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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.


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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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.


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.



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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Postmodernism – An Movement of Cynics

Insofar as I think about postmodernism at all, and it doesn’t exactly keep me awake at nights, I think of it as something that happens to one, not a style one affects. We’re postmoderns because we’re not modernists.
The modernist writers Pound, Eliot, Joyce, Stevens, Yeats, Woolf, Williamsspoke, with a kind of vatic authority: they were really the last of the Romantics, for whom authorship itself was like being a solitary prophet in the wasteland.
Jonathan R.


What is Postmodernism?

Anti-authoritarian by nature, postmodernism refuses to recognize the authority of any single style or definition of what art should be. It collapsed the distinction between high culture and mass or popular culture, between art and everyday life.
Often funny, ludicrous or tongue-in-cheek; it can be confrontational and controversial, challenging the boundaries of taste; but most crucially, it reflects a self-awareness of style itself. Mixing different artistic and popular styles and media, postmodernist art can consciously and self-consciously borrow from or ironically comment on a range of styles from the past.
However, the term was not used in the contemporary sense until 1979 in The Postmodern Condition by philosopher J.F.Lyotard.

From the late 19th to the mid 20th century, literature, science, art and philosophy were defined by a sense of progress and technological advancement, brought about by the industrial revolution and affiliation with the positivity of modern life.
Artists such as Paul Cézanne and Piet Mondrian strove to find a universal means of expression through the increasing abstraction of their subject. Other artists who focused on the subjective and the forbidden, such as Salvador Dali and Marcel Duchamp were usually seen as outliners in this emphasis on progress and rationality; Dada artists ridiculed the art establishment with their anarchic actions and irreverent performances; the first signs of postmodernism were evident.

By the 1930s, the process of painting, once the means to depict a subject through the use of line, color and form, became the subject itself. Fundamental to the modernist avant-garde artists was autonomy, individuality and the tendency for radical experimentation in search of an ultimate meaning or truth.

Bye Bye Optimism

By the middle of the century the Western world had experienced a major paradigm shift: two devastating world wars, millions of lives lost, communist ideologies shattered and nuclear weapons utilized. The modernist optimism that had dominated in a pre-war world now doomed to fail, and seemed irrelevant and outdated.

Europe was no longer the center of modern art or the avant-garde; the focus of the art now moved to New York and to the Abstract Expressionists who were flourishing in a new era of reinvigorated post-war capitalism.
Once Abstract Expressionism became a mainstream movement, young artists began questioning it for its lack of reference both to the state of the world and to the flourishing popular culture of which its artists were a part.
Motivated by these feelings and with desire to create an art that acknowledged everyday life, artists began to experiment with new styles that borrowed and recreated imagery from the mass culture that surrounded them.

While modernism was based on idealism and reason, postmodernism was born of skepticism. It challenged the notion that there are universal certainties or truth. This new concept of thinking is distinguished by a questioning of the master narratives that were embraced during the modern period.
By rejecting such narratives, postmodernists reject the idea that knowledge or history can be encompassed in totalizing theories, embracing instead the local, the temporary and the contingent; other narratives rejected by postmodernists include the notion that only men are artistic geniuses, the idea of artistic development as goal-oriented, and the colonialist assumption that non-white races are inferior.

While you think about what all that means, you can watch David Lynch’s Eraserhead.

Embracing Incoherence

Postmodernism cannot be described as a coherent movement. A new approach to the mass media and pop culture emerged in the 1959s, sparking a wave of art movements that reintroduced representation from disparate sources and experimented with image, aesthetic codes, spectacle, boundaries, authenticity and viewer involvement in ways that challenged previous definitions of art.

The arrival of Neo-Dada and Pop art marked the beginning of a reaction against this mindset that came to be known as postmodernism. This reaction took on multiple artistic forms for the next four decades, including Minimalism, Conceptual art, Performance art, Video art and Installation art.
These artistic concepts are diverse and disparate, but connected by certain characteristics: playful and ironical treatment of a fragmented subject, the breakdown of high and low culture hierarchies, undermining of concepts of originality and authenticity, and an emphasis on image and spectacle.

