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Mersad Berber – The Famous Bosnian Artist and his Sacred Themes

Mersad Berber, one of the greatest and most distinctive Bosnian painters and graphic artists, was born on January, 1, 1940 in Bosanski Petrovac, a small town in western Bosnia in former Yugoslavia.

Few months after his birth, due to the large massacre in Petrovac in the 1940s, the Berber family arrived to Banja Luka as refugees to escape the fighting as the World War II spilled over into the Balkans.

Background

Berber’s father had a hair salon for women in the centre of Banja Luka, and his mother was a gifted weaver, one of the greatest in Bosnia.

She worked in the tradition of Bosnian carpets, which have deep Anatolian roots, and she established school for carpet weavers at the end of her life.

The young Berber inherited his mother’s artistic talent; his skills as a draftsman became apparent from a young age- from his early adolescence he was producing remarkable drawings and painting on paper.

In 1959, Mersad Berber began his formal art education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

According to his own word, he owed permanent gratitude to several of his professors; Bozidar Jakac, a classic of Slovenian graphic art, and Zoran Krizisnik, a brilliant curator and founder of the famous Ljubljana International Biennale.

Krizisnik included him in the Yugoslavian selection when he was a second year student, and his etching master Bozidar Jakac, with whom he learned etching privately, alongside his studies at the Academy.

In 1961, his works were exhibited at the Ljubljana Graphic Arts Biennale, one of the prestigious art events of the period, along with works by the leading graphic artists from all over the world.

Berber’s early drawing and prints demonstrated the influence of the academy in terms of technique, and, in the other hand, his interest in expressing cultural traditions using a modern visual expression in terms of subject matter.

He received the prestigious Prešern Award for his work.

Post Graduate

In 1963, the young artist started a postgraduate course in graphic arts in professor Rika Debeljak’s class. His choice of that very technique was to significantly mark his entire opus.

Since 1965 and his first solo exhibition at the City Gallery of Ljubljana, the career of this remarkable artist has been on sharp rise.

The artistic scene in former Yugoslavia, also in that of Tito’s successor Slobodan Milosevic, had been characterized not by anything resembling Soviet Socialist Realism but by a tepid adherence to middle-of-the-road modernist styles.

Very few artists managed to create reputations for themselves outside their own region. Berber’s success in breaking out of this situation was altogether exceptional.

In 1978, Berber received a teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo, and set a a studio there. By that time, he had already achieved considerable international recognition, mainly as a graphic artist.

War

This comfortable existence and professional career was abruptly torn apart by the wars that broke out Yugoslavia in 1990’s, just over a decade after the death of Marshal Tito, who had held that region together.

During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992-1995, Berber’s house and studio were destroyed.

The Berber family escaped in Croatia on a UN transport plane. In order to rebuild his life, he created a new studio in Zagreb, and another one in Dubrovnik. However, memories of the war continued to haunt him, but provided material for his art.

A wide array of Berbers’s works range from the deep, opaque whites influenced by his travels to Bosnia’s fairy-tale landscapes to the dark and terrible pits of Srebrenica.

His inspiration mostly originates from the mystical world of Bosnia, its Ottoman past, and the tragic venture of its people.

Inspired by the masters of European fine arts from the Renaissance to Art Nouveau, with the artists such as Velazquez, Ingres or Klimt, as well as Yugoslavian painters Vlaho Bukovac and Gabrijel Jurkic, Berber’s work infuses intricate talent and expressive powers.

Berber’s work gives a good idea of the breadth of his cultural interests, but the frequent fragmentation of the images also makes it clear that these are the product of an extremely contemporary sensibility.

His paintings, etchings and prints include elegant female portraits, based on High Renaissance prototypes, with which he challenged the 16th century masters of the Venetian school; painting of horses which recall his love for the peasant life of the Bosnian countryside; paraphrases of Velazquez, which express his profound admiration for the great Spanish master.

Homage, Horses, and Suffering

Throughout his career, he made cycles of paintings which chronicle homages, events and dedications. His works are characterized by the intermingling of ancient motifs with a modern and contemporary commentary.

