The birth of an artistic movement is preceded by a mysterious evolution that is made up of a set of ideas that are refined and expressed by actions and works.
Arte Povera, one of the most influential avant-garde movements, emerged in Europe in the 1960s. In its general sense Arte Povera, an Italian term meaning impoverished, poor art, allegedly derived from the poor theatre of the Polish film director Jerzy Grotowski.
More specifically, it refers to a group of avant-garde painters and sculptors based in Genoa, Turin, Milan and Rome from the mid-1960s onwards who produced a provocative fusion of Assemblage, Minimalism, Conceptual Art and Performance Art.
The movement grouped the work ofItalian artists whose most distinctly recognizable trait was their use of ’found objects’ including simple, commonplace materials, such as soil, bits of wood, clothing, rocks, rope, paper.
While avoiding a signature style and promoting diversity as a positive value, these artists produced works mainly consisting of photography, sculptures and installations.
In addition, the diversity of the creations of these artists made this movement recognize that no one’s method sustains all projects, and for this reason, an unrestrained creativity formed the common ground between Arte Povera artists.
In 1967, the art critic and curator, Germano Celant coined the name ‘Arte Povera’ and curated the movement’sfirst exhibition which was stagedat Galleria La Bertesca in Genoa.
The same year, he published a manifesto for the movement: Arte Povera: Notes for a Gerilla War. He proposed a guerilla warfare art against the rich world that he considered to be represented by certain contemporary trends such as Nouveau realism.
Gradually, he would abandon this political dimension in order to transform this movement in some kind of conceptual-minimal art.
In the same manifesto he also wrote about ‘a desire to escape the bounds of a social system that rewards conformity and limits experience, and argued that this system forces artists into producing bourgeois objects for an art market that requires the stability of the assembly line’.
With this declaration, Celant associated the Italians (and himself) with a new movement in art and put forth definition of Arte Povera. These and other pioneering texts and shows created a collective identity for Arte Povera, and promoted it as a revolutionary genre, liberated from convention and the market place.
Raw and Real
Arte Povera artists employed a vast array of raw materials, such as rags, coal, hessian sacks, wood , soil, seeds and vegetables, as well as manufactured items, glass and metal.
These materials were framed, hung or applied to walls, metal sheets or various surfaces. Artists made no attempt to change the natural colors of the materials.
Their work was a reaction against the modernist abstract painting that had dominated European art in the 1950s. In addition, the group rejected American Minimalism, particularly, what they perceived as its enthusiasm for technology and its scientific rationalism.
By contrast, they presented absurd and comical juxtapositions, often of the old and the new, or the highly processed and the pre-industrial. They conjured a world of myth whose mysteries could not be explained in an easy way.
Although Arte Povera is most notable for its use of found object and everyday materials, materials which contrasted with the apparently industrial sensibility of American Minimal Art, the movement employed subversive avant-garde tactics – performance and installations- unconventional approaches to sculpture.
In order to reconnect art with life, the Italian Arte Povera strove to evoke an individual response in each of their art pieces, stressing an interaction between object and viewer that was purely original.
Germano Celant and the Arte Povera Artists
Germano Celant was a key figure in the formation and success of Arte Povera, and in this respect Arte Povera is typical of avant-garde groups that have been given momentum and cohesion by a single voice.
Celant’s interpretations of the artists associated with the movement have remained prominent and important, and he stressed the Italians’ interest in individual subjectivity.
For instance, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s work often dealt with relationships. His early mirror works, which confronted image and self, explored concepts of identity.
His The Minis Objects series was developed around the idea of art that was only completed through the addition of human interaction. In the piece, Structure for Talking While Standing / Minus Objects (1965-66)it can be seen how the structure connects to the viewer, allowing for a place to rest the arms and feet.
Also, a dialogue was a concern to the artist; Celant once described his related work, the simple metal construction ‘Structure for Standing While Talking’, from 1965-66, as a medium to create a personal dialogue between art and viewer, free from any preconceived notion.
Giovani Anselmo’s early work relied on human interaction to fully experience the art, which was loosely constructed in order to react to the slightest touch. He worked as graphic designer and began to experiment with the arts in his free time.
His Untitled (1968), sometimes referred to as Eating Structure, comprises a small block of granite attached to a larger, plinth-like block by means of a head of lettuce and a length of wire.
If the lettuce is allowed to dry out, the smaller block will fall, therefore, the sculpture has to be ‘’fed’’ with lettuce to maintain its structure.
Its concern with gravity and balance echoes some of the interests of American Post-Minimal Art through its comic tone, and its use of such mundane materials, is typical of Arte Povera’s evocation of rural and poor life.
Pino Pascali’s 32 Square Meters of Sea, from 1967, brings together the artificial and natural. Containers hold quantities of dyed water that replicate the variegated tints of the ocean, alluding to the effects of light and motion.
The industrial materials and geometric shapes used to produce the sculpture echo American Minimalist sculpture, through artist’s use of a simple natural materials, the water in this case, betrays its origins in the concerns of Arte Povera.
Although Piero Manzoni was not considered a true member of the Arte Povera group, his work reflects the principles of the movement,
His Artist’s Shit, no.4, from 1961, supposedly containing 30 grams of excrement, reprises such famous avant-garde provocationsas Marcel Duchamp’s presentation of a urinal as a work of art (Fountain, 1917).
Ninety cans were produced, labeled and canned in an identical manner, mocking the practices of mass production and consumption, satirizing the reverence usually accorded to artist’s work.
Celant’s most dramatic pronouncement, and probably reflected his hopes for the implications of Art Povera was saved for the igloos of Mario Merz.
He said that he performed a constant sacrifice of the banal, everyday object, as though it were a newfound Christ. Having found his nail, Merz became the system’s philistine and crucified the world.
Mario Merz, the oldest of the Arte Povera artists, was a painter in an Abstract Expressionist style, but with the new movementhe was given the opportunity to start his career anew.
In the Giap’s Igloo (1968) the first of his signature igloos, Merz uses a phrase, taken from a Vietnamese military general: ‘Se il nemicosi concentra perde terreno se il disperde perde forza’/ If the enemy masses his forces, he loses ground; if he scatters, he loses strength.
Merz’s igloos provide a focus for his preoccupation with the necessities of life- food, shelter, warmth-though, as here, they contain neon tubes that suggest more modern and sophisticated experiences, such as advertising and consumption.
Arte Povera and Radicalism
Arte Povera was closely linked to the political radicalism emerging across Europe, which eventually culminated in the street protests of 1968. In order to understand better the real purpose of such movement, one must analyses the cultural context of Italy in the 1950s and 1960s.
The country was going to a period of industrialization as the Miracolo Italiano/ the Italian miracle. The consumerism was finding its way into Italian society and advanced technologies were rapidly being introduced.
The optimism for this progressive wave was then suddenly interrupted in the mid 1960s when the economy recession set in.
Workers and students were continuously protesting in all Europe and America and this brought other social and cultural movements and beliefs such as a hippie counter-culture and a new sexual liberation.
In that context, Arte Povera was no longer referring to the use of ‘poor’ materials, nor to a critique of a consumer society, but to the concept of ‘impoverishing’ each person’s experience of life freeing oneself from layers of ideologies and preconceptions.
Thus, the main principles of Arte Povera were few, but very clear: a work of art is attitude transformed into form, thanks to a wide range of materials; the art should be a way of achieving truth and authenticity; any medium, location or technique can be used since everything can potentially become a work of art; finally it should engage with social concerns and also reject the ideology of a consumer society.
A Brief Unity
Despite growing popularity the Arte Povera movement dissolved in the mid 1970s as the individual styles of the Italian artists continued to grow in different directions following their own paths. However, their brief unity had already made its mark on the history of art.
Germano Celent succeeded in carving out a place for Art Povera within the neo-avant-garde.
