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Friday, May 29, 2009

Chuck Close, the Great Photorealist

(close-up on a photo by Irving Penn)

A close-up from a famous photo made by Irving Penn, gathering five titans of the Contemporary Art: Kelly, Close, Johns, Rauschenberg, Noland.

It is a lot to say about Chuck Close and about Photorealism. The artist starts from taking rigorously each detail of our universe and the outcome is his universe. It is a new universe; no more ours; exactly because it respects all small details of our universe. I am obsessed with the idea of considering Junot Diaz as a Photorealist writer: his two books (Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) start from a rigorous photography of the reality; they are no more the reality; they became the universe created by Diaz.

But let's come back to Chuck Close. The Portrait of Nat is on view at the Washington National Gallery of Art; the Portrait of Roy is at Hirshhorn. I took a photo for each one, then I tried a video: just to follow each detail in hallucinatory walk over the face; to discover that these details are no more of our world, but of his, the hallucinatory world of Chuck Close. Loook at the image of Roy: Chuck Close recreating the ancient art of the mosaic!

Portrait of Nat, 1971
acrylic on canvas

Roy II, 1994
oil on canvas

(Washington DC National Gallery of Art)

(Hirshhorn Museum)

(Contemporary Art)


Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

I'm afraid I won't make it to see the movie (with Ben Stiller and Robin Williams, among other stars), but I saw this great amalgam at the Smithsonian when I was there last time.

(Smithsonian Castle)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bruce Nauman viewed by Peter Plagens

I have seen so far only one art work of Bruce Nauman, a multi--video installation, Art Make-Up. It was on view at Hirshhorn, and it exercised a strange effect on me: an artist was preparing his make-up. It was very simple, yet powerful. The videos were developing slowly their story: the condition of the artist, what is truth in him, what is lie; who we are in life, just mannequins, preparing every day to play some bulshit of a role.

Newsweek: Peter Plagens (see also his other chronicles in Newsweek) about Bruce Nauman:

Bruce Nauman - Mystic Truths

Some people say that Bruce Nauman is the most influential American artist since Andy Warhol, but when Nauman arrived at art school way back in 1964, he had almost no idea where he was headed. Fresh from being a math and science student back in Wisconsin, the tall, laconic young Nauman painted the most mundane of subjects: landscapes. I thought art was just something I'd learn how to do, and then I would just do it, he says. He'd landed almost by chance at the University of California, Davis, home to the most rebellious, irreverent artist-teachers around. (One of them, ceramist Robert Arneson, would have his officially commissioned monument to assassinated San Francisco Mayor George Moscone rejected in 1981 because it depicted the Twinkies from the assassin's Twinkies defense right there on its pedestal.) The faculty gave Nauman an empty room in a temporary building and told him simply to go to work. I knew then, he says, that I'd have to start out every day and figure out what art was going to be.

From then on, with each and every work he's made, Nauman has started back at square one, as if neither he nor anyone else had created any previous art to refer to. One time he cast a part of a female body, from fingertip up the arm to the lips, and called the resulting wall sculpture From Hand to Mouth (1967).

From Hand to Mouth, 1967

Another time, he made Green Light Corridor (1971): two high free-standing walls, illuminated from above with bilious fluorescent light, and placed less than two feet apart to test viewers' tolerance of claustrophobia. (Back in the day, Nauman's corridor was impossible to transport in one piece. So a collector instead paid about $10,000 for a license to rebuild it—at his own expense.)

Green Light Corridor, 1970
painted wallboard and fluorescent light fixtures with green lights, dimensions variable

On big public projects, such as filling the enormous Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern museum in London in 2004, he's used sound, including a menacing recorded voice saying, Get out of this room, get out of my mind.

Turbine Hall

For the Venice Biennale, where Nauman, 67, is the official U.S. representative this year, he has wrapped the top of the modest, banklike American pavilion with words such as lust and prudence, denoting various vices and virtues blinking on and off in a rainbow frieze of neon.

