Category Archives: postwar

Legacy of Destruction in Art

There is and probably always has been a close connection between music and art. What’s awesome are the strange couplings that happen between artists and rock stars (often before either were ‘stars’), especially in the 1960s (because the 60’s are fabulous). So, to start we have the most obvious…

1. Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono is of course, connected to the Beatles via John Lennon (duh). And you may be aware that Yoko is an artist in her own right- but that’s where it gets hazy right? She did some weird conceptual stuff, maybe? In fact, Yoko was a loosely affiliated member of the avant-garde group Fluxus which was established by George Maciunas in the early 60s. Fluxus art mainly consisted of performances, happenings, Flux boxes, and publications. They rejected high modernist values and art institutions, constantly undermining “Art” with a capital A. The group made important strides in experimental poetry, sound art, and film. What does this have to do with ‘Destruction’?! Yoko’s Cut Piece (1965) is a performance where she invites the audience members to cut parts of her clothing off, pretty bold and daring to allow a bunch of complete strangers handle sharp things around her. The piece breaks down social barriers while making the viewer all the more aware of them, simultaneously.

2. Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger (b. 1927) is an experimental, underground filmmaker that specializes in homoerotic and ueber-trippy effects, surrealism and the occult. He was incredibly influential to future directors like Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and John Waters. So how does he fit? Well firstly, his film Kustom Kar Kommandos (1961-1965) was perhaps the first music video- a scene of a guy polishing a drag strip racing car (very suggestively I might add) with the song “Dream Lover” by the Paris Sisters in the background. To add to that, Mick Jagger (of The Rolling Stones fame) did the sound/music for Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother (1966-69). Anger was also bffs with Keith Richards and  (for a time) Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.

(Image is a film still from Invocation)

3. John Latham

John Latham (b. Zambia, British 1921-2006) was a conceptual artist with a big impact on performance-based work. He took part in the London Destruction in Art Symposium (1966) with such Fluxus artists as Yoko Ono (!) and Gustav Metzger. Latham constructed three giant skoob towers (books=skoob) entitled the “Laws of England” outside the British Museum and set them on fire. Connection to music? Latham also made films, in 1966, his film Speak was projected behind Pink Floyd’s live set at the International Times launch at the Roundhouse as well as a few shows in 1967. The 11 minute film is said to be an animated film with lots of strobe effects, very psychedelic. Ultimately, Latham rejected Pink Floyd fort he soundtrack of the film, instead using the sound of a circular saw cutting through books.

4. Destruction in Art Symposium and the Guitar Smash

Best for last! The Destruction in Art Symposium, as I said above, took place in London 1966 and was established by Gustav Metzger, a key figure in all things destruction related, and attended by members of Fluxus as well as other artists/etc. in London. Roy Ascott (currently an artist and theorist, and professor), was a professor at Ealing Art College in London and hung out with Metzger, attending this symposium. Ascott taught such notables as Brian Eno, Stephan Willats, Michael English, and…Pete Townshend!!! Townshend enrolled with Ascott around 1961, and performed his first guitar smash in 1964 (yes, that’s 2 years before the symposium, but the destructive art ideas were around well before). Pete Townshend,  who would go on to popularize (as well as Jimi Hendrix) the guitar smash for the rest of rock history- to the point where it’s expected and accepted to destroy you instrument. Destructive art lives! But as what? Below: Townshend guitar killing; Right: Skoob Tower

Other notable connections: Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe- and probably tons more I have missed!

 

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History in the Making?

Major museums like the New York Historical Society and the Smithsonian Museum of American History are already clamoring over the Occupy Wallstreet protests trying to get posters and ephemera for their collections. While collecting ephemera from events while they occur is not new, somehow it makes me incredibly uneasy. According to Historical Society staff, Jean Aston, they have thousands of pamphlets and such piled up from countless moments since the 18th Century, according to Aston these are worth preserving because, “these items document a particular moment in time which may become significant in the future. If the events fizzle, the objects are still important documents of urban variety and culture.”

Historians are rushing to the site and collecting first, asking questions later. It’s the pack-rat mentality- SOMEDAY it might be valuable. This seems to be great, right? Let’s preserve everything now and sift through it once the chips have landed. Fine. But I can’t help but think that this is doing damage to the protest, sucking the life out of it. Rushing to sweep up the scraps of an ongoing movement can’t help but historicize it, categorize it and make it safe. It’s an institutional vice come down to control and box up the protest in a nice little vitrine. To some extent, this is understandable and is not new. However, with the speed and fluidity of information now, everyone is aware of the protest (who knows if what they think they know is correct). If the protest fizzled out in the near future, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an exhibition pop up in less than five years if only to be an inexpensive crowd pleaser. Besides, countless humanities grad students/ professors are probably already gunning for the primary documents- first dibs and all.