By illustratinga relationship to Italian classicism,Futurism and to more contemporary styles such as Land Art, he lentthe movementa place in what could be seen as a living tradition.
Over forty years later, the works of the Arte Poveraare more alive than ever since they still attract the interest of many since their meaning is still relevant.
In the case of Pop Art, to stay contemporary, artworks seemto be inevitably aged, such as the Worhol’s paintings, particularly those of the myths of the 60s like Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles, that now seem to be a piece of history.
On the contrary, Arte Povera may just be one of the few things of the Twenty Century that managed to survive until now. The reason might be the fact that Arte Povera is not just an avant-garde movement, but it is something complete in itself.
In addition, it continues to be central to the idea of art as an experience, prior the knowledge and this might well be the reason why ordinary people who are not so much interested in art, can also feel the simplistic experience of this movement.
Today I sat down with my buddy Marco Pedrosa, who, as long as I’ve known him, has been drawing.
We met when we were about 11 years old in junior high school, and he was always known as the guy who could draw cool cartoon pictures and stuff of that sort.
Now, about 20 something years later, he’s still drawing stuff, but he’s got a few new toys to play around with.
Namely, he picked up an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil, which he has been using to draw / paint stuff digitally, yielding some pretty cool results.
I decided to pick his brain a bit about these drawing utensils, and see how he’s putting them to use. Enjoy our chat!
DF: Heyyyy how’s it going buddy?
DF: Nice. So, you got some kind of new fangled art device thingie?
MP: I guess so.It’s an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. It’s pretty sweet.
DF: Is that a new thing, or maybe I just live in a cave?
MP: It’s newish. This is the second hardware revision so it’s only been out for about 1.5 years.But before the iPad Pro you could us a Wacom cintique to do similar things but those are super expensive.
They’re basically a flat monitor that sits on your desk that you can draw on..It’s what all the comic and graphic design pros use.But the iPad Pro costs a lot less and performs almost as well so a lot of people are digging it.
DF: That’s cool.So why’d you get it?To draw, I presume?
MP: Well I do a fair amount of graphic work (mockups, icons, posters) for my day job so I actually got them to buy me one. It can make certain types of drawing faster and more accurate than using a non screen based pen tablet so they agreed.
On the side I’ve also been using it to shore up my digital painting skills since the apps for that are so awesome these days.
DF: Ah, I gotcha.
MP:It’s been a while since I’ve done any serious painting but this tool lowers the barrier and is faster and less messy.It’s kind of the best of digital and real painting without any of the downsides.
DF: So it’s a less messy sort of painting program app type thing?
MP: Well you don’t wind up with charcoal all over your hands and paint on your face so yeah. Plus you have access to many different brush styles and the layering and limitless undid that you can only get from a digital format and it’s great!
DF: Yeah the stuff looks really cool!I’ll have to share some of it with my readers.
MP: Usually I’ll start with a sketch layer to capture whatever the idea is, then I’ll do a basic color layer to figure out roughly what hues to use where, then I’ll often do an ink layer over top before getting into the real painting.
There can in that every app has its formats but they can all import jpgs and pngs so it’s not usually an issue.If I had to move layers between programs that might be an issue but I usually stick to just one app.
DF: So are there no issues with file formats or what have you?That’s awesome.It does look very painterly.
MP: Yeah! The neat thing is that if one painting attempt isn’t working out you can just hide the layer and try again in another style with some other brushes.
DF: So it’s got a bit of photoshop layer-y stuff happening?How much is this stuff costing btw?
MP:For sure! I like to use layers as insurance. If I’m about to try something I’m not sure about I just put in on a new layer and get rid of it if it doesn’t work out.
DF: Specifically, how much is.. the app? The device? The pen?Is the app just free?
so wait.. are you starting off importing some pre-existing pic or you just make it up?I’m not just playing the part of the clueless guy here, I am that guy!lol
MP: I just make it up of course! I’ll often use pics from the internet for reference on colours and details but I’ll always try to compose something from scratch and take it from start to finish.
I’ve never been into tracing or replicating exists no work through I’m not above trying to understand a style.
DF: Yeah so you grab a Ralph McQuarrie pic and just sort of use it as a reference? Well i notice your style is your style, really. It’s not like you’re copying the artist’s style..
maybe the composition a little bit?
MP: So an iPad Pro goes for around 800$ I think? The pencil is another 120$ and painting apps can go from 5-80$ or some of them require monthly subscriptions.
My fav at the moment is Procreate, which is fairly inexpensive for what you get.I think it’s only 20$ or something.There’s also clip studio paint which is 10$ a month but you can actually make a comic from start to finish with it!Yeah my style is my style.I can’t seem to escape it.
DF: That’s cool.. and it’s super portable yeah?Like you go on vacay, you can just toss this shit in your bag and go.Also, battery life?
MP: Yeah, it’s the size of a clipboard basically! It lasts about 10 hours which is more than enough for me.I’m pretty sure my hand would fall off if I were drawing that long
DF: Yeah might cause an injury!And we don’t live in the days where artists need to work like 160 hours straight for a piece of bread like in the .. whenever that was
MP: Thank god for that.
DF: So we can actually do stuff for fun if we so choose.
MP: Yup.At some point I’d like to get my skill with these tools to the point where I could whip up an image I’m happy with within a couple of hours.
My first few tries over the summer I would call enthusiastic failures but I feel like the momentum is building and I’ve been pretty happy with the last few things.
It’s important not to get discouraged when you’re just figuring out what a new tool is good for.At this point I feel I can probably do a piece digitally about as well as I could if I were doing it by hand so that’s something.
DF: That’s good!You’re pretty in tune with the thing and that’s a good place to be it’s an instrument.
MP: My next thing I think will be figuring out how to escape my “style” since it hasn’t really changed much in a while but I feel it needs to start evolving.
There are lots of things I’d like to get better at in terms of painting but obviously you don’t get anywhere unless you put yourself out of your comfort zone and fail a few times.
DF: That’s for sure.And that’s not easy of course.But this tool seems like a pretty versatile one so i guess you’ll be sticking with it.Will you be getting anything new to go with it?Or just explore the possibilities…
MP: I’ll stick with it as it is for now.I’m really only scratching the surface of what these apps can do.At this point my skill, not the tool is the bottleneck so there’s really no need to jump to something new right now.
Although if an iPad version of Affinity Designer came out I’d be all over that.AF is a vector drawing app, as opposed to all these painting apps that are pixel based.
DF: Ah yes, vectors.Tis a whole other thing.
MP: Yup, they’re good for a different set of problems but I like those too.
DF: Well lots to explore then from here.It’s cool that you’ve kinda got this whole thing going.It’s always good to have an artistic outlet.
MP: For sure.I draw all the time professionally so it’s nice to have an opportunity to do some stuff recreationally too.
DF: Totally.Well thanks for stopping by Marco, good to chat!
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.
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.
In 1963, the young artist started a postgraduate course in graphic arts in professor Rika Debeljak’sclass. 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 notby 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.
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 thatregion 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 providedmaterialfor 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 fromthe Renaissanceto Art Nouveau, with the artists such as Velazquez, Ingres or Klimt, as well as Yugoslavian painters Vlaho Bukovac and Gabrijel Jurkic, Berber’s work infusesintricate 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 challengedthe 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
Throughouthis 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 differentrepresentations 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 themountains of Bosnia, having deep ties to all aspects of life, signifying hard labor and marriages, wars and funerals.
The expressive capacity ofthis 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 compositionandhis unique themes.
His paintings frequentlydo not dealwith 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 ItalianRenaissance art, because of its resemblanceto the art of theItalian 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 hismost 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 nowthe chieftreasure 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.
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 ofRepublika 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 inhis works, collectingforensic 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.
