Archive for the Installation Category

Thinking Differently About Art: Anne Patterson’s Seeing the Voice at Grace Cathedral

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Installation, Liz Hager with tags , , , , , , on March 21, 2013 by Liz Hager

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

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Sean O'Leary

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Sean O’Leary

At some point in the recent debut of Anne Patterson’s striking work Seeing the Voice: A Synthesis of Light, Color, and Music at Grace Cathedral, my mind drifted to Piero della Francesca’s fresco cycle in the Basilica of San Francisco.  On the face of it, The Legend of the True Cross would seem worlds away from Patterson’s collaboration with cellist Joshua Roman, which produced a synergistic evening of light, streamers, and music.

The pictorial art commissioned by Popes and princes from the 14-17th centuries served a fundamentally didactic purpose—to instruct a largely illiterate congregation on biblical narratives—while presumably invigorating the collective belief in mysteries and miracles (not to mention the Church’s temporal prestige).

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Esteban Allard-Valdivieso

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Esteban Allard-Valdivieso

In contrast, today’s literate first-world citizen is likely to be deeply skeptical of religion. If spiritually disposed at all, s/he has a seemingly infinite array of venerable and newly-minted traditions from which to create any number of hyphenated identities. As Dr. Jane Shaw, Dean of Grace Cathedral, has expressed: this à la carte mentality stems from the deep need we have to belong without wanting to believe.

Further, the decoupling of art from religion, largely accomplished by cultural shifts in the 19th & 20th centuries, means that for most of us, if we enter a contemporary sacred space at all, the last thing we might expect to see is a work of contemporary (non-figurative) art.

Understandable then that I, resolutely wary of organized religion, approached Seeing the Voice with minimal expectations. Unpredictably, the evening was a complete delight.

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Estaban Allard-Valdivieso

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Estaban Allard-Valdivieso

Patterson conceived Seeing the Voice as the debut of her year-long artist in residency at Grace Cathedral. The installation itself (which Patterson calls Graced With Light) was worth the price of admission. Some 200 miles of light-reflecting ribbon strands hung from the ceiling of the nave, catching the rays from various colored spotlights as they lazily twisted in the air currents.  The effect was mesmerizing, evoking at times primitive worms responding to stimuli, a mad highway of car headlights at night, and comets in the night sky. Underneath this stage set, Roman played two cello pieces composed especially for the evening. The cellist sat behind a long white banner, while fragments of his silhouette danced and flickered on the banner as a result of some clever back lighting.

The wow factor of the evening was pretty high, even before we were invited, no encouraged, to lie in the pews and look up at the ribbons, while Roman played Bach’s Suite #4. Outstanding! Shooting meteor effect!

More than the sophisticated elegance of the installation and the interesting, often lovely music, the piece caused me to think more explicitly about the nature of art and religion.  Specifically, does art have fundamentally different meaning in sacred vs. secular settings?  If not didacticism (story telling), what are the effective uses of art in contemporary faith? While art certainly has a spiritual component, does it move people to become spiritual?  Practically what does a spiritual life look like, if organized religion is not a component? Does art bring the non-believer closer to understanding the believing community and vice versa?

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Sean O'Leary

Seeing the Voice (performance still) ©Sean O’Leary

Seeing the Voice sparked me to experience art a bit differently. After a week or so of rumination, I still have no firm answers to the questions above.  (See below for links to what others have said on the topic.) However, as a result of my explorations, one thing does seem evident to me.   Although time and traditions separate Seeing the Voice and Legend of the True Cross, in their own ways each invites the viewer to imagine a world they don’t exactly live in. And that may be at the heart of a spiritual life.

Wider Connections

Anne Patterson—Seeing the Voice (video); Seeing the Voice is a yearlong exploration of the synthesis for the spirit with our traditional five senses. Although it is unclear whether the performance will be repeated, the installation Graced With Light will remain, growing and changing over time. Patterson is scheduled to present a new piece at  Grace Cathedral this fall.

Aspen Ideas Festival: Jane Shaw—”Our Moral Imagination”, What Sustains Us

SFMOMA (in conjunction with The Contemporary Jewish Museum)—“100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art”

Ecclesiart

The growing intersection of contemporary art and faith: ArtNews—“The Church Gives Contemporary Art Its Blessing;” Contemporary Art Flourishes at New York City Churches

Michael Sandell—What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

Mark Rothko, Houston Chapel

Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire

Insects in Art: The Busy Bee Has No Time for Sorrow

Posted in Christine Cariati, Design, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Illustration, Installation, Painting, Printmaking, Textiles, XC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Seest thou the little winged fly, smaller than a grain of sand?
It has a heart like thee, a brain open to heaven and hell,
Withinside wondrous and expansive; its gates are not closed;
I hope thine are not.                       — William Blake

While rather squeamish about actual insects, I am entranced by images of insects in art—in still-life, natural history illustration and design. As Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) wrote:

It is indeed true that art is omnipresent in nature, and the true artist is he who can bring it out.

