In: Visual Art
March 5, 2017
It’s the first week of March in New York City, which for art lovers only means on thing: Armory Week! In its third edition, the Art on Paper 2017 fair exhibits paper-based art that frequently pushed the boundaries of what a work on paper could be. The medium-driven focus of the fair sets itself apart from the other larger-scale Armory Week fairs. The 84 galleries hosted at Art on Paper are from all over the United States, with several international additions from Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Kyoto, London, Shanghai, and Copenhagen.
Upon entering the space, visitors are greeted by two site-specific installation pieces. Tahiti Pehrson’s “The Fates” is composed of three colossal, 17-foot towers of hand cut paper, and Timothy Paul Myers, in collaboration with Andrew Barnes, crafted a domestic installation made entirely of felt. These are the first of many works of art that incorporate and utilize paper, but are not necessarily what you would think of when you hear the term ‘art on paper.’
There was a wide scope of artists included familiar modernists like Picasso & Matisse in the Master Fine Arts Gallery, to the all-star lineup of Sol LeWitt, Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and Alex Katz at Richard Levy Gallery, and a few unheard of standouts. My favorites included Martin Kline’s rhythmic dry brush oil series “Palm Beach” (cover image) at Heather Gaudio Fine Art, whose bright blue compositions imitate patterns that occur in nature. Also in Heather Gaudio Fine Art were a few equally mesmerizing works by Jaq Belcher, whose sculptural, hand-cut leaves in “Lions Gate” cling to a single piece of paper. More of a traditionalist, Ekaterina Smirnova “Blue Path” at Villa del Arte Galleries appears to be an updated, watercolor version of French Impressionism. And Donald Martiny, whose works appear at Spender Gallery, resemble thick, impasto paint strokes but are actually made of pigmented polymer, and are so three-dimensional that he blurs the line between sculpture and painting.
George Billis Gallery’s display of Steven Kinder’s geometric abstractions and the hodgepodge of artists grouped together in Tamarind Institute were the more underwhelming booths. The most bizarre were the black and white photographs by Morton Bartlett that showed kitschy images of dolls posed in occasionally provocative positions. His display in Marion Harris’s booth was visually eye-catching… When you stepped close enough to realize the subject matter.
Amid the abundance of things to see, and the frenzy of visitors and art professionals, there were a few booths that stand out in my memory. Gallery Poulsen was one with the overtly political works of art, including one entitled “What the Fucking Fuck Just Happened” by William Powhida, as well as Artemesia’s installation created from torn pages of used books, and the technicolor portraits at Sasha Wolf Projects.
Art on Paper is open at Pier 36 (299 South Street) on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on March 2-5
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.
I met Touria El Glaoui during the opening of 1:54 art fair this October. Already familiar with Touria’s tremendous success in not only establishing the fair four years ago, but also expanding to New York only two years after the inauguration, I was intrigued to meet her.
Elegant in her long silky dress with a stylish, and warm for English weather, cardigan, Touria made you feel 1:54 was not simply an art fair, but a home. The amiable, pleasant atmosphere of the Somerset House, which you don’t typically find in a large-scale art fair, made me feel like a guest to a home party, rather than a stranger in a museum. There was no sense of pretensiosness.
While we were sipping hot morning coffee and treating ourselves with a warm butter croissant, Touria shared how she built the brand, or better say the platform for contemporary African artists, and what it took to get 1:54 to the level of today.
You earned your MBA in Strategic Management and have an impressive background working both in banking and IT industries. What made you decide to turn to the art one?
I grew up in Morocco in the house of an artist – my father, Hassan El Galoui – and he was the person who gave me my artistic education. For this reason, art – particularly African art – has always been a part of my life. Much later on – in fact, during my career in the IT industry – I was travelling extensively around Africa and the Middle East, and this is when I fully realised how absent African and African diaspora artists were from the international markets in Europe and the US. Having the seen the incredible work being made on the continent, I decided it was time to the bridge the gap and create a platform.
How did you personal background (your farther is a famous artist) influence you throughout your career?
Many of my earliest memories are of my father’s studio with its incredible smell of oil paint. I would spend hours watching him transform his canvases, and the life of an artist became my daily norm. Because of this, my approach to running 1:54 has always been centred on the artist and on maintaining the integrity of the work. I have also organised and co-curated a number of my father’s exhibitions, and have also been working on the catalogue raisonné of his life’s work, and these experiences have certainly shown me much about the realities of being an artist working on the continent verses in Europe and America.
How did the idea for 1:54 come about? What challenges did you face/still facing?
