Eva Speer (CUAC)

Eva Speer

Artists typically concern themselves over a final product, an end result, a finish to their piece.  Leaving aside the Michelangelo’s and the Matisse’s of the histories who were synonymous with the habitual leaving bare of space or marble, the common practice and aim of an artist is finitude in work when often knowing when to stop can be a difficult balance to strike.  There is an art that is aimed at the very “leaving bare” that looks nothing like a Michelangelo or a Matisse but has everything to do with space and that which concerns art phenomenologically.  The work to be considered is by Portland, Oregon artist Eva Speer, showing currently at CUAC in “Soothsayers,” through August 10, for whom no painting ever reaches a finished product or an ultimate aim and can hardly be said to have a beginning.

The existentiality of art phenomena is featured in this body of work.  Like conventional existentialism Speer’s work deals with phenomena such as temporality.  Within this temporality it uses variables to address flux and change.  Within this continuum it is an indefinite entity with no absolute way of being as it exists in many forms for the artist in a space that is as phenominologically conditional as time.

The works come in groupings.  The first are abstractly neon colored grids of lozenge shapes that form matrixes.  The work here has not quite reached full fruition and is certainly nothing complete.  One might think of Sartre and the phrase “existence precedes essence.”  Indeed these grids were phenominologically non extant before Speer imbued in them the character they now have, a character that is in a stasis of hypothetical growth, on a temporal continuum that will continue to be, and, as the artist would have the viewer believe, has no end to its being, a character that suppositionally will continue to evolve.

The next set is multi layers of plexi-glass with space between and perforated across the entire surface.  For this series we might throw out Sartre’s phrase as these art objects represent flux and always were and always will be.  Speer is an artist whose existential vision for the phenomenology of art is transcendental and neither artistically finite nor artistically nihilistic.  She invites the transcendental notion in her postulated phenomena of form that art has a core reality, something beyond the worldly artificial towards something more like Heidegger’s dasein, but nothing reminiscent of the absolute.  In this regard, theoretically, the phenomenon of art is fully able to manifest as boldly as the day-glo colors.

A final grouping is a set of wall sculptures not too different than the last but these have a layer of miniature balls at the bottom looking like strata of packaging material.  Here Speer’s work assumes a subject in the manner one might be assumed from nature.  It is metaphorical and elemental and the conditions are met and the work fully realized in a phenomenologically minimalist context by the receptive subjectivity of the viewer who understands its being-as-art in the fullness of the phrase.  Speer’s work is thus a highly successful exploration of the existential phenomenology of art.

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“Art After ‘The End of Art’” Fab Ab: New Acrylic Abstraction @ SLC Art Center

 

 Art After Colin C Smith

 

Over twenty years ago, philosopher and art critic Arthur C. Danto published his seminal essay reinterpreting the Hegelian concept of “the end of art” and introduced his notion of the “post-historical era.”  Thirty years prior, another influential philosopher and shaper of aesthetic theory, Theodor Adorno,  gave his own European interpretation of Hegel’s concept and suggested that “the extreme is demanded by artistic technology,” and the evolution of art would proceed along the lines of the “life process of human beings.”  The Salt Lake Art Center’s new exhibition, Fab Ab, explores the development of the “life process of human beings,” examining what may be considered a new era of art media, revitalizing what lies beyond “the end of art”;  not only an era of new ideologies but new artistic possibility in form.  In the exhibition at the Art Center, one may witness a flourishing of new approaches to an old and familiar theme.

 

Twentieth century abstractionist movements — Abstract Expressionism, Post-painterly abstraction, Op art and other branches of pure abstraction — were limited to the artists’ usage of basic painterly devices used for millennia.  Technological advances over the past fifty years, especially the development of acrylic paints, have provided artists with new aesthetic possibilities for paint not seen since the Flemish development of oil painting in the 15th century.  One may see this clearly and vividly in the works displayed now at the Art Center.  Although each painting is so strikingly articulated that it may stand on its own, the exhibition as a whole becomes a testament to the power of technology in the hands of artists. These works deserve more than a passing glance, as their full vitality is discovered in the choices of each artist’s media and technique and their unique approaches to the use of acrylic. These abstract artists share some things in common with their predecessors, but the use of new materials, unavailable at the prime of the abstractionists’ movements in the twentieth century, set them apart.

 

One might compare the work of Colin C. Smith, his multi layered “popish” compositions to an artist like Warhol thirty years before.  The work of Jesse Simon and his ethereal acrylic and painted foam in graceful simplicity might be compared to Arp, whose works evoked the ease and tranquility of Simon’s, but did so with an arduous chisel.  Seeing Prudencio Irazabal’s graceful panels of soft color, one might call to mind a Frankenthaler or a Lewis.  Graham Peacock’s multi-media constructions are reminiscent of Rauschenberg.  Works displayed by William Betts may be familiar to those who have seen paintings by Newman, as Joseph Drapell may bring to mind a Rothko. And one might be tempted to think of a Riley or a Vasserly when eying the impressive pieces of Susie Rosmarin. However, the differences separating these artists from their pioneering ancestors is prodigious.

 

Colin C. Smith layers his canvas using pigmented resin and many coats of pattern stencils to an effect which is almost psychedelic.  They are light and airy but also complex, and color is used to balance the composition.  Such effects, as for example in Smith’s “Suburban Dynablob Conspiracy” 2003 (which is more precisely rendered than his title suggests) far surpass traditional screen printing methods used by those such as Warhol.

