March 11, 2017
“I see life as a passageway,
with no fixed beginning or destination”
– Do Ho Suh
Humanity is often focused upon the destination of life rather than the journeys travelled. These journeys are the ones that result in a life worth living, instead of a life in which the centre of attention revolves around the end result. To be obsessed with the end result of an endeavour, as opposed to living in the present, is the very premise that the artist Do Ho Suh (b.1962, Seoul, Korea) challenges in his new exhibition, ‘Passage/s’.
Currently on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London, Suh’s body of work questions the boundaries of identity as well as the global connection between individuals and groups. After growing up in South Korea, the artist has moved and lived in many different countries, immersing himself in the culture of each one of them. In his work he aims to create a global connection between his identity, his previous destination, and his current journey. He establishes that his own understanding of ‘home’ is both a physical structure and a lived emotional experience. In this sense, the physical structure of a ‘home’ can only be described as the building or property in which one has lived, whereas the home as an emotional experience is documented in the adventures and memories of life. I
Beginning upstairs on the First Floor, the visitor is immediately transported into the many ‘homes’ of the artist. Each independent aspect of a home, whether it is a simple light bulb or a complicated fuse box, has been carefully replicated by Suh’s meticulous hand. Polyester, which is both a fluid and a translucent medium, is the main choice of material for Do Ho Suh. He uses to replicate everyday objects, and its translucency amplifies the importance of concentrating upon the ‘passageways’ of life: you must be able to travel through each destination in order to continue growing and developing.
This concept is heightened in ‘Passage’s: The Pram Project’, a video installation recorded from the perspective of three different cameras. Taped from the comfort of his daughters pram, the video removes the viewer from the controlled environment of the gallery, and places them into the charming streets of Islington and Seoul. Surrounded by the child’s adoring laughter and babbling, we are reminded of the innocence of humanity and the importance of ‘home’ as an emotional connection, something which provides stability and safety.
Continuing on the Lower Floor, Do Ho Suh displays large threaded drawings replicating doorways and stairwells. Each entrance has been accurately copied from the multiple buildings in which Suh has lived, exaggerating how the outside exterior of a ‘home’ does not necessarily reflect the individual immersed within it. For example, not everyone who lives in a London home is British – the immersion of cultures is the most important aspect to create a global identity.
The exhibition arguably concludes with the most impressive component of Do Ho Suh’s work. His series ‘Hubs’ occupies the entirety of the Upper Gallery, where nine reproductions of the apartments in which Suh has called ‘home’ are on display. The transient polyester spaces are connected by threaded doorways and moving doors, enticing the viewer to walk through and experience each room. Although interactive, ‘Hubs’ removes the practical function of a home: door hinges and handles remain motionless while electrical outputs and pipes are frozen without power. By referring back to Suh’s original premise of the home as a physical entity, as well as an emotional experience, we are placed in this complex structure as both ‘private’ and ‘public’ viewers. In one way the elongated home visualises the ‘private’ life of an individual, while the ‘public’ global identity seeps into the design through the fragile material.
I encourage you not just to see the exhibition first-hand, but to interact and engage with the artwork. The unfortunate irony of this brilliant collection of work is the influence of present day technology, and our infatuation and dependence upon our mobile phones. The majority of people visiting exhibitions today try to capture every moment and work of art into a single photograph. This degrades the original intentions of Do Ho Suh and his exploration of life as a journey, as a photograph destroys the steps travelled in order to take it. Life is about the experiences seized by your eyes, not the artificial screen of a phone or lens of a camera; rather than living through your phone, live through reality.
Do Ho Suh‘s ‘Passage/s’ is on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London until 18th March, 2017.
September 1, 2016
As back to school approaches, Art Versed explores the most prestigious and popular MFA programs in the U.S. Whether you’re thinking about returning to school or graduating this year and planning for the future, these programs will certainly guarantee artistic success. A mixture of Ivy League classics and schools specializing in art and design make the list, allowing for artists to choose the school environment best for them.
Yale University— The classic dream school, Yale’s MFA program is incredibly impressive and popular, with notable alumni such as Eva Hesse and Chuck Close. This three year program is especially known for their graphic design and photography programs, proclaimed as the best in the country. The program is also very strong for sculpture, painting and printmaking. Like all Ivy League schools, the prestige that accompanies the Yale name comes at a cost, specifically $33,500 a year. However, with its distinguished faculty and alumni, the connections built within the Yale artistic community, as well as addition of the powerful name Yale to your CV, are worth every penny.
