Archive for the Film & Video Category

Time Waits For No One: Christian Marclay’s The Clock at SFMOMA

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Collage & Photomontage, Contemporary Art, Digital, Film & Video, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager with tags , , , , on April 7, 2013 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2013. All Rights Reserved

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Harold Lloyd, still from Safety Last.

Do not wait to see Christian Marclay’s The Clock at SFMOMA. Its limited screening ends June 2, when the Museum will close its main building for a 3-year expansion project to accommodate the Fisher collection.

Marclay’s 24-hour digitized film montage, fabricated from film and TV clips, unfolds in an endless loop in real time. Each moment in the piece is marked is marked by a visual timepiece or announcement of time, simultaneous to actual time.  The gargantuan effort required to assemble at least 1440 shots culled from incalculable hours of footage is mind-boggling.  (The OED effort springs to mind.)  Marclay did not stop at these clips.  In a feat of virtuosic visual and sound editing, the artist wove the marked moments together with other, non time-specific, footage. The resulting 86,400 seconds is an unforgettable experience.

Like all truly impressive works of art, The Clock is both instantly accessible and unfathomably deep.  The film clips are a seductive conceit; for the first while a viewer engages in an entertaining game of recognizing actors/tresses and identifying movie scenes.  Over longer chunks of time, the rhythmic ebb and flow of the piece becomes apparent.  Countless themes emerge, recede, re-emerge. Viewers see glimpses of a bigger message, while individual characters fall into the background.

The Clock is strewn with clichés about time.  In my 2+ hour segment a lot seemed to happen in the nick of time. Numerous scenes related to various interpretations of hard time. Time never stands still, and Clock people sure were frustrated by that.  On a lighter note, I chuckled at the innuendo embedded in a brief scene depicting a character on a plane consulting his watch. Time flies!  Time is all-pervasive and language reflects our (at best) contradictory relationship to time. But this is only an ancillary message of The Clock.

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Christian Marclay discusses The Clock, 4/3/13

In its 24 hours The Clock captures a microcosm of the human experience, or at least a particular distillation of that microcosm as recorded by filmmakers. While I look forward to chancing upon a moment of birth in the work (no spoilers please!), most other activities that constitute a human life—sleeping, eating, working, plotting & scheming, driving & riding, walking & running, sex, death—seem to have been recorded here over and over in the variation that different clips provide.  And yet those 1440+ shots of punctuated time underscore an important message of The Clock—i.e. life is repetitive.

Emotions are The Clock’s underpinning.  Bliss. Curiosity. Mirth. Loyalty. Anger. Love. Anticipation. Fear. If emotions are the core of the work, then existential anxiety is its molten center. This is where the film’s monumental power lies. You won’t have to watch for too long before you feel gripped on a visceral level by the anxiety that comes with marking the inexorable passage of time. After a longer while, you may even start to notice moments of anxiety. Your own life is passing. Tick, tick, tick.  No, please, make it stop!  Paradoxically, you won’t be asking yourself if there is more exciting way to spend that moment.

In this age of point and click consumption of art, the most important thing about The Clock may well be its “stickiness.” It’s a fair guess that most people will spend exponentially more time in the presence of  The Clock than they ever have or might with another work of contemporary art.  Marclay has discouraged viewing all 24-hours in one sitting, although I’m sure that hasn’t stopped people from trying.  Ronald Reagan’s character (from The Killers) sums it up best at 1:20pm— “If you want in, you’re in all the way.”

Wider Connections

Daniel Zalewski’s Marclay profile in The New Yorker
Alain de Botton speaks with Christian Marclay
YouTube excerpt—Marclay’s Chalkboard
Max Weintraub on The Clock
Zadie Smith (NY Review of Books): “Killing Orson Welles at Midnight”

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VR Film Review: “The Art of the Steal”

Posted in Contains Video Elements, Film & Video, Liz Hager with tags , , , , on August 28, 2010 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Anyone who thinks that art makes a dull film subject should see “The Art of the Steal.”  Last February, I was lucky enough to be at a screening at SF’s Roxy Theater with the Director Don Argott and one of his producers to field questions after the screening.  In addition to a piece of enthralling storytelling, the film raises a range of moral issues that effect (and afflict) our contemporary art world. Thankfully, its release on DVD insures that it will be available to many more viewers, and hopefully not just those interested in art.

