June 29, 2016
From magazine covers to digital advertising, illustration has endless applications that we consume on a daily basis. Thanks to such events as The London Illustration Fair, this form of art is only becoming more and more popular every year. In Spain, illustrated books are currently capturing the imagination of wider audiences, while the number of exhibitions dedicated to the work of illustrators has multiplied in the past few years. Below is just a small selection of the amazing talent spread throughout the country.
Simple but very powerful compositions and a subtle use of colour are the trademarks of Elena Odriozola’s work. Her beautiful illustrations for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Nórdica Libros, 2013) are one of her most interesting projects so far. She has recently received the 2015 Spanish National Illustration Award for the “capacity for renewal” and the “narrative potential” of her work.
Maria Herreros’s drawings are full of life and animation. She uses mainly graphite and watercolour to recreate, in her own style, the image of film stars and pop culture icons. She has just published her book Marilyn tenía once dedos en los pies (Marilyn Had Eleven Toes on Her Feet, Lunwerg, 2016), a carefully illustrated collection of Hollywood anecdotes and curiosities that constitutes a unique and fascinating trip through the history of cinema.
Pablo Amargo conceives his illustrations as a poetic clash between image and word. He looks for the unexpected and establishes a certain distance between his visual world and the writings that he illustrates, so the readers can establish their own connections between text and image. I love how he manages to play with visual paradoxes and double meanings through a very clear and direct style. You may have seen his work in The New York Times, The New Yorker, or The Boston Globe, with whom he regularly collaborates.
Fernando Vicente’s stunningly sophisticated images, particularly his portraits, are some of the most recognisable in Spanish illustration today, although his work first appeared in different magazines during the 1980s. He has reimagined the works of Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, and Emily Brontë, among many others, and has also recently illustrated a book about the Spanish Civil War (La Guerra Civil contada a los jóvenes, Alfaguara, 2015).
What I find most interesting about Paula Bonet’s creations is that she is often her own model. Her lively self-portraits are emotionally charged and often illustrate strong human emotions through the use of expressive colours, dark lines, and dramatic gestures. She explores her interest in film in one of her latest projects, 813 (La Galera, 2015), an illustrated homage to François Truffaut.
Oscar Llorens’s work seems to be inspired by street art and technology. His most personal projects usually feature strange, half-animal half-machine creatures that are often suspended in the air. One of these, entitled Migraine, explores the pain and sensations felt by those who suffer from this disorder. Coca Cola, Mercedes, Cirque du Soleil, and Red Bull are among the companies that have chosen Llorens’s intricate designs for their advertising campaigns.
Cinta Arribas likes telling stories through her art. Her work is fresh and optimistic, but not in any way naïve. I particularly like her ability to simplify shapes and the eloquence of her characters’ poses and gestures. If you are feeling adventurous, check out her awesome map with all the European St James’ routes to the city of Santiago de Compostela, featured in the book A Map of the World. The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers (Gestalten, 2013).
What first caught my attention about Carla Fuentes‘s work were her wonderful portraits, in particular those from her recent personal project Los Sentados. Through her very distinctive palette and the spontaneity of her lines Fuentes captures the character not only of people, but also of places. One example of this is her Motels series, inspired by the work of American photographer Stephen Shore.
Minimalist, enigmatic, and very evocative. Jesus Cisneros’s illustrations take us into a different world, one populated by small characters that seem in complete harmony with their mysterious surroundings. Cisneros’s unique style comes from his exquisite technique and great sensitivity. In his creations, colour becomes particularly relevant through its scarce but significant presence.
Ricardo Cavolo’s work is full of detail, symbolism, and eyes, eyes everywhere! He takes inspiration from old school tattoos, art history icons such as Frida Kahlo, and myths from different cultures to create bold and colourful illustrations and murals. If you want to dive into his very personal style, I recommend his book 101 Artists To Listen To Before You Die (Nobrow Press, 2015). A real treat for music lovers!
Every May, I look forward to the colorful parade of celebrities in over the top outfits from the Met Gala. I must admit I am quite fond of a well executed “naked dress.” I am equally enthusiastic about the Met’s costume exhibits, except for Alexander McQueen’s in 2011, which I could not get into. I was absolutely dazzled by this year’s show “Manus X Machina: Fashion in an age of Technology,” which is a stunning celebration of both haute couture and modern ready-to-wear fashion. The exhibit, set up in the Robert Lehman Wing and on view until August 14th, focuses on the growing distinction between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina) in the fashion world. Traditional techniques of embroidery, artificial flowering, and pleating are juxtaposed with technologically advanced ones such as 3D printing and laser cutting. Visitors can expect to be both captivated and overwhelmed by the abundance of luxurious garments, as well as fascinated by the intricacies of the craft of haute couture.