 

Jesse Simon uses foam-coated acrylic to create three dimensional paintings such as his “Claim” 2005.   He creates high sculptural relief, to an almost cloud-like effect, which, in their pastel coloring and inviting shapes, allow the mind to explore them.  Simon is from California and these painting/sculptures are as soothing to the eye as a sunny day in Malibu.  Each piece has a certain “personality”, an entity in and of itself that invites calm contemplation.

 

Prudencio Irazabal has achieved similar aims as the Post-Painterly Abstractionists, but one must see them head on to appreciate their full impact.  Irazabal, in his “5N2” 2004, experiments with the pigment of paint, as did Frankenthaler, yet carries his project much further in his experimentation with his matt finishes and glosses.  One must inspect his work closely to appreciate the glassy translucent effect that sets his work apart.  The reflected light off the serenely smooth surface reacts well with his pigments and the effect is masterfully articulated and stunning to behold.

 

Graham Peacock, in works such as “Spiders Eyes” 2005, has the brazen, “found object” collage quality of Rauchenberg’s work, yet his paintings easily match the complexity of Rauchenberg’s more developed “combines.”  These compositions are extreme, often overwhelming to look at in their psychological impact, due in part to the lucidity by which Peacock arranges his collage amidst the surfaces of his hypnotic acrylic.  Peacock uses his paint to harness the collage elements, layering them, and then drying and layering once more.  The effect is astonishing and, like Simon, has a high degree of relief.

 

The works of William Betts’ may seem to be trailing in the era of Newman, yet the differences are significant.  Newman used only paint to create his ground breaking “zips”, yet Betts’ work has an entirely different approach.  In his “Canopy” 2000, the viewer may appreciate the technology that was utilized in these canvases.  To the eye they are vivid, sharp and linear, a veritable bar code of thin verticals, all with a unity of color.  Yet on learning of Betts’ technique, one finds his work is even more impressive.  He has reused photographs and technically unified them via a computer, examining this motif in a way impossible to Newman.

 

Like a Riley or a Vasserly, the neo-Op Art of Susie Rosmarin is easily categorized with the excellence in graphics that would put her at the top of the field.  Yet, as in “#312 Untitled” 2004, Rosmarin proceeds with the Op Art past to explore new territories in graphic optics: color relationships, symmetry, and illusion.  Her works are highly refined and will satiate any appetite for Op Art.

 

Joseph Drapell might be considered a post-modern Rothko.  His work, as with a Rothko, invites contemplation, a synthesis of artist and viewer, using many layers of acrylic in contrasting hues to ignite the imagination.  His “Black Magic” 2004, finds its viewers eye exploring the freedom of his painting immersed in the autonomy of his hand and the rhythm of his panels.  It is a psychological invitation, like Rothko’s work fifty years previous .

 

No, painting is not dead.  Painting is alive and flourishing, moving with “the life process of human beings.”  The Fab Ab exhibition reveals this explicitly, revitalizing traditional themes in works with not only immediate gratification, but works which speak of and attest to new possibilities for painting, abstraction or otherwise.  The exhibition investigates new possibilities that artists are utilizing, new technologies and advances in materials and methods by which art “after the end of art,” may be an open door to an optimistic future and innovation for art.

 

 

UMFA: “Changing Identities: Recent Works by Women Artists from Vietnam”

 

Vietnam 

Visiting the Utah Museum of Fine Art  recently to see the exhibit of art from the 1960’s from the museum’s collection (that can be read about in our blog), I encountered the entrance to a separate room and images that stunned me.  There was power in these images and I wanted to see more.  The exhibition was “Changing Identities: Recent Works by Women Artists from Vietnam.” The experience I was not expecting proved to be moving, humbling and enlightening.  From what I saw I felt respect, reverence, a past of marginalized women who were often referred to in folk lore as heroic, and recapturing that heroism today.  These artists all are heroes for all Vietnamese women.

 

Most visitors to the UMFA’s new exhibition are unfamiliar with Vietnamese women; their history, their socio/ economic and political role today. One can learn a lot from a work of art and the exhibition on display at the UMFA is educational and inspiring.  It is evident in these works that women in Vietnam are experiencing a greater sense of freedom, of expression and egalitarianism in their society.  The exhibition explores a national and gender identity that, no matter how small or obscure can be represented in today’s global art community.  In a pastiche of media, method and meaning, women artists from Vietnam have a chance to say “Yes we can!”

 

Since the French occupation in the nineteenth century until 1945, the Vietnamese have developed a pronounced national art.  In 1925 an art school was established in Hanoi and the first generation of “modern” academic painters and sculptors were educated.  One result of this was to “celebrate the diverse expressions of female identity in a changing society,” to “emphasize Vietnamese women’s’ individual experience.”  The exhibition is a result of these developments.

 

These artists are not Asian “wall flowers” one might think of a Vietnamese woman, but these are women with strength not willing to succumb to their relative obscurity in the world but make bold statements about their past, reclaiming their place in today’s Vietnam and the world.  These imaginative and creative works in a multitude of approaches give a notion of what a woman of Vietnamese origin is really about.  If this is representative of most Vietnamese women, they are a formidable force.  There is a commanding presence reflecting Vietnamese femininity with a vociferousness what western women experienced in the feminist revolution.  These paintings are more than portraits but say “I am a Vietnamese woman, I am happy, I matter, I am equal to you- take it or leave it.”

 

A cross section of artists was chosen representing vicissitudes of Vietnamese women. There was a range of Modern and contemporary works, from the lucid to the obscure.  Each artist was represented with a series. All pieces of many mediums resonated loudly bold existential journeys of the mind, body and soul of an underrepresented collective demographic entity.

