The Daily Pic: Are the YBA's prints about the color of pigment, or the color of money?
This is a Damien Hirst “spot” print called “Ferric Ammonium Citrate”, done in woodblock and now on view at Carolina Nitsch in New York, in a show of all 40 works from the same series. It’s easy to see the project as a retro return to formalist issues of shape and color, of figure and ground and of variations worked on a theme. Hirst’s simple instruction-set – never repeat a color; place the spots one spot’s-width apart – does in fact yield surprising perceptual dividends, if you spend the time looking. On the other hand, it may be more interesting to see the series as a riff on market dynamics – as much about how the woodcuts sell as about what they look like. Hirst’s signature may be the deciding factor in any reading: The only function it plays, on the surface of the prints – there are 48 of each image – is to tie each one to the history of unique, certified, hand-made (or hand-signed) commodities. The messy signature actually detracts and distracts from a formalist reading of these otherwise pristine works. But then, plenty of rigorous formalists, including Barnett Newman, also defaced their works by signing the front. Does that make their paintings comments on the market, or sell-outs to it?
Is Singapore open to fostering disruptive art?
Singapore is so dedicated to tidiness that chewing gum is forbidden, or so goes an old cliché that, as it happens, is also a fact. The city-state also has strict rules about carrying open durians, the fruits loved by locals for their nauseous stink. Even the tiny food stalls in Singapore’s vast hawker centers, possibly its greatest cultural treasures, come stamped with health-department approval.
And now there are signs that Singapore’s rule makers want to disturb all this order with the mess of the avant-garde. Last month they threw their weight behind Art Stage Singapore, a commercial fair and festival of contemporary art. Also hitting its stride is Gillman Barracks, an old British military site that authorities renovated into a contemporary-art complex, with room for 17 commercial galleries and a nonprofit center. Stretching over 15 acres, Gillman feels like the white cubes of New York’s Chelsea scene transplanted to a polo club. “There’s an acknowledgment that for Singapore to be a developed society, arts and culture have to play a role ... We want to make art a bigger part of the lives of people here,” says Eugene Tan, the elegant Singaporean who runs Gillman for the Orwellian-sounding Lifestyle Programme Office of the Economic Development Board, which fosters the business end of art making. Singapore also has an eager Tourism Board, which sells local achievements to foreigners, as well as a generous National Arts Council, which helps fund artists and nonprofit spaces. There are plans for an absolutely massive National Art Gallery due to open in a few years. The bones of an art scene are there, clearly, but there’s still considerable doubt about whether any soul is in sight. Is a society that controls the chewing of gum likely to fill the half million square feet of its new museum with art that has bite? After all, this is a place where every exhibition and performance has to submit its plans and seek a permit from the censors at the Media Development Authority.
“The art is an adjunct, a barnacle to this whole tourist environment,” says Valentine Willie, a Malaysian art dealer and adviser who has had galleries across Southeast Asia and has been called the “mayor” of the scene there. He points out that Singaporeans love the term “controlled environment”—and that it applies to their art scene as much as to their air conditioning. When he put up one of his influential surveys of young Singapore artists, he was told he had to seek special approval for an image of a government official. He cites a nude performance piece that came to an unplanned end at the 2011 edition of the Art Stage fair and a gay-themed installation at the Singapore Art Museum whose erotica was censored. He points out that vexed issues of identity are at the heart of the most advanced works in Southeast Asia (this was true even at Singapore’s latest commercial art fair), and yet race, religion, and sexuality are the topics Singapore’s authorities take most exception to. “You are in the most educated country in the region, the richest in the region, and yet you can’t speak freely,” says Willie. “Art as commodity is their model.”
This is something you hear again and again in Singapore art circles. Even Tan, charged with helping that commodity succeed at Gillman Barracks, acknowledges that market forces have played too big a role on the Asian art scene: “When the market becomes too dominant, it affects what artists make,” he says. (Tan can hardly be accused of being a market lackey, despite his current position: his Ph.D. was on notions of time in conceptual art, and he has spent most of his career as a curator at nonprofits.)
The Daily Pic: Michael Benson's planetary art hovers between sci-fi and astronomy.
This is Michael Benson’s “Northern View of Saturn and the Darker Side of the Rings” based on data collected from the Cassini spacecraft on May 9, 2007. It is now on view at Hasted Kraeutler Gallery in New York. You could say that Benson’s spacey images are too eye-catching for their own good – like a painting you’d see on the cover of an old sci-fi novel. But what interests me is the idea that, while these images purport to show the solar system “as it really is”, it seems that there’s a a fair amount of artifice and number-crunching involved in making them look that way. In that sense, they are indeed as close to a sci-fi painting as to the sunset you shot on your last vacation. The more cliched they are in their picturesqueness, the more obvious that becomes, and the more questions get raised about what pictures can show.
