Ciara Phillips: Now For Something Completely Different – “Dazzle” a Ship

 

Ciara Phillips: Now for Something Completely Different – “Dazzle” a Ship

 

When I wrote previously about my cousin, Ciara Phillips, she had been nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize in 2014 (https://artappreciation101.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/Ciara-Phillips-2014-turner-prize-nominee/).  Since that time she has not been idle, continuing her print-making practice through the artist collective that she founded, Poster Club, taking her ongoing project Workshop (2010 -) on the road to a number of countries and holding solo exhibitions in Stockholm, London, and Norway.

And now for something completely different, Ciara has been commissioned by the Edinburgh Art Festival to “dazzle” a ship.  The work will be part of the 2016 arts festival program designed to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.

For the curious, “Dazzle Ships” refers to a practice begun in 1917 where camouflage paint was used to cover ships in various geometric patterns in order to make it difficult for enemy gunners to estimate a ship’s size, speed and the direction it was travelling.

S.S. Albway, 1918

S.S. Albway, 1918

HMS Kildangan, 1918

HMS Kildangan, 1918

 

Ciara has brought her considerable artistic skills and imagination to the task of creating a dazzle design for a former lighthouse boat, the MV Fingal, that ferried supplies to Scotland’s remote lighthouses, and is now berthed at the Prince of Wales Dock in the port of Leith, Scotland.  The dazzled ship will be launched on June 2, 2016, to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland.

MV Fingal

MV Fingal

Ciara has renamed the ship “Every Woman” as a salute to the contributions women made during the First World War especially in the Signals Corps as telegraph operators.  Using reflective paint Ciara and her crew have included within the design pattern the message “Every Woman a Signal Tower”.

Ciara and Every Woman - photo by Ross Fraser McLean

Ciara and Every Woman – photo by Ross Fraser McLean

Every Woman - photo by Ross Fraser McLean

Every Woman – photo by Ross Fraser McLean

Every Woman

 

A few weeks ago, we visited Ciara at her exhibition and print making studio, Cold Friends, Warm Cash, at the Western Front in Vancouver. Her month-long residency at the Front was unique for the artist in that Ciara was working exclusively with children (age 6 – 10 years of age) introducing them to screen print techniques in the creation of posters, banners and printed fabrics.  In an interview with the magazine Canadian Art, Ciara said this about her experience: “…kids are extremely imaginative and extremely uninhibited in terms of expressing what they want… That’s different – very different – than working with adults.”

Cold Friends, Warm Cash - Western Front, Vancouver, British Columbia

Cold Friends, Warm Cash – Western Front, Vancouver, British Columbia

Nina

Nina

Projects

Projects

Project Exhibition

Project Exhibition

Ciara is a very talented artist who seems to thrive on new challenges and continues to find new ways to express her creative energy.

 

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Audain Art Museum: Whistler, British Columbia

Audain Art Museum: Whistler, British Columbia

The Dance Scree (The Scream Too), 2010-2013), James Hart

The Dance Scree (The Scream Too), 2010-2013), James Hart

Now, when you go to Whistler, in addition to the beauty of the great outdoors you can enjoy a museum that highlights the art of British Columbia. The Audain Art Museum, which opened in March of this year, is unique in its aim is to showcase artists from B.C. The province’s A-list is well represented as drawn from the personal collection of Michael Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa.

The museum building, designed by architects John and Patricia Patkau, is unobtrusively nestled in downtown Whistler in a setting of fir, cedar and spruce trees with a mountain backdrop. It is a quietly stunning building that frames a spacious exhibition space. Its pitched roof is practical (to handle mountain snow falls) and helps the building to blend into the trees surrounding it.

Museum entrance

Museum entrance

In the museum’s permanent space, B.C. art from the past two hundred years is on display: historical and current First Nation masks; Haida master carvers James Hart and Robert Davidson; works by Emily Carr, E. J. Hughes, Jack Shadbolt, Gordon Smith; and those by the “younger generation” (Sonny Assu, Stan Douglas, Dana Claxton, Brian Jungen, Marianne Nicolson, Ian Wallace); and the list goes on.

