Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tears of Mud... or Gold

Water is falling from the sky and the streets in the city are becoming torrents by the minute. Yesterday, I was flying over Holland...then, coming home, over the Louisiana swamps: same feeling of endless waters surrounding the land as far as the horizon.

The artists at The Front in New Orleans, are talking about one of the essential element of life and its interaction with humans.
The first room looks like the cavern from "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" with containers filled with swampy water. The installation from Brandon Ballengee and Andrew Pasco, 2011, called "Tears of Oshun", refers to a benevolent, generous and kind goddess of the Yoruba religion... with a temper. Isn't it the definition of water, essential to life but also creating havoc and death? The installation makes us feel like water is a new commodity, stored in barrels, so scarce. Could it become the new gold? Too much? Not enough? Potable?Polluted? "Tears of Oshun" is a stark reminder of a worsening problem, the imbalance between the resource and the population.

Walking through a labyrinth of barrels, the visitor reaches the second room, where John Kleinschmidt and Andy Sternad redesigned the floor of the gallery with stone-like decorations. I feel like jumping from one to another...which I do. The flooring is a decoy created with plastic containers filled with water. The result is a squishy, uneven ground and I am sinking. It becomes very realistic with each step producing a watery noise. This is a reminder, what we see from the sky is very deceptive. The land with the shrubs, the trees, is...wetlands and keeps being erroded to a critical point.

Good water, bad water, tears of mud or gold?
Photographs by the author

"Tears of Oshun" Ballengee, Pasco, 2011

Installation, Andy Sternard and John Kleinsmidt

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Steiner and Visual Arts

Who is Rudolph Steiner? A giant photograph of the "philosopher, architect, sociologist, humanist and visionary" greets the visitor, along a description of his life and his accomplishments at the DOX, Centre for Contemporary Art, located in a northern neighborhood of Prague.

Steiner (1861-1925) is the founder of Anthroposophy, an esoteric philosophy with links to Theosophy. Its goal is to develop inner spiritual knowledge, independently of sensory experiences. Steiner applied his theories to various fields, including agriculture, medicine, pedagogy, architecture, dance, music (he developed eurythmy) and more. He designed the Goetheanum in Switzerland and several other buildings and his pedagogical movement is still widely followed with over 1000 Waldorf schools worldwide. He never claimed to be an artist, he was a philosopher.
What is the impact of Anthroposophy on the art? Artistic expression becomes a path, a medium to create a bridge between spiritual and material worlds. The art inspired by Anthroposophy is aimed at the awakening of inner spiritual energy.

The Dox presents two exhibitions: "Thinking without Limits: Inspired by Rudolph Steiner" and " Rudolph Steiner and Contemporary Art". The first is didactic and starts with writings from Steiner displayed in glass cases, followed by photographs and the paintings from artists who lived in Prague and Vienna at the start of the 20th century. Occultism, Theosophy and other esoteric philosophies influence the subjects of the works. The artists, among them Alois Bilek, Joseph Vachal, Karel Novak, Frantisek Drtikol, are unknown to the me and I found most the paintings mediocre. To my surprise, Kandinsky who was exposed to the theories of Steiner during his stay in Vienna, was not mentioned. The symbols found in his works evoke some similarities with Steiner's blackboards circles, arrows and lines representing the universe and also our inner self. Kandinsky went beyond the theory and built a spiritual world through his creations.

The exhibit flows without transition and the visitor is exposed to works from international artists, in search of spirituality, not necessarily related to anthroposophy. Among them, I discovered Joseph Beuys who was deeply inspired by the theories of Steiner and also used blackboards as a media. I found new dimensions to the works from Anish Kapoor and Olafur Eliasson. "When I Am Pregnant" (1992), a sculpture from Kapoor, is glowing from inside and creates a surrounding halo on the wall. It reaches perfection in smoothness, roundness, whiteness and ultimately purity. An area is dedicated to Olafur Eliafsson with "Before the Star Lamp" (2010) and "Power Tower" (2005). Plays with lights, reflections, shadows, create an ever changing world from the source with a whole universe of satellites. I noticed the sculptures from Karel Malich who was deeply inspired by Steiner's philosophy. He transforms a common material into ethereal creations floating in space. Steiner's works are represented by several of his famous blackboards, drawn spontaneously during his lectures to illustrate his theories. These were teaching tools and without the comments of the lecturer, are staying silent and hermetic. The exhibition with more than 70 displays, includes works from Giuseppe Penone, Mario Merz, Helmut Federle, Tony Cragg and to consider their philosophical dimension give them their full impact.

Thought provoking, it renews the interest for a philosophy which has still a strong impact on today's art and most likely centuries to come...
a reminder that Rudolph Steiner's legacy lives on.

photographs by the author:

"Atlantis" Richard Pollack Karlin, 1914-191

"Power Tower" Olafur Eliasson, 2005

"When I Am Pregnant" Anish Kapoor, 1992

sculpture, Karel Malich, 1976-1980

Thursday, July 14, 2011

From nowhere

An urge to paint, draw, express the inner soul, automatism... Art Brut or Raw Art has no definition. It encompasses artists without a formal education. The term, coined by Jean Dubuffet, applies to three of them presently featured at the Muzeum Montanelli or MuMo in Prague with the exhibition ART BRUT: ANATOMIA METAMORPHOSIS.

