In: Contemporary Art
February 3, 2017
Okay, there’s a lot of red… some nice white strokes, a hint of yellow, and… now they’ve all blended into orange and pink dripping endlessly down the canvas. And then there’s the black lines and swirls. Are they supposed to be scratches? What’s written in that corner? It’s all so big, I can’t quite make out the top…
I’m not sure I know what I’m looking at but, I can feel it. And that’s what makes the works of American artist Cy Twombly (1928-2011) so significant. His energy can be as subtle as the breath of a mark on a cream-colored canvas, or as animated as the manic blood red loops of Bacchus (2005). No matter the intensity of his energy, one element remains coherent —the unpredictability of where his emotions will take him.
The Centre Pompidou presents an in-depth retrospective of the artist’s long career, beginning in the 1950s and right up until his death in 2011. The show revolves around three major cycles —Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963), Fifty Days at Iliam (1978), and Coronation of Sesostris (2000). The exhibition, organized chronologically, includes some 140 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and photographs featuring well-known works such as Blooming (2001-08), as well as others never previously exhibited in France.
The journey begins with a step into the bare landscape of cream washes, imperfect whites, and clumsy scribbles. The first gallery encompasses Twombly’s early works from the 1950s. During this period he was still in his hometown of Lexington, Virginia and he also began his travels to Europe and North Africa accompanied by his friend Robert Rauschenberg. Often characterized as graffiti (a label which Twombly rejected), his erratic, aggressive lines fill the entire surface, almost as if someone was trying to claw their way out from behind the canvas.
Moving further into this strange new world we discover Twombly’s life-long muse —the Mediterranean. The artist was fascinated by it since his first visits to Rome in the ’50s, and this fascination intensified during the periods that he lived in Italy. The iconography, metaphors, and myths of ancient civilizations left a strong mark on his works. From Egyptians to Greeks, Romans, and Persians, Twombly acts as an archaeologist, layering references from the classical past while drawing connections to contemporary figures and painting practices such as abstraction and minimalism.
The subject matter of Twombly’s oeuvre suggests a vast literary knowledge and a deep understanding of the human psyche. He reinvigorates the ancient myths and histories of Achilles, Eros, Venus, Apollo, Mars, and Commodus with an instinctual understanding of not only their narratives but also their spirits, their dramas and traumas. We can feel the rage of Commodus, the cruel Roman tyrant, as he unleashes terror and chaos in Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963). With each successive canvas the battle between white (innocence and victims) and red (power and oppression) grows more aggressive. Textured paint is thrown back and forth until at last a fresh reddish-orange glistens with victory.
Perhaps the most intriguing and complex element of Twombly’s artistic approach is his use of language. He creates visual poetry by merging the principles of abstract expressionism and the lyricism of words. Coming off as difficult and rather unclear, his script is largely incomprehensible. A mishmash of singular words or illegible phrases float throughout his compositions neglecting any true syntax or logic. The words are activated and energized by the dynamic forms, expressive lines, and bold colors that accompany them. The ten-part series Coronation of Sesostris (2000) perfectly demonstrates how Twombly blends language and image so that each complements and fulfills the other. Referencing Egyptian sun god Ra, Egyptian king Sesostris I, ancient Greek poets Sappho and Alcman, and contemporary poet Patricia Waters, the series shows the artist’s unrelenting dedication to narrative and ancient civilizations.
Twombly is a modern poet. His work can most easily be understood as an emotional and intellectual reaction to an understanding of the past, expressed through the language of color, form, and writing. It possesses an archaic energy that surpasses traditional and one-dimensional representations of history and instead strives to express a universal essence. His work is as sensual and sensitive as it is intellectual and independent. Cy Twombly, a true maverick, interpreting humanity across time and space.
“Cy Twombly” is on view at the Centre Pompidou until April 24, 2017.
January 19, 2017
Knock knock! Art news here! London Art Fair 2017 opened to the public and 129 galleries showed some of the most exciting, fresh and sexy art collections! The social confusion of 2015-2016 seems to have created the environment for the most beautiful clarity in art. Art screams at you this year. It wants to be on your wall, not in a museum.