The entrance of the exhibit features a majestic Chanel wedding gown designed by Karl Lagerfeld—Brian Eno’s “An Ending (Ascent)” plays, the notes quietly looming throughout the domed atrium. My companion and I spent about ten minutes or so staring at the beautiful twenty foot train train of the gown and meticulously attempted to get the perfect angle for our Instagram posts. After admiring the wedding gown, we moved on to conquer the other halls in the exhibit of seemingly endless concoctions of tulle, silk, and sequins. The rest of the exhibit is organized according to various métiers, or crafts, which include tailoring, lace, feather-work, and flowering. Each installation is accompanied by a copiously detailed description of the construction process of the garments. Out of the 170 pieces on display, I could not possibly pinpoint a singular “best” item. Manus X Machina features opulent gowns by Dior, whimsical structural dresses by Issey Miyake, a wall of Chanel Suits, and other designs by Alexander McQueen, Margiela, and many other important innovators in fashion.
While the curators of the exhibit could have very easily infused Manus X Machina with too much esoteric detail about the technology of these garments, the exhibit is at once viscerally and intellectually stimulating. It neither presents fashion as frivolous nor does it skimp on the wow factor. This exhibit is certainly one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by the Costume Institute and I think it will be difficult to top in terms of scale and grandeur. Manus X Machina is a perfect summer outing for fashion nerds and science nerds alike. Be sure to peruse the gift shop at the end which in addition to adorable children’s books about Coco Chanel, offers some stylish items including the coveted Issey Miyake Bao Bao bag. I will definitely return to Manus X Machina to brainstorm for my future gown closet and perhaps leave with a Miyake bag or two. A girl can dream, right?
“Manus x Machina: Fashion in an age of Technology,” is on view from May 5 through August 14, 2016.
As politically minded as he was self-reflective, Thornton Dial (1928-2016) was difficult to pin down. Since the early 90s, the artist has been featured in exhibitions at museum’s across the country, and over the years his work has been acquired by major institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum, the MoMA, the Philadelphia Museum, and the Hirshhorn in DC. Inspired by his upbringing in Jim Crow-era Alabama, much of Dial’s early work focuses on issues of race and class, and how the identity of the “outsider” played into national consciousness. The agonized expressions of the figures in Raggly Flag confront us with the contradictory message of unity the American Flag is meant to convey in a nation where many are still treated as second-class citizens. In his later work, Dial began exploring a more universal struggle, while never failing to address the nation with its own problematic history. As the first exhibition in New York since the artist’s passing earlier this year, We All Live Under the Same Old Flag at Marianne Boesky Gallery represents this change of perspective, along with Dial’s ability to capture a wider audience through his use of Americana style and appropriated consumer culture.
As a self-taught artist, Dial began his sculptural style of painting by compiling found objects and scrap materials from his job as a metalworker. He was able to transform old tires, chains, twigs, and rusted tools into highly textured and often expressionistic wall reliefs, paintings, and works on paper. His practice of weaving used fabrics together harkens back to the tradition of African American quiltmaking, seen in Negro History, a relatively recent work made from carpet, metal, putty, oil, enamel, and spray paint on wood.
Thornton believed in the individual interpretation of his work, but his titles are often times highly charged and specific to the black community and experience, which the gallery refers to as “a secret language of symbols that convey strength, survival, and freedom – important to the dialogue of the black experience.” The extent to which this language is “secret” can be left up to the viewer; nevertheless, Negro Story is an apt title for a work that takes something old and worn and uses it to create something beautiful.
As Dial shifted his focus to wider national histories of oppression and equality, his work became more simplified in form, material, and color. In the weeks following the attacks on September 11, 2001, the artist worked almost non-stop on large-scale paintings and sculptures in an attempt to capture a national ethos. The resulting works incorporate the expressive quality of his earlier works, but are more focused on scale and composition. Winter Jackets, a beautiful painting featuring a figure in the grasps of a ghostly form, represents this newfound sensibility.
Dial left behind a visually and historically rich body of work that tells anything but a singular perspective. “Art is a guide for every person that is looking for something,” Dial said in an interview with the New York Times. “That’s how I can describe myself: Mr. Dial is a man looking for something.”
Thornton Dial: We All Live Under the Same Old Flag closes Saturday, June 18, 2016.
June 17, 2016
In a seemingly unstoppable and swift movement—galleries, art dealers, art aficionados, trend-spotters, and urban socialites—are flocking to the Lower East Side to enjoy the charms of the experimental food scene, hip and often quirky bars at every corner, the thriving nightlife, and of course, the ubiquitous art presence. From street art, to endless graffiti tags and random public installations, the art scene is evidently booming especially as many galleries, established and new, make their way downtown to partake in the infinite energy.
Located solidly in the Lower East Side, right next to Two Bridges and a just a few blocks from the East River, Sargent’s Daughters first opened its doors in November 2013 as the joint venture of dealer Allegra LaViola and Meredith Rosen, former director of BravinLee programs in Chelsea.
