Month: February 2017

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…)