An epic story propels “The Art of the Steal.”  The film chronicles a long and acrimonious battle to move the Barnes Foundation collection to downtown Philadelphia from its home in the suburban Merion. The battle took on a David & Goliath  Governmental, business and some non-profits (the Pew Charitable Trust most egregiously) interests threw their considerable weight behind the effort to move the collection. A small, but vocal, group of locals mounted a grass-roots effort to block the move. Though none of the players is entirely sympathetic, by the end of the film, it’s difficult not to have taken sides, depending on where your sympathies lie in the matter of public access to art.  It won’t be giving much away to say that the film itself has a considerable bias. (In the wake of Michael Moore, who thinks even-handed documentaries make for good entertainment?)

The tale begins with Alfred C. Barnes. In the first decades of the 20th century Barnes, a quirky, wealthy and largely antisocial business man (with a medical degree), assembled what is now considered to be the most important collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art (with Renaissance and African pieces to boot) anywhere. Some have estimated the current value of this collection at $25 billion.

A self-made man (and millionaire at 35), Barnes educated himself assiduously about art. During the 1910-20 period he was a passionate and energetic collector of “modern art.”  No body in the film seems to dispute that Barnes truly appreciated the works for their aesthetic qualities, rather than their potential value as a financial assets.

In 1922 Barnes established his foundation in suburban Merion, PA.  It was conceived as a holistic enterprise, comprised of his collection, a school (with educational program) and later an arboretum.  The design of the new structure built to house the collection was very much in keeping with a mansion, the suburban equivalent of the Frick or the Morgan Library or the Gardner.

The Barnes was not conceived as a public museum (although it has always been open to the public), but as a permanent educational facility attached to a collection. The film makes it clear that Barnes located it outside of Philadelphia, in large part due to the antagonism between him and the city’s elite establishment.  The collection was not hung as it would have been in a museum —i.e. chronologically or by school—but as a collector might, according to aesthetic preferences.

Barnes died in a car accident in 1951. His will stipulated that the Foundation remain intact with a Board of Trustees at its helm.  Most irritatingly to the Philadelphia establishment it seems, the will was clear in its intent that the collection could not be removed from the Foundation, either temporarily (i.e. on loan for exhibitions) or permanently.  For a long time under the watchful eye of his protegé, the provisions of Barnes’ will were steadfastly upheld.

At this chronological point “The Art of the Steal” kicks into overdrive, treating viewers to the devious, diabolical, and morally ambiguous ways in which the Philadelphia “oligarchy” (which included Barnes Board Trustees) began chipping away at Alfred Barnes’ will in the 1990s.  The stakes were huge. As then-Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell states succinctly on camera: “There isn’t a couple in the U.S., or Europe, or Asia who’s interested in arts and culture, who wouldn’t come to Philadelphia for at least a long weekend [if only the Barnes collection came to the city].”  One shouldn’t be surprised that pro-move interests deployed every Machiavellian tactic at their disposal.

It won’t be giving any of the viewing pleasure away to say that the opening of a new museum on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia is imminent. According to the press releases, the Barnes’ new home will be a two-story, 93,000-square-foot building, with an additional level below grade. The collection will be displayed in 12,000 square feet of exhibition space that replicates the scale, proportion and configuration of the original galleries in Merion. There will be a 150-seat auditorium on the lower level. 

In the end, it may be that the true hero of the story is the art collection itself.  Although tossed around in a long game of political ping pong, they will survive the move, their beauty as individual objets d’art intact. Still, for all of us who love the private home museums, the viewing experience just won’t be quite the same.

One last disturbing element of the film remained with me after the screening. No matter where one stands on the issues involving private collections and public museums, the indisputable and heartbreaking fact is that Barnes ultimately could not control the legacy he worked so carefully to build. Let that be the real lesson to all of us mortals—wills can be broken.

Weigh in if you have seen the movie; if not, go directly to Netflix and rent it!

Wider Connections

NPR—” ‘Art of the Steal: Actual Heist or Conspiracy Theory?”

The Barnes Foundation

Richard J. Wattenmaker—Great French Paintings From The Barnes Foundation: Impressionist, Post-impressionist, and Early Modern

The Barnes Files

Venetian Red Salutes the Decade

Posted in Christine Cariati, Contemporary Art, Drawing, Female Artists, Fiber Arts, Film & Video, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography, Public Art, Quilts, Textiles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2009 by Liz Hager

We thought a Venetian Red salute to a decade of art would be a fitting subject for a final post in 2009.  Admittedly, we weren’t interested in throwing up an amalgamation of critically-lauded highlights of the decade. Rather, we wanted to share with you our own very personal short list—a selection of artists, whose work when we were able to see it during the past decade inspired us emotionally and artistically. We hope that our list will motivate you to collect and share your own list of “art in the aughts.”