Many young entrepreneurs are now looking to invest in an alternative asset class. They want to use their new fortunes to invest in something that gives them a visual satisfaction. They are aware of the fact that they might discover a new Richter. Galleries are exploiting this feeling with marketing, doing a great job parenting the relationships between young artists and young collectors. Talent is being exploited beautifully and respectfully and not just experimented with.
This year’s London Art Fair enabled collecting at all levels, from museum quality Modern British art to the very new in contemporary art. 17 different countries including China, France, Germany, South Korea and the USA marked the most international edition of the fair to date.
The Fair also welcomed The Lightbox Woking as their 2017 Museum partner, celebrating their 10th anniversary with a curated exhibition of highlights from The Ingram Collection entitled ‘Ten Years: A Century of Art’, situated at the front of the fair.
As new features and highlights for 2017, The London Art Fair offers Modern British art with Waterhouse & Dodd’s debut in the pavilion; new galleries such as Christopher Kingzett Fine Art, Katharine House Gallery, Beaux Arts London and Peter Harrington Gallery. Many contemporary art galleries are making their international debut at the fair, including Pi Artworks (Istanbul/London), Atelier Aki (Seoul) and Victor Lope Arte Contemporaneo (Barcelona). The Art Projects ‘Dialogues’ curated by Miguel Amado, presented a series of five collaborations between galleries encouraging new forms of representation and fostering relationships on a global scale. ‘Stranger Collaborations’ showcases artistic collaborations formed via the internet and is curated by Pryor Behrman in the Art Projects Screening Room. The Fair also highlighted ‘Photo50: Gravitas’ a group of exhibitions of lens-based works curated by Christian Monarchi, founding editor of Photomonitor and contemporary Korean artist Jaye Moon’s LEGO street art sculptures, installed by Hanoi Gallery in locations throughout the Fair.
London retains the status of a global arts hub even post-Brexit and as Sarah Monk, Director of the London Fair, commented: ‘the exhibitors are used to riding out the ups and downs of the economy.’ Indeed, the overall feeling that I got from last year was that art is thriving in today’s context.
Our top pick galleries this year were: Flowers, Waterhouse & Dodd, Tag Fine Art with the Hanbury Collection, Sardac Gallery, GBS Fine Art, Pontone Gallery and of course Hanmi, which was also one of our favorites of last year. Make sure to stop by Skipwiths as well to see amazing Kwang Young Chun, a star on the rise.
There is a radical return to beauty: nature, simplicity, clean shapes and colors and I must emphasize again, a return to sexy! Art this year is refreshing, cool, exciting and it could just turn into a love affair. In a time when experts fail to give the right predictions and answers, when society is at a turning point, art seems to be the way out for life and society. This little black book of the global feeling gathers all the cultural influences, interconnections and togetherness against all odds.
Art is real and real has just got surreally good!
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.
December 2, 2016
A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s is currently on view at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University’s fine art museum. The exhibit was drawn from the Charlotte Moorman Archive housed at Northwestern University’s Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections. With more than 300 items on view, ranging from film clips, performance props, musical scores, photographs, audio recordings, and vintage posters, this marks the first major exhibition devoted to a groundbreaking, yet under-recognized figure in the post-war avant-garde.
Along with works by Moorman, the exhibition includes pieces by some of her frequent collaborators, including Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, John Cage, Takehisa Kosugi, Jim McWilliams, Joseph Beuys, and Giuseppe Chiari, many of whom created works for Moorman to perform. While she is often remembered as Paik’s muse, Moorman -or the “topless cellist,” as she was known- was dedicated to both performing and promoting the innovative work she and her colleagues would create. Moorman later remarked: “With all of my formal training at Juilliard, I feel I know the rules. That’s something that is very important if you are going to break them.”
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1933, Moorman began her career as a classically trained musician. After earning an MA in music from the University of Texas at Austin, she moved to New York to study at the Juilliard School of Music while building a career as a freelance classical musician. After attending a concert by fellow Juilliard student Kenji Kobayashi in spring 1961, in which Kobayashi played Cage’s 26’1.1499″ for a String Player –a “non-musical” score with sounds of the performer’s choosing-, Moorman began to shift focus. Kobayashi introduced Moorman to the downtown avant-garde arts scene, where composer La Monte Young, artist Yoko Ono, choreographer Simone Forti, and others were experimenting with new interdisciplinary art forms.
