Friday, January 21, 2011

ants, fire and controversy

After a tour of the permanent collections commented by NOMA's Director Emeritus, looking at Chinese potteries, paintings, sculptures and listening to the history of the museum's collections, the crowd moved to the auditorium to view David Wojnarowicz's video "Fire in My Belly" recently banned from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The controversy still lingers at the Smithsonian...politicians versus artists.

I felt privileged to be able to watch the entire silent video (approximately a half hour) at the local museum in New Orleans. The visitors in Washington D.C. are not allowed to look at the short 4 minutes 11 seconds version. I was also curious to see the crowd's reactions. Some people left early, visibly upset, my neighbor was making painful sounds during the roosters fight, but overall the room was very quiet, almost too quiet, one could feel some tension.

The raw video was of poor quality at times. The silent version gives all the weight to the pictures, gruesome. A scene succeeds to another, but there is some progression to the story which usually ends up in death, like in the combat of roosters. The rapid succesion of pictures creates an emotional overload, one has not completely absorbed a scene and is hit with the next.

During a half hour, the spectator is saturated with death, tragedy. The message is grim, without hope.

The edited four minutes version (with 11 seconds of controversy) is especially moving. Touched by the images, disgusted at times, I felt like the artist wanted me to participate to his suffering. The artist made me more receptive.
I found the video very powerful, difficult to watch, unpleasant at times.

The controversy has drawn the attention to, but also away from the artist's work. Interesting exhibitions bring up controversy. Desacralisation? Censure? It is important to recalibrate these words, adapt their meaning with the evolving values of our society. Last Summer, visitors had to be eighteen years old to look at Larry Clark' photographs at the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, but in Prague fifteen years old could visit the exhibition "Decadence Now".

Would I have watched the video if not banned? Most likely not.( It would not have been on the big screen at NOMA!)

view video

Sunday, January 9, 2011

dissonance and abstraction

At the NOMA's (New Orleans Museum of Art) bookstore, I came upon another treasure for a few dollars. My latest find is a book titled Schoenberg, Kandinsky , and the Blue Rider, published for the exhibition of the same name which took place at the Jewish Museum in NYC from October 24, 2003 till February 12, 2004.

Paintings from Arnold Schoenberg, Wassily Kandinsky and artists from the Blue Rider were exposed together, recreating the group's exhibitions before WWI.

One century ago, the 2Nd of January 1911, new compositions from Schoenberg were played in Munich. In the audience, Kandinsky and Franz Marc were listening...and Kandinsky was drawing. At the time, he was exploring synaesthesia ( the idea that senses were interrelated) and translated the music with colors in Composition III.

The 2Nd of January was followed by a fruitful relationship between the painter and the composer, who first exchanged letters and eventually met.

Along the five essays written by different authors, the reader will learn about the birth of abstraction in that part of the world, the personal lives of Schoenberg and Kandinsky and their inspirations.
Schoenberg himself was a painter. Trained by Gerstl, he was selling portraits at times to supplement his income. He produced oils and drawings for several years before WWI and after a few exhibitions decided that he was just an amateur. He concentrated on his musical career. Kandinsky was an admirer of his works and was painting the music of Schoenberg , who brought discordance, generating energy, creating thoughts, movements. A new era was born: abstraction and dissonance.

The book also describes the birth of the Blue Rider movement, its first exhibition and the publication of the Almanac.

The intellectual effervescence of the time and place was abruptly interrupted by four years of a brutish war. Franz Marc joined the Imperial Army and was killed in 1916, Kandinsky moved back to Russia and Schoenberg to Austria where shortly after the war, he was exposed to the anti- Jewish atmosphere. He moved to the States and Kandinsky eventually to Paris.

The two artists exchanges were very fertile. The book is a testimony to this. Each chapter addresses a different aspect of the relationship and its lasting influence on the art in the 20Th century, bringing a synergy, a simultaneous musical and visual revolution.

The book includes 61 plates reproducing the works presented at the exhibition in NYC, a detailed biography of Schoenberg and Kandinsky, numerous references, and a CD with the entire pieces played at the concert the 2Nd of January 1911, including Second String Quartet in F-Sharp Minor, op.10, Three Piano Pieces, 0p 11, Lieder, opp. 2 and 6.

The Centre Pompidou had a major retrospective of Kandinsky's works in 2009.
Schoenberg's concert? I listened to the recording and discovered that I could see colors too.

Link to the recording of one of the "Three Piano Pieces, op.11" played that evening in Munich
1."Der Blue Rider", Kandinsky, 1903
2."Composition VII", 1913
3."Impression III" (Concert), 1911
(1 and 2 public domaine, 3 Flickr sharing)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A modern palace

This is the last day of the exhibition titled: " Monet-Warhol: Masterpieces From the Albertina and the Batliner Collection" at the National Gallery in Prague or to be more specific the Veletrzni Palace (Art from the 20th and 21st Centuries)

Two months ago, a large panel advertising the exhibition greeted me at the airport. Paris was struck by a Monet fever with two exhibitions, one at Le Grand Palais and the other at the Musee Marmottan. Of course, I was curious to see Monet in Prague. My deception was great when I realized that only one of his paintings was on display at the entrance, "The Water Lily Pond", 1917-1919. The rest of the exhibition was composed of mediocre works from known painters like Max Ernst, Dubuffet, Fontana, Sol LeWitt, Matisse, Kandinsky and more and of course a few Warhol. No photographs were allowed. The 80 works were on loan from the Albertina's permanent collection in Vienna.

