Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"what art is"

Will Arthur C. Danto give us the answer to the haunting question, "What is art?" or "Is it art?" ?

In his latest publication,  the philosopher and art critic introduces the subject with a condensed review of art history and basic philosophy in a  chapter which makes up half of the book. It could be considered a collection of essays: "Restoration and Meaning", "The Body in Philosophy and Art" are followed by a discussion of the crisis brought forth by the birth of photography and the ensuing shift in ideas about art.  Danto's mastery is fully displayed in the chapter about the philosophy of Kant as related to the work of art. I personally like Kant's idea of the "creative power of the artist" bringing "spirit" as a criteria to define a work of art.
 The future of Aesthetics, another branch of philosophy,  its politicization and subsequent marginalization is discussed as well as its importance in the the world of art.
From the start to the end, Danto refers to Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, two artists whose works, respectively the "Fountain" and the "Brillo Box" have revolutionized the art world.
Danto in this book offers a concentrate of philosophy of art across centuries and cultures and when the reading is over, stimulates more thoughts and reflections about art.

"what art is", Arthur C. Danto, Yale University Press, 2013

"Refugee", Susan Collis, 2007 (by the author)
"My Bed", Tracy Emin, 1998 (Flickr photo sharing)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wind, Water vs. Pop

Wave, 1988, the sculpture which used to greet the visitors, reflecting in a pond filled with waterlilies in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art has found a new place in the sculpture garden. Lin Emery's kinetic sculptures need the elements to come alive and wind is the energizer for Wave. Solidly anchored at its new location, the sculpture plays with the water and sends fiery messages on sunny days becoming part of the cycle of nature through its interaction with the elements.
The artist from New York, enamored with New Orleans, chose to live in a city where female artists found nurturing and opportunities.

The new sculpture, Five Brushstrokes, from the internationally recognized pop artist Roy Lichtenstein,  represents a playful and lighter side of art and brings the outside world to New Orleans. NOMA is now at par with the High in Atlanta where House III gets the visit of young and not so young enthused crowds.

Lichtenstein's sculpture is flat and looks odd in front of the museum. I like sculptures with "bodies", shapes which entice the visitor to walk around and  discover different perspectives, in short, three dimensional. The work looks top heavy, unbalanced and competes with the Neo-classical facade of the museum with its insipid colors blending poorly with the background.

Anyway, it is still a work in progress and I am waiting to hear from everybody else.

photographs by the author:

New Orleans Museum of Art
"Wave", 1988, Lin Emery, at its new location in the sculpture garden
The installation of Roy Lichtenstein's sculpture almost completed in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art, "Five Brushstrokes", 1984.

Monday, December 2, 2013

From Folktales to Indians

With her background, Camille Henrot, a French artist living in New York, is most qualified to look for a lost tribe of Houma Indians diluted between water and land in the most Southern part of Louisiana. A sort of ethnographer, philosopher, historian, who graduated from the famous Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs, her interest in different cultures and her research in primitive myths fit with the subject of her first solo exhibition in the United States, Cities of Ys at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Through her installation which includes a series of videos, she captures the life of the Houma people and looks into their ancestry, heavily influenced by the French, from their language to their last name. She describes a community, busy with church meetings, celebrations or school gatherings. Individuals share their photographs on cell phones and oral traditions are taken over by visual recordings which have become the repository of their memories. Adapting to a new world, their occupations have shifted from fishing to working for the oil companies, like building pipes for use on the oil rigs, an unavoidable collaboration for survival. The Houma Indians now disseminated in six different parishes were identified by Cavelier de La Salle in 1682 and recognized by the State of Louisiana but need to fulfill seven criteria in order to meet the definition of a tribe and receive subsidies from the federal government.
The awareness to the Houma tribe brought up by this exhibition is only one of the artist's goal. She presents the videos with a twist by modifying the shape of the screen with different "frames". The set up includes also a pile of paper printed with excerpts of old French Ballads from Brittany, a screenshot of a Wikipedia page with the word "Cappuccino", a late Klee-like painting, a photograph of an eagle or a paint color swatch with shades of red... These sideshows blended around the videos require some interpretation by the viewer. However their symbolism may be lost due to the visual overload. Loosing the thread, the visitor may miss a great view of an offshore oil platform reflected in the sunglasses of a local story-teller or children playing under water followed by a shot of the oil sheen lurking on the surface, picture of a loss of innocence. How  eight silkscreen prints drawn from the imprint of pieces of wood leftover from guitar making relate to the cities of Ys? In Horse with No Name, the artist defines her vision of America, the guitar becomes a symbol of the land.
The transition to the next exhibition, Woven Histories: Houma Basketry, about the long tradition of basket weaving in the Houma Indians is very relevant. A half canoe (or pirogue) on each side of the wall separating the two exhibitions. On one side, the front of the canoe, simple and efficient, on the other side, the back loaded with symbols, the mother pirogue with smaller pirogues and a ceramic ball representing the earth, created from the gathering of mud by a crawfish according to a myth from the Houma tribe.
Going back to the French myth which gave the title to the exhibition, the end of the tale is dramatic. The city of Ys is swallowed by the ocean.
Water, the element binds a mythical city and an Indian tribe trying to rediscover its roots in a shrinking land.

photographs by the author:

detail "Plasmas plasma stealth", 2013
detail "The Descendants of Pirogue", 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

Documentary? Art?

