Archive for the 'contemporary art' Category



When artists become collectors (by Margaret Cooter)

“Like the making of art itself, collecting reminds me of prospecting. Some perceived sparkle makes you start to dig and then a seam can be followed.”

Julian Opie is a British artist I’ve never looked at twice. His flat, graphic style always got the “so what?’ reaction. But reading about his art collection has changed that.

Opie has put together an exhibition* of his collection and his own work – and what strange bedfellows they are – portraits from the 17th and 18th centuries don’t, on the surface, connect with his “sculptures”.

Julian with T-Shirt (2005).  LCD screen with integrated software.  "LCD screens are now so flat and high-resolution that they are quite similar to pantings or prints. Like the portrait in the haunted house that moves its eyes, there is a humour to movement when it's unexpected."

Julian with T-Shirt (2005).
LCD screen with integrated software.
“LCD screens are now so flat and high-resolution that they are quite similar to pantings or prints. Like the portrait in the haunted house that moves its eyes, there is a humour to movement when it’s unexpected.”

In an article** about his show (and collecting habit) he says: “A chance encounter with (and purchase of) a ‘School of Godfrey kneeler’ portrait opened up the whole of 17th- and 18th-century portraiture or me. The painting caught my eye due to its powerful purposefulness and sense of being an object…When I started to investigate where it had come from, however, I began discovering a world of art parallel to, but quite separate from, the contemporary art world. … The list of artists kept growing as I found one who taught another or competed with another. … I began to understand the period in a way I had never done before … numerous brilliant, exciting artists I had never heard of, describing a whole world, evoking a whole scene. “

Cornelis Johnson (1593-1661), Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman (1631). "Johnson is particularly known for placing the head close to the centre of the canvas, lower than most artists would. This has a very odd and endearing effect."

Cornelis Johnson (1593-1661), Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman (1631).
“Johnson is particularly known for placing the head close to the centre of the canvas, lower than most artists would. This has a very odd and endearing effect.”

“It is tempting to see the present as special, but it is also exciting to realise that he past was once today. To me, the art of different periods brings those worlds parallel,” says Opie.

Subsequently he became interested in “ancient art”, buying a small marble Aphrodite and going on to learn more about the whole ancient period, from Roman statuary and portraiture to Tanagra Greek figurines and to all things Egyptian.

A pattern is evolving – stumble on the art, like it, (buy it,) get curious, investigate…  “After the heated frenzy of having found and caught the work there follows a sense of calm. I look forward to having it on view.”

Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766), Portrait of a Lady "The dashing clothes and posture do more than the rather blank features to evoke the sitter's character and presence. To me, Nattier's pictures are perfect and an epitome of a certain, doomed moment."

Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766), Portrait of a Lady
“The dashing clothes and posture do more than the rather blank features to evoke the sitter’s character and presence. To me, Nattier’s pictures are perfect and an epitome of a certain, doomed moment.”

How does his collection inform his own art?

“Looking at other artists’ work gives me clues in terms of materials, composition, subject matter, colour – everything really. But it also reflects what my interests are, making me feel connected, giving me confidence. [Compared with ancient artists] artists now don’t really know what they are doing and have to invent or find this sense of obviousness and purpose for themselves.”

It works the other way round, too, Opie says. “Making art is in part a conversation with people about whom you can make certain assumptions of sameness. I assume my viewers are living in the same world as I am, that their picture of themselves and their surroundings is built of much the same material as mine. What art looks like, what images we have already seen, has great bearing on how we see new art. What we see is structured and defined by what we know, and a lot of that h=is to do with art from the past … I have always aimed to make my work with all that in mind, as part of its meaning and promise. If I make something that looks a bit like and 18th-century painting or reminds one of an information screen in an airport, it is because I mean it to.”

At Home with Maria 4 (2011) "The focus in a painting is naturally the face and the eyes. By eliminating these, the viewer is free to take in the pose and costume, to read the space that is suggested, t see the whole as a sign, an invention and yet to feel, I hope, the reality of the image."

At Home with Maria 4 (2011). “The focus in a painting is naturally the face and the eyes. By eliminating these, the viewer is free to take in the pose and costume, to read the space that is suggested, t see the whole as a sign, an invention and yet to feel, I hope, the reality of the image.”

“…because I mean it to”…  Through being informed about the history and context of art at different times, as Opie has done via his own art collection, the “meaning to” becomes something wider, deeper than the technical aspects of producing the work.

Telling the readers of this blog about the joys of learning about areas of art outside their own field of practice is unnecessary – you’ve read this far, after all! – but I can’t help thinking that this sort of interest or knowledge seems to be rather lacking in other parts of the textile-art field. Prove me wrong?