He employed a very wide variety of artistic techniques, from the most traditional to the most contemporary.

For instance, he made a couple of small animated films, and was fascinated by the possibilities offered by new techniques of digital printing, sometimes producing prints of enormous size.

In most of the Berber’s works, the central metaphor is the horse figure, a key symbolic animal which has many different representations and meanings in various cultures.

In Berber’s own words, this figure is not that of an impressive horse, it is a toiling packhorse from the mountains of Bosnia, having deep ties to all aspects of life, signifying hard labor and marriages, wars and funerals.

The expressive capacity of this horse, its suffering and its imperfect beauty represent the biography of Bosnian people.

Innovator, Cultural Historian

Berber is known for his mixed technique large canvases, but he differs from the European masters from whom he derived his inspiration by virtue of innovative approach to composition and his unique themes.

His paintings frequently do not deal with single image but with conjunctions of images, in some cases places side by side, but in others layered one on the top of the other.

He felt a strong allegiance to the values of Italian Renaissance art, because of its resemblance to the art of the Italian Pittura Colta movement, which derived from the later work of Giorgio de Chirico.

Yet, Berber’s paraphrases of elegant images of classical nudes, some of them are direct quotations from the work of David or Ingres, and of Renaissance portraits, were often interspersed with figures in old-fashioned Balkan dress.

His religious and literary references were also strong and complex. Some of his most impressive works offer directly Christian images, for instance the figure of Christ being taken from the Cross.

Others were inspired by the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the most important Jewish medieval manuscripts in existence and now the chief treasure of the restored Sarajevo National Museum (Zemaljski Muzej).

In his work he reflects the full scale of the complexity of his country’s multi-layered cultural history as the pioneer of the generation of young graphic artists who opened up the local art scene to global trends.

Depicting Tragedy

Towards the close of his life, Mersad Berber made an impressive series devoted to the brutal massacre at Srebrenica, the genocide and the worst crime of the Balkan wars, in which over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, mostly boys and men, were slaughtered by units from the Army of Republika Srpska, under the command of general Ratko Mladic.

The artist regarded the tragedy at Srebrenica as the “big, ancient, sacred theme of hymns” and laboured for years to depict it in his works, collecting forensic reports, newspaper photographs, video recordings, documents and books, and visiting Potocari and Srebrenica countless times.

These series became elegies not only for those who had died, but also for the death of multiculturalism, which had survived in the Balkans for centuries despite all ethnic and religious animosities.

Death

Mersad Berber died from heart attack on October 7, 2012 in his home in Zagreb.

Nearly forty years of his artistic activity Berber spent as a true Homo Universalis. As an excellent drawer and illustrator, Mersad Berber was occupied with graphic art, painting, graphic and poetic maps, tapestry, illustrations.

He also worked in theatre scenography, created movie posters for movies, such as those by Kusturica; his costume and scenography design came to life in theatres in Sarajevo, Zagreb, Ljubljana and Washington.

He exhibited all over the world, from London to Madrid, New York to Moscow, Jakarta and New Delhi, and received approximately 50 awards. Some scholars and experts consider him to be one of the greatest post-Classic artists in the world.

Ethical Identity

Today, Mersad Berber is one of the most famous graphic artists in the world, who was also included in the Tate Gallery Collection in 1984, makes the aesthetic and ethical identity of his homeland recognized to the million of people.

He deserved his celebrity reputation because he made heroic efforts to get with the history of the region he was born and lived in with his own personal relationship to that history.

With his unique talent that lets him forge connections between different cultures and tradition, and his intelligence that penetrates the depths of historical experience, Berber brought together styles spanning the range from antiquity to the contemporary era in a manner that was very much his own.

 

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The Bauhaus

The Bauhaus, a German art and design school, was one of the most significant and influential modernist art schools, one of whose approach to understanding art’s relationship to technology and society and its teaching methods had a major impact in United States and Europe, long after it closed.

