Archive for the Politics Category

From the VR Archives: Lay of the Land

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting, People & Places, Photography, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2013 by Liz Hager

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

 Black plug

David Milne, Black and White Trees and Buildings, 1915/6
Oil on canvas, 51.5 x 61.5 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Reading landscape painter Ian Robert’s Creative Authenticity  reminded me of our post on David Milne, little known I fear outside Canada. Northern Exposure: The Landscapes of David Milne.

Black plug

Patrick Dougherty, Upper Crust

Patrick Dougherty, Upper Crust, 2009,
Willow branches,
Joseph L. Alioto Performing Arts Piazza, San Francisco

That led me to VR coverage of Patrick Dougherty’s Upper Crust,  fanciful organic site structures, staged in the Civic Center’s Aliota Piazza: Patrick Dougherty in San Francisco.

Black plug

Platon, Silvio Berlusconi

Platon, Silvio Berlusconi, 2009
Photograph

And finally to the political landscape and Platon’s photographic portraits of world leaders: Eye of the Beholder: Platon’s Portraits of Power.”

The Eye of the Beholder: Platon’s “Portraits of Power”

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Photography, Politics with tags , , , , on December 9, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2009. All Rights Reserved

Platon—Muammar Qaddafi, 2009, photograph (courtesy The New Yorker).

Since the early 1990s, British photographer Platon has enjoyed unparalleled access to personalities and potentates. Nowhere is his work with the latter group more effectively displayed than in the recent photographic essay “Portraits of Power,” which appeared in the December 7th issue of The New Yorker.  The accompanying blurb provides entertaining background:

This past September, when nearly all the world’s leaders were in New York for a meeting of the United Nations, Platon, a staff photographer for this magazine, set up a tiny studio off the floor of the General Assembly, and tried to hustle as many of them in front of his lens as possible. For months, members of the magazine’s staff had been writing letters to various governments and embassies, but the project was a five-day-long improvisation, with Platon doing his best to lure the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chávez, and Muammar Qaddafi to his camera.

For the few minutes available in this chaotic setting to prepare and capture an image, it was the photographer who held the true power. Absent were the endless preparation, preening and pretense of a more formal studio environment. In these spontaneous moments, has Platon managed to capture the true essence of his subjects? That often depends on the context in which the images have been displayed and the eye of the beholder.

It is not a mystery why Ahmadinejad and Obama occupy the first spread (in the magazine). I didn’t wish to read too much into the obvious difference in their format (the former was shot in color; the latter in black and white); and yet I thought I detected a particular glint in Ahmadinejad’s eyes. Was it bravado or just the germ of a new scheme designed to annoy the West?

In his portrait Boris Tadić (President of Serbia) seems to emit kind-heartedness and benevolence. But he’s been paired in the magazine presentation (though not online) with Stjepan Mesić (President of Croatia), suggesting an altogether different reading. I could not help but ponder their respective faces for remnants of the intertwined and unhappy history of their two countries.

Above them, perhaps as an intended counterpoint, Brian Cowen (Ireland) and Gordon Brown (UK) have been joined in the amicable grin of inescapable fraternity.

Most of the African delegation has been grouped together (again in the magazine presentation), and I wondered whether their individual expressions—laughing, pursed lips, eyes averted, and no apparent emotion—reflected the current outlook their respective citizenry.

As I scanned the online grid, one disarming thought predominated—for all their worldly power, these people looked surprisingly normal. Pretty much indistinguishable from the rest of humanity. Paul Kagame (President of Rwanda) could be an accountant, except that he happens to be Africa’s biggest success story.  Adury Rajoelina (Madagascar) might work as an engineer at Google,  were he not the youngest President in the bunch, having come to power in a coup. Michelle Bachelet might be been someone’s very cool aunt; well, she probably is that, along Chile’s first female President.  In these images once again is revealed the paradox of the human face—i.e. in the countenance of one is reflected the multitude.

Sometimes the most disarmed was the photographer himself. Of Qaddafi Platon notes:

This picture was probably one of the most intimidating moments I’ve had in my life. . . Obama had just arrived with a huge security entourage and then of course Qaddafi chooses that moment to come and sit for me. So as he’s walking towards me there’s probably 200 people following him. It was just like a crazy,  intimidating circus. And then I start noticing that the American secret service guys who are guarding the steps of the room where Obama is, their eyes are darting around really really fast. They’re looking at each other in a very aggressive way, because they see this chaos coming toward them.  And he (Qaddafi) comes up to me completely in slow motion. . . He’s got no eyes, his eyes are so dark, I couldn’t see them.  I felt like I was in a weird dream.

Platon—Silvio Berlusconi, 2009, photograph (courtesy The New Yorker).

And, finally, there was my personal favorite, Silvio Berlusconi, for its perfect readability. No guessing here—the naughty smile of an impudent man!

Wider Connections

“Portraits of Power” Slide show
Platon’s Republica collection of 120 of the photographer’s works.

Alma Thomas: On the Shoulders of Giants

Posted in Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2009 by Liz Hager

Editor’s Note: Over the past several weeks our contributors have been on hiatus, in order to participate in SF Open Studios event. With this piece Venetian Red resumes its regular posting schedule.

