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Death to Drab – The Wall Murals and Street Art of Belgrade

The city of Belgrade, the capital and largest city of Serbia, have been in existence since 279 B.C.

Several empires fought for it and ruled it. All of these empires had a certain influence on its culture, people, urbanism, and architecture.

The 20th century brought several wars (Balkan Wars, First World War, Second World War, the civil wars in the 1990s) that left countless consequences.

The town’s leadership was drastically changed and the lifestyle of the people changed. Crowds of people from the countryside came to live in Belgrade after World War II.

Impoverished by wars and conditioned by a large number of people who wanted to live there and needed a home, the city got many buildings (entire settlements) built cheaply and quickly.

These were concrete buildings with no decoration, very simple, in different shades of grey. So, the once vivid and romantic city became concrete – cold and grey.

Bringing Back Life

Luckily, there were people who hated the monotonousness of their city.

These people were painters, professors and students of the faculty of arts who started to paint murals.

The first known murals appeared in 1970s. The greatest project was done in 1977, within the manifestation The Week of Latin America.

A group of Chilean artists painted a wall of Student Cultural Center (SKC). The mural was called “For unity and solidarity with people of Latin America.”

Professors, especially Čedomir Vasić, and students of the Faculty of arts gave the biggest contribution to mural popularizing.

Their campaign started in 1983 when professor Vasić engaged some students to make suggestions on what to do with some of the city walls.

The goal was to repair the city, to do ‘artistic beautifying’ and murals were the fastest and cheapest way to accomplish that.

The peak of the campaign was the year 1988 when City Hall adopted mural painting as a legal way to improve the city – it got official then and was legal for the first time.

There was caution in the beginning, so it was hard to get permission.

Through years, responsible organizations accepted this kind of interventions in their city and came as support.

Despite that, out of ten projects, only one was realized.

Popularization of Murals in Belgrade

Many murals were painted during the 1980’s. Most of them were painted by professor Vasić and his co-workers, mainly his former students who were working on popularizing murals with him from the beginning.

The most interesting mural from this period is the one on the facade of the cinema in the center of Belgrade.

It was painted when the President of France visited Belgrade in 1984 as a gift from France to Belgrade.

It shows six vertical and horizontal interlaced lines – two of them are blue, two are red, and two are white, which symbolize French and Serbian flags and friendship between these two countries.

Today this mural isn’t visible because a building was made in front of it and hide it.

In this period, some other artists were active and many walls, buildings, schools, walls of Belgrade Zoo and even a theatre, were painted and decorated.

The first great act of decorating the city was carried out in 1989, regarding the 9th Summit of Non-Aligned Movement, that was held in Belgrade.

On that occasion, several art projects were produced, including five murals. After that, only a few murals were painted, and all were damaged or destroyed.

Expansion

After the year 2000, the most significant murals were made within the Belgrade Summer Festival (Beogradski letnji festival – BELEF).

Main characteristics of this wave of painting the city were graffiti popularization and foreign street artists participation in it.

During the BELEF in 2003, artists from Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, and Bosnia and Herzegovina created a graffiti mural in the center of Belgrade, which was one of the first multi-national projects.

An expansion of street art and creating murals happen in the last decade.

Worth mentioning are murals made by Grobari (Gravediggers or Undertakers), organized supporters group of the Serbian football club Partizan Belgrade, one of two major football fan groups in Serbia.

They painted portraits of former Partizan players, its famous fans, and great individuals (Serbian actors, musicians, Nikola Tesla etc.) all over the city.

These murals are all black and white because colors of the club are black and white. An accident occurred earlier this year when someone ruined many of these portraits.

  

One of the liveliest murals represents the friendship between Serbia and the Netherlands.

The author is TKV (The Kraljica Vila – The Queen Fairy) and is made in cooperation with Netherlands Embassy in Serbia.

The orange color and Deft porcelain are clear connections to the Netherlands and its culture.

Pijanista / A Pianist

The artist who stands out among the others is Pijanista (A Pianist), a professor at Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade.

He is the founder of a campaign named #usracuse that stands against trash in Serbian culture (against bad music, literature, TV shows etc.).

Also, he is the founder of a street art festival called Runaway, that is happening in Belgrade three years now.

The festival is more popular year after year, and many foreign artists take part in it.

Pijanista paints portraits of celebrities who are supporting him in his campaign and who stands against trash by themselves.

He paints walls in his neighborhood, buildings in Belgrade and areas under bridges, as well.

His murals are most numerous and the most vivid murals in the city.

 

 

  

Visit Pijanista on Facebook here

Foreign artists

Not only Serbian artists paint in their capital city, but many foreign artists come.

Moreover, some of the most impressive murals are the works of foreign artists.

For example, mural Tree-eater is the work of experienced Italian artist Blu.

It is located at the entrance to Stari Grad (Old Town) municipality, the heart of Belgrade.

It shows a businessman who is eating trees and has skyscrapers instead of teeth, symbolics is clear here.

Artistic duo Nevercrew from Switzerland also left their mark in Belgrade in 2009.

Here is a video about Nevercrew.

This year, Israeli artist Dede donated a mural to Belgraders. He painted one of the city symbols – sparrows.

The mural of Argentinian artist Francisco Bosoletti carries the most meaningful message.

He said that the mural was inspired by his impression of sleepiness of Belgrade that he got in the first few days being there.

The image of a sleepy girl, or a girl who suffers, surrounded by geometric figures, one of the main characteristic of his work, should make the citizens of Belgrade see their country the way he saw it.

He wanted to remind them that its time for waking up, that ruins of past times in the center of the city should make them rise and look into the future, the same way as they inspired him.

Destiny of the Murals

There were more than 50 murals painted in Belgrade over the years.

Unfortunately, many of them are damaged or destroyed. Different factors affected this situation, but probably the most important is the ignorance and the lack of interest of the community.

There is still hope that these new projects and campaigns (such as #usracuse and similar) will change something and bring a brighter future to the Belgrade murals.

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Takashi Murakami – Everything’s Melting

“In Japan, the line (between high and low) is less defined, both by the culture and by the post-war economic situation. Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended; and in fact, they are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of ‘’high art’’. In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones. But, that’s okay- I’m ready with my hard hat.” – Takashi Murakami

Murakami’s Early Life and Intro to Okatu

Born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1962, Takashi Murakami grew up in a household that placed a high value on art. His mother, who designed textiles and studies needlepoint, had a huge influence on his interest in the visual arts.

Equally, the omnipresence of devastation and the presence of the United States in Japan after the WWII had a tremendous influence on Murakami’s artistic evolution.

During his childhood, Japan created a national identity that revived traditional Japanese culture, and put huge pressure on its workforce to produce in order to compete with the West, both culturally and economically. 

The hybrid emphasis on traditional Japanese culture and Western influences was reflected in Murakami’ childhood activities; he developed an early appreciation of both modern European art and traditional Japanese culture.

Murakami engagement with the Japanese subculture of otaku – a large group of fanatical geeks obsessed with the fantasy worlds depicted in manga, comic books, and in anime, animated cartoons, and the concept of kawaii is pretty evident during his formative ages.

As a young artist Murakami immersed himself in this world and began to draw stylistic inspiration from it and presents to viewers from a distanced and cynical stance.

Early 1980’s to 1990’s Work

In the early 1980s, Murakami enrolled in Nihonga, a nineteenth century style of Japanese painting that combines Japanese subject matter with European painting technique at Tokyo National University of Fine Art and Music, where he stayed for master’s and doctoral degree (1988,1993).

Murakami’s early works reflect the realities with which he had grown up, exploring the post-war relationship between United States and Japan (Polyrhythm, 1991, Sea Breeze. 1992.)

These works demonstrate his early development of a playful and seemingly light style that refers to a more cynical stance.

In 1994, Takashi Murakami traveled to New York to participate in P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center’s International Studio Program on a fellowship from the ACC (Asian Cultural Council).

In New York, he was surrounded by the pressures of the gallery system and American art market.

In order to succeed in this world, he realized that he had to abandon his overly-intellectual Japanese preoccupations and to present a more simplified brand of himself and his art as typical Japanese. This was a radical breaking point for his career.

In this regard, he decided to re-engage with his Japanese identity and strengthen his work’s engagement with both the pop culture forms of manga and anime and the high art form of nihonga.

The Arrival of Mr. DOB

At that time, Murakami came up with the figure of Mr. DOB, a mouse-like creature with a round head and large, circular ears, based on a cartoon character originally created in Hong Kong.

Mr. DOB would go on to become the artist’s signature character across his diverse array of artistic media.

In the center of the triptych named 727 (1996) is Murakami’s avatar Mr DOB.

The maniacal smile of Mr DOB can be seen as Murakami’s laughing stance towards the art world, but also toward the West.

The title 727 is a reference to the Boeing American airplanes that flew over his childhood home, as a direct reference to the U.S. presence in post-war Japan; Murakami is so keen to both critique and explore in his art.

The stylized wave upon which Mr DOB sits is a reference to the 19th-century Japanese woodblock artist Hokusai, who was influential for future Japanese artists and manga comics alike due to his flattened compositions and bold colors.

The abstract background is reminiscent of a Japanese folding screen done in the nihonga style.

Fine Art?

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Murakami’s works were featured in solo exhibit at museums, galleries throughout Japan, United States and Europe.

Art critics were unsure what to make of these unusual creations; they are highly original, beautifully executed, visually appealing- but can they be considered fine art?

Some dismissed Murakami’s work, suggesting that they are lovely, but lack substance, but many others have applauded Murakami’s adventurous approach, especially his ability to bridge the worlds of high and low art and to create works that appeal to a broader audience than most fine art.

In 1996, in order to produce his otaku– inspired sculpture, Murakami founded the Hiropon Factory, modelled on both Andy Warhol’s Factory, as well as on traditional Japanese art workshops- such as the ones that produced the woodblock prints from the Edo period.

At Hiropon Factory assistants trained in various areas of expertise collaborate under the artist’s supervision for large-scale, mass-market projects. In this period, the artist went on design a series of major sculptures inspired by otaku subculture including Miss ko² (1996-1997), Hiropon (1997), and My Lonesome Cowboy (1998).

Hiropon (1997) is a part of Murakami’s anime-inspired characters, which also include a masturbating sculpture of boy named My Lonesome Cowboy. 

The title itself alludes to the darker aspects of Japanese culture- hiropon is Japanese slang for the narcotic-crystal methamphetamine. This literal connection to the drug culture reveals artist’s examination of otaku subculture as an illicit form of entertainment.

This sexualized sculpture, with voluminous pink pig-tails and her tiny waist, has breasts that are so large that they burst out of her bikini top to spray a jet-stream of milk that encircles her figure.

Combining a shocking perversion and feminine cuteness this sculpture reflects Murakami’s deep engagement with otaku subculture and its pornographic underbelly known as ‘loli-com’, Lolita Complex, in which girlhood and innocence are paradoxically prized, as well as fetishized.

Kaikai Kiki Co.

In 2001, the Hiropon Factory evolved into Kaikai Kiki Co., a highly organized corporation settled in Tokyo and New York. Besides marketing and producing Murakami’s work, the corporation promotes new artists, organizes collaborative projects with individuals and companies in music, fashion and entertainment, operates art fairs, and develops animated films and videos.

