Archive for the 'art history' Category



Whatever happened to Social Realism? (by Kathleen Loomis)

My art book group was reading about Ben Shahn, the great Social Realism artist of the mid-20th Century, and the question came up, is there any Social Realism in today’s art world?  That movement, you will recall, pictures ordinary people, especially the poor and downtrodden of the world, and implicitly criticizes the power structures that keep them down.  It includes a lot of great art, on both sides of the ocean.

George Luks, St. Botolph St., 1922

Ben Shahn, Demonstration, 1933

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

One of the most enduring projects of Social Realism was the monumental effort by the U.S. Farm Security Administration to document poverty during the Depression.  Many unemployed artists, including Ben Shahn, worked for the FSA and produced photos that we all recognize.

Ben Shahn, Boone County, Arkansas, 1935 

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936

The poor we still have with us, but at least within the realm of painting, there seems to be little interest in High Art lately in documenting their lives.

What happened to Social Realism after its heyday?  We thought of several factors.

First, Abstract Expressionism made realistic painting seem so old-fashioned.  And subsequent trends in art — Pop, Conceptual, Minimalist, whatever — seemed equally bent on distancing themselves from anything from previous generations.  Painters who did stick with the old traditions, such as Andrew Wyeth, may have been popular with the public but were never fully accepted by High Art.

Second, irony came to rule American culture, making it uncool to be earnest or sincere.

Third, photography seemed to be a much better way of depicting the details of real life, and proving that extreme conditions aren’t just a figment of the artist’s imagination.  The FSA photos themselves were Exhibit A for that argument, and photographic documentation of the poor and marginal continues strong today.  You name the fringe group, there’s a photographer who has documented it.  For instance, teenage drug addicts in Tulsa, Oklahoma — Larry Clark (below).

 LGBT — Catherine Opie (below).

Workers in third world countries — Sebastião Salgado (below).

Turkish transvestite prostitutes — Kutlug Ataman (below). Although I neither know nor care much about Turkish transvestites, I confess to having sat for well over an hour transfixed by this video, which went on much longer.

Amputees from Colombian drug wars — Miguel Angel Rojas (below).

There’s obviously no dearth of art photography documenting the ragged edges of society, and if we’re unaware of either the art or the reality, it’s not for lack of somebody trying to enlighten us.  But the preferred form changes with the times.

So imagine my surprise as I was googling away to find paintings made in this very decade in the good old Social Realism style.

Max Ginsburg, Foreclosure, 2011

Had the man worn work clothes and the little girl a raggedy cotton dress, nothing in this scene would distinguish it from a painting of the 30s.  “I choose to paint realistically because I believe realism is truth and truth is beauty,” Ginsburg writes on his website. “I believe that realism can communicate ideas strongly.”

Although this approach is out of fashion, the desire of the artist to document the situations of the non-elite clearly continues.  It will be interesting to see whether photography in its turn will become old-fashioned as a means to accomplish this, and if so, what genre will take its place.

 

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Rodin — king of recycling (by Kathleen Loomis)

My art history teacher last year, Chris Fulton, is an authority on Rodin’s great statue The Thinker, a situation that came about by accident. When Chris arrived at the University of Louisville a dozen years ago he noticed that the bronze Thinker who sits on the quad at U of L was much the worse for weather, its patina severely damaged and deteriorating before our eyes. He started to pester the administration to do something about it — our Thinker, the first bronze casting ever made in that size, is priceless. (There are about 28 full-size Thinkers around the world, but we’re number one, a mantra that U of L usually applies to basketball.)

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Auguste Rodin, The Thinker, at University of Louisville, surrounded by Chris Fulton and his art history students

After years of pestering Chris got them to commit to restoration of the Thinker, but as reward for his good intentions, he got put on the committee. The job was finally completed a year ago, and in the course of his work with the restoration, Chris became quite the expert. He also has begun working with some of the people he met on a larger project to document and study all the Thinkers ever cast.

Hearing him tell about his adventures in Rodin made me especially eager to hit the Musée Rodin when we got to Paris last year. The building used to be Rodin’s studio/workshop, and he donated all his sculptures to the government upon his death on condition that they turn the place into a museum.

Rodin first did The Thinker in 1880 as part of a commission to sculpt two massive front doors for a museum in Paris. The doors depicted the Gates of Hell, a scene from Dante’s Inferno, and Dante himself sat above the lintel contemplating the folly of mankind.

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Rodin, La Porte de l’Enfer, third maquette (plaster), 1881-82

The museum was never built, and Rodin kept working on the doors until his death, but it was hardly a failed project!

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Rodin, La Porte de l’Enfer, bronze

The huge production spawned many figures and poses that were given their own spinoff series, so to speak. The Thinker was first made as a free-standing statue in 1888, the same size as in the doors (about 28 inches tall).