William de Morgan, Vase, 1888-98,
earthenware painted with luster glaze. (V&A Museum.)

2000
This little vase opened up two big worlds to me—William Morris and the Ottoman Empire.  In the winter of the Millennium, I didn’t know much about Morris, his workshops, or devotees. My education began unexpectedly on a visit to the V&A one morning. As the textile galleries were closed, I ambled through the V&A’s cavernous rooms, eventually ending up in the ceramics galleries. After hurrying by the cases filled with fussy 18th-century pieces, I came to this gem, a small vase by William de Morgan. Such a gorgeous design and luxurious glow! I later learned a great deal about de Morgan, including his passion for things Middle and Far Eastern. Lusterware was one of his  enduring interests.

As the Ottomans before him, De Morgan made luster glazes by mixing metallic oxides with white clay and gum arabic. He would have packed the painted pieces closely in a kiln and fired at a low heat. At the critical moment, he would have added dry material, such as sawdust, and after a brief, but intense firing period, the kiln would have been shut down, closing off the source of oxygen. The resulting smoke-filled environment produced the irresistible iridescence. —Liz Hager

Henri Michaud, Untitled, 1968.
Collection of Catherine Putman, Paris.

2000
My pick for 2000 is Untitled Passages, a show of work on paper by Henri Michaud at the Drawing Center in New York. Henri Michaud (1899-1984) was born in Belgium and was mostly known as a poet. In his youth he was attracted to the Surrealists, and he admired the work of Paul Klee, Max Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico—but his independent nature kept him apart from all movements and isms.  Michaud felt there were things beyond words that he could not capture in his poetry, and his drawings were experiments with creating work that hovered between writing and drawing.  He drew, scratched and threw ink on to paper to make illegible marks, letters that were part of no alphabet, simple calligraphic marks that had no conscious meaning—Michaud was drawing from l’espace du dedans (the space within). In the 50s and 60s, Michaud also experimented with the drug mescaline and his “mescaline drawings,” done under its influence, using ink, acrylic, watercolor and gouache and collage, represented this state of intense, heightened awareness, the fluidity of time and space, the bridge between control and abandon. Michaud’s drawings and paintings are about the journey, the passage of time and life. From his unconscious, under the influence of drugs or not, his work  reveals itself as part lexicon, part landscape, with evocations of cellular structures, maps, water, membranes, clouds, planets, beasts and insects—a hidden, interior universe made visible. —Christine Cariati

Albrecht Dürer, Self Portrait, 1500,
oil on limewood, 26.38 x 19.25 in.
(Alte Pinakothek, Munich)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Seated Woman, 1907
oil on canvas.
(Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich)

2001
The two paintings above hang in buildings across a plaza from one another in Munich. Although it didn’t strike me at the time, juxtaposing them in this setting amply demonstrates the evolutionary paths that painting traveled during the four centuries that separate the two portraits.

When I was learning to paint as a teenager, the Dürer self-portrait was one of my favorites. That gaze casts a powerful spell. The incredible precision with which Dürer elaborates every strand of fur, every lock of hair, garnered my respect (still does). When I was finally able to see the portrait in the flesh, although I hadn’t thought about it for years, it still packed a mighty punch.  And yet, for all the pyrotechnics of the Dürer, my older self favors the Kirchner for its electrifying color palette. —Liz Hager

John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Pauline Astor, 1898/9
oil on canvas, 96 x 50 in.
( The Huntington Library.)

2002
Sargent has always been one of my favorite painters for the sheer virtuosity with which he applies paint, particularly in the depiction of fabrics. The strong connections between Gainsborough and Sargent had somehow eluded me until a 2002 trip to the Huntington.  Gainsborough’s Blue Boy also hangs there and the luxury of viewing the two in such proximity demonstrated how much Sargent ‘s portrait owes in form and style to Gainsborough’s. And how much they both owe stylistically to Van Dyck.

The connections among the three are freaky. To wit: Pauline Astor was 18 years of age, the same age as Jonathan Buttall when Gainsborough painted The Blue Boy. Sargent was 43 years old at the time he painted Pauline, the same age as Gainsborough when he painted The Blue Boy. It was 129 years after the death of Van Dyck that Gainsborough painted The Blue Boy; and it was 129 years after the creation of The Blue Boy that Sargent began painting Pauline.  —Liz Hager


Mark Lombardi, World Finance Corporation and Associates, 7th version,
1999, 69 x 84 in.