The company represents a shift in the production of modern artwork where fine art and commerce are integrated, and where the artist’s physical hand in the making of the artwork no longer determines the financial value, but rather the symbolic value is created through the artist’s association with the art-commodities produced in his business-oriented factory.

In 2000, Murakami presented the theory of Superflat. The name refers both to the merging of art and commerce and the flattened compositions that lacked one point perspective of historical Japanese artistic movements, Nihonga, for instance. 

In his historic essay ‘A Theory of Super Flat Japanese Art’ he articulates desire to produce a uniquely Japanese art form that is directly related to the shadow cast by Japan’s trauma after the humiliating defeat of WWII.

Murakami explains the concept of superflatness as an original concept of Japanese, which has been completely westernized.

This theory swept across the contemporary art world, becoming a landmark movement in contemporary Japanese art, the latest major style to reach international recognition in the art-world, since the 1950s Japanese Gutai group.

Despite his art-historical and culturally-rich referents in his manifestos, art, essays, people are often immediately drawn to his work for its seeming superficiality and dazzling explosion of colors and characters.

Takashi Murakami’s projects have explored unconventional artistic media including music, fashion, public installations, films, animation. The shift between roles and disciplines reveals his ambition of redefining what a postmodern artist can be.

Mr. Pointy

In the fall of 2003, Murakami installed a public art display called Reversed Double Helix at the Rockefeller Center plaza in Midtown Manhattan.

The display featured two thirty-three-foot balloons, a number of jewel-colored mushroom sculptures that doubled as seats for visitors, and a twenty-three-foot tall sculpture of Murakami’s character Mr Pointy.

Sporting a large round head that comes to a point, multiple arms, and a brightly colored body, Mr. Pointy was described as the whimsical love child of Hello Kitty, a Buddha, and a portabello mushroom.

Two years earlier Murakami had startled and delighted commuters in Vanderbilt Hall, part of New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, with Wink (2001), a display of mushroom sculptures and huge helium-filled balloons hovering thirty feet off the floor- all of which were decorated with brightly colored eyes of all shapes and sizes as well as spirals and other designs.

This installation creates a paradoxical and ironic co-existence of the Japanese Neo-Pop and the formal elegance of the classical Beaux-Arts architecture of Grand Central Terminal.

Roberta Smith, an art critic, argues against this public project, suggesting that it was compromised by its inappropriate setting, a vast former waiting room bereft of its wood benches, which felt all wrong for contemporary art. Anyway, this strange cultural mash-up is exactly what Murakami intends.

Luis Vuitton Collaboration

In 2002, the artist began his long-term collaboration with the Luis Vuitton, the elite fashion brand. This collaboration made Murakami widely known for further blurring commercial boundaries, elevated his status to celebrity and raised economic value of his art to one that is highly prized among Western collectors.

One of Murakami’s design features The LV signature monogram in 97 different colors with his own signature jellyfish eyes repeated on white or black background.

Shortly following the launch of his line at Louis Vuitton, Murakami re-appropriated the same images printed onto bags into paintings meant for prestigious art institutions and collectors, blurring the distinction between commodity and art (Eye Love Superflat , 2006)

In Blue Flowers & Skulls, 2012, youth and death collide as smiling daisies and large-eyed skulls overwhelm the picture plane and bland together with the aid of the work’s blue color scheme.

The mix of cuteness and death are the artist’s way of engaging with the Japanese obsession with Kawaii, but also his way of critiquing it.

Everything is Transient

According to Murakami, Kawaii culture has become a living entity that pervades everything. With a population heedless of the cost of embracing immaturity, the nation is in the throes of a dilemma: a preoccupation with anti-aging may conquer not only the human heart, but also the body.

In that sense, the artist reveals a darker engagement with these juvenile flowers that takes its aim directly at contemporary society.

Throughout Western art history, the role of the skull has functioned as a memento mori, a reminder of one’s own eventual death; the Japanese Buddhist conception of Shogyo mujo is roughly translated as ‘everything is transient’.

Blue Flowers & Skulls is reflective of many of Murakami’s installations, paintings and sculptures in which smiling daisies and skulls repeat across his large oeuvre; in the obsessive repetition of these motifs his darker and more subversive themes are expanded and re-contextualized over and over to the point of visual exhaustion.

Murakami’s astronomical rise to fame in the contemporary art world has been met with both criticism and celebration.

He brings together Japanese pop culture referents with the Japan’s rich artistic legacy, effectively wiping out any distinction between high art and commodity.

Critics have mocked him as a sell-out and as playing into the art market’s increasing demands for trivial, easily consumable art from Japan.

Post-Nuclear : What Did You Expect Would Happen?

Murakami’s work must be understood as deeply critical to Western intervention.

He grew up in Japan that then faced heavy sanctions and a permanent U.S. military presence, and also was raised by parents who experienced the devastating nuclear bombings.

In his writings (differ wildly from his essays written in English) he reveals a deep cynicism toward the West, considering Japan’s contemporary obsession with youthful innocence, cuteness, violence and fetish are the product of U.S. intervention that began with the bomb.

In that sense, many believe that Murakami considers his thrusting of this art concept onto the U.S. through his elevation of it as high art as a form of some revenge.

Visit: http://www.takashimurakami.com/

Oh, and he has worked with the American provocateur himself, Mr. Kanye West.

Here’s an interesting interview video with Murakami that touches upon how he thinks about things.

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Niki de Saint Phalle – Ready To Kill

In 1960 I was a very angry young woman. Angry at men and their power. I felt that they had robbed me of my own free space in which I could develop myself.
 
I wanted to conquer their world, to earn my own money. Angry with my parents who I felt had raised me for the marriage market. I wanted to show them that I was somebody, that I existed and that my voice and my scream of protest as a woman was important.
 
I was ready to kill.

Niki Saint Phalle’s unique brand of feminist art expressed both jouissance and angst in equal measure, and explored the complex and confounding ways in which biology and culture co-construct the female experience.

She was born on October, 29, 1930 to an aristocratic Catholic family as a second of five children; her father André was a wealthy French banker, and her mother Jacqueline Harper was an American, but raised in French.

Soon after her birth, facing with aftershocks of the Black Tuesday, the French wing of the Great Depression, the Saint Phalle’s lost their fortune; her father was forced to close his finance company and they moved to the United States.

From an early age, Niki pushed the boundaries in her personal and artistic life. She attended the prestigious Brearley School in New York, which she found to be a formative experience for her, and a place where she became a feminist.

However, she was expelled for painting the fig leaves covering the genitals of statues on the school’s campus red.

Coming of Age

When she was 18, Saint Phalle eloped with Harry Mathews, a person that she knew through her father.

Both of them were artistically inclined, oversensitive, overtly rebellious romantics, and they bounded together as such. While Mathews studied music at Harvard University, Saint Phalle began exploring painting, and gave birth to their daughter Laura in 1951, when she was 20 years old.

In 1952, the couple moved to Paris, where Mathews continued to study music, learning to become a conductor, while Niki studied theater to become an actress, and she was also modelling for Elle and Vogue.

The following year, Saint Phalle was diagnosed with a nervous breakdown, and hospitalized in a psychiatric facility.

At this point of her life, she had gone through a violent nervous breakdown, caused by the facts she had married young and somehow accepted the conservative values and the lifestyle of her family that she wanted to reject so badly.

Niki was first treated with a barbarous treatment, a series of electric shocks, but luckily, she ended up in the hands of a humane psychiatrist who restored her to mental health.

She was encouraged to paint as a form of therapy; somewhere in between the shocks and analysis, she began doing her first collages, and soon after that her first paintings.

They were so original and compelling, that her husband, following her energetic example, gave up all thoughts of a musician career and began writing for the first time since 1949.

The couple moved to Majorca off the coast of Spain, where their son Philip was born in 1955. During this time, Niki developed her imaginative, self-though style of painting, experimenting with a variety of materials and forms.

During the visit to Barcelona, she was stuck by the work of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi and his park Güell, which was instrumental in Niki’s early conceptualization of the elaborate sculpture garden she would fulfill much later in her career.

Saint Phalle’s art was also influenced by other various artists such as Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau, Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Jackson Pollock.

At the end of the 1950s, Niki and her husband moved back to Paris; in 1960, she divorced Mathews, giving him the custody of their children. She met artist Jean Tinguely, with whom she would collaborate artistically; within a year, they had began a romantic relationship, and eventually married in 1971.

Niki Saint Phalle’s first solo exhibition in 1961, punctuated a dynamic period of her early career and she met a number of influential artists living in Paris at that time, whose use of found objects was to have a strong influence on her work.

On show were several of her Shooting Paintings. They were made by fixing polythene bags of paint to a board, and covering them with a thick plaster surface. Viewers were invited to shoot a rifle at the surface, popping the bags and causing the paint to run down the textured white surface.

The process of creating the artwork became a live performative event done in the public eye, and with the public’s participation, challenging traditional perceptions of the artist as a hermetic figure. Shooting Paintings involve the viewer directly and physically in the creation of the work, and leave the resulting image to chance.

In this period, Saint Phalle’s artistic work had become a bold act of defiance, reclamation of space for herself, and for women. She started to articulate these ideas and combining them with other social and political issues‒ amidst an atmosphere of radical ideas, from civil rights, anti-war and anti-violence protests to campaigns for women’s rights and sexual liberation across the West.

Famous Works

The Crucifixion piece, from 1963, an abstracted female figure, is made from found objects and fixed on the flat surface of the wall. It partly resembles to the method of sculptural assemblage, a combination of collage and sculpture that brings in a third dimension by adding elements that project out of a planar, two-dimensional surface.

The work responds to the genre-blending of mid-century abstraction and expresses Saint Phalle’s attitude towards the female condition, which she saw as a highly ambiguous and contentious state.

The figure comprises together suggestions and formal elements of the constructed, biological-cultural stages of womanhood: youthful and sexualized, maternal and abundant, elderly and confined.

The figure has no arms, indicating a lack of female agency and disempowerment within a society that strongly delineates woman’s roles in accordance with diminishing reproductive capacity.

Her most famous and prolific series of works, the Nanas, were inspired by a friend’s pregnancy, her reflections on archetypal feminine forms, and the vexed positions that women occupy in modern, patriarchal societies.

‘Nanas’, a French slang word roughly equivalent to ‘broads’, is a title that encapsulates the theme of the everywoman as well as the casual denigration that closely accompanies the rhetorical grouping of women as a social category.

The Black Venus (1965-67), a large-scale sculpture presents a non-traditional view of the goddess figure and does not conform to the stereotypes of female beauty established by Western classical art, and does not recall sculptural goddess form of the Ancient Western world.

Instead, the figure is large-limbed, black-skinned, actively in motion, and adorned in a colorful, cartoonish bathing costume.

In 1966, she collaborated with Tinguely and Olof Ultvedt on a project for Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden. The trio created a large installation Hon-A Cathedral, the largest nana figure; the installation provoked a strong reaction from the public.

It is a large-scale sculptural work which viewers could enter from the vaginal opening, and could hold up to 150 people at a time. ‘Hon’ is the Swedish word for ‘she’, implying that the sculpture is both a symbol for the every-woman and a cathedral-like space for the worship of woman and femininity.

