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