The carefully orchestrated release of Burtynsky: Water, a body of work from the Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky includes a book, a movie screened in Canada, an app for I Pads and his large chromogenic prints can be acquired through art galleries from New York to Germany and in New Orleans at the Arthur Roger Gallery. The New Orleans Museum of Art presents more than sixty pieces, located  in the Great Hall and on the second and third floor of the Contemporary Arts Center. With such a title, the exhibition cannot leave New Orleanians indifferent.  Describing the interaction between people and water from Mexico, India, China, the Gulf of Mexico and other places, Burtynsky brings us on a world tour with transcending pictures taken from high-vantage points, climbing scaffolds, mountains, riding airplanes and accomplishing technical feats to show us mainly landscapes from a point of view only he can see.

The awe-inspiring views of the land are a reflection on the interaction between people and a precious resource, water. The human presence is felt in a number of photographs, looming and threatening, represented only by its marks left on the fragile land. If people are included, like gathering along the water in India, it is always in a crowd. No emotions or personal interactions are recorded and humans are viewed as "material", seen from a distance in large number, producing a mass effect. The photographs can bring up awe but also sobering reflections when looking at Owens Lake, 2009, or Alberta Oil Sands, Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada, 2007, with the oil sheen  smothering the water and closer to home, the aqua green of the Gulf of Mexico spoiled by the black tar, heartbreaking.  Burtynsky clearly states his goal: " My hope is that these pictures will stimulate a process of thinking about something essential to our survival; something we often take for granted-till it's gone." He took great care to present aesthetically flawless material to make his point.

A sweeping view of the display could be deceiving at first due to the large format of the photographs (40's X 60's inches)), the colors and shapes. Could it be abstract paintings hanging on the walls, minimalist like the series of Pivot Irrigation, High Plains, Texas, 2010 or Dryland Framing, Aragon, Spain, 2010, expressionist like Xiaolandi Dam #3, Yellow River, Henan Province in China, 2011, or hyperrealist? A farmer looking at the photographs would see the result of his work. The viewer cannot avoid interpreting the pictures at different levels and by doing so, adds another dimension and intend to the photographs.
Robert Smithson was creating land art, using the land as a media to create art. Burtynsky's path is different. His background education allows him to "see" shapes, colors in nature and record his vision of the interaction between humanity and nature.
The photographs are sold by art galleries and acquired by museum, so it is art. They could as well be included in National Geographic to illustrate a documentary.

Art? Documentary? Both?

no photographs allowed
link to Burtynsky's site for photographs:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Painting? What Next?

A trip to London should include a visit of famous art galleries like Serpentine, White Cube, Gagosian... each has several locations. It could take a few days!

Crises are the occasion to reassess and hopefully move forward. In the art world, photography, perceived as a threat by painters, allowed them to get beyond the exact reproduction of the subject and move on to abstract and conceptual art. But what is next? Is this the end of painting?
The exhibition  The Show is Over at the Gagosian Gallery on Britannia Street in London is a gathering of artists preoccupied with the subject. The question arose as early as the end of WWII with Francis Picabia's last paintings born from the nihilism engendered by the war or the Buchi (holes) and Tagli (slashes) from Lucio Fontana.
The end of painting is celebrated by vast white rooms filled with canvasses covered by different media including chewing gum, urine or colors like grey, black and every piece chosen for the exhibition brings another argument to the conversation.
A monochrome grey painting from Gerhard Richter, a flat minimalist black work from Richard Serra, an expressionist black and white painting from Christopher Wool or the ultimate, Piero Manzoni's Achromes made with cotton and gravel are included with two fiery paintings from Yves Klein, consuming themselves in front of our eyes ( a side of Klein I was not familiar with, made in 1962 with scorched cardboard and pigments) .
The material varies. Andy Warhol spread urine on copper foil or diamond dust on canvas, Nate Lowman, sugar and dirt,  Gregor Hildebrandt, casette and tapes, Adam McEwen, chewing gum, Dan Colen, tar and feathers. There are no rules to describe the end of painting. Thirty five artists are involved in the show and the period covers more than half a century. The discussion still goes on, but what is interesting, the artists did stick with the format, all the works can be hung on the walls. This is kind of reassuring.
The show is mastering the subject and the quiet atmosphere was conducive to a great visit.

The question is lingering and the parallel with music cannot be overlooked. Atonal? Abstract? What is next? One hopes that the anxiety generated by this crisis will foster creativity.
The show is over when everything has been told and there is nothing else to say. Not yet.

no photographs were allowed

"Attese", Lucio Fontana, 1961, Flickr photo sharing
"hippity flippity" (tar and feathers), Dan Colen, 2012, photograph by Rob McKeever, Gagosian Gallery

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Rediscovering Klee

Finding Tate Modern is easy along the South bank of the Thames. Getting there can be trickier and the day of my visit involved a walk through a tunnel and back streets filled with construction sites. Real estate is booming in London.

Tate presents a retrospective of Paul Klee's works and the exhibition organized in chronological order starts with a brief review of Klee's life and the display of a handwritten catalogue by the artist who kept records of his works in a meticulous way.
This short introduction is followed by an abrupt plunge into Klee's adult life in 1912-1913. Then thirty three years old, he had matured from an adventurous young man playing violin to a married painter supported by his wife, lived in Munich and was a member of Der Blaue Reiter founded in 1911. The paintings on display in the next seventeen rooms represent his legacy, allowing the visitor to retrace the artist's path and his brush with Expressionism, Surrealism, Cubism, Pointillism or Abstract. His search for color underlines his work and his skills for drawings which he developed early on, are displayed in his satirical pieces, referring to the absurdity of wars and governments. His caricatures could be categorized as Dadaist but his statements stay measured, he was not a provocateur. Each room concentrates on a particular event and its repercussion on Klee's works from the subject to the palette of colors. A series of abstract watercolors follow a trip in Tunisia, carpet inspired motives and variations in brown a trip to Egypt. Profoundly touched by the war and its atrocities, he produces a series of caricatural drawings alluding to its horrors. His poor health overshadowed the last years of his life and the progression of scleroderma left him unable to swallow or play the violin, however, he kept painting and his drawings became purified, "bare to the bones", like skeletons to support the colors.
Klee experimented with new material for his paintings on  burlap or new techniques developing his "oil-transfer" method. He was also a respected teacher nicknamed the "Bauhaus Buddha".
The visit confirms that Klee was Klee, an independent artist, involved in different movements, but who did not embrace fully any. Klee did shine in small, intimate paintings or watercolors and drawings. Some periods are more narrative, others pure geometric abstract. Rarely using primary colors, he invents new colors, by mixing them and making them bleed on each other, finding half-tones and creating a palette of chromatic colors.
What is missing in the exhibition is the human side of the painter, an aspect well presented in 2011 at the Cité de la Musique in Paris. Photographs of Klee with his students, his teaching tools at the Bauhaus... This may have been a distraction for this superb exhibition gathering works from Le Menil in Houston (with my preferred Gaze on Silence, 1932), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum Folkwang or the Kunstmuseum Basel and more. A small informative booklet was published for the exhibition and is provided with the purchase of the ticket.

