Thursday, December 15, 2011

Color is the subject

When every brushstroke matters, creates dynamic, rhythm and flows, when the color impregnates the canvas, color becomes the subject. Anastasia Pelias latest show "Washed (to the sea and other waters) at the Heriard-Cimino Gallery in New Orleans brings us along the muddy, fertile waters of the Nile river to the shores of her ancestors place in Greece with Poseidon (delft blue, violet deep). She masters the technique of dripping with a subtle play of the brush in Louisiana (Chrome yellow, oriental blue) creating a moss-like world in blue, yellow and green.

Oshun, goddess of fresh water is healing with warm yellow to orange colors, Bayou Sauvage is a drip of violet and golden-green and Mississippi, a neon red, angry. The pigments on the canvas are so concentrated, the colors reflect the light, create depth and vibrate.

The works from Anastasia Pelias are a great study about her preferred subject, from the sea to other waters, in the tradition of the Color Field painting. Looking at Pelias works, a quote from Henri Matisse, a master of colors, came to my mind: "Cutting into colors reminds me of the sculptor's direct carvings".

photograph courtesy of the artist

"Louisiana" (chrome yellow, oriental blue), 72x72 inches, 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bigger Is Better

Sophie Calle, Christian Boltanski, Claude Viallat, Bernard Venet... all the artists are French for this exhibition "Tour de France/Florida: Contemporary Artists from France in Florida's Private Collections" at the Frost Art Museum on the Florida International University campus in Miami. Two large rooms are filled with art, bought by collectors.
A little piece of Boltanski, a little piece of Sophie Calle... It made me reflect about the impact of the size of installations.

Last Summer, I visited the Galerie Rudolphinum in Prague. The exhibition "Undeniably me" featured, among other works, a room in the palace filled with 547 photographs, in black and white, covering the four walls of one room from floor to ceiling. The portraits of the dead were looking at me in the dark room and my eyes, when accustomed to the darkness, could only see the photographs. Physically immersed in Christian Boltanski's work, I got the full impact of his message.

At the FIAC, his installation lining a wall was moving with the anonymous portraits surrounded by small starry lights. But the lonely photograph with one light, on top of boxes at the Frost was lost in a corner. The single portrait makes the person become family, a crowd is overwhelming and evokes destiny, cultures, history.

I also recently visited the installation of Sophie Calle in New Orleans , part of Prospect.2 in one of the Pontalba buildings on Jackson Square. The visit involved the construction of the artist's story and avidly, I followed the path along the exhibition and became a participant. At the Frost, the photograph with accompanying text was just another framed art work.
Idem for Bernard Venet's works, a small sculpture becomes an object to decorate an office or a living-room.

If Christo, whose latest project is to wrap forty miles of the Arkansas river (scheduled in 2014), wraps the rosebush of a collector, it would tarnish his legacy.
The dimension of the work brings its significance.
Size does matter.

photographs by the author:
"Chases High School 8" Christian Boltanski, 1986-1987

"Monument", Christian Boltanski, 1996

Friday, December 2, 2011

Can art be intoxicating?

About halfway through the visit at the Art Basel Miami Beach fair this year, I felt like intoxicated, it was not by alcohol, but art...and maybe lack of sleep to catch the airplane: more than 200 galleries, 2000 artists. Art fairs are taking a toll on the visitor. The American version of the well-established Swiss Art Basel is celebrating its 10Th anniversary. This year, the galleries have ample space and an area is available for the visitors to rest and even lay on artificial grass for a snooze.

Why visit Art Basel Miami Beach? Rub elbows with the rich and famous? Feel the thrill of power and money? Take a glance at million dollar works? One can come close to a painting from Jean-Michel Basquiat worth 2.8 millions, but it is not one of his iconic graffiti. Farther, a piece from Ai Weiwei is a reminder of the artist and his absence.

Visitors are wandering , groups following guides, taking pictures... no milliardaire in sight. Gatherings happen in front of catchy galleries like L&M with its wallpaper of blue and yellow cows heads or Tony Shafrazi decorated with an installation of stuffed animals (seen above). Some, like The Pace Gallery, stay subdued with a conservative content (as opposed to the display at the recent FIAC in Paris).

This year Kusama's dots are peppered around the fair. Is this sudden fad related to her ongoing exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris?
Chamberlains' small and big sculptures, Tom Wesselmann, Nikki de Saint-Phalle, Fernando Botero, risque works from Linda Benglis, few Joan Mitchell, a small de Kooning, very few Kandinski ... the list goes on. I relish the occasion to be emotionally overloaded by all these works displayed in close proximity. It is exhilarating.