Columbia University of the City of New York— Another Ivy dream school, Columbia provides the beautiful traditional campus of an ivy league school in the heart of NYC, allowing students to explore the diverse cultural scene. Columbia’s MFA is incredibly selective, claiming an admissions rate of only 2%. Columbia also offers a speciality in “new genres” such as Sound Art, setting it apart from other MFA programs. Like Yale, this 2 year ivy program boasts an impressive list of faculty and alumni such as Jon Kessler, Georgia Sagri, Guy Ben-Ner, Lisi Raskin, but also comes with the hefty price tag of $51,676.
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago— Focusing mainly on new media and the intersection of art and technology, SAIC offers a special program in film/video/new media and Sound art, as well as an MA in Visual and Critical Studies, which combines visual art and art theory. The SAIC alumni could not possibly get more impressive, so if you want to wander the same halls once populated by Georgia O’Keeffe, Grant Wood, Claes Oldenburg, and Jeff Koons this is the school for you. Part of the Art Institute of Chicago, and located in the heart of the city, SAIC also provides an opportunity for students to explore the museum’s collection and the city’s art scene. The powerful alumni and great location tip the scales against the school’s big sticker price of $44,010. However, SAIC is known to give a substantial amount of grants and student funding.
The School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston— This artist founded institution was established in 1876 and is run through Tufts University in partnership with the MFA Boston. Students here have the unique and incredible opportunity of exhibiting their work at the MFA Boston during their 2 years at SMFA. This tiny, (less than 200 students per year) interdisciplinary program, attended by the likes of Jim Dine, Nan Goldin, and Ellsworth Kelly, prominent reputation can perhaps justify the price of $39,020.
Rhode Island School of Design— Compared to some of the previous programs discussed, which combine technique with academic study, RISD stresses technical elements of artistic craft. Offering specialties in a huge variety of areas, RISD is the school for the artist’s artist, looking to work hard. Unlike many of the programs on this list at large universities, RISD has less than 400 graduate students in total, and the average class size is only 11 students. The program can be completed in anywhere between 1-3 years, which could make the price of $42,622 more manageable if you’re able to finish in just one year. Incredible alumni such as Andrea Zittel, Jenny Holzer, Kara Walker certainly bolster the school’s prestige.
Bard College— This tiny school located in Annandale-on-Hudson in upstate New York, offers a unique system allowing students to complete their MFA in three summer sessions and two independent-study sessions, allowing students to also work on building their portfolios while completing their degree. Many of Bard’s alumni return to teach classes, so students may have the chance to study with Amy Sillman, Paul Chan, Carolee Schneeman, David Horvitz, Herb Ritts, or Rachel Harrison at some point during their time at Bard. The chance to study with any of these greats, as well as work in an untraditional setting balances out the sticker shock the accompanies the $55,000 price tag.
Pratt School of Design— Pratt offers its students some of the best and most extensive resources of the schools on this list. With wood, metal, and print shops, as well as ceramics studios and darkrooms, students students have access to a wide variety resources as well as exhibition space in Pratt’s own gallery spaces. If these resources don’t speak for themselves, the extensive list of successful Pratt alumni will, such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Mickalene Thomas, and Roxy Paine. All of these resources and prestige come at the lowest price of any of the schools on our list, $28,308 annually.
School of Visual Arts (SVA)— Excelling in the specialities of media arts, such as Computer and video art, as well as the more “traditional” media of painting and sculpture, SVA provides students with all the wonderful opportunities of going to school in NYC at a slightly lower price than Columbia– a refreshing $36,130. Despite its smaller price tag, SVA still boasts an incredible list of alumni such as Keith Haring, Sarah Sze, and Sol LeWitt. Also worth noting, SVA also offers a program called “visual narratives” which combines visual arts and creative writing.
Savannah College of Arts and Design— Heading South, the Savannah College of Arts & Design offers the largest variety of programs of any school specializing in art and design. Interestingly, many of SCAD’s programs are also available for completion online. With renowned faculty and alumni, many of which focused in photography and graphic design, SCAD provides great opportunities and resources in the charming city of Savannah for their students, at the slightly lower price of $34,250 annually.