2003
An exhibition of Mark Lombardi’s drawings, Global Networks, was at The Drawing Center in New York in late 2003. In his drawings, Lombardi kept track of political and financial misdeeds on a global scale, linking people and events related to various scandals from the 1960s-1990s. Politics aside, Lombardi’s drawings are things of beauty in themselves. His work was art, not political reporting. Lombardi’s drawings, often very large and delicately drawn in pencil, call to mind the charts of the ancients that delineated arcane knowledge. These works portray webs, networks, labyrinths. The lines arc and loop and intersect, creating order out of chaos. His work seems to be about elusive connections, the flattening of time and space and the fleeting nature of truth. Lombardi’s reputation as an important artist was beginning to take hold when he committed suicide in 2000, at the age of forty-eight. —Christine Cariati

Diane Arbus, Boy with a Toy Hand Grenade, 1962.

2004
Because it included all her published works, many photographs never before exhibited, diaries and other paraphernalia, SF MoMA’s 2004 show “Diane Arbus” was the most complete survey of her work—no, her life—ever assembled. Arbus’ work kindled my early photographic fires; in fact, she was the first artist to inhabit my consciousness. (A copy of the catalog of her small posthumous 1970 show at MoMA is still a prized possession.) The SF MoMA did not disappoint. Arbus’ iconic pictures looked every bit as unconventional as they did in the 1960s. But the truly exciting elements for me in this show were her diaries and the pictures of her studio; they added a dimension of insight I couldn’t have possessed earlier.

Larry Sultan, Boxer Dogs Mission Hills, from the “Valley” series, 1998-2002.

Additionally that year, MoMA mounted an exhibit of Larry Sultan’s Valley series—shots taken inside SoCal tract-homes turned pornographic studios. Though Sultan sought a different message through his work, these photos of a hidden world owe a lot to the territory uncovered by Arbus.  Sultan died earlier this month. He was only 63. —Liz Hager

Maggie Orth, Leaping Lines, 2005
woven circuitry in Jacquard weave, 16 x 72 in.

2005
As a design museum there is none better than the Cooper Hewitt. The “Extreme Textiles” exhibit in 2005 presented a large and fascinating array of cutting-edge textiles. Loosely grouped into categories—stronger, faster, lighter, smarter and safer—the exhibit demonstrated resolutely that fabric isn’t just for making clothing. Maggie Orth’s electronic fabric, designed with an ever-changing surface pattern controlled by software, struck me as one of the most interesting combinations of art and technology I’d ever seen.—Liz Hager


Hans Memling, Portrait of a Young Woman (‘Sibyl’), 1480
Panel, 46.5 x 35.2 cm.
(Stedelijke Musea, Memlingmuseum – Sint Janhospitaal, Bruges.)

2005
Memling’s Portraits, an exhibition of 20 of the 30 existing portraits by Netherlandish painter Hans Memling (c.1435-1494), was at The Frick Collection in the late fall of 2005. Memling was an apprentice to Rogier van der Weyden in Brussels, where he learned the still-new technique of oil painting from van der Weyden, the first Netherlandish painter to master the medium. Memling is more famous for his religious paintings than his secular work—his superb Nativity and Virgin and Child paintings are masterpieces of tenderness and true religious feeling. In 1465 Memling moved to Brussels, where he did very well painting portraits of wealthy Flemish and Italian emigré families. As in all his work, the exquisite detail and use of glazing showcase Memling’s mastery of technique. In the middle ages, when life was fleeting, and death often came early, portraiture was a means of providing a record, proof of existence. By the 15th century things had changed a bit and portraiture also became a way of  documenting one’s wealth and status. Memling’s portraits are criticized for being cool, because the subjects rarely look at the viewer, and are lost in introspection. While it is true that the portraits are not easy-to-read psychological studies, I felt strongly that Memling’s attention to detail, his faithful recording of what he saw in these faces, made them quite revealing. The subjects are undeniably serene and enigmatic, but I felt that I came to know something very significant about these people. In many of the portraits, Memling placed his sitters by a window, through which we see landscapes and glimpses of buildings and activity that add another very interesting dimension to his work, an innovative device that later Italian painters admired and emulated. —Christine Cariati

Loretta Pettway, Quilt, ca. 1960,
corduroy tied with yarn, 84 x 84 in.