Forget the emails. The former president’s paintings are the most interesting things to emerge from Guccifer’s hacking trove. See what art critics have to say about W.’s artwork. Plus, our own interpretations.
The WASP’s Landscape
Of course George W. Bush uses his weight room as a studio! In this picture of a picture, leaked along with a trove of family correspondence and photos, we see Dubya in his element. Wearing his down-home khaki shorts, a baseball cap, and a vest, he’s surrounded by mirrors so he can watch himself putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece: a painting of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Kennebunkport, Maine, the WASP-y seaside town where Bush spent many childhood summers.
It seems that Bush is simply taking a stab at landscapes and ecclesiastical architecture. But New York’s art critic Jerry Saltz saw something else in the painting. “The architecture strikes me as real and imagined: a small central home with maybe an addition, and a large round silo. There appear to be two crosses atop this overall structure, one on the main house and a larger one on the silo. American Gothic indeed.”
As much as we’d all love to think that our very own W. was imagining his home with two large crosses over it (the religious introspection!), unfortunately Saltz really overanalyzed this one, though he deserves props for his own imaginative interpretation.
The Daily Pic: A New York artist messes with her dealer's space.
“Skylight 1” is one of my favorite pieces from Diana Cooper’s solo show at Postmasters gallery in New York, which locals have one more day to catch before it closes. In this piece and others, Cooper takes a real feature of the Postmasters interior and shifts the place and shape it takes up. This new tactic gives a firm, real-world grounding to the fantasy that Cooper’s always revealed in her work. It’s also a kind of homage to Postmasters itself: For almost three decades, in one space after another, owners Magda Sawon and Tamas Banovich have given artists room to do the most daring work they know how. It’s nice that there’s now work that’s about the room given.
The Daily Beast: Andy Freeberg shoots the female guards at Russian museums.
This image, titled “Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin’s Bathing of a Red Horse, State Tretyakov Gallery”, was shot by Andy Freeberg, and is now on view in his show at Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York. Freeberg visited Russia’s great museums, photographing the almost-babushkas charged with guarding the country’s artistic treasures. Even when Freeberg finds women whose look rhymes with their charges, or – as here – where contrast is the point, what strikes me most is the size of the gap between lived life and the worlds found in art. Now what I’d like to see is a photo of a Chelsea gallerina standing by one of Freeberg’s prints, to see if the gap would be as striking.
The Daily Pic: The pioneer of neon looks good at Mary Boone.
A neon piece called “Ba-O-Ba II”, made in 1969 by Keith Sonnier and now refreshed for a solo show at Mary Boone Gallery in New York. I’m old enough (just) to remember how neon seemed the Next Big Thing in the early 1970s, and plenty old enough to remember how out of place those neons seemed in museums in the 80s, when we’d collectively decided that the way forward for art would have to do with content rather than color and shape, line and light. And now, after the passing of so many years, vintage neon’s looking good again, as the last but powerful gasp of the modernist tradition, and as more deeply rooted in social realities than we’d been able to see when first it went out of style. As Sonnier says in the press release, “Our type of work was somehow counter-culture. We chose materials that were not 'high art' …. We were using materials that weren’t previously considered art materials.”
The Daily Pic: Mosaics went digital before circuit boards.
This image of Rudy Giuliani was done in glass mosaic by Nils Grossien, and is now in the show called “Playing with Fire” at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. It woke me up to a fact that I should have noticed long ago: Mosaic is the original digital medium. (My friends Alex Nagel and Chris Wood made good use of that fact in their great study of Renaissance ideas about time and the moment of creation.) Interesting, though, that Grossien made this piece in 1995, before most of us were thinking too much about the digital. Of course, using the digital and thinking about it are two different things: Not sure the mosaicists of Saint Mark’s in Venice were obsessed with bits and bytes.
For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit BlakeGopnik.com/archive.
The Daily Pic: Around 1920, Isidor Kaufmann sought to capture the look of his community.
“Friday Evening”, painted in around 1920 by the Jewish-Austrian artist Isidor Kaufmann, who specialized in genre scenes of life among the Jews of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It’s on view in a permanent-collection show at the Jewish Museum in New York. Producing images so deeply entrenched in the European pictorial tradition must have been part of this community’s profound attempt at assimilation, although here that’s in interesting tension with subject matter that tries to assert its separateness. Neither assimilation nor separation made any difference in the tragic decades that followed.
