By: Monica Loughman
Four years ago, award-winning artist Aida Muluneh spearheaded efforts to create East Africa’s first international photography festival, Addis Foto Fest. Of course, she couldn’t have done it without her team at Desta for Africa Creative Consulting (DFA), a Private Limited Company founded by Aida Muluneh herself. Desta works to spread education through art, and so a festival like Addis Foto Fest was an almost obvious step for their efforts.
Aida Muluneh was born in Ethiopia but has spent most of her life in other countries. However, she had always fantasized about returning to her home land, and in 2007 she got the opportunity to do so while working on a documentary. She saw the allurement of Ethiopia and decided to leave her life in Canada to stay in Addis Ababa, where she worked as an advocate for the culture and beauty of her native country. It was this idea that became the fundamental philosophy and goal behind Desta, which is an acronym for “Developing and Educating Society Through Art.”
Addis Foto Fest was established only a few years after Desta was created, and was the result of Muluneh’s attendance to the Rencontres Africaines de la Photographie in Bamanko, where she was to receive the European Union Prize. There she became aware of a strong global misrepresentation and belittling of Africa, both in photography and in the film. Muluneh stated that “This world is not perfect and neither are we, but why is it always our imperfections that are in the lead as opposed to the balanced story of who we are?”. Addis Foto Fest was thus created to rethink what defines Africa, and to show images that truly represent all aspects of the different African cultures.
This festival is all about communicating with artists and educating not only those who are in involved with the festival but the whole world in this progression towards re-branding the African continent. In a recent article in Vogue Italia —a sponsor of the festival—, Muluneh described Addis Foto Fest as “an educational tool; it is a form of cultural exchange that fosters mutual understanding and simultaneously furthers the bigger conversation—that the creative sector is part and parcel to development”.
Addis Foto Fest has been a huge success since its beginnings and is now recognized as one of the leading photography festivals in the whole of Africa. The show is set up every two years —in 2016 it was held between the 15th and the 20th of December. There were amazing events taking place every day, including portfolio reviews by international professionals, lectures, and dance performances. A total of 126 artists from more than 40 countries around the world exhibited their work, shaping an outstanding display where many different contemporary approaches to photography were represented.
December 15, 2016
Art installations are not a new concept in the art world. In the early 20th century, Marcel Duchamp set the roots for future artists to create site-specific pieces that made viewers redefine what they know. For instance, in the 1942 exhibition First Papers of Surrealism he hung several hundreds of feet of twine throughout the exhibition space, creating a weblike veil between that separated the viewer from the artworks hung on the walls.
Some critics claimed it symbolised the difficulties of trying to understand surrealist art, but Duchamp stated that there was no such intention, and that the focus of the piece was on its functionality. Duchamp, who was fascinated by how we look at art, challenged and changed the roll of the audience by creating obstacles within the space; he activated the viewer within the piece, which inspired other artists to explore how visitors could be part of an art installation.
Art lovers will always go to museums and galleries to see their favorite artists and pieces. However, many people still think that going to see art is usually a boring experience. Artists like Miguel Chevalier, Yayoi Kusama, Lucas Samaras, and many more are changing this with their installations. Today, immersive installations have become a huge attraction for people all over the world. For instance, more than two million people went to spend forty-five seconds in Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirror Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life” during the two years it toured in Central and South America.
So what makes them so sought after? The answer to that is simple. As humans, we have an inherent desire to escape from the confines of our reality. Every form of art, be it literary or visual, could be an example of our escapism. If you’ve ever seen the infamous Disney movie, Mary Poppins, you would remember the scene in which Mary Poppins, Bert, Jane, and Michael all jump into the sidewalk chalk paintings. Immersive art embodies that fantastic ideal. It creates a physical alternative reality which allows the participant to transcend known perceptions of reality and experience a completely new and unknown environment. Gallery, museum, and art fair visitors are no longer viewers; they are activated within the piece and through interactaction, they become immersed.