Today, there's hardly a tyro's installation or video or ad hoc sculpture that can't be traced back to something Nauman made in the 1960s or '70s. What separates Nauman from his hundreds of imitators is his deep-down, plain old hand-to-paper artistic talent, which shows up in one form or another in most everything he does. Nauman draws constantly, from loose diagrams through precise linear renderings to big, expressionist architectural fantasies. But he probably could not have become this influential if he hadn't entered the art world from left field and always remained a bit of an outsider. When he moved from the Bay Area to L.A.'s bigger, more energetic art world in 1969, he set up shop not down by Venice Beach, where all the boho--glamorous L.A. look artists were, but in the relative backwater of Pasadena. Still, he was given a retrospective at the L.A. County Museum of Art at age 31—where his father, an engineer, said to him, You know, you ought to have labels that explain what these things are all about. Then, after he'd become an international art star by showing with such hot galleries as Leo Castelli in New York and Konrad Fischer in Germany, he opted not for Manhattan but New Mexico. My feeling was I would not go to another city—there was no point in Seattle or Houston or Dallas or something like that, he said once. And so we decided to come here.

Nowadays, Nauman lives with his wife, the painter Susan Rothenberg, on a working horse ranch 25 miles outside Santa Fe, in Galisteo. (I've got to go out and feed this old mule, he says one day before leaving for the Biennale, his black cowboy hat propped on his head. She only has a few teeth left, so I have to keep her in a special pen where the horses won't come and eat the feed.) Nauman's love of private time in the studio—which is frequently burdened with artist's block caused by trying to redefine art, ex nihilo, every day—prompted him to lay down some conditions concerning his participation in Venice. (It's been rumored with every Biennale over the last 10 that Nauman has turned down the invitation.) First, he told the American curators that he wasn't going to fill the pavilion with a slew of new art. Second, he said that the major new work he'd do had to be another chance-taking piece, installed outside the cluster of pavilions in the Giardini, to which the official national artists usually confine themselves. He wants to reach out into the city of Venice and capture an audience beyond the black-clad, Ermenegildo Zegna–suited tribes who usually show up in droves for the Biennale—though given the state of the economy, they'll likely be fewer in number this year (or at least dressed down a little).

Vices and Virtues

So the U.S. Pavilion will feature the Vices and Virtues neon, plus an austere themed retrospective of just 15 key pieces from 40 years of Nauman's art. But the work that will have everybody talking—or, rather, listening—will be a sound piece of as yet undisclosed content. Installed in two versions (Italian and English) in two Venetian universities (the economics-intense Università Ca' Foscari and that incubator of ultramodern architecture and design, the Università Iuav di Venezia a Tolentini), both will consist of a series of flat-panel speakers suspended in midair along both sides of capacious academic rooms. The soundtrack is being kept a secret until the speakers are switched on for opening day, but we do know it is about Nauman being alone in his studio trying to figure out—you guessed it—what to do next.

(Contemporary Art)


Two Untitled Works of Jasper Johns at Hirshhorn

Jasper Johns - Untitled, 1967
oil, encaustic and charcoal on linen

A universe of shapes, witnessed by some guy resembling Kurt Vonnegut, is it real this world, is it deceptive?

And here is another Untitled, from 1954: painted wood, painted plaster cast, photomechanical reproductions on canvas, glass, and nails. The painted wood suggests an icon: is the artist thinking here at the holiness of his universes of shapes and symbols?

(Hirshhorn Museum)

(Contemporary Art)


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Remember Manzanar

- Japanese American Memorial in Washington, DC -

During WW-II American citizens of Japanese origin residing on the West Coast were interned in relocation camps. This decision had dramatic effects on their lives. They were loyal citizens, and there should have been no doubt about their patriotism: many of them would later fight in the war.

This memorial is a memento for generations to come: no ethnic group should ever be discriminated again.

(Washington, District of Columbia)

Air and Space Museum in Washington

The museum is much bigger, of course. This is just to have a first idea.

- Spirit of St. Louis -

- Hindeburg -

- Space Ship One -

- Sputnik -

- SS-20 and Pershing-11 -

(Washington, District of Columbia)


(video created by skanZen)

A video dedicated to Körösi Csoma Sandor: images recorded in 2007 by Zsolt Sütő, while traveling the Himalayas in 2007, on the footsteps of his great forerunner.