In fact, it could be argued that nowadays, postmodernism and pop culture have become one and the same. Behold! Cats watching cats watching cats watching Nyan cat!

High culture is a term used to describe traditional fine arts, commonly employed by the art critics to evoke class, quality and authenticity. It is also used to distinguish types of art disciplines and media from the kitsch, low or popular culture of mass-produced commodities, television, magazines and pulp fiction that took America by storm in the post-war consumerist boom.
In his essay Avant-Garde and Kitsch Klement Greenberg warned the modernist avant-garde against association with what he considered philistine outpourings. He proposed instead that artists’ concerns should be reserved for an art that could transform society.
In response, the postmodernists embraced the ‘popular’ wholeheartedly and made it central to their work. Pop artists recreated the mundane objects of consumerism, but used irony and humor to transform these into gigantic soft form or into cultural icons, while the Minimalists used industrial materials to create repetitive forms reminiscent of the industrial production line.

Giant Hamburger, from 1962, was one of Cleas Oldenburg’s first soft sculptures, where he recreated common objects using cushioned materials that belied their solid structures. This piece uses the banality reminiscent of Dada’s readymades to elevate a piece of everyday life to the status of art.
In his re-appropriation of this object with discordant materials he underscores the larger than life quality of popular low culture, in this case junk food, in everyday life.

Worship Culture

The series named Marilyn Diptych, silkscreen prints of Marilyn Monroe were made in the months after her death in 1962, by Warhol who was fascinated by both the cult of celebrity and by death.
The color contrasted against the monochrome that fades out to the right is suggestive of life and death, while the repetition of image echoes her ubiquitous presence in the media. The use of diptych format, which was common in Christian altarpieces in the Middle age and Renaissance, draws attention to the American worship of images and celebrities.
This work can be seen as postmodern in many senses: its overt reference to pop culture, low art challenges the purity of the modernist aesthetic, its repetition is an homage to mass production, and its ironic play on the concept of authenticity undermines the authority of the artist.


The popular emerged as both the subject and the medium for many artists and commercialism was embraced. This focus on ‘’low’’ culture stretched the definition of art and providing social critique. Also, advertising and the mass media became increasingly pervasive.
Images on the screen were reflecting a new reality and it was often more difficult to distinguish between fiction and fact, especially with the widespread use of advertising. French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard called this situation hyperreality, likening postmodern existence to a flickering TV screen: immediate, shifting, and fragmented, with no underlying truth.

These new ideas inspired artists, such as Barbara Kruger, who began depicting the surface rather than any truth or deeper meaning; style and spectacle, rather than substance was where meaning was created. Her work Untitled / I shop therefore I am, from 1987, is characteristic of her style; the juxtaposition of found photographs with provocative and aggressive slogans in a photolithograph that appropriates the direct style and visual form of mass media communication and undermines distinction between the imagery, aesthetic and audience for high art and that of advertising.
The statement I shop, therefore I am, subverts René Descartes’ philosophical claim I think therefore I am, critically referring to the notion that consumerism rather than human agency is now the force that shapes identity; a person’s value and identity runs no deeper than the surface encompassing their purchases and the labels they wear.

Camp and Kitsch

Simultaneously, a camp aesthetic was born, especially evident in music and fashion that drew from past styles of Gothic and Baroque- the more dazzling, flamboyant and shocking-the more effective.

