Thursday, November 27, 2014

Brian Rutenberg – A Colorful Poet

At least four times a year painter Brian Rutenberg leaves the bright lights of New York, his home for the last 20 odd years, for the landscapes of his youth in the South Carolina lowlands. It is amongst the tupelo swamps, the cypress forests, the coastal waterways and the lazy rivers that this abstract painter’s muse resides.

It is from the prose of the sketches Rutenberg makes on these sojourns that back in his studio the poetry of his paintings evolves. The monochrome lines are transformed into color and form creating intriguing metaphors; the ultimate destination of the painter’s craft.

With a BA from the College of Charleston, a MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York and visits to Italy, Canada and Ireland, Rutenberg is very much aware it’s not so much what you say, it has most likely been said before, but how you say it that matters. As a well turned poetical phrase can conjure a new meaning from the hackney so his juxtapositions of color and form provide a visually inspiring delight for the eye.

 His revelations come from the examination of the familiar, the backyard of his life, a culmination of heart and intellect in this journey through abstract motifs with expressionist overtones to define his relationship with the landscape he knows best.

Rutenberg’s current exhibition, Saltwater, is on show at New York’s Forum Gallery until the 6th of December. Future exhibitions are planned for San Francisco, Atlanta, Providence Rhode Island and Charlotte North Carolina.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Peter Doig – Open to All

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.” 
 Robert Louis Stevenson 

For his first major exhibition in the land of his birth, Scotland, painter Peter Doig chose part of the Scottish writers quote above as its title “No Foreign lands.” Apart from having a back story that could have been a plot device for a Stevenson novel, Doig’s art expresses the interested detachment of the outsider.

Whilst still in nappies his family moved to the tropical island of Trinidad, they then relocated to Canada where he spent his teenage years. After a stint in the Canadian west Doig moved to London to study art and with his own family, in 2002, he returned to Trinidad. The quintessential nomad, Doig teaches regularly in Dusseldorf and had a studio in New York.

Living in Trinidad sees him erroneously compared to the French post-impressionist artist Paul Gauguin, but unlike Gauguin, Doig resisted going native. Whilst his 2006 painting Paragon uses a Gauguin style palette its subject matter of a game of cricket gives it a British overtone. Artists like Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch and Edward Hooper along with the contemporary ephemera of film, photography and magazines are what inform his work.

Growing up in the turmoil of a world changing from colonialism to global capitalism Doig has managed to stand outside the fray. But he does admit, tentatively, to feeling most at home in London and it is this sense of a calm detachment that makes his work so accessible.

For Doig’s paintings are non judgmental, they are open and welcoming to what the visitor may care to bring. Whatever that may be the narrative and the painterly quality of the work ensure that a broad church can be accommodated.

An exhibition of his paintings along with a mural are on display until the 22 of March 2015 at Foundation Bayeler in Basel Switzerland. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Arthur Boyd – The Bride Series

“I’d like to feel that through my work there is a possibility
of making a contribution to a social
progression or enlightenment.”
Arthur Boyd

For Australian painter Arthur Boyd the underside of the human condition was never far from his work. Form his World War II paintings using biblical subjects to express his condemnation of concentration camps to his anti Vietnam War Nebuchadnezzar series; Boyd championed the dispossessed and the outcast. This is especially true of his Love, Marriage, and Death of a Half-caste series commonly called The Bride Series.

A suite of 31 paintings inspired by the plight of Australia’s Aboriginal people he witnessed during his 1951 visit to Central Australia. At Alice Springs and the former mining community of Arltunga Boyd encountered the marginalized living conditions of Australia’s indigenous population. Prior to this, it is said, that he had only seen one aborigine; an itinerant gum leaf player on the streets of Melbourne.

The government policy towards aborigines at this time was one of assimilation during which the stolen generations, the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families by the state, was common place. It would take the Australian government over half a century before it could bring itself to apologize for this mistreatment.

Back in 1951 this was not common knowledge. Boyd was shocked and depressed by the scenes that confronted him and felt compelled to show Australia the tragedy happening in its midst. But it took him seven years to achieve the emotional distance necessary to start to convert the drawings in his sketch books into the paintings of the series.

These Chargall like surreal works are not pretty pictures, they are magical and somewhat menacing depictions in which it seems the figures and the landscape are as one.  Of the 31 paintings in this elaborate morality tale there are 10 that tell the core story of the courtship, the marriage and the funeral. The Deputy Director of the National Gallery of Victoria, Ursula Hoff, described Boyd’s depictions as “a half-cast wooing a half-cast bride is haunted by the dream image of a white bride and by his fears of white society.” 

The core paintings from The Bride Series will be on show at the Heide Musuem of Modern Art from the 29th of November to the 15th of March next year. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Christian Tagliavini - a workman of photography

The taking of the photograph for Christian Tagliavini is the final act in a laborious and time consuming process. The photograph is the documentation of his research, design, construction of sets and costumes and casting of amateur models for his historical set pieces.

