Wednesday, 30 March 2011

New York City

“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”
                                                                        - Thomas Wolfe

I am busy in New York this week going to several major galleries and seeing far too many Broadway shows. I will resume daily blogging on Monday, 4 April. 


Friday, 25 March 2011

Bite 83: Marina Abramović - Nude with Skeleton, 2002-5

Nude with Skeleton, 2002-5, colour video without sounds, 12.36 min looped
The supine skeleton rises and falls, seemingly coming to life, as the body beneath it breathes in deeply and then exhales, repeatedly. Marina Abramović is nude beneath a skeleton created to her own dimensions. As she animates it, so it reflects her imminent death. She holds its hand in hers in an intimate coupling, the twelve-and-a-half minute video looped – condemning Abramović in this open coffin indefinitely. 

Abramović’s synthesis of spiritual symbolism and a clinical stripping down of the body to its bare bones is rooted in that moment in the seventeenth-century when allegorical mysticism collided with the emerging ‘rational’ disciplines of science, anatomy and medicine. With Abramović’s fleshy, physical performance we voyeuristically witness her private meditation. She gazes up, perhaps waiting for something, or someone. A living sculpture, she is a live body becoming sculpture in the inverse of how we can see the best sculptures by Bernini as ‘object becoming live body’, Bernini’s expert drapery making his figures seem as alive as Abramović’s nude body. 

Her extended sombre vigil on mortality embraces both pain and pleasure, Marina becoming a contemporary St. Teresa – simultaneously transcendent and earthy, erotic and religious. Her fragile body on the hard floor manifests a Baroque fear as she continues to breathe, almost painstakingly, and, eventually, cries. Likewise, Bernini’s sculpture The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, also presents a woman glancing the eternal, the arrow a materialization of eroticism and divine revelation. 

Moreover, looking at Bernini’s Blessed Ludovica Albertoni one can even imagine a skeleton lying with her. On the threshold of death, her head inclined upwards, here also, as with Abramović’s piece, mortality is coupled with eroticism. Consciousness and a sense of the mystical pervade both works, even being 400 odd years apart and presented in very different or even opposing mediums. Both use a respectively contemporarily relevant medium to present a physical depiction of struggling against mortality. 

We witness a religious transformation – the body comprehending its own demise and the soul triumphing over death. Albertoni is in her final moments – as well as her most mystical – while Abramović breathes slowly and methodically, accepting her own gradual descent into the grave. These works are idealisations of death – vitally alive and transcendent images of morbidity – embodied paradoxes of the human condition.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Bite 82: Keith Haring - Elvis, n.d

Elvis, n.d, sumi ink and gold paint on Elvis poster, 97 x 67 cm
A post of Elvis has been painted over in black, signifying death (Haring more often used white paint). 

There is no person here - only an image. Made meaningless and stripped of humanity by overexposure and reproduction. We see a created entity - man-cum-commodity. The immortal clichéd image that is Elvis Presley

A religious icon of the most iconic of celebrities, he appears to weep, as a Blessed statue of St. Mary would - frozen in stone, dripping in bloody tears.

Currently on view in the exhibition Figuratively Speaking: A Survey of the Human Form at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, Las Vegas.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Bite 81: Jack Pierson - Last Chance Lost, 2007

Last Chance Lost, 2007, metal, neon, wood, and plastic, 122 x 8 x 61 cm
Jack Pierson creates word sculptures by combining found objects - old neon letters, harking back to old Las Vegas hotels and casinos. 

Each letter has its own story to tell and Pierson highlights this by bringing them together into words and phrases redolent in meaning and ambiguity. Letters slanted and mismatched appear as if coincidentally forming words, heaped together in The Boneyard, lit up for no one in particular, stripped of previous hollow purposes.

Last Chance Lost evokes the loneliness and inevitable failure behind the bright, flashing lights of Las Vegas casinos - where there never seems to be a last chance, until it's lost.

Currently on view in the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA, Los Angeles.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Bite 80: Robert Frank - U.S. 285, New Mexico, 1956

U.S. 285, New Mexico, 1956, from the book The Americans, 1958
"Long shot of night road arrowing forlorn into immensities and flat of impossible-to-believe America in New Mexico under the prisoner's moon."
                                                                - Jack Kerouac (Introduction to The Americans)

Monday, 21 March 2011

Bite 79: Ansel Adams - Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941
"A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words."
                                                                  - Ansel Adams

Friday, 18 March 2011

Bite 78: Grant Pecoff - Little Italy, San Diego, 2010

Little Italy, San Diego, 2010, oil on canvas
Based in San Diego, artist Grant Pecoff has a studio above a pizzeria in Little Italy. Focusing largely on his locality, his warped impressionist/realist style is consciously indebted to Van Gogh yet, equally, decidedly more positive in outlook, presenting the spaces of his city imbued with life, amplified colours and new perspectives.