In Jeff Koons’ piece Michael Jackson and Bubbles, from 1988, Michael Jackson and his pet monkey Bubbles, who was also his closest friend, are shown life-size sitting on a bed of flowers. This piece is a good example of the excesses that characterize Koons’ art in terms of size, color and theme.
The work was done as part of of Koons’ Banality series and serves as a good example of the kitsch aspect of much of Koons’s art in that it valorizes the garish and the sentimental.
At the time, Jackson was at the high of his popularity, which Koons underscored by painting the figures in gold in order to make Jackson into a ‘god-like icon’ The white and gold coloring is reminiscent of Byzantine, Baroque and Rococo art; this hearkening back to past styles and deliberate theatricality is typical of the camp aesthetic that characterize some postmodern art.

jeff koons michael jackson and bubbles

With the advent of postmodernism, some artists began exploring past styles and media as part of the postmodern aesthetic that brought back both the subjective and the historical but with a purposeful lack of stylistic unity and integrity.
A popular postmodernist phrase was ‘’anything goes’, which referred both to this growing convergence culture as well as to the collapse of the distinction between bad and good taste and the difficulty of assigning value or judging works of art based on traditional criteria.
Artists adopted the mechanisms of both art and non-art forms, using a multitude of media to convey multiple messages.

For instance, Gerhard Richter playfully mixed aesthetic codes and genres, displacing existing meaning in structures and creating new ones; using parody and pastiche, old ideas could be recreated in new contexts. He was one of several German artists who revived painting as a medium, at a time when many artists had abandoned painting for installation or performance art, but in ways that challenged its traditional qualities, using his experiments to question basic assumptions about the notion and representation itself.

In Apple Tree, from 1987, he produces a traditional landscape such as one might find in German Romantic landscape painting, but he blurs the image so that information and details about the landscape are not obvious or even available, thus calling into question the point of representational art which is to represent.
His method keeps interpretational possibilities open by not limiting what the viewer can see.

In film, for instance, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, 1994, defies traditional narrative, drawing from multiple genres and offering a fragmented montage of characters and plots in an arbitrary order.

In 1911, Marcel Duchamp placed a urinal called “Fountain” signed with a fictional name in an exhibit and called it art. In doing so, he mocked the entire foundations on which the institution of art had been built.

Attack on the Elite

Traditionally, uniqueness and originality gave an artwork its value in symbolic and monetary terms, and was a concept preserved through modernist art criticism. In 1936, Walter Benjamin, a cultural theorist wrote an essay entitled The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, which radically reworked this view, laying charges of elitism at the feet of key figures such as Greenberg.
Benjamin claimed that reproduction through printing and other methods could achieve the democratization of art because of its lower commodity value and accessibility to the masses.

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Pop artists, minimalists, conceptual artists and performance artists adopted Benjamin’s ethos, interpreting his words through a diverse range of media and techniques that undermined concept of authenticity and value and distorted commoditization. Within Pop art and Feminist art of the 1970s and again in the 1990s, among certain artists, there was a surge of interest in the idea of collective authorship that further undermined traditional ideas of creativity and artistic genius that had been in place since the Renaissance.

Modernist art was not just seen as elitist but also as Western, white and male-dominated. Postmodernism coincided with the rise in Feminism, the fight for LGBT rights and postcolonial thought, civil rights movements, and provoked a concern for a more pluralist approach; many artists began to address subjects from multiple perspectives to include the viewpoints of previously underrepresented positions.

Sea Change

In general, there are two main theoretical approaches to understanding postmodernism, its place in the contemporary art world and its relation to modernism.

One argument is that postmodernism both continues and disrupts modernism as there is evidence of both existing in contemporary art, which is a term that broadly refers to any art created within the last twenty years, thus encompassing any style and all art production.
The attitudes and styles that marks postmodernism can be understood as paradigmatic shifts that mark a rupture or crisis in cultural history. From this viewpoint, the impact of postmodern, post-feminist and post-colonial though has sparked a sea of change in art; the diverse, ephemeral, globally focused, cross disciplinary, and collaborative nature of contemporary art practice is informed by postmodernist attitudes and appears both transformative and persistent.

Look no further than these dank 4chan memes to see how far things have come … or gone, as it were.

