Brooklyn Museum Exhibition: Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties

Situated on the first floor of the Brooklyn Museum, Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties serves to paint a rich picture of the Civil Rights movement through the display of mixed media of black artists of the era.  Through the juxtaposition of music, paintings, and politics, the exhibition succeeds in creating a multi-dimensional snapshot of evolving Black identity in the 1960s.

Intrinsically, when we talk about Black identity, we are talking about American identity and the push and pull between the want for liberation and the desire for assimilation into the conventional consciousness of white America.  Norman Rockwell’s New Kids in the Neighborhood (Negro in the Suburbs) depicts this struggle for assimilation into the American mainstream.  This is highlighted through the seemingly innocent portrayal of the children’s interactions; although they are of different races, they are all children.  Furthermore, the integration of items such as the baseball mitt, demonstrate a pastime shared by all children.  Also, the inclusion of such American iconographical symbols, serves to highlight this desire for many African Americans to be recognized as equal American citizens.

Part of the exhibition also addresses education and politics.  The Door (Admissions Office) by David Hammons addresses the issue of Black exclusion from public schools.  This work features a body print of black ink on door—the color is a blatant marker of race discrimination and the lone door represents false hope as the threshold of the frame leads to nowhere.  Conversely, Mary Steven’s Honor Roll, which depicts a list of names of distinguished students in a child-like scrawl, demonstrates the simultaneous optimism and skepticism towards the education system for Black Americans.

One reason why the exhibition is so successful in depicting the 1960s is because it represents different communities that were a part of the Civil Rights movement.  The curators made sure not to generalize the artists and goals.  Part of the exhibition focuses on the women of the Civil Rights movement, featuring videos of Nina Simone as well as the works of other artists.  It also highlights the “Black is Beautiful” movement, a political art movement that emphasized the positive and negative space of the color black.

It is great to see a historically inclusive and accurate account of an important marker of American history.  And it is refreshing to see that the Civil Rights movement was not essentialized.  I think that the Brooklyn Museum had an excellent exhibition.  Check out more about the exhibit at https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/witness_civil_rights/index.php#

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Ed Ruscha on Renaissance and Baroque Works in the Frick Collection

Ed Ruscha, the famous contemporary artist, recently gave a talk on Renaissance and Baroque works on display in the Frick Collection in New York City. It is interesting to learn how Ruscha sees art historical styles, and pushes us to think about how they influenced his work. (http://new.livestream.com/accounts/7467025/events/2958405)

Ruscha’s work is currently being displayed in the Frick, as part of an exhibition on Renaissance and Baroque bronze sculptures. Ruscha’s ornamental and antiquated fonts for his exclamatory works combine nicely with the high degree of emotional subjectivity expressed in the extreme twists and turns of the sculptures.

A Ruscha print and Renaissance and Baroque bronzes. Photo via the Frick Collection.

