The Tate Modern – Rothko’s Seagrams Murals

I went to the Tate Modern over the weekend. From the outside, the building is a hulking concrete former power station on the south bank of the Thames.

Me watching tourists watching the north bank of the Thames from the Tate Modern cafe

Me watching tourists watching the north bank of the Thames from the Tate Modern cafe

Inside, the Tate Modern “reads” like the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City architecturally. Each floor is a series of plain white box galleries each leading to the other with some open communal space in the center of the museum for the escalators.

That’s where the similarity between the two institutions ends.

Inside the Tate Modern galleries, the walls are jumbled with a mix of paintings and works arranged all over the wall and floor (for sculpture). Many pieces are not at eye level, they are well above the heads of the viewers, and the glare from the lighting makes viewing a challenge. Moreover, the pieces are not arranged chronologically, or by artist or even in what seems to be a logical grouping of artists. Instead, each of the gallery areas are arranged by theme on each floor.

I didn’t like this way of viewing works. I found the gallery experience random and while the curators of these themes must have felt the pieces went together well, for many of the floors I didn’t find the pieces inter-related in a way that made me feel cohesion or integration in the viewing experience.

.

And then, there’s Rothko.

.

Rothko Seagram Mural (1 of 7) - black box on red background

Rothko Seagram Mural (1 of 7) – black box on red background

I’m sure I must be stealing lines from my favorite art series, Simon Schama’s Power of Art, on Rothko (Click Here for the episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEIn1914XSM,) when I say that the experience of seeing these seven Rothko Seagram’s murals was intense.

Rothko’s works are shown together in one gallery, barely large enough to contain these huge canvases. And the effect is overpowering. The lighting in the room is dim, mausoleum-like. It’s a crypt.

Rothko Seagram Murals - purple background and black boxes

Rothko Seagram Murals – purple background and black boxes

There is one large wooden bench in the center of the room, from which you can contemplate the enormity of death crushing down on you from these works. And while I may be prone to exaggeration, I’m not exaggerating here.

Rothko detail

Rothko detail

The hazy transitions within the paint, the way you have to squint your eyes to view the canvases… And the questions – should you get close, or further away for viewing? It’s all a kind of torment to comprehend what’s being shown.

But Rothko wouldn’t have wanted you to process these works with your logical mind anyway. He would have wanted you to stand before these monuments to his genius (I say that full knowing Rothko’s hubris, and anti-hubris) and just feel them.

Rothko Seagrams Mural - Red Box Purple Background

Rothko Seagrams Mural – Red Box Purple Background

.

Maybe because I saw Picasso’s Guernica on this trip at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, which is the logical home of that piece of historically significant Spanish art in a Spanish art institution…

I could not help but think that Seagrams, a company with a landmark building located in New York City, commissioned Mark Rothko, a New York City based artist, to produce works to adorn the walls of the Four Seasons, a landmark New York City restaurant, meant that these iconically important New York City elements of the story of these paintings should mean that they should be on view and permanently exhibited at MoMA. Let’s face it – that’s where they belong.

Before Franco left power as the head of Spain, Guernica found a home for 30 some odd years at MoMA. So the irony of my comments is not lost on me. But I cannot understand how the Tate Modern, a British institution, gets to own these pieces.

Is it simply about who has the money to purchase them and a mad-dash to acquire important pieces, or should important works of art also be about the contextual relevance of their own history and therefore, where it is logical for certain works to be shown?

I’m sure arguments can be made on both sides (see my previous posts about the Cubist works of Picasso scattered to the winds across many different museums globally, and in general the repetition of certain artists works in many museums, securing their place in art history.)

But there is only ONE Guernica by Picasso. There is only ONE set of Seagram’s Murals by Mark Rothko. There is only ONE Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch.

And it’s entirely possible I have reached my limit of “art first’s” on this particular journey to Europe.

In fact, the day after I visited the Tate Modern, I tried to go to the Saatchi Gallery – which would have taken me from a view of Modern Art in Britain to a view of what is happening in Contemporary Art.

Outside view of the Saatchi Gallery - King's Road - London

Outside view of the Saatchi Gallery – King’s Road – London

And perhaps this is a larger comment on all of my art experiences and ponderings over the last several posts… the Saatchi Gallery, a private art institution, was closed to the public on the one day I had to see it because they were hosting runway shows for London’s Fashion Week.

Yes, the best known contemporary art space in London was closed to host the fashion elite. So I was a poor pauper left gawking at the entrance, but turned away at the door.

Pondering Museum Visits – and Guernica

In a previous posting, I mentioned how moved I was by the tremendous trove of art at the Prado in Madrid. And indeed, the Prado is a location of global art treasure, just like the Metropolitan in NYC, The National Gallery in the UK, and the Hermitage in Russia, among other seriously notable museums.