"But I don't want to be labeled as someone who just makes recreations of historical portraits. I like to think I'm bringing imaginary eras to life," says Tagliavini. And indeed he does, in making his images he mixes artistic influences as he see fit.

In Ritratto di signora in verde from the 1503 series which are based on paintings by Agnolo di Cosimo, known as Il Bronzino, whose date of birth gave the series its name, Tagliavini stretched the model's neck, a la the 20th Century artist Amedeo Modigliani, in Photoshop. The result adds a slightly surreal aspect to the formal Mannerist style of the original.

Likewise the use of cardboard to create the costumes in the 2008 Dame di Cartone series contradicts any semblance of a three diemensional character. As the Telegraph Newspaper’s Robert Epstein says, “It's hard to be a rounded character, he seems to say, when we can literally see your edges.”

In his latest works, the Italian born Swiss resident has channeled the works of the 19th Century science fiction writer Jules Verne. Using three of his novels, Journey to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, as inspiration, Tagliavini has created two series of works, Voyages Extraordinaires and Voyages Extraordinaires Portraits. Eighteen months in the making, he imbues these new works with the aesthetic of 19th Century portrait photography whilst maintaining his own idiosyncratic values.

Yet to be officially exhibited a selection of these new works was on view at Paris Photo at Berlin’s Carmera Works booth. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Did He Jump Or Was He Pushed?

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s security cameras at 17:59:30 on the 6th of December 2002 Tullio Lombardo’s Adam was standing in all his glory. At 17:59:38 he was on the floor broken into 28 large pieces and 100’s of fragments. Putting a 6’ 3”, 770 pound marble statue on a plywood plinth was just a matter of when.

Acquired in 1936, Tullio Lombardo’s Adam is/was a Renaissance masterpiece. Carved around 1490 art historians and curators have waxed lyrical about the work saying, “This sculpture is extraordinary not just because of its art historical importance as the first monumental nude of the Renaissance [that] followed closely the idealism of ancient Roman antiquities, but because it constitutes one of the most profound contemplations of divine and artistic creation, of human beauty and frailty, of temptation and sin and redemption ever realized.”

Because of its significance and that there were enough large sections among the ruins the unsung heroes of the museum, the conservators, were called in to work their magic. Stone is much harder to repair than canvas and for 12 years they labored.

The multidisciplinary team assembled included conservators, conservation scientists, and Curators who were joined and supported by materials scientists and engineers. They researched materials and techniques which resulted in the use of fiberglass pins rather than the tradition steel. They used laser imaging technology to create a virtual 3D model to test how best to put it all back together. They even broke up a copy of Michelangelo’s David in the same manner that Adam was broken to test out their ideas. 

Adam went back on display a couple of weeks ago along with details about the conservation. Whether he can gain his former stature is another question. For as the conservators conclude in their report “In the end, while our approach to the conservation treatment may have preserved the intent and impact of this seminal work of art, the fact remains that as a result of the accident the sculpture is not the same, and never can be; the damage incurred from the fall cannot be reversed, regardless of how securely repaired the structure or carefully integrated the surface. We only hope that the memory of the accident and the image of the sculpture in fragments will fade over time, allowing Adam to retain its status as a masterpiece of Renaissance art. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Paul Cézanne – An Online Smorgasbord

Paul Cézanne is one of if not the undisputed master of post-impressionist art. His ability to build form with color combined with his analytical depiction of nature credited him as the father of Cubism, Fauvism and several other art “isms” that have influenced successive avant-guard artists.

A work by Cézanne is a staple for any self respecting museum and with them loaning works to each other exhibitions happen on a regular basis. Currently there are two major exhibitions of his work; The Art Gallery of Hamilton is showing The World Is An Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne until the 8th of February and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has Madam Cezanne on show through to the 15th of March next year.

Added to this is The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: An Online Catalogue Raisonné. This recently released website has nearly a 1000 of the "Master of Aix" paintings on display. From the thumbnails, at 60 to the page, to full screen renditions with mouse over’s to see the brush work is just three clicks away. The site is also a scholarly reference with provenance, exhibition history and literary mentions for each work included.

Whilst revelation of name and email address is necessary to gain access, in today’s climate of data collection, it is a small price to pay for such a cornucopia of Cézanne’s art.

Georgia O’Keeffee – An Update

A week ago in Happy Birthday Georgia O’Keeffe – 127 Candles Today we claimed that in the 1920’s  & 30's O'Keeffe was the most “highly paid woman artist in the world.” Well that seems to be once again the case.

Two days ago she regained that position when her 1932 painting Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1 sold for $44.4 million at Sotheby’s American Paintings Auction. What is interesting about the sale is not so much the price but the seller.

It was sold by The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum which was founded to “To inspire all current and future generations, the Museum preserves, presents, and advances the artistic legacy of Georgia O’Keeffe and Modernism through innovative public engagement, education, and research.” 