 

Nguyen Thi Chau Giang was particularly interesting because her work was divided into two bodies, both disparate yet both as telling.  The first body painted in 2002 was directly influence by Mexican artist Frieda Kahlo, another woman in an underrepresented demographic.  Perhaps Giang chose her for this in part, but also for the opportunity to use the vibrant, lucid colors, symbols, motifs, and a cold direct gaze; as Kahlo did she can speak to the viewer, for example “Happy Days” 2002.  There is no question in this gaze that Giang means anything but an unequivocal, “This is me, this is my soul, this is my heart, I hide nothing and you can take me or reject me.”  She does not hide behind her identity as a Vietnamese woman, does not sentimentalize it but states it matter of factly.  These are honest portraits in pure Kahlo fashion with its requisite dash of surrealism.  She seems to speak for all Vietnamese women.

 

Her other body of work is entirely different: primitive, organic, earthy, ethereal, archaic and resonate the role of women in traditional Vietnamese folklore.  They seem to represent the heritage of Vietnamese women, revealing to the viewer her origins and why she can now, in her “Kahlo portraits” speak so boldly and directly.  This primordiality, as in “Old Woman Village Talk” 1999 is very appealing and enlightening for the Western contemporary Viewer.  We know they are contemporary but investigations of a past that is assuredly sacred to the Vietnamese woman of today.  Giang is empathetic to them as women and empathetic to the tumultuous past they and many Vietnamese women led collectively.  They are the past and Giang is the future.

 

In a stunning manner reminiscent of Matisse, with abstracted hues and semi-abstract form, Ly Tran Quynh Giang paints women of her country as few women will paint women.  Her portraits do not gaze at you; they are at war with you- and the viewer loses.  These are commanding presences who convey no emotion than “don’t cross my path or you will not make it back.”  The viewer undoubtedly cannot help, as I was, to be shocked by these steely eyes that don’t gaze at you but through you and one is helpless, as in the small portrait “Giang” 2002.  I found it a thrilling encounter to find such power in a work of art, to not look but to be looked at, to be a little afraid!  One gets a notion that there is a change occurring for women in Vietnam and if these women are in a feminist era, with other Vietnamese women artist on par with these works, they will assuredly accomplish the victory they seek.

 

The ghost-like pastel drawings of Dinh Y Nhi- works such as, “Three daughters of Mr. Nguyen” 2005 are the ones that caught my attention, imagination and emotion that initially led me into the exhibition which has been so enlightening.  These fantastical gouache on paper drawings are each a series of young girls, or girl, drawn in an abstract, child-like manner, uninhibited and innocent however haunting.  The viewer knows nothing about these works.  Who is Mr. Nguyen, who are these daughters, why are they painted in a childlike manner, why is each daughter homogonous with the next, why are they painted in repetition?  These answers are not provided, yet one has an eerie sense of innocence lost, there is an uncanny, almost palpable sensibility that Mr. Nguyen is not an honorable man.  These daughters float, like ghosts, in space, they are already lost souls. 

 

The artists discussed above perhaps are painting and opening themselves boldly and proudly, “in a Kahloesque manner” or challenging you to submission in the Matissesque portraits, to make sure that these “Daughters” will have the future they deserve and will grow up to be strong women and be able to say “We’re here, we’re Vietnamese women, we are strong, get used to it.”

 

 