The Beyeler Foundation has an entire booth dedicated to one work from Louise Bourgeois, the sculpture, about communication between individuals or lack of it, entices the visitor to interact with its mirrors and benches, but few take the leap into the sculpture.

I was surprised to see so few South American artists or galleries represent them as opposed to the recent Houston Fine Art Fair, very much in its infancy but inviting galleries from Cuba among others. It seems that the galleries were not taking any risk this year. Overall, the show was big by its size but deceiving by its content.
It feels like Art Basel Miami Beach is about making money, not about promoting artists. Could galleries do both?

photographs by the author:

installation Mike Kelly

"Mr. Kipper" Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1983

Ai Weiwei, 2011


Jonathan Messe

Sunday, November 13, 2011

German Expressionists in Paris

Expressionism opposed to Impressionism? Painting visual appearances or the emotions they provoke? The question gets deeper with the exhibition at the Pinacotheque in Paris "Expresssionismus & Expressionismi, Berlin-Munich 1905-1920 Der Blaue Reiter vs Brucke" which opposes the two German Expressionist movements.

The paintings, one hundred and seventy in all, illustrate the difference between the two movements. Grouped by subjects (portraits, landscapes, travels, nudes...) with paintings from artists seldom shown like Gabriel Munter, Gontcharova, Von Jawlensky, Marc, Macke, Verefkin, Larionov, Pechstein and more.
Small dots next to the paintings, blue or red, identify which group the painter belonged too, Northerners from Dresden or Blue Reiders from Munich.

As I progress through this very didactic exhibition, I recognize the artists: Nolde with his heavy pasty, aggressive colors with the subject in the foreground taking over the canvas, Kirchner with his yellowish skin tones filling sharp black drawings, Werefkin with her poetic and dreamy paintings. Kandinsky is well represented with paintings assembled from far away places like "Arabes III" 1911, already abstract with the hazy figures melting in the background, on loan from the National Gallery of Armenia or "Improvisation 34" 1913, aquatic composition from the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Kazan, Tatarstan Republic (I had to look on a map to find Kazan). A productive artistic time in Germany is unfolding room after room in front of the visitor who can visualize the difference between the two movements: aggressive, primitive, fauvist, rebellious with Die Brucke, opposed to Der Blaue Reiter more intellectual, spiritual, with softer colors and lines, more thoughtful, appeased and also rebellious .
The exhibition has reached its goal and I am leaving with an understanding of these two German movements which lost too many of their members during WWI and then were banned by Hitler.

photographs were not allowed

public domain from top to bottom:

"Three Bathers" Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1913

"Sturmwind" Marianne Von Werefkin, 1915-17

"Schokko with Red Hat" Alexej von Jawlensky, 1909

"Der Traum" Franz Marc

Friday, November 11, 2011

A day at Prospect.2

The day started with a visit at the Longue Vue House and Gardens to look at Brandon Ballengee's installation titled Audubon's Absence. The eco-artist's statement did upset me "Responding to species loss, I cut the birds from historic John James Audubon prints". I had to verify, it is true! The artist did cut out the birds from original prints! The extinct species are now annihilated. The sound from Pasco is also supposed to bring silence instead of the calls from these extinct species. Due to some malfunction, it was not available the day of the visit.

To follow-up this disastrous start, I visited the Old US Mint. The display is sparse compared to Prospect.1, "The Night Club Portraits", 1973, black and white portraits from William Eggleston (1938), a photographer made famous by his color photographs occupy a whole room. A lengthy Gothic video about Mississippi's nightlife from the same artist can be viewed next also photographs from An-My Le shot in New Orleans and Vietnam.

Next (not included in Prospect.2), The Front featured Stephanie Patton's exhibition General Hospital. In her statement, the artist explains how she uses humor to overcome adversity, pain, disease and she succeeds in this endeavor with her soothing soft cushions, pillow-pills. Her one and a half hour video shows how to transform lemons into lemonade. It can be painful to watch and reminds us that life can be arduous. Due to its length, I was not able to watch the whole video, but I assume the lemonade was worth the effort.

