Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gone Tomorrow: Evanescent Man from Antiquity to Modernity

Man has always fought against the idea of his eventual demise. Egyptian funerary objects, ancient Greek grave markers, mediaeval depictions of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection all serve as artistic avoidance objects to escape the grotesque idea that we die and decompose into nonentity. What intrigues me is the way in which an artist both depicts and embodies this struggle by creating works which attempt to survive him or memorialize the patron who commissioned his work. Memento Mori, on the other hand, thematically categorizes a number of artworks which focus on reminding us of the brevity of our lives, the emptiness of earthly possessions and futility of vanity so that we are inspired to “seize the day” and make the most of our finite existence. Time, vanity, judgment, and immortality are all recurring themes in the memento mori arts correlating with the images of clocks, wilted flowers, heaven, and hell. My exhibit “Gone Tomorrow” explores the theme of evanescent man and his “dance of death” from as far back as Ancient Egyptian times to the modern day.
            This exhibit displays artworks such as that of “The Singer of Amun Nany’s Funerary Papyrus” and Jan van Eyck’s "The Crucifixion; The Last Judgment" which depict scenes of religious judgment and the allure of the afterlife. These artistic representations of death would not only remind the viewer of their mortality but that they must live righteously so that they may be redeemed in view of the gods. “Vanitas Still Life” and “The Penitent Magdalen” portray themes of vanity and its hollowness in the threat of old age and inescapable expiry, warning the spectator of pleasure’s futility and the pithiness of life.

Egyptian Dynasty 21
"The Singer Amun Nany's Funerary Papyrus"
ca. 1050 B.C.
Egyptian Art

Greek, Attic (Classical Period)
"Miniature terracotta squat lekythos (oil flask) with siren"
mid-5th century B.C.
Greek and Roman art

Indonesian (Java)
"The Buddhist Guardian Mahabala"
11th century
Asian Art

Jan van Eyck
"The Crucifixion; The Last Judgment"
European Paintings

Jacques de Gheyn II
"Vanitas Still Life"
European Paintings

Georges de La Tour
"The Penitent Magdalen"
European Paintings

Utagawa Toyokuni I
"Takigawa of the Pleasure House"
Early 19 century
Asian Art

Edouard Manet
"The Dead Christ and the Angels"
European Paintings

Timothy H. O'Sullivan
"A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania"

William Kentridge
"The Refusal of Time"
Modern and Contemporary Art

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Performance Art at the Whitney Museum

          On our class trip to the Whitney Museum, we were to focus primarily on the “Rituals of Rented Island” exhibit which centered on ephemera (like photographs, video footage, props, etc.) from “happenings” or performance art pieces performed during the 1970s and 1980s. Artist’s creating within this temporal art form were most prolific at this time, incorporating different traditions such as acting, music, spoken word, and dance. These “happenings” would mostly take place in dingy lofts, and alternative spaces; their work generally commenting on the social, political, and cultural zeitgeist of that time.
          One piece in particular, Michael Smith’s “Secret Horror”, seemed to be
a critique on the inconsistency and absurdity of American culture. This piece, which is shown in a video format, involves Smith’s popular character Mike, a naïve individual who constantly falls prey to trends and fashions and his own foolish ambitions. We watch Mike as he wakes up and discovers he has a drop ceiling accompanied by an aimless voiceover. The video shows Mike getting ready for a partyand as he irons his clothes the situation gets continuously bizarre: sheeted ghosts arrive and take him away, the TV whispers peculiar things to him, and he joins the ghosts in a song and dance of The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Smith utilizes the televised tradition of entertainment in order to shed light on its homogenizing quality. His persona—Mike, serves as a prototypical example of an American television viewer and the influence that may have as well as the silly mimicry that can take place when the viewer attempts to amalgamate his own image with the one onscreen.
        Another piece at the Whitney was Vito Acconci’s “Claim 1971” (also a video) which showed Acconci as he sits blindfolded in a basement; armed with steel pipes and a crowbar—repeating the words “I want to stay alone. I don’t want anyone to come down here with me. I’ve got to keep talking myself into it. I’ll keep anyone from coming down the stairs.” The viewer can see this on a TV set upstairs and must decide whether or not to join him in the basement even as his mantra becomes increasingly violent and threating. With “Claim 1971”, Acconci seems to put forth ideas of personal space and the relationship between the artist and the viewer. This kind of work is especially confrontational and deliberately places the viewers in a position of power as in whether they choose descend into the basement or not. Acconci’s constant chant induces him into a state of paranoia therefore provoking something similar in the viewer. In this sense, words truly do have power—power to intimidate and power to lure.
          Squat Theater’s “Andy Warhol’s Last Love” is a video in which a performer wearing a mask of famous pop artist Andy Warhol rides the street of New York City on horseback. This peculiar scene would seem to criticize much of America’s actions during the 1960’s Vietnam War. As the actor gallops through the streets, a girl raises her skirt for him, a man is shot, and a man with half of his face burned passes on the street. However, the artist just rides pass, unaffected by the turmoil unraveling before him—this disregard possibly paralleling the indifference of those in power to the masses affected by the war at home and overseas.