Being surrounded by an installation is one thing, but what separates this genre from any other type of arti is what the artist does to activate the individual and make them completely engaged. In Lucas Samaras’s “Room No. 2” (1966), one walks into a space that is covered in mirrors. The room has concrete, finite limitations, but it is completely transformed into endless reflections, forcing the viewer to redefine their perceptions of space. Artist Yayoi Kusama, like Sumaras, uses mirrors to create her surreal installation “All the Eternal Love I Have for Pumpkins.” She inserts her well known, psychedelic pumpkins into the space and they, along with the participant, expand into an endless vision.
“Dear World…Yours, Cambridge” (2015), by Miguel Chevalier, is another example of an installation that challenges the perception of space. It took place in the historic King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, and was commissioned to commemorate some of Cambridge’s renowned alumni. Chevalier filled the chapel with projected images linked to specific alumni. For instance, he used images of vast galaxies and black holes to honor Stephen Hawkins. People walked into what they knew to be a chapel and were transported into a space that was an awe-inspiring visual experience. The manipulation of the known chapel created an aesthetic environment which reconstructed a different reality.
In 2012, Random International –a collaborative experimental studio based in London- created an immersive environment entitled “Rain Room”, where water is continually falling, like rain, but pauses over an individual as they walk through the space. It completely challenges the human experience of being caught in the rain, and that is what makes the installation immersive.
In 2015, Japanese art collective teamLab created an installation that was also based on people’s movement through the exhibition. In the piece, entitled “Floating Flower Garden”, 2,300 flowers hang from the ceiling and whimsically recess as individuals walked through. This surreal environment entices the participants’ senses and uses their bodies as the interface by having the environment react to them. Such unrealistic physically experiences make visitors respond in new ways before an artwork and, in a way, their reaction becomes the actual piece of art.
It may be fair to say that the popularity of these immersive installations stems from the idea that, though we don’t know what to completely expect, we know that we will be experiencing something completely different from any other aspect of our life. Our perceptions are challenged in ways that create emotions of wonder and awe; we are thrown into an abstract reality like Mary Poppins jumping into a chalk painting.
China’s recent history is one full of social and political chaos. Chairman Mao Zedong resided as the country’s communist leader for nearly thirty years, responsible for the founding the People’s Republic of China, sending China into a deep economic crisis, and infamously inciting the riotous Cultural Revolution. Chairman Mao had set out to purge the country of what he called “impure elements.” The youth of China backed Mao as they flooded across the country murdering teachers, closing schools, denouncing family members, burning books, and destroying China’s history. Artist were cast out of society and only those who attended nationalized art schools and produced works in a factory-like manner with politically expedient content, were permitted. Today, we see how Chinese artists critique the Cultural Revolution and the Communist Party, shedding light on China’s societal issues, through their creative individuality.
Hung Liu was born shortly after the Chinese Civil War in 1948. She was a prolific student and studied at the best private schools China had to offer. As the Cultural Revolution began, Liu was sent to be “re-educated” in a rural village. Before leaving Beijing, she borrowed a camera from a friend. She used this camera to take photos of villagers, their families, and their day to day struggles. At this point in time, the Cultural Revolution was in full bloom and Chinese culture was being threatened to extinction. Hung Liu’s photographs of those villagers served as a preservation of those individuals and to their culture.
After the Revolution, Liu went on to study fine arts and earned a her graduate degree in Muralist Painting. For three years she painted political propaganda in the Soviet Realist style, all the while secretly painting landscapes with miniature tools and paints she herself had made. Hung Liu desperately wanted artistic freedom and was granted just that when she was given permission to attend the University of California San Diego in 1983.
Liu often paints from photographs of Chinese social outcasts: prostitutes, laborers, and prisoners. The realistic nature and size of her characters reflect her practice in Soviet Realism and Muralism. However, she manipulates the image by running paint down the canvas, which gives the effect of a photograph faded by time. The characters in each piece look as though they are disintegrating right before our eyes; a possible commentary on the lives lost and forgotten during the Cultural Revolution.
Hung Liu recently retired from her position as a professor at Mills College, but she continues to paint and has worldwide exhibitions.
Ma Desheng was a self taught artist, mainly because he was deemed unfit to be trained in fine arts at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Desheng worked as an industrial draftsman and woodblock print artist, using traditional Chinese ink.