Moorman went on to organize fifteen avant-garde festivals from 1963 to 1980 (which are also documented in the show), where she was able to cultivate a strong community of hundreds of artists, filmmakers, dancers, poets, musicians, and festival goers who wanted freedom from the constraints of concert halls, galleries, and museums. Over the years, these festivals migrated from traditional performance venues to public spaces, setting a precedent for future large scale multimedia festivals of this kind.
A typical performance could include playing a cello made from a practice bomb (i.e. non-explosive), frying an egg or mushrooms, drinking Coke, letting air out of a balloon, breaking glass, or reading passages ranging from a newspaper article on the Watergate scandal to instructions on a box of tampons. Combining classical training with pop culture, Moorman once pointed out: “I don’t feel that I’m destroying any tradition. I feel that I’m creating something new.”
As an artist, Charlotte Moorman subverted traditional notions of beauty and society’s obsession with the female form by referencing the very sources from which these notions began. It is nearly impossible to look at images of Moorman performing and not be reminded of classical paintings of inexplicably nude women lying in repose in scenic landscapes.
One of the many highlights of the show is a video of Moorman performing Yoko Ono’s iconic “Cut Piece” in 1982. The artist sits before a large crowd gathered at the roof of her Manhattan loft. The guest, good-spirited and a little drunk, really give the party life. But the occasion is marked by a solemn tone. It takes place only a few days before she was to have a lump in her breast biopsied, three years after having a mastectomy to remove the other breast.
As each guest approaches to cut a piece from her gown, Moorman exhibits her characteristic stoic sensibility and poise, traits that distinguish her as a master of her craft. Barbara Moore, an art historian and friend of Moorman’s, noted that the artist kept all the remaining scraps of clothing from her numerous performances of this work “packed into heaps of shopping bags, the ultimate dossier,” epitomizing her endless dedication to her work. “Don’t throw anything out” were Moorman’s dying words as she succumbed to her illness in 1991 at the age of 57. The result, the Charlotte Moorman Archive, allows us to trace the prolific career of one of the most provocative artists of the 20th century.
A Feast of Astonishments will be on view at the Grey Art Gallery until December 10.
Also on view: Don’t Throw Anything Out: Charlotte Moorman’s Archive, at The Fales Library, Tracey/Barry Gallery, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, Third Floor.
November 16, 2016
In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art hosted a major exhibition of performance art, which included live performances taking place daily in the rooms of the museum. I am talking about The Artist is Present, a retrospective of the work of the self-proclaimed “grandmother of performance art”, Marina Abramović, which attracted thousands of visitors (700.000 according to The New Yorker).
The presence of performance in leading institutions such as the MoMA has definitely contributed to its acceptance into the mainstream during the last few decades. However, some people still question why performing in front of an audience can be considered art, and not drama/theatre. Abramović herself gave her opinion on this matter in an interview while promoting her MoMA show, stating that “To be a performance artist, you have to hate theatre. Theatre is fake: there is a black box, you pay for a ticket, and you sit in the dark and see somebody playing somebody else’s life. The knife is not real, the blood is not real, and the emotions are not real. Performance is just the opposite: the knife is real, the blood is real, and the emotions are real. It’s a very different concept. It’s about true reality.”
I am sure many actors –and perhaps some artists as well- would have many counterarguments to Abramović’s words, but her assertiveness shows that the performance vs. acting debate is still alive. The lines separating performance art and drama are certainly blurry, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a world where everything seems to be more and more interconnected. So instead of focusing on trying to define what performance is against other disciplines, I think it is much more interesting to examine here why its irruption in the world of visual arts has been so important for the development of contemporary culture.
The beginnings of performance art can be dated back at least to the early twentieth century, and particularly to the Dada movement. Dadaists defied conventional definitions of art by mixing poetry, music and visual arts in unconventional performances that took place in alternative spaces such as the famous Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich.
