If you could have any artwork in the world….and other perfect summer fantasies

 

What is the one work of art that you would want to live with every day?

Isn’t this a great question to consider?  It’s quite a fun idea to explore.  Just think about it. Take your time.  I find a seemingly unending stream of memories is elicited.   I offer it as a satisfying bit of escapism this summer.  As Annie Dillard says Spend the afternoon, you can’t take it with you.

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It’s not an easy choice for me.  I acknowledge that much of the remarkable work I’ve experienced wouldn’t be easy to live with every day.  There are  size and volume constraints, of course, but tone and meaning and the intention of the work must be considered, too.  Just as we are (or ought to be) selective about choosing housemates and partners, we are sensitive to the spirit of the artwork we bring into our lives.

If you could have your portrait made by any artist, who would that be?

I especially like this question.  (Could it be because it’s so self-centred?!)  Maybe it’s because I don’t know much about portrait painting and so I have fewer choices.  Whatever the reason, it too, offers the opportunity for entertaining possibilites.

Artemisia Gentileschi?  Caravaggio?  Rembrandt?  John Singer Sergeant?  Berthe Morisot?  Njideka Akunyili Crosby?  Käthe Kollwitz?

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, I Refuse to be Invisible, 2010, artist image

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, I Refuse to be Invisible, 2010, artist image

The questions are not originally conceived, nor are these:

What is the work or art / monument / museum that changed your life?

What is the book, and what is the piece of music, that inspire you the most?

Which artist do you find most overrated?  Which artist do you find most underrated?

These questions are posed by the Frick curators on their twice a month series, The Frick Five, available on the Frick’s website.  The Frick curators, Amiee Ng and Xavier F. Salomon, conduct relaxed, remote video  conversations with other curators.  It’s fun to get a glimpse into their homes – not always the  ubitquous book shelves – and hear them speak from a personal, as well as a professional viewpoint. The stories surrounding a life-changing piece of art or monument are delivered honestly and with a measure of vulnerability.  Isn’t that what happens when we resonate with a piece of art?  As they ably explain the historical and artistic significance of the works  supporting images are provided.

It’s highly entertaining to hear art professionals discuss the ‘overrated’ artists, and very informative to hear their support and enthusiasm for an artist deserving more attention.  They are limiting  the discussion to deceased artists, and not dishing any dirt on contemporary artists – although I initially held out some hope for just such an exchange, but they are obviously more gracious, and a whole lot wiser, than me.  I’ll leave it to you to find the interview with the curator who dares to question the values attributed to certain Impressionist painters.

The music and book choices are sometimes surprising, but always charming.  Kylie Minogue, anyone?! I think I would find it impossible to choose only one book, or one single piece of music.  Just like one piece of art, how does one choose?

 

 

 

 

There are no rules….

 

…..that is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen.
Helen Frankenthaler

 

The artist Helen Frankenthaler spoke from experience.  She was one of the first artists to explore the stained painting technique – a process wherein she poured thinned paint onto raw (unprimed) canvas.  Mountains and Sea (1952), considered a breakthrough painting, shows the transparency and delicacy possible with this technique. Here is a very brief interpretation of the painting from the National Gallery of Art.  (Curiously enough, there is a Canadian connection to this work.)

Mountains and Sea, Helen Frankenthaler, 1952 National Gallery of Art image

Mountains and Sea, Helen Frankenthaler, 1952 National Gallery of Art image

I recall being impressed by large canvases of her work in Modern Masters: Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler at the Seattle Art Museum. The Museum called them …three visionary painters who developed distinctive painterly styles. SAM also recognized  …their hard-won accomplishments in what was a male-defined domain.

Pace Prints reminded me of Frankenthaler’s printmaking work in a recent exhibition. In Her Mind’s Eye was a show of  woodcut prints she completed  from 2001 to 2009 with master printmaker Yasu Shibata.  She was really demanding for each project he said, in a recent interview for In Her Mind’s EyeShe knew exactly what she wanted.