The East Broadway physical location was converted from LaViola’s eponymous gallery into the current gallery space. In an area mostly dedicated to minimalist, conceptual, and experimental contemporary art, Sargent’s Daughters stands out as a gallery focusing on more traditional mediums such as painting, drawing, and sculpture with the intent to bridge the gap between the historic and classical and more modern contemporary aesthetics. LaViola and Rosen search for innovation within already established mediums, genres, and aesthetic conceptions to prove that the contemporary can have strong ties to the past in interesting and meaningful ways. Quality with a sense of tradition and lineage trump overt flash and quirky trends in this gallery space.
Owner and Director, Meredith Rosen, shares what this joint venture is all about with Art Versed as well as her views on working within the art world.
What is Sargent’s Daughters mission?
Our interest is in artists whose work combines the qualities of tradition and cutting edge.
In addition to exhibitions by represented gallery artists, Sargent’s Daughters creates collaborations as a platform for exploring new conversations within a wider context of galleries, artists and objects.
What were the motivations behind making the switch in 2013 from working at BravinLee programs in Chelsea to opening Sargent’s Daughters in the Lower East Side with Allegra LaViola?
I wanted to be able to work with artists and create ambitious exhibitions without the constraints of an existing platform. My partnership with Allegra had a lot to do with timing and instinct.
As a relatively recent space, was it difficult getting the gallery up on its feet?
Of course! To do anything well is very hard, but I love the challenge. I think the gallery model is constantly changing so as a dealer you can never get too comfortable.
Everyone seems to be saying that the Lower East Side is turning into the new gallery quarter—what were your reasons for moving into the neighborhood and has the location proved favorable to you?
We love our location. It’s a great space, across from a park and right next to the subway.
I’ve read in previous interviews that you chose the name “Sargent’s Daughters” in reference to John Singer Sargent, regarding him as a risqué innovator within his time. Can you explain this concept in relation to contemporary art and how it fits into your vision for the gallery?
We loved that John Singer Sargent was an innovator working in a traditional medium and wanted this statement to represent the context of our growing program. We exhibit work that has a strong historical lineage by artists who push the limits of contemporary art today – formally through various mediums and intellectually through their choice of content.
What kind of artists, if there even is a specific, are you looking to represent?
We aren’t interested in a specific kind of work. We are always interested in work of the highest quality whether it’s something brand new or shedding new light on an artist with an established presence.
Do you have a favorite from the shows you’ve put on?
Our last exhibition by Cy Gavin is one of our best exhibitions to date. I really feel each show gets better and better as we have more experience, reflect on past exhibitions and create a stronger dialogue with gallery artists.
What makes Sargent’s Daughters different from other galleries?
When we opened most galleries on the LES were interested in building programs with young and emerging artists. We didn’t open with a roster of artists. We started putting together the best shows we possibly could with the artists we discovered and established artists that we admire.
Do you have any future plans for the gallery that drastically differ from what you are doing now?
To hopefully grow our program and with the artists we bring to the table.
What are your thoughts on the art market today and the increasing interest and importance of art fairs and biennials?
I think art fairs are very important to build an international audience for wide range of artists. I find it very interesting to go to an event where I can see so many dealers in action. You can learn so much by example.
Who is your favorite non-contemporary artist?
What is your favorite museum (world-wide range)?
Fondation Beyeler – I look forward to seeing their exhibitions every June when in Basel.
179 E Broadway, New York, NY
June 13, 2016
Before this massive retrospective, I had only seen a few of Cindy Sherman’s portraits here and there. That’s what made The Broad’s first special exhibition, Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, so overwhelming to me. I was taken aback by the vast expansion of her creativity.
The Broad’s exhibit holds over 120 works by Sherman and is curated by Philipp Kaiser. Kaiser flawlessly presents Edye and Eli Broad’s collection, the largest Sherman collection in the world, as well with works on loan from Metro Pictures, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Menil Collection, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, all with Sherman herself as the subject.
The retrospective covers over forty years of Sherman’s work, and is curated in a loosely chronological order including works from the centerfolds, the fairy tales, the history portraits, the sex pictures, the clown pictures, society portraits, and a full length feature film entitled Office Killer. The exhibition begins with her Untitled Film Stills in 1975 and concludes with works completed this year. Kaiser’s curation perfectly captures Sherman’s artistic evolution. The exhibition itself feels like its own museum due to the drastic variations in her style. If a viewer walks in only having heard the name “Cindy Sherman,” they leave enthralled by Sherman’s chameleon-like talent to move through the barriers of genre that define so many other artists.
Upon arrival, the viewer is immediately greeted by two floor-to-ceiling murals of Sherman, imagined by the artist herself for the exhibition. One instantly gets the impression that this exhibit will be intense, humbling and exciting. Reminiscent of film stills, these murals perfectly tie in both Los Angeles and the influence of film, pop culture, and the stereotypes involved in both pop culture and film that have had a profound effect on Sherman’s work and, in turn, her identity as an artist.
