Monday, December 30, 2013

Saatchi Gallery

Charles Saatchi and I have a couple of important things in common.  We're both ad men. He is after all the legendary ad man who created the uber successful Saatchi and Saatchi advertising agency with his brother Maurice.  I'm a big fan of contemporary art, as is he. He's now famous as an avid collector. . . Alright, maybe we don't have a lot in common.  I just can't compete, dang it. For example, he was an important influence in the careers the YBAs (Young British Artists) including Damien Hirst and Marc Quinn.  And he is the owner of London's well-known Saatchi Gallery. I wish I had those things in common with Mr. Saatchi. Nonetheless, how could I visit London and not make a stop at the Saatchi Gallery?

It's obvious that Saatchi is a true "artoholic" as he described himself in the title of his 2009 book. A lot of care is taken in the Gallery to ensure the artists' works are presented in the best way possible, with some of the works impossibly difficult to display.  With that, here are some of the things I enjoyed most.

I've seen Yuken Teruya's work several times before, but it always delights and disturbs.  Teruya takes shopping bags, both high end and low brow, and intricately cuts the silhouette of trees into them. Those silhouettes get pushed down into the bags creating tiny, shaded worlds that are surprisingly inviting.  By using brands like Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, or just plain old McDonalds, Teruya's work also makes a powerful statement about modern consumerism and consumption, all the while subversively reminding us of the natural resources required to fuel our throw-away society.

Yuken Teruya, LVMH, 2005, paper and glue

Yuken Teruya, LVMH, 2005, paper and glue

Yuken Teruya, Golden Arch Parkway McDonald's, 2005, paper and glue

Markelo Jacome's kite-like structure swirled windily through a large gallery. The whimsy of this work was balanced by the dragon-like terror the work inspired.

Marcelo Jacome, Planos-pipas n17, 2013 Tissue paper, bamboo, fiberglass, and cotton thread

Annie Kevans' portraits are powerful and disturbing.  Kevans creates images of the world's most famous and infamous dictators.  That's not what makes them so interesting.  She makes those portraits of the villains as children.  The portraits include childhood images of dictators like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Kim Il Sung, and Saddam Hussein. Seeing some of history's most evil men as children is a strange reminder of the potential hidden in each young life.

Richard Wilson's site specific installation titled 20:50, 1987, is one of the weirdest works of art I've experienced.  I read about this work years ago and wished I could see it.  It was a surprise to see it installed at Saatchi. The work consists of an entire room filled with used sump oil.  A steel walkway (which was roped off) allows viewers to walk into the middle of the oil-filled room.  In a world that is fueled by oil, this is a mesmerizing, serene work that offers a fantastic critique of who we've become.  Hats off to Charles Saatchi for his willingness to show impossible works of art that remind us of why art matters.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The art of the Christmas stocking: A very Haring Christmas edition.

I've been busy creating my annual Christmas stocking. Usually I don’t post the current year’s stocking until next year.  But since the surprise has already been revealed.  And I’m super excited about the results, why not post it now.  It's Christmas after all.

Just a reminder that you can read all of the official Art Lobster Christmas Stocking Posts here, here, here, and here.

You may recall that earlier this year, I had the good fortune of visiting Paris.  While there I experienced an impressive exhibition titled Keith Haring: The Political Line.  While at that exhibit, I snapped a photo of Untitled, June 1 1984 (acrylic on canvas).   I’ve always been amazed at Keith Haring’s ability to draw a line.  This painting is a fantastic example of how his seemingly-effortless lines can come together to create images that vibrate with life and humanity.  Here is the photo I took of the painting.

I used this as my inspiration for a stocking I’m calling The Christmas Line.

After trying to render them in felt, I now have an even greater appreciation for the fluidity and magic of Keith Haring’s lines.  Originally, I had planned to do several versions of these stocking in a variety of colors.  But after using an Exacto knife to painstakingly recreate Keith Haring’s lines, I quickly determined that wasn’t a realistic use of my time.  So this year’s companion stocking capitalizes on Haring’s Radiant Baby, a perfect theme for the Christmas season.

And this year, I was even inspired to create wrapping paper for some of the stocking gifts.  The inspiration came from a massive vase that was on display at the Paris exhibition:

I loved the babies crawling around the lower part of the vase's design.  And it translated beautifully into gift wrap for some very small presents.

Let's hope 2014 brings more amazing experiences that can be memorialized in felt. And a very Haring Christmas to all.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The art of the Christmas stocking: Fashionista edition.