At the CAC and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Prospect.2 and temporary exhibitions intermingle. NOLA Now Part I brings artists from New Orleans who are back (or never left) the city. I noticed the work from Dawn Dedeaux with her preserved but deformed portraits, time can deform memories. On the first floor, Alexis Rockman's large wall canvas depicts the species of the Southern swamps in a dark future. He is well -known for his vision of the world since his exhibition at the Smithsonian in Washington DC last year. Ogden was bathing in Surrealism with the works of two local artists Ersy and Josephine Sacabo, respectively sculptor and photographer.

The afternoon started with one of the highlights of Prospect.2, Sophie Calle 's installation at the Pontalba's house on Jackson Square, a story of her (fabricated) life told with self-deprecating humor. Her possessions are spread around the eighteen century house, left over from her presence, but she is absent. The narratives accompanying the installation could be drawn from cheap airport novels. The Duchess of Pontalba was a strong character who made head ways for females two centuries ago. The artist's vision fails to reach her dimension.

After dark, Dawn DeDeaux's installation brings mystery to the courtyard on Royal in the French Quarter. Goddess Fortuna and Her Dunces In An Effort To Make Sense Of It All brings to life the book from John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces. One can look at the shadows behind the windows on the second floor like a show with ghosts in the courtyard for this very New Orleanian story. It is like plunging in the decor for a movie.
I read the book previously and recognized the crumpled bed of Reilly, the hot dog cart, the novel's characters, but the show can be enjoyed just as a visual pleasure.

Fortuna, a goddess from New Orleans

photographs by the author:

"The Night Club Portraits" William Eggleston, 1973

"Test Tubes. Family Legacy", Dawn Dedeaux, 2011

"Battle Royale", Alexis Rockman, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Here and There

A random walk brought me to the Academy of Fine Arts uptown the day of Art for Art's Sake in New Orleans, the traditional first Saturday in October. The works from Brent Barnidge were displayed in one room and made me think of Raymond Mason, another sculptor of crowds. Two weeks later at the Tuileries Garden in Paris, I thought about the exhibition I just had seen at the Academy.

photographs by the author:

"All On A Mardi Gras Day" Brent Barnidge

"La Foule" Raymond Mason, 1963-1965

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Off" FIAC

The side shows during the FIAC were a great surprise, I visited Slick and also Paris Elysees...there are many more exhibits in Paris during the four frenetic days.

Slick Art Fair, located between the Palais de Tokyo and the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris included 44 galleries this year, young galleries presenting emerging artists. Among the artists, I noticed Xavier Deshoulieres represented by the gallery Virgil de Voldere in NYC, oil on canvas, representing shadows of landscapes and Jean Denant with his "Mappemonde", a sculpted mural.

For the first time, I decided to visit Art Elysees, located along the Champs-Elysees in temporary tents. Sixty galleries and I found it more fun to visit than the FIAC. I discovered a serie of drawings from Jean Cocteau, works from Kupka, Gutfreund, Soulages, Cesar, Hans Hartung, Tom Wesselman, Picabia, Murakami and more, with the provenance clearly stated. The gallerists were available and ready to discuss the works with the visitors. It was a mix of real treasures mingled with tacky works like these presented by the Stephane Jacobs Gallery in Paris under the title "Arts d'Australie" inspired by aboriginal techniques.

I had a great time going through the tents.

Many red dots on the walls, I felt like buying...a small... also add... maybe...

Maybe next year!

photographs by the author:

oil on canvas, Xavier Deshoulieres, 2011

"Composition aux papillons", Picabia, 1924-26

"Sleeping 2000", Takashi Murakami

"Smoker Study", Tom Wesselman, 1977

Friday, October 21, 2011

Is the FIAC shrinking?

As usual, the FIAC is located at the Grand Palais this year, but it has lost its other venue at the Cour Carree du Louvre, traditionally reserved for the "young galleries": 194 galleries in 2010, only 168 this year, with a decrease in size of 1020 square meters according to Le Monde.

The visit reflects these numbers. The booths are smaller and difficult to navigate due to the lack of space and the galleries have less works on display. Of course, all the big names are here, including White Cube, Marian Goodman Gallery, Gagosian Gallery, Gladstone Gallery... some are trying to stand out like The Pace Gallery with its end of the world atmosphere or the Gmurzynska Gallery with a booth designed by Karl Lagerfeld. But these are the exceptions rather than the rule and most are minimalist with white walls trying to use the space at its best.