Mersad Berber diedfrom 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 scenographydesign 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 receivedapproximately 50 awards. Some scholars and experts consider him to be one of the greatest post-Classic artists in the world.
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 inwith 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 thatwas very much his own.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a painter, illustrator, lithographer, poster artist and illustrator. Born on November 24th,1864, in Albi, France, Henri died on September 9th, 1901, at Malromé Castle, at Saint-André-du-Bois.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was the son of Count Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa (1838-1913) and Adèle Tapié de Céleyran (1841-1930), and was born into one of the oldest noble families in France. He was indeed in line with the great counts of Toulouse, who were, despite their illustrious name, were known to pass on health conditions due to selective inbreeding.
In the 19thcentury, marriages within the nobility were routinely between cousins, in order to avoid the division of assets and the diminution of fortune. This was the case of Henri’s parents, Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa and Adele Tapie de Céleyran, they were cousins in the first degree.
They had two boys, Henri, the eldest and, four years later, his brother Richard-Constantin, who died a year later.
Henri grew up between Albi, the castle of Bosc (home of his grandparents and also of his childhood) and the castle of Celeyran. The incompatibility between his two parents caused their separation and Henri remained in the care of his mother.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec had a happy childhood until the discovery in 1874 of a disease that affects the development of the bones, pycnodysostosis, a genetic disease caused due to the consanguinity of his parents. His bones were fragile, and on May 30th, 1878, he stumbled and fell.
The doctor diagnoses him with a broken left femur.
Between May 1878 and August 1879, he suffered from this fracture of the bilateral femur, which then aggravates his stunting: he will not exceed the size of 1.52 m or 4′ 8″. Doctors tried to cure him by means of electric shock and placing on each foot a large amount of lead.
Due to his various medical conditions, his torso is of normal size, but its legs are short. He has thick lips and a thick nose, and hypertrophied genitals. Henri made himself a provocateur at the salons.
He is at some point photographed naked on the beach of Trouville-sur-Mer, as a bearded choir boy, or with the boa Jane Jane (called “Melinite”), while simultaneously being very aware of the discomfort aroused by his exhibitionism.
A student at the Condorcet high school, he failed in 1881 at the baccalaureate in Paris, but he was fortunately received in Toulouse at an October session. That’s when he decided to become an artist.
Supported by his uncle Charles and Rene Princeteau, a friend of his father animal painter, he finally convinced his mother it was a good idea.
Back in Paris, he studied painting with René Princeteau, in his studio at 233, Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, then in April 1882 in Leon Bonnat’s studio, and in November 1882 in Fernand’s studio, where he stayed until 1886.
He then befriended Vincent Van Gogh, Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, and Adolphe Albert.
Toulouse-Lautrec lived for his art. Painter in the post-impressionism style, illustrator of the Art Nouveau, and lithographer of remarkable skill, he embraced the lifestyle of Bohemian Paris at the end of the 19thcentury.
In the mid-1890s, he contributed illustrations to the comic weekly Le Rire.
Considered “The Soul of Montmartre“, the Parisian neighbourhood where he lived since his arrival in 1884 at 19 Bis, Rue Fontaine, his paintings describe life at the Moulin Rouge and other cabarets and theaters in Montmartre or Paris.
He paints Aristide Bruant but also in the brothels he frequented and where, perhaps, he contracted syphilis. He had a room in residence at La Fleur blanche. Three of the well-known women he has represented are Jane Avril, singer Yvette Guilbert, and Louise Weber, better known as La Goulue, an eccentric dancer who created the cancan.
Toulouse-Lautrec gave painting classes and encouraged the efforts of Suzanne Valadon, one of his models and probably his mistress.
An alcoholic for most of his adult life, he used to mix cognac with his daily absinthe, in defiance of the conventions of the time. This drink, a favourite of his, was called an “earthquake” or Tremblement de Terre, which was mixed in a wine goblet.
He also used subterfuge in the form of a hollowed out cane to hide his alcohol, which he walked around with constantly so as not to ever need to do without his vice.
He was admitted to a sanatorium shortly before his death at Malromé, his mother’s property, following the complications of this alcoholism and also syphilis. Dying at 36, he was buried in the Verdelais ( Gironde ) cemetery a few kilometers from Malromé.
His last words were to his father, present at the time of his death, referring to the likes of this whimsical and hunting enthusiast aristocrat: “I know, Dad, you do not miss the kill.”
He also cited his lapidary reaction to seeing his father, a hunter at heart, trying to hit a fly that flies on the deathbed of his son with the elastic of his boots: “The old fart!”
At the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi, reference is made to the last words of the artist addressed to his mother. Lautrec’s relations with his father were subject to many ramblings.
The painter was not an artist cursed by his family, on the contrary. His father wrote to Gabrielle de Toulouse-Lautrec, his mother and thus the paternal grandmother of the painter, on the night of the death of his son: “Malrome, September 9, 1901: Ah dear Mother, that sadness.
God did not bless our union. May his will be done, but it is very hard to see the order of nature reversed. I am anxious to join you after the sad spectacle of the long agony of my poor child, so harmless, having never had for his father a bad word.
Pity us. – Alphonse”
After the death of Toulouse-Lautrec, Maurice Joyant, his close friend, protector, and merchant of his paintings wanted to highlight his work with the endorsement of the Countess Adele of Toulouse-Lautrec. They gave the necessary funds for a museum to be created in Albi, the city where the artist was born, and offer their superb collection of paintings.
His Art Works
Despite a short life marked by illness, the painter’s work is very vast: the catalog of his works, published in 1971, lists 737 paintings, 275 watercolors, 369 lithographs (including posters ) and about 5,000 drawings.
In his youth, horses were his usual subject. Since childhood, he loved riding and had to give it up because of his illness. He continued to live in his works with his passion for horses.
At the beginning of his career, he painted some nude men as exercises, but his best nudes are women. In general, he preferred to start with sketches, but many of his nudes must have been made from nature.
Usually Henri’s models are not beautiful girls, but women who are starting to grow old. To paint this kind of paintings he was inspired by Edgar Degas.
He kept drawing: some drawings are works in themselves, but many are sketches for paintings or lithographs. Sometimes his drawings resembled caricatures which, in a few lines, rendered a gesture or an expression; to realize them, he used various means (pencil , ink , pastel and charcoal).
Although not practicing photography himself, his friends and fellow entertainers include professional photographer Paul Sescau and amateur photographers Maurice Guibert and François Gauzi. He is photographed regularly by them and liked to dress up.
He used pictures of his models or characters as the basis of some works. Spontaneity and the direction of motion of his compositions often come from the photographic instant.
He created 325 posters and lithographs, inventing a technique of spray original, consisting scratch a toothbrush charged with ink or paint with a knife. As an illustrator, Toulouse-Lautrec has made famous posters and, less known part of his work, he also illustrated some forty songs, successes mainly interpreted in the two big Parisian cabarets of the time: Le Moulin Rouge, and The Mirliton by Aristide Bruant.
As he did not need to always subject himself to pleasing everyone by focusing on the nobility as past artists needed to to get by. No, Lautrec chose subjects he knew well or faces that were of interest to him, and as he frequently met people of all kinds, his paintings covered a wide range of social classes: nobles and artists, writers and sportsmen, doctors, nurses and picturesque figures of Montmartre.
Many of his paintings (such as the Salon des Moulins street) show prostitutes because he saw them as ideal models for the spontaneity with which they knew how to move, whether they were naked or half-dressed.
He painted their lives with curiosity, but without moralism or sentimentality and, above all, without trying to attribute to them any fascination. Going the brothel as much by pleasure than necessity (because of disability, there is true affection, so it stands out by giving to see images without trial and without moralistic voyeurism).
Truly a friend to prostitutes, they gave him the nickname “coffee maker” because of his priapism or the proportion of one of his sexual organs.
