Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Home in Louisiana

A visit in Lafayette, the Cajun capital, can start at the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum or the Acadiana Center for the Arts, downtown.
Two Louisiana artists who gained notoriety in the Big Apple and beyond, are home and will be sharing the "University of Louisiana at Lafayette's College of the Arts' 2013 Spark Lifetime Achievement Award" in March.
Known internationally for his neon pieces started in the 60's, Keith Sonnier, born in Mamou, Louisiana, made his way to New York City and became a figure of its blossoming cultural life. Labelled as    Process and Environmental art, his works have been exhibited at the Leo CastelliMary Boone and Pace, three famous galleries. Two iconic pieces are on display at the University Art Museum, a work from the Media Series (1992) and Dauralde Abri (2000), a ladder underlined by two green neon tubes leading to a plastic shelter fit for a small non claustrophobic human, curled in a fetal position. Perched on an elevated support, the small cabin made me think of Absalon's cells, a Louisiana version for a swampy ecosystem. In his Media Series piece, antennas, satellite dishes, numbers, words, drawn and painted, fill the nylon stretched on the metal frame of a camping bed. Circles, ellipses, lines, intersect, overlap, interconnect and obscure the void space, a view of the sky or the universe. A unique artist in sync with our time.
Half of the museum's first floor is dedicated to Richard Landry for Dickie Landry's New York: 1969-1979. Born in Cecilia, Louisiana, and currently living in Lafayette, the musician worked in NYC and collaborated with other artists including painters, choreographers, writers, actors. For this exhibition, Landry did print personal photographs of well-known artists he interacted with casually in the course of diverse projects, and provides unique black and white shots of William BurroughsRichard Serra, Bruce NaumanGordon Matta-Clark in his Soho restaurant, Robert Rauschenberg in his Captiva Island studio in Florida or a first hand view of the Philip Glass Ensemble performing in Einstein on the Beach or Dressed Like an Egg. An hypnotic video (1969) experiments with the source of sounds, showing hands, lips and instruments. Two paintings representing Landry's geometric abstract style and a videotaped interview of the artist complete the show, an enlightening exhibition about a multi-talented artist bringing a breath of NYC to the deep South.

The Acadiana Center's guest, Luis Cruz Azaceta, migrated from Cuba at age 18, lived in New York City, fell in love with Louisiana and made it home. The title of his exposition Louisiana Mon Amour tells it all. It is also the title of a new installation. The exhibition starts with known works from his Shifting States Series, 2011. Red, black compact shapes surrounded by white fumes for Iraq and the oldest color, violet, for Egypt, both are oppressive paintings of anonymous, empty, phantom worlds. His newest works keep up with disasters closer to home with Sandy Hook Shooting, 2012 and Boston Bombing 3, 2013. A narrative representation of the events with a caricatural expressionistic rendition of the unfortunate actors for the former and in the latter, an explosion of human pieces enclosed in a magma-like substance with the two shooters isolated in a corner, present a summary of the tragedies.
It seems that Azaceta's world is getting darker and we are reminded of this while looking at a few of his earlier pieces like Transit, 2005, Museum Plan for Edison, 2006 or at the entrance City Painter of Walls, 2009, clashing with their bright colors. Two installations complete the exhibition. Evacuation Highway, 2005, created in the aftermath of the Katrina disaster, shows highways jammed with cars, going nowhere. The highlight  is of course Louisiana Mon Amour, a gathering of recuperated, patched objects, glamorized with punchy, Caribbean colors, a reflection on Louisiana's recovery and a tribute to its
resilient and resourceful inhabitants. Over the years, Azaceta, a member of the Cuban diaspora, has become a Southern artist, preoccupied by the land and its people.

photographs by the author:

"Longhorn Study", 2006, Keith Sonnier (at Octavia Gallery in New Orleans, no photographs allowed at Hilliard Museum)

view of the exhibition "Louisiana Mon Amour", Luis Cruz Azaceta at the Acadiana Center for the Arts