It is fitting that the first gallery you enter is dedicated to the rich artistic legacy of B.C.’s First Nations. Rare masks from the 12 First Nations are displayed on the walls and a more contemporary reminder of the skill of First Nation artists is the awe-inspiring cedar dance screen carved by James Hart.

Several works by Emily Carr serve as a bridge between the first gallery’s historic and ceremonial creations and the more recent works in the galleries that follow.

Memkish, 1912, Emily Carr

Memkish, 1912, Emily Carr

On display are the colourful coastal depictions by E.J. Hughes, the unique surrealism of Jack Shadbolt, the abstract expressionism of Gordon Smith, and impressive selections of Vancouver’s internationally famous photo conceptualists, as well as recent art by contemporary First Nation artists such as Dana Claxton.

Departure from Nanaimo, 1964, E. J. Hughes

Departure from Nanaimo, 1964, E. J. Hughes

Butterfly Transformation Theme, 1981, Jack Shadbolt

Butterfly Transformation Theme, 1981, Jack Shadbolt

Winterscape, 1991, Gordon Smith

Winterscape, 1991, Gordon Smith

Paint Up #1, 2010, Dana Claxton

Paint Up #1, 2010, Dana Claxton

When we visited last month, the temporary exhibition featured Mexican Modernists including works by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo.

Maternidad - Diego Rivera

Maternidad – Diego Rivera

As a long-time admirer of the Mexican Muralists, and “Los Tres Grandes” (The Big Three – Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros) in particular, I was disappointed in the way the exhibition was mounted. With the technological advances available to curators today, especially image projection, it is regrettable that an effort was not made to link the individual paintings on display with the artists’ much more culturally and historically significant works – their murals. Spreading so few paintings over several nearly empty galleries didn’t help either.

The Audain Art Museum is part of a growing trend of wealthy art collectors opting to build their own museums in order to display their personal collections. Granted this seems to be a more prevalent practice in the USA and Europe than in Canada but such developments must have a significant impact on the collections and fundraising strategies of public institutions.

Other than my annoyance at how the temporary exhibition was presented I enjoyed the visit to the museum. The Audain collection of British Columbian artists is remarkable in its eclectic range and the quality of the works on display. The building is both attractive and functional. The combination of the art on display, the building and the natural beauty of Whistler makes the drive from Vancouver worth the effort.

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MashUp: The Birth of Modern Culture

MashUp: The Birth of Modern Culture

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Image Wall – main floor Vancouver Art gallery.

Where to start?  The current exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), running until June 12, 2016, is unlike any I have visited.  The scope is vast – The Birth of Modern Culture – the range of artists and creative styles covered are varied and numerous, and the documentation is substantial (the exhibition catalogue runs to 350 plus pages). The overarching objective of the project is to show a history of collage and assemblage and with it, to document how artists have moved from using traditional techniques and materials to incorporating everyday “found” material and new technologies in the creation of their work.  The timeframe is the late 1870s to the present day.

The term MashUp, as explained by the VAG’s Chief Curator/Associate Director, Daina Augaitis, in an interview with the Georgia Straight, “…is a methodology of putting one thing together with another to produce something else”. [Full disclosure: Daina Augaitis is my sister-in-law.]

Upon entering the first gallery, on the top floor of the VAG, you learn that the leisure activity of some aristocratic women in the late 1870s started off the entire mash-up approach when they began the practice of cutting and pasting photos onto still pictures – an example is shown below. However, the most frequently cited references for the start of this new direction in modern artistic expression are the collages of Pablo Picasso and George Braque. It was between 1912 and 1914 when these artists began to cut and paste newspaper clippings, wallpaper, wine labels and other materials incorporating them into their paintings.

kate-edith-gough-untitled-page-from-the-gough-album-late-1870s

Katie Edith Gough – Gough Album – late 1870s collage of watercolour, paper and albumen prints, Victoria and Albert Museum

Picasso

Pablo Picasso, Guitar on a table, c. 1912, Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth

Marcel Duchamp took things one step further with his “readymades” that marked the beginning of a new field of discovery with the incorporation of everyday objects in artistic expression. In 1917 Duchamp submitted for an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York a white-glazed, ceramic urinal, signed “R. Mutt” and titled the Fountain.  Duchamp maintained that by his actions he had created a new “thought for that object”, a move that he claimed would take artistic expression away from the mechanics of representation to an interpretation of the object.  The profound impact and legacy of Duchamp is evident to this day and you will see more than one urinal in this exhibition.