CalArts— Transitioning to the West, CalArts is known to be “the best” visual arts program on the west coast. It’s location in sunny Valencia, California means that it has connections to the film and media industries of Hollywood, which are good for post-grad professional opportunities and connections. If alumni such as Mike Kelley and Jack Goldstein aren’t enough to sell you, maybe the fact that the school was “founded” by none other than Walt Disney will be enough to convince you CalArts is the place for you. However, all that sunshine and prestige comes at the expensive price of $41,700 a year.
July 21, 2016
Making my way up 22nd Street in Long Island City towards UOVO Fine Art Storage, the midday sun soaked the pavement in shimmering heat which wrapped around my ankles in heavy tendrils. The vast, 280,000 square foot minimalist building loomed closer, its front dosed in cobalt blue with Queensboro Bridge stretching beyond, disappearing into the city—I imagined the stifling streets of Manhattan, choked by humidity. Half of a song later, I was standing before UOVO’s glass entrance. After two attempts at tugging open the door, I realized the small doorbell to my right. Pausing for a moment, and hearing nothing, I gave another wholehearted tug, and almost tripped backwards as the door happily obliged, swinging open effortlessly and breathing a sigh of cool air.
The reception area is reminiscent of the lobby of a chic, boutique hotel one may find in Chelsea or SoHo, sleek and minimalist while remaining warm and hospitable. However, the space also retained a certain sense of a gallery setting: absolutely pristine, from the perfectly buffed concrete floors to the polite, hushed greeting from the two, well-dressed receptionists. The walls play host to artworks from UOVO’s founder, art collector Steve Guttman’s personal collection. A few guests relax on the mid-century modern furniture, sipping cold brew out of blue, UOVO marked glasses and chatting quietly. I suddenly found myself wondering if I had somehow stumbled into the wrong place.
It’s safe to say that already my experience of UOVO is not what one expects, nor what one normally finds, when they visit a storage facility. From my observations alone, storage facilities, even ones used by gallerists or collectors to safeguard artworks, are usually dark and dingy. They consist of a gruff guard behind thick glass who shoves a clipboard under your nose, and grumpily takes you up a grated industrial elevator to a cold and damp floor where they leave you to wander until you find your unit. This, of course, doesn’t take into consideration the fact that you must then attempt to remember the exact location of the piece you need, which usually ends in having to pull out half of the unit’s contents to access the art, and then—Tetris style—putting everything back. One can extrapolate that Guttman had an experience similar to the one I have described above, for UOVO’s facility boasts something of quite the opposite nature.
My musings were interrupted by the introduction of my tour-guide, UOVO’s Marketing and Communications Associate, Hannah Schmidt. After a short exchange and the light touch of a keycard, I was brought into a wide, curving hallway that bent out of site. Upon inquiring about the card access system, Hannah informed me that the keycard is the kernel of UOVO’s custom-designed, UL rated security system. It is programmed with specific electronic pathways for individual holders, and tracks a person’s movements throughout the facility. During my time at UOVO, she would use her card to access all of the public spaces in the building, including the elevators.
As we walked down the hall deeper into the building, the gradient of the wall slowly deepened into a royal blue, beckoning the viewer forward. After commenting, Hannah informs me that it is a site-specific installation by Belgian artist Pieter Vermeersch. Drawing my attention away from the artwork, she points to a large, closed overhead door on the opposite wall. With enthusiasm, she tells me that recently, the space, one of six large viewing rooms on site, was used by a client to host a month-long public exhibition of their collection. Continuing on, we encountered two extremely fashionable women hurriedly pushing a rack of beautiful garments, their hands encased in short, wrist-length silk gloves, skirts flitting around their ankles. Before I could further investigate their outfits, they disappeared into another of the viewing rooms, the large, bright space enveloped in billowing fabrics and haute couture. The scene dissipated, swallowed by the curving wall.
Before exploring the upper floors of the facility, Hannah led me to the loading docks, nine in total. Passing through an airlock door, we entered the loading docks. The hangar-like space reminded me of something out of a sci-fi movie, and despite the sterility of the docks, fully enclosed for climate control, it was bright and airy. When entering the facility, artworks pass through two covered loading docks and an airlock chamber to provide the proper protection against environmental factors. While surveying the space, she described UOVO’s electronic barcoding system. Artwork is scanned into the facility using an iPhone integrated digital barcode system. As the art is moved, it is scanned into its new location, providing for convenient retrieval of a work.