By LIZ HAGER

Alma Thomas, Red Azaleas Singing and Dancing Rock and Roll Music, 1976,
acrylic on canvas, 72 1/4 x 135 1/2″.
(The Smithsonian American Art Museum)

In 1924, Alma Thomas (1891-1978) became the first woman to graduate from Howard University’s newly-created fine arts department. Quite possibly, she was the first African-American to hold this kind of degree. She went on to become the first women to receive a Masters’ degree (teaching) from Columbia University. For 35 years, Thomas dedicated herself to teaching art to high school students. She retired in 1960, in order to focus on her own work. In her 70s, plagued by arthritis and degenerating eyesight, she threw herself into her work. In 1972, at age 80, she became the first African-American woman to have a solo show mounted by the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Two weeks ago, Alma Thomas made news yet again.

Alma Thomas—Blue Abstraction 1961Alma Thomas, Blue Abstraction, c.1961
oil on canvas, 34 x 40″.
(Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

Although the list of artworks the Obamas have requisitioned for the White House collection was released months ago, it wasn’t until a recent  New York Times’ article—“White House Art”—that members of the conservative blogosphere found another excuse to blast the Obama administration. Indignant, they locked their rifle scopes on one painting in particular, Alma Thomas’ Watusi (Hard Edge).  Free Republic and Michelle Malkin posted particularly exemplary pieces, decrying the work as an “almost exact replication” of Henri Matisse’s (1869-1954) The Snail. All Thomas had done, they argued, was to rotate Matisse’s canvas clockwise 90° and change some colors. “An embarrassment for the ‘sophisticates’ who failed to spot a copy hiding in plain sight,” one blogger hissed.

Henri Matisse, The Snail, 1953
gouache on paper, cut and pasted on paper mounted on canvas, approximately 113″ square.
(Tate Gallery)

Alma Thomas, Watusi (Hard Edge), 1963
acrylic on canvas, 47 5/8 x 44 1/4″.
(Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden)

The outcry was predictably bereft of thoughtful analysis. In the aggregate, the derisive comments—”my two year old could have done that” and “the crap that passes for art”— not to mention downright ugly sneers—”The original itself is a hoax. Most modern art is.”—might otherwise be a sobering reminder that a vocal segment of the population appears truly threatened by modern art. Predictably, though, the commentators revealed themselves to be neither knowledgeable nor interested in the subject of modern art. No, it was pretty clear from the particulars (including some nasty, racially-oriented snips) that Thomas and, by extension modern art, was merely the scapegoat here; Watusi was the vehicle through which the conservative fringe could ridicule, yet again, the President’s alleged lack of judgment. One self-appoint -ed cognoscente snickered: “He can’t even pick real art.”

Jean Arp, Untitled (Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance), 1916-1917
torn-and-pasted paper and colored paper on colored paper, 19 1/8 x 13 5/8″.
(Museum of Modern Art; © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn)

Did Alma Thomas copy Matisse? When it comes to intellectual property, despite  legal guidelines, copying is often harder to prove than it would seem.

Alma Thomas, Early Cherry Blossoms, 1973,
acrylic on canvas, 69 x 50″.
(Michael Rosenfeld Gallery)

On the one hand, as any trained artist knows, examining the world through the eyes of others is a necessary step on the road to developing a “mature” personal style. Indeed, all of human progress has been built on the shoulders of previous giants. Matisse’s cutouts could not have existed without the work of the collagists who preceded him—Jean Arp,  Kurt Schwitters, Hannah Höch—who in turn owed debts to earlier Cubists, Picasso and Braque. And on it goes.

Henri Matisse, Snow Flowers,1951,
watercolor and gouache on cut and pasted papers, 75 11/16  x  35 7/8″.
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)

On the other hand, illegitimate copying is real. Both Richard Prince (See VR’s “Prince of Pilfer”) and Jeff Koons have  been sued by photographers for incorporating copyrighted work into their own. Koons lost the Rogers v. Koons case, but won a more recent suit under the “fair use” doctrine.  Readers will remember that earlier this year Damien Hirst threatened to sue a 16-year-old over his use of an image of Hirst’s diamond-incrusted skull, in the process demanding royalties.

Alma Thomas at work in her studio, 1970s?

In the imaginary case of Matisse v. Thomas, interpretations of the “substantially similar” clause suggest many ambiguities that would present a challenge to definitively proving copyright infringement. (Imagined cries of “I know copying when I see it!” from Thomas bashers aside.) Thomas always credited Matisse for the inspiration that produced Watusi. It is obvious that the work launched her on a journey of artistic discovery that produced her unique and forward-looking (if not radical) mosaic style.

To assert that Thomas was “simply copying” Matisse would be to deny the rich and varied underpinnings of her work.  Thomas was deeply impressed by the colors and patterns of the natural world around her.  “Light reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colors,” she once said.