marcel-duchamp-fountain-19171964-1343921473_org

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917

The period after the Second World War witnessed the expansion of mass marketing and availability of consumer products, inexpensive printing processes and the advent of television.  The directions which artists followed in response to these new developments are well documented in the exhibition.  Andy Warhol established his Factory where he produced assembly-line multiples and the new possibilities in visual and sound recording led to multi and cross-media collaborations that later ushered in the phenomenon of digital technology.

Warhol

Andy Warhol

I was particularly struck by the music and video creations of Brian Eno and David Byrne (Mea Culpa, 1981; America is Watching, 1981), the cut and paste of movie images in the work of Christian Marclay; and the animations in the digital work of the French design collective H5.

For anyone interested, as I am, in the work of Christian Marclay, who received international acclaim at the 54th Venice Biennale for The Clock, 2010, I recommend that you check out an earlier work of his that is featured in this exhibition, Telephones, 1995.  As in The Clock he uses extracted clips from Hollywood films, but this time featuring telephones, that he weaves into a seemingly continuous conversation of seven and a half minutes.  The point to be noted is that he created this piece before the development of video-editing technology which would have been a very arduous process. To view on the internet search for: Telephones, 1995 – Christian Marclay – YouTube.

Christian Marclay, Telephones, 1995

Christian Marclay, Telephones, 1995

The second work that I recommend viewing online is by H5 (Francois Alaux, Herve de Crecy and Ludovic Houplain). Logorama, 2009 won the 2010 Academy Awards for Animated Short Film. Over two thousand commercial logos are woven together along a 16 minute storyline based on Hollywood genre action movies with stereotypical characters and dialogue. To view online search for: Logorama –Short film by H5YouTube.

H5 Logorama, (video stills) 2009

H5 Logorama, (video stills) 2009

I spent over four hours wandering, back-tracking and becoming immersed in the sensory overload that is MashUp. It is not possible to comment on the work of each of the 156 artists represented or the 371 works on exhibit.  I was however able, for the first time, to appreciate the interconnectedness, the collaboration and the borrowing that took place between the various forms of artistic expression (painting, photography, performance, film, sound, digital recording, design, writing) as they have evolved together over the past 150 years.  Now that is a mash-up!

 

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Xu Bing: Phoenix

In an earlier post (Art Appreciation Marathon: Part 2 of 2), I reported on our visit to New York City to see Xu Bing’s installation Phoenix, 2008-10.  Using discarded construction materials Xu Bing created two 150 foot long phoenixes weighing in excess of 20 tons and suspended them from the ceiling of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine about 15 feet above the ground.

Phoenix, installation view Cathedral Church of saint John the Divine. NYC

Phoenix installation, Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, NYC.

Xu Bing is a contemporary of Ai Weiwei (see Ai Weiwei: Art and Politics in China).  Like Ai Weiwei’s, his work often speaks to contemporary social and political issues in China.  Both artists have expressed concern with how China, Beijing in particular, is changing at the expense of its history and architecture.  The old is being replaced with the new with little regard for neighbourhoods and communities.

Originally commissioned to create the centerpiece of a new commercial complex in Beijing, Xu Bing lost the contract when the developers realized that the raw material for the piece was being drawn from construction waste at the complex site.  Using discarded materials (feathers fashioned from shovels, crowns made of hard hats and heads formed from jackhammers) Xu Bing created an intricate and elaborate depiction of a male (Feng) and female (Huang) phoenix in flight.  It is a work that tells a multitude of stories.

Phoenix detail, MASS MoCA

Phoenix detail, MASS MoCA

I first saw this installation in 2013 when it was at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, in North Adams, along with several other seminal works by Xu Bing.  One such piece, 1st Class (2011), is a visually stunning work originally created as part of a residency program at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

1st Class (2011)

1st Class (2011)

The faux tiger-skin carpet, measuring 40 feet in length, was constructed by using approximately 500,000 Chinese Red Strike cigarettes.  By placing the filtered end of the cigarettes either up or down the effect is created.