Its structure references classical architectural theories about the entrance to cathedrals and their metaphoric and symbolic relationship to female genitalia. The feature also presents the woman’s body as a place of exchange and creation, a generative space of new life by way of its exit.

That was also the period when Niki worked on Le Paradis Fantastique, a commission for the French Pavilion at Expo Montreal, Canada in 1967.

While she was working on this project with Tinguely, St Phalle’s lungs were severely damaged by polyester resin toxic fumes. Her favorite material, polyester, was the cause of her recurring health problems.

During the early 1970s, she spent some time in the Swiss mountains recuperating from a serious lung illness. In Swiss, Niki met childhood friend, Marella Caracciolo Agnelli who was a well-connected socialite with a penchant for collecting art.

Saint Phelle told her about her vision of creating elaborating sculpture garden of Tarot symbology. With Agnelli’s help, she acquired a parcel in Tuscany, Italy. In 1978, the foundations were laid, and two years later, the construction of the first sculpture began;

The Empress, an enormous sculptural building designed in the shaped of a sphinx, became her home and studio for the next decade.

Elaborately decorated with mosaics and ceramics on the outside and Venetian glass on the inside, the work maintains the aesthetic of assemblage used in many of her earlier works.

Niki spent many years completely immersed in the creation of her dream place. After nearly 20 years of intensive work, financial and health problems, the garden was opened in 1998. It contained vibrant mosaics and colossal sculptures, based on the Tarot cards symbols.

Tarot is an ancient, venerable set of cards, with picture representations of archetypal, elementary situations upon them. They described existential, human experiences and psychic states. Saint Phalle was deeply convinced that the cards have a considerable meaning.

She saw the Tarot Garden as a site which crosses boundaries into the religious and where everyone is potentially able to have a direct experience of the archetypal content of the Tarot.

The idea came from Antonio Gaudi’s Park Guell, but the garden became much more than a simple variation on Gaudi’s concept. It was her absolute, on-going concern, and a deep, captivating theme for life.

Jean Tinguely died in Switzerland, 1991, and Saint Phalle began to make a series of kinetic sculptures, his chief sculptural medium, to honor his memory.

The Grotto

The Grotto, Hanover (2001-2003), the final instalment in a series of semi-architectural works accessible to public is the last project Saint Phalle worked on before her death.

This particular cave was originally built in the baroque style in 1676 as a place for members of the Hanover court to escape the heat.

Niki was invited to turn the space into an immersive art environment; she created a design in response to the formal qualities of the existing architecture, and maintained the original function of the Grotto.

Grotto consists of three rooms, each decorated in different style. The central room’s (‘Spirituality’) walls feature a spiral of yellow, gold and orange mosaic pieces made of glass and ceramics, along with river pebbles and seashells.

The room on the right is set against a field of dark cobalt blue, inspired by the work of Henri Matisse.

The final room is bright and full of silver shards of mirrors, creating an impression of continuous daylight inside the dark cave. The room features sculptural figures in a range of styles from across Niki’s career, acting as a form of retrospection of her oeuvre.

Death

Niki Saint Phalle died on May, 21, 2002, after six months in intensive care in La Jolla, California. Her death was caused by emphysema, a chronic obstructive lung disease.

Saint Phalle continually disrupted long-held conventions in art; her iconoclastic approach to her identity and society at large made her an early and important voice to both the development of early conceptual art and the feminist movement.

Her work often combined plastic art and performance in new ways, blending and dismantling hierarchies between sculpture, painting and performance in a way that would influence conceptual artists and their thinking toward developing new and hybrid forms rather than refining single-medium-specificity.

 

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Arte Povera – The Movement, The Message

The birth of an artistic movement is preceded by a mysterious evolution that is made up of a set of ideas that are refined and expressed by actions and works.

Arte Povera, one of the most influential avant-garde movements, emerged in Europe in the 1960s. In its general sense Arte Povera, an Italian term meaning impoverished, poor art, allegedly derived from the poor theatre of the Polish film director Jerzy Grotowski.

More specifically, it refers to a group of avant-garde painters and sculptors based in Genoa, Turin, Milan and Rome from the mid-1960s onwards who produced a provocative fusion of Assemblage, Minimalism, Conceptual Art and Performance Art.

The movement grouped the work of Italian artists whose most distinctly recognizable trait was their use of ’found objects’ including simple, commonplace materials, such as soil, bits of wood, clothing, rocks, rope, paper.

While avoiding a signature style and promoting diversity as a positive value, these artists produced works mainly consisting of photography, sculptures and installations.

In addition, the diversity of the creations of these artists made this movement recognize that no one’s method sustains all projects, and for this reason, an unrestrained creativity formed the common ground between Arte Povera artists.

Arte Povera

In 1967, the art critic and curator, Germano Celant coined the name ‘Arte Povera’ and curated the movement’s first exhibition which was staged at Galleria La Bertesca in Genoa.

The same year, he published a manifesto for the movement: Arte Povera: Notes for a Gerilla War. He proposed a guerilla warfare art against the rich world that he considered to be represented by certain contemporary trends such as Nouveau realism.

Gradually, he would abandon this political dimension in order to transform this movement in some kind of conceptual-minimal art.

In the same manifesto he also wrote about ‘a desire to escape the bounds of a social system that rewards conformity and limits experience, and argued that this system forces artists into producing bourgeois objects for an art market that requires the stability of the assembly line’.

With this declaration, Celant associated the Italians (and himself) with a new movement in art and put forth definition of Arte Povera. These and other pioneering texts and shows created a collective identity for Arte Povera, and promoted it as a revolutionary genre, liberated from convention and the market place.

Raw and Real

Arte Povera artists employed a vast array of raw materials, such as rags, coal, hessian sacks, wood , soil, seeds and vegetables, as well as manufactured items, glass and metal.

These materials were framed, hung or applied to walls, metal sheets or various surfaces. Artists made no attempt to change the natural colors of the materials.

Their work was a reaction against the modernist abstract painting that had dominated European art in the 1950s. In addition, the group rejected American Minimalism, particularly, what they perceived as its enthusiasm for technology and its scientific rationalism.

By contrast, they presented absurd and comical juxtapositions, often of the old and the new, or the highly processed and the pre-industrial. They conjured a world of myth whose mysteries could not be explained in an easy way.

Although Arte Povera is most notable for its use of found object and everyday materials, materials which contrasted with the apparently industrial sensibility of American Minimal Art, the movement employed subversive avant-garde tactics – performance and installations- unconventional approaches to sculpture.

In order to reconnect art with life, the Italian Arte Povera strove to evoke an individual response in each of their art pieces, stressing an interaction between object and viewer that was purely original.

Germano Celant and the Arte Povera Artists

Germano Celant was a key figure in the formation and success of Arte Povera, and in this respect Arte Povera is typical of avant-garde groups that have been given momentum and cohesion by a single voice.

Celant’s interpretations of the artists associated with the movement have remained prominent and important, and he stressed the Italians’ interest in individual subjectivity.

For instance, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s work often dealt with relationships. His early mirror works, which confronted image and self, explored concepts of identity.

His The Minis Objects series was developed around the idea of art that was only completed through the addition of human interaction. In the piece, Structure for Talking While Standing / Minus Objects (1965-66) it can be seen how the structure connects to the viewer, allowing for a place to rest the arms and feet.

Also, a dialogue was a concern to the artist; Celant once described his related work, the simple metal construction ‘Structure for Standing While Talking’, from 1965-66, as a medium to create a personal dialogue between art and viewer, free from any preconceived notion.

Giovani Anselmo’s early work relied on human interaction to fully experience the art, which was loosely constructed in order to react to the slightest touch. He worked as graphic designer and began to experiment with the arts in his free time.

His Untitled (1968), sometimes referred to as Eating Structure, comprises a small block of granite attached to a larger, plinth-like block by means of a head of lettuce and a length of wire.

If the lettuce is allowed to dry out, the smaller block will fall, therefore, the sculpture has to be ‘’fed’’ with lettuce to maintain its structure.

Its concern with gravity and balance echoes some of the interests of American Post-Minimal Art through its comic tone, and its use of such mundane materials, is typical of Arte Povera’s evocation of rural and poor life.

Pino Pascali’s 32 Square Meters of Sea, from 1967, brings together the artificial and natural. Containers hold quantities of dyed water that replicate the variegated tints of the ocean, alluding to the effects of light and motion.

The industrial materials and geometric shapes used to produce the sculpture echo American Minimalist sculpture, through artist’s use of a simple natural materials, the water in this case, betrays its origins in the concerns of Arte Povera.

Although Piero Manzoni was not considered a true member of the Arte Povera group, his work reflects the principles of the movement,

His Artist’s Shit, no.4, from 1961, supposedly containing 30 grams of excrement, reprises such famous avant-garde provocations as Marcel Duchamp’s presentation of a urinal as a work of art (Fountain, 1917).

Ninety cans were produced, labeled and canned in an identical manner, mocking the practices of mass production and consumption, satirizing the reverence usually accorded to artist’s work.

Celant’s most dramatic pronouncement, and probably reflected his hopes for the implications of Art Povera was saved for the igloos of Mario Merz.

He said that he performed a constant sacrifice of the banal, everyday object, as though it were a newfound Christ. Having found his nail, Merz became the system’s philistine and crucified the world.

Mario Merz, the oldest of the Arte Povera artists, was a painter in an Abstract Expressionist style, but with the new movement he was given the opportunity to start his career anew.

In the Giap’s Igloo (1968) the first of his signature igloos, Merz uses a phrase, taken from a Vietnamese military general: ‘Se il nemico si concentra perde terreno se il disperde perde forza’/ If the enemy masses his forces, he loses ground; if he scatters, he loses strength.

Merz’s igloos provide a focus for his preoccupation with the necessities of life- food, shelter, warmth-though, as here, they contain neon tubes that suggest more modern and sophisticated experiences, such as advertising and consumption.

Arte Povera and Radicalism

Arte Povera was closely linked to the political radicalism emerging across Europe, which eventually culminated in the street protests of 1968. In order to understand better the real purpose of such movement, one must analyses the cultural context of Italy in the 1950s and 1960s.

The country was going to a period of industrialization as the Miracolo Italiano/ the Italian miracle. The consumerism was finding its way into Italian society and advanced technologies were rapidly being introduced.

The optimism for this progressive wave was then suddenly interrupted in the mid 1960s when the economy recession set in.

Workers and students were continuously protesting in all Europe and America and this brought other social and cultural movements and beliefs such as a hippie counter-culture and a new sexual liberation.

In that context, Arte Povera was no longer referring to the use of ‘poor’ materials, nor to a critique of a consumer society, but to the concept of ‘impoverishing’ each person’s experience of life freeing oneself from layers of ideologies and preconceptions.

Thus, the main principles of Arte Povera were few, but very clear: a work of art is attitude transformed into form, thanks to a wide range of materials; the art should be a way of achieving truth and authenticity; any medium, location or technique can be used since everything can potentially become a work of art; finally it should engage with social concerns and also reject the ideology of a consumer society.