Postmodernism claims to close gap between high and low culture and ‘’bad’’ taste, yet there is evidence that these distinctions remain. In the early 1990s, a group of young Goldsmith College students put together a graduate show called Sensation- a highly postmodern concept.
The reaction was unprecedented; public and critics alike expressed shock and appall at the provocative imagery and explicit references to subjects of ‘bad’ taste.

The group became known as the Young British Artists and sparked revival in conceptual art using shock tactics to question art’s meaning, as Duchamp had gone 80 years earlier.
Their notoriety has persisted providing evidence for some that the old taste hierarchies of modernism live on. With this argument, postmodernism has not replaced modernism but coexists alongside it. In fact, it can even serve to rock you!

Erm, another view, which has recently emerged in a small but persuasive body of writing, argues that we have moved on into a post modernist era. Some theorists and critics claim that postmodernism is outdated and they question the value of a movement sustained by cynicism, superficiality and nihilism.
Some even argue for a return to the principles of modernism albeit in different forms.

Edward Docx called this post-postmodern era the ‘Age of Authenticity’, characterized by a revival of authenticity and craftsmanship over style and concept. Other theorists include ‘alter modernism’, which is Nicolas Bourriaud’s term for the ‘non-stop communication and globalization’ culture of today, and ‘pseudo-modernism’, a term by Alan Kirby, who claims there has been a shift from audience spectatorship to a more active yet trivial participation, evident in reality TV voting culture.

While you’re pondering that, watch an episode of Flavor of Love…S1E1.


Postmodernism R.I.P.?

These attempts to claim the end of postmodernism are wide-ranging and nonconsensual but are united in elements of their critique. They are all weary of the relentlessness of postmodern irony, and yearn for some return to reality and truth.
In different ways they undermine postmodernism’s dominance as a way of thinking or as an attitude to life, reducing it instead to one movement in a long history of movements, one that is now in its demise.


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


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 21st 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.


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.

Read more about this art movement in our article, “What is Yarn Bombing?

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.

Read our article, “What is a flashmob? – History and Meaning” for more info


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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Jean-Michel Basquiat – Street Saint


I wanted to be a star not a gallery mascot. – Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work is one of the rare examples of how early 1980’s American Punk or a graffiti-based counter-cultural practice could become a fully recognized, critically embraced, and popularly celebrated artistic phenomenon. Also, Basquait’s work is an example of how American artists of the 1980’s could reintroduce the human figure into their work after the wide success of Conceptualism and Minimalism, thus establishing a dialogue with the more distant tradition of the 1950s Abstract Expressionism.

irony of the negro policeman

Despite the “unstudied’” appearance of his work, Basquiat skillfully brought together in his art a host of disparate traditions, styles and practices in order to create a unique kind of visual collage, one deriving, partly, from his urban origins, and in another a more distant, African-Caribbean heritage.



Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December, 22 in 1960, in Brooklyn, New York. He was raised in a middle-class home; his father was Haitian immigrant, with whom he had a difficult relationship and his sensitive, emotionally unstable mother of Puerto Rican heritage.

In his early childhood, learning to draw and paint with his mother’s encouragement, Basquiat displayed an obvious talent. Together they attended New York City museum exhibitions, and by the age of six, Jean-Michel found himself already enrolled as a Junior Member of the Brooklyn Museum.
After the divorce of his parents, Basquiat and his sister lived with their father because his mother having been determinate unfit to care for him owing to her mental instability. This period was extremely difficult for young teenage boy, who eventually ran away from home, claiming physical and emotional abuse.
Troubled by his early childhood, he attended school sporadically, but he finally dropped out of High School, in Brooklyn, in 1978, at the age of 18. Sleeping on park benches, homeless, Jean-Michel supported himself by dealing drugs, panhandling, and peddling hand-painted postcards and T-shirts.
He frequented Club 57 and Mudd Club – both teeming with New York City’s artistic elite.

