Monday, May 26, 2014

Global View

Pre-Glo at the Centre for the Living Arts downtown Mobile is an introduction to future exhibitions: Global, opening in the fall of 2014 and the Manifest Billboard Project which will involve ten artists and one hundred billboards along the Interstate 10 Freeway, the major link between Florida and California in the Spring 2015.
Conceived and curated by Zoe Crosher with co-curator Shamin M. Momin, director of the LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division), the Manifest Billboard Project will bring a reflection about the positive-negative impact of the American expansion to the West through images projected on billboards. With the landscape as a backdrop, the story will unfold along the way. Participants include John Baldessari and Mario Ybarra who offers a preview of his contribution to the project in the Main Gallery of the center. His hallmark resides in his mixing of street culture and fine art in site specific urban interventions to highlight little known aspects of particular locations' cultural history, in particular the "barrio aesthetics" from Los Angeles. Looking at the photographs which inspired the billboards or at the giant billboards themselves, one gets a feel of disconnect:  Latinos, mariachi bands, California colors... a world away from downtown Mobile, Alabama. Travelling East to West in the United States is not only about the diversity of the countryside but also about meeting different cultures, sometimes in conflict.
The installation from Xavier de Richemont is still at the Centre feeling at home, so is the sound art installation from Nina Waisman both presented in a previous post. The lounge is filled with photographs from Allan Sekula's Black Tides series shot after the 2002 oil spill in Galicia, Spain, showing scenes unfortunately familiar along the Gulf Coast after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2006.
The Video Gallery abounds with data scrolling on a computer screen in the center of the room, their daunting projection on three walls surrounding the visitor. Global Futures: Pre-Glo provides an inescapable sight of graphs, numbers adding with a vertiginous speed, zeros multiplying or big colored blobs over a city, a country, growing like cancers, visual cues that give a reality to the numbers and add the dimension of time, somehow anticipating the future. Tom Leeser, curator, from the Center for Integrated Media at CalArts, continues the conversation started with the previous exhibition Future Tense-Futures Project about global futurism, this time in close collaboration with the Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University. Numbers about prisons, immigration, oil imports and exports throughout the world, deforestation... become overwhelming, suffocating and I felt like a small dot on a big planet, vulnerable and powerless. The somber music piped through the gallery adds to the dark predictions for a future driven by the inescapable growing numbers. Four sound installations allow a respite, a different experience, far from the harsh realities depicted on the screens. Located at the cardinal points in the gallery, minimalist in concept with simple headphones on white boxes diffusing sounds made from a ship at sea, Nepalis and Tibetans chants, Icelandic Folk Poems or Brazilian drumming performance, they combine sounds from afar.
Globalization, a word for the future.

photographs by the author:
one of Mario Ybarra's billboard
screenshots from "Global Futures: Pre-Glo"

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Affinities,Vincent van Gogh and Antonin Artaud

The Musée d'Orsay presents an exhibition inspired by a short essay from Antonin Artaud published in 1947, a few months before his death: Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society. A walk through a dark cave filled with demented shrieking (female) voices, failed attempt to bring the visitor into the world of madness, is followed by a more conventional display of Van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo, photographs of Artaud by Man Ray, a copy of his book, documents in glass cases and paintings on the walls. Van Gogh's late works are arranged in a somewhat organized fashion, like four self-portraits aligned in chronological order, the earliest with a sharp gaze, bathing in bright blue swirls followed by a disheveled, emaciated, haggard madman surrounded by a somber blue background, illustrating the artist's rapid decline. Across, Dr. Gachet his physician, who according to Artaud destroyed the painter and the genius within him by jealousy, looks quite harmless and worn out in a melancholic portrait. Close by, Paul Gauguin's Armchair, 1888, refers to another protagonist in the last chapter of Van Gogh's life. The succession of famous paintings describing benign subjects, landscapes, gardens, forests, flowers,Van Gogh's surroundings including his bedroom, made me wonder: what makes the paintings so riveting? Artaud offers an answer in his book in which he describes Van Gogh's search for the myth behind everyday objects.
The poet, writer, actor, was also drawing and painting. The second part of the exhibition is an occasion to discover his works which leave a lasting impression summarized in one word: possessed. The "Théâtre de  la Cruauté", 1946, depicts the four persons he was the most fond of lying in an opened coffin decorated with garlands of words and "La Projection du Véritable Corps", 1946, an idol encircled by incantations. "Les Corps de Terre", a gift to his physician's wife at the psychiatric hospital, represents stick-like bodies, skulls and a life-size red hand with the lines in the palm obviously predicting a tragic future. Two self-portraits, one defaced by angry dots made with a pencil shows an artist with a wild gaze and floating hairs, the other, an appeased  but sad Artaud, complete a display of mainly drawings. His art is all about torments, fears, obsessions, anger, repression, ultimately death and could be qualified as Raw Art. Artaud himself appears in seven black and white films projected for the occasion.
Wheatfield with Crows, allegedly Van Gogh's last painting with the crows as omen of the artist's near demise, is splashed on a giant screen and brings the visitor to the third part of the exhibition, a gathering of landscapes around Arles, the hospital, forests, flowers, and the famous hypnotic Starry Night, all coming alive around the room. This is a fecund period for the artist who produced paintings with a maniacal tempo during the last months of his life, almost seventy oils in seventy days after he moved to Auvers-sur-Oise where the landscapes take a Northern flavor. A side room filled with watercolors and drawings completes the exhibition.
How can one add to the description of the works made by Van Gogh himself in his letters to his brother or by Artaud in his book?
With his exacerbated sensibility, Artaud provides an in-depth analysis of Van Gogh's work, sometimes emotional due to his affinity with the painter. Their common history of mental disorder and subsequent internment, their alienation from a world that did not understand them created a bond between the two artists, at least according to Artaud.
An exhibition inspired the book in 1946, the book inspires an exhibition in 2014, combining the power of words and images.