The large arching sign lit up with neon blue is open and welcoming. The scene is as if taken with a fish-eye lens, edges curving away, enhancing the sense of the location as an expansive, hip, urban community. Everything leans toward to viewer, who thus becomes present within the space - with tree above and the street bending into the distance.

I visited Grant Pecoff's studio today before pizza on our last night in San Diego. Some of my photographs and more on our travels can be seen over at Andrew's blog, The Antipodean.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Bite 77: Christian Eckart - White Painting #606, 1987

White Painting #606, 1987, formica on birch plywood with 23 carat gold
Through Abstraction and the emergence of Conceptual Art, painting, in exploring the medium of painting itself, became reduced to its simplest form - the blank canvas. Here Christian Eckart takes this deconstruction a step further still, questioning the confines of the canvas and its frame, presenting a gold frame as the dominant subject - an art object in itself. The frame even becomes its own composition, shifted against the wall, breaking the confines of the painting. 

The painted surface remains neutral, overly glossed. The gold frame becomes malleable, rising and falling, disrupting the integrity of the rectangle traditionally containing the artwork. 

This frame - not merely a frame, but rather the very concept of a frame, standing-in for all others - becomes a metaphor for the ability of art to reach beyond its confines, to touch the viewer. If they will let it.

On exhibition in the show Color and Form at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA, Los Angeles.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Bite 76: Paul Nicklen - Leopard Seal, Antarctica, 2006

Leopard Seal, Antarctica, 2006 (National Geographic)
Photographing below the ice in sub-zero temperatures in Antarctica, nature and wildlife photographer Paul Nicklen was confronted by a large leopard seal. An animal with few natural predators and being potentially highly dangerous towards humans, Nicklen was fearful for his life when the creature approached him.

What commenced however was a never-before-seen encounter with a little-known animal, resulting in award-winning images captured in the most extreme of circumstances.

The leopard seal, instead of killing Nicklen, as it could easily have, proceeded to collect animals to 'aid' the photographer, treating him as a creature in need. It would leave, kill a small animal, bring it back and parade it before him. This misunderstood animal is revealed then as having a very different side to its fearsome reputation.

The series is currently on view in the exhibition Extreme Exposure at The Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Bite 75: Roberto Matta - Burn, Baby, Burn, 1965-66

Burn, Baby, Burn, 1965-66, oil on canvas, 298 x 981 cm
A key work of peripatetic Chilean-born artist Roberto Matta, Burn, Baby, Burn was created following the violence of the Vietnam War and the 1965 Watts Race riots in Los Angeles. The title refers to the phrase coined by a radio DJ which was shouted by rioters in the streets of LA in anger over continued racial discrimination and police brutality.

A monumental and visceral response to the destructiveness of human beings, in the tradition of Picasso's Guernica, this epic work features Matta's characteristic 'webs' of paint across the canvas, which he referred to as  “psychological morphologies” or “inscapes”. Futuristic and mechanical, the violent abstraction of the piece combined with bright contrasting colours and heavy grays, grips the viewers attention, dragging them throughout the work. 

Catalytic to Abstract Expressionism, Burn, Baby, Burn uses the scale of the canvas and Surrealist techniques to demand a response from the viewer. There is no realistic figuration to tie the atmospheric composition down. Instead it appears to change before you as strange objects and figures - or rather non-objects and non-figures - advance and recede, Matta's unique use of line and colour giving the illusion of depth.

To sit before a Matta work is to get lost in a whole new universe. In this case it is one in which atrocities are abundant and hope is only in the distance. This 'universe' is very much our own world.

Currently in the Art of the Americas Building at LACMA, Los Angeles.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Bite 74: Richard Serra - Sequence, 2006

Sequence, 2006, steel
Two colossal rusted metal 'S's stand within each other, filling the room.

Moving between the tall metal sheets the body is enveloped, metal towering above and around. Your whole body is affected as you move through and around the work. It appears to change as you move, the tilt of the red metal bearing down on you. Walking into the work, getting lost within it, it becomes a room itself. You lose your sense of direction as it twists and you proceed deeper into its recesses. 