Desheng produced a series of images of rock-like figures and portrayals of China’s working class. These images were stark contradictions to the suppressive propaganda that Mao and the Chinese Communist Party were feeding the people.
His early productions were un-romanticized images that displayed the realities of what was happening to China. The dark rigid lines evoke a sense of inner turmoil, similar to that of the artwork of the German artists, Käthe Kollwitz or Edvard Munch.
In 1970, Ma Desheng was influential in the founding of Star Group ( or Xing Xing). This group consisted of self taught, Western-influenced artists who fought for individualism and liberation against the Cultural Revolution. Ma Desheng and the Star Group bravely defied the government when they put on an exhibition of their own work across the street from the National Art Museum in Beijing. It was, of course, shut down by authorities and Ma was arrested for his involvement in organizing such an exhibit.The Star Group went on to lead a rally against the authorities and were successful in opening a second show; some say it was this rally that helped Chinese society become more culturally open.
Not long after Star Group’s second show, Ma Desheng moved to Europe, as did many of the other members. He continues to live and work in Paris, but there is no doubt that his passionate commitment to freedom of expression helped pave the way for future Chinese artists.
One of China’s most well known and successful artists, Zhang Xiaogang, was also a witness to China’s Cultural Revolution. His parents were government officials but were sent away to be “re-educated” at the height of the Revolution—an event that greatly affects his work.
He studied at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts after the Cultural Revolution ended, but his professors were persistent in teaching the style of Soviet Realism. Zhang resisted this style and any philosophy that had to do with collectiveness in society. He founded a group focused on the importance of individualism in philosophy and art called the Southwest Art Group. Though somewhat successful with nearly eighty artists in the group, the Tiananmen Square incident happened not long after and the era of liberal reform ceased completely.
It wasn’t until 1992 when Zhang returned from Germany after 3 months that he knew exactly what he wanted to paint. He stated that he “could see a way to paint the contradictions between the individual and the collective.” His portrayals of those contradictions are what make his paintings so eerily captivating. Most of his work is themed after family photographs but there is always some sort of strange mark or difference in color that makes them unique to one another. The child, who is typically centered, is the most defined. This can be taken as Zhang’s commentary on the youth of the Cultural Revolution and their willingness to disown their families and personal histories.
Zhang Xiaogang’s artwork has shown world wide and he is easily one of the most prominent Chinese contemporary artist of today.
Beijing-based artist, Yue Minjun, also captures that theme of contradiction that Zhang Xiaogang displays. Yue Minjun was born in 1962 and studied oil painting at the Hebei Normal University in 1985. His work is done in a style that has been coined as “Cynical Realism,” and they are iconically uncomfortable. Most of the paintings are self-portraits of the artist with pink skin, laughing maniacally in surreal backgrounds while bent over in an attempt to cover an exposed body, vulnerable in only underwear.
These cartoon like images are politically pointed at the Cultural Revolution and China today. Minjun states that “…laughter is a representation of a state of helplessness, lack of strength and participation, with the absence of our rights that society has imposed on us.” This laughter evokes a strange feeling to the viewer. You feel as if you were looking at someone that had just gone through a mental breakdown and had experienced an intense amount of pain, dehumanized, but has an odd instinct to laugh. It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that, this is how Minjun see’s the China today; as society that has been through so much within recent years but does not know how to deal appropriately with the pain.
The now world renowned artist, Xu Bing, was in high school when the Cultural Revolution broke out. Determined to stay in Beijing and continue his studies, he agreed to use his talents in calligraphy to create political propaganda. After he graduated, he was sent to the countryside to work in the fields and was not able to return until the death of Chairman Mao in 1976. Xu was accepted into Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts the following year to study printmaking.