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Rodin, Le Penseur, bronze, 1881-1882 (cast in 1917)

It was so popular that Rodin scaled it up to monumental size, about three times as big. Multiple casts were made in both versions, and one of the big guys is in the garden of the Musée Rodin, thinking under the golden dome of the Invalides.

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Rodin, Le Penseur, bronze, 1804

Although Rodin never installed his massive Gates of Hell doors at the museum that commissioned them, the project was a fertile spawning ground for many other sculptures (the Gates themselves showed up in several places, just not where they were originally intended). Most famous is The Thinker, but other bits also stepped out and became free-standing pieces.

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Rodin, Le Baiser, 1881-2

This one, representing Paolo and Francesca, doomed lovers from Dante’s Inferno, appeared in early maquettes of the Gates. Rodin decided they were too happy for their surroundings, and took them out of the final version. But never one to waste a good concept, he rendered them in terra cotta here and eventually in a larger marble version.

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Rodin, Les Trois Ombres, 1902-4

My favorite spinoff is The Three Shades, who stand at the very top of the Gates, pointing to the ominous words “abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” They’re actually identical triplets, each one cast from the same mold, but turned so that they each seem different.

Since learning more about Rodin’s many multiples, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of bronze-cast sculpture, where the artist isn’t closely involved in the actual making of the work. He may hover about the foundry (or in Rodin’s case, send helpers to check on the casting) but it’s not his hand any more at the end of the process. Did it make the sculptor nervous to turn over his baby to somebody else to finish? Was it exhilarating to order up dozens of Thinkers to populate the world? (Just like The Boys from Brazil.) Why do I lose respect for some artists who outsource the making of their work to others, but not for Rodin?

Emily Carr, Redux (by Clairan Ferrono)

Skidegate

Skidegate 1912

I first became aware of Emily Carr when I saw her work at the National Gallery of Canada in Vancouver 15 years ago.  I was, not to put too fine a point on it, gobsmacked!  I had never heard of her or seen work like hers.  For days I talked about her work (mostly to people who just nodded politely).  When we got home, I looked her up and examined  all the work I of hers I could find.  Then I read Susan Vreeland’s wonderful novel The Forest Lover, a fictionalized account of her life. And in 2007 Sandy Wagner did a post here at Ragged Cloth Cafe about her.  This summer I got the chance to go back to British Columbia, and of course I was anxious to see Carr’s work again.  And I fell in love with it all over again.

Emily Carr 8

Among the Firs  1930’s 36×30″

I love her trees and her light:

The Little Pine                                Scorned Timber

The Little Pine 1931                                                    Scorned Timber 1935

The Red Cedar                                                          Above the Trees

The Red Cedar 1933                                                  Above the Trees 1939

They beautifully convey the forests of British Columbia,  the movement of the trees, the pouring down of light, and, in fact, the spiritual energy that Carr obviously found there.  Her art was too individual, too avant garde for her time.  And while sometimes praised for the “vigor of her technique” her work was shunned as being not realistic enough.  Carr responded to this criticism by saying, “a picture should be more than meets the eye of the ordinary observer. . . .Art is art, nature is nature, you cannot improve upon it. . . .Pictures should be inspired by nature, but made in the soul of the artist, it is the soul of the individual that counts” ( Emily Carr, An Introduction to Her Life and Art by Anne Newlands).

Yes! The soul of the individual and the eye of the artist!

This past fall I took a drawing class for the first time.  I believed myself pretty lacking in talent, but found that my good observational skills kept me in good stead.  The class was working mainly on still lifes, and of course we all endeavored to be as accurate as possible.  Realism (terrifying!). But what was most striking to me, above and beyond my astonishment that my drawings actually looked like what they were intended to, was that all the drawings, while quite “accurate,” were very different and could easily be identified by artist.  Because we see differently and because we are interested in some things and not in others.  In other words, we make choices, and those choices make our work individual.

I am grateful for Emily Carr’s beautiful choices, for her wonderful eye and magnificent soul.

Ragged Cloth lives! Introducing Ragged Cloth 2

Ragged Cloth is art blog written primarily by fiber artists about any issues concerning artists.  All art forms, subjects, and time periods may be discussed. This is not a blog for self promotion or a place where we sell our work. but rather a place where we explore topics of concern to artists in any medium, but often with a fiber slant.  Here is the mission statement written by June Underwood, originator of Ragged Cloth :
“A new home for fiber & textile artists of all sorts.
The Ragged Cloth Café is a place for serious artists (who are also serious talkers) to verbally circle ideas about their own work, the visual arts, and the theories, histories, definitions and philosophies of arts while relating these to the textile arts. The group was begun by textile artists and most, but by no means all, of us
continue to have textile art as our base of reference. We are prone to go deep into any given topic, likely to go on for hours circling an idea, bringing in tangent ideas, never entirely resolving any issue, but seldom descending into boring repetition. We are practicing artists by day; thinking artists by night; verbal artists whenever we see the chance.The café invites civil discourse, discussions which probe and prod, and which are well-salted and sugared with references that will expand our horizons. Join us if you are willing to do your homework, looking up and seeking out what you don’t know as well as sharing what you do know. The list moderators and old hands will seed the discussion and keep it somewhat on track, but the group as a whole will, as they do with all email lists, have to draw up a seat, get their preferred cup of stimulus, and keep the comments, questions, and conversation going. Within this group, you will find fiber artists, art quilters, creators of complex/art cloth, wearable art, art dolls and others.”