However, as a tourist with limited time to see museums it’s important to spend time wisely when choosing which museums to visit when you land in your destination of choice.

And it’s not just about time, either. It’s about the human eye and brain getting overloaded with images. I’ve visited enough museums to recognize there is such a thing as over-stimulation and museum fatigue. After about 2-3 hours, I usually need a break, or possibly need to stop wandering through galleries to “process and absorb” the things I’ve seen.

With this in mind, I want to mention the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, which houses Guernica. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_(painting)

Guernica is housed deep within this relatively small museum of contemporary art, in a bunker-like gallery designed to display only this towering painting. And although the room is reasonably large, it still somehow isn’t large enough to contain the painting. I can’t describe it adequately, and unfortunately in keeping with the museum’s policy, photography is not allowed in this particular gallery.

And once you’ve seen Guernica, for your $8 euro ticket price, you can essentially leave the museum. I know I’m being harsh in my commentary, and it’s not that I don’t like seeing cubist paintings by Picasso and Braque, or seeing the many Miro on display in Spanish museums, but I must call the Museo Reina Sofia out on this – there is NOTHING in that museum that can come close to the experience of seeing Guernica. There is not even one other piece on display that had an impact that could even touch what it’s like to see Guernica in person. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZCTrM3yfug)

Don’t get me wrong – I walked the entire museum. I saw the permanent Richard Serra installation on the first floor. I looked at the giant Calder sculpture in the courtyard. I walked by many Picasso, Braque, DuBuffet, Miro and other works on display. But… I’m sorry to say this because I sound like a total art brat and snob to make such a comment (apologies in advance) but I have seen these works before many times.

This brings me to the core of what I’m getting at with the museums we choose to visit and why.

At the Prado, I can see totally unique works by Bosch, Goya and many others that I cannot see anywhere else in the world. I got a bit of an “art high” walking around the Prado – an experience I remember having when first viewing The Temple of Dendur at the Met so many years ago. It’s just a brain-freezing, arresting, overwhelming moment when you see something that is a towering human achievement.

And Guernica delivers this experience, no doubt. I had seen reproductions of Guernica over the years, but nothing could compare to seeing it in person.

But, I’m sorry to say, if I want to see those brown and black cubist paintings that Picasso and Braques did side-by-side for a few years and that look very similar to one another… there are a lot of them, and I see them everywhere. After a while, I don’t even really bother looking at them because my mind “knows” the image.

And once you have seen two dozen paintings by Miro, which I have in a variety of museums, I’m sorry, but I “get it” and I know the style and I can even enjoy the image but it’s something similar happening over and over.

Perhaps this is one reason Guernica has such impact. It’s a combination of cubist style and figuration – plus the historic content which is essential in understanding that scene of war horror.

But I digress.

Museums often have a “mission” to display art history, and present some chronological view of art through the ages. And in that world tour, Cubism is in there, and so yes, you will be shown those brown and black Picassos because he created that new style and it was an important moment in Art History. Yes, I agree.

Unfortunately, since many/most museums have this same mission, you wind up seeing many of the same painters over and over, and you see paintings of the same style, and in the Museo Reine Sofia I just found that I’d “seen it before” when it came to anything other than Guernica.

Am I saying don’t go to the museum? NO. I am saying if you have the chance to see Guernica, just the experience of seeing that one work is completely worth it – in my opinion. It is like Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights at the Prado, a one of a kind and not replicated in any other painting globally. The painting – unto itself is a piece of Art History.

But consider what I’ve said when it comes to visiting museums. What is it you hope to “experience” at these institutions, and then make your choices accordingly.

Serious Spanish Art Loot – The Prado

I only wish I could show you some images of art at the Prado Museum, in Madrid, Spain but they do not permit photography of any kind, and it’s no wonder.

I spent hours wandering around the museum today with my mouth hanging open, gawking at the serious loot of centuries of Spanish colonial rule. There must be, and I do not think I’m exaggerating here, billions of dollars of art in that museum. It is beyond a national treasure for Spain.

Since I’m from New York City and I cannot help but try and compare museums to my “home town” museums, I have to tell you that the particular collections located in the Prado are not replicated – or anywhere NEAR closely available – in NYC. Believe me, that’s saying a lot.

Let’s start with Goya, since there are so many incredible Goya images housed at the Prado. In particular, the “Black Paintings” (including Goya’s Dog, or The Drowning Dog as it’s sometimes known) are in one gallery together. The other famous image from that collection is Saturn Devouring His Child, probably one of the earliest expressionistic paintings known.

But Goya isn’t even the beginning.

I have never had the pleasure of seeing Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights in person. It is… beyond words. I visited that painting three times within the hours I was in the museum, and still I could have stayed staring at it for hours more if I had had more time. There was another piece called The Table of the Seven Deadly Sins, also by Bosch that was magnificent.

