The Originals: Elisabetta Sirani and Clara Peeters

For this next installment of “The Originals,” a series of short biographies of early female painters that began with Michaelina Wautier and Artemisia Gentileschi, comes the following gloss on Elisabetta Sirani and Clara Peeters, two highly prominent 17th century figures who pioneered their respective artistic traditions. Sirani was the most famous woman artist of Bologna (Lavinia Fontana being her chief competitor for this role), helmed her family’s workshop, and even established an academy to teach other female artists of the Renaissance period. Peeters trained in the Baroque style of her native Flanders, but later moved to the new Republic of Holland and became the first of her sex to participate in Dutch Golden Age painting. To learn more about Sirani and Peeters, check out the descriptions below.

Elisabetta Sirani (1638–1665)

For Sirani, art was the family trade. Like Gentileschi, both her peer and precedent, Sirani studied under the tutelage of her father, Giovanni Andrea Sirani, a favorite pupil of master painter Guido Reni. Elisabetta, whose faculties at some point eclipsed those of all her relatives (her two sisters were also artists), was herself viewed as Reni reincarnated by Bologna’s public. Yet Elisabetta departed from––or rather, overtook––Reni by employing more chiaroscuro (dramatic contrasts of light and shade), color, and heavy brushstrokes in the 200 paintings, 15 etchings, and countless drawings she produced in her short lifetime. Her prolific oeuvre developed from how quickly she could maneuver the canvas, to the point that many doubted the single authorship of her pieces. As legend has it, Elisabetta refuted such charges by inviting her accusers on May 13, 1664 to watch her go from start to finish in one sitting. After Sirani senior contracted gout, Elisabetta became her family’s primary breadwinner. Further defying gender stereotypes, she garnered great acclaim for the biblical and historical topics of her works as the first woman painter to specialize in the latter (they were supposed to only really paint portraits). She was patronized by cardinals, kings, princes, dukes, merchants, and academics from Bologna and across Europe and was one of her city’s main celebrities, the Sirani studio a main attraction for its visitors. Notable works are 13 public altar-pieces, her version of Judith and Holofernes (to be contrasted with Gentileschi’s), St. Anthony of Padua (1662), and the marvelous Portia Wounding Her Thigh (1664). Elisabetta never married and her unexpected and therefore “mysterious” passing at the early age of 27, over which her maidservant was put to trial, gave rise to many bizarre theories that cemented her legacy as an enigmatic talent. But whether it was unrequited lust and desperation for a husband that killed Elisabetta (as was rumored) or a ruptured peptic ulcer, she was mourned in death by as many who fêted her in life. 

Clara Peeters (ca. 1594, fl. 1607-1621)

Had a wonderful way of rendering the glint of gold and glass. There is a visual and physical richness to her subjects (like authentic but bizarre-looking Dutch pretzels), although after 1620 she went more monochromatic and thematically humble. She is said to have been a favorite of the wealthy. Here’s Artsy‘s take:

Clara Peeters is one of the few known female Flemish artists of the 17th century, and one of the only to have specialized in still lifes. Little is known about her early life, but her earliest dated oil paintings are from her teenage years. Peeters’ early paintings featured valuable objects like goblets, coins, and exotic flowers, while later works included fruits, nuts, and confections. Peeters is also credited for introducing the “Breakfast Piece”—a still life showing the ingredients of a simple, everyday meal—into the Dutch painting tradition. These were typically arranged on narrow ledges and viewed from low vantage pints, against dark backgrounds. She was hailed for her ability to evoke a human presence through cut fruit, or partially eaten food. On occasion, she captured self-portraits on objects with reflective surfaces within her paintings.

Four of Peeters’ early works were brought to the Prado in the 1620s from the Spanish royal collection. Auction prices hovering around 2.9 million in recent years.


Left: Elisabetta Sirani’s Self-Portrait as Allegory of Painting (1658), Pushkin Museum of Moscow. Right: Clara Peeters’ Vanitas (1610). Both via WikiMedia Commons, edited in Trigraphy.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Amended, at the Brooklyn Museum

Fondly dubbed “a sleeper hit” by the Met’s social media manager, Kimberly DrewGeorgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern examines O’Keeffe the artist through O’Keeffe the person––and vice versa. The exhibition, which leaves the Brooklyn Museum July 23, places items from the painter’s wardrobe alongside pieces spanning her eighty-year career in arguing for the centrality of style to O’Keeffe’s identity. This is the first time her art and garments are on display together, with the purpose of portraying just how monumental a cultural figure O’Keeffe was. Androgynous pantsuits, bandannas, black hats, Spanish capes, loose pants, and long Kimono wrap dresses help to “proclaim” O’Keeffe’s singularity and independence from traditional social roles. This distinct aura of “otherness” is deemed the root of her fame. One of America’s first celebrity artists, O’Keeffe straddled a reputation for bold sensual themes––as nurtured by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz––with an austere temperament and love of nature. Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern subtly decentralizes the unintended erotic undercurrent to her work by elevating her avant-garde, if sober, taste in clothes. It, too, the curators seem to say, can be regarded as subversive: by choosing comfort over corsetry, O’Keeffe inaugurated a new definition of elegance for a new era.