It's now a holiday tradition. So once again, I'm postimg about the custom-made Christmas stockings I create every holiday season.  You can read all about my previous stocking creations here, here, and here.  And because each year's stocking is a surprise, I usually post the creations a year late.

For Christmas 2012, I turned to the world of fashion for inspiration and one of the trendiest fashion brands available today: Commes des Garcons.  Trendy might be the wrong word, because CDG is a long time super brand among the fashion cognoscenti.   And the company's Play label is a darling among fashionistas in the know.  The "heart" which is the label's mascot can be found on celebrity movers and shakers the world over, staring angrily out at the world.  One of the things I find most interesting about Commes des Garcons in general and Play in particular is their willingness to collaborate with other surprising brands. Here's an example of the Play collaboration with Converse.

Last year, I decided to imagine what a collaboration  might look like between Commes des Garcons and the brand that is my annual crazy Christmas stocking.  As always, the stockings are created using the basic materials of Christmas stockingdom: namely felt, beads, sequins, and glitter.  Without further adieu, I give something I'm calling Commes des Christmas.

Yes, the heart has been completely hand beaded and surrounded by black Swarovski crystal polka dots.  Here are a few shots of the details.

And as is the case in recent years, I've also created a companion stocking to hold all the loot.

No beading hear.  Just the magic of felt.  This year's stocking is already done.  I'm not sure I can wait until next year to post the pictures.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Four Books for Brooks Briggs.

Brooks Briggs, a Facebook friend and former co-worker recently posed an interesting question on Facebook: "What are the top three to five books that have influenced your life—for better or worse? What books influenced your thinking, your trajectory, and who you are today? And—if you have another moment to spare—give a little explanation about how or why. But you must honest. Ready? GO!"

I've been an avid reader for most of my life.  So I loved the challenge of this question.  But it's definitely too involved to be answered within the abbreviated limits of a Facebook update.  So I decided a blog post would be a more appropriate answer.  Here are four books that have been influential in my life.

A biography of Harry Houdini.  I can’t remember the title of this book or the name of the author. It was geared to younger readers. I checked it out from the Washakie County Library and read it at least three times in fifth or sixth grade. It was totally inspiring to a weird kid like me and it made me want to be a magician.  But more than that, it was so much fun to read that it’s the reason I’ve been a life-long reader.  Even today, I’m still willing to trudge through unpleasant books because I know that somewhere out there is a book like that biography of Harry Houdini that will be an immensely pleasurable read.  And I’m always happy to find such a book. Which brings me to my second choice.

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin.  This book could make it onto this list just for the fun factor.  The snappy, smart writing style makes it the ultimate page turner.  It’s laugh-out-loud funny. It features mad-cap, crazy plot lines that you’re somehow willing to believe.  And it’s got characters that are so brilliantly defined they jump to life off the page.  This makes it all the amore amazing that Tales of the City speaks to me on a much deeper level.  This is a book about people who find that the lives they thought they were supposed to lead, are somehow not the lives that are best for them.  These are outcasts and misfits who are embraced by a magical place that is willing to let them be themselves. I’ve returned to these characters time and time again.  I’ve consumed the book and all its sequels multiple times. I’ve watched the TV series. I’ve listened to the audio book.  I’m even one of a limited number of people who have seen the Broadway-style musical based on the novel.  Oh, and I've made a pilgrimage to visit the places that make the book so delightful. And every time I interact with the characters who populate 28 Barbary Lane, I’m a better person for it, even with all the sex and drugs.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  This is the perfect segue from my previous choice.  Great Expectations and Tales of the City have a lot in common.  They both began as serialized stories in popular periodicals. Both books are brilliant accomplishments in character development.  And they both capture the essence of a place and time, all while raising questions about social issues. of the era  Where Great Expectations differs from Tales of the City is in the theme that I took away from the novel; What is legal may not always be morally right.  And what is morally right may not always be legal.  That lesson has served me well.  It’s been a reminder to keep an open mind, to listen to the stories of others, and to try to be more caring towards people I may not fully understand. It’s a lesson that has inspired a fair amount of kindness and happiness in my life.

The Book of Mormon.  The assignment as laid out by Brooks was to talk about books that have been influential in your life, not your favorite books.  Up until now, the books I’ve listed have fallen into both categories.  With this selection, the story gets decidedly more complex.  When looking at the responses to Brooks' question, I noticed that many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints selected The Book of Mormon as an influential book.  I am no longer a member of the Church so this might seem like an odd choice for me.  I don’t even like The Book of Mormon.  I find the writing clunky.  I find the stories mostly heavy handed.  The violence is frequently overwhelming.  And I question the suggestion that the great civilizations of the Americas are a result of Judeo-Christian traditions.  And yet, many important decisions in my life were based on the principles extolled by this book or were influenced by the ideas that emanate from the book and its associated religion.  The perplexing part, most of those decisions were reasonably smart. I'll admit that I tend to make reasonably smart decisions.  But without The Book of Mormon my decisions would have been very different.  And I question if they would have been better.  On a more humorous note, The Book of Mormon does share something with Tales of the City: I've seen both the musicals!