When I established 1:54 back in 2013, the biggest challenge was finding both the interest and the support. This underpinned much of my decision to launch in London. In 2011 I could already see evidence of a growing interest in African and African diaspora art – for example with the Tate launching its two-year African art programme. I will never forget the incredible backing that I received in that first year, yet every year we continue to face the financial challenge of making the fair happen. We are incredible grateful this year to our main sponsor, Floreat, as well as to Christie’s education and the Arts Council England who have both sponsored this year’s FORUM.
Are you planning on expanding the fair to other locations? What’s the importance of having the fair now in both London and NY?
As I said, London was the most obvious ‘home’ for 1:54 for a few reasons, its internationality being one. Once London was up and running, we began to toy with the idea of New York, and began to see that our galleries and collectors were keen to make the move. We first launched as a pop-up edition, in May 2014, but returned again this year to enjoy our second edition. The two fairs are actually quite different due both to the buildings they are housed in as well as the different audiences they attract, and so the importance of having both editions is to widen the diversity and outreach of the fair. It’s very exciting for us when collectors are able to visit both.
Who’s your favourite artist?
This is always such a difficult question! I can never choose and it would be unfair for me to do so. All the artists and galleries that we welcome to each new edition brings something unique to 1:54 and my greatest hope is always that our visitors will explore and appreciate this diversity, and appreciate each artist in their own right.
6. Tell us what is new in this year’s edition of 1:54 art fair.
I am particularly excited about our incredible line up of Special Projects joining us this year. We have 10 in total, and each one is incredibly unique and will add a whole new element to the fair. Zac Ové’s installation, for example, will extend the fair into the Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court for the first time ever; Ifeanyi Oganwu’s lounge design – created in collaboration with Phoebe Boswell – and Barthélémy Toguo’s Mobile Cafeteria will introduce vibrant, interactive spaces; and we will also be extending out over the airwaves with a live three-day broadcast by a new music-radio platform, Worldwide FM. Of course the Malick Sidibé exhibition – created in collaboration with Somerset House and MAGNIN-A – is also incredible exciting. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase such an influential African photographer, and to be able to extend the exhibition past the four days of the fair, throughout Somerset House’s winter season.
Who are the artists to watch at 1:54 this year in London?
I want to draw attention to the fact that this year we are delighted to be welcoming 16 Africa-based galleries, of which 6 are from North Africa. Many of these are joining us in London for the first time, including Village Unhu from Harare, Zimbabwe; Mashrabia Gallery of Contemporary Art from Cairo, Egypt; and L’Atelier 21 from Casablanca, Morocco.
What are your future plans for the fair and beyond?
1:54 is constantly evolving, this year we welcome an incredible 40 exhibitors with over 130 artists exhibiting with us this year. Despite this, we want our ethos to stay the same: to create a platform for African and African diaspora artists in the international art market while putting the artist first. In terms of expanding further afield, we first want to ensure that our London and New York editions are as good as they can be.
October 5, 2016
Autumn. The season of cooler weather, multicolored leaves, long strolls in the Heath and marrons glacés, the time when we all start reminiscing about our summer fun and get ready for winter. However, the fall season is not only warmer clothes and hot chocolate, but also the time for major art happenings around the world.
Autumn, and especially October, is the time to follow new fashion trends at fashion weeks in the major cities, and to enjoy weeks of art. The Old World’s art capital – London – started long ago to prepare for the first week of October, aka the busiest and most stressful time in the art world.
The annual arrival of Frieze – the art fair opening in Regent’s Park October 6-8th – and it’s daughter Frieze Masters trigger parallel art happenings, such as the most important contemporary art evening auctions, art festivals, art shows and a myriad of talks and events throughout the capital, in order to benefit from the arrival of the art world’s mighty and try to get a piece of that juicy cake.
Find below a list of TOP artsy things to do this October in London and, believe me, you will want to be one to visit them:
Arguably the most well-known art fair today, though not the most visited one (according to the annual report by ArtVista) Frieze opens for the 13th time this October at Regent’s Park.
Note-by: if you feel unsure about spending 60 pounds on combined ticket to both Frieze&Frieze Masters, make sure to stroll in Regent’s Park – Frieze Sculpture Park is free for all and this year features canonical artists such as Jean Dubuffet, Ed Herring, and Lynn Chadwick just to name a few. The Sculpture Park will be on view for you to visit until January 8th, 2017.
The fair of contemporary African Art, 1:54 will return for the forth time to Somerset House this October. Representing over 50 African countries, 1:54 breaks the traditional approaches to art fairs and delivers a must-see program. The largest edition yet, the fair takes over the whole Somerset House this October and showcases 40 galleries.