The motivation behind the origination of the Bauhaus lay in anxieties about the soullessness of manufacturing in the 19th century, and in fears about art’s loss of purpose in industrial society. Emerged in the mid-1920’s, the Bauhaus was shaped by the late 19th and early 20th movements and trends, which had sought to level the distinction between applied and fine arts and to reunite manufacturing and creativity.
 
This fact is reflected in the sentimental romantic medievalism of the school’s early years, but in the mid 1920s the medievalism gave way to a stress on uniting art and industrial design; it was ultimately proved to be its most important and original achievement.

In 1919, Walter Gropius, an architect and demobilized World War I officer was appointed director of The Art and Crafts School in the city of Weimar. He renamed school to Bauhaus, a unique, memorable name, which is the transliteration for building house, and according to the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, it stands for an eagerness to experiment, creativity, openness, a close link to industrial practice and inter-nationality.

Radical Steps Towards Modernism

The Bauhaus movement was considered a radical step towards modernism and its core objective was a radical concept: to re-imagine the material world to reflect the unity of all arts. During the 14 years of its existence, Bauhaus was operational in three separate locations in Germany: Weimar, 1919-1925, Dessau, 1925- 1932, and Berlin, 1932-33.

The Bauhaus had a unique curriculum, described by Gropius in the manner of a wheel diagram. The outer ring representing a six-month preliminary course- the vorkurs, which immersed the students, who came from a diverse range of educational and social backgrounds, in the study of materials, color theory and the formal relationships in preparation for more specialized studies; the two middle rings as two three-years courses, focused on problems related to form- the formlehre, and a practical workshop that emphasized functionalism and technical craft skills through simplified, geometric forms- the werklehre. Following their immersion in Bauhaus theory, students entered specialized workshops, including cabinetmaking, weaving, pottery, metalworking, wall painting, textilworking, and typography.
 
At the center of the wheel- curriculum were courses specialized in building construction that led students to seek necessity and practicality through technological reproduction, with an emphasis on workmanship and craft that was lost in manufacturing.
 
In addition, the general pedagogical approach was to eliminate competitive tendencies and to foster a sense of community and a personal creative potential.

Think Haus

The Gropius’s Bauhaus attracted the fabulously talented faculties, the creators of the school’s program. Many of the most talented designers of the twentieth century taught or studied there: Marcel Breuer in furniture, Bayer in graphics, Gropius and Mies van der Rohe in architecture, Anni Albers and Gunta Stӧlzl in textiles, Oskar Schlemmer in theater design, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in film; the great artists, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky were working alongside them.

There were social and political problems from the beginning. Women students protested against being confined to the ceramics workshop and weaving; the locals objected to the students’ bohemian habits, and more seriously, the Weimar Nazis saw the Bauhaus as a fertile ground for Bolshevism, despite Gropius’s ban on political activities.
 
Walter Gropius favored the rationalism of the Russian Constructivism and the emerging Modern movements, believed in integration of their principles into everyday life, by applying them to industrial products and buildings.

Move to Dessau

When the Nazis came to power in Weimar in 1925, Bauhaus moved to Dessau, the German industrial town. Gropius negotiated a deal to build a new school in Dessau. In this period, the Bauhaus enjoyed a few productive years there, those years was a manifesto for the new spirit of the Bauhaus.

Walter Gropius’s building complex for the Bauhaus, represented a landmark in functionalist design of the modern era; the design seems strongly unified from above, each element is divided from the next, but on the ground it unfolds a wonderful succession of changing perspectives.
 
The building consists of an asphalt tiled roof, steel framework and reinforced concrete bricks to reduce noise and to protect against the weather. A glass curtain wall, a feature that would become a typical of modernist architecture, allows in ample quantities of light.
 
Also, Gropius created three wings, arranged asymmetrically, in order to connect different workshops and dormitories within the school.

The cabinetmaking workshop was one of the most significant in the Bauhaus. This workshop studio reconceived the essence of furniture, seeking to dematerialize conventional forms such as chairs to their minimal existence.