Exiting the loading docks, I was informed that I was stepping into a separate building, passing over the 8-inch seismic gap that ensures the structure can move relatively free from the ground should an earthquake occur, preventing damage. She also noted that the building is a post-Hurricane Sandy structure, comprised of concrete and steel, and resting 16 feet above sea level, whereas FEMA only recommends structures to be 7 feet above sea level to be out of the flood zone. It seems that the $200 million worth of artwork destroyed by Sandy has not been forgotten by art dealers and collectors alike.
In the elevator on our way upstairs, Hannah informed me that the airflow throughout the building was designed by William Lull, who has worked with both MoMA and The Met in the past. Stepping out of the elevator, white storage units, or rather, private rooms, sprawl out across the expansive space. Like the loading docks, the area doesn’t feel stifling but rather very spacious. Some clients have their doors open, exposing rooms that blend together the luxury of a private office with the functionality of storage—a man, deep in concentration, bends over a desk placed in the center of the space surrounded by racks of paintings. Noticing my curiosity, Hannah comments that clients frequently use their storage rooms as workspaces. A few units down, a UOVO employee gives a tour to a potential client. As I pass the pair, I overhear the employee describe UOVO’s ability to customize a private room to each client’s specific needs with the help of the in-house spatial planners.
However, as Hannah tells me, not all clients need frequent, active access to their art, nor do they require substantial storage space—this is where UOVO’s concierge storage comes into play. Artwork is stored in a large, co-mingled space only accessible to UOVO’s art technicians while still affording the client all of UOVO’s core services, such as collection management, packing and crating, and transportation. Also, a shared work space and a private room for collection-related services is available to those with works in concierge storage.
Making our way up to the 8th floor, Hannah quickly checks to see if any meeting rooms are available: “you have to see the view,” she tells me. Luckily, the conference room was open. Like other common areas throughout UOVO, artworks and furniture from Guttman’s collection decorated the room. A large wooden screen with mirrors by Phillip Powell complements the dark wood table and Vilhelm Lauritzen chairs. However, the room’s best feature is the large window that provides a spectacular view of Manhattan, with Midtown East seeming to be only a stone’s throw away. The prospect was a reminder of how close Long Island City is to the city, easily accessible by car, as well as the multitude of trains that converge in the area.
Pulling myself away from the view and surveying the conference room, I concluded that the convenience provided by UOVO’s facility would be difficult to ignore. A client can host viewings and showcase work, hold meetings, and store their artwork all in the same location, without needing to schlep works back and forth between a storage unit and a viewing space. Also, no more inexperienced interns lugging poorly packaged pieces down 10th Avenue, everything is handled by the UOVO technicians.
On our way back to the reception area, Hannah took a circuitous route, pausing to show me what could be described as the epicenter of UOVO’s cultural community, the client café. As UOVO’s clientele is comprised of individuals from all different sectors of the art world, the café is a place for clients to converge over coffee or lunch. Moreover, the communal area contributes to UOVO’s all-in-one, community and culturally-oriented space.
UOVO’s Long Island City facility is akin to a members-only collective—they are extremely protective of their clients’ privacy—paired with the hospitality of a 5-star hotel. With elements of today’s shared workspaces, UOVO is defined by its versatility and its promotion of innovation; beyond simply storage, the facility provides collectors, dealers, and advisors with the opportunity to interact with their art in new and creative ways, hassle-free. As my tour ended, I realized that at the heart of UOVO is a desire, a need, to care for and preserve our shared cultural legacy.
On my way out, I stop to enjoy a cold brew in the reception area—they even know how to do coffee right.
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.
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
Louise Bourgeois: No Exit is currently on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Bourgeois (1911-2010) is best known for her large-scale sculptures, one of which is located in the museum’s sculpture garden. However, with twenty-one works, including drawings, prints, and sculptures, the exhibit provides an intimate look into the mind of a truly remarkable artist as she contemplated themes of life, death, domesticity, and womanhood.