mudd club new york


Jean-Michel’s art was rooted in the 1970s, New York City-based graffiti movement. In 1972, with Diaz, his artist friend, he started spray-paintings in Lower Manhattan under the name SAMO ( an acronym for Same Old Shit), painted anonymous messages and statements .
The anti-religion, anti-politics, as well as anti-establishment credo packaged in an ultra-contemporary form, SAMO soon received media attention from the counter-culture press. Citing artistic differences, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Diaz chose to severe their collaboration, with the three-word announcement- SAMO is dead.
Carried out episodically at various cities as a piece of ephemeral graffiti art, the phrase surfaced repeatedly on walls and buildings throughout Lower Manhattan. At one time a sign of trespassing and vandalism, graffiti in the hands of Diaz and Basquiat became a tool of artistic ’branding’ repeated here and there throughout the billboard- dotted city, ‘’SAMO is dead’’ slowly took on the status of a corporate mantra, such as for instance ‘’Seeing is Believing’’.

basquiat samo graffiti


In June 1980, Basquiat’s work had included in the historic punk-art Times Square Show, and in 1982, he had his first solo exhibition in SoHo, at the Annina Nosei Gallery.

Jean-Michel early canvas-based work, Untitled (Skull), from 1981, features a patchwork skull, a sum of incongruent part; it seems to be the pictorial equivalent of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Suspended before a New York City subway map-like background, the skull is at once a contemporary graffitist’s riff on a long Western tradition of self portraiture and the signature piece of some anonymous, streetwise miscreant.
Basquiat’s recent past as a gritty curbside peddler, virtually homeless floater, and occasional nightclub interloper are all equally stamped into this troubled three-quarter profile, making for a weary icon of the displaced Haitian and Puerto-Rican immigrant forever seemed to remain even while successfully navigating the newly gentrified streets that were SoHo, in the 1980s.

The Artforum article by Rene Ricard, named The Radiant Child, published on December, 1981, solidified Jean-Michel position as a formidable figure in the international art world.

Got 90 or so minutes? Watch this:

Basquiat’s persona and talent might have been made to order for a moment when the prestige of international Neo-Expressionism tricked down to the streets and clubs on East Village, and social mobility became talismanic in art even as it declined in society.

1982 was a crucial year for Jean-Michel – he opened six solo exhibitions in cities worldwide and became the youngest artist ever to be included in Documenta, the international contemporary art prestigious event held every five years in Kassel, Germany.


He developed a signature motif: a heroic, black oracle figure with crown. Among Basquiat’s inspirational precursors were Sugar Ray Robinson, Dizzy Gillespie and Muhammad Ali; the portraits are sketchy and Neo-Expressionist in appearance, capturing the essence rather than the physical likeness of their subjects.
The ferocity of Jean-Michel’s technique, dynamic dashes of line, and the slashes of paint, presumably revealed his subjects’ inner-self, the hidden feelings and their deepest desires.

basquiat dizzy gillespie

The hundreds of paintings he created in 1982 mirrored the roaring spirit of a time that, after depressive seventies, had discovered the bliss of art, tremendous amount of money in rapid circulation, fashion, and other forms of concerted indulgence.

Flexible, from 1982, features two of Jean-Michel’s most famous motifs: the venerable crown and the griot. A black figure, half cadaver, half living entity, stares ‘’blindly’’ at the viewer; the subject takes on the visage of the Everyman, with few distinguishing characteristics.
This figure is not just any figure, but one of African ethnicity and proud heritage, a clear reference to Basquiat’s own identity. A West African griot, also, features heavily in Basquiat’s work of the Neo-Expressionist era.
Given that the griot is traditionally a kind of wandering philosopher and street performer, as well as social commentator all in one, it is more likely that Basquiat saw himself in this role within the New York art scene- one that nurtured his artistic success, but also swiftly exploited it for material profit.


Collaboration with Andy Warhol

After 1982, painting was increasingly less fun for Basquiat; pictures become forced, inert and congested.

Basquiat, at the height of his fame in the 1980’s, was undoubtedly loved in the way that charismatic celebrities are envied and loved. One of his admirers was Andy Warhol, if not in love in Basquiat, certainly desired him, and was his champion at a crucial moment in Basquiat’s ascendance.
The two collaborated on a series of works in the period of 1984-1986.