A Brief Unity

Despite growing popularity the Arte Povera movement dissolved in the mid 1970s as the individual styles of the Italian artists continued to grow in different directions following their own paths. However, their brief unity had already made its mark on the history of art.

Germano Celent succeeded in carving out a place for Art Povera within the neo-avant-garde.

By illustrating a relationship to Italian classicism, Futurism and to more contemporary styles such as Land Art, he lent the movement a place in what could be seen as a living tradition.

Over forty years later, the works of the Arte Povera are more alive than ever since they still attract the interest of many since their meaning is still relevant.

In the case of Pop Art, to stay contemporary, artworks seem to be inevitably aged, such as the Worhol’s paintings, particularly those of the myths of the 60s like Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles, that now seem to be a piece of history.

On the contrary, Arte Povera may just be one of the few things of the Twenty Century that managed to survive until now. The reason might be the fact that Arte Povera is not just an avant-garde movement, but it is something complete in itself.

In addition, it continues to be central to the idea of art as an experience, prior the knowledge and this might well be the reason why ordinary people who are not so much interested in art, can also feel the simplistic experience of this movement.

 

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Marina Abramovic – Death Toll Rising

“Once, Picasso was asked what his painting meant. He said, ‘Do you ever know what the birds are singing? You don’t. But you listen to them anyway.’ So, sometimes with art, it is important just to look.”

Towards the late 1950’s, Abstract expressionism began losing impetus, and many artists across the world, especially in America and Europe, embraced performance art. In that context, Marina Abramovic’s work is typical of the ritualistic strain in the 1960’s performance art, and very often involves putting herself in grave danger and performing lengthy, harmful routine that result in her being burnt or cut, or enduring some privation.
 
Her work might be interpreted as having displaced art from traditional media, as she moved it straight onto her body.

Background

Marina Abramovic was born on November, 30, 1946 in Belgrade, the capital of what was than Yugoslavia to an affluent family with politically active parents. Vojin and Danica Abramovic were Yugoslav partisans during World War II, and continue their engagement in General Tito’s communist party.
 
They were awarded high positions in the public sector for their contribution during the war; her mother became head of the Museum of Art and the Revolution in Belgrade, and her father worked with state security and was in the Marshal’s elite guard.

Marina’s relations with her mother were always fought. Her mother took strict control of eighteens-years-old Marina and her younger brother Velimir; under her mother’s strict supervision, she experienced life as difficult and cold. Although her mother was traditional, difficult and sometimes violent, she supported her daughter’s interest in art, encouraging her to express herself creatively through drawing and painting and at twelve was given her own studio at home.

Marina, age 5, in Belgrade
Marina, Age 5, Belgrade

Body Art & The Rhythm Series

Marina studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, from 1965 to 1970; during this period her earlier figurative expressions became increasingly abstract. During her further studies at Krsto Hegedusic’s studio and at Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, from 1970 to 1973, she began to use her body as a tool in her art, creating performative art pieces, creating sound installations, but moving towards works that directly involved the body.
 
In this period Abramovic spent most of her time at the SKC, Studentski Kulturni Centar, a cultural center in Belgrade, where she met young conceptual artists such as Rasa Popovic, Nesa Paripovic and Rasa Teodosijevic.

In 1973, Abramovic met the artist Joseph Beuys in Edinburgh and later that year at the Cultural Center in Belgrade. His happenings made a strong impression on Marina and greatly influenced her work. The same year, she enacted the performance piece Rhythm 10 at Vila Borghese, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in Rome.
 
This piece is the first of the five performances in The Rhythm Series, in which she explored the limits of her body and consciousness.

On the Rhythm 10, she used a series of 20 knives to stab at the spaces between her outstretched fingers. In the process, every time she pierced her skin, she used another knife from those carefully laid out in front of her.
 
Halfway through, she began to play a recording of the first-half of the hour long performance, using the rhythmic beat of the knives striking the floor, and her hand, to repeat the movements, cutting herself at the same time.
 
She understood that drawing on the audience’s energy drove her performance, which was marked in this piece, and this aspect became an important concept informing much of her later work.

Viewing both performance and art as reaching beyond the realm of awareness, Marina has created performances in which she sleeps or becomes drugged into unconsciousness to examine this aspect of life; she used performance to push her mental and physical limits beyond consciousness.

For instance, in Rhythm 5, 1974, she created a star shape with wood shavings covered in gasoline and lit the wood on fire. After cutting her hair and nails and than dropping them into the fire, she lay down within the burning star, a symbol of Communism in Yugoslavia, as well as a symbol of the occult.
 
During this performance, audience members realized her clothes were on fire and she had lost her consciousness due to the lack of oxygen they pulled her out, and the performance was ended.

 

Pushing the limits further, in the performance piece entitled Rhythm 0, with a description reading ‘During this period I take full responsibility’ and ‘I am the object’ Marina invited participants to use any of 72 objects on her body in any way, they desired, completely giving up control.
 
Those 72 objects included a feather, pen, saw, lipsticks, book, band-aid, rose, salt, gun, paint, bullet, scissors etc. The audience divided itself into those who tried to protect her wiping away her tears, and those who sought to harm Abramovic, holding the loaded gun to her head, and.
 
Eventually, after she stood motionless for six hours, the protective audience participants insisted the performance be stopped, seeing that others were becoming extremely violent.

This piece was an example of Abramovic’s belief that confronting exhaustion and physical pain was important in making a person absolutely present and aware of her/his self. The work is also reflected her intention to include the spectators in the process; her interest in performance art was to transform both the performer and the audience, as the participants in the show.

She said that the inspiration for such work came from both her experience of growing up under Tito’s Communist dictatorship, and of her relationship with her mother. Her work in Yugoslavia was much about rebellion, not against just the family structure but the social structure and the structure of the system there; she was trying to overcome these kinds of limits.

1975 and on

These pioneering works were created at the time when performance art was still a new emerging art form in Europe, and she had little knowledge of performance being outside Yugoslavia.

In 1975, in Amsterdam, Abramovic met the German-born artist Frank Uwe Laysiepen, known as Ulay. He was a son of a Nazi soldier, born in 1943, in a bomb shelter in Solingen, an industrial city in Westphalia, Germany.
 
By fifteen, he had been orphaned, and was fending for himself. Marina met him on November, 30
th in 1975 in Amsterdam and their chemistry was immediate. According to her words, when she back to Belgrade, she got so lovesick that she couldn’t move or talk.
 
At the time, she was married to a former fellow-student from the Belgrade Academy of Fine Arts, but it was an oddly slack union; both spouses still lived with their parents. A few months later, Marina ran away in Amsterdam, at twenty-nine, to rejoin Ulay, her soul mate.

Ulay and Abramovic made art for twelve nomadic years, from 1976 to 1988, the two were artistic collaborations and lovers. Amsterdam was their base, but their home on the road, on Europe was a black Citroën van, which figured in their symbiotic work in performance of ideal couplehood.
 
They also lived in India’s Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and with Australian Aborigines, and spending some time in Sahara, Gobi and Thar deserts.

They performed their works in gallery spaces, mostly in Europe; some of their best known works included Imponderabilia, from 1977; it included a naked couple planted like caryatids on either side of a narrow doorway at the entrance to a gallery, they backs to a frame.
 
Everyone who entered had to sidle past them, deciding which body to face.

Also, Breathing in/ Breathing out, 1977, in which they inhaled and exhaled from each other mouths until they almost suffocated. The performance named Rest Energy, from 1980, a highly intense piece that revealed the fragility of the line between death and life; it was only four minutes and ten seconds long.
 
Ulay and Abramovic faced each other, aiming an arrow a tense bow, just inches from her heart. They placed small microphones on their chests in order to make audible their increasingly rapid heartbeats in response to the growing danger.

Opposite Directions

When Marina and Ulay decided to end their relationship, they embarked on their last performance on March, 30, 1988, The Lovers; the walking along the Great Wall of China. Abramovic walked from the Shanhai Pass at the wall’s east end, Ulay walked in a opposite direction, from the wall’s western end near the Gobi Desert. After ninety days, they met and reunion marked a definitive end to their romantic relationship, as well as the twelve-year long artistic collaboration.
 
Their union was much battered and repaired, though it ultimately couldn’t survive the demands of such intense proximity or a discrepancy in ambition.

Since that point, they have had very little contact with each other, both proceeding independently with their own artistic career.

Marina returned to independent work and making it both solo as well as with artistic collaborators. In this period, she worked increasingly with video and sculpture; Transitory Objects for Human and Non-Human Use, which comprise objects meant to incite audience interaction and participation.

Blood and Bones

During the 1990s as a respectable performance artist Marina Abramovic taught at the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the Hochschule der Kunste in Berlin, as well as Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Hamburg and at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Braunschweig in Germany.

In 1997, Abramovic was invited to represent Serbia and Montenegro at the Yugoslavian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. But, she broke off the collaboration after a conflict with the Montenegrin minister of culture. However, the performance piece Balkan Baroque was shown instead at the Italian pavilion, where it caused a stir.
 
She was awarded the Golden Lion prize for Best Artist of the Biennale.

The Balkan Baroque piece was created in response to the innumerable deaths that had taken place in the former Yugoslavia. In this performance, Marina spent four days, six hours a day, sitting on top of 1,500 cow bones in a white dress, washing each of these bloody bones, surrounded by projected images of her parents and herself.

The accompanying sound included her recorded description of methods used in Balkans for killing rats and her singing of her native folksongs. The performance progression was made visceral due to the fetid smell and unbearable heat of the basement room.
 
For the artist, it was not enough to simply recount the number of people lost in modern-day wars in Balkans. She aimed to remember the lives, hopes and efforts of individuals killed by carefully touching and cleaning ‘their’ physical blood and bones.
 
The comparison between the inability to scrub all the blood and the inability to erase the shame of was is a concept that Abramovic viewed as having universal reach.

 

 

Butcher Knives Ladder

In the early 1970s, while many artists made very little effort to capture, or document, their performances on video. They felt that the true performance could never be repeated.Marina Abramovic has since argued for the importance of continuing the life of performance art works through re-performance; the only real way to document a performance art piece is to re-perform the piece itself.

In 2002, in The House with the Ocean View, Abramovic spent twelve days in the Sean Kelly Gallery without speaking, eating and writing. Contained within three so called rooms built six feet off the ground, she slept, urinated, drank water, showered and gazed at the spectators wearing a differently colored outfit each day.
 
She could walk between the rooms, but the ladders leading to the floor had rungs made of butcher knives. In this performance, Marina ritualized the activities of daily life, focusing on the self and simplicity while eliminating all aspects of dialogue and narrative.
 
She stated that she saw this piece as an act of purification- for her, but also for any viewer who entered the space. Additionally, the piece was a shift from the masochism of her earlier works to performances that focus on ideas of presence and interaction, although there is still the element of danger (present in the butcher knives ladder).

 

One of the key figures of performance art, Marina Abramovic was part of the earliest experiments in this media, and nowadays, she is one of the few pioneers of the generation still creating and working in this field.
 
She has been, and continues to be, an essential influence for performance artists and contemporary art in general, making work over the last several decades, especially for works that challenge the mind and the limits of the body.
 