The French-American artist was born to a prosperous Parisian family in 1911. Her family owned a gallery in Aubusson, the tapestry producing region of central France and home to Bourgeois’s mother’s family. The artist spent part of her childhood working in the gallery where her family sold and restored antique tapestries, helping repair them by filling in worn areas, using lines to indicate where stitches should be made. These experiences made a lasting impression, as displayed in Bourgeois’s early works on view in the National Gallery’s exhibition. The images recall the cascading rivers and mountain peaks of Aubusson, while simultaneously recalling the interweavings of textiles.
She began her long and prolific career as an artist in the early 1930s after being introduced to the Surrealists, whose ideology centered on the creative potential of the unconscious mind. After marrying the American art historian Robert Goldwater and moving to New York in 1938, she became reacquainted with the European Surrealists who were exiled during the war. Yet, the artist herself denied the label of a Surrealist. “At the mention of surrealism, I cringe. I am not a surrealist.” Still, it is difficult to separate the whimsicality and bizarre juxtapositions of her work from that of the Surrealists, or even their predecessors, the Dadaists. The works in the show bring to mind Francis Picabia’s mechanical portraits, Max Ernst’s collages, or Joan Miró’s landscapes.
Instead Bourgeois preferred the label of existentialist, admiring the works of Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and, of course, Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre’s 1944 play, No Exit, from which the exhibition takes its name, is the story of three recently departed souls on their way to hell, anticipating the physical torment they are about to endure. As it turns out, the pain they experience in hell is not physical, but psychological. Their hell is being trapped in a room from which there is no escape for all eternity with the people they despise the most, each other – just imagine going to a dinner party with all the people you’ve ever blocked on Facebook, and then multiply that feeling by infinity. As Sartre famously says, “Hell is other people.”
While Bourgeois draws her inspiration from Sartre, her personal hell seems to be the absence of other people. The nine engravings and enigmatic parables that volume He Disappeared into Complete Silence (1947) show Bourgeois at her most Surreal. The subjects, ranging from a little girl who buried her coveted candy in the ground, only to find that it has been ruined by the damp soil, to a man who cuts up his wife and serves her at a dinner party, represent what the artist referred to as “tiny tragedies of human frustration.” The characters of her story show indifference, or even cruelty towards one another, conveying the deep sense of isolation that often embodies Bourgeois’s work. We are left with a sense of ambivalence towards them, they commit acts that signal both internal and external conflict. One plate tells the story of a loving but overbearing mother, and a son “of a quiet nature and rather intelligent,” but who is indifferent to his mother’s love. The prodigal son leaves, and later the mother dies without his knowledge. Three haunting, elongated figures occupy the space, prompting us to wonder who the third figure could be. The feeling we are left with is one of remorse and sympathy for the mother, but also for the son. The print could be semi-autobiographical, Bourgeois lost her mother at 21 years old, around the time she was beginning her career. This loss had a profound effect on her artwork, seen especially in her series Maman, and again in what could be seen as a companion piece, M is for Mother (1998). The latter, on view in the exhibit, is a drawing of an imposing letter M that conveys both maternal comfort and control. With such a conflict, Bourgeois forces us to question our relationships with those around us.
Like Sartre, she believed that free will was the essence of existentialist thought, but unlike Sartre, she also believed that our pasts inform our future. Deeply fixed memories inspired her oeuvre over the course of a remarkably long career. This reluctance to let go meant that she rarely considered a work finished, generally leaving open the possibility of a future iteration. One of her later books, the puritan (1990), deals precisely with this theme. This bound volume of eight hand-colored engravings on handmade paper takes place in New York, and is a story of lost love. “With the puritan,” Bourgeois explained, “I analyzed an episode forty years after it happened. I could see things from a distance…I put it on a grid…I considered the situation objectively, scientifically, not emotionally. I was interested not in anxiety, but in perspective, in seeing things from different points of view.”
A number of sculptures are included in the exhibit as well, ranging from her small but recognizable cast Germinal (1967), to the life-sized sculptures the artist referred to as “Personages.” These sculptures, Bourgeois said, were made to be exhibited at ground level so that they could be interacted with “like people.” While they exist in our space, they also stand isolated and detached. Made from modest, often discarded materials and employing simple methods of construction, these totemic figures reflect a wartime sensibility of salvage and reuse in a damaged environment.
Bourgeois’s work asks a timeless and essential question: in periods of conflict, uncertainty, or hostility, can we live meaningful lives? It seems to me that Bourgeois would say that it is in these moments that we are at our most authentic, and that the greatest struggle we have to overcome is not external, but internal. This is, however, a question Bourgeois would want us to answer for ourselves.
