Saturday, April 27, 2013

Homage to John Scott

With John T. Scott's preferred jazz tunes playing in the background, the Louisiana Art and Science Museum downtown Baton Rouge invites the visitor to look at the artist and his colleagues' works during the exhibition Rhythm and Improvisation: John T. Scott and his Enduring Legacy.
The display of a collection of sculptures and wall pieces on the ground floor places  the emphasis on John Scott, the sculptor. The gathering in one room could be oppressive but the arrangement by series and the wide space allows a walk through to appreciate each work in its context. Several pieces from the Circle Dance Series, monochrome with their characteristic patina evoke music, dance and were included in a previous exhibition Beyond Black at the Shaw Center for the Arts in 2011.
In the middle of the room, a number of painted sculptures from the eighties and nineties are all about Scott's mindset. Sacred Music for Sonny Stitt, 1991, Fragment Dance, 1990, Summershine, 1984... lines, circles, arcs, squares give shape to rhythm in space and bold sometimes discordant colors fuse in harmony. One cannot avoid thinking of artists like Kandinsky, Schoenberg at the beginning of the twentieth century and the intellectual undertone of  their synaesthetic experiences. Scott's art is more physical in inducing a relationship between auditory and visual, he is not listening to a colored note but to music which he translates into a composition, rhythm and all. The present is already past and anticipates the future, "jazz thinking" brings dynamic to the works.
Dancing at the Crossroads (1996), a representation of the crossroads between human and spiritual worlds, the Lush Life Series, 1998, eight chrome plated aluminum wall sculptures paying homage to Bill Strayhorn, Storyville series, 1978, Diddlie Bow series, 1980 and more, contribute to this rich exhibition.
Along the way, comments about Scott's life, his motives, including the list of his favorite jazz players and musical scores, give an insight into the artist's inspiration. When working in his studio or teaching, music was always in the background.
On the way to the second level, visitors are gathering to look at a video of Scott projected on a giant screen and on top of the stairs, a large print Olympia Brass Band, 2002, and three collages remind us that the artist was also a painter, made prints and included other media in his works.
Scott's legacy brings the visitor to the second part of the exhibition, a gathering of colleagues, friends, students with a presentation of samples of their works. The comments regarding Scott's influence on their own creativity, their relationship with the artist, infuse a personal touch to the show.
"Ethic, creative courage, wisdom, sacred work" the words define a deep respect and love for their mentor or/and friend: Frank Hayden, Ron Bechet, Jeffrey Cook, Lyndon Barrois... the list goes on and the space is filled with works illustrating the same "critical thinking" which allowed them to fly on their own and thrive. An  abstract representation of the famous saxophonist and his music, Stitt from Martin Payton, made of heavy steel but light like a feather, defies the laws of gravity. Clifton Webb's intriguing  Eye of the Storm about the awe inspiring nature evokes a sacred object, a magical instrument, concentrating light and energy and spreads its shadow on the walls. Paintings, prints, sculptures, the abundance of works makes it impossible to comment on each of them, but each helps us connect with Scott as we discover their own flavor and Scott's ongoing legacy.
"Homage to John Scott" may be too deferential, one finds warmth, fondness, love and the show ends up being a celebration of Scott's life, thanks to his friends.

photographs by the author

"Circle Dance: Lil' Bone for T. Bone", 2001
"Eye of the Storm", 2007, Clifton Webb
View of the exhibition

Friday, April 19, 2013

Romanticism in Lafayette

John Hathorn: A Retrospective at the Acadiana Center for the Arts assembles forty works from the 80's till the present and reflects the period during which the artist, born in 1954 in Oxford Mississippi, lived in Louisiana. At first glance, the dominant colors, red and black, hint a romantic flavor to the show.