Beyond that, the self-portrait of Albrect Durer really enchanted me. A young Durer with gorgeous long, curly blonde-red hair, in a jaunty black and white striped cap, with the upper part of his chest exposed told me a lot about him. I have a little art crush on Durer now. Clearly I was born in the wrong century. 🙂 The other pieces by Durer that left a lasting impression were his portraits of Adam and Eve.

Rubens, Velasquez, El Greco and many other gigantic canvases line the walls of galleries, towering over the spectators. In gallery after gallery, I had to stand back six, eight or ten feet just to view the image being shown. But then I wanted to get as close as possible to the Carravagio painting of David with the severed head of Goliath. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_GUJjvCBWY)

There are too many museums to see in Madrid in just four days. I have already seen the private Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum with its fantastic Kandinsky’s, Picasso’s, Braque’s and other examples of cubism (I will post in the future, with images, since they allow photography.) I want to see the contemporary art museum too, on a different day (I need to be rested from the visual overload.)

But if I could only see ONE museum in Madrid, it would have to be the Prado.

Thank goodness I don’t have to make that choice!

P.S. The Prado allows visitors to visit free during a 2 hour window ‘later’ in the day. If you’re coming to town, check at the museum to see when you can come for free. Otherwise, admission is 14 euros and totally worth it.

Goran Djurovic’s Prime Time Revisited – A Story of Friendship

To begin: the story about how I came to find the Goran Djurovic exhibit in Gent, Belgium.

I didn’t tell this story earlier when I posted about Djurovic’s Prime Time solo show, but I think it will be nice to pull back the curtain now. It is yet another example of how I’ve met extremely kind people in my travels. (And I want to say how much I really like Belgium!)

So.

I was walking down the street in Gent, on the Saturday morning I was in town. I had my city map in hand, trying to find the “Patershol” neighborhood. Patershol is known for its charming streets and interesting restaurants and is less touristy than the historic center. But I sensed I was lost, although I was walking alongside one of the main canals running through the city.

It just so happened, as I walked down the street adjacent to the canal, that a young man was walking toward me holding a bag of groceries. Now, given that the Gent Festival was getting started, I quickly deduced I’d have a better chance of asking directions of a local than another tourist like me! Who better to ask then, than someone holding a bag of groceries?

I flagged him down and said I think I’m walking in the wrong direction. Can you help me? He looked at where I was pointing on my map and confirmed it. I was walking in the exact opposite direction of where I needed to go! Since he was heading in that direction anyway, he said, why not walk together so he could point out how to get where I was going? I welcomed the opportunity. 🙂

That young man’s name was Wim, and once we started chatting, we realized we had a lot in common. So I invited him to come with me to Patershol if he had the time and wanted to show an American tourist from New York City around his fair city. He graciously agreed, and off we went.

When we got there, Wim actually wanted to show me a different – and very famous – piece of religious art that is known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghent_Altarpiece. But when we got to the museum associated with it, we found the Goran Djurovic exhibit instead.

As you may know, reader, from my previous post – I took a sampling of photos at the Djurovic exhibit – but I neglected to take photos of some of the works Wim and I stopped and talked about the most. I regretted it later after I got home.

But, as kindness would have it, Wim and I exchanged email addresses and became pen pals even after I returned home. When I expressed to him how much I enjoyed our viewing of the exhibit and I was sorry I missed taking some shots of the works we talked over at length… he went back and took photos of over 100 Djurovic paintings and emailed them to me.

I was blown away by his tremendous kindness and enthusiasm for the artwork. In turn I promised him I would post another 15+ Djurovic works on my blog to give a much better sampling of what we saw that day.

Also, in fairness to Mr. Djurovic I don’t think it would be right for me to post images of every single piece in the solo show – however – if this blog posting helps spread recognition for his work and talent, then I am grateful to be part of that process in a very small way.

And so, without further delay, here are more of the works of Goran Djurovic … photos taken by Wim of Gent, Belgium, a gentleman I am proud to call my friend.

Let it be said: art brings people from all over the world together.

The art of Goran Djurovic

The art of Goran Djurovic

Goran Djurovic Many Laptops Goran Djurovic010 Goran Djurovic018 Goran Djurovic020 Goran Djurovic026 Goran Djurovic035 Goran Djurovic037 Goran Djurovic050 Goran Djurovic053 Goran Djurovic058 Goran Djurovic069 Goran Djurovic091 Goran Djurovic094 Goran Djurovic105 Goran Djurovic106 Goran Djurovic107

 

Art in Gent – Goran Djurovic’s Prime Time

During my last trip to Gent, I happened to be lucky enough to see a public art space called the “Provinciaal Cultuurcentrum – Caermersklooster” on Vrouwebroerstraat 6 in Gent.