1st Class (2011) detail

1st Class (2011) detail

The “sculpture”, similar to the phoenixes, represents more than it seems.  A number of historical and social references are embedded in the piece, such as: the Duke family’s link to the fortunes of the tobacco industry in West Virginia in the early 1900s; the fact that Asia was a prime target for tobacco marking through Shanghai; slave labour was associated with the early days of the tobacco industry; and, the British and Chinese familiarity with the symbol of the tiger.

1st Class (2011) detail

1st Class (2011) detail

Another arresting installation, which is part of Xu Bing’s ongoing project Background Story (2004-present), re-creates an ancient Chinese ink drawing entitled Landscape Painted on the Double Ninth Festival, a 1705 Qing Dynasty masterpiece.

The work is presented in a light box, more than 25 feet high, depicting mountains in the clouds and detailed evergreens as part of the landscape.

Background Story (2004-present) installation view

Background Story (2004-present) installation view

Walk behind the piece and you discover that it is not an ink drawing at all but an illusion that has been intricately cobbled together by the artist from trash and plant clippings and taped to the frosted glass of the light box.

Background Story (2004-present) detail

Background Story (2004-present) detail

Xu Bing working on Background Story (2004-present)

Xu Bing working on Background Story (2004-present)

A further example of why I find the art of Xu Bing so fascinating is an ongoing project that he is working on that showcases his inventiveness from a completely different perspective.  His Book from the Ground (2003-present) is part of a long-standing investigation of language and the use of signs and icons as a means to communicate. His exploration of visual communication will culminate in the publication of From Point to Point, a novel written entirely in a “language of icons”.

I plan to write on this Xu Bing project in a future post but in the meantime to pique your curiosity I have reproduced pages from Book from the Ground to test your imagination.

Book from the Ground (2003-present) - pages 2 and 3 - detail

Book from the Ground (2003-present) – pages 2 and 3 – detail

Book from the Ground (2003-present) - page 4 detail.

Book from the Ground (2003-present) – page 4 detail.

Of the Chinese contemporary artists whom I have been following I think Xu Bing is one of the more cerebral and a less in-your-face critic of political and social issues in China.  The heavy lifting in the direct confrontation mode is definitely Ai Weiwei’s forte but I have been drawn to Xu Bing’s more subtle approach.

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Kazimir Malevich: Suprematism

Every now and then you get lucky – you are in the right city at the right time to see a major exhibition of an artist that you have an interest in.  This happened to me in late September in London at Tate Modern.  The artist, Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935), first attracted my attention 15 years ago with his colourful, highly structured, abstract paintings. His work is usually linked with the Russian avant-garde movement, prior to and following the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Dynamic Suprematism/Supremus 1916-17 by Kazimir Malevich

Dynamic Suprematism/Supremus 1916-17 by Kazimir Malevich

A retrospective is like one-stop shopping in that the historical overview situates what you know about an artist in the context of his life’s work.  This type of learning experience has its rewards as you begin to appreciate the developmental process of an artist and the influences that impacted his art.  The Tate Modern exhibition laid out the several stages Malevich went through as he searched for and, to his thinking, found the philosophical and creative limit of artistic expression – the reduction of painting to nothing but shape and color.  He referred to this phase of his art as Suprematism.

Notwithstanding Malevich’s isolation living in Russia, he did have an opportunity in 1904, when he moved to Moscow, to see first hand the work of Monet, Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse.  You can see the influence of these artists in Malevich’s use of colour in his early work.  A good example is his painting entitled Self Portrait, 1908-10 (below).

Self Portrait, 1908-10 by Kazimir Malevich.

Self Portrait, 1908-10 by Kazimir Malevich.

As he moved closer to Suprematism it is possible to see the influence of Picasso, Braque and Leger as he observed those artists moving away from the figurative form of expression to a much more fractured and collage style of representation – a style that became known as Cubism.

Contrasts of Form, 1913 by Fernand Leger.

Contrasts of Form by Fernand Leger.

Morning in the Village After Snowstorm, 1912 by Kazimir Malevich.

Morning in the Village After Snowstorm, 1912 by Kazimir Malevich.