The installation inspired by the well-known Raft of the Medusa from  Géricault and Shakespeare's play The Tempest takes over the first room. An assemblage of pulleys hanging from the ceiling holds the raft, a wooden plank covered with scattered paintings, sketches, notes, a book, oil can and diverse objects. One can imagine a lonely artist tossed on a sea of emotions, a very romantic theme featuring the heroic individual who transforms his emotions in aesthetic experiences.
Following a tour around the Raft (2012), the paintings on the walls reflect Hathorn's interest with the color red. Among them, A Note on Red, 2000, a blood red thick impasto with a colored sample (the artist's blood?) in a vial hanging from a thread attached to the canvas or Suspension in Red,1985, a red composition interrupted by a dark vertical side with a pencil (the artist's tool?) hanging from a thread. Later in the exhibition, a new series of eleven works, The Cardinalis Sketches, is represented by On Rilke's Fifth Elegy, 2012. Hathorn statement about this series "the color red serves as a point of departure both formally and conceptually" is a testimony of his ongoing fascination with red.
 The Baudelaire Sketches series (2009-2012), The Grammar of Water series from 2006, have the same flavor of Abstract Expressionism and a muddy brown color provides the background of the stormy compositions.
The First Word of a Poem (on Rilke), 2012, The Desire to Paint (on Baudelaire), 1998 and other paintings allude to Hathorn's interest for poetry and his search for correspondence in art. The titles are poetry on their own: The Silence of the Void, The Benefits of the Moon..., some compositions include written lines of poetry.
Looking at the paintings brings the visitor to a second large room centered around a complement to the raft: the artist's work table covered with vials, filled with colored potions, bits and pieces, including a waste basket full of used tubes of paint. The artist shares his most private moments (the act of creation) and gives a sanctified view of the artist in front of his altar.
In the same area, Cardinal, 1996, includes an ironing table covered with oil paints of different colors next to the canvas hung on the wall. Like the writer's notebook filled with scratched, erased, revised words, the painter's gigantic palette is the colored testimony of his labor.
In the same vein, two palette sculptures (1994-1996) covered with a thick impasto (several inches) become tormented landscapes sculpted with a knife.
The search for "the poetry of light", "the sanctity of light" like in Large Bather, 1997, inspired by Rembrandt and Vermeer has been haunting the artist.

The repetitive themes and uniformity of colors generate some boredom as over the years, Hathorn's message and technique have stayed consistent and his lengthy comments next to the works leave no place for humor.

Introduction and conclusion to the show, the raft sums up the retrospective as the word romanticism sums up its content.

(My visit was on the exhibition's last day)

photographs by the author:

Raft, 2012
The Grammar of Water (Twelfth State), 2006
Suspension in Red, 1985
View of the second room

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A French Story

While reviewing my note books, I found twenty six pages written about the exhibition L'Art en Guerre at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Closed in February, it is now on view at the Guggenheim in Bilbao till September. The scope of the exhibition which assembles a large amount of material including not only rarely seen or previously unseen paintings, drawings, sculptures but also documents, posters, hand written notes, diaries...goes well beyond art.
Starting with the opening day of the first international surrealist retrospective at the "galerie des Beaux-Arts", January 17, 1938, the exhibition gives a review of the art created in France till the onset of the Cold War, covering almost ten years reflected in four hundred works from one hundred artists, some well-known, others anonymous. It tells the story of the shattered artists' lives, interned in French camps, exiled or hiding in clandestinity and its influence on their creativity and how their fate during that tragic period shaped the art in France.

Works from Surrealist artists, well-known (Duchamp, Tanguy, Dali, Eluard, De Chirico...) or less-known  (Delvaux, Denise Bellon...) and series of "Cadavres Exquis" from 1931 signed by artists like Breton, Sadoul, Eluard, Man Ray, Tzara are representing the pre-war period. Escapades from reality, humor, cynicism, they are facing rarely seen pieces made in captivity by Max Ernst, Bellmer, Wols, interned in camps in the South of France, or Freundlich who died in deportation.