At the end of 19thcentury, the circus shows were very numerous in France, and Toulouse-Lautrec regularly visited traveling circuses in Paris. In the popular neighbourhoods of Paris, only two circuses were present: the Cirque D’hiver de Paris, and the Cirque Fernando in Montmartre.
In the upscale neighbourhoods of Paris, several circuses offered spectacular stagings such as the Hippodrome with its famous chariot races, the Cirque D’été near the Champs-Élysées, the Circus Molier Rue Benouville and the Nouveau Cirque, where Chocolat is produced, on Rue Saint-Honoré.
René Princeteau, deaf-mute painter and friend of the family circle of Toulouse-Lautrec, is charged by the father of the artist to teach him the art of painting and drawing. Indeed, René Princeteau possessed an exceptional gift for painting and drawing horses and dogs.
In the early 1880s, he discovered Toulouse-Lautrec circus Fernando, located at the top of the rue des Martyrs in Paris. The father of Toulouse-Lautrec, an aristocrat passionate about the world of horses, had taken his son frequently to the Circus Molier when the family moved to Paris in 1872.
Toulouse-Lautrec was passionate from then on for the circus. This environment reminds him of the unconventionality of his family circle. He is also drawn to these shows by the moving bodies, the athletic performances of the artists and the postures of the animals.
The world of the circus was also interesting because of the links that can be made with the ancient circus and its presentation of bruised and tortured bodies in the show.
The other attraction of the circus experienced by Toulouse-Lautrec is the parallelism that can be drawn between the bodies of performing circus artists and his own body. “It is a suffering body, which draws suffering bodies”, as one of the editors of the catalog of the exhibition “Circus in the time of Toulouse-Lautrec”, said, at the Raymond Lafage museum, which took place in Lisle-sur-Tarn from June 18, 2016 to October 31, 2016.
“The number imposes its daily pain at the mercy of repetitions: muscular hypertrophy of the arms, legs, arched back, limbs, rickets, on the contrary, bodies dedicated to the aerobatics, with imposed levity. “However, Toulouse-Lautrec does not wish to inspire complacency towards circus artists.
“The show must be easy, graceful and happy. ” As noted by one of the editors of the exhibition catalog, “is it for the show to hide … the show, I mean, the intimate, that of his own life?”
Toulouse-Lautrec feels as close to values related to this universe with the notion of freedom.
In early 1899, Toulouse-Lautrec was hospitalized because of several mental disorders related to various ailments including alcoholism. He is interned in the clinic of Dr. Sémelaigne in Neuilly. In February 1899, to prove that he had recovered his mental health and his ability to work, he drew from memory in black pencil and crayons a series of 39 drawings on the circus.
There are amazons, trapeze artists, clowns, bear and elephant trainers, horses, and learned dogs. The stands are drawn empty. The audience is absent as if to show that the painter is there against his will.
The doctors, dazzled by the coherence of these works and the dynamics of the movements represented, let him out on May 17, 1899, thus recognizing the perfect state of his memory and his remarkable technicality.
As Toulouse-Lautrec so poetically said: “I bought my freedom with my drawings.”
Federico Fellini, about this set of works, had compared Toulouse-Lautrec to Mozart. Indeed, when Mozart was 14, he once listened Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere” in a the cathedral in Rome, copying it down with only minor corrections when he got home.
Later, Mozart was summoned to Rome once he was discovered to have stolen the sacred work, only to be praised and vindicated by the Pope for this apparent miracle.
Other painters became interested in circus as well. The painter Degas made Cirque Fernando famous, with his painting, Miss Lala at Cirque Fernando. Subsequently, several artists will be interested in this Circassian universe, like Chagall, Matisse and Picasso.
Lautrec first stayed in Arcachon in 1872, then aged 8, with his mother Adèle. At this time, his uncle Ernest Pascal being prefect of Gironde, he enjoyed the presence of his three cousins, rented in Arcachon or staying at the Grand Hotel, to play on the beach and swim, despite his disability, especially with his cousin Louis who was the same age as him.
At adulthood, he visited the Bay of Arcachon almost every summer where he devotes himself and his friends to fishing, sailing, swimming, and other seaside pleasures, taking advantage of the healthy air gracing his fragile lungs.
In 1885, he discovered, thanks to the medical officer of health Henri Bourges, who shelters him in Paris, the village of Taussat (commune of Lanton) while this doctor joins a colleague Dr. Robert Wurtz who stays in the vast family property extending between Andernos and Taussat.
While the Pascal family, following a reversal of fortunes in 1892, no longer comes to Arcachon, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, arranged otherwise and enjoyed the same year the hospitality of Louis Fabre (1860-1923), magistrate originally from Agen, whom he met in Paris probably around 1890, and to whom Lautrec bought in Taussat the villa Bagatelle and a sailboat called “Belle Hélène” in tribute to the bride and future wife of Fabre, Hélène Estève (1859-?) .
Lautrec will become friends with Fabre until his death in 1901.
His friend and photographer, Maurice Guibert often accompanied him to Arcachon or Taussat. Henri was there in 1896, fishing with cormorants that his father Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec, authentic master falconer, taught him to train in his youth.
Lautrec knew for a long time a shipowner, Paul Viaud (1846-1906), 18 years his elder who will be charged in 1899 by the family Toulouse-Lautrec watch over Henri, become alcoholic, undermined by absinthe, and who has had to be locked in a health house that same year in Neuilly.
It is indeed in the villa Bagatelle, in August 1901, that, strongly emaciated by a tuberculosis contracted a few months before, the painter appears on a last photograph. Victim of nervous attacks that paralyze him progressively, he is taken to Malromé, where his life was extinguished on 9 September 1901.
Away from Parisian places of pleasure, the painter came to perform a kind of cure, forgetting his physical disability and finding another joy of life. The paintings made during his stays are far from the Montmartre subjects that made his fame and were intended to thank his hosts for their hospitality.
The reconstituted history of its resorts on the Arcachon Basin gives us a much healthier vision of this character.
An art installation is a three-dimensional visual artwork, often created for a specific place (in situ) and designed to change the perception of space.
The term “installation”, which appeared in the 1970’s, generally applies to works created for interior spaces (ie. gallery, museum); outdoor works are more often referred to as public art, land art, or, to put it roughly, humans intervening on an environment and putting their “stamp” on it.
That said, an outdoor piece can most certainly be considered an “installation” of sorts, but, typically, installation art is most often found within an indoor space, as some artists would prefer to contain their creative statement to the context of a room, which is simple enough for a viewer to comprehend.
The installation, once constructed, is most often expressed in such a three-dimensional setting as has been mentioned: within a room, where the artist includes the environment as part of the work, or other factors, which distinguishes their work from simply hanging a 2-D piece.
The 3-D work is put into a situation and makes use of the off-field, a dimension that is not immediately visible to the person who is watching: the mere fact of including it as a “spectator” calls for notions of participation, immersion, and theatricality.
The space of the installation can be closed (eg limited to a waiting room, a kitchen, etc.) or open (for example a bridge, a wheat field, a square, a street, a city etc.): thus, Land art tends today to be redefined by the yardstick of the concept of installation.
Finally, an installation can be either:
mobile (or re-mountable);
permanent (or fixed);
ephemeral (or temporary).
The installation can most often be assimilated to a sculpture but it can not be reduced to it. One speaks of hybridization and mutations.
It also makes it possible to explode the notion of volume: the installation can be understood as an object of reduced size to a very large space (eg. Monumenta).
Specificity: Some installations are designed for (and depending on) a particular exhibition location.
Interaction: in some cases, the public is led to interact with the installation or even the artist himself.
The distance between the public and the work is more or less abolished; in some cases there is participation, the public penetrates within the perimeter proper to the work, engendering new types of relations between creation, creator, and viewer.