As noted earlier, the essence of Malevich’s Suprematism was the simplicity of color and the control of geometric forms – complete abstraction as rendered in his paintings and drawings in the period 1914-1917.

Suprematism by Kazimir Malevich.

Suprematism by Kazimir Malevich.

Not surprisingly the Russian Revolution and its aftermath had a tremendous impact on Malevich. His creative energies became muted and he eventually abandoned painting altogether.  It wasn’t until 1929 that he re-emerged but it was if he had been creatively beaten down.  He abandoned Suprematism and returned to depicting the more traditional themes of rural life in Russia. His new paintings blended figuration with abstraction but it was obvious that an undercurrent of despair permeated these works.  The peasant is presented as just another cog in the collective machinery of Stalin’s brutal regime.

Head of a Peasant, 1928-29 by Kazimir Malevich.

Head of a Peasant, 1928-29 by Kazimir Malevich.

Woman with a rake, 1930-31.

Woman with a rake, 1930-31.

More than 100 years after Kazimir Malevich first introduced Suprematism his art still has the power to engage and to make you reflect on his influence on contemporary art.

As noted in my opening sentence “every now and then you get lucky…”.  Who would have guessed that three weeks after the Tate Modern show I would have the opportunity to visit a major exhibition of Cubist art in New York City and to make the link back to Malevich (see my post Art Appreciation Marathon: Part 2 of 2).

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Art Appreciation Marathon: Part 2 of 2 – A CONTINUATION

The highlight of our New York gallery visits was Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs – over 100 works that Matisse began in the last 20 years of his life (1937-1954).  The exhibition moved to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) from London’s Tate Modern where it was the most popular show in Tate Modern’s history.

As declining health began to limit his mobility, Matisse turned to painted paper and a pair of scissors to create colourful cut-paper forms – first assembled into interchangeable forms on his lap and later transferred and pinned to his studio walls.  The flexibility afforded by pinning the shapes allowed for manipulation and replacement before a final image was decided upon.

Matisse at the Hotel Regina, Nice. c.1952. Photograph by Lydia Delectorskaya.

Matisse at the Hotel Regina, Nice. c.1952. Photograph by Lydia Delectorskaya.

It is difficult to verbalize the impact the exhibition had on me.  The combination of colors, shapes and the juxtaposition of forms create a stunningly imaginative array of images – so simple, yet so complex. Moving from one highly charged room of color to another was like experiencing the inside of a kaleidoscope.

Creole Dancer, June 1950.

Creole Dancer, June 1950.

The catalogue is a treasure trove of images providing a pictorial reference for various works in different stages of creation on the walls of Matisse’s residences and studios.  To see a piece in its final form in the exhibition is an once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Hotel Regina, Nice, c. 1953. Photograph by Lydia Delectorskaya.

Hotel Regina, Nice, c. 1953. Photograph by Lydia Delectorskaya.

The Snail 1953.

The Snail 1953.

Memory of Oceania Summer 1952.

Memory of Oceania Summer 1952.

Next, we took advantage of being in New York to see the exhibition Chris Ofili: Night and Day at the New Museum. A Turner Prize winner early in his career, his early work was not without controversy.  In fact, his last showing in NYC was the object of censorship over his painting The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996.  It seems the mayor at the time and quite a few others felt it was not appropriate to depict the Virgin Mary with a breast exposed and elephant dung as a nipple.

The Virgin Mary, 1996. Copy right Chris Ofili.

The Virgin Mary, 1996.

His vivid, masterful paintings certainly capture and hold your attention.  The images Ofili presents are rich in color, with a multitude of textures, and, in his early creations, often provide an in-your-face parody of racial stereotyping and religious beliefs.

The Adoration of Captain Shit and the Legends of the Black Stars (Third Version), 1998. Copy right Chris Ofili.

The Adoration of Captain Shit and the Legends of the Black Stars (Third Version), 1998.

Since moving to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago in 2005, his paintings have become less textured (out with the sparkles and other extraneous materials) as he manipulates the paints to produce rich color hues.  He produced a series of paintings in a deep blue that he built up by layering over images that are difficult to discern at first glance.  As your eyes adjust you begin to recognize troubling images of tension and violence.  Blue Devils (2014) presents a disturbing reflection on the often violent relationship between black men and the police.  This work is all the more poignant given the recent tensions between the black community and the police in the USA.