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Georgia O’Keeffe, photographed by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, circa 1920-22. Details available here. Copyright belongs to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, 2017.

Yet although it was mounted to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, the exhibition’s frame is foremost aesthetic. O’Keeffe might have been honored with a place setting at Judy Chicago‘s The Dinner Party (1974–79), which resides in the Sackler wing, but her creative elan was more a matter of simple partiality than ideological radicalism. O’Keeffe wanted her distinction as an artist to be removed from her sex. She rejected the gendered, Freudian construal of her work, telling Stieglitz and the critic Paul Rosenfeld, “You write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower — and I don’t” (emphasis added). In 1976, she notoriously refused the request of Professors Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin* to participate in Women Artists: 1550 to 1950, a gender-based show that they were orchestrating at LACMA, because, in her words, she was not the best woman painter but “one of the best painters,” period. This affair and Nochlin’s subsequent decision to leave her in the exhibition anyway brings us to the still extant debate over whether feminism advocates equality or separation, but that is for another occasion and perhaps a different site. With or without progressive politics, O’Keeffe merits a contemporary rehashing. 2010 was when she last had a retrospective in the United States (not counting shows as her eponymous museum and those around the globe), and while that signals a track record far better than most, she is the most expensive female artist and, in the opinion of TimeOut, one of the most famous artists of all time (Frida Kahlo being the only other woman to make the cut). O’Keeffe’s brand of modernism might have been most realized through her paintings, but her edgy sophistication in attire––to be popularized by Comme de Garçons and Helmut Lang––is an unsung vehicle for its influence. After hosting O’Keeffe’s first non-commercial show in 1927, nearly a century later the Brooklyn Museum finally gives her clothes their dues.

Above: photographs of O’Keeffe’s clothing from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Details available here, copyrights belong exclusively to Gavin Ashworth, 2017.

Sadly, not quite in the smooth, steady fashion of O’Keeffe’s paintings. Stanford University’s Wanda Corn, a prominent art historian who last tackled Gertrude Stein, organized the exhibition along with Lisa Small, the museum’s curator of European Painting and Sculpture. Corn deserves much praise for her thorough academic analysis of O’Keeffe, which manifests wholly in the accompanying catalogue, but its practical execution has its flaws. 

The exhibition reviews O’Keeffe’s studies, career trajectory, and relationships––romantic, platonic, and otherwise. It takes us from her days at girls boarding schools to her stints at several art colleges to her tenure as a teacher in Texas to her New York years with Stieglitz to her time in New Mexico and the Southwest. One enters the show through a narrow parlor presenting memorabilia from O’Keeffe’s adolescence and several shockingly beautiful early works. This is followed by a series of logistically challenged rooms that struggle to assimilate the large installations at their respective centers. At the heart of the chambers are wide, rectangular stages supporting headless mannequins draped in O’Keeffe’s garb. When the galleries fill up, these platforms can be highly obstructive, compromising visitor circulation by hampering the movements of those orbiting the surrounding walls. This issue is compounded by the haphazard positioning of busts of O’Keeffe and other sculptures in the same areas. That said, the clothing arrangements prevail over poor foot traffic owing to the magnetism of O’Keeffe’s sharp sartorial impulses. Though the threads might be dismissed by some as modest and plain, the attentive observer will find himself captivated by their individuality. Despite the provided descriptions being quite minimal, one gets the impression that each piece had its own special meaning to O’Keeffe (for example, the much-noted “OK” pin from Alexander Calder, a beloved custom brooch gifted to her in 1938). One can visualize her surveying blouses at antique stores, designing coats for a tailor to make, and sewing outfits herself in the same diligent manner that she painted. O’Keeffe favored apparel that exudes asceticism with panache. Every item, shoes and scarves included, feels exquisitely personal and uniquely “her,” much like the contents of closets belonging to Diana Vreeland or the less renowned but equally dapper Sara Berman. As Roberta Smith writes at the NY Times, O’Keeffe was just as much an archivist as anything else; she meticulously preserved her costumes for future generations, therein according them import.

Remedying any damage dealt to public opinion by the clumsy configuration of the clothes are a hundred odd photographs of O’Keeffe from the likes of Stieglitz, one of the medium’s notable grand-pères, and other industry pros: Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, Yousuf Karsh, Cecil Beaton, Andy Warhol, Bruce Weber, etc. These works animate the garments for viewers by putting O’Keeffe in them. The prints are mostly small scale, or roughly 4.5 by 3.5 inches each, a petite size that suits the drawing power of their subject. O’Keeffe is a wonderously confident and often theatric poser, with a star quality that generates a rapport between her and the audience, absorbing the role of picture-taker as she pulls viewers inside the space. She never fails to adopt graphically striking stances, carving out miniature “landscapes” where her body meets the background planes.

Above: photographs of O’Keeffe by Todd Webb, Bruce Weber, and Ansel Adams. Details available here, copyrights belong exclusively to the Brooklyn Museum and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, 2017.