The ephemeral quality of this temporal art form is an obvious distinction from other kinds. Although the work is mainly conceptual which is something yet to be diluted even with time, the visceral nature of the performance aspect is stripped from the piece. The living/breathing trait which defines performance art is completely lost when shown in the showcase style of the gallery. While I could still be somewhat affected by the pieces and grasp some vague understanding, what I ended up experiencing were but vestiges of the intended aesthetic of the artist.

Michael Smith
“Secret Horror”
Video, color, sound; 13:17 min.

Vito Acconci
“Claim Excerpts, 1971”
Videotape, b&w, sound; 62:11 min.

Squat Theater
“Andy Warhol’s Last Love”
Video, b&w and color, sound; 60 min.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

LES Galleries Reaction

          When visiting the Lower East Side galleries, I definitely felt there to be a stark difference in relation to the galleries in Chelsea. Spatially, the rooms felt more varied in their arrangement, not resembling the “white cube” spaces in Chelsea. Additionally, the LES galleries had a converted/industrial look, which instilled a more comfortable feeling than the sterilized “white cubes” of Chelsea. One gallery even had the smell of burning incense which contributed to this casual makeshift environment.

Bosi Contemporary Gallery
I noticed that several of the exhibitions contained works of several artists, not just one as in Chelsea, and the choices of medium also varied. For example, the Castle Fiztjohns and Bosi Contemporary galleries exhibited works by several different artists who used numerous different mediums such as, resin, mixed media, cloth, silicone and satin. I found there to be more installations using three-dimensional objects or video monitors, as in the Bosi Contemporary and Shin galleries.
Shin Gallery
Hyon Gyon Park
Satin and Silicone on Canvas
56 x 80 in.

Because of the LES galleries’ industrial look, I do feel that the environment would cater to a more casual art viewer-maybe a curator who is interested in collecting interesting pieces from “up and coming” artists.  Chelsea tends to exhibit more established artists which probably forces people to try and rush in order to see as much as they can, LES has a more relaxed ambiance-if not for the fact that they contain a lower mass of galleries to choose from. The LES galleries are located in an area not strictly devoted to art; juxtaposed with restaurants, clothing stores, etc. providing a different tone of setting when viewing the artworks.

Bosi Contemporary Gallery
André Feliciano
"Photographic Fruit (2012 Harvest)"
archival inkjet print mounted in dibond with museum glass
23.6 x 31.5 in.
         Overall, the location and ambiance of both the Chelsea and LES galleries did not affect my view of the artworks inhabiting them. Although, atmospheric impressions of a gallery space may influence your general experience, I felt that the art within the walls are what had the most lasting affect.