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Oral Fixation

Julia Randall, Wild Berry, 2012, colored pencil on paper

Julia Randall’s exhibition Oral Fixation, at Wesleyan University’s Davison Art Center, displays both natural forms in an vacuous context, stunting their authentic character and ushering in an almost repulsive aura, and surreal forms, which intertwine her work with both social and industrial implications. Although the work of the exhibition as a whole connotes eroticism, given the innate sexuality of the mouth, I find an analysis of the works regarding the tension of their organic/inorganic duality more intriguing.
The works of the Lick Line series, created in 2003 and 2004, present the vivifying organic nature of the mouth, manifesting its inherently natural form in a capacity which manages to remove our otherwise acute familiarity with it. The Blown series, made in 2011 and 2012, assumes new qualities in juxtaposition with Lick Line. On its own, Blown presents gum organically, though this essence becomes illusory in context with Lick Line: its chewed form is merely an artifact of the mouth, and of human action. Gum, manufactured from synthetic rubber – its specific taste and texture refined to commercial perfection – is inherently unnatural. It is only upon interaction with the natural form and operation of the human mouth that the gum assumes these organic qualities. The texturally vibrant bubbles in particular are only a product of the human breath that fills them. Although appearing vehemently natural, the gum and bubbles are merely odd marionettes, whose delusive quality of life is a manifestation of their human architects. This notion of a superficial quality of life becomes ever more apparent in Randall’s Pinned and Pulled series from 2013.
By incorporating industrial materials interacting with the gum, their false nature bursts, both literally and figuratively. The nails and dentistry tools of Pinned and Pulled portray strict industrial qualities and it is their juxtaposition with the gum that “kills” its organic nature. It is of importance to note that both the mouth and devices share the inherent manipulative quality of a tool, in that they are entities that can alter material aspects of their environment. However, the activity of the mouth instills life into the lifeless, in an act of creation, and the industrial tools destructively vanquish this existence, yet in the end both are products of human action.
Through a reversal of these organic and inorganic conditions, the Lovebirds series from 2005 arrays these aforementioned perspectives in a manner which purports a commentary on the abject societal manipulations of nature. In Blown, the organic mouth acts on the inorganic gum, and gives it artificial life. In Pinned and Pulled, industrial tools, very much the product of human action, removes this life. Lovebirds presents the reciprocal interaction between industry and nature, in which humanity wielding industry is the aggressor of a true nature rather than an artificial one. The pull string protruding from the surreal human-mouthed chicken conveys this sense of industrialization, an embodied form of the factory-farm industry. Through this exercise of domination, the chicken, its tongue protruding as if to denote its forced capacity of indulgence, accrues both a mark of humanity (Its mouth) and a mark of industry (its pull string), signifying its subordinate state of existence. Likewise, the white songbird has been modified by a functionless yet stagnantly alluring tassel, thereby suppressing its ability to fly. Also of note is its human mouth obstructed by a spit bubble, stifling any potential song. Thus the Lovebirds series connotes a critical analysis of humanity’s control of nature through industrial means. In context with Blown, the two projects suggest that a harmonious engagement with nature is the principled course of action – the natural actions of the mouth instill the industrial gum with life, while the industrial actions of humanity remove and restrain life from the natural world.
Randall’s Decoys, created in 2005 and 2006 and portraying further amalgamations of industrial and natural substances, reinforce these notions albeit in a more distinct manner. The electrical wire in Decoy #6 choking a humming bird, but slithering into existence as a stem and flower, can be read as our organic nature as human beings intrinsically drawing nature to us despite our motives masked in the malice of exploitation. Decoy’s #5 and #1 exhibit similar portrayals of cloaked natural forms enticing various fauna but simultaneously entrapping them.
Through a portrayal of both the creative and destructive capacities of our human nature, I feel that Oral Fixation provides a condemning commentary on humanity’s oppression of the natural world, while simultaneously implying the plausibility of a congruous and cooperative relationship with nature.

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Ed Ruscha on the Highline

Even though Ed Ruscha didn’t make Vanity Fair’s list for top six living artists, he is nevertheless an important figure in the trajectory of art of the past four decades. I suggest that everyone who is in New York City this summer (or through May 2015) check out his monumental text painting that is located on West 22nd Street, adjacent to Chelsea’s High Line Park. The text, which reads “Honey, I twisted through more damn traffic today,” employs Ruscha’s signature text painting aesthetic (white sans-seriff typeface set against a pink and purple gradient) and humor, but with a twist. The painting, or should I say mural, is applied directly to the wall of a building, injecting the conceptual theme of temporality (remember Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings) into an otherwise Pop sensibility (Ruscha employs familiar vernacular similar to how Warhol and Lichtenstein employed popular imagery in their works). Moreover, this work, unlike Ruscha’s other works that are characteristically “Los Angeles,” abandons this bicoastal dichotomy in favor for something that is applicable to both coasts. New York and Los Angeles are both symbols of mobility as cars and public transportation are inextricably tied to the cultural identities of these two very different cities. Here, Ruscha bridges the gap between the city that inspires him and that that he tried to avoid when his career first began (Ruscha has been quoted as having tried to avoid the aesthetics of his contemporary prevailing New York artists, especially in the 1960s and 70s).

This is Ruscha’s first public commission in New York City. He now joins an impressive list of artists who have exhibited on the High Line, including: photographers Ryan McGinley and Elad Lassry, John Baldessari, Richard Artschwager, among others.  I’ve attached a link to more information and images below. I got to see the work as one that was in progress last week, but I’m definitely looking forward to going back and seeing the finished-product.

http://art.thehighline.org/project/honey-i-twisted-through-more-damn-traffic-today/

 

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Vanity Fair’s “The Six Greatest Living Artists”

In December of this past year, the magazine Vanity Fair published an article on the best living artists in today’s contemporary art world. The results were compiled based on poll data from the top artists, curators, art historians and related scholars, and the list of the top six artists is both predictable for some and surprising for others. Here’s the list:

1) Gerhard Richter, 24 votes
2) Jasper Johns, 20 votes
3) Richard Serra, 19 votes
4) Bruce Nauman, 17 votes
5) Cindy Sherman, 12 votes
6) Ellsworth Kelly, 10 votes
…and several others were voted for, but did not make the cut.