Even as her features grew ever more masculine with age, there was always a delicacy to O’Keeffe’s proportions. Despite the fact that they are not self-portraits in the usual sense, the photographs of O’Keeffe evince a balance of softness with aggression that is mirrored by her paintings, several of which hang beside them. But it is not only a tone of strength and grace that these works share. There is an uncanny resemblance between the forms of O’Keeffe’s physiognomy and those that adorn her canvases. Everyone knows couples that could be mistaken for siblings or people who twin with their dogs. Applying such anecdotes to the realm of art is perhaps overzealous, considering that obviously an artist’s oeuvre will reflect her being. But I will err on the side of redundancy here because I think in O’Keeffe’s case the parallels are particularly fascinating. The angles of her face, hands, and costumes that are so conspicuous in the photographs can be seen again and again in the petals of her forget-me-nots and in the cracks of her animal skulls. Thus, more than looking at her clothing, encountering O’Keeffe in the world confirms the richness of her artistry. She is a gesamtkunstwerk, Wagner’s term for a piece in full or an “all-encompassing art form.” O’Keeffe is more than a sum of her parts; she is a synthesis of reality, photographic illusion, and tangible craft. I will revert again to 19th Century German: she achieves “gestalt.”

Above: a photograph of O’Keeffe by Alfred Steiglitz; two paintings by O’Keeffe, Clam and Mussel (1956) and Line and Curve (1927). Details available here, copyrights belong exclusively to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and the National Gallery of Art, 2017.

As if with an acute self-awareness, O’Keeffe charms the camera into doing her bidding rather than the other way around. She alone controls the images, most of which were shot in Santa Fe, her primary place of residence from 1929 and onwards. It is an habitat where O’Keeffe found artistic renewal and refuge from various crises, her houses near Abiquiu and at Ghost Ranch serving as the kind of private creative quarters Virginia Woolf prescribed in A Room of One’s Own. Her relocation from New York to the Southwest is heavily explored in the show. Not unexpectedly, the change of environment precipitated shifts in O’Keeffe’s art and dress as she embraced hills, mountains, and blue jeans. She also hosted like-minded migrants such as Joni Mitchell and Allen Ginsberg (as well as, Charles and Anne Lindbergh). It was at her Abiquiu property which she restored and converted to a studio, that, in 1977, O’Keeffe received Perry Miller Adato, who filmed the artist and her assistant for a PBS documentary. Some of Adato’s footage is projected onto a screen in one of the exhibition’s final corridors, showing an elderly but sanguine O’Keeffe in her element. Communicating with the same gentle intimacy that she brought to the photographs, O’Keeffe discusses her life and work, delivering a combination of wit and wisdom that makes the tape worth watching. (You can find it here).

Pilgrims young and old continue to journey to New Mexico in search of the very same serenity O’Keeffe discovered when she first travelled to Taos with her friend Rebecca Strand. Her eponymous Santa Fe museum has been attended by almost 3 million people since its opening in 1997, which is half the number of annual visitors to the Met but a remarkable statistic all the same. In augmenting the scope of O’Keeffe’s artistry, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern will surely add more devotees to this list.

*of “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” acclaim.

Introducing “The Ramaz Artist Project”

Above: Trailer for The Ramaz Artist Project, now available here and on YouTube.

Having not written for Mola Pola in several months, I believe I owe you an explanation. It is a simple, though perhaps lazy, one: all my creative energy during this span was poured into producing The Ramaz Artist Project, a twelve episode homage to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Artist Project, which, as followers of this site will know, has long been a source of inspiration for my writing and art practice. The Ramaz Artist Project, like its forerunner, facilitates conversations in which contemporary artists explore and engage with the Met’s renowned collection. Except, in my version, the subjects are (slightly) younger and the discussions somewhat longer, rounding off at roughly three and a half minutes each (by comparison, episodes from the original finish at about two and a half minutes, maximum). In every video a student from Ramaz’s AP senior studio course encounters one or two pieces that have informed not just their work but how they see and think about art in general. These items were selected from several locations within the museum, including the American Wing, the Ancient Egyptian Wing, European Paintings, Greek and Roman Art, Modern and Contemporary Art (The Lila Acheson Wallace Wing), and the Period Rooms. While the results should speak for themselves, I’d like to emphasize my decision to capture the organic, sometimes rambling nature of youthful discovery in these interviews. Following the Artist Project model, they interpolate photographs of the objects and artists with corresponding voiceovers; none are composed of traditional “footage.” What this meant for me in constructing each person’s video, sampling key moments from our gallery talks, was that I needed to stay true to their voices and characters as emergent in the audio snippets while rendering the final content compellingly illustrative. An obvious filmmaker’s task, yes, but one with which I was not quite as familiar prior to embarking on this process, despite understanding the importance of visual parity in other design contexts. If my attempts at journalistic integrity have been successful, the playfulness and thoughtfulness of adolescent “artists” on the verge of major life changes can be authentically seen in the outcomes.

Because putting the Project together was such a huge (and arduous) experience for me, I will be expanding on some of the behind-the-scenes elements in a podcast, arrival date TBA.

For now, I’d like to thank fellow students Levi Altzman and Andrew Lorber for building our main sharing platform from scratch (linking it here, too), and faculty members Mr. Hatam Anvar, Ms. Rachel Rabhan, Ms. Adina Shafner, and Mr. Rami Yadid for their support in helping me realize The Ramaz Artist Project.