And, tell me … what’s on your walls? How does it  influence the art you make?

Aniela Bathing 4 (2013) Black enamel on white marble, 95x95cm. “A song is about neither words nor music but a perfect relationship between the two, the meaning lying somewhere in between and beyond. Subject matter and materials in a painting have a similar relationship.”

 

 

*’Julian Opie Collected Works’, The Holburne Museum, Bath, 22 May to 14 September; Bowes Museum, Durham, 4 October to January 2015.

**Published in Art Quarterly, Spring 2014; a draft is at julianopie.com. Images and captions in this post are drawn from those in the published article.

 

Is It the 1960s? (by Karen S. Musgrave)

Invader_KarenMusgrave I had not intended to add to Olga’s discussion on crochet but serendipity played its part so here I am. When Stephanie Lanter’s piece “Invader” arrived at ClaySpace for its national competition and exhibit, Clay3 (work must fit in a 12″ x12″ x12″ cube), it was in eight pieces. When no one else would step up to fix it, I did. This lead me to look further into Stephanie’s work where I would discover porcelain and fiber sculptures that dealt with communication.

My porcelain and fiber sculptures are symbols representations of relations (i.e. communications) with others and ourselves. These intimate ‘phones’ are softened and contextualized with threads and crocheted doilies. Inspired by by the sensuality of antique phones, my use of low-tech process is not a critique of technology but of behavior. I examine dysfunction, loneliness, ‘home,’ and ambivalence through abstraction and excess, and laugh at my obsessions in this realm of connection. Also, I wonder how changing modes of fulfilling this basic need to “reach out and touch” each other–is also changing us.”

ToDelete, PressStar_StephanieLanter

To Delete, Press Star

Jeannie

Jeannie

When I was sharing my discoveries with a friend, she thought I should check out the work of Norma Minkowitz. Norma explores the possibilities of crocheted, interlaced sculptures stiffened into hard mesh-like forms. Her work deals with the passage of time, fragility of life, and  the inevitability of mortality. “Despite the repeated use of the same basic stitch, no two are exactly alike. This conveys the intimacy and imperfection of the human hand while creating a movement akin to the cross hatching of a pen and ink drawing. The interlacing technique that I use makes it possible for me to convey the fragile, the hidden, and the mysterious qualities of my work, in psychological statements that invite the viewer to interpret and contemplate my art. I am still drawing, but with fiber. “

Talking with Olga, she made a comment that it was beginning to feel like the sixties again. “It will be macrame next.” Of course , I had to explore what was happening in macrame and found some incredible artists using this medium. We are most certainly not talking hippie macrame.   Jim (no last name given) creates skulls out of macrame. His website is here. Then there is Ukrainian artist Vladimir Denshchikov who creates religious icons using macrame and painted canvas (only the faces are painted).

I suspect that just like quilts, crochet and macrame have evolved. And I always find it interesting what medium people choose to express themselves. So if this is a reflection of growth from the 1960s, I say, “Rock on!”

jim Macramemacrame-art-19-s

The biggest art prize in the world (by Kathleen Loomis)

Big news in the art quilt world recently is that an art quilt just won a HUGE prize in a competition in which it was pitted against art in all mediums.  The winner is Anne Loveless, of Frankfort MI; the competition is ArtPrize, held in Grand Rapids MI; and the prize is an astounding $200,000, said to be the world’s largest art award.

ImageAnn Loveless, Sleeping Bear Dune Lakeshore, 5’ x 20’

The competition has been going on for five years and is in two parts: one where the winners are chosen by public vote, and one where a professional art jury selects the winners.  Apparently the public section is something like the Oklahoma land rush, where the Sooners lined up in their covered wagons and sped into the sunset to grab the best plots for homesteading.  Any artist in the world can enter the competition, as long as he or she finds a place within three miles of downtown Grand Rapids to display the work, and jockeying for good space begins many, many months before the competition opens.  This year there were more than 1500 entries.

Once the work is installed, anybody who wants to visit can check out the art and cast a vote during the 19 days of the event.  After a week they announce the Top 100, Top 50 and Top 25; towards the end the Top 10 are named and there’s another round of voting.

The winning quilt had to overcome a huge setback near the end of the competition when the federal government shutdown closed the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum.  The quilt and three others in the top ten had been displayed at the museum, a prime location for the competition.  For the last several days of the event, Loveless moved her quilt to a tent outside the building, and slept there to guard it, and to lobby visitors for their votes.

The fact that a quilt won the big prize was received by the art quilt community as wonderful news, but what does it mean to the larger world of high art?  Perhaps not much.