The relationship between words and interpretation seems to be the core theme in Xu Bing’s work. In his grandiose installation, “Book from the Sky,” large scrolls hang from the ceiling and traditionally bound books and newspapers line the floor and walls, all stamped with woodblocks carved with made-up, nonsensical Chinese characters. The fact that nothing is literally being said in this piece results in many different interpretations. Is the installation a focus on Chinese tradition versus modern art? Is it a questioning of how different cultures perceive one another? Is it a commentary on the manipulation of words to achieve power, like in Mao’s case? Or is it a meaningless study of form and repetition? There are grounds for each of these questions within the piece and its intriguing quality is one of the reasons “Book from Sky” is such an international hit within the art world.
Cai Guo-Qiang is probably best known around the world for his firework show at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but Cai’s artistry goes far beyond his pyrotechnic displays. He studied stage design at the Shanghai Theatre Academy from 1981 through 1985, which is evident in the spatial rendering seen in his large installations, paintings and performance pieces.
One of his most famous pieces was an installation he was commissioned to do for the 48th Venice Biennale, entitled, “Venice’s Rent Collection Courtyard.” The installation consisted of 114 clay sculptures of peasants and laborers interspersed within the gallery’s setting.The piece created quite the stir amongst the art world as it closely resembled the famous Social Realist sculpture “Rent Collection Courtyard”: a highly political series of sculptures created during the Cultural Revolution. The stir wasn’t only because of Cai’s replica of the Chinese classic, but because he choose a material that would cause the sculptures to disintegrate as the show went on; a possible statement on Mao’s promises to the Chinese people and the ephemerality of their political and social structures.
Many of Cai Guo-Qiang works seem to embody a theme of unforeseen fate. In many of his paintings, he will scatter gunpowder on an already painted canvas, and ignite it. The result displays a combination of the controlled color of the actual paint, and the sporadic, random markings of the burnt gunpowder. This theme is also evident in his installation “Head On” where sculptures of wolves take off running and soaring through the air. The momentum of the piece is brutally interrupted as the wolves run, “head on,” into a wall a plexi glass and fall gracelessly to the floor.
It is often said that an artist’s role in society is to be instrument of the time; to reflect society back to itself, to be a catalyst of change, and to articulate culture. It is fair to say that these artists, and many other Chinese artists, are doing just that.
Hauser & Wirth is on the path to redefining the Arts District in Los Angeles. The global gallery enterprise has teamed up with former Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Paul Schimmel, to create a gallery that takes up a whole city block on East 3rd. Street. With free admission, a restaurant, and public walkways that run right through the middle, this gallery is different in the best way.
The Mid-Century flour mill turned art gallery is actually more like a museum. It is only slightly smaller than its neighbor, The Broad, which opened in downtown L.A. last year. So how did they choose to fill 112,000 square feet of gallery space for its first show? With over 100 pieces from 34 female artists, that’s how.
“Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016” takes the past 70 years of women artists and revisits their relevance during a dominantly masculine period. The inaugural exhibition, curated by Paul Schimmel and Jenni Sorkin, explores the influence these women had on abstract sculpture through a diverse range of form, material and method.
The first part of the exhibition focuses on the women of the immediate post-war era (1940-1960). Beautiful white columns line the naturally lit room. The space is simple, elegant, and urbanized. The tall ceilings allow for Ruth Asawa’s twenty-one foot long looped wire sculpture (one of several on display) to hang and unfold gracefully at one end of the gallery. Lee Bontecou’s series of steel and canvas bas-relief sculptures are fixed on the back wall, while Louise Bourgeois sleek “Personages” sculptures stand like viewers in the center of the room. Further down, placed below a balcony, are five of Claire Falkenstein’s mixed material sculptures entitled, “Sun” and “Iron Sun.” This first room is so rich in the themes of this exhibition. These specific artists have, each in their own way, used new materials and created a subject matter that is begotten by nature and the feminine experience.
Ruth Asawa’s Untitled series of wire sculptures hang vertically from the ceiling, imitating a drop of water as it slowly separates from its original source. These sculptures are obviously not a direct representation of the body, but something about their poetic curvature exudes femininity. The repetition in form is a testament to Asawa’s craft of woven wire, which could be considered an evolved form of basket weaving. The pieces themselves are highly abstracted, yet they are rooted in nature and geometry. The interlocking weavings seen in these sculptures brings to mind the same sort of natural pattern that is evident in a seashell or a plant, for example. Asawa weaves the metal wire with such attention, one cannot help but to feel the artist’s immersion within her sculptures.