They were hosting a solo show for Serbian artist Goran Djurovic called “Prime Time.”

Goran Djurovic - Prime Time solo show in Gent

Goran Djurovic – Prime Time solo show in Gent

Mr. Djurovic now lives in Berlin and it seems his work was only “discovered” in the last few years and had his work hosted in a variety of European museums. The painter is currently in his 60’s.

Djurovic backgrounder

Djurovic backgrounder

The Privincial Culture Center (I assume the English translation) is a magnificent, well lit space and worth the visit. For this particular show, the number of works on display is staggering. The solo show must have more than 40 original oil paintings on display in four small and one very large gallery space.

I will leave you to digest the themes of Djurovic’s work on your own from the sample of photos I took at the show. While the work can be quite dark, I found it inspiring.

.

Painting from the Prime Time exhibition

Painting from the Prime Time exhibition

.

The work of Goran Djurovic

The work of Goran Djurovic

.

This one is called Visitors on Display

This one is called Visitors on Display

.

The mouse dance

The mouse dance

.

More of the work of Goran Djurovic

More of the work of Goran Djurovic

A final Netherlands – Belgium vacation mash-up

It’s been two weeks since I returned from Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and Belgium. If you’ve read any of the preceeding posts (about 9 so far I think) about the trip, thank you.

This will be my final post, with a melange of images that give you a taste of the many places I visited … some of which I haven’t mentioned yet.

(The blogging about the trip begins with the post “Going Dutch” and adds from there – you can also find them if you search my “Travel” tag.)

Boat making its way on a Brugge canal

Boat making its way on a Brugge canal

Travel Tip: Brugge is beautiful, and worth seeing as a day trip. Stay in Gent, Belgium and travel to Brugge for an afternoon.

The Delft town square

The Delft town square

The other side of the main square in Delft is this magnificent church

The other side of the main square in Delft is this magnificent church

Canal porn - Another tourist taking a canal beauty shot - Delft

Canal porn – Another tourist taking a canal beauty shot – Delft

Travel Tip: The three images above show you everything you would want see in Delft, in my opinion. I suggest you go elsewhere to spend your limited travel time and budget.

Stitched sculpture of a woman - SMAK Contemporary Art

Stitched sculpture of a woman – SMAK Contemporary Art

Travel Tip: And when you go to Gent, if you like contemporary art even a little bit, you would do well to spend an afternoon at SMAK, the Contemporary Art Museum.

Detail - stitched sculpture

Detail – stitched sculpture

Bicycle sculpture - SMAK

Bicycle sculpture – SMAK

Canal in Amsterdam

Canal in Amsterdam

Don’t get me wrong (from my previous blog posts, I mean) Amsterdam has it’s charms. When the sun peeks out from the clouds, and a lone boat sails down yet another picturesque canal in the center of the city, you could come to like the place.

Me taking a photo of tourists taking a photo of themselves in Rembrandt Square - Amsterdam

Me taking a photo of tourists taking a photo of themselves in Rembrandt Square – Amsterdam

Yeah, the place is over run with tourists but what can you do but go with the flow? After all, I was one of them.

Detail of something I liked at the Rijksmuseum

Detail of something I liked at the Rijksmuseum

And the art is pretty cool, no matter which museums you like best.

Writer sculpture - Eye Film Institute Amsterdam

Writer sculpture – Eye Film Institute Amsterdam

Despite all of my experiences, I still found it hard to encapsulate them into blog posts. There was so much to write about, and I didn’t even realize it until I got home.

View from top floor of the Amsterdam library

View from top floor of the Amsterdam library

Top Secret Travel Tip: This is the best view you can get in the city of Amsterdam. Behind Centraal Station, you can take a free ferry across the water. Find the Amsterdam Public Library, and go to the 7th Floor, which is their EXCELLENT restaurant. Go to the outside deck, and snap a couple of incredible shots of the city, then go back inside and get one of the most reasonbly priced, delicious lunches you’re going to find.

Worn Out - Van Gogh sketch

Worn Out – Van Gogh sketch

When it was time to leave, I was ready to come home to New York City… still the best city on the planet.

Art in Amsterdam – Contemporary and Classic

Tons of dilapidated tourist bicycles behind Central Station

Tons of dilapidated tourist bicycles behind Central Station

As a blogger, it’s up to me to decide what images to show you of a place I visit. If I show you a romanticized pic of the perfect bicycle alongside a canal on a sunny day, with the reflection of a bridge mirrored in the water you’d get a “travel-porn” view of Amsterdam.

But that wasn’t my experience, so that’s not what I am going to show.

These images are how I saw bicycles in Amsterdam. They abound by the hundreds, most of them homely and half-broke, locked up with thick metal chains, leaning against buildings, or bound to fences or ugly concrete pillars beside the canals. They are an eyesore; the city is over-run with them.