I encourage you to watch the series in its entirety, but I’ll selfishly provide my own episode here for those who would like to get a sense of the style (however, each video is unique, so if you’re not into mine, don’t give up either):

Please enjoy the mini-programs and feel free to comment with ideas and questions in the space below!

Artist of the Month: Lucio Fontana

Artist of the Month (February)

Lucio Fontana
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Concetto Spaziale, Attesa (1964-1965), for sale by the Cardi Gallery, via Artsy.

Born in Argentina at the Turn of the Century, Lucio Fontana was an Italian painter, sculptor, and theorist mainly known for founding Spatialism and in association with Arte Povera. I actually decided to profile Fontana expressly because of his vague ties to the latter movement, which emerged as an offshoot of Conceptualism during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Arte Povera members such as Alighiero Boetti and Michelangelo Pistoletto sought to break away from postwar consumerism and destroy the barrier (or blur the boundary) between art and life by using everyday materials—ranging from hardware store knickknacks to hair and feces—in their work. This revolutionary approach was “linked to the political radicalism of the period, which reached its zenith with the student uprisings of 1968,” the year that Fontana passed away, and it is important to note that he himself was more a proto-member of Arte Povera than a principle player. Fontana also contributed to ZERO, Heinz Mack’s informal magazine that received a major Guggenheim survey in 2014, but was foremost an independent character who did what he wanted. Nonetheless, I thought his oeuvre was especially compelling given Arte Povera’s increasing relevance: with Marisa Merz‘s new retrospective at the Met Breuer and the recent death of prominent innovator Jannis Kounellis, in addition to a culture that favors applicable “Me Decade” nostalgia, the group has been receiving greater media attention, so I decided to join the fray, as well.

During the early 20th century, Fontana shuttled back and forth between Italy and Argentina, busting his chops as a sculptor and traditional painter. Then, after a brief fling with the Corrente, a group of Milan expressionists, he delineated his novel Spatialist doctrine in Manifesto Bianco or the White Manifesto. Published in Buenos Aires in 1946, the document was an outgrowth of Fontana’s thoughts while forming the Altamira academy, a center for abstract and avant-garde art. In the unsigned paper, he foresaw Arte Povera by emphasizing how new technology such as neon lighting or television could become essential tools for transforming color and form into real space. Fontana was interested in the “plastic emotions” that were developing out of WWII and while he failed to elaborate in writing on what these specifically entailed, he communicated his perceptions visually with pieces like Black Spatial Environment, a futuristic installation in a pitch-black room, as well as stabbed canvases. He dubbed this famous style of perforated paintings whose matte, monochrome surfaces he had fissured and made three-dimensional “an art for the Space Age,” placing them under the generic title of Concetto spaziale (‘spatial concept’)—in the above piece, Attesa is added to mean waiting or anticipation. Fontana started on the Buchi (‘holes’) in 1949 and initiated the Tagli (‘slashes’) in the mid-1950s. He would even cover their backs with gauze to create an illusion of depth beneath the open cuts of canvas “skin.”

Before his death, Fontana assembled multiple biomorphic Arpian forms as single objects (the quanta sets); collaborated with architect Luciano Baldessari; sculpted in clay, marble, and metal; designed graphic motifs; and modified his puncturing process further. He was so successful in his later years that he showed in New York, Venice, and at dOCUMENTA‘s fourth edition. Additionally, Fontana tried to achieve aesthetic purity through Trinità (1966), a trinity of three large white canvases subtly punctuated by holes, and tasteful playfulness via Teatrini (‘little theatres’), frames of wavy silhouettes and irregular shapes that would reflect the viewer’s shadow in a set-like forum. These were well-received and considered key parts of his canon.

Now I will speak to Fontana’s work on a personal level: I enjoy how pristine and perfect his slashes are. The almost surgical lacerations retain a light, experimental flavor through a selection of whimsically colored backgrounds and the fact that while clearly being quite deliberate, the cuts appear arbitrary. Fontana tricks you into believing that what he does is easy and the moment you realize the opposite becomes the base of your experience with his pieces, as is the case in many other cultural contexts. A novel’s excellence is measured in the seamless way its author toys with your perceptions and provokes a slow embrace of his genius. Such is true in art, as well. I like Fontana’s paintings because they achieve profundity through simple lines and colors; his marks incise the viewer’s brain as much as the physical page.  (more…)

Curator of the Week: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev

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Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, image via Hyundai

Art does not belong to one side or the other. It serves a third: people.

Who

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev is an Italian-American writer, art historian, and cultural figure. Following stints at various creative institutions, she now helms the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art and the Galleria Civica D’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (GAM), both in Turin. Christov-Bakargiev spent ten years as Senior Curator at MoMA PS1, subsequently becoming the Castello’s Chief Curator from 2001 to 2008 and its interim director in 2009. She was Artistic Director of Revolutions–Forms that Turnthe 2008 Biennale of Sydney, and Salt Water: A Theory on Thought Forms, the 2015 Istanbul Biennale (read a review here). Christov-Bakargiev also conceived the thirteenth edition of quinquennial arts festival dOCUMENTA, which took place in Kassel, Germany over summer 2012.