Note-by: stop by the open-air installation by Zak Ove at the Somerset House’s courtyard, as well as by the unmissable exhibition of the exceptional Malick Sidibé (Malian photographer) – the exhibition will be on view for you to see up until January 15th, 2017.
Presumably you heard of the name Pollock. Or you heard that one of his paintings titled No 5 (1948) is one of the most expensive paintings in history and was sold for $165.4 million at an auction. Or maybe you didn’t. But the fact is that this exhibition is the first major retrospective of the Abstract Expressionist art movement in the UK in 70 years. Think abstraction, color fields and visual travel. You ought to see it.
Note-by: The most interesting part is the inclusion of not only famous names like Pollock and Rothko in the exhibition, but also of other artists who contributed to the movement.
This must-see exhibition presents just how talented Picasso was. The show will display portraits created during every stage of the artist’s career and will showcase famous masterpieces, as well never seen before works from private collections.
Note-by: the granddaughter of the artist, Diana Widmaier-Picasso, will be in conversation with the director of the National Portrait Gallery, Dr Nicholas Cullinan, on the 6th of October at 7pm, giving her views on Picasso’s portraiture.
Another must-visit show in London focuses on Caravaggio. It is important to note, though, that the primary accent will be given to the influence that the artist had on his contemporaries by showcasing the works of lesser-known artists of the time. So-called Caravaggism will be explored throughout the exhibition and bring together works by Caravaggio and his European followers.
Note-by: The National Gallery created a series of events and talks to introduce visitors to the Caravagesque style and to Caravaggio himself throughout the month of October. If you are a fan of Baroque art, or just a curious soul, make sure to check some of them out.
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.
August 21, 2016
The usually booming New York City art scene is rather slow in August, leaving one to wonder where all of the commotion over contemporary art goes: on vacation to the Hamptons of course! There is a great deal of special exhibitions and openings happening all over the Hamptons this month. Should you find yourself escaping to the Hamptons during these final days of summer, be sure to check out one or all of these events.
- Montauk/ Watermill
On August 7th, “Unfinished Business” opened at the Parrish Art Museum. This exhibit, which will run until October 16th, features the paintings by Ross Bleckner, Eric Fischl, and David Salle, three artists who formed an artistic enclave in Los Angeles in the 1970s and ’80s. The exhibit features 23 canvases and 17 paperworks by these artists and celebrates their innovation and profound influence on the Los Angeles art scene.
Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Hwy, Water Mill, NY 11976
At the Watermill Center, you can catch the light installation “Constellations in Red, Yellow, and Blue” until August 28th. The light sculptures on display by Mexican artist G.T Pellizzi, are inspired by “the mythological, calendrical, and astronomical symbols found on many textiles in The Watermill Collection.”As the title of the exhibit states, the sculptures are lit in the primary colors- red, yellow, and blue. Pelliziz’s work has previously been on display at MoMa PS1, Centre Pompidou, The Whitney, and various other contemporary art spaces.
Watermill Center, 39 Water Mill Towd Rd, Water Mill, NY 11976
2. Bridgehampton is quite busy with art happenings this month. You can catch The Curiosities of Harry Squires” at the Bridgehampton Museum through October. This exhibit features the collection owned and curated by Bridgehampton figure Harry Squires, which includes various oddities such as shipwreck memorabilia and Native American artifacts.
In addition to the permanent collection at the Dan Flavin Institute, the exhibit “Icons” is on view through April. The title “Icons” is a reference to the traditional religious association with the term, however, the works on display are decidedly non-representational, consisting of painted boxes adorned with light features that are dedicated to Flavin’s loved ones.
The Dan Flavin Art Institute is located on Corwith Avenue off Main Street in Bridgehampton, New York 11932
- East Hampton
If you are craving even more minimalism, head to Guild Hall Museum for “Aspects of Minimalism,” which is on view through October. The exhibition features more work by Dan Flavin, as well as Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter and other minimalist artists. Also on view at Guild Hall are Carol Ross’s Metal Sculptures in the Furman sculpture garden.
Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton, NY 11937
The next time you escape to your sanctuary in the Hamptons (or get yourself invited to someone else’s vacation home), pencil in some time in between outdoor brunch and tanning by the pool to check out some fantastic art.