More bicycles leaning against a building

More bicycles leaning against a building

Art can be like that too. We have expectations of art. We want it to deliver a certain viewing experience. In many cases we romanticize art, particularly classical art.

For instance, when you are in Amsterdam and you go to any of the major museums, you will see the “Dutch Masters.” It’s easy to look at these images and settle back into your chair at your computer desk (unless you are looking at this screen on a tablet, or a cell phone I suppose) and say to yourself, Ah, yes, these are the paintings a tourist would see in Amsterdam. How beautiful.

It requires no thinking, it is a passive viewing experience.

So when we think of famous artists from the Netherlands, we’d call to mind Van Gogh:

Van Gogh self portrait - Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Van Gogh self portrait – Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

or a lovely Vermeer:

Vermeer's The Milkmaod - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Vermeer’s The Milkmaod – Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

or perhaps Rembrandt:

Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum

Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum

I’m not criticizing this art. I’m not suggesting these artworks aren’t worth seeing, but I am saying a viewer will not feel challenged when you look at these works. You will see exactly what you expect.

So, I’d prefer not to just highlight these conventional images, and talk a little bit about images that aren’t as expected.

The original rock and roll smoking skeleton? Maybe. It's a Van Gogh.

The original rock and roll smoking skeleton? Maybe. It’s a Van Gogh.

Unfortunately I will be unable to show you photos of the art made an impression on me because I was not allowed to take photographs at FOAM – the contemporary museum of photography. I also forgot to take a photograph of “W139: a contemporary art space” and the current work there called “On Fresh Soil.”

Fortunately for you dear reader, I am a writer – not a professional artist – so I can share what I observed in words and you will come up with your own imagined view of what I saw.

*          *          *

At FOAM, I saw a large exhibition of the works of Stephen Gill. The show is entitled “Best Before End.” This show will be on view at FOAM from May 17th thru July 14th 2013.

Here is an excerpt of the show’s description by the museum’s curators:  “The exhibition Best Before End incorporates a number of photographic series Gill made in and around the London borough of Hackney over the past 14 years. … Gill made various attempts to jump outside the technical boundaries that photography imposed. … His processes include burying photographs, making exuberant flower collages, places objects inside the camera so that their traces could be encapsulated within the film emulsion.”

One interesting technique Gill used was adding colored energy drinks to his film and the processed photograph would have a large orange, red or other color “splotch” in places on the finished print.

The content of Gill’s show isn’t always as fascinating as his techniques though. One series of a dozen photos was images of different individuals sitting on a train looking out the window. Another series was old women who used shopping carts and the images were centered on the woman with the shopping cart, and not much else in the image. Still another series was different pieces of concrete sitting in the center of the image, with no discernable background.

However, there were other images that strived toward a larger narrative. My favorite piece in the show was a small photo of a field of cone flowers with a yellow base to the flower, graduating to reddish orange on top in the foreground… in the background, were a series of industrial smokestacks, the top portion of which were safety yellow – but processed to look similar in color to the flowers.

Another interesting part of the exhibit was a dozen works on paper – not photos. Each paper had a smashed purplish blue splotch in the center. The contents of these artworks were, according to the description, “blueberry, hammer, paper.” The description of these works actually said “pathetic attempt to capture” … and I think it said something like the essence of that place at a particular time. But it’s a good challenge to a viewer at a photography exhibition, in my opinion.

There were several other galleries with other photographic works on display. The museum is not large, and depending on how you linger over particular exhibits, you can see it in an hour or hour and a half. Still, I found it worthwhile.

*          *          *

Travel Tip: If you want to purchase some decorative street art from local artists (tourist stuff) … you can stop by the “Art Plein Spui” on Sundays only, in the Spui district. There’s a little something for everybody: landscapes, nudes, abstract, a bit of sculpture … all while being serenaded by a harp player accompanied by a violinist.

Entrance to Art Plein Spui

Entrance to Art Plein Spui

Artists ready to meet the day's tourists at Art Plein Spui

Artists ready to meet the day’s tourists at Art Plein Spui

*          *          *

Finally, I didn’t have nearly enough time – or map sense – to find out what the contemporary art scene was like in Amsterdam. There was only one ground-breaking space (literally) that I saw, at W139.

W139 is a pseudo-warehouse looking space, with high ceilings, although accessible at street level. When I visited, W139 had “broken ground” by pulling a small tractor (yes, a farm tractor) into the building to plough a “furrow” into the blacktop macadam they had laid over a concrete floor years ago. The artists collective who run the space decided they are going to remove this blacktop surface, and they had a groundbreaking ceremony where the tractor did its bit to cut into the floor.