The art critic for the Detroit Free Press, for instance, commented that “there’s quality art to be found at ArtPrize, but you have to wade through a lot of dull, second-rate and amateur work, too.”  He mentioned twelve works that he particularly liked, but they were all in the professional category, not in the public vote running.  Another art  professional, who runs a college gallery, told a local TV station that many of the top vote-getters had “entertainment value, but not art value.”

One of the artists on the professional jurors’ short list wrote in a blog, “ArtPrize is populist. The classic definition meaning that populism is a revolt against elitism.  In practical terms, this is exactly what ArtPrize is and this is good, but unfortunately it engenders limitations. By looking at this year’s popular winning entries and those from previous years three elements are consistent; the art work is large in scale, it is extremely well crafted, and it is easily accessible, no guesswork is needed to immediately understand what is being looked upon. In other words it is easy on the eye and easy to immediately understand.  What goes through the mind of most non-expert viewers, I would suspect, is a wow factor, an immediate acknowledgement how difficult and time consuming it was to produce the work, coupled with a keen appreciation of the talent that went into its creation. Thus a vote is given, not only because the viewer may “like” the piece, but also as a reward for the diligence and craft that went into creating it.”

That description fits the winning quilt perfectly.  In fact, Loveless said that in her two previous ArtPrize participations, “I realized you had to go big to be seen in ArtPrize.”

Loveless, of course, saw larger implications in her big win.  She told the local newspaper art critic, “Textiles aren’t considered fine arts. They think of the quilt on the bed. But definitely this is art.  I think next year, we’ll have a lot of textile entries. I think I’m paving the way for quilters in general.”

I’m sure she’s right that there will be lots more quilts entered in ArtPrize next year.  But I think she and all the quilters who exulted over the news are whistling past the graveyard when they think winning the big one will raise the profile of quilts in the high art world.  The professional jurors didn’t give it the time of day, nor did they choose anything that was among the people’s favorites.

In fact, one might cynically argue that when a quilt won the public vote, it ensured that the pros won’t look at another quilt for many years.  Just as the artist commented above that populism is a revolt against elitism, elitism is a revolt against populism.

The jurors went instead for more cerebral installation art.  The big winner with the jury ($100,000) was Carlos Bunga, a Spaniard, who made “a site-specific, architectural intervention…that uses cardboard, tape and paint to re-imagine a gallery in the former Grand Rapids Public Museum.”  No danger of that one winning the public vote, just as there’s no danger of a quilt winning the jury.

ImageCarlos Bunga, Ecosystem

Hand it to the Machine? Celebrating technology (by Olga Norris)

Tuesday 15 October 2013 is Ada Lovelace Day, an annual celebration of women in science, technology, and engineering.  The other day there was an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper linked to this celebration, and highlighting the attitudes to women using technology.  I was amused to read that the author, Helen Czerski likened learning to use an arc welder to icing a cake, and immediately thought of Sokari Douglas Camp, whose splendid sculptures are made by welding.

Sokari Douglas Camp: The Finger 2011 Steel, beads, tin can, silk thread

Sokari Douglas Camp: The Finger 2011 Steel, beads, tin can, silk thread

In the textile world we have been used to using advances in technology forever: the loom and the needle for a start.  And in our textile world it seems to be women who use the technology designed and devised by men.  On the other hand, I’m always delighted to find a user who is quietly competent at taking her sewing machine apart and putting it together again.  Way back at the end of last century I attended a workshop on machine embroidery by Pamela Watts who was also learning to fly a helicopter.  Women certainly seem to be eager to embrace technological advances in the textile world.

There is as much of a buzz around the latest machinery as there is at the thread and fabric stalls at exhibitions like the Festival of Quilts, and the Knitting and Stitching Show in the UK.  Books can hardly keep up with all the ways of exploiting the newest gadgets to prod and pull, join and cut stuff.  Folks are also always finding new ways of using kitchen technology to help with making art: microwave ovens for dyeing, liquidisers for mushing paper, etc.

The point of technology is to help us achieve, to push us further from the smallest incremental aid like the rotary cutter’s advance on the scissors to the great leap forward of using lasers.   The Schiffli Project has spurred many works of art, such as recent pieces by Alice Kettle (an interview with Alice here).

Alice Kettle: Ormopenthesis 2007 Schiffli Project 160 x 160cm

Alice Kettle: Ormopenthesis 2007 Schiffli Project 160 x 160cm

Sarah Hartland has experimented with an industrial laser to etch fabrics in her printmaking explorations.  Karina Thompson used digital stitch in her art, as does Charlotte Yde, better known for her art quilts.  Sculptor Janet Echelman is a great advocate for modern technology use in making art.