Monday, January 20, 2014

Beyond Politics

Known for her installations previously displayed at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans and the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, Cynthia Scott, sculptor, is exploring new territories with Punditry,her solo exhibition at Staple Goods Gallery in the St. Claude Arts District. She has chosen figurative paintings to deliver her message which has switched from reflections about disasters to a discussion about pundits.
Her subjects are selected  among a list of personalities, mainly heard on television or radio shows, feeding us daily with their "thoughts" about the latest news. Politically savvy,  they represent Democrats, Republicans or else with a common trait, they are famous.
The artist gathered screen shots from anonymous photographers found on the Internet and several steps later (after enlarging, cropping, enhancing saturation or shades) printed the photographs. Then, selecting the most expressive gestures or facial expressions, painted these with acrylic on rectangular pieces of yupo, a synthetic material.
Mouths caught in the middle of a speech, lecturing hands with pointed fingers, creases, wrinkles the camera would like us to forget, expose the orator. The satirical works make us wonder. Could it be  Rush Limbaugh next to Al Sharpton, Ann Coulter, Arianna Huffington? But this is not the point. What comes out when surrounded by the paintings lining up the gallery are the aggressive gestures of the lecturers and the similarity of expressions whatever "side" they are on. These daily guests in our living rooms, whose mission is to indoctrinate, screaming long harangue, have  forgotten the art of conversation and dialogue. The artist has chosen harsh blues for backgrounds, black or sometimes dark violets and all shades of skin tones to deliver her sobering comments with a decisive brushstroke. She is also aiming the camera back to us, the silent and passive audience. Attraction, irritation, loathe, anger and all gamut in between, she crystallizes our feelings with her caustic view of the pundits.
Scott is one of the artists going back to figurative with a twist, combining photography and painting and her latest work is proof that the art of satire, in any form, will never be out of style.

photographs by the author:

"A. H." (Arianna Huffington), 2013
"A. S"  (Al Sharpton), 2013
View of the exhibition

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

CoBrA in Florida

Post-WWII's art scene is overshadowed by the American artists and movements like Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Pop art. The NOVA Southeastern University, Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is bound to remedy this with a series of three exhibitions dedicated to CoBrA, an acronym for Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam, the cities from which the original members of the movement originated. Corneille, Constant (Nieuwenhuys), Karel AppelChristian Dotremont, Asger Jorn and Joseph Noiret met at the Café Notre-Dame in Paris in November 1948 and signed the manifesto "La Cause Etait Entendue" (the case was heard) drawn by Dotremont. A reaction to Surrealism, De Stijl, Constructivism, Academism, it had also some political undertone, embracing Marxism and denouncing the "bourgeoisie".

The exhibition titled: Spirit of Cobra starts with a timeline of art history clearly drawn with color coded lines  and related short texts illustrated by photographs, placing the movement in its context. The works are displayed in five different areas following themes: Text and Image, Multifaceted Primitivism, Myth and Fantasy Animals (Scandinavia), Experimentation... They include paintings, sculptures, drawings, watercolors, videos and mixed media works from the museum's rich permanent collection, loans from the Cobra Museum in the Netherlands and private collections.
It is all about spontaneity of gesture and experimentation with media (often by necessity). Forget bronze or marble. Burlap from the neighbor, found objects, scraps of newspapers, broken glass, sand, the media itself becomes part of the creative process and the object becomes art.
Mythical creatures, birds, beasts, goblins, zoomorphic forms, inspiration was found in dreams and myths especially Scandinavian and African, also Folk art. Violence is looked at as a rebellion to order, a liberating gesture. The interdisciplinary movement included poets and writers. Words and poems become visual pieces of art, define the space on the canvas.
Some of the works have never been displayed and the exhibition as a whole is very informative about a movement which is still rarely mentioned. With six initial members, claiming approximately thirty participants and now retrospectively a list of artists related to Cobra, in a loose fashion. Names like Jean-Michel AtlanPierre Alechinsky come to mind and then, they were artists who were in contact with members of Cobra like Jean MessagierJean Dubuffet.
The movement was short lived and was officially dissolved in 1951, however it had a tremendous impact on the art world with its influence on Tachism, Abstract Expressionism and the recognition of Art Brut. Artists kept producing Cobra inspired works in the 60's and beyond.