Albrecht Dürer, Stag Beetle, 1505
Watercolor on paper
Getty Museum

Dürer’s beautiful and dignified watercolor of a beetle is an early embodiment of the Renaissance respect for nature—Dürer was among the first of his contemporaries to give an insect center stage in a work of art. In antiquity, insects had been included in trompe l’oeil and memento mori paintings to demonstrate technical virtuosity and as symbols of evil and death, while butterflies represented transformation and resurrection. Insects in themselves were considered unworthy of consideration as subjects for painting.

By the 17th century, the obsession with natural history—and with insects as a miraculous part of the natural world—took precedence, and symbolism was left behind. Insects became subjects of study and fascination. Dürer, as always, ahead of his time, brings his masterful draughtsmanship to his watercolor, of a beetle—which he considered a finished work of art, not a study.

Francesco Stelluti‘s Melissographia, 1625, was the first scientific illustration done with the aid of a microscope and included three magnified views of a bee.

Wenceslaus Hollar, Forty-One Insects, Moths and Butterflies, 1646
Etching from Muscarum Scarabeorum
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) was a Czech-born master printmaker, whose natural history illustrations have an elegant sense of pattern and design. Cabinets of curiosity were the rage among collectors of the day, and assemblages such as this would part of the display. Hollar’s illustrations were likely influenced the engravings that Jacob Hoefnagel did from his father Georg Hoefnagel‘s original drawings.

Like many still-lifes of the period, Hoefnagel’s natural history studies often had a somber message. The title of his piece, below, which features flowers, a chrysalis, insects and a moth above a dead mouse reads: Nasci. Patri. Mori. (I am born. I suffer. I die.)

Jacob Hoefnagel, Archetypa Studiaque Patris Georgii Hoefnagel, 1592
Engraving
Private collection, Switzerland

Alexander Marshal (c.1620-82) is famous for his beautifully drawn florilegium (flower-book) which he worked on for thirty years, until his death. This lovely butterfly study, above, was painted from one in the collection of naturalist, gardener and plant-hunter John Tradescant the Younger (1608-62) when Marshal was a guest at his house in London in 1641.

Robert Hooke, Ant, from Micrographia
London, 1665
The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

John Covel, Natural History and Commonplace Notebook, 1660-1713
Drawings and notations by Robert Hooke and others
The British Library

Robert Hooke, Eye of a Fly, from Micrographia, 1665
Engraving
The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

The work of Robert Hooke (1635-1703) is extraordinary in its detail and accuracy. Hooke’s Micrographia is a landmark work in natural history illustration. It contains thirty-eight copperplate engravings, his subjects all brilliantly translated from his keen observations under the microscope to an authentic, beautifully rendered two-dimensional image.

Mark Catesby, Nightjar and mole cricket, detail, c. 1722-6

Mark Catesby‘s (1682-1749) life work was his The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. His work really captures the life force of his subjects, and in this case, the predatory demands of survival.

William Blake, The Sick Rose, from Songs of Innocence and Experience, 1789

No artist captured the contradictory aspects of nature with more force and beauty than the great visionary Romantic poet, illustrator and printmaker, William Blake (1757-1827.) Blake, who described the human imagination as “the body of God,” and died singing and clapping his hands at the vision of heaven that awaited him—was nevertheless able to beautifully describe the dark, destructive aspect of nature.

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

Lens Aldous, Head of the Flea, c. 1838
Hand-colored lithograph, poster for Entomological Society of London
Hope Library, Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Two more impossibly detailed images of the heads of insects. Above, Lens Aldous was a specialist in micrographic illustration. The year this image was made, Charles Darwin was Vice-President of the Entomolgical Society of London.

Jan Swammerdam, The Book of Nature; Or, The History of Insects, 1758
Engraving
Cambridge University Library

The drawing, above, of the head of a male bee, is in a book from Charles Darwin’s personal library. Microscopic studies were extremely important to the development of Darwin’s theories about evolution.

R. Scott, Arachnides, Myriapoda, c.1840

This illustration, above, is not just an inventory of types of spiders, it also shows the predatory nature of these creatures—note the bird in the grasp of the giant spider.

Jan van Kessel, Insects and Fruit, c. 1636-1679
Oil on copper
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Jan van Kessel, Insects on a Stone Slab, c. 1660-70
Oil on copper
Kunstmuseum, Basel

My favorite painter of insects is Jan van Kessel (1626-1679.) As with his bird tableaus, van Kessel created mini-universes teeming with life in his natural history scenes. His works are mostly small oil paintings on copper or wood. Often studies like these were made into prints for natural history collectors.

Justus Juncker, Pear with Insects, 1765
Oil on oakwood
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

There are many 17th century still-lifes in which insects do not have center stage but instead play a supporting role. This beautiful painting by Justus Juncker (1703-1767) presents the pear as a sculptural form—the dramatic lighting and its isolation on the pedestal gives it a mysterious and monumental presence. Again, there are intimations of mortality—the plinth is chipped and cracked, and the small tears in the skin of the fruit has attracted insects.