Arm and Hammer II, from 1985, demonstrates how Basquiat and Warhol would pass a work between them for their mutual intervention, like a game of chance happening, free association, and mutual inspiration. Warhol’s typical employment of corporate logos and advertising copy as shorthand signs for the materialistic modern psyche is frequently overlaid by Basquiat’s only partially successful attempt to deface them, or ‘humanize’ them, freehand, as though he were vainly railing his first at a largely invisible and insidious monster. The other collaboration, for instance, The Ten Bunching Bags (Last Supper), 1986-87 was originally intended to be displayed in Milan directly across the street from Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.
Opposite the Renaissance masterpiece Ten Punching Bags was to function, playfully, as a ‘’call to arms’’ for contemporary art against all forms of ideological oppression.

the ten lunchbags basquiat warhol

Where Excess Leads

It is in the nature of all styles to burn out, but none perish as abruptly and irrecoverably as the precocious. Basquiat was in for a painful artistic crisis even if he could have kicked drugs and developed choirboy habits.
As it was, the toll of his bad choices was exacerbated by exploitative dealers and collectors, corrupt companions, and the inevitable backlash that follows extravagant public success. Increasingly addicted to heroin and cocaine, Jean-Michel died on August, 12, 1988, at the age of 27.

A product of the hyped-up 1980’s Basquiat and his work continue to serve for many observers as a metaphor for the dangers of social and artistic excess. Indeed, Basquiat’s life and career adhered to a classical trajectory of rise, fall and doom though with an unusually sunny epilogue.
Like a superhero of a graphic novel, Jean-Michel seemed to rocked to fame and riches, and then, fall back to Earth.

Not only do his paintings now sell for ever more millions at auction; serious critical appreciation and art-historical validation, withheld from him in life, are coming around. Basquiat turns out to be the essential American Neo-Expressionist painter of the early nineteen-eighties, the one who made the most of that time’s revival.

jean michel basquiat first exhibition

His counter-cultural example persists. His art remains a constant source of inspiration for contemporary artists, and his short and seemingly epic life a constant source of intrigue for art-loving public worldwide.


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The Young British Artists Movement – About


The Young British Artists are a loosely-affiliated group who met in London, in the late 1980s and participated in two of the most shocking exhibits ( Freeze 1988, Sensation, 1997) of the late twentieth century.

The group is known for their use of shock tactics, entrepreneurial spirit and their wild partying during their 1900s heyday.

Given the current hype surrounding new British art, it is hard to imagine that the audience for contemporary art was relatively small until only two decades ago. Predominantly conservative tastes across the country had led to instances of open hostility towards contemporary art.

In the 1980’s, London, lagged far behind Berlin and New York. Britain was described as ‘a cultural backwater’ by art critic Sarah Kent. A number of significant British artists, such as Tony Cragg, and Gilbert & George, had to build their reputation abroad before being taken seriously at home.

Furthermore, the art market was hit by the economic recession in 1989; for the thousands of art school students completing their degrees around that time, career prospects did not look promising.

The British capital had far less contemporary galleries and little in the way of a postmodern art scene compared to its more influential, culturally edgy German and American counterparts. In these countries, the artists were involved in cutting edge postmodern movements, such as Neue Wilden, graffiti, street art, Pictures Generation, etc, while there was nothing similar in London.

Emergence Of YBAs

It was the worrying economic situation, and also the relative indifference to contemporary art practice in Britain, that were to prove ideal conditions for the emergence of Young British Art.

Although the most of the Young British Artists’ members were in their early to mid-20s at the time, they reacted to these challenging circumstances with optimism and stamina. They saw the difficult environment as an opportunity for growth, achieving initial success by putting on exhibitions in the warehouse spaces in the city’s industrial wastelands.