The innovative use of materials and the sleek design in Marcel Breuer’s The Wassily Chair are typical of the groundbreaking developments in design that made the Bauhaus famous. Its components are arranged with a clarity that makes its structure immediately legible.
 
The designer constructed the chair using recently developed seamless-steel bent tubing that could endure physical tension without faltering. Although Wassily Kandinsky was interested in geometric abstraction at the time he was teaching at the Bauhaus, this piece came to be popularly associated with him decades later, and by accident when it was promoted as the Wassily Chair by an Italian manufacturer.

Studio Spaces and Instructors

The textile workshop, particularly under the direction of designer and weaver Gunta Stӧlzl, created abstract textiles which were used in Bauhaus environments. Students studies technical aspects of weaving, color theory and design. A head of the workshop, Stӧlzl encouraged experimentation with unorthodox materials such as fiberglass, metal, cellophane.
 
The architectural wall painting along with studio’s textiles decorated the interiors of Bauhaus buildings, providing polychromatic yet abstract visual interest to these somewhat sever spaces. While the weaving studio was primarily comprised for women, this was in part due to the fact that they were discouraged from participating in other areas.

Metalworking studio along with the cabinetmaking workshop was the most successful in developing design prototypes for mass production. In this studio were created modern items such as tableware and lightning fixtures; these objects were used in the Bauhaus campus itself.
 
Interestingly, Marianne Brandt was the first woman to attend the metalworking studio and replaced Maholy-Nagy as studio director in 1928. Many of her designs and works became iconic expressions of the Bauhaus aesthetic; her sculptural and geometric silver and ebony teapot, while never mass-produced reflects the Bauhaus emphasis on industrial forms and the influence of her mentor Maholy-Nagy.

Uniting the artist’s enthusiasm for material innovation and for the look of machines, the Light Prop/Light Space Modulator by Lazslo Moholy-Nagy (pictured above), 1930 is one of the most famous early examples of kinetic art.
 
It went on to be presented in many different ways: as a device for experimental theatre, as a freestanding immobile sculpture or as the protagonist of a short experimental film, in which it is shot from different vantage points.
 
The film captures the reflections and shadows created by the spinning sculpture, at times giving the impression of a functioning machine, a factory or even an urban landscape.

The typography studio, initially not a priority of the Bauhaus, became especially important under graphic designer Herbert Bayer. Many German designers attempted to encourage changes in national customs of printing during the 1920s. The most popular German typefaces, Hitherto, had been influenced by medieval script, and artists such as Herbert Bayer tried to supplant them with more classical designs.
 
His design employs a minimal, sans-serf typeface. Instead of having two alphabets, the uppercase and the lowercase, Bayer reduced the typeface to only lowercase letters, believing that the uppercase was redundant, since the distinction between lower and upper case conveyed no phonetic difference.

In 1923, a first poster was made for the school that intrigued others to notice the unique design and typeset. The main focus in designing was the effective visual communication with vibrant colors, a balanced layout, harmony, geometric shapes, strong bars, bold and universal type.
 
It was conceived as both an artistic expression and an empirical means of communication with visual clarity stressed above all. Bauhaus typography became connected to advertising and corporate identity. Since then, his typeface has become synonymous with the Bauhaus.

 

Serving Color

The piece Dissolving /Vanishing, 1951 is part of Josef Albers’s famous series Homage to the Square, described by his own words as ‘platters to serve color’. He began working on this series in 1949 and worked on it until his death in 1976.
 
This very piece demonstrates his systematic approach to investigating the optical effects of colors; he explored how colors change depending on their placement within the composition. Although the series was created several years after the Bauhaus movement, the work is typical of the experimental, modernist approach to color and form that underpinned Bauhaus teaching.
 
Teachers in the school believed that colors and forms could be reduced to essentials and analyzed as separate components; that analysis would yield understanding about the character and effects of these components, and that understanding would result in better design.