What about the works? Jean-Luc Moulene was well represented with several galleries showing his photographs of everyday objects presented under a new light. He has been compared to Jeff Wall but I could not find the simplicity and depth of Wall's works. I noticed one piece from Sophie Calle who is also at Prospect.2 in New Orleans. Most of the works with red dots were small to medium sized, from well-known artists, like Pierre Soulages, Dubuffet, Nicolas de Stael. David Zwirner Gallery offered a great display of Dan Flavin's work red, white and blue dedicated to the citizens of the Republic of France on the 200th anniversary of their revolution (1989). Anish Kapoor was also omnipresent with small sculptures.

A special area, was dedicated to the young galleries but again the limited space had a direct impact on the number of works and artists. Cyprien Gaillard, the winner of last year's Marcel Duchamp prize was represented with a few works, small framed compositions related to the works displayed currently at the centre Pompidou for his exhibition titled "UR". One work from Pae White was playing with reflections and colors... decorative.
The three contenders for the Marcel Duchamp prize 2011 were on display in a special area and I favored Samuel Rousseau for his sci-fi composition, technically very interesting, ready to take off. It helps rekindle the dream of other planets, other worlds...but Mircea Cantor won this year with is installation "Fishing Flies".

This year I spent six hours to visit the FIAC, the previous years, my visit lasted two days.
It felt like they were two FIACs, one for the "grand public" like myself and another for the "in crowd" before and after hours. The gallerists were not trying to do business. It was already done.
Next year, we are told, the space will be bigger. Of course, everybody hopes that the economic outlook will be brighter. Still, art is a great investment... to be enjoyed even if it looses its value. With stocks, you are left with bare walls.

photographs by the author, from top to bottom:

"Complex Forms, Structure VI, Sol Lewitt, 1990-91

display, The Pace Gallery

The Nightgown", Frank Stella, 1991

"Brave Old New World", Samuel Rousseau, 2011

View of the FIAC

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Outdoor FIAC

This year, the FIAC has chosen several sites to exhibit the outdoor sculptures. The day before the FIAC's opening, I visited the Tuileries Garden and left the visit at the Jardin des Plantes to the Parisians.
At the entrance, rue de Rivoli, I was greeted by three nudes from Anthony Gormley. Tourists were making pictures of their wives next to the sculptures, accompanied by a few salacious remarks. The sculptures, isolated, are loosing their significance in this setting. The installation in New York City was powerful, giving a new dimension to the site.

Methodically, I started from the bottom of the Tuileries, and was immediately surprised by the few works on display compared to the past years. "La Somme des Hypotheses", a work from Vincent Mauger, ecological, is pleasing to look at but brings little controversy. The biggest talk should be about the sculpture from Adrian Villar Rojas, an Argentinian sculptor well-received in Paris. A long round, plastery piece, ending in the artificial pond interrupts my walk. It represents the ruins left from a future civilization and brings a reflection about the end of humanity. The work is short lived and will be destroyed at the end of the exhibition. Not too cheery.
Farther down the path, a sculpture made of copper is shining in the sun, abandoned, flat, rendered lifeless by the clouds ("We The People, Dan Vo, 2011).
A work from Navid Nuur is a distant cousin from Robert Tannen's, well-known artist in New Orleans: a stone brought by the gallery from Amsterdam. The only gesture from the artist is spraying metal dust on the top of it... another story about time and decay. A sculpture from Urs Fisher, Swiss artist now living in the United States is defying the laws of gravity, between abstract and figurative.
A shiny metal sculpture crafted by the automobile constructor Renault for Jean-Luc Moulene. "Body" is hardly a new idea, already explored and developed by Californian artists. Tomorrow, indoor FIAC.

photographs by the author
"Another Time II", Anthony Gormley, 2006
"La Somme des Hypotheses", Vincent Mauger, 2011"Poems for Earthlings", Adrian Villar Rojas, 2011"Body", Jean-Luc moulene, 2011
"Rivieres", Vincent Ganivet, 2005

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Another side of Pop art

La Halle Saint Pierre in Paris specializes in representing Art Brut, Popular Art and Art Singulier and in collaboration with the magazine HEY! presents the exhibition "HEY! Modern Art & Pop Culture", a group exhibition with sixty-five artists and 170 works.
On the first floor, the dark space creates a mysterious, cult-like atmosphere and each artists works are displayed in a small area to avoid confusion.