“Found Art” Gets a Facelift: “SF Recycled” @ Salt Lake City Art Center

SF Recycled  

Using old or found objects to create fine art is nothing new.  Since the early avant-garde, artists have incorporated old objects into their work, usually as part of a modernist aesthetic manifesto, an attempt to challenge traditional norms.  The Artist in Residence program at SF Recycling and Disposal, an organization established in 1990 addressing a new global crisis “recycles” discarded objects into fine art and breaks the mold of the found art tradition to assess the critical political concerns of the contemporary situation.   The project began in the pivotal environmental concerns of the Nineties and now is seventeen years old – which might make it seem to be another chapter in the history of art.  Not so.  The global crisis of depleted resources, energy use and efficiency, the core of the necessity of recycling, is a primary, if not the primary concern of a globalized economy.  Recycling not only reuses resources but reduces the energy usage to create new products.  Using found objects in a new aesthetic is the obvious way to address this crisis. However it is the eight artists themselves, each with their own unique contribution to the project that transcending limits of the found art tradition with their approaches to ephemeral concerns that makes this exhibition, and its impact work.   These artists from the ongoing program were chosen by curator Jim Edwards for the current exhibit in the Main Gallery at the Salt Lake Art Center.  They maintain not only the tradition of the SF Project; keeping environmental awareness and responsibility in the forefront, but make bold contemporary statements which push the trajectory and aims of the project into an optimistic future. The works chosen represent a variety of forms: collage, sculpture, installation, bringing the past into today in a state of contemporary art, addressing social relevance and raising provocative questions about the present and the future.   Artist Andrew Junge’s sculpture “Pandora’s Box,” 2005, is a veritable contemporary Brillo Box.  He, like Warhol, uses familiar objects – here, a discarded tool box, and a neon sign reading “Hope” — in the direct manner Warhol addressed his own sculpture.  Like Warhol and much of the ideology he raised, Junge makes a statement on “capitalistic/consumerist culture.”  Warhol, the Modernist Pop Idol, attempted to bridge the gap between “high and low art” by using celebrities, familiar objects and inventing the “pop” in popular culture.  His art was the definitive break, which freed art to be whatever art needed to be. Junge is indebted to Warhol but his aims are entirely different.  Unlike Warhol, he does not use commodity to his advantage, glamorizing it, but faces the “capitalist/consumerist culture” directly through his recycled objects. Where Andy Warhol stopped, Junge begins.   Another exceptional artist in the show is Mike Farruggia.  In his “United States of Whatever,” recalls the Post-painterly abstractionists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Where they used found art to create fine art Farruggia goes beyond to address contemporary issues. According to Farruggia, reusing recycled objects “recalibrates the synchronicity of its path and therefore everything.”  Using the recycling concept he investigates the deductive tools which recycled relics may have on a much broader scale, as the title of this collage implies.  In this overtly politicized use of the concept, he opens the gulf between what has been and what might be.  In this work, more than the others, the idea of waste comes into play- we use, we consume, we throw away.  His logic is a forecast of the moment, the future and treating the past with respect.   The associations of the Dada cannot be avoided in this exhibition; theirs was the genesis of the future of found art, with the strongest formal similarities attached with the show.  The Dada, in Post World War I Germany seemingly gave up hope in politics, society, spirituality, and even art and culture- all the things their predecessors had sought- and tantalized the viewer with ironic statements in what they found in their found art.  Artists Daphne Ruff and Mark Faigenbaum in their work “Spring Sing,” 2006 and “Unfolding,” 1998 appear to have found the utopia that the Dadaist and Modernism had given up on.   Both of these artists, Ruff with her Fräulein Maria waltzing in mid-air over the Danube, or Faigenbaum’s excruciatingly articulated collage, reveal the extent to which the recycled object can be taken aesthetically.  Both regenerate what was once called degenerate, in splendid constructions.  The aims of the show are fully manifest in these two collages: Faigenbaum’s “ephemeral quality…of outdating technology and mechanisms,” or Ruff’s statement of similarly ephemeral themes such as fashion and apparel using that which has been discarded.  These establish the subject and relationships between past, present and future.  Such performative qualities add the post to Post-postmodernism.   The other represented artists, in like-manner to those above, all address topics dealing with temporality, a reassessment of value systems, and as human beings what are our priorities?  Artists Nomi Talisman is “concerned with memory, how we interpret and understand our collective and individual histories.” Her David Hockneyesque photographs document an ideal while questioning what was actually real.  Bessie Kunath states “When I first started working at the dump, the idea of having access to everything at the public disposal area was dreamlike.” Her “thrift store sculptures” are a pastiche of reinvention.  Says James Gouldthorpe, whose sculptures bring out subtleties of the artifact in a concept of visual relationships and puns, “Most of the images I use are found in magazines and books…that seemed desperately to want to simplify the intricacies of human relationships, and each other with the natural world.” Finally, Dee Hibbert-Jones says “I untangle and examine the complexities of need that exist within human relationships, and our relationships to the earth itself.” Her seemingly sterile installations, recreations of a “homelike environment” are haunting in their lack of the human element, a poignant reminder of mortality.   Such implications give this art the strength to disassociate itself from the historical reuse of found objects so widely used in the twentieth century and by countless contemporary artists that have followed. The SF Recycled project has survived successfully amidst the multitude of art that expresses similar aims.  The eight artists that are now being represented at the Art Center, endow a unique element to the exhibition, which separates it from the mass of found object art in this specialized project.  The character of each individual artist with their own aesthetic focus on various aspects of the ephemeral, together make these found objects, and the Project itself, a powerful statement.   Today, with the growth of a globalized world and the implications associated, this art is even more relevant to contemporary demographics and to art itself.  As recycling is more and more a vital issue in an increasingly globalized society and economy, all of the artists represented have contributed to the essence of what SF Recycled is about, and have, in accordance with the ephemeral, have done what the Modernists could not do.  They have not merely used the subject of recycling for recycling’s sake, but use history to challenge the state of the present and forecast a utopia of the future.  If only Andy could be around to see this show.

Holloway’s England @ BYU MOA

 Holloway

 

The complexity and rich magnificence of Victorian art comes to the fore at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art’s exhibition of works from the collection of British entrepreneur Thomas Holloway. Amassed between 1881 and 1883 to decorate the women’s college he founded in 1879 (the first of its kind), the collection consists of seventy-seven masterworks of the era, sixty of which are on display at  the Museum through October 24.   Painted in the realistic manner in vogue at the time, these works appear like headlines from the newspapers of a bold, lavish era fascinated equally with progress and social reform as well as a romanticized vision of every-day life and English history.

 

The Victorian age was a vociferous epoch of politics, philosophies, aesthetics, morals and ideas that contributed to a century of intensity and progression.  It had strong ties to the Romantic era that ultimately became a pervasive style in the third quarter of the nineteenth century due to influences like poems of Byron and Shelly, and the ideas of the sublime in Edmund Burke – but was also struggling with the realities of a quickly urbanized and industrialized modernity. A number of artistic tributaries, native and foreign, fed into the great river of creative output that created these works. The political realism of Daumier in France,  painting scenes of political realism, or Dutch masters who painted genre scenes of every-day life or the Germans such as Caspar David Friedrich who painted glories of the sublime, all find their way into these works.  Allegories of nineteenth century British life were masterfully and prodigiously created.  Innumerable numbers of artists painted for the Academy and there is a wealth of art that reveals their efforts and their truth to what their era was constructed of.

 

Like a Dickens novel, a poem by Blake or an essay by Ruskin, these paintings tell stories, reveal Victorian pathos, explore romantic sensibility…they are a sampling of Victorian Painting, an accomplishment made easier due to the brevity of the work reflecting the century that is made concise and poignant in the themes that dominate.  Although there is no work of the Pre-Raphaelites, the height of the nineteenth century British avant-garde, this work is honest, but not simple, frontal, yet metaphorical.