Abramovic’s feminism has always been a mythical rather than a political; her confrontation with the physical and self and the primary role given to the body, a female body have helped shape the direction of Feminist art in the second half of the 20
th century, especially in the 1990’s.

 

Retrospective

In 2010 the MoMa in New York City held a wide-ranging retrospective of Abramovic’s work, The Artist is Present. From opening time to closing, eight to ten hours a day, and for seventy-seven days, she sat immobile at a bare wooden table, gazing into space. Members of the audience participated by sitting in a chair opposite Abramovic’s; her intention was emotional connection with anyone who wanted to look at her however long.
 
It was an experiment that had never been tried before; The Artist is Present is the longest durational work ever mounted in a museum.

 

In order to give new life to older performance work, both, hers and the works of others artists, Abramovic create the Marina Abramovic Institute for Preservation of Performance Art, opened in 2012, in Hudson, New York.
 
As a non-profit organization, the Institute supports teaching, preserving and founding performance art, ensuring legacy for performance art and for the ephemeral art itself.

 


 

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Yayoi Kusama – Polka Dot Madness

Yayoi Kusama’s work has transcended two of the most important art movements of the second half of the 20th century: minimalism and pop art. Plagued by mental illness as a child, and thoroughly abused by a callous mother, the young artist persevered by using her hallucinations and personal obsessions as fodder for prolific artistic output in various disciplines.
 
This has informed a lifelong commitment to creativity at all costs, despite the artist’s birth into a traditional female-effacing Japanese culture, and her career’s coming of age in the male dominated New York art scene.

Her extraordinary career spans paintings, performances, room-size presentations, literary works, outdoor installations, sculpture, fashion, films, design, and intervention within existing architectural structures, which allude at once to a microscopic and macroscopic universe.

Early Life

Yayoi Kusama was born on March, 22, 1929 in Matsumoto, Japan, as the youngest of four children in a wealthy family. However, her childhood was less than idyllic or perfect. Her parents were the product of a loveless, arranged marriage.
 
Her father, emasculated by the fact that he had to take his wife’s surname as a condition of marrying into the wealthy family, spent most of his time away from home, womanizing, leaving his angry wife to physically abuse and emotionally torment her youngest child.
 
She would often send her daughter to spy on her father’s sexual exploits.

When Kusama began to see vivid hallucinations at the age of 10, her way of coping with the bizarre phenomena was to paint what she saw. She says that art became her way to express her mental disease.
 
For Kusama, art-making became a fundamental survival mechanism; it was her sole tool for making sense of a world in which she dwelt on the periphery of normative experience, and as a result, became the very thing that allowed her to assimilate successfully into society.

Disobeying her mother (who wanted her to simply be an obedient housewife) Kusama studied art in Masumoto and Kyoto. She had little formal training, studying art only briefly, 1948-49, at the Kyoto City Specialist School of Art.
 
At that time, there was a movement to reject the influences of Western culture in Japan, so Kusama was forced to only study Nihonga, which consisted of creating paintings using 1000-year-old traditional Japanese techniques and materials.

Move To United States

The conservative Japanese culture, and her abusive mother proved too much for Kusama, and 1957, she moved to the United States, settling in New York in the following year. Before she left, Kusama’s mother handed her some money and told her to never set foot in her house again.
 
In response, Kusama destroyed hundreds of her works.

In the United States, Kusama was free to explore her artistic expressions that were censored while living in Japan. With the help of artist Georgia O’ Keeffe, who Kusama had started a friendship with while still in Japan, she was able to secure exhibitions and also some sales, leading to interest in her work right from the start.
 
Also, there was a fascination with the foreign artist herself, and she struck up a deep relationship with her fellow artist Donald Judd and the middle-aged assemblage artist Joseph Cornell, who was also infatuated with Kusama, often writing her love letters and sketching her in the nude.
 
Because of her anxiety and fear of sex, both relationships, while very close, were strictly platonic. Kusama and Cornell developed such a close bond (allegedly, he shared her sexual aversion and hated sex) that when he died in 1972, she began creating collages to honor his work and cope with his passing.

In this period, Kusama worked feverishly, embracing the hedonist, free-spirit hippie culture of the 1960’s, which also included patriarchy, protesting war and capitalist society. Combining these themes with her personal anxieties, she created deeply intimate art, but also spoke to the injustices of the times.

Watercolors

The first works she exhibited in New York were her watercolors. These first works on paper showed the artist breaking free from traditional Japanese artistic practices and she was thought as a child and embracing Western artistic influences, especially in regards to abstraction.
 
The piece named The Woman, from 1953, is one of these earlier abstract works. The watercolor depicts a singular biomorphic form with subtle dots in the center floating in a seemingly black abyss. The form is reminiscent of female genitalia with red spikes surrounding it.
 
The overall effect: bizarre and aggressive.

Infinity Net

Her early work in New York included what she called “infinity net” paintings. Those considered of thousands of tiny marks obsessively repeated across large canvases without regard for the edge of the canvas, as if they continued into infinity.
 
Kusama’s Infinity Net series marks the beginning of a radical shift in her work from the singular abstract, biomorphic forms she painted during her youth to the more obsessive, repetitive works that would define her career.
 
They also showcase the way she used art to process her mental illness.

No. F. from 1959, is one of Kusama’s first works from the celebrated series. From a distance, the painting looks monochromatic and delicate, but when viewed up close, the complexities of the canvas’s surface become apparent.
 
The bluish-gray underlay is almost completely obscured by small, white semi-circles, which consume the entire canvas and only allow the gray underlay to be visible in the form of tiny dots.

no. f

The organic arched shapes all curve in the same direction, creating an undulating net that would continue on indefinitely if not for the edge of the canvas. This endless repetition caused a kind of dizzy, empty hypnotic feeling; the hypnotic feeling is furthermore translated to the viewer as they are invited to the artist’s mind.

The Nets are both minimal and expressive, bridging the two opposing movements. For Kusama personally, her Infinity Nets have become central to her practice, and continue to influence her work.

Minimalism / Pop / Avante Guarde

Her paintings from that period anticipated the emerging Minimalist movement, but her work soon transitioned to Pop and Performance art. She became a central figure in the New York avant-garde.

Accumulation No.1, from 1962, is the first in Kusama’s iconic Accumulation series, in which she transforms found furniture into sexualized objects. This piece, consist of a single abandoned armchair painted white and covered with soft, stuffed phallic protrusions, while fringe encircles the base of the sculpture.

No longer limited by the pictorial plane of the two-dimensional canvas, the stuffed sculpture continues Kusama’s repetition compulsion in three-dimensional form. The piece is both humorous and aggressive and works to confront with Kusama’s sexual phobias.

You Know You’re A Great Artist When…

Critics didn’t know what to make of this innovative art, and very soon the struggling artist went from obscurity to notoriety; her fame rivalled that of some of the most famous Pop artists, and Kusama enjoyed the attention.

In the Sex Obsessions Food Obsession Macaroni Infinity Nets & Kusama from 1962, she splayed naked on one of her famous soft sculpture furniture pieces laden with phallic accumulations and surrounded with macaroni pasta which forms her familiar pattern of repetition.

By inserting herself into the piece- on top of an object that represents a manifestation of her sexual aversion, Kusama attempts to subvert her own discomfort, in effect, to conquer it. It is a visual juxtaposition of her direct confrontation of a lifelong sexual aversion with the recognition of her nude self as an unmistakable, even if unwilling, object of sexual desire.

Although she is slim and stylish, positioned amongst a groovy psychedelic scene with strong visual impact, the rendering of her signature polka dots across her skin reminds the viewer that she is most comfortable when allowed to be seen as an intrinsic part of the artwork.
 
This brave presentation of herself in physical dialogue with her fears positions Kusama as a participant in the Feminist art movement of the time and also foreshadows her work in the late 1960’s in which she would use her body and the body of others in public performances.

 

Happenings

Starting in 1967, Kusama made fewer art objects and began experimenting with the performance art of the moment, ‘’happenings’’. Her first Anatomic Explosion (on the Wall Street) took place on October, 15th, 1968, opposite the New York Stock Exchange.
 
The performance was in opposition of the Vietnam War and was prefaced by a press release that stated that the money made with this stock is enabling the war to continue. The work featured nude performers dancing to the rhythm of bongo drums, while Kusama painted blue dots on their naked bodies.
 
For Kusama, nudity represents love and peace and was used to counter the tragedies and horrors of war. After 15 minutes the police came, putting an end to the spectacle.

Growing up in militaristic Japan during the World War II led Kusama to vehemently oppose social injustice and war. Her absurdly theatrical happenings, which were always overly political, were an expression of this opposition.

Mental Exhaustion

Her artistic output during this 15-year period was prolific and diverse, experimenting with various mediums. Sometimes, she would work up to 50 hours without rest. Eventually, the workload coupled with a lack of financial security and Cornell’s death took its toll, and in 1973 she move back to Japan to seek treatment for her mental exhaustion and declining physical health.
 
She began focusing on her surreal writing and avant-garde clothing line.

In 1977, after being diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive neurosis, Kusama checked herself in to the Seiwa Mental Hospital and has been living and working there by choice ever since.

When Kusama moved back to Japan in the 1970’s, she was all but forgotten by the Western art world. In Japan, she was mostly known for her violence-soaked writings, but that changed in 1993 when she was invited to represent Japan at the 45th Venice Biennale.

Pumpkin

The piece named Pumpkin from 1992 is one of Kusama’s first forays into outdoor sculpture. The giant yellow pumpkin sculpture is painted with rows of black dots fanning out from large to small around the gourd.
 
The pumpkin’s organic form and grand scale gives the work a cartoonish appearance, highlighting how strange the natural world appears in modern culture. Created in Japan, the work also reflects a shift in Kusama’s practice from her earlier aggressive and politically works to the more kitsch works that consume her art later in life.
 
The shift can be also attributed to the transition in Japanese culture from rigid and militaristic to a full on embrace of the ridiculous and tacky, as seen in the Hello Kitty cuteness in Kawai culture.

OCD Catharsis

Kusama’s art is fundamentally about obsession and the need, born of anxiety, to repeat certain acts in an attempt to free herself from that obsession. Since childhood, her art-making has been a private atavistic ritual, a necessary inducement to repetition that leads to catharsis.

Obliteration Room ( 2002-present) starts out as a blank canvas. Set up to resemble the interior of a domestic environment, the floor, walls, ceiling, furniture and little knick knacks are all painted sterile white.
 
Visitors to the room are handed a sheet of round stickers of various shapes and size determinate by Kusama, and invited to affix them to any surface in the room. The interactive installation was the first time Kusama moved away from creating passive environment to creating an environment in which its realization required participation from visitors.

Here’s a video showing Obliteration Room in action:


 

Hello Capitalism

In 2008, one of Kusama’s Infinity Nets, the same one once owned by Judd, set new art auction price records for a living female artist and led to collaboration with luxury fashion retailers like Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs.
 
Ironically, the woman whose art once protested capitalism and materialism, now fully embraces it.

Kusama began her Infinity Mirror Room series in the 1960’s, and so far has created twenty distinct rooms. They are culmination of her repetitive paintings, soft sculptures and installations into an immersive environment. The piece Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away from 2016, is her most recent iteration.