Unfortunately I wasn’t there to see that. I saw the aftermath… a tractor parked in the center of the space, behind the tractor are pieces of blacktop thrown to both sides of this “furrow” and the rest of the space looks like (and is) an unfinished construction zone.

The folks at W139 present this as an artwork in progress, and that is what’s on view. They are calling this exhibition “On Fresh Soil.” Entrance to the space is free.

*          *          *

Just like the random chaos at W139, there is no neat and tidy way to summarize the art I saw in Amsterdam. The museums are the institutional view, the street art is what it is, and the contemporary galleries are mostly unknown to me.

But if you find bicycles to be the moving art of the city of Amsterdam, don’t worry, you’ll see plenty.

SMAK Contemporary Art Museum – Gent Belgium

As a New Yorker it’s difficult not to compare other museums with our world class museums, and in this case, SMAK Contemporary Art Museum in Gent holds its own as an innovative space showcasing European contemporary talent.

At the entrance to the museum you will find SMAK publications called “The Artist in Their Own Words,” which are magazine style printings of interviews with artists who have had shows at SMAK.

Below are some photographs I took of the works on view now, but if you are in Gent and interested in contemporary art, SMAK is a must-see destination.

—————————————————————————————-

KOEN THEYS – Home Made Victories

I was particularly excited about the ground floor galleries dedicated to the work of Belgian artist Koen Theys. The exhibition, “Home Made Victories” is the first major retrospective for the artist and includes extensive use of compelling video and photography and will be on view until mid-August 2013.

.

Still Life with Apples

Still Life with Apples

Above: Koen Theys photograph, Still Life with Apples II, 2010

.

Series, Still Life with Apples - Koen Theys, 2010

Series, Still Life with Apples – Koen Theys, 2010

.

This photograph I took is a small detail portion of a larger "collage" framed photograph by Koen Theys

This photograph I took is a small detail portion of a larger “collage” framed photograph by Koen Theys

The image above is kind of hard to explain, but I’ll try. Koen Theys creates large tableaux photographs where he carefully assembles thousands of objects like clocks, skulls, books, candles, old computer equipment and various other items he uses in these works.

The photograph I took, is a tiny portion of one of these tableaux photographs because unless I took a small part of the image and blew it up there would be no way to see the detail.

Another thing I cannot show, but which I thought was extremely interesting, he set up a video camera on a trolly and slowly rolled the camera through the tableaux, and then showed this video in another room adjacent to where the large-scale photographs were displayed.

This extremely innovative use of technology, photography and found objects made for an extraordinarily compelling viewing experience.

It's not really possible to see the details of this Koen Theys collage but this is the entire image

It’s not really possible to see the details of this Koen Theys collage but this is the entire image

————————————————————————————–

The upper floor exhibitions had a variety of sculpture, painting and photography too, some more thought provoking to me than others, but all worth seeing.

A sample of other items on view at SMAK…

Sculpture: three grotesques holding a pencil, a paint brush and a screwdriver

Sculpture: three grotesques holding a pencil, a paint brush and a screwdriver

This sculpture of three artists features grotesque heads, and the artist’s arms are bound one to the other so they cannot move, or ever see one another. The description of the sculpture suggests their poses are like samurai warriors with their pencil, paint brush and screwdriver stuck into their belts like swords.

.

Framed photographs of grotesque head sculptures

Framed photographs of grotesque head sculptures

These framed photographs of grotesque head sculptures was also a part of this exhibit. Text describing these items suggested that some of the heads were modeled loosely on some European politicians.

.

Horse hide sculpture - a provocative display of what looks like two decapitated horses

Horse hide sculpture – a provocative display of what looks like two decapitated horses

.

Mark Manders - MomentenMachine

Mark Manders – MomentenMachine

.

This installation features classic art hanging on the walls with grocery shelves of old sacks of flour and other staples blocking the view

This installation features classic art hanging on the walls with grocery shelves of old sacks of flour and other staples blocking the view

This detail view of the installation shows the classic art seen through the shelving and its contents

This detail view of the installation shows the classic art seen through the shelving and its contents

 

New Story: For Art’s Sake Accepted by Word Riot!

Huzzah!!

My flash fiction work, For Art’s Sake, has just been accepted by Kevin O’Cuinn, fiction editor at Word Riot.

This is a new milestone for me, a third piece of flash being pubbed in the same journal: Woo Hoo! (Deep endebted thankfulness to Kevin, as always.)

The pub date has not yet been determined but when it’s published I’ll let you all know with a joyous announcement and link for your reading pleasure. For now, a placeholder will go on the Published Stories page…

Thanks!

The New Normal

Readers, this writer is prone to thinking too much. I spend a lot of time analyzing the world, myself, other people (those I know, and those I don’t …in overheard snippets on the subway, in diners and at the airport…) and today my laser sights are focused on what is “normal” behavior and how does that affect creative output?