It just seems too much like poaching to me.

Original story posted in Art Info here.


Art & Headlines: Wall Street Protest

The Occupy Wall Street Movement began Saturday September 17th with about 5,000 protesters (read more here). As of now there is an ongoing contingent of protesters that continue to occupy the plaza and parks in the surrounding area and are gunning for the long haul. While I do support the protest as a substantial first step for us to wake up to our situation, my biggest problem is with the media blackout. The U.S media has completely blocked out this protest and is making it quite evident whose side they are on, nobody wants to bite the hand that feeds them- which is exactly the problem. We have the right to protest but the convenient loophole is to just ignore it and it will go away. But this shouldn’t go away, if significant change is to happen, then the people must unite- they have to demand it. The wealth disparity and the people’s lack of power is not new, but that does not mean it should continue.

So today I thought I’d connect the Wall Street protest to various artworks that deal with the persistent wealth gap and with the desire to revolutionize our position.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Tirs 1960s; mixed media

1968 Poster from the Paris Protests

Victor Burgin, Possession, 1976

Erwin Wurm, Fat Convertable, 2005; mixed media


Wtf is good art?

What is a great work of art? How do you judge a work of art?

You stand in front of a painting/ sculpture/ whatever and…blank. What I am I supposed to say? It’s a- blob? “I like the texture…and the shapes…?” Who decides what’s great and what’s not anyway?

I just got back from some gallery openings (quite the spectacle of seeing and being seen). I was asked over and over “what is this about” or “what do you think”? I’ve looked at a lot of art, probably not enough though- but I’d like to level the playing field for everyone and maybe make some people more comfortable with what they have to say about art.

So basically, right now there are two schools of thought and two modes of art making/ theory, the postmodern and the formalist/ modernist. These are competing camps that are completely blurred- especially because scholars love to stick artists and works in categories that the artist doesn’t necessarily agree with.

Postmodernism is all about context, its about the critique of socio-political outlooks- all of our realities are different and relative to our individual situation. This philosophy is extremely diverse and envelope many discourses like gender studies, racial studies, stereotypes, etc. It can take many different forms, in many cases, it does not even ‘look’ like art, it can be documents, text, cooking, etc. Obviously it all can’t be covered in a blog post.

Modernism or formalism is considered a more ‘conservative’ outlook… regardless, the formalist believes that a work must explore the boundaries of its medium, it has to search for the fundamental properties of the medium in order to get to the essence of what painting (insert medium) is.

To explain this better, I’ll use a metaphor of games. Games have boundaries or rules, without the rules there is no game. Take freeze tag. Ok so the rules are if you get tagged you have to freeze, and then somebody else has to come along and tag you and then you get to run around again. So what if you take freeze tag and combine it with hide and seek and maybe monopoly too…the rules of the game get blurred. If you keep adding games in, it turns out there are no rules and its just a bunch of kids running around hiding, freezing and throwing monopoly pieces at you, the viewer, asking wtf. The point is, we need boundaries. We need limits to art in what is and is not art. Because if there is no rules to the game, there is no game. If art can be anything, then it is nothing.

A great work of art stops you. When you look at the work it holds you, you may not know why at first but there is something that gets you and you can’t look away. When looking at a work of art for the first time, don’t listen to anyone, don’t talk to anyone. Just look at it. Does it communicate? This could mean anything, maybe the lack of interaction among the figures is the alienation of the individual amongst the masses; or maybe you just like the color (or lack thereof). Anyway, after you figure out that you like the work (or don’t) figure out why. Maybe it’s too simple, naïve or just boring. That’s justified! You don’t have to like it, but don’t be ashamed (also don’t go off on a hate-rant). Just take the extra five minutes  (or more) to really think about the work and why or why not it appeals to you.

The great work of art should stand the test of time. Context should not be divorced from the work, but neither should it be the core. A great work is more than context. A work is great if it supersedes the context for all times, the work is completely evident; you don’t have to read a textbook to “get” it. A great work is subjective, you feel it personally, but it is also objective- it reveals and focuses a personal truth as well as a universal truth.


Cy Twombly: Sculpture Selections, 1948-1995- A Review

Recently I went over to the Art Institute of Chicago and was blown away by what they had to offer. In addition to the spectacular permanent collection, they have numerous special and ongoing exhibitions, one of which is Cy Twombly: Sculpture Selections, 1948-1995.

Edwin Parker “Cy” Twombly, Jr. (American, 1928-July 5, 2011) is mostly known as a painter, he is associated with the Neo-dadaism and hung out with titans like Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. In 1957, Twombly set up his studio in Rome. His recent death has propelled him onto the contemporary radar, but for most of his career Twombly was largely ignored in the United States (not the case in Europe, where he was quite successful).