Each Infinity Mirror Room consists of a dark chamber-like space completely lined in mirrors. This particular room consists of small LED lights hung from the ceiling and flickering in a rhythmic pattern creating pulsing electronic polka dots.
 
The lights reflect off the mirrors in the intimate room creating the illusion of endless space; only one visitor at a time can experience the installation with the singular visitor becoming integral to the work, as his/or her body activates the environment once in the room.

Kusama’s far-reaching influence can be attributed to the fact that she has always been a step ahead of her time, with her art being at the forefront of many major artistic movements. Yet, her art-making process is so personal, and both a cure and a symptom of her mental illness; it does not fit into any of these defined movements.

Influence

More important than the impact her diverse work has on the art market is its influence on other artists and movements, which spans generations. Her work inspired Feminist artists, Pop artists like Andy Warhol, Performance artists like Yoko Ono, but also contemporary artists like Damien Hirst.

To this day, she represents herself as a lone wolf most comfortable with being known as independently avant-garde; her life is a poignant testament to the healing power of art and the study of human resilience.

Nowadays, Kusama reigns as one of the most unique and famous contemporary female artists, operating from her self-imposed home in a mental hospital.



 

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What Is Street Art? Its History, Definition, Purpose, and Importance

Garage_door_graffiti-vandalism

Emerged from the urban spaces, street art now lives in the cultural spaces of virtual communities, galleries, public spaces and public discourses. It has become an object of appropriation by the pop culture and the mainstream symbolism of contemporary art scene worldwide.
 
In few past decades, there has been an increasing interest in an ephemeral form of art which is marking urban settings worldwide, and has developed a sub-culture all its own.

 

History of Street Art

Some of the earliest expressions of street art were the graffiti, which started showing up on the sides of train cars and walls, and it was the work of gangs in the 1920s and 1930s in New York.

train graffiti from the 1920s

Truly impact of this subversive culture was extraordinarily felt in the 1970s and 1980s. These decades were a turning point in the history of street art; it was the time when young people, by responding to their social and political environment started to create a movement, and took the ‘battle for meaning’ in their own hands.

In the next few years, this subcultural phenomenon gained the attention in the official art scene. One of the most respected names in the field of street art scene documentation, who would testify to this with pleasure, is Martha Cooper, a photographer.
 
Very soon, photographs were not the only medium for displacing street art into different contexts.

Watch this interview with Martha Cooper talking about what kinds of creativity goes on in the streets.


 

Creation Through Destruction

A process of creation through destruction, as essentially illegal activity, began its evolution into variety of forms of artistic styles and expressions, and eventually found its way to galleries and the art market worldwide.
 
Street art has become an inevitable integral element of contemporary art.

But, it should not be presumed that the beginnings of what we consider street art today define the notion, or a concept, in general. Also, there is no mistake in saying that with graffiti began the concept of the street art.
 
Some aspects of the first graffiti artists’ urges to create in urban settings still remain in the contemporary art expression of street artist worldwide. It is the same energy that is present in the activities of the street artists emerging during the beginning of the 21
st century. However, one thing is certain, the origins of the street art reside in the creative process molded by the artist’s intention to create, or to form, an antithesis to the prevailing social context.

Differences Between Vandalism and Official or Public Art

The legal distinction between permanent graffiti or the other forms of street art, and official art is permission; the subject matter becomes even more complex regarding impermanent, nondestructive forms of street art, graffiti in particular, such as video works, yarn bombing, urban intervention and street installations.

Traditional painted graffiti, with permission, is considered public art. Without permission, painters of private and public property are committing vandalism, and by definition, are criminals. However, it stands that most of the street art in unsanctioned, and also, many artists who have painted without permission have been glorified as socially conscious and legitimate artists.

Check out this video where we hear from female graffiti artist Jerk.


 

Copycats & Societal Decline

Legally speaking, vandalism is destruction of property, and has been shown to have negative repercussions on its setting. Also, it has been observed by criminologists to have a ‘snow ball effect ‘of generating more negativity within its vicinity.
 
Dr. George Kelling and James Q.Wilson studied the effects of disorder; in this particular case a broken window, in an urban setting. They found that one instance of neglect increases the likelihood of more broken windows and graffiti will appear.
 
There is an observable increase in actual violent crime. The researchers concluded there is a direct link between street violence, vandalism and general decline of a society.

This theory, named The Broken Window Theory, published in 1982, argues that crime is result of disorder, and that if neglect is present in a place, whether it is disrepair or thoughtless graffiti, people walking by will no one cares about that place, and the unfavorable damage is therefore acceptable.

Garage_door_graffiti-vandalism

Although it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to define what unsanctioned imagery is art and what is not, the effects of such images can be observed and conclusion can be reached regarding images’ function within a pubic environment.

Defining Street Art

In order to define a movement or an art form in general, there is a one simple question – how would it be possible to define street art? Talking about art history, the discourses seem to flourish immensely from one to another into many more.
 
For cultural theorists and art historians seems to be in need of temporal distance; there has to be a significant and determined period with origin, climax and a future perspective. At the same time, it is always question referring to a cultural context, or question of social structures and semiotic interpretations, eventually, it is a question of identity. In the context of the street art, it can be said it is a movement, most definitely an art expression, even more than this – an art form in its own right.

In an urban context, the street art was primarily based on the notion of repetition. Since the impact of the messages becomes notable only through the perceivable presence in the urban and social settings, graffiti artists are trying to reproduce their typography or different symbolic expression over and over again.
 
In the world when the global digital community we take for granted today wasn’t even conceivable, artists needed to fight for the possibility for their work to be seen.

Some of the famous names in the world of street art such as, for instance, Space Invader and Shepard Fairey, based their activities on creating the seemingly same art piece repeatedly in different cities and different urban spaces.
 
In fact, they had been building an identity, one print and mosaic piece at a time. The repetition became a process of unimaginable proportions, taken away from the hands of the artists, finding its way to the vastness of virtual space, but never to have its presence questioned.
 
And this came to be a revolution for the street art phenomenon. Some artists who had begun with graffiti, started to explore some innovative and inspirational methodological plains.

 

BLU’s Graffiti Art Videos

In the work by the artist named BLU, art comes to life in the context of video art. The end product represents a mesmerizing form of artistic expression, but also, it is a journey which happening on the streets, as the artist creates.
 
The story conveyed in BLU’s videos can be retraced in the urban setting, pieces and bits of the expression building up to narrative; still one cannot but realize that it is not the video file that carries the art, but the street and the walls, and the artists who is willing to take one step further.

 

By the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, street art has evolved into complex interdisciplinary forms of artistic expression – from graffiti, stencils, murals and prints, through large scale projects and paintings of various artistic collaborations to street interventions and installations, as well as video and performative art.

The Different Types and Forms of Street Art

Stencil – this type of street art includes a homemade stencil, usually a paper or cardboard cutout, in order to create an image that can be reproduced in an easy way. A form, desired design, is cut out of a selected medium and the image is transferred to a surface through the use of spray paint, roll on paint and so on.

Mosaic – is art of creating an image with an assemblage of smaller parts or pieces to resemble an integral piece of art work.

Traditional Graffiti painting on the surface of private or public property, visible to the public, commonly with a roll-on paint or with a can of spray. It may be comprised of a simple words, such as artist’s name, or be more complex and elaborate, covering a surface with a mural painting.

Video projection – digitally projecting a computer-manipulated image onto surface via light and projection system.

Sticker, sticker tagging, slap tagging, sticker bombing – usually means a propaganda message or image in public settings using homemade stickers. These kinds of stickers usually promote a political agenda, comment on some issue or policy or comprise an avant garde art campaign.
 
It has been considered a subcategory of postmodern art.

Wood blocking – include artwork painted a small portion of plywood or similar inexpensive material and attached to street signs with bolts. Very often, the bolts are bent at the back to prevent removal.

Yarn bombing – while other forms of graffiti may be expressive, decorative, territorial, socio-political commentary, advertising or vandalism, yarn bombing is almost exclusively about beautification and creativity. It employs colorful displays of knitted or crocheted cloth rather than paint or chalk.
 
The practice is believed to have originated in the U.S. with Texas knitters trying to find a creative way to use their unfinished and leftover projects. Nowadays, it has spread worldwide.

 

Street installation – street installation is growing trend within the street art movement. Whereas conventional street art and graffiti is done on surfaces and walls, street installation use 3-D objects and space to interfere with the urban settings; it is non permission based and once the sculpture or the object is installed it is left there by the artist.

Flash mobbing large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, than disperse. The term flash mob is generally applied only to gatherings organized via telecommunications, social networking or via viral emails.
 
The term in not applied, in general, to events organized by public relations companies or as publicity stunts. This can also be considered mass public performance art.

 

 

Hydra

There is no simple definition of the street art, and yet, it seems like as amorphous beast encompassing art which is found in or inspired by the urban environment. With rebellious and anti-capitalist undertones, it is self-reflexive, introspective, form of popular public art, and probably best understandable by seeing it in situ.

Also, the street art can be seen as a tool for communicating views of dissent, expressing political concerns and asking some difficult questions. The definitions and its uses are extremely changeable; basically a tool to mark territorial boundaries of urban youth nowadays, it is even seen in some cases as a means of urban regeneration and beautification.

In general, street art may represent an extraordinary hybrid form of artistic expression, and it could be taking an easy way out. However, there are some relatively stable stances which could be taken into consideration in defying the concept of the street art: street art represents a phenomenon that is, through self-transformation, constantly transforming the reality of contemporary art; street art incorporates a strong devotion to social activism ( not always the case, but it seems that is an attribute of artwork that survived the test of the time ); as a particular urban practice, street art has a great role in shaping and constructing new social and cultural discourses.

The discussion on the meaning of the street art remains in the halls occupied by scholars and critics, who ponder the interaction between notions of Visual Art, Performance Art, Conceptual Art and the ways of articulating these art forms into the wondrous world of street art.

 

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Cindy Sherman – Essay On Her Famous Works

cindy-sherman-untitled-film-still-3

The work is what it is and hopefully it’s seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work, but I’m not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff. – Cindy Sherman

A contemporary master of social photography, Cindy Sherman is a key figure of the Pictures Generation, a loose circle of the most influential and productive American Artists who came to artistic maturity and recognition during the early 1980s, a period notable for the rapid and widespread proliferation of mass media imagery.
 
For the most of her remarkable artistic career, she has been the face of postmodernism.

 

Early Life

Ms Sherman was born in January, 19, 1954, in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, as a youngest of the five children, and shortly after her birth, the family moved to Long Island where she spent her early childhood.
 
Her father was an engineer and her mother a reading teacher, but although her parents shared a general disinterest in the arts, Cindy chose to study art in college, and afterwards, studied at Buffalo, at the State University of New York, in the early 1970s.

In this period, from 1972 to 1976, she began as a painter in a super- realist art style in Buffalo. The 1970s was an eclectic era for painters working in the aftermath of Minimalism, and feeling as though ‘’there was nothing else to say’.
 
But very quickly after, she found herself frustrated by the certain limitations of the medium and shifted her attention to photography, toward the end of 1970s, in order to explore a wide range of common female social role or personas.
 
Owing to a widely influential art instructor, Barbara Jo Revelle, she was exposed to conceptual art and other progressive media and art movements.