There are many more books that have influenced me.  But this is a decent response to the question posed by Brooks.

A grey day at Tate Modern.

I usually go to museums because there's a temporary exhibit that I really want to see.  The exception: when I'm visiting a new city and there's a museum that I really want to visit. OK, so I didn't make it to the Louvre in Paris which is a bit embarrassing.  But I've always wanted to visit London's Tate Modern.  Unlike last summer which featured a blockbuster Damien Hirst exhibit, this year there wasn't much interesting going on at Tate Modern, at least not from a "special exhibitions" standpoint.  ( I have a feeling Tate Modern would disagree with this assessment.) The lack of blockbuster exhibits might be because the Modern is getting a massive addition and much of the museum is shut down, including the main hall.  That was a bummer.

I spent most of my time viewing the museum's permanent collection.  I always find it harder to write posts about permanent collections.  Temporary exhibits are either a review of an artists work so you get a more comprehensive understanding of the artist.  That's easy to write about.  Or they're constructed around a theme or idea.  That too is easy to write about.  But writing about a permanent collections can sometimes feel like a random review of "stuff in a gallery" as Steve Martin might call it, even though the curators try to assemble art that might relate to themes or ideas.

Why not take a different approach to viewing a permanent collection? For my visit to the Tate Modern, I've created my own curatorial theme.  That theme was inspired by a painting I stumbled onto early in the visit: Gerhard Richter's Grey (1974, Oil paint on canvas).

The painting was created in the 1970s when Richer produced several groups of grey paintings.  He was apparently attracted to the neutrality and inconspicuousness of the color. This is one of those paintings that can inspire plenty of eye rolling and questions about what really constitutes Art. But I like grey and this painting struck me as a calming force in a chaotic world.  And there's this statement from the artist, "Grey is the epitome of non-statement, it does not trigger off feelings or associations, it is neither visible or invisible. Like no other color, it is suitable for illustrating 'nothing.'" That's an interesting statement from an artist who resisted ideologies of any kind.  And it's an interesting idea to inspire a way of looking at art.

With that in mind, I spent the rest of my visit at Tate Modern paying particular attention to the color grey. And I was surprised, how many feelings and associations grey can trigger.  Even from Richter who is responsible for another grey work of art at the museum.

Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo (1971), depicts Richter and fellow German artist Blinky Palermo posed in a never ending stare-off. It's a silent debate that stays brilliantly true to the idea of "non-statement." And yet, there has to be some sort of conversation going on.

One of my favorite works in the museum was Alfredo Jarr's installation titled Lament of the Images (2002, Glass, perspex, metal, electrical components). This work consisted of two light tables one suspended from the ceiling which slowly lowered until it rested on the other, blocking out all of the light except for a thin sliver that made a fine line on the walls of the gallery.  The strange light seemed to wash out everything in the entire room, resulting in a neutral, monochromatic wash of contemplative grey.

Piles of seemingly unidentifiable gray matter could be found frequently at the museum.  Lynda Benglis's oozing, dripping pile of lead sitting in the corner of a gallery was a little creepy and seemed to question naturalness. Gilberto Zorio's work seemed to feature a similar, mini pile suspended elegantly from the ceiling.

Lynda Benglis, Quartered Meteor, 1969/1975, Lead

Gilberto Zorio, Terracotta Circle, (detail) 1969, terracotta, lead, glass, and aluminum

I forgot to capture the name of the artist and title of the work.  But its Japanese-like attitude brought a rustic grey calm to the gallery.

I'll end this grey commentary about a work created by the artist who started this whole post.  An entire gallery at Tate Modern is dedicated to Gerhard Richter's group of oil paintings inspired by the American avant-garde composer John Cage. The paintings were made while the artist listened to the music of Cage.  I like these paintings, partially because it looks as if the Richter is giving us a hint at what might be hidden under the grey canvas that started this whole post.

I suppose you can make the argument that focusing a museum visit around "grey" is stupid. You might be right. So in rebuttal, here's Dan Flavin's Untitled (1987).  Enjoy the bright and shining colors.
Dan Flavin, Untitled (to Don Judd, colorist) 1-5, 1987, Fluorescent tubes and metal