Blue Devils (2014). Copy right Chris Ofili.

Blue Devils (2014).

More recently, Ofili seems to have shaken off the darkness of his Blue Paintings as witnessed by the explosion of color evident in his newest paintings. I was glad that I saw the show and was able to become better informed about Ofili’s work – the talent, creativity and complexity on display will move most people past the controversy of his early career.

Confession (Lady Chancellor), 2007.  Copy right Chris Ofili

Confession (Lady Chancellor), 2007.

Chris Ofili 2014.

Chris Ofili 2014.

The final stops on our art-tour road trip were the Storm King Art Center in the Hudson Valley and the nearby Dia Art Foundation museum, Dia:Beacon.  Storm King boasts a spectacular setting – 500 acres of fields, hills, and woodlands, at the base of the Storm King and Schunnemunk Mountains with a wonderful mix of carefully sited sculptures and installations.

Southern Cross, 1963 by Alexander Calder

Southern Cross, 1963 by Alexander Calder

The Arch, 1975 by Alexander Calder

The Arch, 1975 by Alexander Calder

Dia:Beacon, housed in a converted manufacturing plant, has over 240,000 square feet of exhibition space lit by natural light and features some of the most important American artists that came to prominence in the 60s and 70s.  Some of my favourites on view include John Chamberlain, Walter De Maria, Dan Flavin, Michael Heizer, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt and Richard Serra.

North, East, South, West, 1967 by Michael Heizer.

North, East, South, West, 1967 by Michael Heizer.

Untitled, 1970 by Dan Flavin.

Untitled, 1970 by Dan Flavin.

I plan to write more about these two major art destinations in the future.

September and October were definitely an art appreciation marathon as we visited 17 major galleries and art installations in Canada, Europe and the USA. We have our work cut out for us as we reflect on all that we saw and experienced.

My Reading Priorities for 2015

Gordon Smith – Don’t Look Back. Black Dog Publishing for Equinox Gallery, Vancouver.

Curationism – How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else by David Balzer.

The Book About Xu Bing’s Book From the Ground – Mathieu Borysevicz, editor.

33 Artists in 3 Acts by Sarah Thornton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Art Appreciation Marathon: Part 2 of 2 – Toronto, North Adams, New York City, Beacon

Our first art event upon returning from Europe (see Part 1 of 2) was to attend the play Helen Lawrence at Canadian Stage in Toronto. Stan Douglas, a photo-artist, and Chris Haddock, a TV writer and producer, collaborated in creating a visually and intellectually engaging stage and film hybrid set in post-WWII Vancouver.

The audience is challenged to absorb the live action of the actors, the concurrent film of their performance projected on a see-through screen in front of the stage and the distraction of the camera operators, who are also on stage recording the play as it unfolds. The production is a remarkable sleight of hand. I easily got into the story and had no problem changing my focus from the live to the projected action. The only slight distraction for me was that I would pause every now and then to marvel at how the actors’ movements on stage matched so seamlessly the projected scenery. Helen Lawrence is a wonderful piece of theatre.

Scene from Helen Lawrence by Stan Douglas and Chris Haddock

Scene from Helen Lawrence by Stan Douglas and Chris Haddock

Near the end of October we set off with friends on an art-tour road trip, travelling first to North Adams to visit the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). This is our second visit to MASS MoCA and we were again impressed by size of this art facility. Over 140,000 square feet of exhibition space fashioned out of a series of stunningly renovated 19th century factories – all this, set in a town of 14,000 people in the midst of the Berkshire Mountains.

A major magnet at MASS MoCA is the three floors of galleries featuring Sol Lewitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective which opened in 2008 and will remain up until 2033.

