Archive for the 'architecture' Category

The art of fiber / the fiber of art (by Olga Norris)

Sheila Hicks
Shiela Hicks with her work Pillar of Enquiry/Supple Column (from this review)

With some regret I will not be able to visit the exhibition Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – Present, on at the ICA, Boston now until January 4, then at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus from January – April 5 2015, followed by the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa May 8 – August 2nd. However, I have the next best thing: the excellent catalogue with its informative and thought-provoking essays.

I became generally interested in soft sculpture such as the work of Meret Oppenheim and Claes Oldenburg before developing a particular fascination with fibre art in the late 70s through the Royal College of Art Gaudy Ladies exhibitions which included weaver Marta Rogoyska, and Natalie Gibson (whose print designs can be seen here). Then I also became attracted to the work of Tadek Beutlich who worked with weaving off the loom.
Tadek BeutlichThis opened a window for me, and I started looking more and more for examples of sculptural textiles – which led me to a treasury of delights: Magdalena Abakanowicz, Olga de Amaral, Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, and Anne Wilson among so many others. Interesting that I arrived at Eva Hesse and Rosemarie Trockel directly through my interest in sculpture rather than through fibre art.

The catalogue provides clear photographs of the work in situ as well as close-ups, and the essays are also illuminating. The gulf between the burgeoning fibre art movement and what might be called mainstream art critics’ view of art is pointed out in the first essay of the catalogue: The Materialists by Jenelle Porter.
Despite the gains of the feminist art movement, which included a groundbreaking loosening of confining categories and mediums that has continued to have an impact on artists to this day, fiber’s association with women’s work undermined the abstract, material experimentation of fiber artists – man of whom were women, though not necessarily self-identified feminists. … By using traditionally domestic crafts … On the positive side they acquired a ready made alternative art history, and gained a language of form that summoned up vast realms of women’s experience. On the negative side they found themselves confronted by the questionable notion that craft was inherently female, and by the negative aspects of that gendering.

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Magdalena Abakanowicz: Yellow Abakan (from this review of the exhibition)

In Glenn Adamson’s essay Soft Power he draws the distinction in bold terms by comparing the gravity-enhanced fibre works with distinct periods in history of the unpopularity of the flaccid penis in sculpture. The distinct lack of critical acclaim for the droopy draped natural forms of soft sculpture compares with the critical successes of upright thrusting forms of hard sculpture. This superficial sounding view is in fact an informative well thought-out argument which has certainly presented a different perspective to the feminist debate.
T’ai Smith’s essay Tapestries in Space: An Alternative History of Site-Specificity discusses how many of the glorious fibre sculptures were commissioned for specific buildings and now many have been destroyed or about to be destroyed because they were not looked after or were no longer needed. Barbara Shawcroft’s Legs joyously decorating the spaces of the Embarcadero Station on the Bay Area Rapid Transport network has been neglected, and is now to be returned to the artist – which at least is better than destruction. (Article about Legs here)
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Barbara Shawcroft: White Form

Robert Rohm’s Rope Piece has been dismantled and lost, but the exhibition curator Jenelle Porter and a team from the ICA reconstructed the work and it is now part of the show.

Art made of fibre does suffer over time. Maintenance and conservation are headaches for collectors and institutions. Some fibre art once bought is wrapped up and put straight into the cupboard. This has happened with Lenore Tawney and MOMA. the latter pleading lack of appropriate space. At least, that might have been so in past decades, but now with the ubiquity of installations, the maintenance nightmares of sharks in formaldehyde, the vast sizes of iconic museum architecture, perhaps this timely revival of these wondrous constructions will have some positive effect -?

photo-614x460Elise Giauque: Pure Spatial Element (from this review of the exhibition)

But in reading this excellent catalogue/book as well as having been given the opportunity to think again about those historic pieces, and to mull once more aspects of feminism in art, I also ask myself, is it really over-simplifying the case by so much to say that generally, work made in materials which need less maintenance and conservation are in the long run more highly regarded (i.e. worth more) by the art world (critics, curators, collectors)?