Castle Fitzjohns Gallery
"Original Sin"
Jeff Champion
Castle Fitzjohns Gallery
Sam Tufnell
"Lucky, Piss, and Red Gnomess"
Castle Fitzjohns Gallery
Jake Lamagno
"Baboon is Bright"

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary

René Magritte
"The False Mirror"
Oil on canvas

René Magritte, a 20th century artist known for his surrealist paintings, manages so surreptitiously to mask issues of psychology and the human subconscious beneath his deadpan style and fantastical depictions. The False Mirror (1928) is one such work, composed entirely of a lashless eye with a cloudscape in the place of an iris and a pitch black pupil in its center; the piece embodies the true nature of any surrealist work which attempts to defy our perception of the natural world. A body part we are all accustomed to seeing when directing our attention towards someone, the eye in The False Mirror almost seems to be looking right back at you, as if staring into some reflecting abyss. The eye, or mirror, or window that Magritte wishes us to delve into seems to conjure up notions of reality and perception. For our eyes provide the only interpretation of the visual world and yet possess so many limitations as opposed to other species of animals. Yet this concept of “sight” may not even be limited in terms of its physicality but can also refer to mental or philosophical sight; begging questions of possible multiple realities or worlds. Magritte’s enigmatic and cryptic piece seduces the viewer; luring them into a world of alternate perceptions and metaphysical distortion; reaching beyond the boundaries of what is “real”-a truly surrealist work.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Design in Our Lives

          On our second class trip to the MOMA, we were to consider artworks in the Architecture and Design galleries in terms of high and low functionality. Ergonomics is the applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort. But this field of science is not only applicable to the workplace, its principles are also appropriate in terms of household items, architecture-even environmental health sciences.
At MOMA, I came across two works of art that I found to have high functionality, one being IN-EL Mendori Lamp by Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake (IN-EL meaning “shadow,” “shade,” or “nuance” in Japanese),. Miyake’s lamp, aside from being aesthetically beautiful, with its coiling geometric pattern and relaxing glow, is an environmentally conscious piece constructed from recycled-PET fabric. This work is one in a collection of nine collapsible lampshades for LED bulbs and each lamp is folded from a single sheet of material thanks to a mathematical program created by Jun Mitani (a professor of computer science at the University of Tsukuba and a master origami artist). The object can be considered high functioning due to the fibers that are strong enough to support the lamp’s entire structure, making an inner frame unnecessary, not to mention its collapsible property which makes storage very convenient.
Just a few feet away I discovered, what I consider to be, one of the most impressive design works in the gallery. Mine Kafon wind-powered deminer is a large spherical tumbleweed-like apparatus made from bamboo and biodegradable plastics by Massoud Hassani. This wind-powered object is both easy to transport and assemble onsite. Hassani, who grew up in Afghanistan knows all too well the dangers of living in an area littered with landmines and has seen many friends get severely injured or die because of them. This design is not only ergonomically sound but it saves lives of innocent people who would fall victim to the hidden landmines in the ground. This artwork also requires little cost to construct as opposed to some current demining methods which can cost as much as a thousand dollars.
While at the Architecture and design galleries of MOMA, I noticed some artworks did not seem as ergonomically sensible or high functioning. One of them was Honey-Pop Armchair by Tokujin Yoshioka. This chair is made from the type of paper honeycomb that is used in Chinese lanterns and folds out just like a lantern, accepting the impression of the body of whoever first sits on it. What first strikes me about Yoshioka’s armchair in terms of low functionality is its medium, the delicate paper used to create the chair is beautiful and functional in terms of lanterns but not for a chair which is meant to hold a human body’s weight. This artwork may serve well as an aesthetic piece but its sheer delicateness is not practical for its seemingly intended purpose.
 Henry Dreyfuss’s Josephine Anthropometric Chart, is another piece that I found to lack significant functionality. Designed for the purposes of household ergonomics, such as physically easing women’s work in the home, Dreyfuss’s artwork is based on the dimensions of the average woman which is the standard kitchen work surface height (36 inches). This work would not only be of low functionality today but it also excludes an entire gender from the ergonomic advantages of such a work surface. In Dreyfuss’s lifetime a design as this would serve a great deal but would be considered quite exclusive in today’s day and age.

It is not my opinion that an object needs to be highly functional in order to be a good design, depending on the type of design that is intended. If something is proposed to be ergonomically smart than it should deliver its service in those terms but a design can also be intended to install a purely aesthetic response from the viewer that exists more essentially as a work of art.