The scenography: some works invite a course, a path and propose different stages or sensorial sequences.
Here is a work by Yoko Ono called “Cut Piece”, from 1965. Watch the video and see what meaning you can derive from this work.
This brings us to the point about art, and what is exactly the point of it all? Is it to create enjoyment for the viewer / person experiencing the art, or is it simply to provoke thought?
As you probably know, if you like art, you must also be aware that there are those of us who just don’t really enjoy art, and, in particular, art that isn’t extremely easy to understand the meaning of at a glance.
Art which challenges the viewer, which installation art can often be, can often elicit feelings of strong dislike or confusion from the person witnessing it.
This begs the question, “What makes for good installation art?” For surely not all installation art is created equal, just like any kind of creative output. Are there no standards? Is it all just purely subjective?
We spoke recently to University of California professor Jennifer Gonzalez, who has studied installation art in depth, and has even written a book about installation art called Subject to Display: Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art.
Jennifer offers the following tidbit, “Like any art form, good installation art transforms the way we see, feel or think about the world.”
Of course, everyone sees art differently. Some people aren’t comfortable having their thoughts challenged or provoked.
However, assuming you would like to understand installation art better than you already do, let’s take a trip back in time.
We will now look at the history of installation art, and some context as to how this often misunderstood sub-genre of art came about.
History of Installation Art
The term “installation” is relatively new in its use and in its definition as an artistic concept.
In 1958, the artist Allan Kaprow spoke of the “environment” to describe his productions, which consisted of the creation of a room requiring the intervention or the situation of the spectator and the place in a sort of happening, later described as “performance.”
In the same year, French artist Yves Klein invited the public to visit the Iris Clert gallery space in Paris to present his latest work, the “Exposition du vide”: floor, ceiling and walls painted white, all lit by a bluish light.
Playful, participative and mobile dimensions are already present in these avant garde works.
In retrospect, contemporary artists themselves are part of a genealogy, which, at the turn of the 1920’s, saw the appearance of certain artists (alone or in groups) capable of organizing, presenting and staging their productions in a non-conformist way.
Art theorists situate this phenomenon in the context of movements such as Dadaism and Surrealism: for example, Marcel Duchamp, who is the designer of the International Exhibition of Surrealism at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, or the Merzbau by Kurt Schwitters, two artists who, however, worked in the secret of their workshops.
In 1969 the public discovers Given, Duchamp’s last work, begun in 1946 and completed in 1968: the artist described it as a “demountable approximation” and is accompanied by ” a specification, which makes it, in theory, “remountable”.
The first “ephemeral” installation, designed to be destroyed after a brief exhibition, was realized in 1956 in Barcelona by the Catalan poet Joan Brossa.
In Japan, the Gutai group was expressing itself through neo-dadaist performances and forms of installations.
In 1958, Wolf Vostell realized an installation, The Black Room ( Das schwarze Zimmer ), and exhibited in 1963 at the Smolin Gallery of New York an installation called 6 TV De-coll / age.
Depending on their fashions and arrangements, in a setting that has its own dynamics, the installations use traditional media such as painting , sculpture , photography , but more often more recent media such as projections (film, video), sound, lighting.
An artist like Nam June Paik was the first to use a mixed technique, combining television, video, sounds and lights in Exposition of Music – Electronic Television at the Parnass Gallery in Wuppertal in 1963.
Artists of the Fluxus and Lettrist group also expressed themselves through temporary installations, more or less provocative.
In the early 1980’s, interactive visual and sound installations appeared, using analogue and digital means, such as Jean-Robert Sédano and Solveig de Ory .
Beginning in the 1990s, the installations use computer tools either to drive the effects or to form the main medium, with artists like Perry Hoberman, David Rokeby, or digital and immersive with Jeffrey Shaw or Maurice Benayoun.
Now we shall take a look at some of the more famous, and sometimes infamous, installation artists the world has seen thus far…
Famous Installation Artists You Should Know About
Installation artists are not always the most well-known artists many students of art history will come across when studying art, which is strange, since installation art is some of the most groundbreaking and often hard-to-miss artistic statements that can be made.
Take, for example, this digital installation piece by Kyra Schmidt, which dominates an entire landscape.
As mentioned previously, the distinction between this art being considered “installation art” and “land art” comes down to the artists’ statement of their own work, and the viewers’ perception as well, since the artist clearly isn’t going to be present to guide each viewers’ opinion as to how to define what they are seeing. The art, in other words, speaks for itself, and, in a real sense, doesn’t care what the viewer thinks of it.
To beleaguer the point a bit more, Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jett” could be seen as land art, or installation art, or an earthwork sculpture, but it also simply is.
Installation art is such a powerful medium because it is often more than 2-D, reaching into the realm of experience-based media that affects us in a different way from a painting, or other types of media.
The point of much installation art is to express something truly epic, or a feeling that can only be felt in the world or context of that particular piece.
The list of popular and, in fact, legendary installation artists is not a short one. As a student of art, and as someone obviously curious about the creative process, I hope you enjoy this list of the most famous installation artists of all time that everyone should know about. (*It is, of course, up to you to determine whether or not you agree that they should be on this list, and it would be interesting to hear your opinion in the comments below)
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese contemporary artist who is well-known for her extensive resume in the arts and her long list of exhibitions and permanent installations.
She started achieving success in the 1950’s, and is now one of the most famous Japanese female artists, recently making the Time Magazine list of the 100 most influential people.
A very colourful person in life, Yayoi’s art immerses the viewer in an experience that takes them well beyond the bounds of the ordinary, usually involving polka dots in some way.
In 2017, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC opened up an exhibition celebrating her 50 years of work, and that same year, a museum named after her was instituted in Tokyo.
Her exhibitions are considered a must-see experience.
Watch this trailer for Kasuma (Infinity), about the artist.
Ai Weiwei is an artist from Beijing, China. He is a filmmaker, visual artist, installation artist, author, and architectural artist. He is, or at least was, an extensive blogger, finding a place to express his vitriolic commentary on the Sina Weibo platform in the early micro-blogging days of the internet.
His most notable works include teaming up with architects to design and create the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics, but make no mistake, this man’s legacy cannot really be summed up in just a couple of big pieces.
Ai Weiwei is a human-rights activist that has been publicly vocal about his distaste for the Chinese government.
In fact, Ai has been embroiled in several controversies over his long and storied career, including a tax scandal, and being arrested. He always seems to have the government nipping at his heels.
Despite being at odds with his own government for things he says or does, he is the recipient of many awards over his lengthy career, including the Appraisers Association Award for Excellence in the Arts and the Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award.
Here is an interesting interview with Ai Weiwei that will give you an idea of who this man is.
Up next…Damien Hirst.
Damien Hirst is an English artist and art collector. His most notable work that seems to be his big (though perhaps improbable) “hit” is called The Physical Impossibilities of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, which is a large tiger shark suspended in blue formaldehyde in a tank, created in 1991.
Here’s a video featuring this catchily-titled piece, with discussion between Beth Harris, Sal Khan and Steven Zucker.
This shark piece is quite notorious by now, and elicits many different reactions from onlookers. Is it beautiful? Is it horrifying? It depends on who’s looking at it, and their mood on the time, not to mention their own relationship with the subject matter imposed on the viewer by the artist: death.
Hirst is a two-time Turner Prize recipient. Some of his other works includes the recreation of a chemists studio, called Pharmacy, Away From The Flock, which was a dead sheep in formaldehyde and The Dream, which was a unicorn suspended in formaldehyde.
And just when you thought you’ve seen it all when it comes to unicorns suspended ominously in tanks of formaldehyde, there’s also this…
A central theme of Hirst’s work is, as you may have guessed by now, …. death.
Born in Colombia, Doris Salcedo is a visual artist most known for her usage of commonplace items in her work.