Louise Bourgeois: No Exit is on view until May 15, 2016.
April 27, 2016
I recently got back from a short, museum-packed trip to Washington, D.C. for spring break. Do you remember the museum scene from Passport to Paris? It was a little like that, except unlike Mary-Kate and Ashley, I had a blast. Among the multiple Smithsonian institutions I visited, one of my favorites was the National Museum of African Art (not to be confused with the National Museum of African American History and Culture opening this September). The seemingly small but uniquely designed museum first opened its doors in 1964. At the time it was known as the Museum of African Art, located on Capitol Hill in a townhouse that had been the home of Frederick Douglass. In August 1979, the museum became part of the Smithsonian Institution. It is now located on the National Mall (which, by the way, is full of cherry blossoms this time of year, in case you’re planning your own “wanna get away” trip).
Among other exhibits, now on view is Artists’ Books and Africa. The twenty-five books included in the exhibition are either by African artists or feature traditional African themes, and all come from the permanent collections of the museum and the Smithsonian libraries. Through the books, the exhibition explores African history and cultures by embodying collective memory and reclaiming cultural heritage and storytelling. The show features fine art books as well as those employing multiple formats, materials and techniques by predominantly contemporary artists.
The books range in theme from personal narratives to reflections on the human condition. The sprawled out pages of Atta Kwami’s (b. 1956 in Ghana) Grace Kwami Sculpture (1993) resemble the form of a spider, drawing upon the African folklore of Anansi, the mischievous but knowledgeable spider known for his cleverness and skill, to tell the story of the artist’s mother, Grace Kwami (1923–2006), who was also an artist. Each of the book’s “legs” show pictures illustrating Grace’s life, creating a metaphor between the skillfulness of the spider and the creativity of the artist’s mother (my mind immediately went to Maman by Louise Bourgeois).
Another artist, Judith Mason (b. 1938 in South Africa) and poet Wilma Stockenström (b. 1933 in South Africa) use the book to visualize pain, or more specifically, a woman’s pain. In their book, Skoelapperheuwel, Skoelappervrou (Butterfly Hill, Butterfly Woman), Mason uses lithographs of pencil illustrations and collages of torn paper as the background for Stockenström’s enigmatic yet thought provoking words. Written in free verse Afrikaans, Stockenström contemplates the role of women in society, as well as other existentialist themes such as death and the afterlife. The ripped pages signify a kind of trauma presumably felt by all women, whether from childbirth, intercourse, or menstruation. The poetry is not fully translated into English, but even without textual reference, the message of the powerful and often visceral images is clear.
The versatility of artist books shows how their form and structure often supercede their content. Inspired by the “power to the people” mindset of the 1960s, inexpensive artists’ books referred to as “democratic multiples” are made to be distributed to as many people as possible, and typically convey social or political messages. South African artist Luan Nel’s (b. 1971) piece Paper: An Installation by Luan Nel at the Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet takes the form of a tiny deck of cards. Looking at the cards feels like taking a Rorschach test as the small, ambiguous figures gradually create stories and sequences the longer you engage with them. The images are playful, but also veil the experiences of the artist’s life, addressing his homosexuality, Afrikaans heritage, his upbringing in the strict Dutch Reformed Church, and being drafted by the South African army during the era of apartheid.
The books are beautiful, surprising, darkly humorous, and at times bizarre. At first glance they seem to be purely aesthetically driven, but each page reveals something about the artist who created it. Artists’ Books and Africa will be on view until September 11, 2016 at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.
The delightful Neue Galerie on the Upper East Side is my favorite escape from the hustle and bustle of life in Manhattan, but you may already know that from my review of Berlin Metropolis. There is nothing like great art, old world nostalgia, and sublime Viennese desserts to take your mind off the stresses of everyday life. The exhibition, “Munch and Expressionism,” does not disappoint. Munch, who is best known for his iconic piece, “The Scream,” painted works that dealt with heavy existential themes and were both horrifying and erotic. The show displays the fascinating symbiotic relationship between the Norwegian father of Expressionism, Edvard Munch, and German and Austrian Expressionists; the German artists being Max Beckmann, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gabriele Münter, and Emile Nolde, and the Austrian artists Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele. This exhibition, organized with The Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway, features “The Scream,” in addition to several other captivating paintings and woodcuts from this fascinating period of modern European art.