A selection of Louise Bourgeois “Personages” sculptures create a nice juxtaposition next to the fluidity of Ruth Asawa’s pieces. Their sharp linear forms are placed about the center of the room, in a way that mimics the surrounding people strolling the gallery. Bourgeois created “Personages” between the years of 1945 and 1955 and there are around eighty sculptures in total. Out of the eighty, there are only about a dozen of the carved and painted wood sculptures on view at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. The form of each of these pieces is individualized and inventive, yet there is a connectedness between the artist and her work that goes beyond the method used.
Each piece is representative of an individual Bourgeois knew personally. They all had some sort of relationship with Bourgeois that differed from the other, which is, perhaps the reason for their different characteristics. These sculpted portrayals can also be seen as a reflection of Bourgeois as a female and how her role as a women differs between each individual. This internal feminine experience exists within many of the pieces shown throughout the gallery, but most prominently in the work shown by Eva Hesse, Shiela Hicks, Ursula von Rydingsvard.
“Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016” will be shown at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel until September 4th.
Hauser Wirth & Schimmel
901 East 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Wednesday, Friday – Sunday
11 am – 6 pm
11 am – 8 pm
March 11, 2016
The City of Angels, home to celebrities and heat waves, is quickly becoming a major hub for the international contemporary art community. Although it is still somewhat of an underdog when compared to cities like New York City, Paris, and London, Los Angeles is holding its own in the art world.
If ever you find yourself in LA with a need to see some great works of art, this list will point you to some of the best galleries around.
First opened by Randy Sommer and Robert Gunderman in Santa Monica in 1994, ACME is now located on a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard known as “Miracle Mile,” where you can also find LACMA and other galleries amongst some of LA’s famous art deco buildings. ACME exhibitions include a wide range of mediums and prominent artists. Some past shows include; Jennifer Steinkamps inventive digital installation, “It’s a Nice Day for a White Wedding”; Tomory Dodge’s profound series of oil paintings “Outside Therein”; and Carlee Fernandez’ surreal “Installation, 2010.” ACME never fails to showcase pieces that are at the foreground of today’s art world.
The independent nonprofit gallery was founded by artists for artists in order to create a concentrated presence in the art community. They have created programs and platforms for contemporary artists to thrive in and the results are evident in the dynamic work that is produced and shown at LAXART. Last year they had more than twenty rising artists show their work. Among them were Mark Hagen, Kelly Lamb and Alexander May.
One of Culver City’s many galleries, Honor Fraser, stands out as one of the most cutting edge in its exhibitions of installations, digital media, paintings, performances and sculptures. Its exhibitions tend to be more along the lines of street-art and it typically draws in the younger crowd of Culver City. The gallery has shown contemporary work by Rosson Crow, Victoria Fu, and Alexis Smith. Most popular show of last year was definitely KAWS and his installation “Man’s Best Friend.”
Nicodim gallery, which just recently moved to downtown Los Angeles after five years in Culver City, has displayed some very prominent exhibitions. Romanian founder and art dealer, Mihai Nicodim, opened Nicodim in 2006 with the hopes to introduce more European artists to LA. He has been successful in doing just that. Artists like Adrian Gehney, Michael Ceulers and Zsolt Bodoni have shown in the Nicodim Gallery and have brought a vast range of diverse contemporary artists and artworks to LA.
Gallerist Adam Lindemann converted an abandoned warehouse in downtown L.A. into a beautifully spacious gallery. Though sister to Lindemann’s New York Gallery, Venus Over Manhattan, this new gallery is not an extension of the East Coast gallery, but rather a new space for experimentation in large scale artwork that would not be possible in the inevitably smaller Manhattan space.
Founded by painter Noah Davis and The Museum of Contemporary Art, the Underground Museum takes pieces of art found in some of the high-end museums of Los Angeles and shows them in this space, located in a mainly working class neighborhood. Davis says that this new space is not only for him to display his works, but “a place to create crackling dialogues between his work and that of other prominent artists, as well as the surrounding neighborhood.”