She is the recipient of The Guggenheim Fellowship for Visual Arts, a prestigious grant for exceptional work in the arts, along with many other renowned awards.
She has shared that her approach to creating installation art is: “The way that an artwork brings materials together is incredibly powerful. Sculpture is its materiality. I work with materials that are already charged with significance, with meaning they have required in the practice of everyday life…then, I work to the point where it becomes something else, where metamorphosis is reached.”
Check out this video, where Doris talks about the nature of her work.
Bruce Nauman is an artist from the United States that is well versed in many different art forms. His work spans drawing, sculpting, working with neon and more.
There is an undeniable sexuality to his work that, when combined with the somewhat crude, universalized advertisement-like overtones in his work…the sort of eye grabbing modernity…that make the viewer subject to a wide array of reactions and emotions.
Since his first exhibition in 1966, his work has become widely known. His work has been featured in numerous prestigious museums, including Documenta, the Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale.
He is the recipient of 8 awards and accolades, and is generally celebrated as a progressive artist the world over, going by the credo that “the true artist helps the world”.
Joseph Beuys was a German artist who practiced all forms of art. His art philosophy was “extended definition of art” and the idea of social sculpture as a gesamtkunstwerk, which means a work of art that uses all art forms, or tries to.
In other words, he once covered himself in a blanket and got in a room with a coyote to see what would happen. The title here was “I Like America and America Likes Me”. Well, it sure does!
His impressive body of work includes visual, installation, and performance art, but he also contributed in an academic way, with art theory.
He also had an impressive list of exhibitions that have been held posthumously.
Here is a short video asking the question, “Who is Joseph Beuys?”
Up next…Allan Kaprow.
Allan Kaprow was an American artist best known for his installation art and paintings.
He described his philosophy on art as “concrete” or using commonplace materials like “paint, chairs, food, electric and neon lights, smoke, water, old socks, a dog, movies” to make an impact.
He studied art and philosophy in school, and began teaching. He created a series of well-known installations called the Happenings, as a mixture of performance and installation art.
Here’s a video from 1988 in NYC that delves into some of Allan’s interesting happenings, and what they involved.
So far, we’ve discussed famous installation pieces, artists, and the background of the medium. Installation art has been disruptive in such a short amount of time and has given us some incredible artists with impactful work from all over the world.
But why is installation art influential? What about it makes it a necessary form of conceptual art? Well, there are three main reasons why we need it: critical thinking, inspiration, and emotion.
When you ask an installation artist the meaning behind their work, it’s often intense and thought-provoking.
For example, Doris Salcedo focuses her installation pieces around the themes of death, war, violence, and violence against women in her home country of Colombia.
Judy Chicago focuses her work on Feminist issues, and her piece “The Dinner Party,” is critically acclaimed and world-renowned.
These themes are underlying, and they’re abstract compared to the pieces themselves, which means audiences have to think critically about what the subject matter they’re ingesting.
The ideas and the impact of them are more important than the installation itself, as the artist is presenting a message in a way that makes people think.
Installation art aims to shift the focus from the literal visual representation of a piece to what the conceptual meaning is behind it.
Reworking how we consume art requires critical thinking and a shift in subjective perspective among individual viewers.
While the themes are not always immediately apparent, the artist is deliberate in every aspect of the piece. There is no texture, medium, or detail that is not intentional in a piece of installation work.
Over and above critical thinking, installation art fosters a dialogue between viewers. It sparks a conversation among critics and other artists in the installation community.
It creates an experience for the audience, more so than a painting or sculpture. Installation art breaks boundaries in many ways.
“If a traditional work of art allows us to appreciate the craftsmanship of the artist, an installation allows us to experience the ‘artwork’ and perhaps even rethink our attitudes and values.” – Encyclopedia of Art
Installation pieces are not confined to the walls of museums and galleries.
Some pieces, like Yayoi Kusama’s outdoor sculptures, Ai Weiwei’s “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” or Arnaud Lapierre’s “Ring – Chain,” are all beautiful examples of artwork that are in public spaces.
It’s inspiring to be living your daily life and come across a large-scale piece of artwork that makes you ponder. Artwork that makes us question, deliberate, and inspires us is a gift.
The idea that anything is possible through art is exciting. As a creator, there are no limits. Creating art is ingrained in our being, which is why it inspires us so.
An installation piece provides a different kind of experience for someone, and each person looks at it and interprets it a little different.
Installation art can inspire change. So many artists explore heavy themes that are deliberately brought to the attention of their audience that they may not otherwise have been aware of.
These pieces of art inspire people to continue to spread awareness and create change in their communities.
Installations are typically temporary, which helps convey the concept of attachment.
In Buddhism, the idea of attachment is the cause of all suffering. We take with us our memories, and nothing else, so installation art can help inspire us to be less attached.
“Any form of art is a form of power; it has impact; it can affect change – it can not only move us, it makes us move.” – Ossie Davis
Installation art can have some dark themes behind its creation. Cultural issues, political issues, war, death, oppression, and other subjects that aren’t necessarily easy to discuss.
The goal behind installation art is to evoke emotion and conversation and to bring light to issues that are important to the artist.
For example, artist Damien Hirst focuses a lot of his artwork around death. His use of dead animals suspended and preserved with formaldehyde called “The Physical Impossibilities of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” is intended to make audiences feel a bit uneasy or uncomfortable.
Being able to assimilate the experience of an installation piece makes it all that more special. It creates an intimate moment between the viewer and the artwork in a way that a painting or more traditional piece can’t.
This moment only grows more profound when the installation piece is interactive, or the viewer becomes a part of the story.
“I think art, more than anything else, helps humans to synthesize emotion and to synthesize parts of ourselves, so therefore, as an artist, I feel a responsibility to try and facilitate that synthesis.” – Jennifer Nettles
Why is Installation Art a Need?
Installation art transcends aesthetic preference, since typically it uses materials that are mundane and ordinary, and goes straight for symbolism and meaning.
It demands critical thinking and emotion of its viewers, and it inspires other artists to create. It creates meaningful connections between the artist and the audience, mainly if their work is speaking for those who do not have a voice.
In the history of art, conceptual art is relatively new, but that doesn’t demean its significance and authority in the art world. Installation art is an experience, and it’s a necessary medium in our society.
Whether you’re personally a fan of this art style or not, there is something to be said about the impact it can have on us when it’s created with care.
“All of the significant art of today stems from Conceptual art. This includes the art of installation, political, feminist, and socially directed art.” – Sol LeWitt
Each of these artists listed are extremely talented and well-known individuals in the installation art community, and now, hopefully, you will have a better understanding of installation art in terms of its context in the art world, place in history, and possibilities you may wish to pursue if you were questioning whether or not painting or drawing is the medium for you.
Again, leave a comment if you wish.
“Just as the development of earth art and installation art stemmed from the idea of taking art out of the galleries, the basis of my involvement with public art is a continuation of wall drawings.” – Sol LeWitt
“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.
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 participantsto 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 extremelyviolent.
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, 30th 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.
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.MarinaAbramovic 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 20th 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 encirclesthe 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 environmentto creatingan environment in which its realization required participation from visitors.
Here’s a video showing Obliteration Room in action:
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 creatingthe 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.
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.
I was an extreme element of society who lived in space and who had no means of coming back to earth.
Yves Klein, one of the most prominent and controversial French artists, emerged in the middle of the XX century and is remembered above all else for his use of a single color – a rich shade of ultramarine that he made his own: International Klein Blue.
Klein´s art emerged from serious circumstances. In the late 1940s, France was still a nation traumatized by World War II. The cultural center of gravity had moved across the Atlantic to New York. The artists who remained in Paris, or at least the good ones, were producing post-apocalyptic work, and out of the same rubble came the much younger Klein.