The data is naturally skewed. Of the 100 people who were asked to vote, only 54 did so. This is a more than 50% turnout rate, but one would expect a poll making such a grand assumption about the history of art to attract more contributors. In addition, the majority of voters were white, American males, over the age of 55. This is reflected in the fact that 5 of the 6 top artists are white and male, and almost all are American.

Read the full article, by Mark Stevens, here:
http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/12/greatest-living-artists-poll

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“Farm Fresh Art” by Liena Vayzman

Liena Vayzman’s article “Farm Fresh Art: Food, Art, Politics and the Blossoming of Social Practice” that we discussed in class today is available here.

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Final Exam May 15 at 7pm

FINAL EXAM IS THURSDAY MAY 15, 7-10PM as per Wesleyan official exam schedule

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Art in 2014

Although it is difficult to identify trends in art that is currently being made today, several themes can be noted. Firstly art of today is still responding to the globalization and digitization of the world, but in increasingly nuanced ways, embedded with in the digital environment itself rather than acting externally. Secondly, artists are beginning to address what comes after both modernism and postmodernism.

Several cultural theorists have been able to articulate these trends into new idioms: the New Aesthetic and Metamoderism.

James Bridle is the pioneer behind the “The New Aesthetic.” The New Aesthetic describes the “increasing appearance of a visual language of digital technology and the Internet in the physical world;” that is, the visual blending of the virtual and physical.[1]

Bridle is interested in the ways in which virtual, coded networks are manifested visually, and can become accessible to people in a physical space. His work Drone shadows attempts to create a physical manifestation of the invisible digital networks they are a part of. He is also interested in render ghosts and Wikipedia and Twitter bots. Beings, who, in many ways have the functions of real people, but exist solely in virtual space. This trend also includes the transference of physical space into digital space, like with Google Earth and street view maps, which has had a myriad of responses including “street view wanderlust” and other emotional connections to virtual spaces they create.

Jordon Wolfson’s piece the Female Figure can be understood as an artistic manifestation of the New Aesthetic. The program is embodied in this figure and makes eye contact with viewers in the space. Wolfson articulates the digital world in physical space in an eerie and unnerving way.

Trends in technology and art may include the use of crowd sourcing and social media; greater accessibility to art made specifically for reproduction; the hybridization of the virtual and physical world as the web becomes increasingly interactive and video based; the use of new technology like nanotechnology, electronic inks, real and virtual robots, and auto-creation. The new media generated from the new virtual environment will likely be more subtle and intuitive than works form the early 2000s.

German theorists Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin Van Den Akker introduced the other concept of “Metamodernism” in 2010. They use this term to describe the continuous repositioning between the poles of modernism and postmodernism that they believed to result in a new, perpetually oscillating mode. Metamodernism describes the implicit dualities observed in the world post-postmodernism: a mode that negotiates between a yearning for universal truths and the acknowledgement of relativism; “between hope and doubt; sincerity and irony, knowingness and naivety; construction and deconstruction.” [2] Metamodernism describes the sincere desire for narrative and transcendence whilst being conscious of their inherent problematic nature. How is this manifested in the art world today?

Dennis Rudolph’s deserted landscapes are disrupted by the insertion of modern technology and religious imagery. However his landscapes remain secular and the allegory remains illegible because the symbols have been divorced from their religious meaning. Instead they speak to universal concepts while his visual aesthetic remains sinister. Rudolph’s work both constructed and deconstructs his notions of the universal.

Olafur Eliasson creates immersive environments that challenge traditional modes of art viewing through his integration of temperature, moisture, aroma, and light to generate physical sensations in the viewer. By transforming the gallery into a hybrid natural and virtual space, evocative of the artist’s native Scandinavia, The Weather Project has a level of abstract sincerity and interest in the sublime that Metamodernists felt  “requires a new idiom.”[3]