Between the 1940s and the early 1960s, a series of artistic actions (often derived from “action painting”), interactive installations, and performative events organised by artists such as Yves Klein and groups like Gutai, anticipated some of the characteristics of what was to be labelled “Performance Art” from the 1960s onward.
The Japanese group Gutai was one of the first to take exhibitions and artistic actions outside the traditional spaces of the museum and the gallery. They organised many outdoor events, like the 1956 Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition (Ashiya, Japan), where visitors were invited to take part in the artworks. The idea of opening up art to the participation of the public was also at the heart of Allan Kaprow’s happenings, in which art became a collective experience.
This new role of the public -who is no longer contemplative and passive as in traditional art exhibitions- that comes with performance art, disrupts the conventional relationship between the viewers and the artworks, and generates new dynamics between the viewers and the artists. Because, as the title of Abramović’s exhibition points out, one of the most important characteristics of performance is that the artist is present. In performance art, the body of the artist is the medium, and it becomes an incredibly powerful tool to express different narratives and ideas.
In opposition to an inert painting or sculpture, the presence of the very alive body of the artist means that art stops being a safe experience for the viewer, given the unpredictability of the situation. With performance, art invaded the “real world”, the here and now. Some artists have put the public in particularly difficult positions by putting themselves in danger in front of an audience. Abramović, Joseph Beuys, and Chris Burden are some of the most prominent examples. The latter is known for his 1971 piece Shoot, in which he was shot in the arm by a friend in front of a small audience.
In the 1970s, performance was already a quite established artistic practice, with Fluxus –an international, heterogeneous conglomeration of artists, designers, composers, dancers and other professionals that shaped a highly experimental artistic community- as one of its most important representatives.
Why was performance such a success at the time? One of the main reasons was the rise, particularly in the United States, of a series of social and political movements that demanded civil and social rights, equality, and justice. In such a politicised environment, many artists used performance as a means to address the concerns behind different social groups and communities. For instance, some of the most well-known performances from this period are linked to the rise of feminism and the Feminist art movement. This is the case of Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll (1975), which culminated with the artist extracting a paper scroll from her vagina while reading from it.
These are just a few of the many artists and actions that contributed to the early developments of performance as an art form. It would be impossible to cite them all here, but the changes they introduced during the second half of the twentieth century -the organisation of artistic actions outside traditional spaces, the increasingly active role of the publics, and, most importantly, the use of the artist’s body as a medium- are essential in order to understand our current artistic context.
November 12, 2016
Are you bored of seeing the same types of paintings over and over again, flat and on a regular canvas hung up on a white wall? Or are you an artist in need of some inspiration to move past the traditional image of a painting? Here is a list of artists from the past century that approached the flat surface in innovative ways, leaving behind conventional practices and taking their works to a whole new realm.
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Matisse was one of the first to depart from the classic method of applying paint onto canvas. While he is known for his “traditional” paintings, towards the very end of his life he broke away from this and pulled out the scissors. With the help of a large crew of assistants, Matisse created what are known as the cut-outs. For these cut-outs, he and his crew hand-painted white paper using brightly colored gouache paints, then proceeded to cut these painted papers into simple geometric and organic shapes. These cut-out pieces were then either pasted onto canvases and paired with other materials such as charcoal or, for the first time in art history, pinned directly onto the walls of the museum or gallery.
Georges Braque (1882 -1963)
Along with Picasso, Braque made some of the first collages in art history, also known as papier collé. As part of the development of Cubism, Braque introduced other materials and patterns onto his canvases, suggesting the subject through the use of found flat materials instead of describing the subject-matter through paint. This may seem like a simple idea, or resemble an art project you did with your kindergarten teacher, but it was a true innovation at the time. This idea soon evolved and inspired other artists to further explore it by introducing three-dimensional objects in their works.
Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)
Kurt Schwitters came from a very academic background, but around 1920 he became very involved in the Dada movement in Berlin, which mocked academic practices and provided artists with the opportunity to approach visual arts with complete freedom. Schwitters brought to this movement what is known as assemblage. Assemblage is linked to the concept of papier collé, but instead of using found paper materials, it consists in fixing actual found objects on the flat surface. Schwitters’ work plays with the shadows made by the objects stuck to the canvas, shadows that move and change depending on the light hitting the pieces.
Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
Fontana went one step further in the use of scissors. Instead of simply cutting shapes and placing them onto the canvas, like Matisse and Braque had done, he cut the canvas itself and punctured purposeful holes into it. Fontana saw this acts as a means of building a bridge between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional in art. He referred to these series of works as Spatial Concept, and was quite proud of himself for discovering the power of the tagli (“cuts”). He stated “my discovery was the hole and that’s it. I am happy to go to the grave after such a discovery”. Some of these cut canvases are painted in a single color, some are simply left white. These white canvases in particular evoke the sense of destruction of the pure as a vehicle to progress into the sculptural realm.
Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)
Jackson Pollock took his very large canvases and placed them on the floor instead of upright on an easel. Photographs of his creative process have circulated thoroughly. Once the canvases were on the ground, Pollock used paint brushes to drip and splatter paint across these large white surfaces. Pollock is a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement, an artistic current that seeks to represent ideas and emotions using abstract forms and color instead of a figurative and realistic representation. Anyone interested in this important figure of American art can now visit the studio where Pollock worked, where you would find evidence of his technique.
Takis (born in 1925)
This artist ties together art and science. He is known as the first person to “send a man into space”, six months before Yuri Gagarin, during a performance. Takis’ work explores magnetic field energy, which he uses as a tool for altering the shape of the canvas. Takis transforms his canvases into sculptural pieces through the use of magnets, creating works that are a sort of magic trick. He often hangs small three-dimensional magnetic objects from the ceiling using thin wire strings, creating the illusion of floating geometric shapes in front of large brightly colored monochromatic surface. These geometric shapes are held up through the use of magnets on the back side of the canvas, which in turn is slightly pulled by the magnetic forces around it.
Yves Klein (1928-1962)
Yves Klein used the body as a paint brush, transforming the act of painting into a performance. Klein experimented with his “living brushes” technique in small apartments in Paris. He would invite women to strip, dip their naked bodies in paint and press themselves against large white canvases. This, of course, became quite the hip thing to witness, and thus the creation of these pieces became a performance accompanied by live music that was also filmed for us to watch to this day. These pieces were kept very simple, with only one to a handful of single imprints of female bodies per canvas. For these, Klein used very strictly the color now known as International Klein Blue, whose significance for the artist is unclear and highly debated.
Günther Uecker (born 1930)
Günther Uecker used yet another surprising material in place of paint on his canvas: nails. He became obsessed with purification rituals, especially those used in religious contexts such as Buddhism. He used the hammering of nails as a meditative practice that eventually monopolized his artistic works. The canvases are supported by wood paneling in order to make this process possible. The nails create organic shapes through systematic and repetitive patterns. Most of his work is completely monochromatic, meaning the nails and the canvas are painted in a single color, usually a play off of black or white. After a full career of hammering nails to canvases, Uecker eventually progressed onto land art.
October 29, 2016
The “Kollektsia!” exhibition at the Pompidou Center in Paris was born out of a donation of more than 250 artworks from the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, collectors, artists and their families. While not being too exhaustive, this ensemble of works by major Russian artists adequately offers a panorama of some forty years of contemporary art in the USSR and then in Russia, covering the most important movements. It includes works by confrontational artists created outside official structures, from the Moscow conceptual school to Sots Art, from non-conformism to perestroika (a political reform within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during the 1980s, widely associated with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his glasnost [openess] policy reform).
The first section of the show is dedicated to non-conformist art since the late 1950s when artists revived the aesthetic practices of the avant-garde and sought innovations of their own formal approach. My favourite pieces are the “Milk Box” sculpture (1970) by Igor Shelkovski, a hanging object called “Space-Movement-Infinity” — the first kinetic work in postwar Russian art and some intriguing photographic works by Francisco Infante-Arana. The non-conformist artworks are not following a homogeneous movement with shared objectives. However, as a whole they represent the budding diversified creativity confronting the strictly controlled official structures in art in the USSR.