 He points out the connection between her early stained paintings and the process she used in the Pace printshop with the plywood:  It’s really abstract just like Helen made in (the) early ’60s or ’50s – that she did the same thing on unprimed canvas –  that she poured the oil paint that makes (it) bleed and the edges of the shapes are really soft.

Snow Pines, Helen Frankenthaler, 2004, Pace Prints image

Weeping Crabapple, Helen Frankenthaler, 2009, Pace Prints image

In the 10 minute video  Helen Frankenthaler: OK to print  she says I don’t confuse – or try not to – working on prints with working on painting.  They are totally different mediums. She likens her creative process in a printmaking studio to cooking a meal from an unfamiliar icebox:  You mix your own magic – whatever you’re given to work with…..because you are confronted with things that are forcing you to make something wonderful.

Madame Butterfly, Helen Frankenthaler, 2000, publisher Tyler Graphics, Ltd, Ameringer, McEnery, Yohe, New York image

Madame Butterfly, H. Frankenthaler, 2000, publisher Tyler Graphics, Ltd, Ameringer, McEnery, Yohe image

When collaborating and working at different print shops like Pace, Tyler Graphics, ULAE, Frankenthaler knew that she had a reputation as a demanding artist. The word is that I am so fussy….so particular…..such a perfectionist.  She explains her attitude to the work:  In order to have something to really move and work and be beautiful it takes a lot of time and effort and being explicit and being demanding and being controlling and also knowing when to allow…and such.

Gateway Screen, Helen Frankenthaler, 1988, Tyler Graphics, Ltd, Ameringer, McEnery, Yohe, New York image

Gateway Screen, H. Frankenthaler, 1988, Tyler Graphics, Ltd, Ameringer, McEnery, Yohe image

Gateway Screen, Helen Frankenthaler, 1988, Tyler Graphics, Ltd, Ameringer, McEnery, Yohe, New York image

Gateway Screen, H. Frankenthaler, 1988, Tyler Graphics, Ltd, Ameringer, McEnery, Yohe image

I am struck by how these ideas, specific to Helen Frankenthaler’s art making practice,  are applicable to our current local, national and global challenges.  If we want a more peaceful, inclusive society we need to break some of the old rules, routines and ways of being.  It will  take time,  hard work, and dedication.  We may not be popular or welcomed, as we demand and adapt to  the changes necessary to create a world that moves and works and is beautiful.  

Perhaps we take her analogy about the icebox to heart?  We are experiencing problems and situations that require creativity to  make something wonderful.

 

 

 

Breaking the Rules

If You Want Peace, Corita Kent, 1976, created for the Campaign for Human Development

If You Want Peace, Corita Kent, 1976, created for the Campaign for Human Development

Pop art, 1960s social activism, screen printing, Los Angeles art scene, Catholic nun….one of these nouns seems incongruous, doesn’t it?

Thanks to the book Forgotten Women: The Artists by Zing Tsjeng, I learned of  (Sister Mary) Corita Kent. This short video is an introduction to this intriguing personality (1918 – 1986.)

The more I read about her, the more fascinated I become.  After high school, Francis Elizabeth Kent entered the order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles and took the name Sister Mary Corita.  She studied at the (now) California Institute of the Arts and the University of Southern California. From 1947 to 1968 she taught classes, and headed the art department at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles.  

 Imagine being one of her students in an art department that became part of the L.A. art scene. Her classroom ‘rules’ are inspiring, aren’t they?  I’m especially drawn to Rules 6 and  9.  Along with Rule 4, I may have found my personal Rules for Life.

Sister Corita’s Art Department rules, lettered by D. Meckleburg, Corita.org

Corita Kent and the more famous pop artist  Andy Warhol were producing art in the 1960s. Both grew up in devout Catholic families.  Corita saw a show of his work in 1962, shortly after she had begun working  with serigraphs.

that they may have life, Corita Kent, 1965

that they may have life, Corita Kent, 196

 

Brillo Box, Andy Warhol, 1964

Brillo Box, Andy Warhol, 1964

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coca-Cola (3), Andy Warhol, 1962

Coca-Cola (3), Andy Warhol, 1962

 

for eleanor, Corita Kent, 1964

for eleanor, Corita Kent, 1964

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kent chose to work mainly in silkscreen printing (serigraph), which is accessible and affordable.  She created almost 800 different designs.  The work is included in many, many museums and galleries.  The Hammer Museum has extensive resources, including a vast digital archive of her work. The Corita Art Center preserves and promotes her works, and mission.  You may want to check out their Corita 101 art videos based on her book Learning by Heart:  Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit.