The exhibition illustrates the spirit of Cobra, summed up with a few words like spontaneity, emotion and instinct versus reason and intellect.
"A painting is not a construction of colors and lines, but an animal, a night, a cry, a person, or all of that together" Constant, 1948.

Photographs by the author:

"Man with a Beard", Henry Heerup, 1934
"Dos ornés têtes dorées", Pierre Alechinsky, 1973
"Chapeau du désert", Asger Jorn, 1969
"Parmi nous", Pierre Alechinsky, 1965

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Activist, Artist, Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei's encounters with the Chinese authorities (imprisonment, house arrest, destruction of his Shanghai studio...), relayed through social media, make the world headlines and confer on Weiwei the status of best known Chinese artist. At the present, unable to travel abroad, his absence at the opening of the show Ai Weiwei: According to What? last year at the Hirshhorn in Washington, DC, made more buzz than if he had attended the cocktail party. The exhibition is now on display at the Pérez Museum of Art Miami which held its grand opening during Art Basel-Miami Beach in early December.
A plunge into Ai Weiwei's world starts sitting comfortably in the theater located on the mezzanine at the PAMM where a succession of quotes from Ai Weiwei or "Weiwei-isms" roll on a screen, representing a quintessence of his practice.
The exhibition which takes most of the museum's second floor assembles a wide array of works from the past twenty years and following some chronological thread, starts with the black and white photographs made by the artist when he lived in New York City, called the New York Photographs, 1983-1993. It is almost a non-Weiweian introduction, an anecdotal view of his years spent in the East Village. During that period, he discovered Jaspers Jones, Andy WarholMarcel Duchamp and conceptual art. Included in the show, Château Lafite, 1988, a bottle of the famous wine strapped to Chinese shoes is a purely Duchamp inspired work.
Moon Chest, 2008, composed of seven chests ( out of eighty-one in the series) redesigned by the artist who carved holes in the precious wood to represent every phase of the moon, Cube in Ebony, 2009, a minimalist work with haptic qualities inspired by a redwood box belonging to the artist's father, take over the first part of the show followed by a succession of  famous works like Coca-Cola Vase, 2007, or Colored Vases, 2007-2010, variations on the same idea: appropriation and re-branding of (ancient) objects, inspired by Pop art.
Who has not seen photographs of Weiwei dropping the urns on the Internet? Confronted by the print Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995-2009, to my surprise, I cringed. Like an iconoclast, the artist destroys 2000 years of traditions in a few seconds, annihilating culture, history, ancestors with his sacrilegious but liberating gesture.
Across, another installation Bowls of Pearls, 2006 composed of two one meter diameter porcelain bowls  filled with cultured pearls inspires different emotions. The symbol of purity, innocence, becomes a symbol of greed. The interaction between the guard and the crowd is a testimony to the irresistible attraction. The pearls represent also the wealth of a state, built on each individual. Grapes, 2007, is another well-known piece, assemblage of stools from the Qing dynasty, arranged in a defensive embrace.