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Musing on Museums (by Clairan Ferrono)

Before I get started on my museum musing, let me note that mine was the last post on this blog.  And that was over a month ago.  Is anyone out there interested in posting regularly or occasionally? This blog has been an important ingredient in my personal art education, so I should hate to see it fade away.

(Now I must also tell you that most of the images you will see in this post are not those I saw at the museum, but ones I scooped off the internet!)

Rothko

Rothko

Last week  another art quilter (Glenys Mann of Tamworth, Australia) and I went to the recently opened Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.  As you might imagine, this has gotten rather a lot of press here in Chicago.  Not only is a major portion of the modern collection  available for viewing and gathered together for the first time, the building itself is attracting a lot of attention.  We entered from Millenium Park, itself a worthy attraction!  I have no way of knowing the architectural significance of the building, but I can say it’s a pleasure to be in and look at art in:  light, airy and spacious.

Pollock

Pollock

On the ground floor is a special exhibitions hall.   I was happy to see the Cy Twombly exhibit (see a previous Ragged Cloth post on Twombly); all the work was new to me, but I felt like he was an old friend.  I could go through quite quickly, knowing where in his oeuvre things occurred and how they connected, and just concentrate on paintings I was particularly drawn to. And this viewing, then, provided a context I hadn’t expected for the rest of my visit.

Newman

Newman

The sections we visited were divided into American Art 1945 – 1960, American Art 1960-present, and European Art 1945-present.  As regular readers of RC know by now, I love Abstract Expressionism, so the 1945-1960 section was attractive to me.  The Rothko, Newman and Pollock were very nice, but not my favorites, so I moved on.  I was reminded that I don’t like de Kooning, Rothtenburg, or Kline, but maybe I’d like to learn more about Kline.  As you know, I believe that it’s hard to like or even to look at with appreciation artists that one has no “way into.”  And that’s how I feel about Kline.  So perhaps further study will lead me to appreciate him more.

I was particularly drawn to Joan Mitchell’s City Landscape (below).  It seems to represent the ganglion of a city’s nerves in the center of the painting which is vibrant and energetic and full of motion.  Note to self:  look at more Mitchell.

Mitchell City Landscape

Mitchell City Landscape

We then moved on to the more contemporary Americans.  I was immediately struck by a fairly recent Jasper Johns encaustic piece whose name I did not remember to write down, although I sketched some parts of it and wrote extensive notes about it.  It was a large painting, almost entirely gray, hinged on the side with parts of doors and  a cord hanging down from it.

Johns

Johns

I was particularly impressed by the painting, which  had shapes reflecting the shape of the cord, an actual shadow produced by the cord, and painted shadows.  Reflections of reflections of reflections.  I had never before been particularly interested in Johns, although I do remember wanting to see the Grey exhibit and not being able to.  So now I shall have to investigate Jasper Johns more thoroughly.

Then I looked at some paintings by people I had never even heard of (which is not surprising as I know very little of the contemporary art scene) :

Ellen Gallagher Untitled 1999 , Mary Heilmann Heaven 2004, and Margherita Manzelli Dopo la fine 2008. (I remind you that these are not the images of the paintings I’m writing about.)

Gallagher

Gallagher

I was very intrigued by these three and spent quite some time taking notes on each of these artists’ works, vowing to look them up and see more work by them.

Heilmann

Heilmann

By the time I had found the David Hockney and the Gerhardt Richter, I was too tired to look more than cursorily.  After all, I am a member of the museum and can come back and look whenever I want–how lucky am I?!  And then my friend came back and insisted I look at the Joseph Cornell with her!  And I adore Cornell, so off I went, glancing at Lucien Freund and Francis Bacon as I went (two I don’t like, important as I know they are. . . .).