The conclusion after the visit comes from Klee himself. In 1902, a defiant young artist, he stated "I am my style". True to himself, he developed his style over the next  forty years.

Coming back from the museum was even trickier. The Thames went over its banks during my visit (a few hours!) and, under a torrential rain, I had to climb fences to reach the bridge!

View of Tate Modern by the author
"Flora on Sand", 1927 and "Fire at Full Moon", 1933 from Flickr photo sharing

book review: "Paul Klee: Life and Work", Boris Friedewald, Prestel, 2011

Friday, October 25, 2013

All Masters

At Frieze Masters London one will find paintings from Seventeen Century Dutch artists like Brughel the Elder or the Younger and works from modern and contemporary masters like Joan Mitchellde Kooning, Monet or Giacometti. Museum pieces are on sale for private collectors and can be approached, photographed and appreciated  by a flock of art amateurs like me. The one-hundred and twenty galleries have a busy few days in London.
This is the second year that such an event takes place at Regent's Park, the site of Frieze London and this show adds another dimension to the yearly event. A sculpture garden is also organized on the premises. 
There is art for everyone and I just stayed a long time in the area filled with sculptures from Naum Gabo and drawings from Malevich, pieces of art history.
Several sculptures from Lynda Benglis born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, were on sale, confirming the rank of Master to the now internationally-known artist. Jean-Michel Basquiat, popular among collectors was also represented by several galleries. Surprisingly, I saw only two Kandinsky at the Gallery Thomas... maybe I missed others among the busy displays.
Gerhard Richter was present with several "squegees" and I found in a gallery two of his early paintings on photographs. Wifredo Lam had a prominent place with a gallery dedicated to his work.
Why mix ancient and modern art? Recently, The Ménil Collection in Houston presented its permanent collection under this angle, with modern paintings and sculptures scattered among its Byzantine art, offering a stimulating dialogue between the works, which can be looked at with different perspectives and eyes.
The afternoon-long visit is a unique experience filled with adventures along the aisles, an unforgettable walk in the white tents.

photographs by the author

"Bolero", Lynda Benglis, 1992-1993
"Untitled", Wifredo Lam, 1958
"A Calm with a States Yacht and other Vessels in  a crowded harbor Scene", Willem Van de Velde The Younger, 1655

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

One hundred and forty galleries in five hours.

Where? At the Frieze Art Fair in London gathering galleries from China to South Africa, Beirut, New York...and of course London.

Regent's Park is easy to reach by bus or tube and with a quick access to the white tents, the visit started on a "good foot" which is important for a fair goer. Of course, I could not avoid the comparison with the FIAC which opens this week in Paris at the Grand Palais. There, the building provides a great setting for the exhibitors with the light filtering through its high glass vaults but the wait can last several hours even with tickets in hand.
At any art fair, the number of galleries is overwhelming and I usually follow the rows one by one, booth by booth. Of course, well-known galleries can be spotted by the crowd mulling around them. This time,White Cube is mobbed by mothers and children looking at a taxidermy piece from Damien Hirst, idem for Gagosian which has chosen to be an amusement park with works from Jeff Koons. The YBA's are still going strong and bringing crowds. There is fun for adults as well. They can walk into the two way mirror sculpture from Dan Graham at Lisson gallery or make photographs of themselves reflecting in a ...wait, not Pistoletto but Gavin Turk.

But fairs are also an occasion to surprise and galleries compete for the visitors' attention, sometimes in strange ways. A gallery from Milan was staying in semi-darkness with shining plastic puddles on the floor. German galleries brought their big names and Neo-Expressionism is in full swing with the upside-down paintings from  Georg Baselitz whose works are getting a renewed interest.
The Argentinian sculptor Adriàn Villa Rojas' is downsizing and his end of the world sculptures now can fit in a collector's backyard. Two years ago, a giant pipe made of crumbling cement, his preferred media to remind us of the fate of civilizations, crossed the Tuileries Garden during the FIAC.
Visits are always an adventure and one could find among the female artists a few photographs from Sophie Callé, a small painting from Joan Mitchell in the greens and oranges, provoking sculptures from Sarah Lucas. The list goes on, a piece from Murakami, a full-length caricatured self-portrait in gold metal, an hyper-realist work from Ron Mueck, two giant paintings from Chris Ofili... 
The prize for the "cringe provoking" gallery went to Stevenson, a South African gallery presenting the work from Meschac Gaba, baby clothes hanging along the wall, decorated with provoking words close to an installation from Andreas Angelidakis hinting at Metamodernism.
Otherwise, I found the show subdued and conventional. The only live performance was presented by the gallery Michael Werner: a circle of priest-like actors drawn in a circle, whispering to one another.
No Champagne's corks were popping in the aisles.