A week ago, I found it nearly impossibly to look away from C-SPAN’s coverage of the Republican National Convention. The rowdy fanfare of the RNC appears more like a circus than a political conference. No matter how one aligns themselves politically, most people can agree that the upcoming election has been prime material for art and entertainment. Throughout history, politics have seeped their way into the art world. Often artists sneak subtle political statements into their work, or will directly address contentious political issues in very explicit ways. In the world of contemporary art, Swedish artist Johan Wahlstrom is continuing this tradition of politically themed artwork with his harrowing and provocative acrylic and ink paintings. Although Wahlstrom started out as a musician, he always painted as a hobby and after touring with a rock band for many years, he moved from Stockholm to a small village in France to pursue painting full time.
Today, Wahlstrom is based in Spain and continues to paint pieces that explore the dark underbelly of modern society and politics. Wahlstrom paints in a neo-expressionist style and cites a diverse range of artists that include Paul Klee, Jean Michel Basquiat, and Jackson Pollack as his influences. His dark inky colors and thick brushwork create portraits of modern life that are simultaneously hazy and abstract and frighteningly realistic. As a former rock musician, Wahlstrom is not afraid to provoke and rile up his audience. His paintings are dark, confrontational, and frighteningly resonant. Upon viewing his painting “Heil Trump,” I was reminded of a similar politically themed work by the German Dadaist John Heartfield, entitled “Adolf the Super Man: Swallows Gold and Spits Tin,” which is an explicit critique of Adolf Hitler. Wahlstrom’s “Vote for Me,” another portrait of Donald Trump, features the presidential candidate’s head surrounded by terrifying abstract figures, representing his loyal followers. “Punch them Hard,” an acrylic work by Wahlstrom is equally disturbing and shows Trump giving a thumbs up while chaos ensues in the background. This is a visual representation of Trump’s verbal encouragement of his followers to attack protesters. This series of Trump portraits evokes the mob mentality and frenzy of Trump’s rallies. Wahlstrom attacks other issues such as immigration in his “Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities” series, which poignantly captures the plight of immigrants and refugees.
As a former rock musician, Johan Wahlstrom is not afraid to provoke and rile up his audience. His paintings are dark, confrontational, and frighteningly resonant. His piece “Too Much Trump” in particular is an apt depiction of Trump’s pervasive presence in the media, his angry scowl taunting the viewer. Wahlstrom’s favorite piece from his body of work is “You Can’t Trust” from 2011, which he refuses to sell and hangs in his living room. Wahlstrom was so satisfied with the piece, that he took a 2 month hiatus from painting. This particular painting is his favorite because he associates it with the catharsis and satisfaction he experienced while working on it. The experience was “magical” for Wahlstrom, he felt like he was inside of his own work and not slaving away in a studio.
Despite Wahlstrom’s sinister aesthetic and disturbing subject matter, he paints with a profound passion and love for his craft. His favorite part of the creative process is conceiving the title or theme behind his work, which eventually determines what will end up on the canvas. For Wahlstrom technique is not the most crucial aspect of great art, but rather “the feeling and messages” behind the work in question.
Wahlstrom’s artist’s’ statement reads:
“I paint to keep myself insane.
I paint anxiety to be calm.
I paint war to have peace.
I paint sadness to be happy.
I paint the dark to be in the light.
I paint death to be alive.
I paint a story so that I don’t have to tell a story.”
In the future, Wahlstrom hopes “to be able to do stronger paintings with political statements, social criticism, to be part of making the world a better place for future generations.”
China’s recent history is one full of social and political chaos. Chairman Mao Zedong resided as the country’s communist leader for nearly thirty years, responsible for the founding the People’s Republic of China, sending China into a deep economic crisis, and infamously inciting the riotous Cultural Revolution. Chairman Mao had set out to purge the country of what he called “impure elements.” The youth of China backed Mao as they flooded across the country murdering teachers, closing schools, denouncing family members, burning books, and destroying China’s history. Artist were cast out of society and only those who attended nationalized art schools and produced works in a factory-like manner with politically expedient content, were permitted. Today, we see how Chinese artists critique the Cultural Revolution and the Communist Party, shedding light on China’s societal issues, through their creative individuality.
Hung Liu was born shortly after the Chinese Civil War in 1948. She was a prolific student and studied at the best private schools China had to offer. As the Cultural Revolution began, Liu was sent to be “re-educated” in a rural village. Before leaving Beijing, she borrowed a camera from a friend. She used this camera to take photos of villagers, their families, and their day to day struggles. At this point in time, the Cultural Revolution was in full bloom and Chinese culture was being threatened to extinction. Hung Liu’s photographs of those villagers served as a preservation of those individuals and to their culture.