Twombly’s  paintings are grandiose in scale, however, they feature scribble markings that are reminiscent of calligraphy and graffiti, the expressive mark of a signature on expansively empty canvas fields.

 

 

Above: Cy Twombly, The First Part of the Return from Parnassus, 1961. Oil paint, lead paint, wax crayon, colored pencil on canvas. 94 3/4 x 118 3/8 in. Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago, currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago.

According the artist,“Each line is now the actual experience with its own innate history.It does not illustrate- it is the sensation of its own realization.” Twombly’s works are steeped in the Classical past of Rome and ancient Greece, mythologies and epic poetry.

So what about the sculpture?

As I walked into the exhibition room it was like walking into a sacred temple. Only the floor creaking broke the silence, well that and the security guard warning people to back off the sculptures. Each of the seven sculptures are made of rough wood and found materials, coated in plaster and painted white. Alternating stolid horizontal blocks with triumphant verticality the sculpture works echo the peaks and long strokes of script.

What’s great about these works is that you can’t tell what is from 1948 and what’s from 1995; the works are timeless, monumental like classical marble sculpture. They are evocative of things from life, but distinctly not. They are assemblages of found material, such as the three doorknobs protruding from a block, clustered together like a face. The works are personal talisman, many inscribed with the names of places or verses of poetry, simultaneously solemn and playful.

Above: Photo of the exhibition, courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

I overheard a guide lecturing a group of uninterested students say that normally these sculptures would have been cast in bronze, however the Art Institute was lucky enough have the plaster versions. I prefer these, although they are starkly white, the roughness of the found materials comes through the plaster, creating irresistible texture and shadow across its surface.

Favorite: One of the works resembles a stepped ziggurat-like structure. An enormous base connected to the piece sets the work at table-level, like a model building. Under the plaster and paint peaks hints of blue and red, graffiti-esque. Where the imagined “entrance” would be, a long nail pierces the flat rectangular shape. Paint drips cascade from this puncture, down along the base to the floor.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to view this exhibit, unfortunately it was largely empty on my visit- I hope this is not the norm and that visitors take the time to explore these rare sculptures. What may be a problem for Twombly’s sculpture exhibit is its proximity to the Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941-1945, which is the highlight at the museum right now. Cy Twombly: Sculpture Selections is ongoing so there doesn’t seem to be a set end date (yay!).

Also at the Art Institute of Chicago (some of which will be reviewed in later posts)

Jitish Kallat: Public Notice 3 (Sept. 11, 2010- Sept. 11, 2011)

Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941-1945 (July 31- Oct. 23, 2011)

Avant-Garde Art in Everyday Life (June 11- Oct.9, 2011)

Belligerent Encounters: Graphic Chronicles of War and Revolution, 1500-1945 (July 31- Oct. 23, 2011)

Chagall’s America Windows (return of, that is…)

And for a full listing of exhibitions (there’s a ton) click here.

You can also read a bunch more about Cy Twombly by clicking here.

 


Art & Headlines

The art: Asger Jorn, Paris by Night, 1959

The news: “Police Scramble to Fight Flash-mob Mayhem,” Ashley Fantz, CNN

In what could be a scene from a dystopian futuristic film like Mad Max flash-mobs are erupting all over the world. The police seem to be powerless to control the mobs due to lack of technological expertise. Young people are organizing via social networking sites in order to meet up, loot, and/or assault pedestrians .These flash-mobs are symptomatic of an underlying sense of powerlessness endemic to youth today. The only way to feel power is to undermine capitalism’s societal norm with the anonymity provided by mob behavior. How else can young people attract national attention? It seems that the youth cannot but be negatively portrayed in the media and this is the result. These acts are subversive outcries in the battle of disparity waging everywhere.

Asger Jorn’s ( Danish, 1914-1973) Paris by Night, is a Detournement that subverts the capitalistic art object by defacing the type of cliche painting commonly sold to tourists on the streets of Paris. Jorn and the Situationists were using art as a means of rebellion from the invasion of American-style Capitalism in the Post-war period. This work depicts a kind of graffiti scrawl over the painting in shapes that resemble a mushroom cloud in the upper left over the city of Paris and a chaotic overflow of smoke in the foreground. The figure leisurely watches Paris burn from the safety of his balcony even as it sneaks up behind him. We cannot look at the collapsing of the world markets without seeing how it is affecting us right now. One of those ways is how youth has come to feel powerless as jobs become scarcer, corporations get tax payer bail outs, school seems pointless as higher education is skyrocketing in cost without concrete benefits-  the future is bleak.