The first gallery holds Sherman’s black and white film stills and is an impeccable introduction to those unfamiliar with her work. In one, she is seen standing in the corner of a room with her hand on her hip in an apron and long dress. In Untitled Film Still #47, we see Sherman in another classic 50’s inspired look: she is pantless and wearing a white collared shirt with a straw hat and big sunglasses. She seems to be caught in the midst of gardening and surprised by the intrusion of a viewer, as the viewer has been placed in the perspective of the photographer. Quickly, one can recognize the sacrifice of Sherman’s own identity as an individual and, in this case, her submersion into an identity characterized by the clichés and stereotypes of women in the 50’s and 60’s.
The exhibition then moves into her fashion pictures. When arranged together, the transition of Sherman in terms of persona from one portrait to the next is drastic and awe-inspiring. I was astonished by her incredible attention to detail, the expansive emotional coverage, and her clearly inherent ability to see a style for what it is, bring herself into it, and create something so unique out of a form already so familiar. All completed in the 80’s, the constant changes in the lighting, mood, and character being portrayed show how quickly Sherman can commit herself to an identity we imagine to be entirely different from her own. In Untitled #119 she is a powerful force of a woman, her arms stretched wide as she seems to be caught mid belt of an opera song. The image radiates light and the power of femininity. In Untitled #122 she stands hunched over, drowned in black fabric, fist clenched, and one eye looking directly at the camera. In every image of her fashion series, she is unrecognizable. Her fashion pictures are potentially the greatest in showcasing her incredible diversity as a subject and an artist, especially for the untrained or unfamiliar viewer.
The gallery that holds the Centerfolds and the Pink Robe photos is a perfect combination of Sherman’s most iconic photos, as well as what many consider a glimpse at “the real Cindy Sherman.” The four centerfolds are arranged in a single line directly opposite the room of her four pink robe photographs. The Centerfolds show Sherman as the star of each photograph in a style that reminded me of Hitchcock’s films. The women are the primary focus of each photograph, all of them with very little background, all on the floor, fully-clothed, unaware of the camera, and fixated on something just outside of the image. Though each of the Centerfolds is structurally similar, each one differs in the emotional state of the subject: detachment, fear, daze, and apprehension. When thinking of the name “Centerfolds,” one imagines the sexual objectification of women in magazines such as Playboy, but the women in Sherman’s Centerfolds makes one consider the vulnerability that inevitably accompanies the sexual portrayal of women. The Centerfolds, a comment on the powerless women of an age of sexual objectification in pop culture, are the perfect juxtaposition to the Pink Robe Photos, which immediately shatter the notion that all sexualized women are weak. The Pink Robe Photos show a powerful and in-control woman in a highly-sexualized state, more so than the Centerfolds. Also arranged in a single line, Sherman again as the subject makes direct eye contact in each photograph, exuding dominance. This woman is a far cry from those pictured in the Centerfolds. She has power in her eyes, and though she is seen covering her naked body with a pink robe, her varied body language gives way to a sense of commandment.
The exhibition closes with new photographs produced this year. A room is filled with what appear to be the aging starlets of an age long gone. One is instantly drawn to Untitled #512, which is different from the rest in terms of her body language and color-scheme. Sherman is shown in a short brown wig and long feathery coat, photoshopped onto a background of rough terrain. This woman is lonely and displaced, but her facial expression would say otherwise; she appears soft and intense, the contrasting aspects of the photograph blending in harmony. She stands angled in a way where she seems thin and more petite, her left knee brought to her right, similar to the pose of a pin-up model. These works reminded me of the Untitled Film Stills, although they are structurally dissimilar, they seem to be a comment on the power dynamic women held in the 20’s as the Untitled Film Stills were on the 50’s and 60’s. The exhibition ends as it begins; Sherman acts as the subject of the work as she both embraces the characteristics of the times and disputes them by infusing her works with power and femininity.
Cindy Sherman created her own style by having the ability to idealize reality. Her flawless execution and comprehensive understanding of the characteristics that define so many periods of art make her one of the most successful artists of modern time. The retrospective is brave, overwhelming, at times terrifying, and incomprehensible. In the beginning, I found myself enamored by how she is able to become so many different subjects, but by the end I was left shellshocked by the unbelievable fact that all of these works came from one, clearly uninhibited mind.
Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life is on view at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles from June 11, 2016- October 2, 2016.
June 10, 2016
In 1985 Mona Hatoum walked through Brixton in bare feet for almost an hour, dragging behind her as she did the pair of Dr Martens boots that were tied to her ankles (Roadworks). This was Mona Hatoum in the beginning of her work: the body is the locus of all connections between a human and the surrounding space, objects, other humans, society, politics.
Her work creates a challenging vision of our world, exposing its contradictions and complexities, often making the familiar uncanny. Through the juxtaposition of opposites such as beauty and horror, she engages us in conflicting emotions of desire and revulsion, fear and fascination.
Mona Hatoum was born in Beirut to a Palestinian family and during a visit to London in 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon and Hatoum was forced into exile. She stayed in London, training at both the Byam Shaw School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art (University College, London) between the years 1975 and 1981. She now lives and works in Berlin and London and has participated in numerous important group exhibitions including The Turner Prize (1995), Venice Biennale (1995 and 2005), Documenta XI, Kassel (2002), Biennale of Sydney (2006), The Istanbul Biennal (1995 and 2011) and the Fifth Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2013).