2006
I can vividly recall the moment when I turned the corner into the first exhibit room at the de Young’s exhibit of “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend. A group of stunningly-bold pieces nearly took my breath away.  I was dumbstruck: how could so traditional a folk form created by a group so isolated from the modern world appear so strikingly modern? In their abstracted and geometric patterns, the quilts displayed an uncanny kinship to the paintings of Frank Stella or maybe even Barnett Newman from the 60s and 70s.

I felt deep emotion basted into the panels of these quilts. As I moved through the exhibition, the pieces offered me something the work of the Minimalists never has—quiet but intense joy. The reverence and love was palpable. They emanated a kind of spirituality. —Liz Hager

Fra Angelico, The Coronation of the Virgin,
tempera on panel, 10 5/8 x 14 5/8 in.
(Cleveland Museum of Art.)

2006
The work of the Italian Renaissance master, Fra Angelico (c.1395-1455) was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from October 2005 through January 2006. This exhibition of 75 paintings, drawings and illuminated manuscripts was the first comprehensive show of Fra Angelico’s work since 1955.  Much of his later work, the altarpieces and frescoes, are not movable, so the work in this show was on a small scale—such as portraits of the Virgin and Child and intimate narrative scenes. Many of these were fragments from larger works, which gave the viewer an opportunity to study them closely which would not have been possible in their original locations. Fra Angelico, a Dominican friar, was long mythologized, by Vasari and others, as merely saintly, humble and devout. Recent scholarship gives us a fuller picture of the man, and what is now known about this tremendously intelligent painter—who learned much from Masaccio’s masterpiece, the Brancacci Chapel frescoes—only enhances our appreciation of these luminous, color-saturated, intensely gilded, works of art. Fra Angelico is often considered a transitional painter, but he is more than that—his work anticipates the late Renaissance while in a sense perfecting the Gothic. He continues to use the sumptuous pinks, blues and reds of the earlier period, and perfected the Gothic love of gold leaf—using it masterfully not just for halos, but stamped and engraved as draperies and clothing. It was a transporting show, Fra Angelico’s masterful technique enhances the deeply felt spiritual quality of his work. —Christine Cariati

Francis Bacon’s studio.

2007
While in Dublin in 2007 I did make a pilgrimage to see the famous “lost” Caravaggio (spurred on by a reading of the The Lost Painting
which is a most readable book about a work of art). In the process, I stumbled upon an exquisite Vermeer.

But it was at the Hugh Lane Gallery where the faithful and permanent re-creation of Francis Bacon’s studio (i.e. 7 Reece Mews in London)  cast its indelible spell on me.

What a mess! At first scan, I was tempted to conclude that Bacon was a deeply-troubled hoarder. How in the world could he have painted here? And there, amidst the horrifically gargantuan piles of debris—newspapers, photographs, magazines, paint cans, rags, old socks, trousers, a shirt or two—I saw an answer. A carefully-cleared path makes its way through the piles from the door to his easel. It seems as if Bacon knew after all exactly what was most important. . . focus. —Liz Hager

Mauerweg ©2008 Liz Hager

2008
Berlin is a city chock full of museums and galleries, so there was a lot of art to see there in the Fall of 2008.  Curiously, however, it was the Berlin Wall that made the deepest impression on me.

Even in its remnant state, the Wall inspires awe, not just for the wealth of its symbolic meaning, but for the sheer enormity of its once considerable physical presence. Since the Wall came down in 1989, points along its former path are marked by ceremonious memorials—public facilitators of a collective remembrance.

Other segments, however, have been marked by an unobtrusive path—two parallel lines of cobblestones—embedded by turns in asphalt or earth. It struck me that the path was a powerful work of art, although it wasn’t billed overtly as such. Though physically subtle, the message it conveyed was in some ways more compelling than the public memorials. The path too reminds us of the demarcation of a country and the collective pain of a people separated from itself. Given its horizontal nature, however, the path invites one on a personal journey.  I walked the line, traced the past, and in doing so, I couldn’t help but meditate on what that past meant to me.

Finally, like all great works of art, the path embodies a potent axiom of the cosmos.  These cobblestones, already wearing a mantle of moss, gently reminded me that all things irrevocably return to dust. —Liz Hager

Giorgio Morandi, Natura Morta (Still Life), 1954,
oil on canvas, 40 x 46 cm.
(Private collection.)