After the Revolution, Liu went on to study fine arts and earned a her graduate degree in Muralist Painting. For three years she painted political propaganda in the Soviet Realist style, all the while secretly painting landscapes with miniature tools and paints she herself had made. Hung Liu desperately wanted artistic freedom and was granted just that when she was given permission to attend the University of California San Diego in 1983.
Liu often paints from photographs of Chinese social outcasts: prostitutes, laborers, and prisoners. The realistic nature and size of her characters reflect her practice in Soviet Realism and Muralism. However, she manipulates the image by running paint down the canvas, which gives the effect of a photograph faded by time. The characters in each piece look as though they are disintegrating right before our eyes; a possible commentary on the lives lost and forgotten during the Cultural Revolution.
Hung Liu recently retired from her position as a professor at Mills College, but she continues to paint and has worldwide exhibitions.
Ma Desheng was a self taught artist, mainly because he was deemed unfit to be trained in fine arts at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Desheng worked as an industrial draftsman and woodblock print artist, using traditional Chinese ink.
Desheng produced a series of images of rock-like figures and portrayals of China’s working class. These images were stark contradictions to the suppressive propaganda that Mao and the Chinese Communist Party were feeding the people.
His early productions were un-romanticized images that displayed the realities of what was happening to China. The dark rigid lines evoke a sense of inner turmoil, similar to that of the artwork of the German artists, Käthe Kollwitz or Edvard Munch.
In 1970, Ma Desheng was influential in the founding of Star Group ( or Xing Xing). This group consisted of self taught, Western-influenced artists who fought for individualism and liberation against the Cultural Revolution. Ma Desheng and the Star Group bravely defied the government when they put on an exhibition of their own work across the street from the National Art Museum in Beijing. It was, of course, shut down by authorities and Ma was arrested for his involvement in organizing such an exhibit.The Star Group went on to lead a rally against the authorities and were successful in opening a second show; some say it was this rally that helped Chinese society become more culturally open.
Not long after Star Group’s second show, Ma Desheng moved to Europe, as did many of the other members. He continues to live and work in Paris, but there is no doubt that his passionate commitment to freedom of expression helped pave the way for future Chinese artists.
One of China’s most well known and successful artists, Zhang Xiaogang, was also a witness to China’s Cultural Revolution. His parents were government officials but were sent away to be “re-educated” at the height of the Revolution—an event that greatly affects his work.
He studied at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts after the Cultural Revolution ended, but his professors were persistent in teaching the style of Soviet Realism. Zhang resisted this style and any philosophy that had to do with collectiveness in society. He founded a group focused on the importance of individualism in philosophy and art called the Southwest Art Group. Though somewhat successful with nearly eighty artists in the group, the Tiananmen Square incident happened not long after and the era of liberal reform ceased completely.
It wasn’t until 1992 when Zhang returned from Germany after 3 months that he knew exactly what he wanted to paint. He stated that he “could see a way to paint the contradictions between the individual and the collective.” His portrayals of those contradictions are what make his paintings so eerily captivating. Most of his work is themed after family photographs but there is always some sort of strange mark or difference in color that makes them unique to one another. The child, who is typically centered, is the most defined. This can be taken as Zhang’s commentary on the youth of the Cultural Revolution and their willingness to disown their families and personal histories.
Zhang Xiaogang’s artwork has shown world wide and he is easily one of the most prominent Chinese contemporary artist of today.
Beijing-based artist, Yue Minjun, also captures that theme of contradiction that Zhang Xiaogang displays. Yue Minjun was born in 1962 and studied oil painting at the Hebei Normal University in 1985. His work is done in a style that has been coined as “Cynical Realism,” and they are iconically uncomfortable. Most of the paintings are self-portraits of the artist with pink skin, laughing maniacally in surreal backgrounds while bent over in an attempt to cover an exposed body, vulnerable in only underwear.
These cartoon like images are politically pointed at the Cultural Revolution and China today. Minjun states that “…laughter is a representation of a state of helplessness, lack of strength and participation, with the absence of our rights that society has imposed on us.” This laughter evokes a strange feeling to the viewer. You feel as if you were looking at someone that had just gone through a mental breakdown and had experienced an intense amount of pain, dehumanized, but has an odd instinct to laugh. It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that, this is how Minjun see’s the China today; as society that has been through so much within recent years but does not know how to deal appropriately with the pain.
The now world renowned artist, Xu Bing, was in high school when the Cultural Revolution broke out. Determined to stay in Beijing and continue his studies, he agreed to use his talents in calligraphy to create political propaganda. After he graduated, he was sent to the countryside to work in the fields and was not able to return until the death of Chairman Mao in 1976. Xu was accepted into Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts the following year to study printmaking.