The Hammer museum off Wilshire Boulevard in L.A. holds Armand Hammer’s private collection. However, it also has multiple gallery spaces within the museum for temporary exhibits of current artists, like Catherine Opie. The museum partnered up with the University of California, Los Angeles to make sure they are showing the most relevant art. One more thing, it’s free!
LACMA is the largest museum of the western United States with over 120,000 pieces. The museum exhibits many pieces throughout the history of art, ranging from Ancient Art to Contemporary works. Though the museum has pieces from the past, it really strives to represent Los Angeles and its diverse population as well as what is happening in the art world TODAY. Just this past year, they have exhibited some very prolific artists. Exhibitions included James Turrell’s “Breathing Light”; Diane Thaters “The Sympathetic Imagination”; a two-part show featuring multiple Islamic photographers entitled “Islamic Art Now”, and the very popular “Rain Room,” which is a collaborative experimental installation created by Random International.
In the heart of Downtown, kiddie-corner from Frank Gehry’s “Disney Music Hall” is the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art. The architecture of the building itself is a sight to see, but once you get inside there is an abundance of unique works by revolutionary, Modern and Post Modern artists. The MOCA holds a permanent collection of about 7,000 pieces of art that were created post-1945, including works from Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, Franz Kline, Claes Oldenburg Jackson Pollock and many others. Contemporary artists in the permanent collection include Greg Colson, David Hockney and Kim Dingle.
Los Angeles’ biggest & newest museum dedicated to contemporary art opened September, 2015. The Broad, named after its founder, Eli Broad has pieces from Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Robert Rauschenberg, John Baldisseri and many other famous artists for the inaugural exhibition. It’s located in central downtown LA almost exactly across the street from the MOCA.
February 16, 2016
On a recent marvelously sunny and warm “winter’s” day in Los Angeles, I faired the ferocious freeways, intent upon seeing the Hammer Museum’s latest exhibition—“Catherine Opie: Portraits” featuring twelve works by the acclaimed American photographer.
Within the few first seconds of stepping into the gallery that is temporarily housing Opie’s portraits, the chaos of speeding cars and the rapidity of everyday life almost paused completely. Entering the gallery, I was struck by the phenomenon that occurs when your eyes attempt to adjust to a bright light: all you really see is blackness and white dots, pulsating. The room was stark white and Opies’ nearly life sized portraits lined the room, each with a black background. As I focused on the first photograph, time slowed.
John was the simple title to a profound portrait. The subject appears to be a floating head in a sea of blackness, as Opie’s lighting caresses his head and subtlety moves down his neckline and right shoulder. His gaze emits that time-ceasing effect. The world pauses. His eyes are not fixed on anything, but they emanate the expression of a trance-like contemplation. John’s seemingly moonstruck hair softly breaks the barrier of contrast as its feathery white fibers float over the stark black background like satellites in space. The portrait seems to exist in the moment right before someone yells “John” to snap him out of his trance.
I continued around the room, each photograph exuding as much of a time-encapsulating effect and intrigue as the next. There was one portrait in particular to which I was drawn back. That image was the portrait entitled Jonathan. In this portrait, a man sits with his back turned to the viewer, cross-legged, with the novel “War and Peace” on his lap. This portrait stood out because, unlike the others, the focus and the brilliance of Opie’s light hit on an inanimate object: the book.
Although my eyes were initially drawn to the novel, I found myself intrigued by the slightly illuminated profile of the sitter’s expression. The light hitting the pages of “War and Peace” reflects off the paper and onto his face. He is similar to a character in a movie opening up a chest full of treasures, but he does not seem triumphant or amazed. He appears to be uncritically satisfied.
The premise of this series of photographs erases preconceived notions of what portraiture should be. Unlike portraits of the past where lineage, wealth, and importance were depicted alongside the subject in order to illustrate their story, Catherine Opie depicts her subjects in a way that forces the viewer to look at the individual in a certain moment in time, free from any artificial and external distraction.
“Catherine Opie: Portraits” will be on display at the Hammer Museum from January 30th until May 22nd.