2008
My top pick for 2008 was Giorgio Morandi, 1890-1964, a retrospective of his work  at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the fall of 2008. I went back to see this show over and over. These small paintings, so similar in subject matter and painted in an extremely limited palette, open up as you look at them—the seemingly simple color scheme expands and deepens, and they become monumental in scale. They are very personal paintings, full of mystery—meditations on loneliness, stillness, perseverance. The cumulative effect of seeing so many paintings of Morandi’s at once was astounding. I started to see them as sections of one continuous painting and I’d find myself watching the progress of certain favorite vessels as they changed bearing and grew in presence, dignity and meaning from painting to painting. In fact, for days afterward, every time I looked from my window out at the New York skyline, the rooftops and water towers, in the winter light with a dusting of snow, took on a Morandi-like existence. The quiet, the self-sufficiency, the balance, the stillness of these works put me in a meditative state that lasted for days. —Christine Cariati

2009
William Kentridge is quite possibly the most gifted artist and original thinker working today. From the mail we received in response to our Kentridge post this spring, it’s safe to say that we were not alone in being blown away by the “Five Themes” exhibit at SF MoMA.  In a way, this exhibit does define the decade, for much of the artist’s prodigious output on view was completed in this decade.

A magnificent draftsman, Kentridge might have been content with just producing his drawings. But thankfully, theater is in his DNA, and his drawings are but vehicles for his inventive and intriguing animated films—What Will Come, Artist in the Studio—as well as his tour-de-force staged pieces—The Magic Flute, The Black Box, and the upcoming Shostakovich opera of Gogol’s The Nose.Liz Hager

William Kentridge in his studio

2009
I have to second Liz’s appreciation of William Kentridge. From the first time I saw his work a decade ago, I have wanted to see more, and Five Themes provided that opportunity. In fact, I’d put Five Themes on my best of 2009 list five times, one for each time I went to see it. The work is so rich and deep, every time you view it, it gets more interesting. Kentridge’s work is inspiring and completely original—thoughtful, personal, political, humorous, satiric and filled with meaning—and with an almost unimaginable level of skill. His sense of stagecraft and the integration of music into his work is masterful. I love the way he crafts his animated pieces, fearless about erasing one image as it morphs in to the next—he’s not worried about holding on to anything, there is always more in the well. I also love the way he involves you in his process, you see and feel his creative process unfolding, literally in the case of Artist in the Studio. I can’t wait to see Five Themes again at MoMA this spring in New York—I am sure the work will reveal itself in new ways in a different location and installation. — Christine Cariati

Wider Connections
Francis Bacon’s Studio
Narrative & Ontology—More on The Boy with Toy Hand Grenade
Inner Sympathy of Meaning—The Quilts of Gee’s Bend
William Kentridge—William Kentridge: Five Themes (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) catalog
Antony Beever—The Fall of Berlin 1945

Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Ceramics, Film & Video, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography with tags , , , , , , on December 21, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when most galleries and museums are traditionally closed. Dark Day Picks highlights current exhibitions, new installations, books, and art world tidbits. Get a jump on a week filled with art.

Cantor Arts Center (Stanford University)—From Their Studios. This exhibition highlights the work of 13 professors, including Enrique Chagoya, Robert Dawson, and Jan Krawitz. Through January 10, 2010.

SFO Airport, International Terminal (North 20 Cases)— Scenes from Myths and Daily Life: Ancient Mediterranean Pottery (from the collection of Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology). If you must be at SFO Airport during the holiday madness, a visit to this fine selection of always-exquisite black-figure vases from BCE Greece and her colonies might calm your nerves.

SF MOMA, Caffe Museo—Andrea Voinot. Voinot works productively in the swath between representation and abstraction. Through January 19, 2010.


Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Film & Video, Liz Hager, Mixed Media, Sculpture with tags , , , , on September 21, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when most galleries and museums are traditionally closed. “Dark Day Picks” highlights current exhibitions, new installations, books, and art world tidbits. Get a jump on a week filled with art.

The California Academy of Sciences—Maya Lin, What is Missing, permanent installation at the entrance.  This sculpture, which joins Lin’s other piece at the Academy, Where the Land Meets the Sea, consists of an 8′6″ x  10′8″ x 19′2″ bronze “Listening Cone” lined with reclaimed wood. A 2′ 4 ¼” x 4′6″ screen, located within the cone, features more than 20 minutes of compelling video footage that links extinct as well as threatened and endangered species to the habitats and ecosystems that are vital to their survival.