Why

Like Hans Ulrich Obrist, Christov-Bakargiev has been number one on Art Review’s yearly Power 100 list, a ranking she received in 2012 for her status as “a significant taste-maker,” the first woman ever to achieve this honor. But what remains especially important about the nature of her work, beyond its warm international reception, is that she always marries aesthetic choreography with intellectual grounding. Born in the United States, she grew up in Washington D.C., graduated from the University of Pisa, and eventually moved to Rome. There she began reporting for several magazines on early 20th century avant-garde and contemporary art, even publishing a book about the Arte Povera movement that originated in Italy during the Sixties and Seventies. After moving back to America, she wrote the first monographs on oeuvres of artists like William Kentridge and Janet Cardiff. For dOCUMENTA (13) with its theme of Collapse and Recovery, Christov-Bakargiev authored other well-regarded exegetical tomes, including an extensive fair catalogue. Her persistent emphasis on critical engagement with art is not just textual, though it manifests quite differently in her exhibitions. One NY Times feature describes Christov-Bakargiev’s curatorial process as starting “with visually striking combinations of unexpected things and then building [sic] webs of meaning around them.” This approach, characterized by fellow maestro Francesco Bonami as “very spiritual, almost Romantic,” is idiosyncratic, a departure from the usual method of adherence to a singular binding topic conceived prior to compiling pieces. While there are some who dislike the scattered quality of her practice—Bonami, for one, says collaborating with her (as he did on the 2005 Turin Triennale) is “completely nuts”—others appreciate the vitality she brings to the art world. Adrián Villar Rojas, one of the younger innovators Christov-Bakargiev has supported, says of his champion: “she’s a neverending hyper-connectivity machine.” Either way, whatever her professional quirks may be, I cannot help but admire Christov-Bakargiev’s resolute commitment to the arts and decades of accomplishments. Furthermore, she takes the time to pass on what she knows as Northwestern’s Edith Kreeger Wolfe Distinguished Adjunct Professor, also lecturing at MIT and Cooper Union.

Known for

At MoMA PS1, she pioneered the first iteration of Greater New York (2000), a much applauded survey of emerging and little-known artists across the state, now mounted there every five years. Christov-Bakargiev has organized additional group shows, e.g. The Moderns (2003), Faces in the Crowd (2004), Citta’ Natura (1997), and Molteplici Culture (1992). According to the aforementioned NY Times article, her most famous project was The Brain, a presentation at dOCUMENTA (13) comprising “a disparate collection of historical objects mounted in vitrines and on walls… As with the scatter of papers on someone’s desk, the logic behind the exhibit’s groupings was at first unclear: the actual vessels the artist Giorgio Morandi painted for his still lifes; Eva Braun’s final bottle of perfume, which the photographer Lee Miller found in Hitler’s bathroom; two Roman-era figurines so badly burnt from bombings in Beirut that they had fused into an abstract sculpture. Gradually, though, odd connections seemed to emerge: Fascism, war, resilience in a smallness of scale.” The Brain exemplifies Christov-Bakargiev’s core interest in fabricating grand marriages between assorted world phenomena. She likes to draw on nature, politics, and human emotions to construct these total unions. Her Salt Water show in Turkey, for example, had artists use the Bosphorus as a symbolic inspiration. Responding to its traits, they created dispersed installations infused with “other knowledges,” ideally eliminating the wooden overstimulation of gallery fairs. Allergic to “curatorial discourse,” she treats art as an interdisciplinary medium directly involving how people experience spaces. Christov-Bakargiev actually prefers the label “drafter” to convey how she’s a laborer just like everyone else. Perhaps it is this semblance of “opacity” that has led to her displays’ success.

Fun Fact

Christov-Bakargiev is married to the Italian artist Cesare Pietroiusti and has two daughters. The NY Times once portrayed her “air of authority” as stemming from an acute “sartorial sense, which favors the long flowing robes and feathers of a priestess.”

Latest Efforts

In both her current Turin-based  posts, Christov-Bakargiev has pushed Arte Povera “members,” revisited her ongoing inquiries into the relationship of “art nouveau to the Anthropocene” (Organisms at GAM) and hosted an Ed Atkins solo exhibition (Castello di Rivoli). She is keeping busy bringing “important” pieces by the likes of Olafur Eliasson and Ai WeiWei to Northern Italy’s public.
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Visionary Shoes, Not Made for Walking

This past Monday, my Hebrew teacher took members of our class to A Walk of Art: Visionary Shoes, an exhibition of footwear by Bezalel Academy graduates. She asked me to do a write-up on the show for the school’s PR department and I thought I would put it here—please excuse the aspects that might be slightly juvenile in my opening paragraph and so on, I thought they were contextually appropriate. Anyway, it was truly a privilege to gain further insight into the ingenuity of those involved and although the heels, stilettos, and sandals contained in the presentation are thoroughly unusable (at least they appear impossible to walk in), I would recommend going in the next two weeks while it’s still on if only for their aesthetic value.


One quiet February afternoon, seniors in Ms. Barak’s Modern Israel seminar journeyed beyond the Upper East Side, heading to the Bowery for a special presentation at Parasol Projects. Upon entering the gallery, students were immediately struck by a sprawling installation of avant-garde footwear sitting atop various platform boxes. In their viscerally mesmerized state, everything else would have to wait as phone cameras were pulled out and animated commentary ensued.