 

Reflective of English sensibilities, one of the main themes that can be gleaned from this body of work is the attention the artists devoted to portraying social commentary.  The Victorian political climate was one of change and reform. Though most of the works in the exhibit are from the late nineteenth-century, the English interest in social reform goes back at least a century, as seen in George Moorland’s “The Press Gang.” (1790)  Over the century, child labor laws were enforced, woman’s health issues and civil rights were furthered, the needs of the poor were tended to and the conditions of hospitals, orphanages and asylums were made a point of reform. 

 

The social concerns that appeared in novels by Dickens, Elliot and Bronte are given visual flesh in works like Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward, 1874, painted by Sir Samuel Luke Fildes. A monumental piece that is one of the first works the viewer encounters upon entering the gallery, this lush, densely-painted work depicts a concourse of those with “casualties.”  We see the destitute, the sick, the hungry and homeless, but our focus is on the most sympathetic of Victorian images, the young mother with babe in arms, another child holding on to the hem of her dress.  Fildes’s image is not merely a painting of the tragedies that were a part of the reality of every-day London, but is an encouragement for more awareness and a sympathetic attitude to these unfortunates, from his fellow citizen and the government.  It is a theme that can be seen in many of the paintings and a theme that dominated English politics and society in the nineteenth century

 

Acting almost as a balance to the every-day concerns of social reform and harsh realities of their modern life, the Victorians interest in historical and dramatic scenes is evident in many works. Medievalism was a dominant theme in much painting of the time. The Pre-Raphaelites made the stylized, romanticized vision of an ancient British past their subject. The artists in this exhibit, though, concentrate on more specific, historical moments, like “The Battle of Roveredo.” and “The Emperor Charles V at the Convent at Yuste”. This last, together with “Expulsion of the Gypsies from Spain” and “Licensing the beggars in Spain” reveals an interest in the history of imperial Spain that may reflect Britain’s interest in its own bourgeoning empire. Tito Conti’s “Good-bye” and John Pettie’s “A State Secret,” though set in a historical mileu are more dramatical than historical, and their continental (and Catholic) overtones were meant to satisfy the Victorian desire for excotism that was fully satiated in works like “The Babylonian Marriage Market” and “Relatives in Bond.”


As these paintings reveal, regardless of the local or historical setting of the paintings, narrative genre paintings was a dominant drive in Victorian art. A painting might show the crowded stations of the modern Railroads in the large cities, or the drama of a lost fisherman on the rural coast but they were all meant to give the viewer a narrative they could decipher. This force came both from the tradition of historical painting which had dominated the academies of art as well as the English tradition of genre scenes. 

 

This form of painting is an ancestor of the Protestant necessity to avoid religious imagery of saints and Virgins, the strong emphasis on portraiture, narratives with the quality and substantiality of Hogarth, and Gainsborough, Reynolds, or Romney, leading to a tradition that would paint the aristocracy and pauper equally, with veneration for verisimilitude.  This tradition of the genuine is again, dominant in the exhibition, and an ineluctable form of art in Victorian England.  This art of the day is represented well in the show in an again, monolithic painting by Abraham Soloman, 1862, Departure of the Diligence.  This noisy and haphazard street scene is cluttered with a carriage, people looking at their watches, travel trunks, women holding babies,  watchers leaning out their window, strangers in an ally.  None but the Dutch and an artist like Pieter Bruegel could create a scene of such candid, lucid and poignant reality.

 

The Romantic tradition also had a strong influence in these works. Like Constable or later, Turner, the romantic subjects focused on nature or to exotic locations where the mind is left to its own devices, left to contemplate, to wonder.  The Holloway show has many landscapes, images of nature or distant locations such as Turkey, Egypt or Jerusalem.  Either was subject matter for Romantic artists who, it might be conjectured, sought locations not yet victim of industrialization, again, like the painting of Constable or the writing of D.H. Lawrence. The many landscapes that are shown in the collection range from seascapes, dusty streets of the orient or mountain ranges.  In philosophy Burke spoke of the timelessness and temporality of beauty and the infinite of the sublime.  In the works of Ruskin he professed the picturesque as the ultimate visual aesthetic, thus leading to an English style still popular today.

 

One particularly striking painting in the show which puts England’s Romanticism on par with the Germans’ or the French is Clarkson Stanfield’s 1875 View of the Picudu Midi d’Ossau in the Pyrenees with Brigands. The large painting is shaped like a Gothic altarpiece whose pointed arch is accentuated by the super-natural mountain peak lifting the eye and the soul upward.  The painting, like many of the Romantic, is contrived to bring out a sublime sense, and although this painting depicts a scene that seems otherworldly, its peaks and clouds, mists and valleys actually do work and allude to the sublime, contributing to the sensibility that was sought for by many Romantic artists who failed.  It is with due credit that the English should have a secure place in the history books along with the French and Germans of the Romantic.  This is once more, a theme found in the exhibition that represents the mentality of the Victorian English.

 

Salt Lake Art Center “Life After Death: New Leipzig Painting from the Rubell Family Collection”

Beautifully articulated color combinations, carefully balanced compositions, credulous perspective, figural accuracy; all are to be found in the art of the Leipzig School, trained at the Leipzig Art Academy.  They are a group of artist from Germany, now showing at the Salt Lake City Art Center.  The exhibition titled “Life After Death” bears the stamp of the essence of the group who was formed in 1990, one year after Leipzig was freed from behind the iron curtain.

 

While the art of the group is trained in the Classical, it may be seen as an overt reference to contemporaneous life in post-cold war Leipzig. After WWI German Expressionists reacted to their situation with lavish abstractions, ostensibly conveying the chaos that had and was occurring.  In a similar way, upon careful observation the art of the Leipzig School may be an ironic statement, fiercely ironic, on the situation in old Eastern Germany and East Germany today.  Classically trained, all artists share a common aesthetic that is anything but Classical in traditional subjects.  The word “license” does not even begin to convey their aesthetic.  In fact, they do not actually take license, but by careful adherence to the “rules” of the Classical they may show the viewer how this tradition can be corrupted, as has been in a society still dependant on it; from Greece, to the Declaration of Independence, till now.  They reveal to us a myth.  One in which we live, which is not absolute.