The abstract painting that dominated French art in the 1950s was invariably premised on the notion that an artist could communicate with the viewer through the power of abstract form. But the skeptics of modern abstract art have always alleged that the viewers, like the faithful devotees of a false god, do more of the than the artist, investing the forms with their own feelings rather than discovering the artist’s.
Klein was fascinated by mystical ideas, by notions of the infinite, the absolute, the indefinable and his use of a single rich and suggestive tone of blue might be seen as an attempt to free the viewer from all imposed ideas.
But he would turn out to be a very worldly mystic- a merry prankster and shrewd self-publicist, Klein was a unique combination of spiritual seeker and shameless showboat, an artist of metaphysical bent.
Yves Klein was born on April, 28, 1928, in Nice, France to an artistic family, the son of two painters. His father, Fred Klein, a Dutch-Indonesian, worked in a figurative Post-Impressionist mode while his mother, Marie Raymond, a Frenchwoman, was a successful School of Paris abstractionist and a leading figure in the Informel movement.
Klein grew up shuttling between his parents in Paris and his grandparents in Nice.
Although Klein grew up in an artistic family, he did not receive formal artistic training. Between 1942 and 1946, he studied at the Ecole Nationale des Langues and the Ecole National de la Marine Marchand; during this time he became close friend with Armand Fernandez, a promising young sculptor, and Claude Pascal, a young poet.
The friends shared common interests of jazz music, literature, esotericism, Eastern religions and martial arts and judo especially. Klein´s sport was judo, which he wrote a book about, after studying it at Kadokan Institute in Tokyo (from 1947 and 1952/53) and earning a black belt.
Klein is certainly the only 20th century artist to have published a book titled The Foundations of Judo.
Thwarted By Judo
The refusal of the French Federation of Judo to recognize his Japanese diploma, in 1954, frustrated his career plans in that direction to the benefit of his career in art. An academic failure, Klein began making art on his own while taking odd jobs.
According to a story, Klein’s major artistic breakthrough happened in 1947 while lying on a beach with Pascal and Arman. The three friends divided the universe between themselves: Arman claimed the materiality of the earth, Pascal appropriated language and words and Klein possessed ‘’the void’’-the planet empty of all matter.
Klein embarked on a realistic-imaginative daydream into the depths of the universe, where he claimed to have inscribed his name in the sky.
The void enlightenment in the sky led Klein to experiment in painting, music and performance. The Monotone-Silence Symphony from 1949, a piece containing a single chord sustained for twenty minutes followed by twenty minutes of meditative silence.
It symbolized the sound pitch emitted from the monochrome blue sky, or the void emphasizing universal harmony.
In the period between 1848 and 1952, Klein lived in London and began to assist in London frame shop of Robert Savage, learning basic painting techniques and using raw pigments and gilding. He was determined to evoke sensations and emotions independent of line, abstracted symbols or rendered objects, believing the monochromatic surface released the painting from materiality through the totality of pure pigment.
In 1956, Klein had a controversial exhibition at the Galerie Colette Allendy in Paris, established himself in the Paris art scene. The exhibition titled Yves: Propositions Monochromes displayed twenty monochromatic paintings rendered in tones of blue, red, orange and yellow.
He received a pretty disappointing reaction from the public, who viewed the exhibition as a new form of interior abstraction rather than an infinite journey into the immateriality of the surface. After considering the public´s misinterpretation, Klein decided to push the monochrome a step further by focusing on his favorite color-blue.
Klein’s Blue Period
And, in 1956, he succeeded in suspending his favorite ultramarine pigment in petroleum extracts, which allowed the pigment to maintain its brilliance and something of its powdery texture without dulling. He named the substance International Klein Blue – IKB.
It was the beginning of the Klein´s Blue Period.
The piece Blue Monochrome, from 1957, is one of the Klein´s first monochromes featuring International Klein Blue. He depicted his vision, using only one color, a vibrant shade of ultramarine, which he later perfected for use with the aid of chemist.The painting contains no trace of imaginary or line, encouraging the viewer to immerse herself in the color alone and to experience its evocations.
Symbolic of the sky and sea had resonances in Klein´s own religion, Catholicism, as not only a symbol of the Holy Ghost, but also as the shade traditionally used in the depiction of the Virgin Mary’s robes in the Renaissancepaintings.
In 1957, in Nice, Klein met the young beautiful German painter Rotraut Uecker, who assisted him on a huge decorative project for the Gelsenkirchen opera house, in Germany, involving canvases and sponge reliefs imbued with I.K.B.
To further his artistic vision of the immaterial, he created Le Vide, or The Void (1958). He removed everything from the gallery space (Iris Clert Gallery) except for an empty cabinet; he also created a dramatic entrance for the opening show, in which visitors were welcomed into empty room.
In regards to the work, he stated that his paintings were invisible and he would like to show them in a clear and positive manner. The Void, like much of his work it might be read in a slightly contradictory manner, as a political attack on the traditional art object and the gallery system that supports it.
In the Venus Blue, from 1960, Klein applied his signature International Klein Blue to a plaster cast of the famous Venus de Milo sculpture, pushing the monochrome into the three-dimensional field and establishing a relationship between the infinite cosmos and the human form.
By appropriating the famous Greek sculpture and painting it IKB, Klein gives the dated masterpiece a kind of kitsch and commercial appeal, making it a precursor to Pop Art.
Anthropométrie sans titre
After concentrating on the monochrome canvases, Klein made a new departure with his signature IKB color, using his brush and nude models. In Anthropométrie sans titre, 1961, he covered nude females in blue paint and had them press, drag and lay themselves across canvases to create bodily impressions.
The piece was inspired in part by photographs of the body-shaped burn-marks on the earth, which were caused by the atomic explosion at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Klein crafted this idea into a performance piece, hosting a formal event where guests observed the nude models executing the piece; although the events could be at times bizarre and comic, the resulting pictures represent a fresh and vivid approach to the idea of figurative painting darkly influenced by the threat of the Cold War.
In this period, Klein became fascinated with natural elements and usually incorporated water, fire, sea sponges and gravelinto his sculptures and canvases. This resulted in a series of fire paintings and monochrome relief paintings, as well as IKB sculptures that expressed cosmological ideas and infinite space.
After the exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, in 1961, he received a poor response and his paintings failed to sell.
Marriage to Rotraut Uecker & Death
The next year, he married Rotraut Uecker, several months before he died of a heart attack at the young age of 34.
In France, Klein perception of reality was significant forerunner of Nouveau Réalisme and a French strain of Pop Art. His work represents one of the most important responses to the monochrome in the art of the twenty century, and has joined the contributions of others such as Aleksander Rodchenko and Kasimir Malevich.
Yves Klein was a consummate trickster and more than a half of century after his death, we are still not sure how seriously to take him. As with Marcel Duchamp before him and the conceptual artists who came after, Klein believed that the idea behind a work was more important than the execution.
Among his earliest projects were two booklets he produced in 1954 that contained plates of his monochrome paintings – canvases covered over entirely in a single color. But while Klein by that year had produced some small monochromes, the particular paintings the booklets pretend to reproduce probably never existed.
The work is what it is and hopefully it’s seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work, but I’m not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff. – Cindy Sherman
A contemporary master of social photography, Cindy Sherman is a key figure of the Pictures Generation, a loose circle of the most influential and productive American Artists who came to artistic maturity and recognition during the early 1980s, a period notable for the rapid and widespread proliferation of mass media imagery.
For the most of her remarkable artistic career, she has been the face of postmodernism.
Ms Sherman was born in January, 19, 1954, in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, as a youngest of the five children, and shortly after her birth, the family moved to Long Island where she spent her early childhood.
Her father was an engineer and her mother a reading teacher, but although her parents shared a general disinterest in the arts, Cindy chose to study art in college, and afterwards, studied at Buffalo, at the State University of New York, in the early 1970s.