Manzelli

Manzelli

After we had sat down and had something to eat, my friend and I were able to discuss what we had seen.  And I started to think seriously of what the curator does and how it affects our vision of art in a museum.  Why are certain paintings grouped together? We so rarely get to read why a curator makes the decisions he/she makes.  If I am in a room with 4 or 6 or 10 artists, loosely associated in time, and my knowledge of art history is weak, then what do I learn by the association?  I have to be very, very attentive to make out the connections (assuming the curator is a good one and there are connections other than simple chronology), unless I have prior knowledge  of a group or a period.  I have realized that I really prefer to see a large body of one artist’s work at a time so that I can educate myself, make observations and connections, and get a feel for what the artists is doing over a  period of time.  But a large collection, like that of the Art Institute, is great for introducing me to the myriad of artists I have not seen before, or showing me a side of someone I had previously rejected, or revealing to me themes or ideas  or commonalities I had been previously unaware of  among a group I know something about (our old friends the Abstract Expressionists, of course!).

I wonder if your recent viewing experiences at museums have been at all similar to mine?

Two Old Dogs’ New Trick (by Eileen Doughty)

court1.jpg

Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard Designed by Norman Foster

From the museum’s website:

The Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, with its elegant glass canopy was designed by the world-renowned architectural firm Foster + Partners, is a signature element of the renovated National Historic Landmark building that houses the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. The enclosed courtyard provides a distinctive, contemporary accent to the museums’ Greek Revival building.

“The design was driven by a deep respect for the existing building,” said Foster. “It was decided that it should not touch the building at any point-floating above it instead, like a cloud over a courtyard.”

The roof, a steel structure with a glass and aluminum exterior, has a surface area of approximately 37,500 square feet. There are 864 panes of glass and no two are alike. Eight steel columns support the canopy, which weighs around 900 tons.

At 28,000 square feet, the courtyard is one of the largest public event spaces in Washington. The interior features a variety of plantings, including two 32-foot high ficus trees and 16 black olive trees which sit in white marble planters on a black granite floor. Foster + Partners worked closely with acclaimed landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson on the design of the interior which includes four of her signature water scrims.

 

court2.jpg

The building was originally called the Patent Office, and it is quite typical of the architecture of most federal buildings in Washington, DC. It was the third public building constructed in the new city of Washington, after the White House and the Capitol. Construction began in 1836, and the final wing was not finished until 1868. For decades it also held the government’s historical, scientific and art collections, including the Declaration of Independence; other agencies such as the Department of the Interior; a temporary barracks in the early days of the Civil War and served as a hospital and morgue after several battles. Walt Whitman tended to wounded Union soldiers here, and President Abraham Lincoln held his second inaugural ball on the third floor. In the early 1950s it was slated for demolition to make way for a parking lot, but the budding historic preservation movement saved it. It became a Smithsonian property in the 1960s. It was closed from 2000-2006 for extensive renovations. The new courtyard was completed in November.

The new canopy may rest solely on columns, but you’d never know it from the viewpoint of the floor. Computers were used to design the panes. It would have taken years otherwise for the architects to figure out how to make them fit together.

The space should feel “cold” with all the neutral, almost colorless, stonework — except for the trees which make it feel like an open park. However I felt warm and quite comfortable. Perhaps the glass ceiling gives the feeling of being under a slightly rumpled quilt.

court9.jpg

“Scrims” were a new word to me. They are shallow areas of gently flowing water (the water comes out from one side and drains at the opposite side). These are only about 1/8-inch deep, shallower than the sole of a shoe. Besides the fun of walking through the scrims (and having dry shoes in a few steps), was just watching the patterns of reflections change over the course of a minute or two. The water flow increases and decreases in a regular rhythm, causing the reflection of the canopy to blur and then become distinct.

court4.jpgcourt5.jpgcourt61.jpg

There are ever-changing shadow patterns on the walls.

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And the reflection patterns on the floor are just as enjoyable.

court81.jpg

I wonder how many people will go barefoot in warmer weather.

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This is a welcome addition to the staid architecture of most of Washington, DC, and the courtyard certainly is a destination along with the two museums it joins. However, the architects were required to make the beautiful canopy not visible from the ground outside — what a shame.

As quilt artists, perhaps we are predisposed to appreciate this mix of traditional and contemporary.  Do you know of other places that have a notable mix of new and old architecture, in your home town or anywhere in the world? Places that look great, or flopped? Another famous example mixing wildly different architectural styles is the Louvre, in Paris.

For more pictures of the courtyard, see the museum’s slide show; it includes a view from above the roof line and night lighting.


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