Curator Ya’ara Keydar, an Israeli-born fashion historian now based in New York, was charged with guiding the pupils through these compelling visuals. She began her talk by introducing the exhibition’s fitting title—A Walk of Art: Visionary Shoes—a heading which, in deeming the works thoroughly “innovative,” immediately indicated its focus on the boundary between fashion and art, a thread that would be explored throughout. Emphasizing the show’s experimental tone, Keydar next explained its foundational purpose: to spotlight alumni and students of Bezalel Academy, considered one of the country’s finest bastions of creativity. Israeli culture fundamentally involves a fusion of past and present to envision the future, and through pioneering cutting-edge techniques such as 3D printing alongside more traditional methods of design, Bezalel’s approach epitomizes this sweeping synthesis; even the school’s name places a Biblical episode in the context of modern life.  (more…)

Dialogues: Richard Serra and Charlotte Salomon

Above: on top, Salomon’s Self Portrait (1940) at the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam; copyright belongs to the Charlotte Salomon Foundation 2017. On bottom, Serra’s Inside Out (2013) at Gagosian Gallery; copyright belongs to Richard Serra 2017, photo by Lorenz Kienzle. Via Artsy, edited in Trigraphy.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the future and what it is I’d like to do with my life. In the process of making these considerations, a very natural and rather banal sense of impending doom has clawed its way into my conscience. This perception is not directly related to the political climate, though many in the art world and otherwise have been furiously invoking it at every turn to explain their surging anxiety. Rather, it correlates more closely with my upcoming graduation from high school. A typical knee-jerk reaction that people employ when experiencing this strain of consternation and fear is to dive back into their pasts. However, my retreat from reality in this vein is not total; it includes a fusion of something I’ve contemplated since childhood and something I’ve only recently discovered.

When I was little, I used to sit on the floor outside my kitchen and stare at a book (or more accurately, study its spine)—a catalogue of Charlotte Salomon‘s magnum opus Life ? or Theater ? (1941-1943). Now visible from my bedroom, Life ? or Theater ? chronicles the story of Salomon, a German-Jewish artist born to a wealthy Berlin household whose mother committed suicide when she was nine. Over the 769 individual pages that compose her Singspiel, or song-play, she explores themes such as death, romance, and family, touching on art’s lasting significance in the shadow of Hitler’s viciously xenophobic Third Reich. Intended to be a Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work” in the tradition of Wagner, Life ? or Theater ? is painful, personal, and morbid. The pieces and their textual overlays are done in gouache , with haunting results: Salomon’s warm colors and saturated tones create a fragility and an intimacy reminiscent of Chagall and Ensor (even Maira Kalman), yet her narratorial captions ground the works in drama and fantasy. Upon actually opening up and perusing the tome, I was mesmerized by its ethereal, dreamlike feel, a quality I would later be reminded of in Munch. Letting her thoughts wander freely, Salomon traipses through past and present, portraying the Weimar bourgeois with a loving amusement and woeful regret that sticks out in one’s memory. (more…)

The Originals: Michaelina Wautier and Artemisia Gentileschi

Before Vigee Le Brun and Mary Cassatt, before Frida Kahlo and Helen Frankenthaler, before Georgia O’Keefe and Julie Mehretu, before Elizabeth Murray, Marlene DumasAlice Neel, or Njideka Akunyili Crosby, were female painters of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. This post inaugurates a series of short biographies that will examine their lives and work.

Michaelina Wautier (1617–1689)

Wautier was from the Southern Netherlands and active in Brussels. She painted portraits, historical scenes, still-lifes, and everyday tableaus (30 have been credited to her), a departure from the oeuvre of her woman peers, who primarily made studies of flower compositions. Wautier sold four of these paintings to Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, who also specially commissioned several works. Her well-known self-portrait was misattributed to Italian Artemisia Gentileschi (described below) in the 1905 book Women Painters of the World, but the error was later corrected. Another recognizable piece of Wautier’s is The Triumph of Bacchus (1650), which can be found at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Her first ever solo exhibition will take place at Rubens House in Antwerp. According to ArtNet News, the survey is slated for 2018 and will include an overview of the many genres in which she practiced. Wautier’s 1654 painting of a Jesuit missionary was recently sold at auction for around $400,000.

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1653)

Much more famous than Wautier and a rare talent. Hyperallergic did a good write-up. Here’s Artsy‘s characterization:

A legendary figure and one of the first female artists to pursue a career on the same terms as men, Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi’s work is often overshadowed by the conflicting narratives that surround her, especially her rape by a colleague of her father at the age of 17 and the notorious trial that followed. Like her father, Orazio, with whom she trained, Gentileschi painted in the style of Caravaggio, illuminating her subjects with powerful stage lighting to heighten effects of emotional drama. Her figures were mostly heroic women drawn from history, mythology, and religious subject matter, including Cleopatra, Lucretia, and Mary Magdalene, often depicted nude and eroticized. Gentileschi’s most famous work, Judith Slaying Holofernes (c.1614–20), is notable for its brutality combined with a masterful rendering of flesh tones and fabrics.