She, too,  became a popular figure in America culture:  she was featured on the cover of Newsweek in 1967.  She designed the US Post Office Love stamp in 1985, of which more than 700 million were sold.

‘Love’ stamp, Sister Corita, US Post Office, 1985

Do we call this pop art timeless?  It seems we are still, unfortunately, struggling with the same issues that Kent and Warhol explored. By using popular culture images, in simple, engaging designs, they  expressed their beliefs.  In different ways,  they were challenging  the status quo, and society’s continuing obsession with celebrity, material goods  and consumption – at the expense of peace and justice for all.

It’s a message worthy of re-consideration.  Rule # 10 gives us the impetus and permission to make the necessary changes to create a more equitable world for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We can’t look away anymore

Have you ever seen a work of art that’s almost too difficult to view?  (I am not referring to work that is badly executed, or manipulative, or too clever by half, but an artwork worthy of attention.)

I felt that way when I saw The Hanging Tree by Joe Minter at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

The Hanging Tree, 1996, Joe Minter, welded found steel

The Hanging Tree, 1996, Joe Minter, welded found steel

The museum information label read:

de Young Museum, San Francisco

I was overwhelmed by the historical facts presented.   I focused on the shadows at the base of the artwork, not wanting to accept what I had read, and what was before me.   I attempted to process the information, as I was deeply shocked  by the facts. There were recorded lynchings as recently as 1981???

I was also overwhelmed by the beauty and integrity of the sculpture in response to the brutality suffered – unfathomable events,  repeated hundreds of times, with little or no repercussions to the perpetrators.  And yet – despite these unspeakable acts,  this violent history towards African Americans – Joe Minter says We have went through tribulation, but from that experience we learn patience and develop the strength of hope.

The Hanging Tree (shadow), Joe Minter, 1996, welded found steel

The Hanging Tree (shadow), Joe Minter, 1996, welded found steel

This sculpture was part of the exhibition  Revelations:  Art from the African American South  at the de Young Museum from June 2017 until the end of March 2018.

Even as I write this blog, my heart rate is elevated.  It’s difficult, and challenging to face the reality of our society’s inhumanity and ongoing injustices.  But –  face it, and act to change it  – we must.  We can’t look the other way.

 

 

 

Loss, …and change?

It’s a time of great loss.  The death of the American painter, Emma Amos , adds another drop into the ocean of sadness threatening to flood our world.

Black Dog Blues, Emma Amos, 1983 artnews image

Emma Amos (American, born 1938). Preparing for a Face Lift, 1981. Etching and crayon, 8 ¼ × 7 ¾ in. (21 × 19.7 cm). Courtesy of Emma Amos. © Emma Amos; courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE, New York. Licensed by VAGA, New York

Emma Amos (American, born 1938). Preparing for a Face Lift, 1981. Etching and crayon, 8 ¼ × 7 ¾ in. (21 × 19.7 cm). Courtesy of Emma Amos. © Emma Amos; courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE, New York. Licensed by VAGA, New York

Baby, Emma Amos, 1966, oil on canvas, 45" x 50"

Baby, Emma Amos, 1966, oil on canvas, 45″ x 50″

Artnews has prepared a brief slideshow of a few of her works.   Ms Amos worked across several media, from drawing and painting to printmaking, tapestry and installation work.

Emma Amos was an artist, wife, mother, and (sometimes) reluctant activitist.  She was a Guerrilla Girl! Guerrilla Girls work anonymously to expose gender and ethnic bias, but Ms Amos did say I was once a member of a very famous clandestine women’s group that worked at night and did not ever go out without masks on our faces.