I believe it is important to start any description of Hatoum’s work with the above information as this was the platform that allowed the world to be witness to her continuous inspiration. Exile must have been her curse and blessing.
‘It was nice to be in a place where everyone spoke with a Palestinian accent, which was my parents’ accent – though in Beirut, people used to hide it so they would fit in. But it was very overwhelming, very sad. You feel angry all the time – though I had to keep myself together so I could make the work, and it was inevitable, then, that the work would be about the situation.” She says about the time when she was invited to Jerusalem, in 1996.
Solo exhibitions include Centre Pompidou, Paris (1994), Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1997), The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (1998), Castello di Rivoli, Turin (1999), Tate Britain, London (2000), Hamburger Kunsthalle, Kunstmuseum Bonn, Magasin 3, Stockholm (2004) and Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2005). Recent exhibitions include Measures of Entanglement, UCCA, Beijing (2009), Interior Landscape, Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice (2009), Witness, Beirut Art Center, Beirut (2010), Le Grand Monde, Fundaciòn Marcelino Botìn, Santander (2010) and as the winner of the 2011 Joan Miró Prize, she held a solo exhibition at Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona in 2012. In 2013-2014 she was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Kunstmuseum St Gallen and the largest survey of her work to be shown in the Arab world is currently held at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha.
Coming back to the Tate Modern exhibition, it is absolutely overwhelming to be in the presence of this artist’s lifetime work… The energy seems to have attached to the walls of each room and stories are leaking from every corner, entering the open pores of the spectator’s skin. The body reacts to Hatoum’s body works as they should.
My first thought as I entered the first room of the exhibition was that art is an endless row of assumptions about life as we perceive it and as we are taught to perceive it. Mona Hatoum is unbuttoning the jeans of the old and young generations of art seekers. Her works undress you of the daily routine and her black and white interference between routine and search for absolute is a terrifying blessing.
‘Stills of sequence of live images seens on large monitor facing the audience” 12th of June, 1980 is an artistic scan of the spectator and as he is acknowledging the introspection, the scan penetrates deeper, beneath the skin, into the psychic.
“Light Sentence” 1992 was one of my favorite installations showcased in the exhibition. This prison of shapes that might open the door to freedom of understanding in silence. Mona Hatoum never felt confident enough to speak in her art and the silence translated by some of her works is absolutely overwhelming. In “Light Sentence” there is a perfect harmony between light and darkness and movement does not kill this harmony… Only voices could. Metal, light bulbs, white walls, shadows and movement suddenly become an escape or imprisonment.
Mona Hatoum’s work can be interpreted as a description of the body and its impact on other people and the surrounding objects, as a commentary on politics, and on gender difference as she explores the dangers and confines of the domestic world. Her work can also be interpreted through the concept of space as her sculpture and installation work depend on the viewer to inhabit the surrounding space to complete the effect. There are always multiple readings to her work. The physical responses that Hatoum desired in order to provoke psychological and emotional responses ensures unique and individual reactions from different viewers. (WIKIPEDIA)
In “Jardin Public”(1993), the artist depicts a classic French garden chair that sports pubic hair which seems to grow from the holes in the seat. The title hints at the link between ‘public’ and ‘pubic’, both connected to the Latin work for ‘adult’. The human bodies leave prints on the places that they touch, creating an uninterrupted connection between people and places and their objects.
In her singular sculptures, Hatoum has transformed familiar, every-day, domestic objects such as chairs, cots and kitchen utensils into things foreign, threatening and dangerous. In Homebound (2000) Hatoum uses an assemblage of household furniture wired up with an audibly active electric current – combine a sense of threat with a surrealist sense of humour to create a work that draws the viewer in, on both an emotive and intellectual level.
I spent roughly 10 minutes on the room that hosts the installation “Impenetrable” 2009 and thought about the infinity of hope. Looking through the corridors rods of barbed wire, space that you hope you can penetrate and eventually escape the three metre cube maze. Hatoum makes reference to the Venezuelan artist Jesus Rafael Soto’s series of Penetrables, hanging cubes made from colourful rubber tubes.
“Cellules” 2012 suggests confinement, isolation and biology. It suggests the struggle to escpae the imprisonment of our own biology.
Then “Quarters”1996 suggests official, institutional lodgings, while the implicit idea of layered bodies links this work to urban architecture in which people live above one another. Its layout echoes the Panopticon, a prison design in which inmates are always subject to surveillance from a central viewing position by an unseen guard, which philosopher Michael Foucault used as a metaphor for a disciplinary society.
Imprisoned by society, imprisoned by biology, imprisoned by politics. Everything is under the formula of chaos: always close and black – “Turbulence” 2014.
“Hot Spot” 2006, a steel globe with the continents outlined in neon, casting an orange glow and sending buzzes of electricity throughout the room is the piece that completely separates your from the reality that envelopes outside the doors of Tate.