photographs by the author:

"Clutch VIII" Antony Gormley, 2010
"Sunny side up" Urs Fischer, 2012
View of the Gagosian gallery with works from Jeff Koons.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Far East in East New Orleans

For its first international exchange, The Front invited four Ginza Art Lab members from Japan. The show was still undergoing some last minutes touches Saturday afternoon when I visited for a preview.
Tonight, I was told, fog will fill the street room and the two sober signs hanging on the wall will be fading in the clouds but this cannot soften the message: "Silence Is Violence" and "Invisibleness Is Violence". At a time when text is overtaken by images, simple sentences become powerful slogans. The words, visually activated by their bright colors, depersonalized by the use of bar codes, hit hard. They are a reflection on the inertia that paralyzes a country following the Fukushima nuclear disaster whose consequences are still not fully known. But the silence and invisibleness are becoming part of the disaster itself, perpetuating the decay. Silence becomes a message of loss and defeat. But wait... is Taisuke Morishita referring only to Fukushima?
In the second room, two videos from Keiko Kamma displayed on two opposite walls treat the same theme and keep the conversation going. A peaceful white and black video of flowers and leaves falling in a stream is interrupted by short sentences: "keep the silence, no one knows" or "break the silence" upside down. One can almost hear the water looking at the poetic soothing scene but the text interrupting the images is a message of quiet destruction.
The third room was still in preparation but Jomi Kim's theme of absence, decay and transience came out loud and clear, translated through a pile of clothes abandoned on a rack.
An installation from Syuta Mitomo fills the fourth room. In his endeavor to break the silence from crowds, he developed a social practice which involves the public's participation as seen on a video. His final work assembles blue and red Keith Haring-like figures overcrowding a circle, a closer look reveals their differences. Some are more adventurous, climb up the wall and their shadows add a mysterious dimension. A new vision of the crowd is emerging from the work. A shift from "we are all equal, united and melt in a crowd which becomes powerless" to "we are in a crowd but all different and can act as individuals in concert to build and make changes". A simple project, very powerful with another vision of the future.

The Front succeeded in reaching a new landmark, an international exchange program.

photograph by the author:
Installation from Syuta Mitomo                                

Monday, October 7, 2013

Up and Downtown

Uptown, at the Carroll Gallery on the Tulane campus, Jennifer Odem transforms the symbol of comfortable, stable domestic life, a decorative accessory for objects, sculptures or curios into strange lively creatures. Crochet and lace become sculptures and in the process, the traditional heirlooms get a new look becoming tri-dimensional  organic figures haunting the gallery. The make-over involves plaster and the unmistakably feminine, soft media is shaped into a plasticky, shiny, indestructible material, a transformation from a domestic to an industrial world. The white or black colors give an ethereal, ghostly feeling to the mysterious characters possibly born in a fairy tale. Odem's paintings along the walls complete the show.

In the same venue, two adjacent rooms are filled with works from graduate students enrolled  in the painting program at the  Newcomb Art Department working in collaboration with students from the music composition program at the Lumière Université Lyon 2 in France. In 1922, Moholy-Nagy created the famous Telephone Paintings. The progress in technology allowed this project to be realized through the transmission of live videos. One of them shows Bonnie Maygarden whose recent exhibition at The Front was commented upon in a recent blog. Equipped with her protective mask, she folds plastic sheets, circles the canvas and sprays fluorescent paints on it. The musical background provides a tempo to the action painting, adding tension to the process. Music and visual arts have been sources of inspiration back and forth for artists. Time, distance, borders are no longer impediments to their collaboration.

Downtown, Coup d'Oeil, Art Consortium is hosting a special guest, Jessica Goldfinch. The artist treats a somber subject, children and war.  Her paper doll like pieces are not toys, they are miniature replicas of children's prosthesis. The collateral victims of wars inspire also the paintings. Reds, black, dark colors, create a dramatic background for the tiny prosthesis which become a symbol of the ongoing tragedy.

photographs by the author:

"Continental Riser", 2011-2013, Jennifer Odem
Video: Collaboration Lyon-Nouvelle-Orleans
Model #L-0004, 2013, Jessica Godfinch

Monday, September 30, 2013

Looking at Art

Art is about the intend of the artist, the result itself, the viewer and his/her interpretation of the work. The latter being heavily influenced by individual background, a knowledge of art history helps to understand the impact of a work of art and appreciate it ("like" it or not).
What Are You Looking At written by Will Gompertz caught my attention with its catchy subtitle "the surprising, shocking, and sometimes strange story of 150 years of modern art".
The author's statement in the preface makes it clear to the reader, the dialogues between artists are pure fiction and he does not provide his references. The book offers an easy chronological navigation in the world of modern art with a goal of helping the reader interpret artworks in their context.
Movements are well-defined, each the subject of a chapter, sometimes overlapping like Neoplasticism 1917-31, Bauhaus 1919-1933 and Dadaism 1916-1923.
The concepts presented in an informal language, which never becomes colloquial, are easy to grasp and mundane stories are told to cement the big history.
The duo Picasso-Braque, Malevich's fistfight with Tatlin, Duchamp buying THE "fountain"... The author is a great story-teller and transforms a possibly dry and boring subject into a pleasant reading, provoking aha moments along the way, when the relationships between movements, artists, works of art make sense.
The text is illustrated with relevant black and white figures and a section of color photographs. With an obvious deep knowledge, Gompertz manages to present his subject in a clear, entertaining manner.
At the end, he introduces us to the future with question marks. What is next, who?