Howard Cotter’s article in the New York Times Is worth a read.  It’s a factual, insightful and compassionate summary of a very accomplished artist. He points out the significance of paintings like Tightrope, Equals and Work Suit.

Tightrope, Emma Amos, 1994, acrylic on linen with African fabric borders, 82" x 58"

Tightrope, Emma Amos, 1994, acrylic on linen with African fabric borders, 82″ x 58″

Equals, Emma Amos, acrylic on linen fabric, image transfer, African fabric borders, 1992

Equals, Emma Amos, acrylic on linen fabric, image transfer, African fabric borders, 1992

Work Suit, 1994 Acrylic on linen, with African fabric borders and photo transfer, 74" x 54" Image courtesy Ryan Lee Gallery

Work Suit, 1994 Acrylic on linen, with African fabric borders and photo transfer, 74″ x 54″ Image courtesy Ryan Lee Gallery

If you’re like me, you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of Emma Amos, or seen her work.  She wondered the same thing.  The ARTnews article about her career quotes her: I wake up in the morning and say, ‘I have one piece at the Museum of Modern Art.  I wonder, Is it still there?’  ‘You know, I wonder if I’ve been deaccessioned,’ she said. ‘And I wonder how come nobody knows who I am?’

As we all know, it’s time for that to change.

 

 

 

 

 

Wow! Who made that?

You know you’ve found something special, when the same artist takes you by surprise on different occasions.  I remember the first time I saw Lee Bontecou’s work at MoMA.  I stood in the middle of the gallery, looking up, gobsmacked.  I said to one of my art friends, Look at that!  Who is it?

Without a moment’s hesitation S. said, That’s Lee Bontecou.  Isn’t she great?

Untitled, Lee Bontecou, 1980-1998, MoMA

Untitled, Lee Bontecou, 1980-1998, MoMA

Untitled (detail), Lee Bontecou, 1980-1998, MoMA

Untitled (detail), Lee Bontecou, 1980-1998, MoMA

Untitled (detail), Lee Bontecou, 1980-1998, MoMA

Untitled (detail), Lee Bontecou, 1980-1998, MoMA

I was only slightly, and fleetingly, embarrassed that I wasn’t familiar with this artist, and her work.   Lee Bontecou was born in 1931 in Rhode Island, U.S.A.  She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in 1957; in 1966 she won the first prize from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.  There have been major solo retrospectives of her work in the last twenty years, including  at MoMA / MCA Chicago / Hammer Museum in 2003/4. In 2014 the Menil Collection in Houston had a exhibition of her drawings.

Last October (2019), at the newly renovated MoMa, I came around a gallery corner and encountered  this:

Untitled, Lee Bontecou, 1961, MoMa

Bear in mind this sculpture is about 5 feet wide by 5 feet high and protrudes from the wall.  It is an arresting presence that stopped me, and demanded my attention.  The darkness of the central void, the somber palette, and the varying depths and shapes encompassed in the piece make it extremely powerful.

I had to check the label, as neither my friends (S. and J.) nor I recognized the work. I was pleased to read Lee Bontecou.  This sculpture cemented my admiration for Ms Bontecou’s work.  The label explained that it is constructed of old conveyer belts that the artist salvaged from a laundry below her East Village apartment.  The curators suggest that the piece expresses anxiety, as it was created when the U.S.A. entered the Vietnam War, the Berlin Wall construction began, and the American tensions with Cuba were at fever pitch.

Here is a short video from MoMA highlighting Bontecou’s piece within the show Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction. (You can skip ahead to the 4 minute mark to hear specifically about this sculpture.)

Untitled, Lee Bontecou, 1961, MoMa

Untitled (detail), Lee Bontecou, 1961, MoMa

The details are exquisite, don’t you think?  The copper stitching appears fine and delicate, yet it holds together the muscular, voluminous forms.

Untitled (detail), Lee Bontecou, 1961, MoMa

Untitled (detail), Lee Bontecou, 1961, MoMa

Bontecou said, My concern is to build things that express our relation to this country…..to other worlds to glimpse some of the fear, hope, ugliness, beauty, and mystery that exists in us all and hangs over all the young people today.