We are a small band of dedicated posters who welcome comments, occasional or frequent, and new posters.  Join us.
cornell.rose-vents.small cornell.medici-boy.small cornell.habitat-group.small
Roses de Vent     Medici Boy    Habitat Group

Joseph Cornell was the first artist I admired.  I saw an exhibit of  his work in NY (perhaps at the Museum of Modern Art) when I was 11 or 12.   His constructions captivated and inspired me.  I knew nothing of Surrealism of course, but I found his odd juxtapositions endlessly fascinating and instantly liberating.  I immediately began to make my own collages or assemblages (I think I called them dioramas) in shoeboxes.  Anything that interested me could go into a diorama, and I was free to choose the theme, the objects (stones, twigs, grasses, magazine images, pieces of wood, or glass,  shells, dolls, etc.), and their arrangement.  Strangely enough, long after I had abandoned my first career as a teacher and become a fiber artist, I had to rediscover the empowerment to choose what I was interested in as my subject matter, and the “objects” and their arrangement.  I am fortunate to live in Chicago where The Art Institute has a room full of Cornell’s boxes.  I visit them at least once a year.  My own personal pilgrammage.

To see more : Cornell boxes

SoI’d love to know who inspired you first and  how  that inspiration affects your current work.

 

The catalogue better than the exhibition -? by Olga Norris

Eva_Hesse_Studiowork_FlyerI’m really cheating here, because I have neither seen the exhibition in question, nor finished reading the catalogue.   I did plan to see the show, had read the reviews: here, here, here, and here, but did not manage to get up to Edinburgh.  My consolation was the catalogue brought back by my husband who did see the exhibition.  I expected to flick through, disconsolate at having missed it; but no – this document more than makes up for missing seeing the display itself.

It’s always a question with Hesse’s work anyway – is this what she saw when she made it?  The materials have discoloured and altered in other ways over the intervening years.  And in any case, having read the first three chapters of the catalogue I realise that Briony Fer’s text makes us think so compellingly about the studio context of these pieces rather than the crisp empty vacuum of a white cube gallery.

This book is brilliant (so far): discussing not only Hesse, but the artists around her, and looking not directly at the major pieces of art and their meaning.  Rather she concentrates on how the art comes about – what accidents lead to pieces and their presentation – how, for instance the way that Sol LeWitt displayed in a glass case find little pieces gifted to him by Hesse inspired her deliberately to group works that way. 

The studio is all important, acting as context, sketchbook, inspiration, and critic, and so much more.  Fer’s examination of Hesse’s studio ‘arrangements’ on grid tables, her own work next to all sorts of other work and ephemera reveals so much more of the artist’s thinking than just looking at the individual pieces themselves.  And by the way shows that curiosity about other artists’ studios and their contents is a valid study and not just Interiors nosiness!

This book is making me think hard, and I am enjoying what is presented and where it inspires me to explore.  I see now why I so loved the extraordinary ephemera that I found and photographed when I visited Henry Moore’s studios (he had several sheds etc. around his grounds) in the early 1980s.

Henry Moore 5 Henry Moore 8

Henry Moore 9

True, I would have loved to see the work itself too, but this document by Briony Fer is providing me with the most enjoyable mental meal I’ve had for some time.

A thought-provoking discovery (by Olga Norris)

I can change my mind

I can change my mind

At the weekend I went to an exhibition of mixed fine art, and amongst the few textile technique pieces encountered the work of Miranda Argyle.  Mags Ramsey’s blog also mentioned this artist, and that Argyle’s website directed further to a piece of stitched writing in the Victoria and Albert Museum.  This poignant sampler was made in the 19th century but would now pass as a piece of contemporary feminist art.

Miranda Argyle is very interesting on the act of stitching.  I was also intrigued by her statement that ‘Sewn text is rarely used to document.’ because as I have developed my own image-making in textiles I have realised that this is my means of documenting my emotions – a kind of psychological diary, but without words.  I started to think about what difference it made to have to stitch the words, especially slowly in repetition as Argyle does – is this a declaration to oneself? to others? a mantra to persuade or convince oneself? to expunge? 

Tracey Emin: Just remember how it was

Tracey Emin: Just remember how it was

Stitched words are also used by Tracey Emin in many of her autobiographical drawings.  Using written language can be a means of adding a extra dimension, or layer to the meaning – just as rendering in textile itself adds physical depth and more complex possibilities for interpretation to a piece.

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?


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