 

The first aspect of the exhibit are the drawings of Matthias Weischer, most of whose works are untitled.  They are a good introduction to the representation of the School, placed on the Street Level Galleryin the Art Center.  In plasticity they bear a certain paucity of form, simple line and frequent interruptions of full color.  The “rules” are there.  The elements are sound.  They, as all the Leipzig school, generally speaking, appear irrational yet are rational in the Classical sense upon inspection.

 

They may seem disorderly- they are.  Many iconographic references are alluded to- pyramids, crosses chairs and geometric patterns.  These are within a melody of simplistic form and color.  The images: icons, settings, colors have a psychological impact (as definitely do all the Leipzig School’s work) in relation to the subjective.  These do not resonate as surreal, but leave a certain state of unease, a, subjective perception upon the viewer of disquiet.  Like a Piranese we are lost in a labyrinth, a nightmare even, of uncertainty and anxiety.

 

The work of Tim Eitel is more polished, and painted in oil.  Yet the subjective state upon the viewer is all the more anxious. In each grouping of two or three, such as “Verweis,” 2003, they seem lost in their own reality, but we follow, with no apparent conclusion but the subject’s sense of obscurity.  Of special mention in the same room as Eitel’s is a very potent work by Tilo Baumgärtel.  The “Die Pause,” 2004 is highly provocative.  We once more find ourselves in the rational yet get lost in the irrational. 

 

The Greeks used the rational philosophy of life to create order in the universe, or at least as they were concerned with truth.  Anything contrary to this, the conceptions of the mind contradicting nature was irrational and therefore went against reason.  Philosophers subsequently have made a study of Reason, namely Emanuel Kant, whose “Critique of Pure Reason” elucidates how the rational mind may be used for reason as opposed to venturing into the irrational.  In Baumgärtel’s painting, the architecture and form is correct, rational, but all figuration works against reason; everything is right and everything is wrong.  This may be a thesis for the Leipzig school.

 

Matthias Weischer, creator of the drawings on the Street Level Gallery brings us closer to the height of the Leipzig school in his large-scale paintings.  His “Chair” and “Zweiteilig” both painted in 2003 are apparently companion pieces.  Both are a room with a hall leading obscurely away from the picture plane, with no human life other than two pin-ups, which may represent the human in this barren universe or the empty universe in the human. 

 

The other two paintings by Weischer are almost completely illogical, irrational as Kant might have noticed; they obey all the laws of the rational yet destroy any trace of reason to be found and thus irrational.  These two compositions, “Tuch,” 2005 and “St Ludgerus,” 2004 are dense with iconographical images, but why are there legs sticking out from underneath the sofa, why are there plants growing from the chandelier, why do socks stand erect with no wearer, why is a figure painted purely in white amidst darker colors?  There is no sense in this, it is purely unreasonable but that may be the purpose.  To paint in the Classical tradition yet defy the rational.

 

The leader of the Leipzig School is Neo Rauch, a now famous artist whose prestige has been greatly elevated by the Rubell family who made this traveling exhibition possible and whose showing at the Mass MoCA in Massachusetts attracted great appeal for the Leipzig School and to Rauch. He is the elder member of the group and has received most attention.  Rauch takes these experiments farther than does any other member of the Leipzig.  His compositions, colors, etc., are as complex as a Botticelli, yet his work is as different to Botticelli as the twentieth century is to the fifteenth.

 

In the work of Rauch logic is lost; reason is lost in the rational!  Nothing can truly be entirely explained, or even attempted to be explained.  It is the unexplainable, the absence of reason used within proper states of artistic Classical form that the viewer my find beauty in these works.  Perspective, color, harmony, composition, figuration- all work in the classical manner, such as in “Das Neue,” 2005.  At a glance this picture could have been a history painting in the Albertian sense of the word, in the fullest sense!  But maybe it still is.  All elements are there excepting one and that is cohesion. “Demos,” 2004- it could have been an Ingres.  Unfortunately we live in the twenty first century and Rauch will receive no Prix- de-rome.  Again, this is no surrealist fantasy, this is reality given over to the absurd.

 

Ruckhäberle presents a quality much found in the Leipzig School.  The figures generally do not look at one another and there is little or no connection. This is slightly disturbing as so many sitters are in such close proximity and are children.  Each seems lost in its own sphere. Human connection was something Renaissance painters till Raphael sought for and now it is being broken. All are lost in their absurdities.  With Rauch’s work as well as Ruckhäberle’s, one cannot explain their imagery other than they cast doubt, not on structure or artistic form, but on truth, relationships, human interaction, and the loss of reason-  subjective uncertainty.

 

The large-scale oils by Tim Eitel, paints beautifully his absurdities.  He paints very attractive minimal landscapes with figures apparently lost without their sense of reason, doing irrational things, activities that are mind-numbing or acutely banal.  David Schnell has the final blow in the show.  He displays his masterful use of perspective, yet it is we, vicariously walking through a tunnel, such as “Bretter,” 2005, or a series of crates, witness around us everything being blown to bits.  The very world around us lost to destruction.  The beautifully articulated forms blow apart, everything is blasted before us, a perfect denouement to the show.