 Issey Miyake
"IN-EL Mendori"
PET fabric and LEDs

Massoud Hassani
"Mine Kafon wind-powered deminer"
Bamboo and biodegradable plastics

Tokujin Yoshioka
"Honey-Pop Armchair"

Hnery Dreyfuss
"Josephine Anthropometric Chart"
Offset Lithograph

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Illustrate a Story

“My diagnosis was psychotic depression. You can hallucinate sounds and smells and tastes. And my mistake was doing drugs, because sometimes the line got blurred of what is real and what isn't. Other people seemed like they had so much--social relationships and girlfriends, and I was just trying to function.”
This is the story of Josh Lampert, who started having psychotic episodes during his sophomore year of college. Prompted by recreational drug use, his hallucinations and severe depression soon began to overwhelm him. Now 32, Josh and his father, Chuck, reminisce on the turmoil they both experienced due to Josh’s illness.
My drawing represents the disorder that was happening in Josh’s mind at that time. The person’s cracking skin signaling the salience of his psychosis. The creatures threatening to overcome him are his thoughts turned real by his hallucinations-the surrealism shadowing the blurred lines of his reality.

"Coming Undone"

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Chelsea Galleries Reaction

On our recent trip to the Chelsea galleries, we were asked to play the role of art curator and choose two works from two separate exhibitions that we would either choose to have in our collection or not. In choosing said artworks, I decided to go by what moved me aesthetically and what I felt would be most enduring in terms of public interest.
          While at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, I got to see video artist-Phil Collin’s exhibition. What first struck me about this particular exhibition was that, aside from a few large photographs, the work was mainly installation and video; requiring significant involvement of the viewer. This Unfortunate Thing between Us is the first piece, consisting of two channel video installations presented in caravans. I notice that my classmates and I are immediately delighted by the unorthodoxy of the piece. All of a sudden we become children in a sort of playhouse and we’re excited to be experiencing art through such an interesting medium. On the next level of the gallery is my heart's in my hand, and my hand is pierced, and my hand's in the bag, and the bag is shut, and my heart is caught, wherein you enter one of six listening booths that contain seven inch vinyl records, listening booths, turntables, amplifiers and speakers. One may enter and choose to play any of the seven records, sit down and fully engage themselves in either a recorded conversation or an original song. To me, Collins work would be a valuable purchase as a curator because of its immersive quality and its way of including the viewer. I would like to display this work and most of all see the reactions of the audience when they are asked to enter a work of art and explore it.

          At the Elizabeth Dee Gallery, I found the Post Culture exhibition with works such as that of Torben Ribe and Julia Wachtel. Ribe’s Untitled with Pizza Menus left me more than a little underwhelmed. Consisting only of scarce drips of granite paint on canvas with pizza menus tucked behind, there was not much to grab ahold of aesthetically. This type of abstract work relies mostly on concept rather than aesthetic, leaving myself or any potential viewer a bit confused as to what they are meant to feel. I found Ribe’s piece to be just a bit too “left field” for my taste. In Watchel’s piece titled Acv2.4, I also found there little to be desired. Composed of a few blocks of color and an upside down photograph of a woman drinking from a water bottle, I just found it a bit difficult to find an aesthetic quality in the work that would inspire me to share it with others. Like Ribe’s piece, I assumed that Watchel’s work probably relies on concept to convey its message; a concept that I, unfortunately, did not receive.

Phil Collins

"This Unfortunate Things Between Us"
Two channel video installation presented in caravans, color, sound.
60 min. per channel.

Phil Collins

"my heart's in my hand, and my hand is pierced, and my hand's in the bag, and the bag is shut, and my heart is caught"
Sound installation. Ten 7 inch vinyl records, listening booths, turntables, amplifiers and speakers.

Torben Ribe
"Untitled with Pizza Menus" 
Granite paint on canvas, pizza menus
39 × 33 in

Julia Wachtel
Flashe and digital print on canvas
46 × 42 3/4 in