the trip.

Upon my arrival, I was glad to find a copy of The Prague Post, a weekly publication in English. The list of galleries, museums, restaurants, bars, concert halls and more is exhaustive. I will not be able to attend all these venues. The choice is difficult.
To discover the city, I walked: Nove Mesto, Mala Strana, the old castle, Stare map is falling apart.
From "John Lennon Peace Wall" in Mala Strana, the Memorial to the victims of Communism or a recent landmark like the dancing house from Frank Gehry which catches the eyes of the visitors along the river, to castles, churches, Kafka's house, the walk becomes a history lesson.

from top to bottom:
the dancing house from Frank Gehry,
the Memorial to the victims of Communism from Olbram Zoubek, sculptor and the architects Jan Kerel and Zdenek Hoetzel
"John Lennon Peace Wall"
photographs by the author

Monday, November 8, 2010

Larry Clark in Paris

The latest exhibition of Larry Clark's works is creating a heated debate in the media and the art world in Paris. The city of Paris which owns the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, has decided to forbid the entrance to minors ( below 18 years old in France.) In an interview for Beaux Arts Magazine, the artist himself states that he was stunned by the decision and that he has no problems showing his photographs to his own children.

The exhibition titled "Kiss the Past Hello" starts with a display of photographs made by Clark's mother. She had some talent, documenting dog shows, family events, a homey, warm world with a Rockwellian flavor.

Without transition, the viewer is plunged into the dark world of drugs with "Tulsa" (1971.) The photographs, all in black and white and of a small format, line up the wall and the procession is slow, every viewer wants to be confronted with the images. We take turns to look at these scenes, taken in Tulsa, Oklahoma, documenting Clark's friends shooting drugs: a dark background, bright lights, needles.
The second room is lined up with bigger format photographs with "Teenage Lust" (1983) and are mainly related to sex: close photographs of phallus's and vagina's without surrounding, just anatomical pieces or sex acts sometimes perverted like in "Brother and Sister" (1973). The pictures, without poetry, like a documentary, hit the viewer.

The next room has photographs in colors, depicting poor Latino neighborhoods, and introduce us to the world of poverty and marginalisation.

Clark's subjects do not inspire pity. He brings up the conflicts of teenagers experimenting with drugs, sex and guns. Their acts are not perversions, they are confusion, search and sometimes just games.

The question remains, censorship, yes or no? Should we forbid teens to go to the museum? The Mairie de Paris is afraid of being sued. What about putting a disclaimer at the beginning of the exhibition and warn the viewer? Parents could decide if they want to bring their children. Teenagers would be also warned.
Teens are not allowed to look at a document showing their peers living through their darkest times. I can imagine teens running out of the exhibition to shoot drugs and have sex! Instead, it could be a great starter for discussions between generations.

The great retrospective, fifty years of the artist's work with more than 200 photographs brings the crowd to the museum. Pornography or paedophilia? These words have been used. I do not agree, the photographs are a testimony, photojournalism.

Larry Clark is a mere observer... like his mother. Just different subjects!

the photographs of Larry Clark are available on numerous sites

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rootless artist?

A whole exhibition is dedicated to Gabriel Orozco at the Centre Pompidou, Galerie Sud. Finally, it is the occasion to view the work of an artist who, so far, as been difficult for me to understand. Orozco lives several months per year in Paris, but spends time also in New York City and Mexico City. Born in Mexico, he claims to be rootless , rejects the idea of regional or national identity and does not have a studio. He is known for his interactive works like "Ping Pond Table" (1998).

We are warned before entering to obey the orders given by the guards, two persons dressed in Mexican policemen uniforms, part of a performance called "Imported Guards" (2010). Is it supposed to be humoristic? The room appears dark and colorless (other than three to four paintings as above). I read again and again about the artist's statement, the transformation of the everyday object to make it reach a new artistic dimension. Duchamp? One step further?

The brochure describes also three lines: the floor, the market tables and the walls. I started to walk along the walls, and looked at photographs, drawings and paintings, without emotions, including in front of the photographs of the work called "My Hands Are My Heart" (1991), showing the hands of the artist molding clay to the shape of a heart in front of the torso of the artist, symbol-cliche.

On the tables, surrounded by a black line on the floor as described in the brochure, the viewer can look at a testimony to "ten year's sculptural experiment". I found that the residues of ten years of research were not that exciting: socks stuffed with papier mache looking like sad vegetables, ("Two Socks", 1995), a game of chess but skewed "Horses Running Endlessly" (1995), sculptures in terra-cotta evoking the relationship to the body, and constantly a guard in uniform warning the viewer not to cross the line. The visit becomes frustrating. Was this the goal? The visitor cannot interact with the works, they are staying out of reach. I thought "French Flies", (2010) was funny. Numerous flies flattened, each on a little piece of white clay, swatted by the artist last Summer when he was spending some time in the French countryside.

The third part, with the objects on the floor is definitely worse, maybe the objects are bigger: "La DS" of course is on display but the viewer cannot approach it. Then the objects succeed each other lying on the floor or hanging from the ceiling: shoebox (Empty Shoe Box, 1993), a running fan with toilet paper whirling around ("Toilet Ventilator", 1997), an elevator modified to fit the artist's body (Elevator, 1994), three arms in clay (Three Arms, 2005) , a torso (Torso, 2004) and more... all these objects modified by the artist to generate a new space and surprise the viewer.

The walls are transparent and I see the astonished passerbys taking a glimpse. I feel some relief upon leaving the Galerie Sud.

No photographs were allowed.
Photograph by the author made at the FIAC, "Trebol Time" (2005)