At some point in the past I realized I was normal in some ways, and in others very much not “the norm.” As a kid in junior high school, I hung out with a strange bunch of friends and we played Dungeons and Dragons. (D&D is a fantasy role playing game.) We used our imaginations to escape our regular lives to become magicians, knights in armor, theives and monks for a few hours each week as we pillaged and fought our way through imaginary towns and dungeons. We were often required to come up with innovative solutions for puzzles and problems we’d encounter in our “travels” and learned to work well as a group (or our characters would suffer the consequences!)

Once I got to college, I was out of the “norm” again as I joined a select group of kids who met in a basement in the student center once a week to put together a poetry magazine called The Anthologist. We too used our imaginations to debate and decide which poems would make it into our esteemed publication and which would not. (We often played “guess the rhyme” with the worst submissions, for our amusement.)

Out of the original group of D&D kids, there were a disproportionate number of us who were artists. Some of us liked to draw, others of us liked to write, some composed music, and now as adults we’re still doing that. Out of the Anthologist group, every single one of (the four) of us have published novels, poetry, short stories or academic works. Two of the four are university professors of English Literature, another is an English teacher at the high school level, and then there’s me… living in the corporate world but a weekend-warrior writer.

If I look across my lifetime of romantic relationships, it’s chock-a-block full of artists. My first boyfriend (one of the D&D kids) was a fantasy artist, something he makes a living at to this day. In college, my most important boyfriend was a writer, who now has published two novels (with more on the way). I’ve also had very significant relationships with painters, who are of a moody sort that I can’t seem to shake myself loose of… but none of these people were or are normal.

And these days I have too many friends to count that are writers, painters, photographers, musicians, dancers and others loosely or closely affiliated with creating artistic output as part of their daily lives.

I’m thankful for all these people who influenced (and keep influencing) me creatively and shared their out of the box thinking with me. Those that were the most “out of the norm” taught me the most about not conforming to standard ways of thinking or what society expects. Still others taught me about the philosophical underpinnings of creativity (and are still doing so.)

This, in turn, got me to thinking about how creative ideas manifest themselves. For those who are more constrained by “the normal” ways of living and thinking, does that mean they are hampered from coming up with the most innovative ideas for their fiction, paintings, or music? One of my good friends, an author, recently said to me that he thought I was too inhibited in my thinking and that it might prevent me from creating the most dramatic stories and situations. He may be right, maybe in that sense I’m still too normal?

In today’s shrill sensationalistic environment where people have the attention span of ten seconds perhaps being outside the norm is what it takes to attract attention to oneself and one’s art. I don’t know.

How about you, reader? Is your art outside the norm, and if it is, has that helped you? If it isn’t, do you think that is a disadvantage?

I’m going to continue to cultivate my abby-normal self in my creative life to push the boundaries of my stories, characters and imagination. I’m going to keep embracing the quirky, the odd and the unusual in friends and those close to me. Maybe, if I’m lucky, even more will rub off on me.

At the Brooklyn Museum: Materializing Six Years: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art

I recently went to the Brooklyn Museum to see a special exhibition “Materializing Six Years: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art.”

More than many museum exhibitions I’ve attended in recent years, I found this large and comprehensive exhibit fascinating and accessible. It covers six years of conceptual art activity from the late 1960’s into the early 1970’s. One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibit is that of the 173 “items” on display, many of them (perhaps most of them) are not art objects but the documentation of the conceptual art that was performed during that time period, or if not an art performance, the documentation describes a piece of art that could be assembled from the instructions provided.

If you are familiar with the work of Sol LeWitt, for example, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_LeWitt) you could see some diagrammatic illustrations on paper of some of the pieces Sol LeWitt wanted to either produce himself or to describe sufficiently so that the works could be produced by others. (As a side note, although I’m not necessarily a fan of his work, if you want to see a permanent exhibition of LeWitt’s work as executed by others, you can go to the DIA: Beacon museum in Beacon, NY.)

This exhibition is based on the curatorial work of Lucy R. Lippard, who participated in putting together shows and writing art criticism during this time period. Again, what is very interesting about this exhibition is that Lippard is not an artist, she is a critic and curator. Her “work” was providing the venues for artists to show their work rather than producing the work herself.

In the Brooklyn Museum there is a permanent Judy Chicago piece called The Dinner Party, which is a large set-piece of feminist art based on placemats, ceramic plates and settings for each female guest (such as Emily Dickenson, etc). The Elizabeth Sackler gallery is dedicated to showing feminist art as one of its primary objectives, and the Lippard exhibition surrounds the Judy Chicago set-piece as its center.

I didn’t particularly find this conceptual art exhibition to be feminist in nature, although I don’t know enough about Lippard to say if she was a feminist or not. There was a very good mix of male and female artists represented in this exhibition, and the themes represented were conceptual and not particularly geared towards feminist themes.

