Tag Archives: sculpture

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!

 


Sound Sculpture: Bill Fontana

Earlier this week I went to a lecture by the sound artist Bill Fontana at the Art Institute of Chicago. I was skeptical, sound art? Please. Wouldn’t you call sound art music? I braced myself for noise/ screeching and howls, but oh how awesomely wrong I was!

Who’s Bill Fontana?

Fontana (American, b. 1947) studied at the New School for Social Research in New York, focusing on philosophy and music. He was influenced by the work of John Cage and specifically Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass, zoning in on the idea that sound could be a sculptural medium and the act of listening could be a form of music. On his travels to Australia, Fontana was fascinated with the myriad of unique sounds in the region. Using the human and natural environments, the artist records often ‘overlooked’ sounds of everyday life as well as sounds inaudible to the human ear. These recordings create networks of listening sites that act as a kind of sculpture. Fontana’s sound sculptures attempt to capture the “true” representation of a sound, his works question how sound is able to create a sculptural image/ environment in the mind more immediate than visual art.

Recurring themes in Fontana’s work are recordings of water, birds, bells, and traffic, giving it a distinctly natural, elemental feel; tempered with the cacophony of human life.

One of his early works, Distant Trains/ Entfernte Zuege (1984) recorded the bustling train station in Cologne and projected it at the remaining bombed-out facade of the famous Anhalter Bahnhof in Berlin. The Anhalter Bahnhof was sealed off in 1952 by the Soviets (the station was in East Berlin and ran through West Berlin, a big problem for the Soviets). The bombed out Anhalter Bahnhof stood as a ghost platform, eerily reanimated by Fontana’s recording, projected from eight giant speakers buried in the ground. Fontana’s work reflects on the destruction of WWII, the destructive divide between East and West- however, it also connects the two with a recording of the Western Cologne train station piped to the Eastern.

Fontana’s more recent work aims at connecting sound sites in real time. Currently ‘up’ in London is White Sound: An Urban Seascape (Sept. 22- Oct. 16, 2011) which connects the sound of the ocean shore of Dorset with the gridlocked Euston Road. Speakers on the face of the Wellcome Collection building projects a live feed of crashing waves, creating a dynamic listening experience that is at moments dominated by the natural ocean that recedes to reveal the pulsing traffic. This ebb and flow of different sounds revamps how we actually listen, becoming attuned to sounds we tend to block out.

To read and explore more about Bill Fontana (give it a listen!), check out his site here.


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.

 


Crisis in Public Sculpture: E Pluribus Unum

Recently there has been quite a stink raised by the Citizens Against Slave Image about Fred Wilson’s proposed E Pluribus Unum sculpture in downtown Indianapolis. This little controversy raises pertinent questions about the role of public sculpture in America as well as the powerlessness of the arts community as a whole when faced with any sort of opposition.

First off, who is Fred Wilson?

Wilson (b. 1954, NY) is Conceptual artist of African, Native American, European and Amerindian decent. He appropriates existing works in museums and alters their display in order to emphasize how context creates meaning. The artist juxtaposes artworks and artifacts in order to question institutional biases in the interpretation of history and aesthetic value. An example of his work is Mining the Museum (1992) at the Baltimore Historical Society in which he reorganized the artifacts to emphasize the history of slavery in America.

Fred Wilson’s proposed E  Pluribus Unum sculpture for the Indianapolis Cultural Trail is an appropriation of an existing sculpture, one of a freed slave. Wilson’s project is to free the slave from the monument thus emphasizing the absence of other monuments to African Americans. The sculpture would raise a much needed discussion of race in Indianapolis and in the wider public sphere.

What’s the problem?

The Citizens Against Slave Image group held a “rally” (50 or so people) that protested the sculpture on July 30th 2011, causing the Central Indiana Community Foundation to drop the sculpture from its intended site at the City-County Building. What’s the big deal if it’s moved? Well other than the fact that it’s “site-specific,” meaning the work functions on a level that depends on the site in large part to make meaning or relevance- it’s a case of shooing a controversial, discussion-worthy piece into the nether regions of the city, away from the high traffic areas and away from the other sculptures the work was intended to comment with. According to the artist, “I have spent a long time trying to figure out a place for the work that would have some fellowship to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument and also be within downtown…the siting I thought spoke well on many different levels.”

“I assumed that if this piece was nowhere near the monument that it would fade into the background as (the figure on the monument) had for 100 years…that is a reason for having something else permanent, to think about the relationship between the past and now. So I’ll keep everything open until it’s clear that the work is compromised.” (MAN)

Mayor Ballard has felt it necessary due to the controversy that the current site would not be a suitable location. As of right now it seems like the location is the biggest issue and that it will not be installed at the City-County Building site. What does this mean? It means a handful of people not in favor of the project have the power to scare off an actually good piece of public sculpture. The majority should never have all-encompassing power, but it seems like any negativity towards an art project automatically means it gets the axe. A meaningful artwork in a public place breeds discussion, which gives rise to thought and ideas that give power back to the people. Discussion, thought and ideas are all dangerous it seems.

For more on this controversy see Tyler Green’s discussion on Modern Art Notes, in addition, the Indianapolis Museum of Art director Maxwell Anderson has also lent his support for the sculpture in the Indianapolis Star’s op-ed page which can be read here.


Chicago’s “Forever Marilyn”

A 26 foot tall sculpture of Marilyn Monroe from the 1955  film “Seven Year Itch” entitled “Forever Marilyn” by J. Seward Johnson was recently revealed in Chicago to mixed reviews. The iconic scene is of the actress’ white halter dress billowing up from a grate, she’s giddy, flirtatious, oh and her panties show…and wait she’s also twenty-six feet tall. This seems to be nothing more than a kind of summer blockbuster filler artwork whose vapidly plastic kitsch style will draw in the tourists like a novelty giant corn cob.

The biggest complaint seems to be that the sculpture has nothing to do with Chicago due to the fact that the scene it depicts took place in New York. However, is this really the biggest issue? The scale of the work heightens the cheeky playfulness  of the original scene into horrific proportions, inviting the viewer to take on a peeping tom voyeur position under her skirt. Beyond the numerous photo shoots beneath Marilyn’s skirts, what is the point of the  work? A further objectification of a Hollywood icon? If anything, this sculpture is a testament to the pandering of public art to popular culture and photo-ready antics.

“Forever Marilyn” 2011 by Seward Johnson. 26′ Painted Steel and aluminum. On view in Chicago on Michigan Avenue through Spring 2012.