Also noteworthy: Gentileschi was the first of her sex to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence. And despite the fact that the mark of her rapist long obscured Gentileschi’s achievements, she is today considered an important figure in the canon of women artists. Patronized by the Medicis, tribute is also paid to her in Judy Chicago’s feminist pantheon, The Dinner Party (1974-79), which is permanently installed at the Brooklyn Museum.


Left: Michaelina Wautier’s Self-portrait with easel (1640-1649). Right: Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting (1638-1639). Both via WikiMedia Commons, edited in Trigraphy.

Curator of the Week: Hans Ulrich Obrist

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Hans Ulrich Obrist outside Serpentine Galleries, by Kate Berry for Artsy, via Artsy.

I see a curator as a catalyst, generator and motivator— a sparring partner, accompanying the artist while they build a show, and a bridge builder, creating a bridge to the public.

Who

Hans Ulrich Obrist is a Swiss-born curator and cultural titan who currently helms Serpentine Galleries, although there is far more to him than his lengthy title there (“Co-Director, Exhibitions and Programs, and Director of International Programs”). The 48 year-old Obrist started early, pursuing the company of artists like Peter Fischli, David Weiss, Gerhard Richter, Alighiero Boetti, and Louise Bourgeois by traveling across Europe while still in high school. Many became life-long friends. As a university student living in St. Gallen, Obrist mounted his first exhibition in 1991. Held at his apartment in tribute to a similar endeavor by his idol, Harald Szeemann, the presentation was entitled The Kitchen Show after the location of the pieces within the space and comprised works by Fischli-Weiss and Christian Boltanski, among others. Since then, Obrist has brought his experimental approach and passion for the arts to the global arena as an author and historian, as well as in various institutional capacities. He is based in London.

Why

Obrist topped ArtReview‘s 2016 Power 100 list, a ranking he first received in 2009; according to the publication’s deputy editor, Oliver Basciano, his influence has only continued to expand since then, especially through social media (Obrist has 158k Instagram followers, myself included). But beneath this veneer of stardom, Obrist seems to have a genuine intellectual drive and an animated creative spirit. His zest for art gives him a reputation for a hectic schedule; he is also famous for his lack of need to sleep (I discovered, much to my delight, that in attempting to stay awake he used to employ the Balzac method I’ve adopted of copious coffee drinking). The French artist Philippe Parreno is cited in a New Yorker profile as saying of Obrist: “For me, there is no difference between talking to him and talking to other artists. I am engaged at the same level.” His persistent earnestness renders him magnetic; there is a constant buzz around whatever he’s working on, and although Marina Abramovic affectionately described a younger Obrist as “astonishingly innocent,” there is a seriousness and realness to what he does. I see this particularly with Obrist’s Interview project, though since then he’s done a million different things to further cement his universal respect. Inspired by dialogues between Pierre Cabanne and Marcel Duchamp, and David Sylvester and Francis Bacon, Obrist has recorded 2,000 hours of interviews with over 70 artists, architects, writers, film-makers, scientists, philosophers, musicians, and performers in what he calls “an endless conversation.” His subjects are figures such as John Baldessari, Zaha Hadid,  Yoko Ono, Rem Koolhaas, Elaine Sturtevant, Richard Hamilton, and Eric Hobsbawm. He began publishing these exchanges in Artforum in 1996, and in 2003 eleven were released as Interviews Volume 1 (the second volume emerged in Summer 2010). 28 of the longer interviews in Obrist’s archive were printed separately as individual books, while others have been broadcasted digitally on Periscope and disseminated through other forms of media. Early on in the process of developing each discussion, Obrist’s enterprise caught the eye of Princeton critic Hal Foster, who wrote an essay on the Interview project in 2003, commenting on its “formlessness” and the way in which Obrist permitted participants to stray from a topic. Like the late John Berger who preached man’s access to the visual world in his televised BBC lectures and book on “Ways of Seeing,” Obrist is the kind of icon who is sufficiently versed in the human experience, however cliched that sounds, that he was and is able to shape what is relevant and reinvent how we interact with art. [Editor’s Note: check out Berger and Obrist in conversation here]. He’s allowed to be considered “radical”—even in replicating the ventures of his precedents— just as all innovation begins with ideas spurred by what came before but that temporarily wear the stigma of “otherness.” Obrist’s ends might be the same as Cabanne’s and Sylvester’s, but his means are different, and ultimately that’s what matters. The interview style he pioneered would be applied to his tome “A Brief History of Curating,” composed of his talks with the 20th century’s leading curators in which they sketch out aspects of their own medium (evaluated by Foster for London Review of Books). It also set a precedent for today’s Artist Project and Art21 videos, in addition to the 99 percent invisible podcast. If it sounds as if I’m giving a single person too much credit, I’ll say this: you must be sufficiently down with your people to bring the esoteric concepts and aims of distant figures to the masses, and for all his detachment from the average, Obrist does just that.