 

Is this “blast” another dose of German nihilism or does the Leipzig school have a positive ideology, a “warning” for the future as do so many great artists of today?  Have the Leipzig School lost hope for the future or is there a constructive statement of the East German society being made?  Is the Leipzig school making commentary, in their world and our world where we are losing grasp or a sense of reason, the rational; who we are, our very society, which we are desperately trying to hold together?  With the help of the Leipzig school and awareness such as this, possibly we can maintain this fragile society and those in East Germany will heed the Leipzig School’s warning, and others like the School will do their part to galvanize what we have not lost and put and end to the absurdities and a loss of reason which we seem to see every day.

 

Lipzeig

“Masterworks of Victorian Art” Brigham Young University

 

 Masterworks Victorian Art

Many French artists of the latter nineteenth century were reacting to the academic system, finding it irrelevant to their tumultuous society, and were forging ahead into new directions and avenues, reinventing the Classical Model.  Across the Channel in England, the new avant-garde were equally disgusted with the academy, the limits it placed on artists and its irrelevance to society.  The new exhibition at the BYU Museum of Art captures a glimpse of this moment in history and the viewer may learn, while the French were looking to the future, the English avant-garde were looking to the past.

 

Along with mid-century contemporaneous English styles: the writings of Critic John Ruskin and Roger Fry, the Neo-gothic architecture, the picturesque, the revival of Milton and Shakespeare, Byron, Keats and Shelly, the English avant-garde were rejecting the present and the banality of the Academy and looked to the past for inspiration.  However, as Modernism in Paris progressed with the new, the English avant-garde, the Pre-Raphaelites, were overshadowed by water-lilies and starry nights.

 

The theory that charged early Modernism in Paris- Realism, the work of Cezanne and Manet, the early Impressionist group, the multi faceted and broad Post-impressionism, is no more dense than the theory that grounded the Pre-Raphaelites.  The Parisian avant-garde were reacting to their culture, the English, to theirs.  But it might be said that while art was moving in new directions with experimentation and imagination in France, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and the countless others that they were to inspire, were moved a different directive.  The Industrial Revolution was encroaching upon the serenity of the small and peaceful Isle, and it is no wonder that artists, writers, poets, and critics would cry out for their ancestry, as we do today!

 

The tendency to look back on tradition, to hold on to it so as not to loose the culture is prominent today in England: preserving the red phone booths that all tourists have their photos taken in, the red mail boxes, the on-and-off double decker, the Bobby.  These are merely symbols, icons of English, but they are a touchstone to identity like we hold on to James Dean, Disneyland, and the Fourth of July.  This was the nature of the Pre-Raphaelites and it was not till the mid twentieth century, when the Modernist frenzy was settling and there was no Utopia in sight, that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their followers were given the recognition they deserve.

 

The first painting that the viewer is introduced to before entering the exhibit, a legacy from the collection of John H. Schaeffer, is Daniel Maclise’s “The Wrestling Scene in ‘As You Like It’,” 1855.  This reference to one of Shakespeare’s less famous plays, painted later than the height of the brotherhood, never the less, more than any other painting in the exhibition captures all of the elements that comprise a strong Pre-Raphaelite painting. 

 

In short, the Pre-Raphaelites sought a simpler and noble past.  Medieval subjects were popular, as Maclise’s is.  Narratives, something taboo in French avant-garde, were highly developed, more so than even the most evolved work of a Dutch genre artist.  Tales of chivalry were highly esteemed such as Sir Francis Bernard Dicksee’s aptly titled “Chivalry,” 1885 depicting a typical scene of heraldry as one knight slays another to rescue the fair maiden tied to a tree.  Lofty subject matter was common such as John William Waterhouse’s “Mariamne,” a compelling and moving narrative of the wife of Herod who stands in chains before her dishonorable husband who cannot look at her because he knows he has wronged her and is unjustly sending her to her death.  Such representations focus on a past where honor, heroicism, bravery nobility and justice actually meant something.

 

Subject and form are brilliantly conjoined in Pre-Raphaelite work.  The Brotherhood, in looking to the past, named themselves the Pre-Raphaelites to approach painting in a manner which pre-dates Raphael, the High Renaissance master who brought Renaissance painting to an apex in its orientation towards a correct representation of nature.  He perfected the narrative using exacting perspective, believable space, appropriate color and a balanced composition.  All though the Pre-Raphaelite painters could render well, they rejected Raphael’s accomplishment that set the course for four hundred years of academic theory in motion.  They rejected the slavery to perspective, to exacting space, and a perfectly balanced composition.    In this they and the French were in agreement.

 

As seen in Maclise’s piece and others throughout the show, one might recognize the figures’ placement frontally on the picture plane with a medieval frieze-like effect.  This is best seen in Sir Edward Coley’s “The Pilgrim at the Garden of Idleness,” 1874.  Here the medieval frieze is replicated.  Maclise’s composition is crowded, as were many of the original Brotherhood’s work, and reflects the subject in an animated and loose composition with no apparent concentration of perfect balance as prescribed by the academy.  Colors are broad in range and haphazard.  The result is a lively and provocative display, interesting in its uncanny reality and adherence to the humorous subject.

 

Color was a dominant factor in much of the Pre-Raphaelite work and in the painting to follow.  As mentioned, Maclise does not hold back with his color palette and seen in William Holman Hunt’s “The Sweetness of Doing Nothing,” the subject may be reclining lazily but the color is alive and unrestrained.  Hunt’s piece also introduces a curious aspect of the Brotherhood’s work- a penchant for red hair.  This is evident in Hunt’s piece as well as in others in the show.  Why they, especially the original three chose this motif is equivocal, but it has a pre-contemporaneous quality and a classical appeal.