A metal 'canyon', mimicking nature, its edges converge and diverge with resultant changes in light and shade, as the work moves around you and you around it, almost appearing to breathe. 

In the centre at each end of the shape you are fully contained within the work, giving the illusion of being trapped, no visible escape - yet it comforts and relaxes, solid and open.

Moving again into the other end comes deja vu for a moment as you come to another hollow before leaving the work, still not fully able to grasp its shape in totality. 

This is not a work to be seen, but rather to be experienced, in the fullest sense of the word.

Installed in the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA, Los Angeles.


Monday, 7 March 2011

On the Road

“What is the feeling when you're driving away from people, and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
                                                              - Jack Kerouac 
I'm going on the road. I leave in 112 hours. Qantas to LA, around SoCal and on to NYC, then London and the rest of Europe. 

I am busy with packing up our flat and good-byes this week, so the daily element of the blog will be on hold until next Monday (14 March).

By then I will be half-way around the world.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Bite 73: Edward Ruscha - Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966

Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966, artist's book (above: concertina, below: detail)
"The images, taken during the day, capture only the facades of the buildings. Ignorance is given to cars or people, both of which are often cut in half between separate exposures. The imperfections of matching the facades are cracks along Ruscha’s drive. Through these cracks we find Ruscha, not such an anonymous author after all. Splitting cars in two, and mismatching facades we become keenly aware of the passage of time. The facades of buildings may appear as stage sets but they are active points on other itineraries, anticipating future and past narratives."
                                                                        - Chris Balaschak

In a literal survey of the Sunset Strip, LA Ruscha mounted a camera to the back of a pick-up truck, photographed every building on the street, on both sides, and pasted the resulting photographs together, one side above, the other below, with building numbers indicated beneath each image.

An exercise in arbitrariness, this small but ground-breaking accordion artist's book presents what would normally be a topographical study - photographs of an entire street - as an artwork. An archiving of a street lived by the artist, this early 'Street View' is a dead pan, thorough exploration, of the landscape of a repeated journey.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Bite 72: Louise Bourgeois & Alex Van Gelder - Armed Forces, 2010

Louise Bourgeois, 2010, from the series Armed Forces
Utilising the talents of photographer Alex Van Gelder, Louise Bourgeois presents her hands - essential tools in the creation of her sculpture - as works of art in themselves. Sinewy and wrinkled, aged and used, yet also very much alive, these hands are fulled with personality and the evidence of a life fully lived. 

Photographed at the invitation of Bourgeois in her New York townhouse over the last year of her life, Van Gelder beautifully composes and lights Bourgeois's hands against a stark black background emphasising the physicality of her artistic production and her lived philosophy of art and life. Here Louise Bourgeois becomes a sculpture herself.

Currently showing at Hauser & Wirth Zürich.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Bite 71: Fernando Ortega - N. Clavipes Meets S. Erard, Movement 5, 2008

N. Clavipes Meets S. Erard, Movement 5, 2008, photographic print, 52 x 34 cm
The only strings on this silent harp are from a spider who, with the artists insistence, has made the instrument its home. With associations of the heavenly and the decaying combined, the 'harp' becomes a surrealist object dealing with temporality and contradiction. The series, in 6 'movements', acts as a kind of visual symphony, the arachnid creating its own seemingly chance orchestration, as it moves around the frame building a web of 'strings'.

Featured in the exhibition All of This and Nothing at Hammer Gallery, Los Angeles.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Bite 70: Jorge Macchi - Monoblock, 2003

Monoblock, 2003, newsprint paper, 93 x 73 cm
The obituary pages of several newspapers are presented on the wall, layered one on the other. All text has been removed, rendering the pages into abstract grids with crosses and crucifixes above vacant spaces. 

Out of context these symbols stand obsolete, yet redolent in meaning and mystery. The gaps speak mutely of lives lived and lost, families grieving, funerals held. 

The focus here is on the mundanity of 'everyday' newspaper obituaries. Passed through looking for the arts section or the classifieds, they are a cataloging of death; the brutal fact of mortality carefully contained, hidden in the back. 

Here framed, no longer displaying 'only' strangers, we can imagine the deaths of our own family members, friends - even ourselves - succinctly described and placed beneath a religious symbol, neatly packaged, soon to be yesterday's news.

Featured in the exhibition All of This and Nothing at Hammer Gallery, Los Angeles.