Sol LeWitt, L: Wall Drawing 901, 1999 and R: Wall Drawing 1081, 2003

Sol LeWitt, L: Wall Drawing 901, 1999 and R: Wall Drawing 1081, 2003

images (1)

The more than 100 wall drawings on display span four decades of Lewitt’s work. This is an exhibition not to be missed as you will likely never again have the opportunity to see such a large and varied example of his genius. He is recognized as a major driving force of minimalism and conceptualism and is most famous for separating the act of conceiving a work of art from the act of executing it.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 146A, 2000

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 146A, 2000

Lewitt created a schematic outline of instructions for each piece and his view is that these instructions constitute the work of art.  For him, it is the idea and not its physical representation that is his art.  For example, an illustrated index of the combinations of marks, their repetitions and placement upon the grid are provided as shown below for Wall Drawing 146A, 2000.

Wall Drawing 146A, 2000 schematic

Wall Drawing 146A, 2000 schematic

Of the 13 other artists being exhibited, the most compelling was Darren Waterston’s installation Filthy Lucre, 2013-14 which was part of his exhibition Uncertain Beauty. The creative reference for the installation was an 1876-77 work by James McNeill Whistler entitled Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room. Waterston riffs off the tension that existed between Whistler and his patron – a disagreement over the fee and the resulting changes made by the artist to the original plan for a room in the patron’s home. Waterston presents us with a room in decay and ruin, a distorted replica of the original, providing an imaginary representation of the underside of beauty with the lustre gone from the material trappings of conspicuous wealth.

Darren Waterston, Filthy Lucre 2013-14

Darren Waterston, Filthy Lucre 2013-14

Our first stop in New York City was to visit the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine and Xu Bing’s Phoenix, 2008-10. Using discarded construction materials Xu Bing has created two 150 foot long phoenixes weighing in excess of 20 tons and has suspended them from the cathedral’s ceiling about 15 feet above the ground.

Xu Bing, Phoenix 2008-10, Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, NYC

Xu Bing, Phoenix 2008-10, Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, NYC

Xu Bing, a contemporary of Ai Weiwei (see Ai Weiwei: Art and Politics in China, March, 2012), is currently the head of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Similar to Ai Weiwei his work often speaks to contemporary social and political issues in China. Both artists have expressed concerns with how China, Beijing in particular, is changing at the expense of its history and architecture. The old is being replaced with the new with little regard for neighbourhoods and communities.

Originally commissioned to create the centerpiece of a new commercial complex in Beijing, Xu Bing lost the contract when the developers realized that the raw material for the piece was being drawn from construction waste at the complex site. Using discarded materials (feathers fashioned from shovels, crowns made of hard hats and heads formed from jackhammers) Xu Bing created an intricate and elaborate depiction of a male (Feng) and female (Huang) phoenix in flight. It is a remarkable work that tells a multitude of stories and you cannot help but be impressed with the imagination and creative skill that lie behind this installation.

Xu Bing, Phoenix detail, MASS MoCA

Xu Bing, Phoenix detail, MASS MoCA

I first saw the Phoenixes last year at MASS MoCA. I thought that its presentation there was far more powerful as the detail of the construction, the sense of flight and its crude beauty was on full display. There were no other distractions, just two massive creatures flying above your head. The Gothic structure, the pillars and the stained-glass windows of the Cathedral seem to be in competition with Xu Bing’s work and distract from it.

Xu Bing, Phoenix 2008-10, MASS MoCA

Xu Bing, Phoenix 2008-10, MASS MoCA

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art we visited the Leonard A. Lauder Collection: Cubism consisting of eighty pieces by the four stars of the movement: George Braque, Juan Gris, Fernand Leger, and Pablo Picasso. The works on display highlight the influence of Picasso and Braque in the period 1909-14 and you are able to see how each played off the other, sometimes not being able to tell the difference between them. It was interesting to learn from the gallery notes that two significant sources of inspiration for Picasso and Braque, as they moved towards their cubist style, were the fractured planes and perspectives of Paul Cezanne and the raw simple forms of wooden West African masks. The exhibition was a unique crash course in cubism and an impressive representative survey of the movement’s stars.

Georges Braque, Violin: Mozart Kubelick, 1912

Georges Braque, Violin: Mozart Kubelick, 1912

Pablo Picasso, The Scallop Shell: Notre Avenir est dans l'Air, 1912

Pablo Picasso, The Scallop Shell: Notre Avenir est dans l’Air, 1912

Art Appreciation Marathon: Part 2 will be continued.

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