For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit BlakeGopnik.com/archive.
Daily Pic: The Japanese master plays fast and loose with optics and marketing.
A series of silk-scarves designed for Hermes by the great Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, on view at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute. The premise of the project is that Sugimoto took Polaroid shots of the color bands dispersed from daylight by a huge prism reflected by a mirror onto a wall. He then got Hermes to devise a new process for jet-printing the images onto silk, as a kind of representation of natural color at its most pure.
But as with everything Sugimotesque, I think his trickster self is at work. After all, the gap between the original light and the final scarf gets bigger with each intermediary step, thanks to the distortions of prism and mirror and wall and film and scan and computer processing and digital printing with chemical inks onto a substrate of machine-woven silk. (Read Sugimoto’s artist’s statement to get a sense of his conceptual tergiversations.)
Many of Sugimoto’s series pretend to get at essences but are really about the failure to do so. His two-hour photos of movies being screened elide the films they pretend to reveal. His images of seas at night, with their near-arbitrary exposures, don’t really substitute for being there. His blurred building shots are about the misdirections of pseudo-technique (he claims to focus them at a meaningless “twice infinity”).
In this case, I can’t help feeling that Sugimoto’s trickery is a way to counter the whiff of sell-out involved in this marketing project for Hermes. Let the fancy women who buy these $10,000 scarves think they’re getting an experiment in optics and art, when all they’re really getting is yet another square of colored silk.
British designer Mary Katrantzou is known for her extravagant prints. Now an artist has reimagined them into vivid photographs. By Lisa Larson-Walker.
British designer Mary Katrantzou has become known for her use of intricate prints: her designs have featured everything from lavish Renaissance gardens, Olivetti typewriters, and even international currencies.
She was bound to inspire someone. Enter Garjan Atwood, a multi-talented digital artist who unveils an unusual new photographic project, in O sense. Atwood has created a series of surreal, computer-generated graphics that prominently feature Katrantzou’s designs. Starting from 3-D digital sketches, Atwood generated the composite reality of each scene with a combination of original and stock photography. Each model is an amalgamation of many different women; eyes from one, lips from another. These female hybrids are layered into a wallpapered environment in harmony with the patterns of their garments. The illusion is convincing in its detail, and reads like a futuristic fashion spread from a remote and ornate world. Though the images complement her sensibility, Katrantzou was unaware of the project until its completion, and promptly applauded it on Twitter.
Though he finds influences in all media —includingthe work of Alexander McQueen, Miles Aldridge, Nick Knight, and Yoann Lemoine—Atwood says his primary inspiration comes from Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which are known for their painstaking detail. Knowing this, Katrantzou’s influence on his work comes as no surprise. “[She] is not afraid of unexpected mixtures of bold color and architectural lines,” he told The Daily Beast in an e-mail. “Her designs are part of an atypical feminine universe fed by exotic iconography—a grandeur baroque transported to the 21st century through the aid of new technology (and a hint of kitsch). I love it.”
Bernadette Corporation, an early player in anonymous artists’ collectives, is a living, thinking, ever-changing work of avant-garde art. Blake Gopnik talks to core members Antek Walczak and John Kelsey about the group and its first retrospective, which opens Sept. 8.
They don’t look like works of art. Antek Walczak is 44, in khaki shorts and a vintage T-shirt, with a mop of dark hair that leaves him looking younger. John Kelsey is 47, taller and slighter and shier, with cropped hair and a tendency to withdraw under his baseball cap. They could be webmasters. In fact, however, it might be best to think of them as Brushstroke One and Brushstroke Two in a living, thinking, ever-changing work of art called the Bernadette Corporation, one of the most successful avant-garde creations (and creators) of the past 20 years.
If a cutting-edge artwork could talk, it would speak like this pair. “For us it's just natural that things as they are absolutely need relentless questioning,” says Walczak. "I think all artists somehow try to undermine the codes of art, in a way, while affirming them on another level,” adds Kelsey.
It’s late August in New York, and Walczak and Kelsey are sitting at a conference table in the Artists Space bookstore off Canal Street, trying to explain (or mostly to avoid explaining) what they will be getting up to in the art center’s gallery, a few blocks farther north in SoHo. On Sept. 8, the 40-year-old nonprofit will be opening the Bernadette Corporation’s first retrospective.
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