The relationship between words and interpretation seems to be the core theme in Xu Bing’s work. In his grandiose installation, “Book from the Sky,” large scrolls hang from the ceiling and traditionally bound books and newspapers line the floor and walls, all stamped with woodblocks carved with made-up, nonsensical Chinese characters. The fact that nothing is literally being said in this piece results in many different interpretations. Is the installation a focus on Chinese tradition versus modern art? Is it a questioning of how different cultures perceive one another? Is it a commentary on the manipulation of words to achieve power, like in Mao’s case? Or is it a meaningless study of form and repetition? There are grounds for each of these questions within the piece and its intriguing quality is one of the reasons “Book from Sky” is such an international hit within the art world.
Cai Guo-Qiang is probably best known around the world for his firework show at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but Cai’s artistry goes far beyond his pyrotechnic displays. He studied stage design at the Shanghai Theatre Academy from 1981 through 1985, which is evident in the spatial rendering seen in his large installations, paintings and performance pieces.
One of his most famous pieces was an installation he was commissioned to do for the 48th Venice Biennale, entitled, “Venice’s Rent Collection Courtyard.” The installation consisted of 114 clay sculptures of peasants and laborers interspersed within the gallery’s setting.The piece created quite the stir amongst the art world as it closely resembled the famous Social Realist sculpture “Rent Collection Courtyard”: a highly political series of sculptures created during the Cultural Revolution. The stir wasn’t only because of Cai’s replica of the Chinese classic, but because he choose a material that would cause the sculptures to disintegrate as the show went on; a possible statement on Mao’s promises to the Chinese people and the ephemerality of their political and social structures.
Many of Cai Guo-Qiang works seem to embody a theme of unforeseen fate. In many of his paintings, he will scatter gunpowder on an already painted canvas, and ignite it. The result displays a combination of the controlled color of the actual paint, and the sporadic, random markings of the burnt gunpowder. This theme is also evident in his installation “Head On” where sculptures of wolves take off running and soaring through the air. The momentum of the piece is brutally interrupted as the wolves run, “head on,” into a wall a plexi glass and fall gracelessly to the floor.
It is often said that an artist’s role in society is to be instrument of the time; to reflect society back to itself, to be a catalyst of change, and to articulate culture. It is fair to say that these artists, and many other Chinese artists, are doing just that.
Earlier this year Ai Weiwei released his new project in Berlin which involved wrapping the columns of the Konzerthaus in 14,000 salvaged refugee life jackets to raise awareness of the plight of displaced people all over the world. With life jackets taken from those who arrived on the Greek Island of Lesbos after facing the dangers of the treacherous Mediterranean sea, Weiwei has created a piece that both the world and Berlin cannot ignore. The sheer scale of the installation highlights the sheer amount of suffering that these people face and as the blaring orange of the lifejackets has captured the attention of the world, we can only hope that these people will try to do something to change the situation of those in need.
This is not the first time that Weiwei has been seen in the headlines for his art this year. In January, Weiwei revealed he would be withdrawing his work from a show he was currently involved in within Copenhagen after new legislation was implemented by Denmark’s parliament which would delay families from being reunited and gave the authorities the right to confiscate the possessions of migrants in order to dissuade them from seeking asylum. The law provoked international outrage from many people including an array of human rights groups and Weiwei himself released a statement saying ‘The way I can protest is that I can withdraw my works from that country. It is very simple, very symbolic – I cannot co-exist, I cannot stand in front of these people, and see these policies. It is a personal act, very simple; an artist trying not just to watch events but to act, and I made this decision spontaneously.’
Through his actions, it is clear to see that Weiwei is a hugely important figure in showcasing that art is political and that it is not merely an aesthetic form. Art is not shallow or meaningless and when it is put into the hands of someone like Ai Weiwei it can bring political issues to a range of people. Weiwei himself is no stranger to political turmoil and disruption with it featuring throughout his life from being beaten by police officials to being held in jail for extended amounts of time with no official charges. Both Weiwei’s life and career has been shaped by political authority who have not only impinged on his right to freedom but on his creativity as well with the demolition of his studio in 2011 by officials showing how this is an artist who knows how it feels to persecuted. Weiwei has suffered at the hands of tyrannical regimes just like the ones that refugees are fleeing from everyday and therefore there is an affinity between the artist and the people who provide inspiration for his work, there is a shared suffering between the creator and the subject.