With her drawings, pastels and collages, Anna Zemankova (1908-1986) creates a vegetal and animal world, populated by sea anemones, giant worms, birds, monster-fishes, snakes, strange fruits and spiderwebs. The work is a painstaking accumulation of small ink motives, like a lace, drawn with an obsessional likeness till they delineate a whole subject from afar. Colors are added to these and create a lyrical world inhabited by dream-like creatures.
Her work is purely automatic and driven by her subconscious.

Lubos Plny (1961), another self-taught Czech artist, is displayed along Zemankova's works. His subject is the human body which he describes through an orgy of drawings with acrylic on paper. The artist, who worked for a time as an assistant in a morgue, represents detailed descriptions of organs like he had been visiting them and tells the story of trips to his entrails with his drawings in red colors, like a Piranesi of the human body.

The third artist, Frantisek Dymacek (1929-2003), whose works have been recognized recently, accumulates colored bodies, body parts, demons in endless black labyrinths, drawn with felt-tip and ballpoint pens. Oniric, dynamic, his drawings give us a rendition of a kaleidoscopic view of his world.

The three artists with their banal stories could be your neighbours. The first, a house wife, dedicated to her three children, who lost her status when they became adults, let her inner energy flow. The second transfers his nightmarish dreams and Dymacek represents the monsters he is inhabited with.
Could it be you, or me?
Their creative energy is almost frightening. The title of the exhibition sums up the works of these three artists, preoccupied by their bodies and translating their anxieties on paper.

The New Museum chose Zemankova to represent the Czech artists during Communism and post-Communism for the current exhibition "Ostalgia" (with Jiri Kovanda). I am questioning this choice. The press release states " the exhibition traces a psychological landscape in which individuals and entire societies must negotiate new relationships to history, geography and ideology". Zemankova's works are timeless and represent her personal history.

no photographs were allowed
follow the links to view works from the artists

On the road, Prague

This Summer, the 5th Biennale is in full swing in Prague.

With 160 artists from around the world (India, Italy, Romania, Poland, Slovakia...), it is also a great occasion to discover Czech artists, young and old. Three macrosections are subdivided into smaller individually curated sections.

Of course, the galleries and museums are plentiful from Artbanka which displays and supports young artists near the Charles Bridge, to farther venues like the DOX Center for Contemporary Art or the MeetFactory. Prague is bustling with visual art and of course music.

Along the way, the sculptures in the gardens and the streets are sometimes whimsical like David Cerny's, called the Anthony Gormley of Prague.
Don't forget your copy of The Prague Post (new edition on Wednesday). It contains everything you need to know about Prague's happenings.

photograph by the author

"Babies", David Cerny, 1967

Monday, July 11, 2011

Colors and music

100 years have gone by since a memorable concert took place in Vienna and this commemoration makes the exhibition at the Kampa Museum in Prague timely: "Abstraction and Atonality" presents three artists, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Frantisek Kupka (1871-1957) and Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951). It is a low key but powerful event. Small, early works from Kandinsky have been assembled, and it is a delight to look at his woodcuts, watercolors from 1911, 1913, with themes of his natal Russia, fairytales, horses running in the countryside, peasants and noblewomen. The progression to abstract culminates by the end of the exhibition with Impression V, 1911, a colorful oil painting.

Paintings from Schoenberg, the composer, occupy a whole room, self-portraits, hands and eyes, fascinating, bulging, like thoughts and brain were trying to escape the skull through the sockets. His paintings are dark, somber, romantic, with a flavor of Edward Munch. Schoenberg himself decided to curtail his painting and concentrate on his musical career.

Colors always stayed his subject when composing music and he created a musical scale of colors. This is well documented with scores of music like "Yellow Sound". The historical significance of these little pieces of paper cannot be enough emphasized. Schoenberg and Kandinsky's work cristallize the research in synesthesia.
How does Kupka fit in the exhibition? His works are on permanent display at the museum and this exhibition provides the occasion to show his paintings in a different light. Born in eastern Bohemia, he was trained at the Prague Art Academy and later at the Ecole des Beaux-Art in Paris, where he moved in his early twenties. He spent most of his productive life in Paris.

He was interested in using colors and free them from shapes, and his search for abstract develops in front of our eyes, with his colorwheels displayed at the exhibition. The guard, a very persuasive older lady "invited me" (pulled a chair and ordered me to sit) and brought a book in English about Kupka. Full of pride she pointed out to pages about the painter, photographs, and more. Kupka is one more artist brought back home, the Czech Republic is claiming its artists.

The exhibition assembled works from private collections, the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Kampa Museum which contains more than 200 paintings from Kupka.

Kampa Museum, photograph by the author

"Self-Portrait", Arnold Schoenberg, 1910

"The Kathedrala", Frantisek Kupka, 1912-1913

"Impression V", Wassily Kandinsky, 1911