One of my favorite pieces in the exhibition was the “Secret Painting,” a piece by British artist Mel Ramsden. (http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/30.2003.a-b/) It is a canvas painted all black, and beside the painting there is another canvas with a message saying “The content of this painting is invisible; the character and dimension of the content are to be kept permanetly secret, known only to the artist.”

However, one of the “dangers” I perceive with Conceptual Art is that it takes the elevated position of an art object and makes anything a possible art object, whether it was specifically created by an artist or not. Of course, so much of the art we see these days is exactly that – not something specifically created by artists, but actually items that have been assembled from pre-existing consumer objects in the world and then we (the viewer) are told (1) this is art, and (2) it is up to you to determine its meaning.

When you enter the exhibit, the first thing you’ll see is a glass case with perhaps two dozen post cards of various scenes of New York City… Central Park, the Empire State Building, whatever. On the back of each post card is a printed text which says “I Got Up At” and then a printed time (4:28 P.M. for example). The only other printed text is the artist’s address (the artist is On Kawara) and the address of Lucy R. Lippard. So in this case, the “art performance” is the sending of a post card through the mail. No one can actually ever see the “art performance” and in the end, Lucy R. Lippard collects and assembles the “art objects” (postcards) from the “art performance” (sending the post cards through the mail.)

While I like the idea that art and artists can be playful with art, can play with the concepts of what is an art object or what is an art performance, I still find it disturbing to think that classical art is basically dead in that world. No where in that exhibition will you find a painting with a subject, you won’t even find abstract expressionist paintings because they aren’t necessarily “conceptual enough” for this crowd.

Of course, in the end, they are all following Marcel DuChamp’s lead from 1917 when he tried to put a urinal on display in an art show and call it a “Fountain.” It’s been all downhill since then. 🙂

If you want to see this exhibition, it will be on display at the Brooklyn Museum until February 17, 2013. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/six_years/. A catalog for this exhibit, in the form of a handsomely published book, is available in the gift shop for $45.oo.

Mark Flood’s Art Star show in Chelsea

I attended an art event in Chelsea at the Zach Feuer Gallery today put on by artist Mark Flood as a part of his new exhibition at the gallery called Art Star.

.
The show consists of a series of word paintings with sayings like “Museum Whores” and “Alleged Artists” and a video showing the judges from the Bravo TV show The Next Great Artist, but what the judges are saying is over-dubbed. Instead of giving real critiques, they are dubbed with computer generated voices and completely trashing the hypothetical artist they are discussing… then on the walls of the gallery are large canvases painted black in the center with borders of painted lace. (Lace paintings are works Flood has been known for in his career and how became known.)

The video tape of the judges was, for me, the most amusing part of the exhibition because of the cynicism Flood is showing about the whole way art is promoted by galleries and museums and how artists are commodified and sold.

Today’s event consisted of a panel of 10 men who all claimed to be Mark Flood, and 2 moderators who were there to ask the Mark Floods questions. One of the panel participants was actually Mark Flood, but he never identified himself as the “real artist” and similarly none of the questions that were asked of any of the Mark Floods sitting on the panel were answered seriously. All of the questions and answers were amusing and ironic, with one of the Mark Flood’s pretending to be a tree, another was a cat in a cage, and still others who pretended to represent some part of Mark Flood’s personality (narcissist, sell out, business person, musician, etc.).

Not too many years ago I would have found this kind of art exhibition completely ridiculous, but these days I think I can appreciate the humor and cynicism Flood is depicting in the show. The world of “high art” has become (has always been?) controlled by powerful forces and heavily driven by money. Who becomes the next “art star” has probably very little to do with actual talent and more to do with the proximity of an artist’s relationships to art power structures and influence.

Unfortunately though, I didn’t find the paintings in the exhibition to be “art star” worthy – but I could not figure out if that was purposeful by the artist. Perhaps Mark Flood wanted to create a set of paintings that would be seen as mediocre to underscore his point about how actual talent is irrelevant in the face of all these power structures at play. Or maybe the idea was that mediocre paintings are what galleries are selling today, along with the hype selected artists get by being represented by those galleries.

Regardless, I can appreciate the narrative commentary Flood provides in the word paintings and the video installation to underscore his points, plus the pointed humor he uses to get his message across. The art event today was a lot of fun, although I learned nothing more about Mark Flood as an artist by going, the 45 minutes I spent laughing at myself as an audience participant and laughing at the 10 Mark Floods give silly answers to silly questions makes light of what can normally be a serious endeavor to try and understand what an artist is trying to say with their work.

If you’re in the Chelsea area, I’d recommend checking out the exhibition… the gallery is located on 22nd near 11th Ave. and Art Star will be in residence there until October 15th.