In this period, from 1972 to 1976, she began as a painter in a super- realist art style in Buffalo.The 1970s was an eclectic era for painters working in the aftermath of Minimalism, and feeling as though ‘’there was nothing else to say’.
But very quickly after, she found herself frustrated by the certain limitations of the medium and shifted her attention to photography, toward the end of 1970s, in order to explore a wide range of common female social role or personas.
Owing to a widely influential art instructor, Barbara Jo Revelle, she was exposed to conceptual art and other progressive media and art movements.
As Sherman came of age in the art world, the prevailing visual mode was painting dominated by ‘bad boy’ expressionist and figurative painters like David Salle or Eric Fischl. Photography was still thought to fall below painting in the hierarchy of mediums, but it granted women artists a mode that was relatively free from the heavy, conservative and male- dominated history of the painted canvas.
Many of the women artists adopted the camera and ‘’there was a female solidarity’’
Untitled Film Stills
After graduation, Sherman moved to New York in order to pursue her artistic career. In 1977, in her downtown residential and loft studio she started taking a series of photographs, a project she would eventually refer to as the Untitled Film Stills.
This series, 1977-80, is considered an early cornerstone of postmodernism.
In Untitled Film Stills, Ms. Sherman embodies the character of ‘Everywoman’; the artist served as both photographer and subject, transforming herself into the guise of various female archetypes, re-fashioning herself repeatedly and played the film noir siren, the prostitute, the girly pin-up, the housewife and the noble damsel in distress, also the movie stars of an earlier generation: Monica Vitti,Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren.
For about three years, she was occupied by black-and-white series, so that by 1980, Sherman had exhausted a myriad of seemingly timeless clichés referring to the ‘feminine’.This photographs of women by woman quickly gained attraction within the feminist community.A theorist Laura Mulvey, in one of her essays, contextualized Sherman’s work within the prevailing feminist modes of thought at the time.
End Of An Era
When Ms. Sherman arrived on the scene, it marked ‘the end of the era in which the female body had become, if not quite unrepresentable, only representable if refracted through theory’. Rather than sidestepping, Sherman reacts and shifts the agenda; she recuperates a politics of the body that had been lost or neglected in the twists and turns of 70s feminism.
It is easy to see some of the way Sherman’s representations of women avoided the proclivities of the day. The high heels and the heavy makeups, as well as the bullet bras of the film stills, harken back to the 50s rather than the au naturel look favored in the 70s.
It is not just a range of feminine expressions that are shown but the process of the ‘feminine’, as an effect, something acted upon.
Posing And Pretence
Museum of Modern Arts announced, in 1996, that it had just acquired Sherman’s Untitled Film Still series, the curators knew they had laid claim to one of the most representative works of the early 1980s American movement of ‘simulationism’ and ‘appropriation’;both terms refer to American artists’ mimicking, in the first half of the 1980s, widely circulating images in the mass media or former art masterpieces, and critically reworking them to arouse a sense of unease in the viewer, indeed oftensuggestingthat culture had become a game of theatrical posing and egoistic pretence.
In Untitled Film Still #21, from 1978, Sherman takes on the role of the small- town girl just happening upon the Big City. She is, at first, suspicious of the metropolitan shadows and lights, only to be eventually seduced by its attractions.
Untitled Film Stills was Sherman’s big artistic break which secured her position in the New York art scene.
In 1981, the Arforum’s editor Ingrid Sischy commissioned a series for the publication, and that Sherman’s work took hold of the feminist imagination. The artist planned to riff on the Playboy centerfold with a pair of horizontal photographs showing women in intimate states of repose.
But, the Sherman’s women were all clothed, unlike Playboy’s women though. These works were never printed in Artforum, and it was the first time Ingrid Sischy refused to print a commission. She worried that the series would be misunderstood by militant feminists since they looked ‘’a little too close’’ to the pinups in actual men’s magazines.
However, Metro Pictures showed them and Calvin Tomkins noted, in the New Yorker, they were, in fact, ‘’ misunderstood by a number of political-minded art students (male and female), who accused Sherman of undermining the feminist cause by depicting women in ‘vulnerable’ poses’’.
Yet, through these moments, Ms. Sherman remained unwilling to directly tie her work to feminist theory. This tension became especially clear with her Untitled #93, from 1981, a centerfold featuring a tearful girl drawing her bedsheets close.
The girl was interpreted by the many critics as a survivor of sexual assault. But, according to the Sherman’s state, the inspiration was a woman who had gone to bed moments before the sun rose, following a night of debauchery.
This example is typical of the debates that have surrounded Sherman and her work: the artist’s account of her own intentions often conflict with the scholarly debates about feminism and the role of the women in her pictures.
Disasters and Fairy Tales, from 1985 to 1989, much darker endeavour than its prettified predecessor; he gloomy palette and scenes strewn with vomit and mold challenged viewers to find the unqualified grotesque and the beauty in the ugly.
Her photographic portraiture is intensely grounded in the present, but also extends long traditions in art, that forcethe audience to reconsidercultural assumptions and common stereotypes, among the latter political satire, the graphic novel, caricature, stand-up comedy, the pulp fiction and the other socially critical disciplines.
Sherman’s History Portraits, again presented herself as a model, but this time, she assumed the air of European art history’s most famous leading ladies. Leaving in Europe at the time of its creation, she was absorbed in the West’s great museums.
That interlude gave way to Sherman’s Sex Pictures, in 1992, in which she substituted her own figure for that of a doll, and her main intention was to shock and scandalize the public; the images present close-ups of doll-on-doll sex scenes and prosthetic genitalia.
Over the last decade, Sherman dons clown’s make-up in a series of still photography, in 2003, and even more recently, she explored carefully staged female suburban identities in solo show in New York, in 2008.
Also, in her latter series, she photographed herself in various states of awkward make-up, superimposing stodgy, highly-conscious portraits over contrived domestic and faux-monumental backdrops.
Recalling a long tradition of theatrical role-playing in art and self-portraiture, Cindy Sherman uses the camera and the various tools of everyday cinema-costumes, makeup, stage scenery to re-create common illusions, or iconic ‘snapshots’, that signify very different concepts of self confidence, entertainment,public celebrity, and other socially sanctioned, existential conditions.
Although they constituted only a first premise, these images begin to unravel in various ways that suggest how self identity is often an unstable compromise between personal intention and social dictates.
Yet, with each passing year, Ms, Sherman’s art deviates more noticeablyfrom a basic postmodern tenet and the so-called ‘death of the author’, but this idea holds thatthere is no such thing as originality, that we are all formed by external forces and that identity is completely constructed, which implies that it is also completely de-constructable.
Many variations on the methods of self-portraiture share a single, notable feature: in the majority of Sherman’s portraits, she directly confronts the viewer’s gaze in order to suggest that an underlying penchant for deception is perhaps the only value that truly unites us.
Many critics and art historians have explored the idea of Sherman’s appropriating the ‘’male gaze’’ and the voyeuristic feeling of the works. The artist twists the traditional formula of pin-up shots, and plays into the male conditioning of looking at photographs of exposed women, but she takes on the roles of both, male photograph and female pinup.
Cindy Sherman epitomizes the 1980s technique of‘image-scavengering’ and ‘appropriations’ by artists seeking to question the so-called truth-potential of mass-imagery and its seductive hold on our individual and collective psyches. Sherman depersonalized approach to portrait photography has suggested a new, socially critical capacity for a medium that was once presumed a tool of documentary realism or aesthetic pleasure.
This ‘readymade’ quality of the critically applied photograph, whereby a preexisting image or convention is appropriated intact by artist and turned into something more conceptuallyproblematic, if not psychologically disturbing, has come to characterize much work of a new generation defyingeasy categorization.