As Sherman came of age in the art world, the prevailing visual mode was painting dominated by ‘bad boy’ expressionist and figurative painters like David Salle or Eric Fischl. Photography was still thought to fall below painting in the hierarchy of mediums, but it granted women artists a mode that was relatively free from the heavy, conservative and male- dominated history of the painted canvas.
 
Many of the women artists adopted the camera and ‘’there was a female solidarity’’

 

Untitled Film Stills

After graduation, Sherman moved to New York in order to pursue her artistic career. In 1977, in her downtown residential and loft studio she started taking a series of photographs, a project she would eventually refer to as the Untitled Film Stills.
 
This series, 1977-80, is considered an early cornerstone of postmodernism.

In Untitled Film Stills, Ms. Sherman embodies the character of ‘Everywoman’; the artist served as both photographer and subject, transforming herself into the guise of various female archetypes, re-fashioning herself repeatedly and played the film noir siren, the prostitute, the girly pin-up, the housewife and the noble damsel in distress, also the movie stars of an earlier generation: Monica Vitti, Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren.

For about three years, she was occupied by black-and-white series, so that by 1980, Sherman had exhausted a myriad of seemingly timeless clichés referring to the ‘feminine’. This photographs of women by woman quickly gained attraction within the feminist community. A theorist Laura Mulvey, in one of her essays, contextualized Sherman’s work within the prevailing feminist modes of thought at the time.

End Of An Era

When Ms. Sherman arrived on the scene, it marked ‘the end of the era in which the female body had become, if not quite unrepresentable, only representable if refracted through theory’. Rather than sidestepping, Sherman reacts and shifts the agenda; she recuperates a politics of the body that had been lost or neglected in the twists and turns of 70s feminism.
 
It is easy to see some of the way Sherman’s representations of women avoided the proclivities of the day. The high heels and the heavy makeups, as well as the bullet bras of the film stills, harken back to the 50s rather than the au naturel look favored in the 70s.
 
It is not just a range of feminine expressions that are shown but the process of the ‘feminine’, as an effect, something acted upon.

Posing And Pretence

Museum of Modern Arts announced, in 1996, that it had just acquired Sherman’s Untitled Film Still series, the curators knew they had laid claim to one of the most representative works of the early 1980s American movement of ‘simulationism’ and ‘appropriation’; both terms refer to American artists’ mimicking, in the first half of the 1980s, widely circulating images in the mass media or former art masterpieces, and critically reworking them to arouse a sense of unease in the viewer, indeed often suggesting that culture had become a game of theatrical posing and egoistic pretence.
 
In Untitled Film Still #21, from 1978, Sherman takes on the role of the small- town girl just happening upon the Big City. She is, at first, suspicious of the metropolitan shadows and lights, only to be eventually seduced by its attractions.

 

Untitled Film Stills was Sherman’s big artistic break which secured her position in the New York art scene.

Debate

In 1981, the Arforum’s editor Ingrid Sischy commissioned a series for the publication, and that Sherman’s work took hold of the feminist imagination. The artist planned to riff on the Playboy centerfold with a pair of horizontal photographs showing women in intimate states of repose.
 
But, the Sherman’s women were all clothed, unlike Playboy’s women though. These works were never printed in Artforum, and it was the first time Ingrid Sischy refused to print a commission. She worried that the series would be misunderstood by militant feminists since they looked ‘’a little too close’’ to the pinups in actual men’s magazines.
 
However, Metro Pictures showed them and Calvin Tomkins noted, in the New Yorker, they were, in fact, ‘’ misunderstood by a number of political-minded art students (male and female), who accused Sherman of undermining the feminist cause by depicting women in ‘vulnerable’ poses’’.

Yet, through these moments, Ms. Sherman remained unwilling to directly tie her work to feminist theory. This tension became especially clear with her Untitled #93, from 1981, a centerfold featuring a tearful girl drawing her bedsheets close.
 
The girl was interpreted by the many critics as a survivor of sexual assault. But, according to the Sherman’s state, the inspiration was a woman who had gone to bed moments before the sun rose, following a night of debauchery.
 
This example is typical of the debates that have surrounded Sherman and her work: the artist’s account of her own intentions often conflict with the scholarly debates about feminism and the role of the women in her pictures.

Disasters and Fairy Tales, from 1985 to 1989, much darker endeavour than its prettified predecessor; he gloomy palette and scenes strewn with vomit and mold challenged viewers to find the unqualified grotesque and the beauty in the ugly.

Her photographic portraiture is intensely grounded in the present, but also extends long traditions in art, that force the audience to reconsider cultural assumptions and common stereotypes, among the latter political satire, the graphic novel, caricature, stand-up comedy, the pulp fiction and the other socially critical disciplines.

History Portraits

Sherman’s History Portraits, again presented herself as a model, but this time, she assumed the air of European art history’s most famous leading ladies. Leaving in Europe at the time of its creation, she was absorbed in the West’s great museums.
 
That interlude gave way to Sherman’s Sex Pictures, in 1992, in which she substituted her own figure for that of a doll, and her main intention was to shock and scandalize the public; the images present close-ups of doll-on-doll sex scenes and prosthetic genitalia.

untitled #250 1992

Theatre

Over the last decade, Sherman dons clown’s make-up in a series of still photography, in 2003, and even more recently, she explored carefully staged female suburban identities in solo show in New York, in 2008.
 
Also, in her latter series, she photographed herself in various states of awkward make-up, superimposing stodgy, highly-conscious portraits over contrived domestic and faux-monumental backdrops.

Recalling a long tradition of theatrical role-playing in art and self-portraiture, Cindy Sherman uses the camera and the various tools of everyday cinema- costumes, makeup, stage scenery to re-create common illusions, or iconic ‘snapshots’, that signify very different concepts of self confidence, entertainment, public celebrity, and other socially sanctioned, existential conditions.
 
Although they constituted only a first premise, these images begin to unravel in various ways that suggest how self identity is often an unstable compromise between personal intention and social dictates.

Yet, with each passing year, Ms, Sherman’s art deviates more noticeably from a basic postmodern tenet and the so-called ‘death of the author’, but this idea holds that there is no such thing as originality, that we are all formed by external forces and that identity is completely constructed, which implies that it is also completely de-constructable.

Appropriation

Many variations on the methods of self-portraiture share a single, notable feature: in the majority of Sherman’s portraits, she directly confronts the viewer’s gaze in order to suggest that an underlying penchant for deception is perhaps the only value that truly unites us.

Many critics and art historians have explored the idea of Sherman’s appropriating the ‘’male gaze’’ and the voyeuristic feeling of the works. The artist twists the traditional formula of pin-up shots, and plays into the male conditioning of looking at photographs of exposed women, but she takes on the roles of both, male photograph and female pinup.

Critical

Cindy Sherman epitomizes the 1980s technique of ‘image-scavengering’ and ‘appropriations’ by artists seeking to question the so-called truth-potential of mass-imagery and its seductive hold on our individual and collective psyches. Sherman depersonalized approach to portrait photography has suggested a new, socially critical capacity for a medium that was once presumed a tool of documentary realism or aesthetic pleasure.
 
This ‘readymade’ quality of the critically applied photograph, whereby a preexisting image or convention is appropriated intact by artist and turned into something more conceptually problematic, if not psychologically disturbing, has come to characterize much work of a new generation defying easy categorization.

 

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Louise Bourgeois – Famous Women Artists In History

structures of existence the cells

“It is really the anger that makes me work’’ – LOUISE BOURGEOIS (1910-2010)

The French-born American artist, Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris, on Christmas day, 1911. She was one of the most influential sculptor of the 20th century. Her parents, Josephine and Louis, ran a tapestry gallery and lived in the famous and fashionable St Germain quarter in Paris, during the week; Bourgeois family also had a villa and workshop in the countryside where they spend their weekends restoring the antique tapestries.

Here is Louise peeling a tangerine and sharing a little anecdote about her family life to go along with it.


 

Growing Up

At the end of the World War I, during the global pandemic, Louise’s mother contracted influenza. During the course of the illness, her father handled the affairs, especially long-term one with his daughter’s governess, who resided with the family, which produced the tensions in the household.
 
It is thought this fear and the anger towards her father stayed with Louise Bourgeois, and became a motif within her works, almost all of them, created in New York where she lived after her marriage to art critic Robert Goldwater.

She often spoke of her early, emotionally conflicted family life as formative. Her affectionate and practical mother, who was an invalid, was a positive influence. Her domineering father and his marital infidelities instilled resentment and an insecurity that Louise never laid to rest.

For instance, her nightmarish tableau The Destruction of the Father, from 1974, holds an arrangement of beast-like bumps, phallic protuberances and biomorphic shapes in soft-looking latex that suggest the sacrificial evisceration of body, surrounded by big, crude mammillary forms.
 
After all, Ms Bourgeois has suggested as a tableau’s inspiration a fantasy from her childhood in which a pompous father, whose presence deadens the dinner hour night after night is pulled onto the table by other family members, gobbled up and dismembered.

 

The Destruction Of The Father – Louise Bourgeois

Education

Louise Bourgeois had a wide range of education. In the early 1930s, she studied philosophy and mathematics at the Sorbonne. In that time, she wrote her thesis on Emmanuel Kant and Blaise Pascal.

In 1932, she started studying art, after the death of her mother, enrolling in several schools and ateliers in the period in the 1930’s, including the Ecole de Beaux- Arts and Academie Julian, where she counted Fernand Léger, the brilliant interpreter of cubism, among her teachers. He taught her how to express human emotions with minimal use of line in the painting, and also, he recognized her interest in three-dimensional form, urged her to take up sculpture.

Her Paris apartment was on the Rue du Seine, in the same building as André Breton’s gallery Gradiva was, and where she was introduced to the Surrealists.

Louise Bourgeois in her studio

Adult Life

In 1938, Louise opened her own gallery in a sectioned-off area of her father’s tapestry showroom, and also began exhibit her own works at the Salon d’Automne. In that period of her life, she met her future husband, an American art historian and critic Robert Goldwater, noted for his pioneering work in the field then referred to as primitive art.

The married couple moved to New York that same year and Ms Bourgeois attended the Art Students League, where she studied painting with Vaclav Vytlacil and produced prints and sculptures.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Louise’s husband Mr. Goldwater introduced her to a many of New York artists, dealers and critics. She knew many of the European surrealists then arriving as refugees in New York, later dismissed them as ‘smart alecks’; the artists to whom she felt closest were the American painters who would come to be known as Abstract Expressionists.

In the late ‘40s and ‘50s Louise Bourgeois had a several solo exhibitions in various New Your gallery. Her first solo exhibition of paintings happened in New York, 1945, and four years later, in 1951, her first exhibition of sculptures at the Peridot Gallery- an installation of tall pole-like figures that she intended as abstract portraits of the family members and portraits.
 
At this time, she gave up painting for good.

Her husband received a Fulbright grant, so they return to France for several years in the early 1950s, during which time her father died. Louise began psychoanalysis in 1952, continuing on and off until 1985.