No photographs allowed at the exhibition
Photograph by the author at the Musée d'Orsay

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mapplethorpe and ... Rodin?

How times have changed. The latest exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris assembles photographs of flowers, cocks, pussies, nudes, revealing self-portraits, formal portraits of socialites and well-known actors. Robert Mapplethorpe, the photographer who unlocked the world of LGBT, homosexuality, underground bondage, sadomasochism and triggered a national debate about the funding of art with tax dollars, is now considered fashionable by thousands of visitors eager to look at the two hundred and fifty photographs. Controversial in the eighties, they appear quite tame with themes now discussed freely in the media and have lost their aura of taboo subjects. Anyway, who has not seen somewhere Mapplethorpe's photographs, or their reproductions? At the entrance, the iconic portrait of the artist with his piercing gaze and his cane decorated with a skull, defies death and also the visitors who plunge in the exhibition to discover the artist's  mostly black and white world. The hottest area is off limit to underage visitors due to scenes of deviant sexual acts involving leather, whips, chains and the display ends with a homey Polaroid series of the photographer and his friends. The exhibition appears to emphasize the "aesthetic for aesthetic's sake" side of the artist, shrinking his legacy... till one discovers Mapplethorpe across the Seine at the Musée Rodin, near the Ecole Militaire.

The Musée Rodin presents an exquisite exhibition of more than one hundred of Mapplethorpe's photographs next to Rodin's sculptures creating a dialogue between the two artists and offers a new vision of both in a well choreographed display starting with a short introduction in the hall leading to the main room. A sample of works annotated with short comments distinguishes Mapplethorpe working on forms from Rodin searching for movement. From there on, the exhibition highlights the correspondence between the two masters in labelled areas: "movement and tension" illustrated by sculptures like "Bronze Age" and  "Walking Man" (prominently displayed at the New Orleans Museum of Art) and the headless photograph of Michael Reed, 1987, "assemblages and compositions" a display of still-life photographs of flowers mixed with "Floral Souls" from Rodin followed by "eroticism and damnation" eroticized views of body parts by both artists, although Rodin favored hands, feet and Mapplethorpe with close-ups of neck, umbilicus, sexual parts including the picture of a kitten. The representation of details, an obsession for both artists culminates in the "draperies", where "Les Bourgeois de Calais" inspires the pose for a photograph of a live model's wrapped bust. Along the visit, one starts looking with a renewed interest at the three-dimensional compositions created by the play of shadows and lights, sculpting corpses, muscles, skin, highlighting anatomical parts and details of flowers and discovers the sculptor in Mapplethorpe. In their works, the two artists internalize the beauty of the flesh  and their search for an aesthetic perfection engenders spirituality.
Mapplethorpe may have read these lines from the sculptor:
"The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble"...Auguste Rodin

no photographs allowed at the exhibitions
photograph Flickr photo sharing
photograph by the author