Known for

Named an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 2009, Obrist achieved international acclaim with the 1995 Take Me (I’m Yours) show that he put on for Serpentine while still part-timing at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The format of Take Me (I’m Yours) where visitors were asked to leave with an object from the exhibit became the model for the Jewish Museum‘s version (bearing the same title) that is on through February 2017 and was referenced in this MolaPola post (Obrist helped organize the second incarnation alongside the JM’s Jens Hoffmann). At the time the original was held, many considered the design of Take Me (I’m Yours) refreshing, breathing new life into the British art scene and challenging the notion that art is simply meant for remote, passive consumption. It was also held in 2015 at the Monnaie de Paris. His next brainchild was 1997’s “do-it,” an ongoing program that seeks to make exhibits more flexible and open-ended. “Do-it” consists of instructions set out by artists for anyone to follow and took place in 25 cities across North America; the arrangement is presently being renewed and expanded for its 20th anniversary (you can find outposts here). More recently, Obrist was co-curator of EXPO 1: New York at MoMA PS1. As stated by Artist Pension Trust (APT), Obrist has cultivated over 150 exhibitions internationally since his initial Kitchen Show.

Fun Fact

Obrist is a polyglot (he speaks five languages: German, French, Italian, Spanish, and English) and a big fan of Russian “impresario” and originator of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev. As someone who spent a lot of time as a young dancer studying exotic costumes from Diaghilev’s productions, I have an appreciation for Obrist’s recognition and idolization of his genius. Obrist characterizes Diaghilev as a “junction-maker,”  and aspires to be one himself. In 2006, he helped start the Brutally Early Cluba group open to the public that sporadically gathers in New York, London, Berlin, and Paris for informal conversations at 6:30 a.m.

Latest Efforts

In 2013, Obrist and Simon Castets, Director and Curator at the Swiss Institute, began 89plus, a “long-term, international, multi-platform research project” that examines a generation of artists born after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The organization has had residencies at and partnerships with the Park Avenue Armory in New York and the Google Cultural Institute in Paris, among others; collaborated on different festivals; and held screenings and shows. Furthermore, in 2005, Obrist conceived of “marathons,” public events that happen over 24 hours. The Interview Marathon transpired in 2006 at Serpentine Galleries (Obrist was joined by Koolhaas), followed by the Experiment Marathon in 2007, the Manifesto Marathon in 2008, the Poetry Marathon in 2009, and the Extinction Marathon: Visions of the Future in 2014. Contributors range from artists like Gilbert & George, Tracey Emin, and Olafur Eliasson (one of my favorites) to writers such as Nick Laird and James FentonKim Gordon and physicist Neil Turok have also been involved. 89plus has done its own marathons, too. (more…)

Artist of the Month: Cecily Brown

Artist of the Month (January)

Cecily Brown
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Untitled (The Beautiful and the Damned) (2013), photo by Rob McKeever, copyright Gagosian Gallery 2016, via Artsy.

Cecily Brown is a contemporary painter who makes large, exuberant canvasses. A native of London, she is currently based in New York City. Her work is gestural, immediate, and bold; in the above piece (9 x 14 ft), there are moments where it feels as if she’s slashing the page. They are also very musical: like a symphony conductor, Brown seems to command her colors into motion as lively tableaus unfold. Recalling those of her stylistic ancestors—Claude Monet, Willem de Kooning, and Joan Mitchell—Brown’s chaotic forms blend into a single whole, at least from a distance. Up close, however, the viewer can appreciate the beauty of the disjointed, intricate fragments composing each ensemble. I enjoy how exciting and fresh her paintings appear. She’s playing with shapes and images and ideas in her works that are familiar and quotidian to us: human anatomy, body language, nature, sex. Combining abstraction and figuration, Brown embeds these motifs within her pieces, hiding them inside amorphous masses.

Brown recently had a solo show at the Drawing Center in downtown Manhattan that was on through December 2016. According to the museum, Cecily Brown: Rehearsal was New York’s first institutional survey of her work and the first exhibition in general to concentrate specifically on her drawings (“The Ecstasy of Drawing” headlines a review by Hyperallergic). In 2015, she received praise from an early skeptic, NY Times critic Roberta Smith, for The English Garden, a gallery presentation at Maccarone. It featured smaller paintings than Brown usually offers, though her traditionally lighthearted approach to titles prevailed: “The Home of the Brave,” “First I go in, then I go out,” and “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside” were among the selection. If, like me, you didn’t make it to either of these shows, nor past ones at Gagosian, I would suggest watching Brown’s Artist Project for the Met, in which she talks about Medieval sculptures and what contemporary artists can glean from them.

Brown is often grouped with other female painters who emerged in the Nineties such as Amy Sillman and Charline von Heyl. As a “star” of the New York art scene, she has also been compared to Philip Guston and Francis Bacon. Her art is so popular, it seems, that Brown now has an alleged copycat, California’s Sherrie Franssen (although the strange similarities between their works could just be a product of a shared enthusiasm for de Kooning). Furthermore, as per an excerpt from Artsy‘s bio of Brown, she is credited alongside individuals like John Currin “as a central figure in the resurgence of painting at the turn of the millennium.” But to learn more about her particular background and process, instead of seeing Brown exclusively in tandem with other artists, check out this video, in which she fills you in herself:

 

What are your thoughts on Cecily Brown? Comment below with anything that comes to mind.