“Interior/Exterior Landscape” 2010 is a room size installation that contains altered household furniture including a bed frame threaded with hair, a hair embroidered pillow that depicts flight routes between the artist;s most visited cities, a conjoined table and chair and a bird cage housing a single ball of hair. Hanging from a metal coat rack are two circular wire hangers that frame wall drawings of the Eastern and Western hemispheres and a market bag constructed frn a cut-out print of a world map.
“Twelve Windows” made by Mona Hatoum with Inaash, 2012-2013 are twelve pieces of embroidery, the work of Inaash, The Association for the Development of Palestinian Camps. Each ‘window’ represents a different region of through its motifs, stitches, colours and patterns, meticulously embroidered by Inaash’s experienced craftswomen. The aim of the project was to preserve a traditional skill, at risk of extinction because of the dispersal of Palestinians across the region. Hatoum created an installation in which the ‘windows’ are displayed in a space criss-crossed by steel cables, making a visual metaphor for this divided territory.
The last room of the exhibition showcases “Undercurrent (red)” 2008 which explores again the interest of the artist in craft and textiles. This piece is realised dramatically in a combination of traditional technique with materials such as a square mat, woven from red electrical cable, a long fringe snake and 15 watts light bulbs that brighten and dim at what Hatoum describes as a “breathing pace”.
The entire exhibition is a public survey of the artist’s perception of this world that held her tight into a tense creative process, after spitting her away from her biological crib. An exploration of an immigrant soul who saw through the reality of a migrant crowd of souls all travelling from one understanding to another, one reality to another to the point of escape from the imprisonment.
Mona Hatoum exhibition (4th of May – 21st of August) is curated by Clarrie Wallis, Curator of Modern and Contemporary British Art, Tate and Christine Van Assche, Honorary Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris, with Katy Wan, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern and Capucine Perrot, former Assistant Curator, Tate Modern.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Watercolors and Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection is currently on view at the Galerie St. Etienne in New York, featuring 30 never before seen watercolors, prints, and drawings. The exhibit focuses on Kirchner’s development as a draftsman from the establishment of the German Expressionist group, Die Brücke (The Bridge) in 1905, to his personal and professional downfall with the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, his subsequent exile to neutral Switzerland, and his eventual suicide in 1938 at the age of fifty-eight.
Kirchner once said, “Ecstatic drawing is the foundation of the new art.” Fittingly, many of the drawings presented in the exhibit are the result of quick, fifteen minute studies in which both the artist and the model were constantly in motion. In an essay that accompanies the exhibition, Kirchner is quoted as saying, “My painting is a painting of movement…I find the observation of movement especially inspirational. From this comes a heightened feeling for life, which is the origin of all artistic creation.”
Along with Kirchner, Die Brücke was founded by Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, who were later joined by Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and Otto Mueller. Neither Kirchner nor the other three founding members of the group had much formal training in art. They did, however, share a belief in the transformative power of art, as well as a contempt for bourgeois society. Artists working in Europe were drawn to the perceived innocence of so-called “primitive” arts of colonized and developing countries, a concept that has been analyzed more critically in recent decades. The Brücke artists, then, had a retrograde view of society in which people were uninhibited by the decorum of European society.
Kirchner has been called the “quintessential Expressionist,” a label the artist himself rejected. The term “Expressionism” is difficult to define, but came from an exhibition catalogue from around 1910 which featured works by painters such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and André Derain. The influence of these artists can be seen in much of Kirchner’s work, especially his woodcut printing, which he admired for its ability to imitate tribal arts in Africa. Expressionism, as opposed to Impressionism, refers to a kind of art that looks beyond surface appearances, resulting in a highly subjective, often distorted perception of the world. Although there are phases of extreme abstraction in the artist’s body of work, Kirchner never completely abandoned recognizable subject matter, believing that, “All art needs the visible world and will always need it…because, being accessible to all, it is the key to all other worlds.”
While Kirchner was inspired by his association with the other artists in Die Brücke, as well as other contemporary movements like Cubism in France and Futurism in Italy, Kirchner’s pervasive fear of modern civilization had a perceivable effect on his artwork, especially during his time in Berlin. One of the prints included in the exhibit, Gentleman with Lap Dog in Cafe (1911) represents the isolation he felt during his Berlin years. The titular man sits at a table with another figure who sits with his back to the viewer. The gentleman’s face is contorted into what looks like a grimace, while his companion’s head is almost completely cut off. A third figure, that of a woman, ambiguously lingers in the background, but her face is obscured by a black shadow. The stylization, sharp angles, and heavy contrast between light and dark are characteristic of German Expressionism, as is the feeling of uneasiness we are met with while observing them. Moreover, the print conveys Kirchner’s paranoia in a society increasingly occupied with social diversion and good taste.