Interestingly, the artist has not only chosen to explore these important issues through large scale projects, he is also utilising platforms within the social media world and particularly through Instagram. The artist posts videos and photographs documenting his time spent with refugees which includes anything from images of the people he encounters to the conditions they have to live with. These digital expressions act as a juxtaposition from the work people usually associated with Weiwei but they relay instant and important messages. Through this platform, the artist can posts daily and continual images that highlight the struggle these people are facing, meaning that the issue can never fade out of sight. It would be impossible for Weiwei to erect one of his large scale sculptures everyday or have an exhibition in every city in the world, but through the Internet he can spread his political and artistic message and people are able to interact with it almost instantly with Weiwei’s Instagram page having over two hundred thousand followers. You don’t need to be an art buff to recognise and acknowledge the suffering that the people in these images are facing and therefore by utilising social media, the artist can speak to a brand new audience and spread the message of their plight even further.
The refugee crisis is important and it should not be ignored, and with figures like Weiwei the world is waking up and the permeation of this political crisis into the world of art shows that this issue cannot and should not be ignored. Throughout history, art has been there to express some of the most important moments that define the world that we live in and I think Weiwei’s work is no exception. Art and culture can hold so much power and through these sculptures, photographs and videos, this power is being harnessed and I believe it can go a lot further. Ai Weiwei is an artist who has taken on both his own suffering and the suffering of others and has managed to take a stand through his work, and if you enjoy Weiwei’s piece perhaps you should consider stepping up and trying to make a difference too.
June 10, 2016
In 1985 Mona Hatoum walked through Brixton in bare feet for almost an hour, dragging behind her as she did the pair of Dr Martens boots that were tied to her ankles (Roadworks). This was Mona Hatoum in the beginning of her work: the body is the locus of all connections between a human and the surrounding space, objects, other humans, society, politics.
Her work creates a challenging vision of our world, exposing its contradictions and complexities, often making the familiar uncanny. Through the juxtaposition of opposites such as beauty and horror, she engages us in conflicting emotions of desire and revulsion, fear and fascination.
Mona Hatoum was born in Beirut to a Palestinian family and during a visit to London in 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon and Hatoum was forced into exile. She stayed in London, training at both the Byam Shaw School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art (University College, London) between the years 1975 and 1981. She now lives and works in Berlin and London and has participated in numerous important group exhibitions including The Turner Prize (1995), Venice Biennale (1995 and 2005), Documenta XI, Kassel (2002), Biennale of Sydney (2006), The Istanbul Biennal (1995 and 2011) and the Fifth Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2013).
I believe it is important to start any description of Hatoum’s work with the above information as this was the platform that allowed the world to be witness to her continuous inspiration. Exile must have been her curse and blessing.
‘It was nice to be in a place where everyone spoke with a Palestinian accent, which was my parents’ accent – though in Beirut, people used to hide it so they would fit in. But it was very overwhelming, very sad. You feel angry all the time – though I had to keep myself together so I could make the work, and it was inevitable, then, that the work would be about the situation.” She says about the time when she was invited to Jerusalem, in 1996.
Solo exhibitions include Centre Pompidou, Paris (1994), Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1997), The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (1998), Castello di Rivoli, Turin (1999), Tate Britain, London (2000), Hamburger Kunsthalle, Kunstmuseum Bonn, Magasin 3, Stockholm (2004) and Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2005). Recent exhibitions include Measures of Entanglement, UCCA, Beijing (2009), Interior Landscape, Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice (2009), Witness, Beirut Art Center, Beirut (2010), Le Grand Monde, Fundaciòn Marcelino Botìn, Santander (2010) and as the winner of the 2011 Joan Miró Prize, she held a solo exhibition at Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona in 2012. In 2013-2014 she was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Kunstmuseum St Gallen and the largest survey of her work to be shown in the Arab world is currently held at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha.
Coming back to the Tate Modern exhibition, it is absolutely overwhelming to be in the presence of this artist’s lifetime work… The energy seems to have attached to the walls of each room and stories are leaking from every corner, entering the open pores of the spectator’s skin. The body reacts to Hatoum’s body works as they should.
My first thought as I entered the first room of the exhibition was that art is an endless row of assumptions about life as we perceive it and as we are taught to perceive it. Mona Hatoum is unbuttoning the jeans of the old and young generations of art seekers. Her works undress you of the daily routine and her black and white interference between routine and search for absolute is a terrifying blessing.
‘Stills of sequence of live images seens on large monitor facing the audience” 12th of June, 1980 is an artistic scan of the spectator and as he is acknowledging the introspection, the scan penetrates deeper, beneath the skin, into the psychic.