Selling off the family silver seems to be a strange way to go about it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Couple Of Photographers – Lillian Bassman & Paul Himmel

The art world is as fickle as those who inhabit it as the careers of Lillian Bassman and Paul Himmel attest. During the 1950’s and 60’s both had stellar careers in New York’s fashion industry. Bassman was an art director and photographer for Harper’s Bazaar and Junior Bazaar, Himmel was a photographer for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.  

As the 60’s morphed into the 70’s they both became disillusioned with the world of fashion and dropped out of sight. For Bassman it was the shift in emphasis from the clothes to the model and a harder edge reality that that imposed. Her sense of style and her technical expertise in the darkroom were no longer required. Himmel  was “interested in beauty not in fashion” and the disinterest in his experimental ballet photography and his abstracted nudes disillusioned him so much that gave up photographer altogether and turned his hand to psychotherapy.

When the couple, they had been living together since they were 15 and 18 respectively, were in their 70’s a chance discovery saw their star began to shine once again. Whilst Bassman had destroyed a large amount of work there were some garbage bags of their photographs stashed away. Long time admirer of Bassman’s work, Martin Harrison, a fashion curator and historian, convinced her to relook at her work whilst organizing a show of Himmel's documentary photography.

Intrigued, Bassman reworked her images in the digital darkroom making them into images she liked rather than those her editors chose. In the process she gained a new generation of fans and a full blown revival of her career.

The latest of which is a posthumous joint exhibition with her husband, “Lillian Bassman & Paul Himmel; Two Lives for Photography,” at the Kunst Haus Wien as part of the sixth edition of Eyes On - Month of Photography Vienna.

About their photography Bassman has said "Paul is, I feel, a better photographer. His work is virile, it's more direct and he deals with world as it actually is. Photographically speaking, we're probably as close as you could come to opposites. I'm completely tied up with softness, fragility and the personal problems of a feminine world."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Some Great Art – Shame About The Website

With no written language Aboriginal art forms a major part of the cultural heritage that defines what it is to be an Australian aborigine. Based on a history known as The Dreaming this art tells stories handed down from generation to generation for over 50,000 years.

Just 43 years ago the fragile bark paintings and the ephemeral sand drawings were brought in the 20th Century to become one of its most exciting contemporary art forms. Sydney teacher Geoffrey Bardon was working in the Australian outback when he introduced modern art materials to the Papunya men to assist in their story telling.

Since then Australian Aboriginal Art has been exhibited worldwide and absorbed into museum collections both large and small. Likewise the artists have embraced the new medium expanding their palettes from earth colors to the full gamut of colors available in the acrylic spectrum. Like in the image above by  Lulu Trancollino which for her and her kin is a map of three flood water marked rock holes  at Bedford Downs Station, for non Aborigines is a striking abstract with a predominately blue palette.

A couple of days ago The Art Gallery of Western Australia launched a new stand alone website to record and share the visual art of Aboriginal artists from Western Australia’s Kimberley region. Known for its mining and pastoral industries, the Kimberly is home to some of Australia’s finest rock art and has one of the most vibrant community’s of contemporary artists working today.

With 11 Art Centers and over 100 artists listed should be a first stop for those with an interest in the art from the region. But herein lies the problem, the art is buried deep within the bowels of the website. The initial impetus for building the site and the major attraction for visitors is almost an afterthought.

This link will take you to the art, but buyers beware. The site loads 12 images of reasonable size thumbnails initially. Each click of the “Load More” button adds another twelve until you are many pages deep into the site. Should you choose to investigate a thumbnail for more information and then return to the list you will be sent back to the first page to start again.

It is a navigation system designed to discourage exploration. This is a shame for there are some exquisite works of art to be found buried in this treasure trove. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

From Paint to Video – The Art of Zhang Xiaotao

With his work described as “the fables of the social changes and future prospects” Chinese artist Zhang Xiaotao is a painter who has embraced the digital art of video animation. Both examples of his work were on show at the Chinese Pavilion at last year’s Venice Biennale.

His love of comics as a child coupled with the study of the Buddhist and Taoist influenced martial arts and a near death experience by drowning are personal influences that color his art. Living through the cultural transition from the socialist collective ideals of the Cultural Revolution to the individualistic concerns of a market economy likewise informs his art.

Zhang’s large paints from the early years of this century, for which he is arguable best known, utilize both Western & Chinese painting traditions to reflect on his immediate surroundings. “China is huge and chaotic, and it makes you feel tiny and insignificant… I want to express human desires in a materialistic society, people’s instinctive reactions, both physiological and psychological, to living in this era,” he says in a 2002 Artist’s Statement.

But these works are also informed with Zhang’s childhood memories with their often watery connotations and meditations about the spiritual. “These are magnified fragments of our absurd and indulgent materialistic life, and they are also the instinctual misgivings and responses towards this society of material desire,” he says.

In 2010 Zhang co-founded the Sichuan Fine Arts Academy’s New Media Studies Department where he works as a professor. In his private practice as an artist he now works with new media art production examining the paradox between social change and personal spiritual history striving to transmit the personal experience into a public one.

Three of Zhang’s full-length video animation works along with photo stills from the works will be on show at Pékin Fine Arts until the 5th of January.