The exhibit is organized into four different galleries that chronologically document the evolution of Munch’s provocative aesthetic. The first gallery, “Experimental Printmaking,” features some of Munch’s early works from the late 19th century and demonstrates Munch’s “radical approach” to his craft. In addition to Munch’s innovative woodcuts, this gallery includes some great paintings such as the three versions of one of my personal favorites, Munch’s peculiar “Madonna” from 1895. This painting features a beautiful nude female subject; the lithograph version is adorned with a border of tiny sperm-like creatures and a little fetus in the corner. While the painting is conventionally erotic, it also conveys Munch’s association of sex with death and other grave consequences.
The second and third galleries, “Munch and the Expressionists in Dialogue” and “Influence and Affinity,” delve a bit deeper into the dynamic between Munch and the Expressionists. These sections explore how Munch paved the way for these artists to break with the conventions of realism and experiment with color and brushwork. I was especially drawn to the playful use of color in Munch’s “Model by the Wicker Chair” from 1919 and “Bathing Man” from 1918. Although these paintings are done in vibrant shades of blue, green, and violet, they maintain Munch’s signature ethos of anxiety and grief.
I was also intrigued by the equally colorful “Street, Dresden” by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. The painting exudes brilliant color, yet simultaneously reads as dark and devastating. No exhibit at the Neue Galerie would be complete without a few pieces by Egon Schiele, one of the (literal) poster children for the museum and one of my favorite expressionist painters. I really appreciated the addition of Schiele’s “Self-Portrait with Raised Bare Shoulder,” which, with its liberal brushwork and penetrating eyes, is full of intense emotional pathos. Prior to visiting this exhibit, I wouldn’t necessarily associate Munch with Schiele because I consider their aesthetics so distinct from one another. However, after looking at Schiele’s paintings in the context of Munch, I began to see the similar themes of anguish that pervade the works of both artists.
The fourth and final gallery in the exhibit is an appropriately claustrophobic and dimly-lit room dedicated to the main event, Munch’s “The Scream” from 1893, and the two original lithographs. Additionally, the room features Erich Heckel’s woodcut “Man on a Plain,” as well as a few Schiele portraits. Above the final version of “The Scream” is a quote by Munch himself:
“I was walking along the road with two friends,
“The sun was setting – the sky turned blood-red.
And I felt a wave of sadness – I paused
tired to death –Above the blue-black Fjord
and city blood and flaming tongues hovered.
My friends walked on – I stayed
behind – quaking with angst – I
felt the great scream in nature” – Edvard Munch
Although I had seen this iconic image countless times reproduced in textbooks and on the internet, I felt like I was looking at “The Scream” for the very first time. There was something powerfully cathartic about standing in that tiny dark blue room and confronting the painting live. After gaining a better understanding of the cultural and historical context that Munch was operating in, the painting resonated with me on a much deeper level. Visitors can expect to leave “Munch and Expressionism” emotionally moved and curious to learn more about this innovative period of art history. Don’t forget to treat yourself to a slice of Sachertorte, mit schlag on your way out.
“Munch and Expressionism” runs until June 13th and is definitely not to be missed. Bring a friend or two for a solid afternoon of superb paintings and delectable pastries.
March 8, 2016
The second installment (see the first one here) of our top contemporary art galleries in London looks at the younger contingent of the spaces that now exist in the city; fresh, dynamic and often left-field channels which keep the arts scene buzzing with new ideas.
In a nutshell: Charles Saatchi may have attacked the White Cube’s namesake white-walled galleries in 2003, saying that they are “antiseptic” and “worryingly” old-fashioned but that did not stop the franchise making its way to the top of London’s contemporary art scene. The White Cube galleries may have even profited from Saatchi’s public diatribe, choosing to stick proudly to their white walls and continue their work, irrespective of his views. With its roots in East London, the first White Cube gallery in Mason’s Yard, associated with the neighbouring Young British Artists, and came to prominence when it gave YBA Tracey Emin one of her first shows. The gallery has, however, somewhat departed from its East-End/YBA origins, accepting the wave of gentrification that has flooded the area. A climactic moment in the franchise’s transformation was the graffitiing of “Yuppies Out” and “Class War” on the Bermondsey branch by anti-gentrification activists, this being the very space that is now one of Europe’s biggest commercial galleries. However, if you can forgive and forget, or don’t care, then the White Cube will provide you with a compelling contemporary program ranging a multitude of disciplines.