Brian Dettmer—Book of the Dead

Toomey /Tourell—Brian Dettmer, New Mixed Medium works, through September 30. Brian Dettmer is a master at repurposing books. Carving one layer at a time—nothing is added, only discarded—he transforms a book into a “readable” sculpture, replete with new meaning.

Alan Callander—Grey to White

Ampersand International Arts—Recent video works by Alan Callander (frame from Grey to White above) and Mexican artist Emi Winter, through October 3. Through different media, both artists deal with abstraction. Form and color reign.

William Kentridge: Last Days in San Francisco

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contains Video Elements, Drawing, Film & Video, Fine & Decorative Arts, Installation, Liz Hager with tags , , , , , on May 29, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Only two more viewing days remain before “William Kentridge: Five Themes” at SFMoMA moves on to its next venue.

It has taken me 6 weeks and 4 viewings of the show to feel as if I’ve even begun to appreciate this artist’s profound and wondrous imagination. It’s not that Kendridge’s work is hard to access; it’s that there is so very much to absorb. (The performances of The Magic Flute and Black Box, not to be missed under any circumstances, require 50 minutes alone.) More important, because Kentridge deals with non-trivial topics—tyranny, suffering, our notions of the heroic, seeing and perceiving the world, the destructiveness of modernity—it’s necessary to dive deeper into the work than one session permits.  Though the process of discovery takes time, ultimately reaching ever-deeper layers of meaning in this show has been supremely nourishing to the soul. This is art of the best kind; it has caused me to think about not only how the world is, but how it could be.

Kentridge’s exquisite drawings are ends in themselves, rather than means to an end in another medium.  Charcoal (the burnt stick so emblematic of Africa), black gouache and ink are his dominant tools. Black & white fits his subject matter well, and not just in terms of darkness and light, evil and hope. In their use, one sees an evocation of apartheid, a topic which has inhabited Kentridge’s artistic life for decades. Or the apposition of everything (black) with the reflection of everything (white), which speaks to the nature of perception, another Kentridge’s signature themes.

True, the drawings are exceptional works in their own right. But theater is embedded in Kentridge’s DNA, so it’s films and theatrical pieces that really make this exhibition sing. (Kentridge refers to his film as “drawings in four dimensions.”) Most of them are conceived as cells for his animated films or projections for his performed pieces.  Kentridge has no allegiance to the work; drawings are constantly erased and images re-invented. It’s a refreshing departure from the contemporary practice of holding every scribble sacred. (Picasso famously said: “Who am I to destroy what God’s gift has allowed me to create?”)

The emotional content of the installations covers broad ground. On the one hand, merriment is much in evidence (amidst angst) in the films of Kentridge at work that run in endless loops in the room designated “Artist in the Studio.” Papers fly through the air with the greatest of ease; creator melds seamlessly with his drawing; landscapes fall to the bottom of the page in heaps; the artist tries to leave his studio on a voyage to the moon. These films are simple (though not simplistic) and mesmerizing. We meditate on the joys and tribulations of making art.

On the other hand, Black Box is a dense and disturbing darkness. The artist has conjured up a multi-media interpretation of the German conquest and subjugation of present-day Namibia. Paired with The Magic Flute installation, Black Box is the dark side of the Enlightenment; it brings to life the 19th century Euro-centric (racist) view of non-Europeans as undeveloped in need of colonial oversight. It’s a view that hasn’t entirely disappeared from the world.

Elegant mechanized figures perform their lament to animation and music. If you have been through the rest of the exhibition before arriving at Black Box, many of the characters and images here will be reassuringly familiar. They are Kentridge’s icons, windows into his complex cosmos.

Though the subject matter is dark, Black Box is not all darkness. There’s a small measure of comfort in the hand-drawn animation; against the backdrop of anonymous history, the artist (an individual) is ever present.  Further, in its execution Black Box evokes what modern eyes have come to see in silent movies, a naiveté all but occluded by 20th c. technology—edited sound, special effects and computer animation.

Kentridge

William Kentridge, What Will Come (has already come), 2007,  steel table, cylindrical steel mirror, 35mm animated film transferred to video, 8:40 min, 41 1/4 x 48 x 48″ (courtesy Norton Museum of Art).