Paula Doepfner’s work is possibly the clearest articulation of the dualities of Metamodernist art. Her installation, try my dear, centers on a large cube of ice. The melting water of the ice drips into a rectangular metal basin and oxidizes the metal. Surrounding the sculpture are drawings with broken glass. Their organic structures evoke cells, veins, and blood. These objects are transparent, but unlike the ice they are unchangeable. These opposing types of material create a tension between adherence and disappearance. Doepfner’s work directly addresses the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for the perception and evaluation of emotion. Her work attempts, “to capture the essence of the innermost thoughts and feelings, while at the same time they convey an awareness of the impossibility of complete comprehension of these internal processes. The ambivalence between the effort of holding on to something and failing in doing so is central to Doepfner’s work. But this awareness doesn’t mean resignation – in each of her works the artist gets closer to an inner system of feelings and thoughts that gives room for hope.”[4]

In 2011, Metamodernists released a manifesto that declared, “We propose a pragmatic romanticism unhindered by ideological anchorage. Thus, metamodernism shall be defined as the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt, in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and elusive horizons. We must go forth and oscillate!”[5]

Art today addresses technology and post-modernism, but in increasingly nuanced ways that suggested a more hopeful and emotional future.


[1] http://booktwo.org/notebook/new-aesthetic-politics/

[2] http://madmuseum.org/events/no-more-modern-notes-metamodernism

[3] http://www.metamodernism.com/2012/09/02/what-do-the-metamodernists-want/

[4] http://www.pauladoepfner.com/texte/text_11.html

[5] http://www.metamodernism.org/

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Rothko in Mad Men

Mad Men is a period piece television series that takes place from the 1950s to the 1970s that tells the stories of the employees of an advertising agency and weaves in historical events, politics, and trends of the era.  In one episode, the boss of the agency hangs up a Mark Rothko piece in his office.  Many of the employees do not understand the piece and insist that there exists some secret meaning.  One character insists, “I’m an artist; it must mean something!”  But another character speaks up and replies, “Maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe you’re just supposed to experience it.”

YouTube Preview Image

Rothko’s works were groundbreaking because of the overwhelming scales of the pieces and the visually pleasing hues painted on unprimed canvas.  Paintings on such scale with such abstraction hadn’t been seen much before in the public art sphere.

These scenes demonstrate the transition to a-political art—and the initial reaction of confusion to this new concept.  Rothko’s works are also gestural as they represent the very action of spreading paint and creating art.   A-political and gestural art is supposed to have no meaning—it exists just as it is presented.  These pieces have no significance nor are the representations of concepts.

This style of art was in reaction to the War and a budding and evolving patriotism for America.  This is reflected in Abstract Expressionist works, such as Rothko’s, as the very act of painting on such a grand scale and by spilling paint is “liberating.” A very emphasized motif in Mad Men is the evolution of American identity.  How do characters deal with shifting socio-political identities of America, from the emergence of civil rights to the issue of growing commercialism?  The Rothko scenes begin to address this discussion of American identify through portraying multiple points of view of the work: confusion, dismissal, frustration, and acceptance.

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The Yes Men

The Yes Men, a performance art group with an activist agenda, consist of two men Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, that impersonate respresentatives of big companies such as Exon, Halliburton and even the US Federal Government in order to bring media attention to the crimes of their unwilling employers. They define their work as Identity correction: impersonation big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them, and otherwise giving journalist excuses to cover important issues. Their work consists of months of research to find a target company, think of the best way to manipulate them and write a press release to send to hundred of journalists in the hopes that they will pick up the news story so that one of the Yes Men can impersonate a representative from the chosen company. Their film The Yes Men Fixed the World, contains some of their latest works that I have described below along with video links:

1. New York Times Special Edition: The Yes Men worked with other volunteers to create a special edition of the New York Times with their ideal headlines for their ideal world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoZQNgAnvqs

2. The Bhopal Disaster: On December 2-3 1984, a Union Carbide India Limited Pesticide Plant in Bhopal, India leaked deadly chemicals to over 500,000 people and was considered the world’s worst industrial disaster. The death tolls vary, to ranging from 2, 259 within the first couple months –to 8,000 overall along with 558,125 injuries and 3,900 permanently disabling injuries. The owner of the factory was Union Carbine Company which was then bought by a company called Dow Chemical in 2010, seven ex-employees were charged to two years imprisonment and had to pay a fine of $2,000. In 1986, they reached a settlement of 350 million that would  “generate a fund for Bhopal victims of between 500 and 600 million dollars over 20 years, but the Bhopal victims at this point int time had only received $500 each, which solely covers a year of medical care. The site had never been cleaned up and the company never claimed full responsibility until this…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiWlvBro9eI

 

Sara Guernsey Class of 2015

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