However, with Nazism in the ascent, political pressure mounted and in 1928, Walter Gropius was worn down by his work and by increasing battles with the school critics, and he stood down. Both of his successors Meyer and van der Rohe, spent their directorships mired in political strife.

Germany’s Loss of Influencers

By 1928, Meyer, a head of the architecture department was an active communist who incorporated his Marxist ideals through classroom programs and student organizations. However, the school continued to build in strength but criticism of Meyer’s Marxism grew, and eventually, in 1930, he was dismissed as director.
 
After local election brought the Nazis to power in 1932, the Bauhaus school in Dessau was closed.

The same year, 1932, the school moved to Berlin, under the new direction of architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. He struggled with far poorer resources and a faculty that had lost some of its brightest stars; he tried to remove politics from the school’s ethos, but after the Nazis came to power in 1933, the school was closed indefinitely.

During the turbulent and dangerous years of World War II, many of the key figures of the Bauhaus emigrated to the United States, where their work and their teaching philosophies influenced generation of young designers and architects.

In 1934, Walter Gropius left Germany, and in 1937 he arrived in the United States to become professor of architecture at Harvard University. He also helped fellow Bauhaüslers to find teaching jobs in America.
 
Together, they imbued generations of Americans with Bauhaus principles, while Gropius imprinted the technocratic vision of its mid- 1920s heyday on design history.

The Bauhaus effectively levelled the old hierarchy of the arts, placing crafts on par with fine arts such as painting and sculpture, paving the path for many of the ideas that have inspired artists in the late twenty century.

 

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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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Modigliani and La Vie de Bohème

“With one eye you are looking at the outside world, while with the other you are looking within yourself.”

A participant in the Ecole de Paris, Modigliani modernized two of the enduring themes of art history: the nude and the portrait; his nudes and portraits- characterized by asymmetrical compositions, elongated figures and simple but monumental use of line- are among the most important portraits of the 20th century.

Amadeo Clemente Modigliani was born on July 12, 1884, into a household of faded luxury to Jewish parents, Flaminio and Eugenia, in Livorno, Italy. Shortly before his birth, the family businesses, had fallen onto hard times, forcing the Modiglianis to declare bankruptcy- his father squandered the family fortune and left.

Amadeo’s timely arrival may have resulted in the rescue of many valuable heirlooms; according to family legend, soldiers were forced to avoid Eugenia in childbirth as they came to repossess the furniture, in accordance with an old Italian custom that forbade the seizure of any possessions in the bed of a woman in labor.

His mother, Eugenia, an independent woman, went to work, which was nearly unheard of for a woman in Italian bourgeois families. She translated D’Annunzio for an American writer, opened an experimental school and instructed her children to read Henri Bergson and Nietzsche.
 
The atmosphere at home was religiously unobservant, liberal, and pluralistic.

 

Illnesses and The Fundamentals

In 1895, Amadeo contracted the first of several serious illnesses, typhoid, that he battled throughout childhood. His mother preferred an academic education for his son, but later acceded to his wishes to be an artist.
 
The following year, Amadeo gave up his regular schooling entirely to study with his drawing teacher Guglielmo Micheli, who instructed Modigliani in the fundamentals of the classical art.

After being diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1901, Modigliani recuperated in southern Italy, visiting museums in Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice. These visits familiarized him with classical Italian painting and sculpture, fueling his enthusiasm for the fine arts.
 
After the recuperation, he moved to Florence to study figure drawing at the Scuola Libera di Nudo.

Post-Impressionism in Italy and France

In Florence, intrigued by Manuel Ortiz de Zerate’s descriptions of Paris and the avant-garde, Amadeo decided to pursuit his ambitions there. But, encouraged by his mother to stay in Florence and restless for new opportunities, he moved to Venice and enrolled in the Scuola Libera di Nudo at the Istituto di Belli Arti, which he found overly traditional in its curriculum.
 
Growing increasingly dissatisfied with the art scene in Italy, with the mother’s blessing, Modigliani moved to Paris in 1909.