"Olympia" 1863, Edouard Manet, Wikimedia
"Woman I", 1950-52, Wilhem de Kooning by the author
"My Bed", 1998, Tracy Emin, Flickr photo sharing

Saturday, September 21, 2013

All Flavors in the Saint-Claude Art District

Since last week-end and for the month to come, Staple Goods gallery located in the Saint-Claude Art District offers a show curated by Brenda Hanegan, one of the three featured artists. In some circles, it is "passé" to paint bouquets of flowers. Brenda Hanegan proves this wrong with her luxuriant ginger flowers, their sensual shapes and colors growing exuberantly beyond the thick boards made of Times-Picayune comics on Bristol vellum. Trough  a poetic association, the artist relates the  tropical plants' yearly cycle of renewal and decay to the city of New Orleans and its decadent lusciousness. The conventional representation of the flowers with a Southern twist, gives the paintings an air of old and new, a symbolic way of expression  that will pass the test of many fashions.
The four woodcuts from Laura Richens inspired by quotes or poems from the philosopher and psychologist William James, are colorful illustrations of his idea of cosmic consciousness. Human Hearts, 2013, also inspired by a quote from Aleksandr Slozhenitsyn, with its violent red-orange and convoluted shapes reflects the confusion between good and evil in an expressionist language contrasting with the calm, serene blue and green landscape of Island in the Sea, 2013.
Across, the works from Kelly A. Mueller offer another view of nature. The pieces are more narrative, filled with stories about a fertile land inhabited by fantastic creatures, a world born from the artist's subconscious where dreams and reality intermingle. Old maps, newspapers, instructional manuals provide a background for the wild landscapes and bring a touch of reality. Donated or found quilts furnish the frame for the stories set in an exotic world. A small gallery filled with works set up in an harmonious display.

Further on Saint-Claude Avenue, The Front gathers an interesting mix of local and guests artists, starting with a series of works from Bonnie Maygarden lining up the walls of a room which has been filled with surprising installations in the past (tons of earth, barrels of water or Jumper most recently). The compositions with minimalist geometric shapes are defined by their fluorescent yellow, bright orange or black and white colors.  The artist works with unconventional synthetic material like pleather and paints with pop, unnatural colors provoking an ambivalent reaction in the viewer, a mixture of attraction and repulsion enhanced by the pieces' haptic quality (several visitors asked permission to touch the works and I could not resist "feeling"! ). Without a focal point, the empty dreamy landscapes of peaks and valleys appear endless and come alive when the viewer walks back and forth. With common materials, unnatural colors, the artist found a way to reach an immaterial world.
The visual adventure is followed by a more intellectual quest with Nikita Gale's installation, a challenging work aimed at bringing up a reflection on the diversion of history through words and images. With her white helmet, the conceptual artist points out the twisting of events and facts in the process of vulgarization of history, to fit groups and their bias. Her three videos and the texts on the walls converge to develop the idea, taking as an example the acceptance speech delivered by Halle Berry when awarded the Best Actress Oscar.
 Dave Greber, a video artist, uses his media to immerse the viewer in a cartoonish world full of trepidation.  The sound effects and the images produce a dynamic and punchy message, funny?... maybe I missed part of it, but I found the work "very cool".
Ratss from Andrew Brehm is using an old technique, masked actors, to tell a story delivered through a video to fit the taste of the time.
In the backyard, the installation from Carl Joe Williams concludes the visit with a series of colorful totems arranged on a game board drawn on the grass. The search for universality brings the artist to mix music and visual art. His musical composition playing in the background animates the group of sculptures, combining rhythm in colors, shapes and notes.

The vibrant Saint-Claude Art District may require a visit twice a month! Good Children, Antenna,..more.

photographs by the author:

"Three Graces Oleander", Kelly A. Mueller
"Untitled", 2013, Bonnie Maygarden
"Gr8@wakening!, Dave Greber

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

News from Julia and more in New Orleans

A month after a wild and successful white linen night, a subdued ambiance fills the Art District and the visitors can have a closer look at the art this Saturday night.
What is new? Octavia Art Gallery moved from Uptown to a better space and location on Julia in a recently renovated building. The gallery's mission stays unchanged, featuring a mixture of local, national and international artists and offering a great exposure to local artists while mixing their works with those of heavyweights like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg or Keith Haring.
For the new season, the show titled Home gathers a diverse group of artists, each represented by one characteristic work. Ron Bechet with a charcoal on paper renders the wild and mysterious spirit of nature, Regina Scully's painting, the fantastic dimension of urban landscapes. Meanwhile a kitschy piece from Raashad Newsome, a native New Orleans artist now living in New York, reminds us of his dazzling works spread in the New Orleans Museum of Art for a Summer long exhibition. All the artists have a connection to New Orleans or its surroundings, which means to its unique culture, including Lynda Benglis, now an internationally famous artist, born in Lake Charles, LA. Keith Sonnier from Mamou, is given a prominent place with his light sculpture Longhorn Study, 2006  above the reception area.  The space allows the display of a great number of works without feeling crowded and one will find Bayou Dawn, 2013, a study in colors and lines from Brian Guidry, an "American crocodile" from Elizabeth Shannon, dolls from Rukiya Brown, a colorful second line from Keith Duncan or photographs on silk from Michel Varisco and more. The new gallery on the block is promising.

Jonathan Ferrara Gallery is holding its 17th No Dead Artists national juried exhibition and the variety of works will be a challenge for the jurors. This is another story... or blog.