It is a meditation on the ten transcendental virtues of the Bodhisattva. Words are taken from the Tibetan Dictionary of Körösi.



Guido van der Werve

Gulf of Bothnia, in Finland: a man is advancing on the crashing ice, ahead of an ice-breaker. A small being, who can be engulfed anytime by the endless plateau of ice, who can be crashed anytime by the giant roaring behind; l'homme n'est qu'un roseau, le plus faible de la nature, mais c'est un roseau pensant ... Une vapeur, une goutte d'eau suffit pour le tuer. Mais quand l'univers l'écraserait, l'homme serait encore plus noble ... parce qu'il sait qu'il meurt ... l'univers n'en sait rien.

Guido van der Werve, born in 1977, lives in Amsterdam. A large span of interests: music, chess, visual arts, industrial design, archeology and Russian. Impressive, isn't it? In the visual arts he started with painting, then he passed to performance art, and then to film. Actually his movies (ten shorts up to date) represent also a form of performance art (like in the case of Kimsooja): the artist is often at the center of his elaborate and sly dramas, playing piano on a float in the middle of a lake, launching an asteroid back to where it came from, greeting a flock of ballerinas in the middle of the street, positing a grand piano through his apartment window, and turning slowly in the opposite direction of the earth's rotation, while standing on the North Pole (Hirshhorn).

(Hirshhorn Museum)

(Contemporary Art)

(German and Nordic Cinema)


Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009 - The Parade

(Washington, District of Columbia)

Ed Ruscha - Gunpowder on Paper

Ed Ruscha is associated with the Pop-Art, but his works amaze me by their elegance in stunning simplicity. He has the distinguished restraint of Minimalists and Conceptualists.

(Hirshhorn Museum)

(Contemporary Art)


Hyperrealism: Tony Cragg

Tony Cragg - Inverted Sugar Crop, 1966
bronze and steel

(Hirshhorn Museum)

(Contemporary Art)


Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Sculptural Portraits of Yinka Shonibare

Yinka Shonibare - The Age of Enlightenment, Antoine Lavoisier

This is the first art work of Yinka Shonibare on view at Hirshhorn. The artist was born in 1962 in London. His parents were Nigerians and he spent his childhood in Lagos.

His African roots are visible in his works: there is an exuberance there, and this is due not only for the use of colorful textiles; there is a challenge there, and this is due not only for showing the personages as beheaded.

His headless mannequins of personalities of the Enlightenment century (like Lavoisier here) are dramatic, yet ambiguous, challenging the idea of portraiture, challenging also our cultural mantras.

He started from the well known portrait made by David and kept some details with keen scrupulosity, while adding his ones (wheelchair, headless, African fabric of dress) that put a question mark to he whole. It is some mix of Photo-Realism and Hyper-Realism, but this is not the point. It is a mix of exuberance and iconoclasm: the European culture reconsidered through an African system of measurements.

(Hirshhorn Museum)

(Contemporary Art)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Boss Hoss Motorbike

(Around Fairfax Circle)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Soap Bubbles

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)
Soap Bubles, 1733-1734
oil on canvas

Charles-Amédée-Philippe van Loo (1719 - 1795)
Soap Bubbles, 1764
oil on canvas

(Washington DC National Gallery of Art)

The Peacocks of Gaston Lachaise

Gaston Lachaise (1882-1935)
Peacocks, 1922

(Washington DC National Gallery of Art)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Night of Destiny

We sent him down on the night of destiny
And what can tell you of the night of destiny?
The night of destiny is better than a thousand months
The angels come down - the spirit upon her -
by permission of their lord from every order
Peace she is until the rise of down.

By the morning hours
By the night when it is still
Your lord has not abandoned you
and does not hate you.

This sacred text of Muslim faith is amazing for me: Christians celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, Muslims celebrate the Night of Destiny (Laylat Al Qadr), and the anagogic sense seems much the same. Roads towards the same Almighty.