The works of two artists meet the definition of Raw Art due to the material used. Pierre Bettencourt with burlap and stones composes primitive wall frescoes depicting naked females in languid poses and Philippe Dereux (1913-2001), friend of Dubuffet, is using bark and other dry organic material to compose decorative pieces. The works from Murielle Belin who lives in Nancy retained my attention. Her oil on wood have the darkness of Bosch works, depicting females with a white glowing skin, exanguinated, beheaded, mutilated, hanging. The only color is a streak of red blood. The black frame is as important as the painting with a black silky background and a name written under the painting, like a Saint in a church. She also reinvents her own bestiary creating birds like her Guinea fowl but with a small human head. Christ on the cross in a small composition is a dessicated frog. Are these inspired by visits in the churches of Eastern France?

The works can have an ecological undertone like this installation of fur coats attached to a ventilator and breathing slowly like revived animals (Neozoon). They can be bizarre with an installation of found objects from Stephane Blanquet or sickening like the work from Henry Darger found in his apartement after his death. His watercolors depict children in a Walt Dysney world but the story is a Grimm tale where the monters are adults abusing them.

Tatoo art is well represented with a whole room dedicated to the works of Titine K-Leu and several other artists.

The top floor represents several comic strips artists producing studies in psychology like Ludovic Debeurre, Gilbert Shelton Mezzo and also graffiti works. I should put "comic" because the subjects are anything but funny, dark humor sometimes.
It could seem ambitious to present so many artists from different backgrounds and different cultures (few Americans like Kris Mars from Minneapolis, South Koreans with Yu Jiinyoung) but the exhibit flows well due the concentric space which allows a walk through the building.

As a final thought, the exhibition represents artists without formal training (most of them), listening to their fantasms, fears, angsts. We discover that they are universel.

top photograph by the author

no photographs allowed in the building
photographs from the site La Halle Saint Pierre

Monday, October 10, 2011

From Rotterdam to America

The book about Willem de Kooning, "de Kooning, An American Master" by Mark Stevent and Annalyn Swan is thick with approximately 700 pages , including forty chapters, notes, old photographs in black and white, documentation, index and 21 color reproductions of his works from 1921 to 1987 to illustrate the different periods of his production.The life of de Kooning is so filled during its 94 years, the authors had to divide it in periods. Starting with "Holland" narrating his youth followed by "The Immigrant" with the arrival and establishment of the artist in his new country. This leads to "Recognitions" and ultimately his dream becoming true "An American Master". He then moves to the "Springs" starting a new chapter of his life ending with "Twilight".

The book is enthralling with everyday stories about de Kooning and other artists which enlighten the bigger story, the birth of abstract expressionism in New York. I can visualize the artists, understand their interactions like it happened yesterday. I can walk Downtown in NYC and find the places where it happened, the bars, galleries, hanging around artists studios. The reporting is a direct account and the sources are well recorded at the end of the book. De Kooning, rootless, trying to establish himself in America, the evolving friendships with Gorky, Franz Kline, Soutine and in the process, the history of American art told through a captivating story.

It takes an Olympian flavor, with the artist climbing to fame, his struggles, his apogee and then, the slow downfall, unavoidable from alcoholism and dementia. It brings the full dimension of the artist whose legacy takes a historical significance.
De Koooning who travelled to America as a stowaway on a British freighter would love the title "An American Master". The book won a Pulitzer Prize and The National Book Critics Award.

Till January, the MoMA presents de Kooning: a Retrospective .

photograph Wikipedia

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Ladislav Sutnar (1897-1976), a Czech-American artist coined the term "Joy-Art" to describe a series of nudes he called "Venuses". In the late sixties, the 65 years old artist, well-known graphic designer, returned to painting (he studied at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague and was a painter). This Summer, the exhibition at the Rudolfinum in Prague displayed his nudes for the first time.

Sutnar fled the Nazis who had invaded his country and stayed in New York City at the occasion of the World's Fair in 1939. By the time these works were produced, he had assimilated the American culture and condensed its spirit (the artist's vision of it) in these paintings. His commercial designs were influenced by the Bauhaus, De Stijl and Russian Constructivism and he applied minimalism to technology, freeing space to maximize the process of information. The deconstruction of his paintings shows simple shapes juxtaposed to build the subject. They influenced Tom Wesselman's nude paintings.

Lining the walls of four palatial rooms, the giant canvasses are awakening the dark walls. The voluptuous, round curves of the subjects, the pink, lime, red white and blue Americana colors, the exuberant sexuality of the nudes represent another side of Sutnar with his concept of new art for the 21st century: punchy, aggressive, joyous, carefree, vibrant.
The exhibition is pleasant to go through and does not require great intellectual insight or emotional input. The Venuses are flashy, superficial, decorative and represent an advertisement for the Western culture Sutnar embraced. They are in stark contrast with the works from his peers who stayed in East Europe which can be seen at the Kampa Museum across the river.
Colors, shapes, Pop art, "Joy-Art".