It’s not surprising that the work is strong – it expresses much of the human condition.  Despite being 60 years old, it is still relevant today.

 

 

 

 

Out of control!

It’s not only how our lives may feel at the moment, but it’s how the artist Pat Steir describes her work.  Some of her musings about making art are surprisingly relevant to our pandemic times.  The chance in a painting is like a companion, she says.

As I said in my last posting, there are about a billion ways you can spend time in front of a screen right now.  (I find myself experiencing a kind of ‘screen fatigue.’)  This short video from Pace Prints is worth five minutes of your time.  In it,  Ms Steir discusses some of her motivation and the processes for making her art.  I’m really only interested in the performance of painting and colour.  The photography is effective, and a lot of intriguing ideas are packed into a few minutes.  She cites John Cage and Agnes Martin as influences.  It’s fascinating, and inspiring, to see her combine printmaking and painting in large scale works.

Pat Steir, NYTimes image

Good news and bad news:  There’s a significant exhibition of her paintings, Color Wheel,  at the Hirshhorn, a Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.  It opened October 24, 2019 and is slated to run until  January 18, 2021. It’s wonderful that the work is being featured, but it’s unfortunate that so few people will be able to see it as all the Smithsonian Museums closed on March 14 for public health safety.  In the meantime, feel free to browse the Smithsonian Institution’s extensive on-line resources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cocktails with a curator……

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?  Looking at visual art, sipping something delicious …..not a bad way to pass the time as we all shelter in place.

There are thousands (millions?) of videos, presentations, discussions, interviews, podcasts chats, and forums digitally available to us during the pandemic.  One has to be selective, and release any FOMO feelings.  There’s an enormous amount of great material available.

I thought I’d spare you some time, and frustration, and point you directly to the best use of 18 minutes of your attention and screen time.  Cocktails with a Curator is produced by the Frick Collection in NYC.  Every Friday afternoon at 5 p.m. (EST) Xavier F. Salomon, the Frick’s chief curator,  welcomes us to his apartment.  He discusses the evening’s thematically chosen cocktail, and then launches into a brief discussion of an artwork  from the Frick Collection.  Accompanied by appropriate visuals, he outlines the provenance of the painting, offers some interpretation of the image, and ends with a thoughtful commentary on the relevance of the work to our present days.

Salomon’s presentation is professional, and knowledgable.  It  lacks pretence (despite all his credentials, including being named a Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia) and is accessible to all.  I find his tone sympathetic, engaging and compassionate.

If you’re interested, do sample the first evening’s cocktail and discussion of Giovanni Bellini’s  St. Francis in the Desert.  Keep in mind that it was first available April 10, which was Good Friday.

I readily acknowledge my fondness for the Frick Collection.  Last year I wrote about The Frick Collection (available  here ) and I did ‘buy the postcard’ of St. Francis in the Desert on one of my visits.

St. Francis in the Desert, Bellini, The Frick Collection (NY Times image)

If you enjoy the talk, you can sign up to receive reminders to ‘tune in’ every Friday.  Fortunately, the presentations are available at any time online, and there’s only been two so far.  (Not too much FOMO….)

Of all the things you’ve watched or listened to this past month, which one would you most highly recommend?

 

 

 

 

In love with a poet….again

I have accidently fallen in love with another poet.  It happens. The timing is perfect:  It’s April, National Poetry Month.  (Do you ever wonder who makes these kinds of proclamations?  Could we declare a National Fruit Pie Month, or a National Dark Chocolate Month?)

Fortunately, in these days of physical distancing, it’s a literary love and not a romantic one.  Ada Limón’s collection of poems, The Carrying, was on my library Hold list.  I can’t remember where the recommendation originated, but with the libraries closed indefinitely, I’ve had the luxury of time to enjoy it.

The Carrying by Ada Limón, published by Milkweed Editions

It’s not surprising  that The Carrying won the National Book Critics Award and was named A Notable Book by the American Library Association in 2018.  I found myself wanting to share many of the poems with others.  Limón’s tone is narrative; some of poems are the result of a letter/poem correspondance with Natalie Diaz.  The first New Yorker on-line poetry column featured their poetry collaboration.