The artists associated with the Young British Artists movement mostly studied at Goldsmiths College of Art in London, in the B.A. Fine Art Program, between 1987-1900.

Goldsmiths differed from other London art colleges in that it no longer kept the traditional boundaries between individual fine art disciplines. The freedom, the breadth of choice and exposure that this afforded, enriched the students in their exploration as artists.

Students were taught to reflect on their social position as artists, to adopt a critical approach to art history and to engage with the art market.

The program leader was the artist Michael Craig- Martin and students were strongly influenced by him and his personal dedication of art as a serious pursuit and belief in the value of creative difference.

He instilled a strong, unwavering work ethics in many of his young students.

The liberal and spirited atmosphere at the college produced a close group of confident young artists, sixteen of whom participated in Freeze, including leading figure, Damien Hirst, and the other, such as, Mat Collishaw, Angus Fairhurst, Gary Hume, Michael Landy and Sarah Lucas.

Diverse in style and practice, there was no formal group and certainly no manifesto for the YBAs. One of the major ties between them was that most of the ‘core’ YBA members had attended the fine art course at Goldsmiths during the mid-1980s to early 1990s.

In 1988, in the lead-up to the recession, a number of fine art students from Goldsmiths College, decided it was time to be proactive instead of waiting for the dealers to call. Seizing the initiative, these young artists started to curate their own shows, in vacant offices and industrial buildings.

The most famous of these was Freeze; and those who took part would, in retrospect, be recognized as the first group of Young British Artists, or YBAs.

Freeze, has now attained near-mythical status as the defining moment of the YBAs’ emergence. It was not the line-up at Freeze, or the exhibited works, but simply the act of self-promotion on the part of the participants that gave the show its significance in the history of British art of the 90s.

Unembarrassed about promoting themselves and their work, the organizers went to great lengths to put on a professional-looking show, and to get the right kind of people – key dealers and promoters – to attend.

These included Norman Rosenthal, Nicholas Serota, and, famously, Charles Saatchi.

Co-founder of the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency, Charles Saatchi, played a crucial role in the success of the YBAs. As a famous adman, he is believed by some to favor works with immediate visual impact.

He visited Freeze, although he did not buy any of the artworks, he was very much impressed, and subsequently modified his collecting priorities, to target a younger generation of British artists. He became the modern branded collector and patron of British art.

Key Ideas of the YBA

YBA artist worked and experimented in a various media and art forms: found objects, installation, self-portraiture, photography, drawing, video- updating traditional genres and pushing the boundaries of conceptual art with sensational, shocking and disturbing pieces.

Marcel Duchamp and his ready-mades’ had paved the way for the group to use whatever they wanted to put in their work and call it art. They have consciously built on the same questions around authorship and originality that the Dadaist had raised at the beginning of the XX century.

Most of the artist of YBAs appropriated found objects in their arts- as visual puns in sculpture (Sarah Lucas), full-sized reconstructions of real environments (Tracy Emin) or appropriation of organic materials to make some statements about life and death (Damien Hirst).

The works of the YBA’s artists are characterized by their open approach to materials and process; it can be attributed to the structure of the B.A. Fine Art program at Goldsmiths College, where many of them studied.

The program courses abandoned the traditional segregation of traditional artistic training into drawing, painting, sculpture and photography classes in favor of mixed studios and it works great!

The YBA’s are notorious for their willingness to shock audiences with the brazen use of pornography, gratuitously violent imagery and their powerful desire to push beyond what many consider the limits of decency.

An important component of their success was the UK tabloid press derogatory coverage, as it was all most people knew of the group.

Postmodernism is characterized by the breakdown of distinctions between high and low culture, the use of appropriation, rejections of fine art materials and a focus on spectacle. These elements can be found in the works of YBA artists.

In that sense, YBAs fit well with the many postmodern experiments that dominated the art of the 1980s and 1990s, in America and Europe.

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) by Damien Hirst, now often is referred to in art circles as ‘’The Shark’’, is probably most emblematic work of the movement.