Janet Echelman: 1.26 Denver 2010 Sculpture Project at the Biennial of the Americas

Janet Echelman: 1.26 Denver 2010 Sculpture Project at the Biennial of the Americas

I also remember being blown away on seeing Marilene Oliver’s take on printmaking at her degree show at the Royal College of Art a few years back.  Now living in Angola, Africa, I am interested to see how her work is developing.  The article below was found in the yellerzine blog on her exhibition at Edinburgh Printmakers earlier this year.

Marilene Oliver: work in the Confusao exhibition 2013

Marilene Oliver: work in the Confusao exhibition 2013

Confusao
Marilène Oliver
Edinburgh Printmakers
16th March-11th May 2013

Oliver has worked for many years with medical imaging data to create sculptures and installations. This solo exhibition, the first since the artist has moved to Sub Saharan Africa, sees the artist refining her practice to a series of dark and haunting etchings. Continuing her project of working with the anonymised dataset Melanix, Oliver uses radiology software to produce digital 2D renderings that are later combined with intricate collagraph drawings. Oliver’s inspiration for the images in this series comes from the many powerful experiences she has had since living in Africa that have caused her to rethink her relationship with the scanned body. Whereas before the CT dataset was a material that she could manipulate and transform to create complicated sculptures, it now has a strong symbolic resonance, signifying privilege both in terms of wealth and access to digital technology. In ‘Confusao’ Melanix is shrouded in the dark, weightless void of digital space, emerging to find herself appropriating traditions and rituals of African cultures she barely understands but is captivated.

Marilène Oliver works at a crossroads somewhere between new digital technologies, traditional print and sculpture, her finished objects bridging the virtual and the real worlds. She works with the body translated into data form in order to understand how it has become ‘unfleshed’, in the hope of understanding who or what it has become. To this end she uses various scanning technologies, such as MRI and PET, to reclaim the interior of the body and create works that allow is to materially contemplate our increasingly digitised selves.

This is just a tiny number of those who grasp the tools they need to make contemporary art – and who let the tools lead them to stretch their ideas.  But a niggling attitude seems to persist in appreciating art – even from those who are creators themselves.

Why is it then that having something made by hand seems to carry so much approval as being better, more authentic?  And why is using the computer in any form seen as an advance too far?  Why still the dismissive statement used about the computer as tool – as if the artist’s thinking, creativity, decision-making, and even hand skills had somehow been removed the moment that switch went on.  As someone who extensively uses a computer where others use a sketchbook and more, I have become perhaps overly sensitive to denigration of that use –  but why this recurrent disproportionate praise for the hand made?

In this morning’s newspaper I was interested to read this last sentence from Grayson Perry in an interview: “I think the artists who will go down in history are the ones who in some way respond to the moment they’re in.”

I would like to know what others think about the technology we all use to make work, and whether the less technology we use – the more primitive the tools the more worthy/authentic the work.  Is the means of creation really more important than the intention and/or the end?

A publication and a publisher hit the dust (by Olga Norris)

From the age of four I wanted to be an artist.  Later I grew to appreciate writing in its various forms, and was lucky enough to have a fulfillingly creative career in publishing.  When the career became distinctly less creative I turned my attention more fully onto becoming more involved with personal expression.  This was aided and perhaps even specifically directed by an inspirational magazine I found while living in the USA in the very early 80s: Fiberarts.  

I did not turn to textiles immediately.  Such is the power of the accepted view of what being an artist is that I worked first in acrylics on paper.  But I subscribed to Fiberarts, just as I had subscribed to Crafts magazine for years previously.  It was a combination of my previous experience with textiles as a child, the constant inspiration and broadening of my thinking by reading Fiberarts, and the encounter with a fascinating exhibition entitled Art of the Stitch by the UK Embroiderers’ Guild which finally tipped me over.

 I found a voice of my own at the turn of the century, but the desire for incoming inspiration and information about the work of others, their expressions and their intentions has not diminished.  I am sad that Fiberarts is now no more.  I must admit that I have been expecting it ever since it was bought by a company which seemed primarily interested in enormous circulation; but I take no pleasure in being proved right.  I am only glad that the Internet is there to supply serendipitous delights – but what is missing there is critical nourishment.

 I had hoped some years ago that Telos books would grow into a list spanning from introductions to the artists in various countries using textile as their medium, through monographs on particular artists, to academic texts.  The visuals were stunning.  The design seductive, but the text was sadly lacking, and increasingly more so as the price increased.  Even a book addict hooked on art textiles stopped buying some years ago now.  So now Telos is also no more.

 Does this mean that there is no market for thoughtful, thought-provoking critical analysis within and about art which uses textile forms and techniques?  Have those of us who want to exchange thoughts more about intention than technique been swamped by the seemingly ever increasing thirst for the latter?  Is it out there and I’ve just missed it somehow?


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