The Saint Claude Art District in East New Orleans is busy with Antenna Gallery  in a new building just two blocks from The Front. Featuring an outstanding exhibition Void Loop well commented in the blog New Orleans Art Insider. Its venture into sound art and the subject of new technologies and art makes for a very relevant show.
At the Front, Jumper from Alex Podesta is the antithesis to the Antenna's exhibition. An odd persona, experimenting with basic supplies, a chord, scotch tape and a bouquet of red umbrellas, attempts to fly. Of course his dream goes wrong and he is sitting powerless and lonely on the cold dark floor next to his ridicule helmet decorated with two bunny ears. Still, he is a hero, he has the courage to dream... and to fail, a modern Icarus,

As of today, Jumper is back in his crate and the St Claude galleries are getting ready for their next shows opening Saturday.

"Delta Dawn", Brian Guidry, 2013  courtesy Octavia Art Gallery
Installation View, courtesy Ocatavia Art Gallery
"Jumper", Alex Podesta, 2013, photograph by the author

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Celebrations in New Orleans

Two events combining music and visual arts occurred recently in New Orleans. A two hours concert at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, featuring music composed by Matt Lemmler at the occasion of the museum's 10th anniversary, titled "Southern Sonatas and Songs in Celebration of the Ogden of Southern Art's 10 Year Anniversary" and inspired by works from its permanent collection, like a painting from Clementine Hunter for What a Friend We Have in Jesus/ SolaceLynda Benglis and Eudora Welty for Angels or the entire collection of the museum for Colors of the Wind with a total of sixteen diverse pieces played by Matt Lemmler's band. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Wassily Kandinsky listening to Schoenberg's music created famous abstract pieces and explored synesthesiaArnold Schoenberg established a relationship between colors and notes. In this venue, the opposite occurs with compositions rhythmically and musically in harmony with a painting from the museum. I hope that a recording will be available in the future. The musicians should be commended for their performance sometimes hampered by the poor acoustics of the museum's hall.
 The following week, NOCCA started its concert season with The Art of Music, an event combining visual art and music, even dance. The Faubourg Quartet started with an impressionistic piece from Debussy followed by the String Quartet No.4 (Buczak) from Philip Glass performed along a poignant video from Michel Varisco Currents displayed on a giant screen. The next piece At the Octoroon Balls from Winton Marsalis brought energy with its rhythms in sink with the frenetic brushstrokes from Ayo Scott (or vice versa) filmed painting Motive, inspired by Hellbound Highball.
The iconic charcoal on paper from Ron Bechet For my Fathers was a great backdrop for the group of dancers on the stage. Inspired by to my father from Tania León, the large work links the natural and spiritual world and the dancers added another dimension to the dynamic piece from Bechet.
To close the show, Just a Closer Walk with Thee with Ellis Marsalis at the piano was a tribute to John Scott, known for his "Jazz thinking" when creating his musical sculptures or paintings. Photographs of works from the artist were projected in the background reminding us of his legacy. Ellis Marsalis concluded the evening sharing stories about his longtime friend John Scott.

... only in New Orleans.

photographs by the author

" Panorama of Baptism on Cane River", Clementine Hunter, 1945
"Circle Dance: Treme Cornice", John Scott, 2001
photograph, Michel Varisco

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dalí, in Florida

Since my last visit at Le Centre Pompidou to see Dalí, I looked for an opportunity to visit the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, FL. A great number of paintings from the artist's surrealist period were on loan from the American museum contributing to the major retrospective in Paris..
Why the location on the West Coast of Florida? The collection from Reynolds and Eleanore Morse, friends of  Dalí, was initially in Ohio and was relocated to St Petersburg through the initiative of a local attorney combined with the financial support of the city itself and the state of Florida. The building housing the collection was conceived by the architect Yann Weymouth of HOK and opened in 2011. The minimalist cube shape is softened by glass bubbles bringing to life an otherwise austere construction built to withstand category 5 hurricanes due to its location along the Tampa bay. Surrounded by gardens, looking at the sea, the site could not be more auspicious. Matching the outside, the white atrium is elegant with its helical staircase, a reference to Dalí's interest with spirals and the structure of DNA.

The exhibition located on the third floor presents the collection in chronological order. After a brief introduction illustrated by the first piece collected by the Morses's family Daddy Long Leg of the Evening- Hope!, 1940, it goes on with early paintings from Spain, the works hanging along the walls and rows of parallel wooden partitions. Self-portraits, landscapes, still lifes, portraits, the succession of paintings is a tribute to the large collection. In an attempt to  interrupt the otherwise monotonous display, titles like "Early Works", "Anti-Art", "Surrealism" in large letters introduce different sections of the exhibition. The Surrealist period is filling most of the remnant of the gallery with a succession of smaller works, but characteristic with their symbols, insects, ostrich eggs, Gala... and the exhibition ends with "salons", wider spaces illuminated by skylights, allowing larger canvasses of the late works. At the time of my visit, Santiago El Grande, 1957, was temporarily on loan from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick, Canada. Dalí's experiments with different styles and media including sand, gravel like Miró, are well represented although the collection appears short of works from his cubist period which occupied a whole section of the exhibition at Le Centre Pompidou.

The second wing of gallery space on the third floor offered a temporary exhibition titled The Royal Inheritance, paintings bequeathed by the artist to the Kingdom of Spain, on loan from the Museo Reina Sofía in exchange for the works provided for the exposition Dalí which traveled from Paris to Madrid in April. Early nudes from the 1918-1924 period, Portrait of Gala with Turban,1939, a copy of Grand Masters, or Gala from 1965, a hazy symbolic portrait, more still lifes, the show felt like an addendum to the permanent collection. It included also a painting from 1928, an attempt to abstract during Dalí's "Anti-Art" period, a few not so well-known late works from the 80's showing Dalí's interest in science, physics, mathematics or optics (with a small stereoscopic painting inspired by Velázquez, Las Meninas,1976, where two images fuse in one if looking from a distance) and three sculptures, New Amsterdam, 1974, the famous Venus de Milo with Drawers, 1964, and the Lobster Telephone from 1936 randomly placed in the gallery.  The pamphlet prepared at the occasion of the exhibition saved the show with its brief history of the works pointing out their significance in the context of the artist's career.
The visit included a fifteen minutes movie and the unavoidable gift shop on the first floor but missed mentioning Dalí's outlandish views, his political interventions, his legacy, not only as a painter, but a provocateur, his impact on pop art and more...  but if one is interested in his surrealist period and his early works, this is the place and at the risk of sounding like a travel writer, I recommend a visit to the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, FL!