My favourite section of the exhibition is of the more playful Sots Art, invented by Komar and Melamid to subvert, in a Pop-art way, the codes of the mass propaganda that saturated Soviet life. In contrast to the Pop artists — confronted by a superabundance of consumer goods — Sots artists, such as Alexander Kosolapov, Boris Orlov and Leonid Sokov, sought to demythologize official cliché and the ideological environment of the Soviet society through absurdity and paradox. For instance, the eye- and phone-camera-catching “Malevich-Marlboro Triptych” (1985) by Alexander Kosolapov demonstrates how the artist drew on broad iconographic sources from both Soviet and Western clichés while using an advertising image. On the other hand, Leonid Sokov’s hanging sculpture “Glasses for Every Soviet Person” (1976) delivers ironic humour through simple graphics and raw wooden texture.
Alongside Sots Art, the 1970s brought about Moscow Romantic Conceptualism which accord greater importance to text and language, with artists working at the intersection of poetry, performance and visual art, such as Dmitri Prigov and Andrei Monstyrsky. The latter advocated a conceptual art that reflected the ascendancy of literature in Russian culture. A section of the exhibition pays homage to Dmitri Prigov who was known for writing verse on cans. The conceptualists also embraced the power of text through performance, such as “I Breathe and I Hear” (1983) by Andrei Monstyrsky, who is a part of the Collective Actions group; the group taht has carried out a lot of planned performances.
The onset of perestroika brought an exploding sense of freedom and accelerating artistic processes from the mid-1980s onwards. Following the sudden liberalization, artists were then able to take part in exhibitions and find a place on the international art arena. This period in Russian history not only witnesses the diversifying artistic approaches, but also paved the way for legitimizing of formerly marginalized art. In 1988, a first auction organised by Sotheby’s in Moscow gave a tangible value to unofficial art, and the boundary between official and unofficial abruptly disappeared. In this sense, the impressive “Last Supper” (1989) by Andrei Filippov, with hammers and sickles on a red table, is one of those works marking the end of “unofficial art” while it preceded the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Perhaps some of Yuri Leridrman’s works in 2009 displayed at the exhibition could reflect this lively flourishing of creative energies in post-Soviet era; the artist juxtaposed painted plants onto collage of newspapers, thereby transforming textual material into images.
October 28, 2016
I catch up with Rubén –who now works as a solo artist— after a particularly busy summer to talk about one of his most recent projects, Stupid Borders, which deals with the absurd human need to possess the land.
When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist?
It was a visceral decision.
At 16, before I started studying engineering, I used to paint graffiti in the outskirts of Madrid. During my studies I continued painting murals, developing the artistic side of it, and when I was finishing my degree I projected myself into the future, and two things happened. If I thought of myself as an engineer, my guts clenched and I could see a heavy darkness. If I thought of myself as an artist, I could perceive light and I felt free of any tension. So after university I backpacked in India for four months, and when I came back I realised that uncertainty was going to be constantly in my life. That uncertainty, not knowing what I’ll do or where I’ll be tomorrow, has won me over.
How were your beginnings in Boa Mistura?
Simply wonderful, like everything we have done together until now when, due to my personal circumstances, I have decided to step aside to see my children grow up. The beginnings were full of innocence and fun. Then came years of learning and growing, and the project developed like the forging of iron, through fire and hard work, full of difficult and wonderful moments, and always with a dash of good humour.
How was working in such a multidisciplinary team?
Before a studio or a company, Boa Mistura was a group of good friends, and that has enabled its powerful growth. We worked very close together and learned a lot from each other. Except for girlfriends and underwear, we shared everything with each other. There is something very beautiful in sharing an idea, shaping it together, and feeling as if it was yours even if came from somebody else. A dissolution of individual ego takes place in favour of the group and the common good, and that is precious.
How has this collective, urban experience affected your individual work?
The collective experience made me grow both as a person and as an artist.
What I love about urban art is its capacity to reach a really wide audience, to go beyond the limits that museums, galleries and the conventional art circuits impose. It’s necessary to forget the idea of art as lifeless objects contained in museums and to start thinking about it as a process, like that vital attitude so necessary for everyone in every aspect of life.