The collection is beautifully structured.  It begins quietly, with The Name, a brief poem about Eve encountering the animals in Paradise.  It ends with Sparrow, What did you Say? where we find the narrator in her own garden, listening to bird song.  Limón moves easily between societal and personal concerns, showing us how they are inextricably connected.  Her voice is honest – unflinchingly so – and compassionate.

Enjoy listening to Ada Limón as she reads a couple of the poems from The Carrying.  

Despite very limited shelf space, I want my own copy of The Carrying.  I look forward to exploring her four (4!) other poetry collections.

 

 

 

Romeo + Juliet

Some of the many consequences of the current pandemic are the cancellations of art exhibitions and dance, theatre and music performances.  I had tickets to see Ballet BC perform their new ballet, Romeo + Juliet, on March 14.

Romeo + Juliet, Ballet BC (image by Michael Slobodian)

Romeo + Juliet, Ballet BC (image by Michael Slobodian)

I am a huge fan of this Shakespearean tragedy.  I enjoyed teaching it to high school students (Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?  No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir.) and I always showed them the gorgeous Franco Zeffirelli film from 1968.  (If you watch the film, look for a very young Emma Thompson as an extra in the ballroom scene.)

Romeo and Juliet, 1968 (IMDb image)

Romeo and Juliet, 1968 (IMDb image)

In 2003, Winnipeg’s Shakespeare in the Ruins theatre company did an unforgettable version of it, set in a downtown parkade.  I think it was one of the most creative and engaging theatre performances I have attended.  Ever.

I enjoy dance, and have a fondness for most classical ballet.  I was looking forward to the show.  The title typography, Romeo + Juliet,  promised a fresh take on the story, just as the film, Romeo + Juliet had done in 1996.  Click here for the movie trailer.  (If you haven’t seen the film, be prepared for the very in-your-face, distopian setting.)

Romeo + Juliet, 1996 (IMDb image)

Romeo + Juliet, 1996 (IMDb image)

Dance Victoria and Ballet BC made the brave, financially challenging and wise decision to cancel the performances, to avoid the spread of the virus.  Fortunately, season ticket holders were given a link to a video of the première performance in Vancouver, on March 6.

I watched the performance twice, before the link expired.  Wowser!  It is, indeed, a creative interpretation of a classic story.  It did not disappoint.

The choreography is by Medhi Walerski, set to Sergei Prokofiev’s score. Walerski is a dancer and a choreographer at the Nederlands Dans Theater.  (May I suggest that if you are going down any rabbit holes today, please avail yourself of the NDT link.)

The show is visually stunning, with the costumes, set and lighting design a collaboration between Walerski,  Theun Mosk, and Pierre Pontvianne.  The minimalist style is a marked departure from many interpretations of other classical “story” ballets, such as The Nutcracker.  Here are a few brief video images that will give you a sense of the style of this production.  I appreciated how the lighting changed, depending on the scene.  The chiaroscuro-style lighting was particularly effective in the ballroom scene, as Romeo and Juliet were spotlit amongst the corps, who sometimes moved in slow motion, and sometimes became completely still, signalling an important moment in time.  It allowed the audience to focus on the couple, and not be distracted by the other dancers.

The set was minimal. The movable rectangles, decidedly coffin shaped,  were symbolic and functional.

The dancers were strong, confident and lyrical.  They were as much actors, as they are talented dancers.  Here is a (too) short video of the creation of the ballet at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity.

Ballet BC, Romeo + Juliet

Walerski uses the corps to express the emotions of the characters.  In the scond act,  when Juliet prepares to drink the sleeping potion, the corps is a shadowed, writhing mass on the floor, and around her. It dramatically represents her fear, anxiety and turmoil. The image of the scenes will stay with me for a long time.

Ballet BC and Medhi Walerski have created a noteworthy interpretation of this classic ballet.  I hope we can all see this as a live performance one day.  In the meantime, one last short video from Ballet BC’s Romeo + Juliet.