no photographs allowed in the galleries
photographs by the author:
details of the helical staircase, Dali Museum
"La Vache Spectrale", Salvador Dali, 1928, Centre Pompidou, Paris
"Architecture surrealiste", Salvador Dali, 1932, Kunstmuseum, Bern

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lesson in Colors

The color wheel from Johannes Itten (1888-1967), a color theorist who taught at the Bauhaus from 1919 till 1923 on color contrasts and the psychological effect of colors, introduces Color Acting at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, FL. But it is Joseph Albers, best known for his optical experiments which culminated with his series Homage to the Square who overshadows the exhibition, even providing its title taken from one of his quotes. He demonstrated that color is "the most relative medium in art" and that regardless of the scientific theories of colors, they are influenced by one another and are also perceived subjectively by each viewer.
Albers keeps inspiring younger artists and this is illustrated by the works from Jessica Labatte (b. 1981), like Cross Processed Green to Blue and Blue to Green, 2012 or Canadian Jessica Eaton (b. 1977).
Richard Anuszkiewicz, an Op Art artist, creates volumes and dynamic paintings with colors and lines. Meanwhile, in the works from Pierre Mabille, Yaacov Agam, Hans Hinterreiter or Robyn Denny, shape becomes an accessory to color, the subject. The Russian born artist Bolotowsky, who became one of the founders of the American Abstract Artists Group in New York City is represented in the exhibition as well as Frank Stella with Jasper's Dilemna, 1973,  a composition in black and white side by side with its colored copy, drawing the viewer's attention, next to a small lithograph from Alexander Calder, characteristic of the artist's use of primary colors.
The display in the first part of the exhibition, a gathering of small technical works about color is followed in the second room by bigger pieces and introduces color field painting with Attala, 1958, from Fredric Karoly, an American artist born in Hungary. Its ethereal, transparent hues contrast with the fauvist, violent colors of Flower I, 1981, from Joan Mitchell, the well-known abstract expressionist painter. Some artists use color like a whiff of perfume or a tune to stimulate memories like Enrico Donati, American born in Italy, who found a green "never seen before" during a visit at Angkor Wat in Cambodia and gives us a rendition in  Angkor Wat, 1963. The exhibition goes on with works from less known artists over time, remembered for their contribution to art history: Stanton McDonald-Wright, one of the first American abstract painter who founded Synchromism, a movement relating respectively colors and sounds to paintings and music, Stanley William Hayter, a well-known print maker in Paris who worked with Picasso, Kandinsky and taught Rothko and Pollock after his move to New York City at the onset of WWII. The list goes on with each artist represented by a characteristic work, and a detailed biography with quotes related to their interest and research in colors: Gene Davis, a member of the Washington School Color, Perle Fine, Ludwig Sanders, Leon Berkowitz, Norman Bluhm, Michael Goldberg. At the occasion of this small didactic exhibition, the visitor will  rediscover artists, sometimes forgotten, who left their mark in the American abstract movement and the study of colors.

The search for color is ongoing, from the time of Aristotle to Goethe with his Theory of Colours and Newton who introduced the notion of wavelengths also invented the color wheel. But there is more to color than techniques, wavelengths, theories and  the artists, researchers in colors cannot dismiss its subjectivity and the whole quote from Albers goes:" Painting is color acting. The act is to change character and behavior, mood and tempo."

In conclusion, another quote from Albers: " If one says "red" and there are 50 people listening, it can be 50 different reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all reds will be very different."

photographs by the author:

"Volumes", Richard Anuszkiewicz, 1972
"Attala", Fredric Karoly, 1968
"Black Watch", Gene Davis, 1974
"Homage to the Square", Josef Albers

Sunday, August 4, 2013

At the Crossroad

Well represented in Louisiana with works in the permanent collection at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, seen recently at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, Shawne Major is also in Mississippi this Summer with a solo show at the Duckett Gallery located in a multipurpose building, The Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Center of Arts and Education, downtown Ocean Springs. Ravens and Crows includes twelve pieces spread in the two well-lit rooms, representing the artist production. Called tapestries with rectangular shapes or "pelts" with appendages, possibly paws or heads. Her striking pieces need to be looked at one by one, each has a story. The colors give the tone, dramatic reds, black, sometimes whites, or sweet pink, made with various materials, cheap objects found in every household like plastic toys (made in China), false fur, wires, beads, plastic snakes, and odds and ends collected by the artist who assimilates her gathering to the habit of ravens and crows, scavengers of random objects. The results are compressed stories of lives, like Parthenope, 2010, which includes a wedding dress and forebodes the future of the bride. The objects become words to create the story, the symbolic meaning of hearts, snakes, circles...enhanced by their accumulation in the final composition. In the process of the slow work involved in the creation of the pieces, the artist transforms low art in high art, mundane objects into precious tapestries sewn by hands.
Each viewer can find a unique story making it a personal journey. Each piece is also the repository of our unconscious. our collective fears, wishes and dreams.
At the crossroad between folk art and fine art.

photographs by the author:

Hundredth Monkey, 2009
Leucosia, 2012

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Conversation at the Menil

Mix and match "Byzantine things", modern and contemporary art works, throw in a few odds and ends like a Boli from Mali, the visit of Byzantine Things in the World at The Menil Collection is full of surprises. This crude description does not reflect the goal of the exhibition stated in a brochure available at the entrance: "our purpose, at least partially, is to explore the way that modernism allows us to see new aspects of Byzantine culture" and rediscover Byzantine objects outside of their historical background. It also states what the exhibition is not, like attempting to show the influence of Byzantine art on Modern art or features of modernist art in Byzantine art. With this in mind, the visit becomes a challenging experience.