The end of Die Brücke in May of 1913 only furthered the artist’s sense of alienation as he found himself alone in the crowded streets of the Berlin metropolis. Nevertheless, this was a productive time for the artist, as he was able to create a series of drawings and paintings that captured the frenetic spirit of modern life, but in a way that allowed him to remain distant from his bourgeois compatriots. The outbreak of World War I, however, left the artist feeling stifled, and eventually caused him to move to Switzerland after suffering a mental breakdown and a decline into alcoholism shortly after enlisting in the army. He found refuge in a Swiss sanatorium, and was inspired by the landscape outside of his window.
With Hitler’s election in 1932, Kirchner’s worst fears were realized, as he faced the critical rejection of his work, the moral downfall of modern civilization, and the threat of a catastrophic war. In 1937, the Nazis staged their Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich, which included Kirchner’s work, as well as that of his former Die Brücke colleagues. He died the following year, no longer feeling safe in his new country and disillusioned by the world around him. Although they were never officially married, his widow, Erna, was able to obtain the legal rights to the artist’s last name and kept his estate. The majority of the works on view in the exhibit were purchased in 1959, two decades after the artist’s death, on behalf of Robert Lehman from a gallery in Germany. Kirchner strove to capture what he often referred to as “the ecstasy of first sight,” or the feeling evoked by a first encounter, a feeling that is very well captured in this exhibit. “Sometimes,” he explained, “the great secret that lies beneath all the happenings and things in our environment becomes fleetingly perceptible…We can never express it concretely, but only give it symbolic form.” In other words, “make visible the invisible.”
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner will be on view at the Galerie St. Etienne until July 1, 2016. The gallery will also be participating in Art Basel in Switzerland June 16-19.
See also: Munch and Expressionism at the Neue Galerie in New York, closing soon.
It is important to start off the conversation about what circus art is by actually going back to the birth of the circus. Different from other artistic practices like ballet, theater and opera, circus never had a definitive history. It was always told as a tale from one artist to the other, with press agents spreading facts and stories between people rather than physically documented. There’s a controversial notion that circus came from the Ancient Roman times, though it can also be claimed that the only similarity to Ancient Rome is the word circus, which in both Latin and English means “circle.” Though I leave that debate untouched, perhaps it is necessary to note a fine line between public-driven acts of circus artists and Roman gladiators.
Modern circus, as we all know it, was born in England. One of a few accurate facts in the history of the circus is that in 1769 Philip Astley, a former cavalry Sergeant-Major turned showman, bought a property near the Westminster Bridge in London and constructed the very first circus building – The New British School or Amphitheater Riding Ring. The first performance took place in 1770 and was a tremendous success. Interestingly enough, in the beginning Astley was the performer himself, adding later on his wife and children to the act. However, 1770 is the date that marks the first full circus performance with acrobats, clowns, and other artists all in one performance as a theatrical act. It was never called circus though, the name came around only in 1782. Before the beginning of the 19th century, circus was introduced both to King Louis XV in Fontainebleau and Catherine the Great in Saint Petersburg. Circus arts have existed over time but it wasn’t until Astley when the modern circus was born—the circus we all are so used to today.
Being essentially an act of performance, circus is not struggled by language barriers or cultural misunderstandings. It’s easily understandable and transportable to other countries with large successes in multiple locations. Once circus companies started embarking on tours showcasing new programs and performances, its popularity quickly rose.
Flipping through a few centuries and coming to today’s time, it is imperative to note a few trends, or should I say, positive changes happening in the circus world. After decades of slowing down its growth, circus arts have regained their initial strength. As for today, a number of world companies are performing innovative acts that challenge the very definition of the circus. What is a performance? In fact, one starts to look at circus with absolutely different eyes. It’s becoming no longer just a place to bring your kids, but also a theatrical event, climbing to the level of a play with a certain acrobatic involvement.
The Nouveau Cirque, also called Contemporary Circus, was first formed in France in the 1970s. This new type of a circus performance, or dramatic show, has a theme or concept behind it. The involvement of animals is no longer necessary. What we see is a play, with a story, music, and dance. Of course there are also clown performances, but again they are essentially different to those we saw before. No longer is it low-base humor, but rather ironic and more sophisticated. The Nouveau Circus is as much for kids as it is for adults. More so, each age group sees and understands performances in their own way, reflecting on them after watching one, not just blindly forgetting about an act after it’s done. The circus since then became essentially a high quality performance, rather than a “bread and spectacle” show.
Here is the list of our top ten international circuses:
- Cirque du Soleil (Canada)
The biggest circus performance company in the world and the one to establish the Nouveau Cirque on the international level, Cirque du Soleil was founded in Canada by Guy Laliberté and Daniel Gauthier in 1984. The key feature of The Circus of the Sun is that animals were never used in any performance. In fact, that was what made the company so different from others back in time. A show is often based on a tradition of a musical or opera, never stopping the action for even a second. Music is one of the most important tools during Cirque du Soleil performances in obtaining the groundbreaking effect on the audience.
- New Shanghai Circus
The Acrobats of China as they are often called, the New Shanghai Circus features one of the best groups of acrobats in the world. Established back in 1949, the circus tries to make a link between traditional Chinese acrobatic techniques and modern technology.