“Light Sentence” 1992 was one of my favorite installations showcased in the exhibition. This prison of shapes that might open the door to freedom of understanding in silence. Mona Hatoum never felt confident enough to speak in her art and the silence translated by some of her works is absolutely overwhelming. In “Light Sentence” there is a perfect harmony between light and darkness and movement does not kill this harmony… Only voices could. Metal, light bulbs, white walls, shadows and movement suddenly become an escape or imprisonment.
Mona Hatoum’s work can be interpreted as a description of the body and its impact on other people and the surrounding objects, as a commentary on politics, and on gender difference as she explores the dangers and confines of the domestic world. Her work can also be interpreted through the concept of space as her sculpture and installation work depend on the viewer to inhabit the surrounding space to complete the effect. There are always multiple readings to her work. The physical responses that Hatoum desired in order to provoke psychological and emotional responses ensures unique and individual reactions from different viewers. (WIKIPEDIA)
In “Jardin Public”(1993), the artist depicts a classic French garden chair that sports pubic hair which seems to grow from the holes in the seat. The title hints at the link between ‘public’ and ‘pubic’, both connected to the Latin work for ‘adult’. The human bodies leave prints on the places that they touch, creating an uninterrupted connection between people and places and their objects.
In her singular sculptures, Hatoum has transformed familiar, every-day, domestic objects such as chairs, cots and kitchen utensils into things foreign, threatening and dangerous. In Homebound (2000) Hatoum uses an assemblage of household furniture wired up with an audibly active electric current – combine a sense of threat with a surrealist sense of humour to create a work that draws the viewer in, on both an emotive and intellectual level.
I spent roughly 10 minutes on the room that hosts the installation “Impenetrable” 2009 and thought about the infinity of hope. Looking through the corridors rods of barbed wire, space that you hope you can penetrate and eventually escape the three metre cube maze. Hatoum makes reference to the Venezuelan artist Jesus Rafael Soto’s series of Penetrables, hanging cubes made from colourful rubber tubes.
“Cellules” 2012 suggests confinement, isolation and biology. It suggests the struggle to escpae the imprisonment of our own biology.
Then “Quarters”1996 suggests official, institutional lodgings, while the implicit idea of layered bodies links this work to urban architecture in which people live above one another. Its layout echoes the Panopticon, a prison design in which inmates are always subject to surveillance from a central viewing position by an unseen guard, which philosopher Michael Foucault used as a metaphor for a disciplinary society.
Imprisoned by society, imprisoned by biology, imprisoned by politics. Everything is under the formula of chaos: always close and black – “Turbulence” 2014.
“Hot Spot” 2006, a steel globe with the continents outlined in neon, casting an orange glow and sending buzzes of electricity throughout the room is the piece that completely separates your from the reality that envelopes outside the doors of Tate.
“Interior/Exterior Landscape” 2010 is a room size installation that contains altered household furniture including a bed frame threaded with hair, a hair embroidered pillow that depicts flight routes between the artist;s most visited cities, a conjoined table and chair and a bird cage housing a single ball of hair. Hanging from a metal coat rack are two circular wire hangers that frame wall drawings of the Eastern and Western hemispheres and a market bag constructed frn a cut-out print of a world map.
“Twelve Windows” made by Mona Hatoum with Inaash, 2012-2013 are twelve pieces of embroidery, the work of Inaash, The Association for the Development of Palestinian Camps. Each ‘window’ represents a different region of through its motifs, stitches, colours and patterns, meticulously embroidered by Inaash’s experienced craftswomen. The aim of the project was to preserve a traditional skill, at risk of extinction because of the dispersal of Palestinians across the region. Hatoum created an installation in which the ‘windows’ are displayed in a space criss-crossed by steel cables, making a visual metaphor for this divided territory.
The last room of the exhibition showcases “Undercurrent (red)” 2008 which explores again the interest of the artist in craft and textiles. This piece is realised dramatically in a combination of traditional technique with materials such as a square mat, woven from red electrical cable, a long fringe snake and 15 watts light bulbs that brighten and dim at what Hatoum describes as a “breathing pace”.
The entire exhibition is a public survey of the artist’s perception of this world that held her tight into a tense creative process, after spitting her away from her biological crib. An exploration of an immigrant soul who saw through the reality of a migrant crowd of souls all travelling from one understanding to another, one reality to another to the point of escape from the imprisonment.
Mona Hatoum exhibition (4th of May – 21st of August) is curated by Clarrie Wallis, Curator of Modern and Contemporary British Art, Tate and Christine Van Assche, Honorary Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris, with Katy Wan, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern and Capucine Perrot, former Assistant Curator, Tate Modern.