The display of Byzantine icons, crosses, pilgrims tokens, reliquaries, religious paintings and other small items is scattered in four large rooms among modern and contemporary art pieces or vice versa. Starting with  crosses, the clear symbol in the Byzantine display, hanging on walls or represented in paintings, contrasts with its representation in modern pieces like a work from Dan Flavin lighting a corner, a white composition from RauschenbergCrucifixion and Reflection, 1950, or a black painting from Ad Reinhardt, where it becomes subtle, hidden in the composition. Gold fills the next showroom. In the Byzantine paintings, it gives an aura of inner strength to the subject, a godly spiritual radiance usually associated with Saints whose relics become precious while preserved in a gold vessel. On the other hand, James Lee Byers, Robert Rauschenberg or Yves Klein are treating gold on a material level, enhancing its richness, its shine and its status as a symbol of opulence and luxury. Gold keeps its power through the centuries and across cultures.
From then on, the exhibition looses its thread, and the succession of disconnected works becomes random: a small female nude from Alberto Giacometti (Nu Debout, 1953), minimalist sculptures from Donald Judd (Untitled, 1965), Barnett Newman (Untitled, 1950), a Nkondi figure, more Byzantine "things", more works from Rauschenberg (Gold Painting, 1952) or Flavin, one painting from Mark Rothko, Vietnam, 1965, from Michelangelo Pistoletto, abstract expressionist paintings from Willhem de Kooning and paintings from Fernand Léger, a print from Kiki Smith,... by then, the goal of the visit is forgotten... maybe the pleasure of looking at the pieces, one by one, takes over.
A previous exhibition of the works from Maurizio Cattelan had put a new twist on the permanent collection with his whimsical pieces scattered through the rooms. This time, a sort of a confusion ensues and the Byzantine artifacts from the fourth to the fifteenth Century seem lost in the glass cases, overtaken by the size and number of the modernist works.  Out of their context, they also loose their aura and spiritual dimension, which, one would hope, should have been enhanced by its close proximity to the modern pieces.

What the exhibition failed to demonstrate is another of its goal: showing that contemporary art is "inert and passive, dependent upon the viewer's gaze" as opposed to Byzantine objects seen as "dynamic and changeable, fully capable of affecting the world".
The Menil offered a conversation, it was another occasion to display its unique collection.

no photographs allowed
photographs Flickr photo sharing
"MG9", Yves Klein, 1962 c.
Boli from the Bamana people of Mali
"Untitled, cornerpiece" Dan Flavin, 1969

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Southern Landscapes

Will Henry Stevens (1881-1949) is well represented at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art with the display of a rich permanent collection in a special area dedicated to his works. A new selection of rarely shown paintings has been assembled for the exhibition Will Henry Stevens: Selections from the Permanent Collection of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the introductory piece at the entrance of the private room gives a resume of the show with its theme and colors. At first sight, a lush southern flavor exudes from the paintings lined up along the walls and a more detailed visit reveals the artist's different styles.

The short biography and the artist's statement posted on the wall allow the visitor to get acquainted with Stevens who was born in Indiana, lived ten years in Louisville, Kentucky and then moved permanently to New Orleans where he taught at the Newcomb College for twenty years. He painted exclusively the outdoors and is called a naturalist but what he looked for in nature was more than colors, shapes and landscapes. His  spiritual quest brought him to discover the Sung dynasty paintings and Eastern philosophies. In addition, in the late 20's, on his yearly trips to New York City, he was introduced to Kandinsky's work, a search for the spiritual through art. These influences are very clear in the paintings selected for the exhibition.
Mainly pastels, mixed media, few watercolors and oil on canvas, the figurative paintings evolve to abstract.

The Japanese influence is not subtle in some of them and brings a serene harmony to the compositions, especially two views of forests on each side of a video giving a glimpse of the artist's human dimension through memories of students or friends. In the same area, a well illustrated book about Wassily Kandinsky attempts to show the similarities between the works from the European master and Stevens's owns.
Influenced by Kandinsky and others, Stevens also admired Paul Klee and it  becomes a game to figure out the style and flavors, figurative, cubist, expressionist even surrealistic, found in different paintings. The lack of dates on the works is somewhat of a drawback if one is interested in following the artist's career. But ultimately, what makes Stevens so unique are his colors and his commitment to nature. He saw curves, fluid shapes and one seldom finds straight lines or geometric figures in the works.  After learning how to grind and mix his own pigments, he developed a special technique to avoid fading and smudges. His oranges, yellows, blues with subtle variations or intense, dark, vegetal greens, his earthy, generous, warm browns feel like he is sampling nature directly on his palette to create his musical landscapes.

The result of his search for spirituality is a non objective rendition of  forests, water, fishes, the Mississippi river or the sea in paintings offering the essence of the natural world. Kandinsky followed an intellectual journey, Stevens's path is through aesthetics. His communion with nature is expressed with soft shapes and dense colors in compositions bathing in southern luxuriance. Saturated with organic colors the works are almost tactile and one can feel the humidity, the heat.

A Southern master to rediscover, surprising in his variations on one theme: nature.

photographs by the author

Untitled, n.d., Will Henry Stevens
Untitled, n.d., Will Henry Stevens
Untitled, n.d., Will Henry Stevens
View of the exhibition