In the next room, the installations help us get a deeper understanding of the artist, his political engagement, his inspirations and emotions. 258 Fakes, 2011, with seven thousand of his personal digital photographs projected on twelve monitors along the wall feels like being a guest to the artist's studio. Looking at two different screens, one can compare the structure of an insect or a shell to an architectural design copied from nature. Ai Weiwei's photographs are the equivalent of other artists' sketches, they are his source of inspiration.
More printed photographs cover another wall, made at different stages of construction of the famous Bird's Nest ( the Beijing National Stadium) built for the Summer Olympics in 2008. Ai Weiwei contributed to the project as the artistic consultant, an eye opener and a turning point in his relationship with the State.
Another powerful installation gets us closer to Ai Weiwei with a long list of the victims of the Sichuan earthquake, mainly children, filling a wall. This is a reproduction of a similar list he keeps updated at his studio in official characters, black and white, like taken out of a gigantic ledger. With Remembrance, 2010, in the background, a recording of the names of the victims more than three hours long, Weiwei adopts a minimalist approach to a very emotional subject.  Close by, a video shows the salvage of the concrete reinforcing bars on the site of the catastrophe, the remodeling to their original shape and their assemblage for the installation Straight, 2008-2012, which is also part of the show. In this conceptual work, Ai Weiwei emphasizes the fragility of the construction and the responsibility of the State in the tragedy.
More works are included like Map of China, 2008, made of salvaged wood from dismantled Qing Dynasty temples, a famous photograph Ai Weiwei in the elevator when taken in custody by the police, 2009, which was posted real time on Twitter by the artist, Surveillance Camera, 2010, in marble or Jade Handcuffs, 2012, in jade.
But the most photographed piece, as far as I can tell, is He Xie, 2010, an installation of  three thousand and two hundred porcelain crabs. This alludes to a party organized by the artist who invited guests via Twitter for a supper composed of 10 000 crabs in November 2010 to bring attention to the imminent demolition of his studio in Shanghai by the authorities. The work is built around a subtle Chinese word play, river crab meaning also harmonious, a word favored by the Chinese authorities as in "harmonious society", a way to justify censorship.
The exhibition allows to discover Ai Weiwei, the artist and grasp the scope of his practice sometimes overshadowed by his activism. Every act becomes political including art according to Weiwei.
The show was well staged with plenty of space to appreciate the works and clear comments in English and Spanish. A great start for the PAMM.

photographs by the author:

"Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn", 1995-2009, and "Colored Vases", 2007-2010 
"Study of Perspective: Tienanmen", 1995-2003
"He Xie", 2010

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Tracey Emin, About Love

It started in Margate, an English seaside town where an adventurous adolescent lost her innocence. The ten minutes video Why I Never Became a Dancer, 1995, is a great introduction for Tracey Emin's first solo exhibition in the United States, focused on her neon work. Sixty pieces from the past twenty years fill the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami  where the wall sculptures provide the only light for the dark rooms.
The multimedia artist is known for her shocking works in which she exposes the most intimate moments of her life like in My Bed, 1998. It made her famous and a nominee for the Turner Prize. This time, the artist's  handwritten words or drawings glowing on the black walls like advertisements, bubble gum pink, acid green, icy white, red-light district red, turquoise or deep blue, a compilation of epigrams, immortalize fleeting states of emotions and reflections, all related to love.
Provocative "Is Anal Sex Legal" and "Is Legal Sex Anal ", 1998, poetic "I Listen To The Ocean And All I Hear Is You", 2011 or romantic "I followed you into the Water Knowing I would Never Return", 2011, with few words, Emin expresses the whole gamut of feelings generated by love. From crude to inspired, her message is  tormented "Those Who Suffer Love", 2009, "Its Not me Thats Crying its My Soul", 2011, "Every Part of Me's Bleeding", 1999...Low art is reaching new heights and one cannot stay indifferent when reading the messages and ask: Is love torture?
Emin's statements hit hard. One relates, participates, "feels" and the artist provokes empathy, pity,  revulsion, compassion, indignation... The rawness, the authenticity of her message touches us and we become embroiled in her relationships at the same level that we shed tears watching a movie.
The gathering of neon works creates a synergistic effect. The result is a powerful show.

Photograph by the author
"Angel Without You", 2013 at the MOCA, North Miami