It consists of the body of the tiger shark suspended in formaldehyde. The monstrous fish floating in its tank appears alive and dead at the same time. It is typical of Hirst’s brashly conceptual postmodernism and apologetically direct style in the tradition of Dada.

The Shark was commissioned by Charles Saatchi for The Young British Artists Show in his gallery in St John’s Wood, London, in 1992, and was sold in 2004 to collector Steven Cohen for $8 million.

After the shark started deteriorating, Cohen paid for a replacement, raising the philosophical question- whether it could now be considered the same work. As a conceptualist whose focus is on the intention rather than the piece itself, Damian Hirst argued it was, while traditionalist, especially art conservators had a totally different and opposite view.

The Shark, as an art- piece, is one of the most potent examples in pop culture of an artwork that deals so unashamedly with conceptions of death and the greatest human fears, following in the footsteps of artistic greats such as figurative painter Francis Bacon and the romantic artist Francisco Goya.

It became one of the most recognized examples of contemporary art and it symbolizes all that the YBA movement stood for: the use of shock tactics to produce an instant reaction in the viewer, the use of non-art materials and the huge production value.

My Bed (1998) by Tracy Emin, a readymade installation, consisting of her own unmade dirty bed, in which she had spent several weeks drinking, sleeping, eating, smoking and having sexual intercourse while undergoing a period of severe emotional flux.

The artwork featured used condoms and blood-stained underwear, old Kleenex and cigarette buttons.

The piece is typical of Emin’s distinctive brand of confessional art where even the darkest and most embarrassing details of her life are used as artistic fodder for sculptures, installations and drawings.

My Bed was nominated for the Turner Prize for contemporary British art in 1999, and caused a huge controversy in the British tabloid press.

Japanese performance artists Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi enhanced the piece’s notoriety when they jumped and pillow fought on it, while it was on display at Tate Britain.

While the media frenzy around the work has assured My Bed a place in the artistic canon, it is also seen as a significant postmodern artwork in its use of non-art materials and its explanation of what it meant to be a young woman at the turn of the twenty – first century, challenging traditional expectations as to how women should present themselves by blurring the boundaries between art and life, private and public.

Sensation, 1997

In 1997, Controversial exhibition Sensation by Young British Artist from the Saatchi Collection was shown at the Royal Academy of Arts (RA), in London.

The exhibition included Marcus Harvey’s Myra (1995)- a depiction of the child murderer Myra Hindley, made from children’s handprints; Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary (1996)- a painting that incorporates cut-out pornographic images and elephant dung, Jake and Dinos Chapman’s disturbing group of mutated child mannequins, Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-sublimated Libidinal Model(1995), enlarged x 1000.

Such provocative works – Myra in particular – led an angry crowd to demonstrate outside the Academy and prompted the resignation of four RA Members in protest. Meanwhile, ticket sales just kept on rising.

The controversial exhibits drew in a younger audience, who perhaps had never entered the Academy before. Of nearly 300,000 people who attended the show, 80 per cent were under the age of thirty.

Many of the artists originally labeled YBA are now in their fifties continue to make enormously popular art that fetches top prices at auctions.

The gallery scene in London remains one of the most influential and the most vibrant contemporary art centers in the world

Amidst the media frenzies and the controversies, the YBA generation has changed the face of British contemporary art practice. . The Turner Prize, established in 1984, began to garner more attention once the YBAs came onto the art scene.

It is annually given to a British artist under the age of 50 working in any media

Their diversity of style may partly account for their enduring prominence, even while their well-published social interconnections reinforce their perceived coherence as a group.

Although shock and awe are sometimes the only appropriate response, these artists command our admiration for their sheer honesty. Disdaining the comforting but hollow parable, they opt for reality, in a raw and literal form.

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Comparing Abstract Expressionism And Pop Art


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.

What is 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.


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…


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.

What is 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.


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 are stylistically 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!

Robert Rauschenberg – The Controversy of Being Yourself