 

As mentioned, the exhibition not only refers to the original Brotherhood, but represents the many followers that were influenced by them through the end of the century.  The impact of their ideas can readily be seen as one identifies Pre-Raphaelian elements and recognizes them in other works in the show.  This aesthetic lends itself to mental as well as emotional and spiritual edification.

 

However this exhibition is not titled “Masterworks of Pre-Raphaelite Art” but “Masterworks of Victorian Art.”  The art of the Victorian era, referencing the life of the monarch-1837-1901, was no less than thriving.  Annual exhibitions at the Royal Academy of London propelled a body of work as vast as any period, if not more so, save our own.  The subject matter was across the board but tended towards genre painting and narrative work.  The pieces in the MOA show that do not resonate with the Pre-Raphaelites have a charm of their own, overtly sentimental though they might be.  Some are more profound such as Thomas Faed’s “Worn Out,”  depicting a tender relationship between an impoverished father to his son, but most lack a sublime element of true human emotion such as the transparent James Archer’s “The Betrothal of Robert Burns and Highland Mary.”

 

However, they, like the Pre-Raphaelites, also seem to gravitate towards the past, embrace tradition, recapture old England while soot darkened the London skies and steam engines cut through the pristine countryside.

 

For those readers who have traveled and visited the great museums of the world, ostensibly this exhibition might have little to offer when one has seen Millais’a “Ophelia,” or Rossetti’s “Venus Verticordia.”  But one must enjoy this exhibit for what it is, an educational experiences- the caliber of which is not usually to be found in Utah- appropriate to the institution which houses it.  As today’s viewer looks back, as traditional as we have become as a society and not loosing our heads in relativism and contemporary uncertainty, there is much to be gleaned by this exhibition and the mission of the Pre-Raphaelites.  If we care for our origins, for the best we are as human beings, the Victorian Era did its best to do the same.

 

Utah Museum of Fine Arts: “Her Spirit is Stronger than angels: Frida Kahlo Though the lens of Nicolas Muray”

 

 Frida

The work of Frida Kahlo, artist from Mexico who is known as a surrealist, through her life-long relationship with Mexican artist Diego Rivera, and her tendency to express her inner turmoil through self portraits which are highly symbolic, has only been popularized in the last ten years.  Since then, her image is seen frequently- commercially and through a mass of contemporary literature which attempts to make sense of an artist whose art is as complex as her personality- and in large measure- due to it.

 

Kahlo, although having lived in Paris and worked with Duchamp and Breton, did not consider herself surrealist .  She inherited surrealist associations from the dream like symbolism she used although she states “I never painted my dreams, I painted my reality”.   She has publically given little importance to her own art although Rivera consistently supported it and asserted its value and importance as modern art.

 

Kahlo’s work has a general resemblance to Mexican folk art- in particular, a resemblance to small votive pictures known as retables which devout Catholics consider sacred in their churches.  More than that, much of her imagery mirrors traditional Madonnas revered since the middle ages.  Like the Madonna images which are frequently eluded to, Kahlo’s images are highly iconic- frontal, formal, serene, reverent, confrontational. More so she is an icon herself -timeless and monumental.  She is stoic in expressing the inexpressible- her inner battles due in part to a bus accident which impaired her for life, her intense relationship with Rivera, her status as a Mexican artist, and as a woman.  Kahlo is as much a work of art, herself, as her paintings.

 

However, beyond the symbolism exposing her struggles, beyond the iconic images that have become so familiar contemporaneously- especially to women- we know remarkably little about the “real” Frida Kahlo.  Not the tragic Mexican icon in the shadow of Rivera, but thoughts she had, the emotions she experienced, her passions, her desires, her weaknesses.  We know about her suffering well from her work, but who was this human being who suffered so greatly and worked so profoundly?

 

The exhibit “Her Spirit is Stronger than angels: Frida Kahlo Though the lens of Nicolas Muray”, unlocks mystery, reveals another side of Kahlo, through a candid relationship and intimacy which Kahlo and Muray shared, which we, as her audience, hitherto have seen none of in her works.  Nicolas Muray, Hungarian, came to America in 1913 to train as a photographer, opened a studio in Greemwich Village, New York City, and through his relationship with artist Miguel Covarrubias, met Kahlo in 1931 and began a relationship that would last a decade.

 

Twenty-four photographs (some displayed in the United Sates for the first time), intimate letters, as well as pre-Columbian artifacts displayed in glass cases, which appear in some of the photos ( a passion of Kahlos) compose the exhibit.  We see photographs which range from several black and whites, some snap shot style, and some more formal.  These formal ones, which allow the viewer to see Muray’s virtuosity as a photographer, have a technical execution which is astounding. They are pure, bold and bright- deep colors and contrasts which reflect the vibrancy of Mexico in Frida’s clothing, and there is a clarity which makes her eyes and skin radiate.

 

They look fresh and new, but the remarkable aspect of this exhibit, these photos, is that these images are seen through the eyes of Muray, someone she knew, trusted, confided in- loved: not some faceless nameless audience.  Three of the most technically remarkable images: “Frida with Hand Earrings”, “Frida with Pink and Green Blouse”, “Frida with Blue Satin Blouse”, offer a glimpse of the woman, real and human who has humor, inquisitiveness, vulnerability, coyness, sensitivity, and who is as vibrant as her own country.

 

Through these images of Frida seen through Muray’s eyes we see someone very human, laughing, emotional, bold, sensitive, sincere, loving, and more honest than we have ever seen her. For one moment, we see her as she lets down her shroud of the tragic figure and she is exposed  in all her wonderful vicissitudes, her liveliness and her humanity.

“Nick

I love you like I would an angel

You are a lillie of the valley in my life

I will never forget you, never, never

You are my whole life

I hope you will never forget this

Frida”

May 31, 1931