However... the visit was worth it. First, I discovered another area of Prague, after a trip with the tramway from the Vltava river to the hills with a beautiful view of the city.

I was also able to visit the permanent collections. The building itself is modern, vast with ample space to display the collections of modern and contemporary art dispersed on 5 floors. Like any building in Prague (it seems) it has its own history. Built in 1925-29, it was destroyed in 1974, and rebuilt to reopen in 1995.

There was a disclaimer at the beginning of the exhibition of International Art, the collection is still modest due to the country's isolation during the Communist regime. Some of the paintings were not in great condition, but one could find Klimt, Egon Schiele, Edward Munch, Egon Adler, Otto Dix, Georg Grosz to name a few.

Czech artists were well represented, and I discovered most of them

Of course, an area was occupied by the works made in glass.

I spent several hours in the Museum, and forgot that I came to see much more.

photographs by the author

1.The introduction to the exhibition with three sculptures: " Six Headed Horse", Germaine Richier, 1956, " Standing Cardinal", Giacomo Manzu, 1978, "Under the Bridges of Paris", Max Ernst, 1961
2." Castle with a Moat", Georg Klimt, 1908-1909
3."Family Trip", Max Ernst, 1919
4."Great Dialogue", Karel Nepras, 1966
5."Three Dimensional Composition for the World Exhibition", Rene Roubicek, 1922

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The "Mad Potter of Biloxi" and the OOMA

The Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art just opened along the Gulf Coast, in Biloxi, Mississippi. The story of the museum in itself, is interesting. Almost completed in 2005, it was entirely destroyed by hurricane Katrina. The architect Frank Gehry went back to the drawing board and designed a new version which includes several independent structures with different functions.

The Mississippi Sound Welcome Center, a wide open space is a meeting place, with a coffee shop, a museum shop and a small gallery to present local artists (and, of course, a cash register with a helpful cashier)). From there, according to taste or mood, the visitor can climb to the third floor and enjoy looking at the Ocean, or just continue following the covert passageway and reach the two main galleries: the "IP Casino Resort Spa Exhibitions Gallery" (an unfortunate name) lighted only with skylights, a space conceived to adapt to the needs of different exhibitions with its adjustable walls and the "Gallery of African American Art". These were my main interests on the campus. The visitor can also find replicas of the Creel House and historical artifacts.

The "George E. Ohr Gallery" and the "City of Biloxi Center for Ceramics" should be completed in 2012.

At the present, the museum is hosting three exhibitions of interest and I started with "The Seeker" presenting twenty-two sculptures from Richmond Barthe, a sculptor close to the New Negro arts renaissance of the 30s in Harlem. Spanning from late 1920's to the 60's, the sculptures are technically flawless, mostly inspired by sexuality, religion and black history.

All the sculptures are figurative, of the same style and the sculptor did not experiment over time. The sophisticated expressions, sometimes too lyrical can become repetitive and lack in originality. Somewhat out of style, they are representative of a genre.

Next was an exhibition titled: "Mortal to Mythic: the Transforming Power of Art, Andy Warhol, selected prints from the Cochran Collection." Twenty-seven prints, including series like "Cowboys and Indians", "Myth Series", and well known prints, like the portrait of Mick Jagger and "Moonwalk". I discovered another Warhol, story-teller, different from the Pop artist with the cans of soup or the portraits of Marylin Monroe. I spent some time in front of The Shadow, which is a self-portrait. Inspired by the Indian custom of the girl drawing the shadow of her lover on the wall as he is sleeping, catching his profile for eternity. I found this self-portrait very moving, the expression of a deeper, thoughtful, fragile, self-preoccupied Warhol-Janus.

Jun Kaneko's glazed ceramic sculptures are scattered through the outdoors and the main gallery. The artist who was born and raised in Japan is highly influenced by his background. The peaceful giant heads, talking to each other are staying mysterious, maybe too Japanese for my taste. The artist is also a painter but none of his paintings were on view. It is the first time I am exposed to his works.

Works from local artists are displayed in one area of the Welcome Center with Helene Fielder from Booneville , MS, this month. "Balancing Act" features several stoneware sculptures with lively colors and shapes.

Of course a whole gallery is dedicated to Ohr's works. I am not inclined to look at potteries but Ohr is reaching beyond the craft. He is enlighted when creating each unique piece. The quality of his works is so far unequaled, so thin, almost translucent when in bisque form (later works), if glazed so colorful, so brilliant. The subject is always interesting, humorous,
inspired. The pot is reaching another level, and the potter transcends the material. Ohr' always surprises me and I am looking forward to see the opening of the George E. Ohr Gallery in 2012.

The visit is definitely worth it, very detailed brochures provide ample information about the artists and the museum itself. The design from Frank Gehry succeeds in "promoting and preserving the culture of Mississippi and the Gulf Coast" and allows guests artists to be displayed in this unique setting. After the visit, one can use the gentle stairs to reach the third floor and look at the Gulf's waters... maybe too close.

"Pitcher" George E. Ohr
"The Boxer" Richmond Barthe, Art Institute of Chicago.
Work from Jun Kaneko, photograph by the author
View from the OOMA, photograph by the author

No photographs were allowed in the Galleries