In Paris, he settled in an artist commune in the Montmartre and enrolled in de Académie Colaross. He threw himself feverishly into his work which by this time showed the influence of Post-Impressionism and painters such as Paul Cézanne and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Very soon, he was absorbed into the Bateau Lavoir circle, which included Max Jacob, Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, among other well-known art and literary figures.

Searching for an innovative style that could compete with those practiced by Parisian avant-garde, Amadeo Modigliani concentrated on painting. In this period, his work shows a high regard for the Post-Impressionists. Head of a Woman Wearing a Hat, from 1907, makes use of a curvilinear style, as a characteristic of Art Nouveau, but also, reveals the influence of Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec in the tilt of the woman shoulders and expressive face, revealing Modigliani’s early interest in representing psychological states.

In 1906, exhibition of three paintings at the Laura Wylda Gallery failed to generate any interest in his work. Frustration with his lack of success led Modigliani to abuse alcohol and drugs, further exacerbating his health problems.
 
But, his meeting with Paul Alexandre, a young physician, in 1907, who became his close friend and much-needed patron of his work, gave Modigliani a renewed sense of accomplishment and a steady source of work.

The piece named Jewess from 1908, a one of the Alexandre ‘s favorite works by artist is a thickly painted canvas influenced by German Expressionist and Paul Cézanne. Although wearing a composed expression, the stark whiteness of the sitter’s face contrasts harshly with her dark apparel, giving the composition and inner tension and suggesting strong emotions lying beneath the surface.
 
The painting’s melancholic overtones have invited comparison with the work of Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period. This piece is also one of the few Jewish-themed works by Modigliani, who was of Sephardic Jewish descent and publically embraced his Jewish identity.

Modigliani’s Sculptures

Trying to refocus his attention on sculpture, Modigliani looked to Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who he met in 1909. Although Modigliani is best known as a painter, he focused on sculpture early on in his career, and, some scholars have argued, may have regarded his true calling as that of sculptor.
 
The simple elegance of Brancusi’s forms made a strong impression on Modigliani and his style began to manifest itself in Modigliani’s work, as in the limestone Head, from 1910-12.

modigliani sculpture limestone head

In this piece, abstracted features and graceful contours suggests Brancusi’s influence, while elongated proportions, especially the swan-like neck, is reminiscent of ancient Egyptian busts, among the non-Western art forms that also influenced Modigliani’s work.
 
The subject’s elongated neck and nose, also slit-like eyes closely resemble the artist’s handling of these features in his nudes and portraits, suggesting the close connection between his work in sculpture and two-dimensional media.

The sculptures Modigliani created in 1909-1914, on which twenty-five carvings and one woodcut survive, were highly influential on his work as a painter, helping him arrive at the linear and abstracted vocabulary of his painting.

WW1

In 1914, the outbreak of World War I increased the difficulties of Modigliani’s life. Aleksandre and some of his other friends were at the front; his paintings did not sell; his delicate health was deteriorating because of his poverty, feverish work ethic and abuse of drugs and alcohol.
 
He was in the midst of a troubled affair with the South African poet Beatrice Hastings with whom he lived for two years (1914-1916). Beatrice Hastings became the subject of Modigliani’s several paintings and many of these portraits have an angelic quality that suggests a parallel between Dante’s own Beatrice and Hastings-an idea that likely appealed to Modigliani.
 
Soon after their separation, he fell seriously ill from alcoholism and malnourishment.

Modigliani returned entirely to painting about 1915, but his experience as a sculptor had fundamental consequences for his painting style. He reduced and almost eliminated chiaroscuro (the use of gradations of light and shadow to achieve the illusion of three-dimensionality), and he achieved a sense of solidity with strong contours and the richness of colors.

Modigliani’s Portraits

Modigliani was not a professional portraitist; for him the portrait was only occasion to isolate a figure as a kind of sculptural relief through firm and expressive contour drawing. He painted his friends, usually personalities of the Parisian artistic and literary world, but he also portrayed unknown people, including servants and models.
 
