Friday, March 30, 2012

Book thirty-five: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Let's talk about time.  I'm constantly wondering about time; and by time I really mean memory; all those stories I remember from my past; those stories that I can't confirm, that I'm unsure about, that I wish I could confirm. I've spent a lot of time lately trying to confirm my memories, interviewing my parents and others to figure out if my memories match the those of others.

With that in mind, let's talk about this year's Man Booker prize-winner, Julian Barnes and his winning novel, The Sense of an Ending.  This is a book about time and memory and how we all remember things differently.  It's also a story about what happens when we are confronted with the reality of the past.

I have no intention of even hinting at the characters or the plot or the action that makes this novel work.  I'm convinced this is a book best read with as little advance knowledge as possible.  But it's definitely a book worth reading.  It starts with a list of vague memories.  Then, as you read the book, each of those listed memories returns to inform the tale and remind characters that time may or may not heal.

Friday, March 9, 2012

MAD about Korea.

Sure I went to the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) for the strangely beautiful show featuring dust, dirt, and ash. But as is often the case, I discovered another show that may have been even more rewarding. That show was Korean Eye: Matter and Energy. You hear about how Chinese artists are taking over the Art world. But if this show has anything to say about the matter, Korea shouldn't be written off.

Here are a few of the works I liked.  Let's start with the piece that greets you as you step off the elevator, Ji Yong Ho's Bullman 4, 2010 (Synthetic resin, steel, used tire). This work is brilliant for its bold attitude and immense strength.

Kang Hyung Koo offers a strange and startling painting, Woman, 2008-2009 (Oil on aluminum). I can't really call this portrait photo-realistic because the eyes are too ethereal. It's a beautiful work that had me staring.

Strange portraits seem to be a popular with the Korean Art crowd. How about this opulent, magical work by Kim Hyun Soo: Breik, 2008 (Epoxy, human hair, oil color, steel, watercolor). I have to believe the curators saw the lovely synergy between this work and Bullman 4.

One of my favorite works was Lee Leenam's Ming and Chung Dynasty Paintings - Cross Over, 2011 (LED TV).  This work uses five LED monitors to recreate the panels of a traditional Asian screen. Only these panels feature subtle animations that allow the scene to cycle through all four season. In just four minutes, you can experience the seasons of an entire year. This picture can't possibly do the work justice.

Finally, I have to send a big shout out to Bahk Seonghi for his mind bending work Point of View 1110, 2008 (Coloring on mixed media).

The work is most amazing when you realize that it is a brilliant exploration of perspective.  Here's what the work looks like from the side:

Once again, MAD has drawn my attention to Art that that I probably wouldn't have considered otherwise. And the experience was inspiring. But not just inspiring, it was some pure Art-world fun. Unfortunately, the show closed shortly after my visit. So you'll have to look elsewhere to get your Korean Art fix.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Art gets dirty. And dusty. And maybe cremated.

I like the curators at New York's Museum of Arts and Design (MAD). They have a penchant for organizing exhibits which look for art in unlikely materials.  In 2009 there was Slash: Paper Under the Knife with it's astounding paper works. 2010 brought Dead or Alive, an exhibit that featured art created from the products of living organisms. And currently on exhibit is Swept Away: Dust, Ashes, and Dirt in Contemporary Art and Design. Once again the curators at MAD have created an intriguing show fabricated from the unexpected.

It's easiest to show some of the work. Here's Catherine Bertola's mystical installation titled Unfurling Splendor (Adaptation IV), 2012. It's made of PVA glue and dust applied to the walls of the museum.  The result is a strange, almost  tragic view of our collective histories.

And how about Chinese artist Zhang Huan's Ash Army No. 1, 2008 (Ash, Steel, Wood). Zhang uses incense ash to create these sculptures. That may not have the impact here in the U.S. that it does in countries where temples are filled with incense (and the resulting ash) lit by people praying for a variety of  personal desires.

I loved Phoebe Cummings The Delusion of Grandeur, 2011 (Raw Earth and Wood). Cummings uses basic clay from the earth to create immensely detailed sculptures that are extremely fragile and will ultimately crumble, only to be remembered through photographs. This work is hauntingly beautiful and painstakingly displayed by the curators at MAD.