From beginning of the ‘60s, Ms Bourgeois started experimenting with rubber, plaster, latex, and enjoyed some professional success as a sculptor. But significant shift in her career came in 1966, when she was included in ‘’Eccentric Abstraction’’ at the Fischbach Gallery in New York, an exhibition organized by critic Lucy Lippard.

Ms Bourgeois’ long involvement in the nascent feminist movement, about which she had ambivalent, but passionate feelings, began at this time. In the following period, she made one of her many trips to the marble works in Pietrasanta and Carrara, Italy, and produced dozens of her great and major pieces over several years.

Her husband died in 1973, the same year she began teaching at various institution including Columbia University, New York Studio School and Yale, which awarded her an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degree in 1977.

In the same period, she became politically active as a socialist and feminist, and joined the Fight Censorship Group, which defended the use of sexual explicit imagery in art and made several of her own sexually explicit works related to the female body, such as Fillette, a large detached latex phallus, from 1968.

Fillette – Louise Bourgeois

That piece is one of her most famous work. It showcases her use of biomorphic imagery and her experiments with and distortions of both female and male anatomy to the point that they become indistinguishable.
 
In this work, the testicles can be read as breasts and the erect penis can be seen as a neck. The bizarre juxtaposition of the title, which means little girl in English, and the priapism
of the work suggests a girl metamorphosed into that threatens her- in one version, the piece hangs from a hook and thus references castration; in the second one, the piece is being carried.

 

Rise To Fame As An Artist

By the mid 1970s, with shifts in the art world trends, her reputation was steadily growing. Marking her prestige in the art world, Bourgeois had her first retrospective in 1982, at MoMA, which was the first given to a female artist at that institution.
 
That retrospective secured her place as an influential figure.

In the following decade, her reputation grew stronger in the context of the body-centered art of the ‘90s, with its emphasis on vulnerability, mortality and sexuality.

Ms Bourgeois’ sculptures, in stone, steel, wood and cast rubber, very often organic in form and sexually explicit, emotionally aggressive yet witty covered many stylistic bases. But generally, they shared a set of repeated themes centered on the human body and its need for nurture and protection in a frightening world.

louise bourgeois sculptures

Certainly, her personal style contributed to her mystique. Her series of ‘’Cells’’ from the early 1990s, the installation of old doors, windows, steel fencing and found objects, were meant to be evocations of her childhood, which she claimed as the psychic source of her art.
 
These are dioramic, standalone sculptural forms – plaster casts, drawings and texts, as well as the penises, breast-like bulges and spiders, all within the confines of cell-like structures, usually penned in by doors or steel cages.

The Cells is her autobiography, her personal therapy and her catharsis, and through them she was able to analyze and express her memories, anxiety and fear of abandonment and pain. She only named these piece Cells from 1991 onwards, which explains the inclusion of her earlier work that seemed to inspire or influence the series.
 
So, combined the discernible theme of self, domesticity and motherhood could explain why Ms Bourgeois has become synonymous with the feminist art movement, taking on an almost ambassadorial role. She was a strong feminist, but never called herself a female artist or a feminist artist.
 
It would be reductive to call her with these names; it wouldn’t be able to place her gender from looking at a lot of the work. It was simply autobiographical for she dealing with universal emotions such as rejection and jealousy and these are pre-gender.

 

Structures Of Existence: The Cells – Louise Bourgeois

Gender And Art

But, one of the main reasons that she found herself in feminist movement was the timing of her work. Just as she seemed to find her feet in the 1950s, the male dominated genre of abstract expressionism exploded, making stars of the male contemporaries such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, and overshadowing her work.
 
Then, she began to rebel against patriarchy through her work. For instance, she thought that the surrealists made women the object of their work, whereas she was trying to make women the subject.

She was anxious, a trait she thought she inherited from her mother, and it is a continual thread through her work; she struggled with the burden of being mother, a wife and an artist.
 
She was also agoraphobic and often had insomnia, on occasions spending four consecutive days awake, by the end of which she would be in a manic state.

Being a woman making art about herself, it was probably unavoidable for the theme of gender to recur in Bourgeois’ work. It was her images of the body itself, fragmented, sensual but grotesque, and very often sexually ambiguous, that proved especially memorable.
 
In some cases, the body took the abstract form of an upright wooden pole, pierced by a few holes and stuck with nails; in others, it appeared as a pair of women’s hands realistically carved in marble and lying, palms open, on a massive stone base.

She transformed her experiences into a highly personal visual language through the use of mythological and archetypal imagery adopting a various objects, such as spirals, cages, spiders, medical tools, and sewn appendages to symbolize feminine beauty, psyche and psychological pain.

Number Seventy Two - Louise Bourgeois
Number Seventy Two – Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois often spoke of pain as a subject of her art, and fear- fear of the uncertainty of the future, fear of the grip of the past, of loss in the present.’’— The subject of pain is the business I am in…To give meaning and shape to frustration and suffering,… The existence of pain cannot be denied.
 
I propose no remedies or excuses.’’ It was her gift for universalizing her interior life, a complex spectrum of sensations that made her art so affecting.

Through the use of abstract form and a wide variety of media, she dealt with notions of universal balance, playfully juxtaposing materials conventionally considered female or male.

Conclusion

Louise Bourgeois gained fame only late in a long career, when her psychologically and abstract sculptures, prints and drawings had a galvanizing effect on the work of young artists, especially women.

Louise Bourgeois’ work always centered upon the reconstruction of memory, and in her 98 years, she produced an as astounding body of drawings, prints, books, sculptures and installations, which, nonetheless, has been the representative of both the tumultuous events of the 20th century in her life and in the world at large.

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Comparing Abstract Expressionism And Pop Art

andy-warhol-eating-a-hamburger

Two of the biggest art movements that have dominated the twentieth century are Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. While stylistically very different, both movements compliment each other and reflect the ever-increasing complexity that the 20th century saw with industrialization and globalization.

Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism (AKA The New York School) came out of America, in New York as part of a post World War II painting movement during the last part 1940’s. Abstract Expressionism was the first state-side art movement to achieve international attention, making New York the center of the art world within western culture and now in a place to compete internationally with Paris.

abstract-expressionism-vs-pop-art

The movement moved quickly throughout the United States with San Fransisco area soon becoming an artistic hub for Abstract Expressionism as well. Pop art, however emerged nearly a decade later in the mid-1950’s in Britain and later made it to the United States during the late 1950’s were it really took its roots.
 
With these two movements closely overlapping, it is important to understand the differences and similarities of these movements and their context within contemporary art history.

Here is a short documentary about abstract expressionist Carlos Garcia de la Nuez, just to get your mind percolating and give you a glimpse into the process that an abstract expressionist artist uses.


 

Non-Representational Art

In Abstract Expressionism there is no representation of person, place, or object. With a focus on spontaneous, subconscious expression; Abstract Expressionism focuses on the medium itself and exists without representation of subject. That is to say that these paintings make no attempt to capture the reality of the physical world.

Because of this, as well as Modernist influences, abstract expressionists believe that when you create art you should create art that can only be done using that medium. In this way, Abstract Expressionism is a celebration of the medium.
 
For example: Jackson Pollock created engaging, complex paintings by dripping paint onto canvas, as well Mark Rothko who largely created works of large coloured blocks on coloured grounds.

Here is a work entitled Excavation, by Willem de Kooning showing some of the characteristics of the style…

excavation-by-willem-de-kooning

Abstract Expressionism Isn’t Art

Of course, there are many critics, many of them armchair critics, who like to mock the expressionists for their apparent lack of talent, saying that abstract expressionism isn’t art. It is perhaps easy to see why people would mock the expressionists, in that abstract expressionist artwork is not at all similar to typical realist paintings people have seen throughout history.
 
There are often no people, or things that are recognizable on the canvas, and this results in frustration, confusion, and anger. Abstract expressionists often approach their work in a way that many have described as childish, or easy to imitate.
 
Detractors of abstract expressionism are quick to point out that even they could do this type of art.

In addition to all of this debate, Abstract Expressionists have proudly created art void of any notion that it was the artist’s job to interpret their art, which only serves to make matters worse for the viewing public.
 
They instead left interpretation to their viewer, and often that conclusion is a strong dislike for the work, as the viewer has no way “in”.

While Abstract Expressionism has been highly regarded for its merit within the art community, it may be inaccessible to a wider audience outside of the art community who may be seeking something tangible within art which they can relate to.

Watch this TED Talk which discusses the idea that even your cat could be an abstract expressionist, should they so desire to be.


 

Pop Art

In contrast to this, Pop Art typically has a very clear subject in its works. In many ways, Pop Art was a reaction to Abstract Expressionism. Rather than trying to create art that is a reflection of the medium, Pop Art typically used screen printing in order to mass produce its works.

You Can’t Talk About Pop Art And Not Mention Andy Warhol

While Abstract Expressionism created a void of interpretation; Pop Art had themes of consumerism and commentary on mass production deeply ingrained into nearly every piece to come out of the movement. Pop Art draws on recognizable figures from mass media, and draws the audience in with the familiar but challenges them by having it presented in a new, novel fashion.
 
In fact, in his now famous studio simply called ‘the factory’, Andy Warhol had a production line of artists creating his now iconic art work. With Andy, it didn’t stop at mass producing artwork and even getting others to do the work for him (while still calling it his own), he touched on other mediums such as film, of which he has several underground “classics” as well, such as his film about the Empire State Building, which literally watches the lofty structure for 485 minutes.

Another famous artist from the pop art movement, Roy Lichtenstein, combined hand painting with the mass production style of pop-art. He would create the initial image by hand, and then project it onto canvas in order to trace the image.
 
His art was in the style of mass-produced comic book style and never before seen within the art community.

Roy Lichtenstein - Live Ammo (Blang!), 1962

Pop Art Vs. Abstract Expressionism

While Abstract Expressionism works explored art in it’s purest form (authentic, expressive, void of meaning); Pop Art challenged what one can consider to be art by using images appropriated from our culture that exist all around us.
 
Because of this, some critics were enraged by the Pop Art movement as they did not feel that the image of a soup can, nor comic book images to have artistic merit. So, while abstract expressionism seemed to really irritate people for one reason, pop art had a similar effect, but for entirely different reasons.
 
One reason we can isolate, perhaps, is that Andy Warhol had the gall to eat a burger and film it. The ending really is the best part here, as those of you with a healthy sense of irony and cynicism will no doubt realize.

 

 

Colors That Rankle The Serious Observer

The use of flat bold colours and sharp edge, caused additional criticism to pop art as it looked more like design than any recognizable art at the time. However, Pop Art was providing a much needed commentary on art.
 
Not only that, it was doing so in a very fun, light hearted way. In addition to providing commentary, Pop Art moved away from Abstract Expressionism in that by using contemporary images that were familiar to people which in turn made it much more accessible than Abstract Expressionism.

1950s-pop-art

This is not to say that Abstract Expressionism was not without it’s critics, Abstract Expressionism was challenging artistic conventions in its own way, with many critics feeling that the works were overly simplistic, and that it strayed too far from what was what had been established as art.

While both arestylistically divergent, Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism can be seen as providing similar artistic catharsis by challenging artistic norms and creating a dialogue. It is fascinating that they are able to achieve this both while being stylistically and conceptually separate from one another.

We’ll leave you with this for now. Art about art. How postmodern!