Modigliani’s portraiture achieves a unique combination of generalization and specificity. His portraits convey his subjects’ personalities, while his trademark stylization and use of recurring motifs-almond-shaped eyes and long necks- lends them uniformity. This part of his work also serves as a vital art historic record, comprising a gallery of major figures of the Ecole de Paris circle, to which he belonged following his move to Paris in 1906.

By this time, he had melded the influences of the Parisian avant-garde and arrived at his signature painting style, characterized by elegant linearity and the depiction of stylized, yet expressive figures. The best of these works give subtle glimpses into the personality of the sitter, such as the artist’s portrait of Jacques Lipchitz and his wife Berthe.
 
In this double-portrait from 1916, exemplifies Modigliani’s talent for eliciting the inner life of his subjects. Although his stylized method of painting presents two mask-like faces, they reveal subtle clues about the personality of each sitter; Berthe has an open, kindly face, conveyed by the brightness of the paint and downward tilting eyes, and Jacques, with his small, compressed features sloping inward, appears suspicious and calculating.

In the same year Modigliani began associating with the Polish poet and art dealer Leopold Zborowski, who arranged the artist’s first and only solo exhibition in his lifetime, at the Berthe Weill Gallery in December 1917.
 
Weill installed an attractive nude in the front window. Scandalized, the local police temporarily shut down the exhibition, but the unintended publicity resulted in better sales than usual for the habitually impoverished artist.

 

Jeanne Hebuterne

In 1917, Amadeo met Jeanne Hebuterne, a young art student and the two fell in love. When Modigliani entered into a relationship with Hebuterne, his close friend hoped that the serious young woman would inspire Modigliani to curb his excesses.
 
Hebuterne, however, loved the artist with a blind adoration that made no demands. There were no fundamental changes in his behavior, but Modigliani’s portraits of his young lover suggest the artist’s newfound sense of serenity and piece.

The Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne, from 1918, less stylized than those in the artist’s earlier works, the sitter’s features, especially the sly, sideways gaze, suggests a psychological clarity that communicates Jeanne’s inner character.

Modigliani’s Nudes

In 1917, he began painting a series of about 30 large female nudes that, with their glowing colors and sensuous, rounded forms, are among his best works.

Modigliani’s nudes are often frank depictions of sensuality that frequently reference the traditional handling of this theme, but without the mythological context of their artistic precursors. For instance, The Standing Blonde Nude with Dropped Chemise, from 1917, suggests Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, a painting with which Modigliani was pretty familiar from his studies in Florence, through such features as the subject’s long blonde hair, tilted head and the figure’s contrapposto.
 
However, the classic composition is skillfully subverted and modernized. While Botticelli’s subject artfully covers her genitals with her flowing locks and smiles placidly, Modigliani’s sitter draws attention to this area with her dropped chemise and confronts the viewer with a slight smirk.

Tragic End for the Limestone Thief

In 1918, Hebuterne gave birth to a daughter and new familial responsibilities combined with his professional obligations to Zborowski, spurred Modigliani to increase productivity despite his fading health.

Yet, the artist’s health ultimately gave way, with Modigliani succumbing to tubercular meningitis and died on January, 24, 1920. The next day Hebuterne killed herself and their unborn child by jumping from a window.

Modigliani’s legacy is inextricably bound up with his tragic and bohemian life: his fragile health, which plagued him since childhood; his perpetual pennilessness and-most famously- his over-the-top, self-destructive lifestyle, which included sexual debauchery and overuse of alcohol and drugs.

The cliché is that he was never without his bow of hashish pills or a glass of absinthe. When he wasn’t nursing a café-crème and a hangover at la Rotonde, he was trading portrait sketches for a few centimes; or dancing naked with a woman at the Place Jean-Baptiste Clément at 3 in the morning; or picking fights; or swiping limestone from abandoned buildings for his sculptures because he was too poor to buy his materials.

He was a prototypical handsome, promiscuous, inebriated, pugnacious, misunderstood, tragically ill, vulnerable, gifted and short-lived examplar of la vie de bohème.

 

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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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