Maria Sibyla Merian, Branch of guava tree with leafcutter ants, army ants, pink-toed tarantulas, c. 1701-5

I can think of no more intriguing examples of botanical art than the work of artist and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717.) Merian began her entymological studies at thirteen, when she embarked on a study of flies, spiders and caterpillars.  In 1705, Merian published her stunning Metamorphosis, a folio of 60 engraved plates of the life cycle of the butterflies and insects of Surinam, where she’d been on expedition from 1699-1701. I love the way Merian plays with scale, conflates species and creates drama with her lively and energetic compositions.

Maria Sibylla Merian, Passion flower plant and flat-legged bug, c. 1701-5

Maria Sibylla Merian, Vine branch and black grapes, with moth, caterpillar and chrysalis of gaudy sphinx, 1701-5

Insects also fired the imagination of Victorian fairy painters. Their work was full of creatures that were half-human/half-insect—and elves and fairies ride around on the backs of butterflies and birds. This costume sketch, below, is from Charles Kean‘s production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream which was produced at Princess’s Theatre, London, in 1856. Shakespeare’s play was an abiding theme in paintings of this genre.

Joseph Noël Paton, The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, detail, 1849
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Scotland Edinburgh

John Anster Fitzgerald, Faeries with Birds, detail

In the area of design, textile designers have also made good use of insect imagery, for example, this charming and colorful insect design from France, c. 1810.

And, below, Dagobert Peche‘s vibrant Swallowtail design done for the Weiner Werkstätte c. 1913.

In 1926, master of French Art Deco design, Emile-Alain Seguy painted this beautiful pattern of butterflies and roses.

Seguy was perhaps most famous for his amazing series, Insectes, done in collotype with pouchoir.

Contemporary artist Jennifer Angus creates large-scale installations made from petrified insects that are reminiscent of Victorian cabinets of curiosities. Angus’ work, with its kaleidescopic imagery, is an amalgam of science and art. It is highly decorative but is also meant to educate the viewer about the important role of insects in our environment.

Jennifer Angus, Grammar of Ornament, 2004
Installation, University of Wisconsin

Angus gets most of her bugs through harvesters in Southeast Asia, and recycles insects from piece to piece. A link to a podcast about Angus’ 2008 show at the Newark Museum, Insecta Fantasia, is below:

Before humans drew plants, landscapes or images of themselves—they drew animals and insects. The fascination with the natural world and the creatures that share our planet is ancient and enduring. I am grateful to the artists whose sustained intense observation and attention to detail have brought these creatures to life on the page.

The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock; but of wisdom,
No clock can measure…
—from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake

Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Fine & Decorative Arts, Installation, Liz Hager, Painting, Sculpture with tags on December 7, 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.

MOAD, 685 Mission Street, SF—The Art of Richard Mayhew. Mayhew describes himself as an “improvisationalist,” a painter who employs paint as the medium of discovery.  Known predominantly for his landscapes (although he paints other subjects), his paintings are free-form, bordering on the abstract.  His muted color palette—delicate pastels, lush greens and deep purplish-blues—as well as his mastery of light, create moods that are real and imagined, both recognizable and ethereal. Says Mayhew “My art is based on a feeling—of music, mood, sensitivity and the audio responses of sound and space. I want the essence of the inner soul to be on the canvas.”  Through January 10, 2010.

Ratio 3, 1447 Stevenson Street, SF—Ara Peterson—Turns into Stone. In this exhibition Ara Peterson presents two distinct bodies of work—one, the series of backgammon boards, is a collaboration with his father; the other, a series of sculptures.  A 1997 graduate of RISD, Peterson has already logged in some impressive art world stats, including exhibitions at New York’s PS1; San Francisco’s Yerba Buena; Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory, as well as inclusion in collections of MOMA and the New Museum, among others. Through December 19, 2009.

Art in Storefronts—Bayview/Hunter’s Point. Kristine Mays (above), Elisheva Biernoff, Malik Seneferu, and others transform vacant store fronts in the Bayview/Hunter’s Point neighborhood into evocative creative expressions. It’s the final installment in the Mayor’s pilot program Art in Storefronts that includes locations in the Central Market and Tenderloin districts. In her installation Strong Women, Precious Pearls, Mays vividly conjures up the hard-working women of Bayview through intricately-sculptured garments of wire.

Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Fine & Decorative Arts, Installation, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, Sculpture with tags , , , on June 8, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when galleries and museums are closed. Every Monday we highlight a few current exhibitions, new installations, or art world tidbits. Get a jump on a week filled with art.

Lincart, 1632C Market Street, SF—Smart Art: Trash to Treasure through June 25.

SF MoMA—Robert Frank’s The Americans, through August 23.

Weinstein Gallery,  383 Geary Street, SF—Chagall and Picasso prints


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

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