Where: Mason’s Yard SW1. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday //Bermondsey Street, SE1. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Sunday with late opening at 12pm on Sunday. Closed Monday.
In a nutshell: Established in 2010, the gallery’s founders Harry Blain and Graham Southern regularly feature in ArtReview’s top 100 most important people in the contemporary art world. And this is no empty accolade; before launching Blain|Southern, the duo were at the helm of London’s Haunch of Venison gallery which was sold to Christie’s in 2007. Their time at Haunch of Venison allowed them to build up an impressive artists network which, by the time of its initiation, gave Blain|Southern a critical edge, associating with names such as Richard Long and Keith Tyson to name a few. While the gallery is only 6 years old, it has already hosted many acclaimed exhibitions such as the much touted survey of Lucian Freud’s drawings in 2012 – Drawings. And with its setting in Hanover Square being a stones throw from New Bond Street, a.k.a. auction superhighway, the location is a veritable arts hub.
Where: Hanover Square, W1S. Open 10am-6pm Monday-Saturday except early closing at 5pm on Saturday. Closed Sunday.
In a nutshell: Victoria Miro, unofficially crowned one of the “grande dames of the Britart scene” can even boast that she had famous babysitters – Sam Taylor-Wood having done her the honour in Miro’s child-rearing years that “stunted her creativity”. Fast-forward a few years and a few galleries later, and her eponymous franchise has two locations in London as well as others worldwide, representing major contemporary artists such as Chris Ofili and Grayson Perry. In opposition (albeit unintentional) with one of its locations in the exclusive Mayfair area, the gallery’s Wharf Road space was set up in 2000 in Islington, and, like the Whitechapel and White Cube, it’s close proximity to Hoxton quickly linked it with London’s cutting-edge experimental arts scene. The 8,000 sq.ft. space is housed in a beautifully restored ex-furniture factory and has its own garden located next to Regent’s Canal at Wenlock Basin. The spacious and natural(ish) location often lends itself to exhibitions such as Maria Nepomuceno’s The Force (2011), so expect a nice departure from the concrete jungle.
Where: Mayfair, W1 // Wharf Road N1. All three galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
In a nutshell: Like Blain and Southern, Iwan and Manuela Wirth (two thirds of the gallery’s founding body) have been ranked in the top most influential people in the contemporary art world by ArtReview. The other third of the gallery’s foundation is Ursula Hauser who, together with the Wirth’s, set up their first gallery in Switzerland in 1992 and has since grown into an acclaimed global art franchise. The gallery’s London location has moved around a lot since its inauguration in 2003, from Piccadilly to Cheshire Street in the East End, to Swallow Street, Old Bond Street and finally, Savile Row. The gallery’s punch probably comes from its balanced representation of over fifty emerging artists and industry heavyweights like Louise Bourgeois and Martin Creed. It also gains its reputation from its publishing offshoot, having published over 100 titles since 1992 specialising in modern and contemporary art, such as Phyllida Barlow’s Fifty Years of Drawings (2014). The gallery’s worldwide locations include a fabulous rural setting on a Somerset farm in the West of England.
Where: Savile Row, W1. Open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
In a nutshell: “WE EXIST FOR U”/ “THE WORLD’S FINEST” shouts the Unit London’s website. This might give you an idea of the gallery’s mission: to show dynamic and forward-thinking artists who are chosen for just those reasons, irrespective of of “reputation, culture or background”. The gallery is run by two young English guys – Johnny Burt and Joe Kennedy – who see social media as a as a “commercial tool”. In fact, their show Paintguide was Instagram-curated and certainly the first of its kind. Now, after 3 years of running Unit, they have buyers all over the world, showing the efficiency of this contemporary marketing method. They represent a roster of British and international artists including the likes of Paul Rousso and Cecile Plaisance. Their all-inclusive outlook could perhaps benefit from a larger female contingent, but the work on display is frequently changing and updating, a process you can follow via their Instagram.
Read our interview with Unit London founders Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt here.
Where: Soho, W1. Open everyday 11am-7pm.