A list of the artists and their works would be fastidious and pointless. The curators organized mini exhibitions to show well-known artists ( Picasso, Matisse) or movements (religious art, art brut), while presenting lesser artists in the context of the time with numerous documents, photographs, posters,  providing a thread to the main exhibition.
Picasso remained in Paris during "l'Occupation" and kept working in his Left Bank atelier where he had painted Guernica. Ostracized by the Nazi regime, he kept a low profile and most of his production became public after the war. Matisse also well represented with paintings and famous cutouts, was in the South of France and had to deal with the arrest of his daughter by the Gestapo. Elderly and in fragile health, he kept a daily work schedule and published Jazz in 1947.
The art in France reflected a divided country with artists like de Vlaminck, Van Dongen, Derain, de Segonzac collaborating with the Vichy government and the German occupiers, artists who chose to stay in Paris, working in the shadow like Picasso or artists who took refuge in the South like Matisse, Bonnard, Rouault. Others like Chagall fled Europe for the United States.
In Paris, attempts to "art as usual" punctuated the war time with events like the exhibition at the gallery Braun in 1941 which introduced the "Jeunes peintres de Tradition Française", the opening of the "Musée d'Art Moderne" in 1942 or the exhibition at the "Galerie de France" in 1943. But freedom of creativity was thwarted by the Vichy regime headed by the Nazis, which denounced degenerate art and promoted a return to "real art" (banned abstract, encouraged the use patriotic colors and themes centered on family, work...).
Few artists like the Alsacian Joseph Steib were discovered after the war. His satiric colorful paintings denouncing Nazism and Hitler were realized in his kitchen and exposed once in his town hall under the name The Salon of Dreams.
But many artists did not return from the camps and left only few works to remember them like Myriam Levy, Charlotte Salomon, Nussbaum and some stayed anonymous. For them, art became a mean to escape the reality of the camps and they unleashed their creativity on any material they could spare: matchboxes, cans, cardboard boxes, fabric. If sometimes technically weak, the pieces are of great historical interest and the poignant memories left from the camps are emotionally overwhelming.
In contrast, the story of the gallery Bucher, a safe heaven for artists is heartwarming. Her director, Jeanne Bucher who ran her gallery discreetly during the war, brought the outside world to Paris,  promoting works from "avant-garde" artists like Paul KleeWassily Kandinsky, Robert Motherwell, Nicolas de Staël.
A following outstanding display is devoted to religious art, art brut and primitivism spearheaded by Dubuffet during the period following the war but it feels off the subject.

The exhibition is the occasion to remember a history which is still haunting France. The art world changed after the devastating war and artists discovered the United States, abstract expressionism followed by minimalism.

no photographs allowed at the exhibition

photographs by the author:
"The Look of Amber", Yves Tanguy, 1929
Detail of a Cutout from Matisse
"Guernica", Picasso, 1937

Monday, April 8, 2013

Sound Art

Background Noise, Perspectives on Sound Art from Brandon LaBelle published in 2006 is a path down memory lane going back to the early fifties till the new century. It also brings us on a world wide tour in approximately three hundred pages dedicated to the development of sound art. At first, the reading appears daunting, with a dense text, numerous notes and references at the end of each chapter and a few black and white photographs.

After a brief introduction to clarify the difference between sound and music, listening and hearing, the author proceeds to give a mostly chronological analysis of sound art in eighteen chapters grouped into six parts. Starting with a presentation of  John Cage's work and its impact on sound art, the author describes the evolution of sound as it becomes a tool for artists. The inclusion of sound in happenings,  Fluxus, new technologies, conceptual art, Minimalism (sculptures or sound activate the space), all promote the development of sound art. Furthermore, sound in defining the space becomes an architectural element, a material to shape for acoustic design now considered in urban development. Reaching beyond the subject of sound art, the author discusses the social and ecological impact of sound, its repercussions on the health of a community, promoting harmony within ourselves and the universe, initiating poetry and dreams.

All along, carefully selected works are discussed to illustrate the ideas developed in the different chapters and numerous artists are referred to. The dense text can be overwhelming and the author includes summaries, usually at the first person, to make the point. These are very helpful before starting another chapter.
A book to read from cover to cover once and then to keep close by as a tool for further reference.


photographs Flickr sharing:

"Mucilaginous Omniverse" Dimitri Gelfand and Evelina Domnitch, 2011 (standing wave that forms out of oil droplets above a water surface being radiated with sound)

"Piano Preparado" John Cage, photograph taken in 2006

"5 Horizons" Ryoichi Kurokawa, 2010, Digital Music s and Sound Art in Concert