In your statement you mention that your work revolves around the concept of “associated behavior”. What does this concept entail?
Landscape and what I call “associated behavior” –that behavior and bonds that connect you to a certain place— are at the centre of my work. In Seaside Holidays I focus on holiday landscapes in the Mediterranean coast and on the collective and mimetic behavior that leads people to massively go to those places. In Stupid Borders I study frontiers, the concept of limit and our attitudes towards an Earth that transcends us in age but that we strangely feel the need to possess.
How did you come up with your project Stupid Borders?
It emerged from an invitation by AP Gallery to create a project ad hoc for their space. This gallery has a line of work linked to the landscape and an exceptional location near the mountains of Ayllón (Segovia, Spain). It was just the right time for me to begin developing actions on the landscape and to do more conceptual work. In my notebook I drew a line across a lake. I imagined a lane rope dividing that lake in two, crossing it from side to side. Under that I wrote Stupid Borders. That’s where the project was born.
What part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?
The beginning, when there’s just an idea. There’s a special magic when a project is just a sketch in a notebook. At that point I feel a great intellectual pleasure because I imagine all its possibilities and the thousands of shapes that it could adopt. That moment really captivates me. Then there’s a phase of refining it, when you filter and polish, and then comes production to make it real. This last phase is interesting because there are still surprises and problems to overcome, and it counts on one’s previous experience, which is very enriching. Once the piece (or project) is finished, it loses interest to me, as if that idea was already dead. Although it’s precisely then when the idea is passed onto –or revives in— another person.
In Stupid Borders, the documentation that you produce while you work is also exhibited and becomes essential in order to understand your project. Do you think that the educational element is often left aside in contemporary art?
I don’t know. I can’t speak for others. The only thing I can say is that for me that educational element is essential. My work is very conceptually and philosophically charged, and it’s important that the public can get to know that part. My aim is to make us reflect on our behavior and on our way of inhabiting the Earth.
How do you choose the spaces where you create your Minimal Republics?
My Minimal Republics are set in places where normally no one would live or establish a micro-state. The first three are located in the middle of a rye field, in a fallow land, and the last one floating in a reservoir. Absurd places for absurd nations.
I believe you want Stupid Borders to become a life-long project. Was this decision motivated by the problematic situation of borders nowadays?
Indeed. We perceive borders as real entities. We fight for them. We stop those who want to use their freedom of movement. We believe that a piece of land can be ours… we even believe that the Earth belongs to us, when we’ve been here for barely an instant.
The day we come to realise that we belong to the Earth, and not the other way around, we will start behaving differently. It is essential to understand this. I think that’s where Stupid Borders plays an important role as a means for critical reflection. That’s why I have decided to continue creating Minimal Republics until the time comes when either borders or I cease to exist.
Which other plans do you have in mind for the future?
I have a notebook full of ideas, some of which will never see the light. There’s a project entitled Overcrowded where I talk about overpopulation as the main problem we face as a species. Another one, Descanso Visual (Visual Rest), where silence is considered an alternative to our hyper stimulated and noisy society. And also Topographies, which explores how moulds or models –words, preconceptions, physical laws, and other representations of reality— confuse us and lead us away from reality itself.
But my true plans for the future include becoming more of a hippy, seeing my children grow up next to my wife, getting away from the city to live closer to the earth, building a house with my own hands, growing my own tomatoes, writing a book, traveling, learning to surf, becoming more humble each day and enjoying each moment, because the future and the past are not easy to live in.
Stupid Borders opens October 28 at Palacio Quintanar in Segovia (Spain).
October 14, 2016
This not-at-all-comprehensive list includes some of the most exciting representatives of the contemporary Spanish art scene. Despite belonging to a generation of highly qualified Spaniards that do not have many chances of succeeding in their home country, these young creators have already caught the eye of critics, curators and the public. Scroll down to discover their work.