- Circus Oz of Australia
Circus Oz was established in Melbourne, Australia, in 1978, when two already successful Australian circus companies, Soapbox Circus and the New Circus, decided to merge together. Similar to Cirque du Soleil, Circus Oz produces animal-free shows with an effort to communicate a traditional spirit of native Australia: “collective ownership and creation, gender equity, a uniquely Australian signature and team-work.”
- ROSGOSCIRK (Russian State Circus Company)
The Russian State Company is the largest circus company in the world, encompassing 42 circuses across Russia. Established in 1919, the company redesigned over time due to political and social changes facing Russia in the 20th century. Nowadays, Rosgoscirk focuses on developing circus dynasties that are the stars of any arena. Though not being animal-free in its productions, the Company goes hand-in-hand with contemporary development in the circus-performance field. One of the new features is the annual international circus award—Master—established in 2015. Master is the only circus art award in the world that is presented by means of online voting and international expert council in 14 categories.
- Big Apple Circus
Big Apple Circus, voted the most famous one in America, was founded in 1977 by two jugglers Paul Binder and Michael Christensen. It was primarily crated as a non-for-profit arts institution. Even though showcasing more traditional performances compared to other circus companies on the list, the Big Apple Circus is one of the leading performance companies in the world, presenting their own twist on classic, employing custom music and costumes.
No matter what time of year it is, chances are there is a biennial happening somewhere around the world. During certain years, the art world flocks to major cities like Venice or São Paulo—or remote places like Kassel, Germany or Dakar—to view some of the world’s greatest contemporary art. Since the 1990s these large-scale international contemporary art exhibitions have become the main way of exhibiting and publicizing international contemporary art.
Today, major biennials exist on every continent, everywhere from Sydney to Shanghai, with more than 150 established biennials in total. They have become such a craze that a non-profit called the Biennial Foundation was formed just to monitor their behavior. Confusingly though, not all of these exhibitions happen every two years, some are triennials (Yokohama Triennale) or quadrennials (Copenhagen Arts Festival—formerly the U-turn Quadriennale), but because all of these exhibitions follow the same general structure, they are all grouped under the biennial umbrella. Essentially, what distinguishes biennials from art fairs, like Frieze in London or Art Basel in Miami, is the fact that biennials are much larger, taking place in multiple venues across the given city, and, most importantly, the works displayed are not for sale. Biennials function as temporary exhibitions for contemporary art, not as galleries.
The concept of the biennial has roots in the 19th and early 20th century phenomena of the World’s Fair and Universal Exhibition. The word biennial comes from the Italian word biennale, meaning every other year, and refers to the original biennial—the Venice Biennale. The first Venice Biennale, in 1895, celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of Italy’s King Umberto and Queen Margherita. It was held at the Palazzo dell’ Esposizione, a public space called the Giardini on the Riva degli Schiavoni in Venice. The exhibition was hugely popular, and became a bi-annual (biennial) event. By the early 20th century many different countries had built pavilions in the Giardini to house their country’s art during the exhibition. During the first half of the 20th century, the pavilions featured an assortment of works by the country’s best artists. In the post-war years, the style of the exhibition began to shift towards more curated and thematic displays.
The current global biennial structure was developed in the 1990s. Most biennials follow the general structure of the Venice Biennale, which has both a series of national pavilions that exhibit work from their country’s artists, all with individually curated themes, and a larger overarching exhibition curated by the biennial directors that is often linked to a different theme. As the art world became increasingly globalized in the late 1990s, the biennial phenomenon has also taken on a diplomatic element. These exhibitions bring together works of art from all over the world under one general curatorial theme, which is often connected to international social or political issues. For example, the 2016 Venice Biennale theme is “Reporting from the Front.”
Although the biennial model of contemporary art exhibitions has been debated, the idea of exhibitions that survey global contemporary art have been perceived as largely positive. The growth of biennial culture has been connected with fostering diplomatic relations between nations as well as promoting the growth of cultural tourism. Large-scale biennials draw in hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world, and have certainly helped to generate tourism in previously under-visited destinations. Through these visitors the art displayed at biennials circulates around the world—every visitor returns from biennials with a list of top new artists to watch.
With the increasing globalization of the art world, many biennials focused on non-Western art have emerged since the 1990s. One of the most important of these is DAK’ART, the Dakar Biennale, founded in 1992. This biennial focuses on contemporary African art or works of black artists around the world. It is the largest exposition of contemporary African art and draws in visitors and artists from all over the globe to Senegal. Also, with the growing power of the Asian art market, major biennials are now located in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Japan, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors. A major exhibition of non-western art is also hosted every two years in Havana, Cuba. While originally dedicated only to Caribbean and Latin American art, the biennial has expanded to include work of artists from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East as well.
While biennials have a long history, they have evolved dramatically in the past thirty years. They have essentially transformed from World’s Fairs into the major place for viewing, circulating, and discussing global contemporary art.