Also on view are several works by Jim Dingilian who takes old liquor bottles and paints the insides with a number of materials including smoke. His scenes are mostly contemporary, giving these works a strange, modern take on something that feels old and from a place far, far away.

As a big fan of Vic Muniz, I can't not talk about his large scale photos of even larger scale earth works. and his massive earthworks, and it's not just because he references Robert Smithson. They're works that remind us how much damage we humans do to the earth. But at least these works offer damage with a sense of whimsy.

There are plenty of other works to see at this well-thought show. You can see it now through August 12, 2012.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Seeing spots.

If you pay any attention to the Art world, you've likely heard about the brouhaha that arose from Damien Hirst's most recent Art-world stunt. That stunt involved taking over every Gagosian gallery around the world which includes four New York City locations, two London locations, and galleries in Paris, Rome, Athens, Geneva, Hong Kong, and La Jolla. The show is called Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986 - 2011.

By pure Art-fan luck, I was able to see one of the shows at the Gagosian gallery on West 21st street in New York City. This is one of those moments when I have to question Art. I'm pretty sure that Larry Gagosian and Damien Hirst have just foisted one of the greatest scams ever foisted on the world of fine Art. Before you write off my criticism, you should know that I'm a big fan of much of Hirst's work.  With other artists like Jeff Koons, Marc Quinn, and Tom Friedman, I think Hirst is an important voice in a new wave of artistic ideas.

But the spot paintings?!? Really!?! These are canvases (as well as a bunch of editioned prints) that are almost exclusively painted by anyone other than Hirst. He has an army of assistants that have been painting spots for months in preparation for this P. T. Barnum-like event. In fact, it's unsure how much involvement Hirst has even had in the direction of how the paintings should be made. Don't get me wrong; I love the graphic design of these paintings.  Walking into the Gagosian Chelsea gallery and confronting these massive canvases is a wildly pleasing experience.  The paintings play tricks on your eyes. From the tiny spot paintings to the overwhelming canvases that overtake your vision, these paintings delight, particularly for someone like me who loves repetition with surprising variations. But these paintings are more graphic design than they are fine Art.

I imagine that Damien Hirst's spot paintings will accomplish what many Pop artists before him were able to accomplish; they'll offer a slew of simple-to-create works that just about every museum and gallery on the planet will acquire. That's right, I'll be surprised if a few museums here in Utah aren't able to pick up a painting or a print from the spectacle. They won't come cheap, either. Larry and Damien will make a pretty penny off of this scam. And once every museum on the planet has a spot painting, Damien Hirst will have ensured his place in art history, because no museum will be willing to criticize his work (even his "spotty" work) if they have a spot painting in their permanent collection. It's a shrewd (if not cowardly) way to make the history books.  You've seen this same trick performed by many Pop artists, most notably Andy Warhol.

But wait, what if I'm wrong.

Now that you know how I feel about all these spots, I should admit that I can also defend the work. Here's the problem, any time an artist does something repeatedly for an extensive period of time, it's worth taking a closer look.  Damien Hirst has been making his spot paintings for twenty-five years. It's obvious he's trying to make a point (or would that be a spot).

Rumor has it that some of the early spot paintings weren't just created by armies of assistants but also by colleagues and friends. If that was happening in 1986, just as the internet was romancing the public, Hirst may very well have been ahead of the curve on a cultural meme that has led us to the interconnected society we live in today; where thousands of people from around the world can come together and accomplish wondrous things. Maybe all those spots say something about who we were at the end of the 20th Century.

I also wonder if the spot paintings may relate to the general themes of Hirst's art. Death is often sited as the central idea of Hirst's work. But I like to think of his art as being more about soul, or maybe the lack there of. In a time when many are asking questions about the soul of the Art world; a time when it's easy to think that Art is no longer about real ideas but just about art dealers, and collectors, and museums, and the millions of dollars that are more about greed than about Art. Maybe at a time like this, artists should be asking questions about the soul of Art. And if you remove the soul from Art, you might very well end up with a bunch of spots. So I can argue that this is just a giant prank. But maybe this is Damien Hirst asking us to ponder the state of the Art world.

Whatever your feelings are about The Complete Spot Paintings 1986 - 2011, you have to admit Damien Hirst knows how to stir the Art-world pot. And I suppose, that's what artists are supposed to do.