Photographs by the author:

"Venus/ All the Way to USA" Ladislav Sutnar, 1968

"Venus/In a Petite Boutique" Ladislav Sutnar, 1968

"Venus/ In Orbit/ On the Top of the World" Ladislav Sutnar, 1967

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


"Lives of the Artists" from Calvin Tomkins gives a view of ten artists personal lives. With the material gathered during interviews, casual visits, the art critic who sometimes shadows the artists during their daily activities let the reader "meet the artist".

We learn that Damien Hirst's mind is clearer after a night of drinking, Cindy Sherman is nice, Richard Serra is irascible and ruthless. These artists have nothing in common other than "their works and lifestyles embody the future of contemporary art" Each chapter is the length of an article from the New Yorker, they were initially published in the magazine.

The author's friendly relationship with the artists does not preclude him from making critical remarks about their works.

A glimpse into their lives feeds our thirst for celebrities. What made these ten artists famous? Circumstances, talent, tenacity, pure luck...

Peaking into the lives of Julian Schnabel, Richard Serra, Matthew Barney, make them accessible and also vulnerable. These articles are not biographies, they focus on the "petite histoire".

The ten artists include: Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman,Julian Schnable, Richard Serra, James Turrell, Matthew Barney, Maurizio Cattelan, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, John Currin.

After reading this book, we understand their world better and ultimately their creations.

photographs by the author

Friday, August 12, 2011

Old Palace, Young Artists

Artbanka Museum of Young Art is presenting a temporary exhibition during the Summer months in the empty Colloredo-Mansfeld palace built in the 18th Century, just off Charles Bridge on the Vltava River in Prague.

The crowd is thick in this area full of tourists. Everyone is taking a peek at "Guns", the installation from David Cerny in the courtyard and the cameras are clicking. Sculptures of nudes peaking out of the windows greet the visitors and give a human presence to the facade. It is a great introduction. Most of the crowd walks by and retreats to the streets. I decide to pursue the visit which is organized in three parts for each wing surrounding the courtyard: renowned artists, fine art schools, and the third dedicated to groups and contemporary young artists.

It is an adventure, climbing stairs, getting lost in living rooms with faded mirrors, giant fireplaces and painted ceilings, backrooms, corridors, more stairs... and a flurry of Czech and Slovac young artists works: a flavor of decadence in sink with the art pieces. Works from known artists like Jiri Cernicky, Jiri Davis, Ugo Rondinone and more are side by side with works from less known young artists. The visit is full of surprises like on the top floor, lost , forgotten, a sculpture "Merda d'Artista", provocative, so unexpected, hidden so it can be discovered. The second wing holds works from the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Ostrava, Faculty of Fine Arts, Brno University of Technology, Faculty of Arts, Technical University in Kosice and at the upper level, Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. I cannot remember all the works, so I took a lot of pictures."Superstar" from the group Kamera Skura occupies the stairwell of the third wing and a whole floor is dedicated to graffiti also works from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava and solo shows. To top this off, in an adjacent building, the installation from David Cerny, "Shark", a sculpture of Saddam Hussein handcuffed in a glass tank, a parody of Damien Hirst's "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living".

The number of works is such that it is overwhelming. All major art schools from the Czech and Slovac Republic are represented in a dilapidated palace which is in itself another side of the visit. The result is eclectic, in some areas the works are labelled, in others the name of the artist is missing, most likely due to hasty preparations. The overall impression is an exhibition full of energy, surprises, bursting with ideas, stimulating and fun. It is rare to see the works from art professors, well known artists, students, unknown young artists, group works displayed at the same event.

The combination of location, timing, size and content are predicting a huge success for this exhibition.

Let's not forget Artbanka's goal to promote young artists. This exhibition gives them an opportunity to display their works mostly related to eternal themes of love, death, war but treated with originality, humor, passion, in an historical setting.

The art world in the Czech Republic is alive and well with this new generation of artists.

photographs by the author:

"Guns" David Cerny

"Pegasus Semtex", Jiri Cernicky, 1997

"Superstar", Kamera Skura art group

"Live Your Life", Vladimir Skrepl, 2011

"Fucking 15 Minutes" Reality art group

"All My Bad Thoughts", Kristof Kintera