What Will Come (has already come) contains its own thematic darkness. Kentridge conceived it as a response to the Italian Fascist invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), a conflict notable for the failure of the League of Nations to protect member state Ethiopia against aggression, the Italian’s illegal use of mustard gas, and the Ethiopians’ opposition despite the most primitive munitions (including spears). Though about a specific conflict, this piece recreates the horror of every war.

Animated drawings have been projected from the ceiling onto a circular disk. The first images emerge from drafted primordial soup. As the disk picks up speed, images fly around its core: birds morph into planes, figures explode only to be reconstituted in the next revolution, a gas mask floats above the ground like an elephant dirigible. The cyclical nature of the projection is reinforced by the title, and one is reminded of George Santayana’s oft-quoted phrase: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In an inventive twist, the drawings are anamorphic—that is, they appear in a conventional manner only when viewed through the mirrored cylinder in the middle of the disk. The anamorphic technique, which dates back to the 16th century and has been widely used in motion picture lenses, has long been an interest of Kentridge’s, playing as it does into his fascination with machines and our modes of seeing. The two image planes, conventional and distorted, make the viewing experience chaotic. That’s only fitting for this subject matter.

“William Kentridge: Five Themes” is the most exciting display of imagination in recent memory.  Do not delay, run to MoMA before Sunday’s close.

From San Francisco, “Five Themes” travels extensively:
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth—July 11-Sept 27, 2009
Norton Museum of Art (West Palm Beach)—Nov. 7, 2009-Jan.17, 2010
Museum of Modern Art (New York)—Feb.28-May 17, 2010
Jeu de Paume (Paris)—dates TBD
Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam)—dates TBD
Albertina (Vienna)—dates TBD
Israel Museum (Jerusalem)—dates TBD

Wider Connections

You Tube—William Kentridge videos

John Coleman—Art as it Really Is

Richard Lacayo —Artist William Kentridge: Man of Constant Sorrow

The Art of Anamorphosis

Kipling “Take Up the White Man’s Burden

Programming the Cosmos: Leo Villareal at the National Gallery

Posted in Contains Video Elements, Contemporary Art, Film & Video, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2009 by Liz Hager

Hypnotic, mysterious, mesmerizing, cosmic, soothing, ephemeral. . . enlightening. These are some of the sensations that wash over viewers as they encounter Leo Villareal’s Multiverse in the underground concourse between the East and West Buildings of the National Gallery. A computer geek from teen-hood, Villareal harnesses one of the fundamental attributes of the computer—simple rules, complex patterns—to create unique and kenetic light sculptures.

With 41,000 LED bulbs Multiverse is by far Villareal’s most complex work to date.  The software he developed for this project generates several different layers of synchronized patterns (Villareal likens what he does to composing music) that alternately shoot in straight lines down the length of the tube, explode in a big bang-like effect, bounce along in ball-shaped clusters, or just pulse.  The concourse is a transitional space; its ceiling is oppressively low, the space claustrophobic. Normally it must make for a rather prosaic journey. But whisked along the moving sidewalk under the twinkling stars, one is liberated into the cosmos, living a brief  StarTrekian moment.  The universe talks to us; we try to decipher its meaning.

While Villareal’s art acknowledges artistic forbearers in Dan Flavin and James Turrell, the underlying concept of his light pieces relates more to Sol LeWitt‘s wall drawings, Agnes Martin‘s grids, and even Peter Halley‘s paintings.

Comments Villareal: “I’m very interested in rules and underlying structures, which all tie in with the code I’m writing. There are things in nature that inspire me, like wave patterns or natural systems that at first glance appear to be very complex, but when I study them further there are simple rules that govern them. That’s what I try to get at in my code—building simple rules that refer to some of these ideas. Laws are another thing I’ve been working on lately. I’m not a physicist, but I use rules to create software and in the software I’m able to play with parameters like gravity, velocity, friction. I’m able to use these parameters and access them as an artist and see what compelling things result.”

Not everyone has been wildly enthusiastic about the project. Some critics feel that Villareal didn’t have enough mature work to warrant membership in the National Gallery club with Picasso, Titian, Rothko and Sol LeWitt.  The lack of critical thought surrounding Villareal’s work and the superficiality of the work (technology for technology’s sake, not art’s sake) are other criticisms.  Programmers have gone on record as saying that Villareal’s software is pretty basic stuff.

Multiverse may not embody a BIG ART IDEA, but what’s wrong with a little Sybaritic pleasure now and again?

Wider Connections

Multiverse

More Leo Villareal

Other light artists

Cool Hunting

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