Noi l-am trimis sa coboare in noaptea destinului
Si oare ce poti sa-mi spui despre noaptea destinului?
Noaptea destinului este mai buna decat miriade de ani,
Ingerii coboara - Duhul pogoara asupra ei - cu incuviintarea Domnului lor din tarii
Si numele ei este Pace, pana in zorii diminetii.

Iar catre ceasurile diminetii
La sfarsitul noptii, cand este inca liniste
Domnul tau nu te-a lasat de izbeliste
Si nu te uraste.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Louise Bourgeois

uSpider, 1996
Washington National Gallery of Art, Sculpture Garden

I knew Louise Bourgeois from only one art work, a huge Spider in the Sculpture Garden of the Washington National Gallery. I didn't know what did this sculpture mean: was she imagining a frightening bestiarium with enormous insects in control of the world? Was it about human fragility, was it about cosmic dreads?

I found the response while visiting a retrospective of her work, at Hirshhorn. At the entrance of the museum from Independence Avenue, another Spider, this one brought here from Ottawa, from the National Gallery of Canada.


The retrospective had traveled from Paris to London to New York (where it was hosted at Guggenheim).

Untitled, 2004
as it was exposed at Guggenheim

I was at Hirshhorn some time in February or March, when they were installing the retrospective, and the whole third floor was closed for the preparations. I came back to visit exactly this last Sunday, to find out that it was the last day! So I was fortunate in the end.

Personages from the 1940s
carved from construction wood found on Manhattan streets

The work of Louise Bourgeois is amazing. That's the first to say: amazing!

First of all by vitality. She is still creating, at 96! Impressive works, full of force, impregnated with her strong personality.

I was in the Hell and I Came Back,
and Let Me Tell You,
It was Beautiful There!

The experience of a whole life, and in the same time, the courage to explore in her late nineties new roads in art. She started under the influence of Surrealists, she traversed all kind of Abstract flavors, to discover in the twenty first century the Hyper-Realism. She began with painting, she switched to sculpture, using firstly wood collected from Manhattan streets, she adhered for a while in the camp of Installation Art, she used marble and wood in her sculpture, she is now using fabric: look at that Head made by her in 2001, it looks like bronze, it's just fabric! I am sorry the photo is not well done, to catch the extraordinary expression on that face. It looks like an old Chinese wise man.

Symbols of Sexuality, Symbols of Aggressiveness

Now, here is a second explanation why she is so amazing: her work is a living history of all currents in contemporary art, while she remained always herself. Louise Bourgeois is a very stubborn artist who kept her distances very carefully and stitched to her own guns. She was always interested to express her own universe, nothing else. All she created is about herself, about her family, about her obsessions, her fears.

Lair, 1963

And here comes the third explanation why her work is amazing: the way she expresses herself.

She speaks in all her works about the memories of her childhood, her complex relationship with her mother, her feelings for her father.

is it a pyramid or a Mexican hat or just an ice cream?

Such a stubbornness in remaining within her childhood memories would have been unfortunate for someone else. She managed to find the universal in her obsessions, to find cosmic symbols for her intimate memories: look at this nightmarish Destruction of the Father, he is there chopped on the table, surrounded by his rebelled kids!

The Destruction of the Father, 1974

Everything in her work is her own: the way she approached the various artistic currents (look at that Red Cell: her way to do Installation Art; or look at the Femme-Maison, a recurring motive in her work; or look at the phallic symbols, another recurring motive with contradictory meanings: desire of vitality, fear of brutality).

Red Cell


It is a lot to say about Louise Bourgeois, I'll leave you in the company of Natalie Darbeloff, who visited the retrospective at London, at the Tate Modern. Then read the chronicle published by NY Times (I found there most of the images).

Arch of Hysteria, 1993

Rejection, 2001
fabric and wood on stainless steel

I would add only one more word: for Louise Bourgeois the Spider is not a frightening symbol, as I believed in the beginning: on the contrary it is protective, and it keeps you in its worm inside, like in a womb; it is the symbol of Mother.

Spider Couple, 2003

(Hirshhorn Museum)