The work of Mercedes Pimiento (Sevilla, 1990) revolves around architectural structures and materials, particularly those that go to waste. She puts the emphasis on the ruins of the capitalist “monuments” of the 21st century by creating her own anti-monuments, small in scale and often made of fragile materials such as soap. In a country full of unnecessary and abandoned megalithic buildings -the result of decades of property speculation- Pimiento’s work make us think about the precariousness of our current sociopolitical system.
Miguel Laino (Huelva, 1980) studied fashion at Central St Martins in London and worked with renowned designers such as Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood. However, after seeing a Georg Baselitz retrospective in 2008, he decided to commit himself to being a painter. He usually reinterprets images from online and print media that he finds compelling, in a process that involves the subconscious more than the conceptual. His piece “Didier” was chosen by Chantal Joffe as the winner of the recent Painted Faces Showdown in Saatchi Art and exhibited at The Griffin Gallery, London.
Guillermo Mora (Alcalá de Henares, 1980) is currently a resident at ISCP, New York. He often uses paint as his artistic medium, but in original and unconventional ways. Some of his most characteristic works consist on layering great amounts of acrylic and vinyl paint that he later folds and piles up to form sculptural blocks. His recent work looks at the forgotten histories of painting and specifically at ideas about acts of concealment, overlapping and disappearance. The motto “add, subtract, multiply and divide” guides his artistic process.
Almudena Lobera (Madrid, 1984) works in a variety of mediums and formats, including sculpture, performance and installation. Drawing is also essential to her work, which aims to show alternative models for the configuration of the visible, delving deeply into the notion that the image is not always visible or accessible in nature. The work pictured above, “The Proof”, was part of her exhibition A latent revelation, hosted by Galería Max Estrella (Madrid) earlier this year. She is currently based in Ghent, Belgium.
Through his collages, installations, and other ‘rarities’ –as he calls them— Julio Falagan (Valladolid, 1979) seeks to dignify the banal and the obsolete. His works lead us to think about social constructions and their fissures by putting dogmas into question. I find particularly interesting how he recycles old paintings found in street markets. He modifies them in different ways, often by cutting them into pieces to compose new works with their fragments, other times by leaving his own mark on them to add new layers of meaning.
Cristina Garrido (Madrid, 1986) investigates the value that is assigned to objects, and particularly to those objects classified as art. Through common and repetitive gestures, such as picking up, collecting, and archiving, she studies the circulation of artistic objects in the art market and examines curatorial practices. In her 2015 award-winning installation “#JWIITMTESDSA? (Just what is it that makes today´s exhibitions so different, so appealing?)”, for instance, she proposed a critical reflection on the success of contemporary art exhibitions.
Mythology, symbolism and art history are usually present in the work of Marina Vargas (Granada, 1980). She mainly uses traditional media such as painting, sculpture, and especially drawing, but she has managed to create a very distinct and personal language that has an enormous power over the viewer. In the past few years she has explored the idea of destroying and questioning the classical canon. An image that keeps appearing in her projects is that of the inverted pieta.
Watching the animations created by Blanca Gracia (Madrid, 1989) is almost an immersive experience. They lead the viewer into and exotic world populated with noble contemporary savages that provide an evasion from our current reality. These animations originate from Gracia’s incredibly imaginative drawings and paintings, where she merges wild anthropology theories, explorers from pseudo-fictitious worlds and lunatic expeditions, all with a flavour of our contemporary world.
Gonzalo Borondo (Valladolid, 1989), known simply as Borondo, is a street artist based in London whose large-size and very expressive murals cover the walls of buildings all over the world. However, some of his most characteristic work is made on glass, which he covers with white paint that is scraped and scratched from the inside of neglected windows to reveal haunting images. The human figure, and particularly the naked body, is at the centre of his artistic vision, which take its influence from the great Spanish master, Francisco de Goya.
Saelia Aparicio (Ávila, 1982) studied sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London. Her recent work establishes analogies between corporeal and social mechanisms, delving into different ideas of the organic to create artificial microcosms that tell us something about our own reality. To achieve this, she uses a multiplicity of materials and processes, always with a poetic approach in mind. In one of her most recent projects, Epidermal Speleology, she explores the concept of ‘abjection’.