Lois Mailou Jones, Les Fetiches, 1938
oil on linen, approximately 21 x 25″.
(The Smithsonian American Art Museum)

At her best, Thomas adeptly fused her own interpretation of the modernist approaches to color with the craft traditions (textile-based in Thomas’ case) of black America to arrive at a style that, while abstract, never quite looses its connection with natural form.  In addition to Matisse, Thomas identified with the work of Cézanne, as well as her teachers Jacob KainenRobert Gates, Joe Summerford, and Lois Mailou Jones.

Alma Thomas, Oriental Garden Concerto, 1976
acrylic on canvas, 68 1/4 X 54 1/4″.
(Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden)

If there was any real “crime” committed by the Obamas in the selection of their White House collection, it was that only 6 (!) of the 45 pieces were by women. (Louise Nevelson and Susan Rothenberg also included.)  Worse perhaps, no Latinos/as were represented at all.  Not exactly  “Change We Can Believe In.”

Alma Thomas, White Roses Sing and Sing, 1976
acrylic on canvas, 72 1/2 x 52 3/8″.
(Smithsonian American Art Museum)

The Hullaballoo

Michelle Malkin—Do the Watusi: Art, Imitation, and the Obamas

greg.org—“On Wingnuts on Alma Thomas”

Steven Kaplan—“Watusi vs. L’Escargot: Another Desperate Republican Attempt to Smear Obama”

The Mississippifarian—“It’s Called ‘Having a Clue.’ “

Wider Connections

Holland Cotter—“Colors From a World of Black and White”

Self-taught sculptor William Edmondson was the first African-American to have a solo show in a major US museum. See “Doin’ the Lord’s Work.”

John Elderfield—The Cutouts of Henri Matisse

Merry Foresta—Alma Thomas: A Life in Art

News Grist: Audio Symposium—A Search for Comity in the Intellectual Property Wars

US Copyright Office

Bastille Day & Delacroix’s Erroneous Legacy

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Politics with tags , , , , , on July 14, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

And, if I haven’t fought for my country, at least I’ll paint for her.
—Eugène Delacroix, October 12, 1830, letter to his brother

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Eugène Delacroix, July 28: Liberty Leading the People,
1830, oil on canvas, approximately 11.8 x 8.2 feet.
(Louvre, Paris)

Despite the fact that it does not depict the storming of the Bastille, the image most associated in the public’s mind with this pivotal event is Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.

The July 14 storming of the Bastille prison by Parisian citizens in 1789 is generally considered to be the start of the French revolution. The riot was more or less a symbolic gesture, as only seven prisoners were held in the Bastille at the time (under Louis XVI’s dictatorial lettres de cachet policy), none them of much political importance. The French Revolution was the first in a series of political upheavals in France that ultimately led to the dissolution of the monarchy and the establishment of the modern system of French Republics.

Liberty Leading the People commemorates the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled Charles X and laid the French monarchy to rest once and for all. Ordered by his brother, Louis XVI, to leave France soon after the fall of the Bastille, Charles eventually returned to Paris to be crowned king in 1824. His short amd inept reign was fraught with controversy. On July 26, 1830, in the wake of rising unrest, Charles issued a series of repressive ordinances, which provoked widespread revolt from the middle class. Thus was established the Second Republic.

In-depth studies of Liberty Leading the People abound. But two aspects are worth mentioning highlighting. First, the effectiveness of the painting’s carefully constructed, muted color scheme, which is punctuated by bright swatches of primary reds, blues and yellows. It simultaneously evokes the realistic haze of a battle site, while issuing rousing and overly romantic call to arms. Then there is the matter of bare-breasted Liberté, who holds the standard aloft. She was to become the standard for Marianne, the unofficial symbol of France, and the purported model for the Statue of Liberty.

Why is she bare-breasted? Many assume that she is an allegory of Greek democracy, and that, as such she naturally mimicked the style of classical Greek statuary. True, Aphrodite (or Venus, the most famous of which is the de Milo) is often depicted bare-breasted.  Yet, the most famous of the Liberté antecedents, Nike, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, is fully-clothed.

Winged Victory (Nike of Samothrace),
ca. 190 BCE, marble, approximately 12 feet high (Louvre, Paris).

It is more likely that Delacroix’s Marianne grew out of Neo-Classical clichés of the sort employed by Delacroix’s teacher, Pierre Narcisse Guérin.

Pierre Narcisse Guérin, Aurora and Cephalus
1810, oil on canvas, approximately 8.4 x 6.1 feet
(Louvre, Paris)

Wider Connections

Eugène Delacroix

French history timeline

July 1830 Revolution

Romanticism in France: Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People

Marianne

A Novel Proposal: US Secretary of the Arts

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Politics with tags , on January 28, 2009 by Liz Hager

In November, during a WNYC radio interview, Quincy Jones indicated that he would “beg” now President Obama for a permanent US Secretary of the Arts.  Musician Jaime Austria took up the charge, creating an online petition in support of Jones’ efforts. To date, 216680 people have signed.

In conceiving of the idea presumably Jones saw a cultural need  that went beyond the jurisdiction of the NEA—i.e. a policy-making entity in addition to the funding agency.  As Jones has pointed out, every other first world country has a “minister of culture.”  Its staggering how much support the European countries give their artists. 

In Jones’ key argument for this position has been the welfare of kids. He believes that art has the power to transform education, give kids a deeply-grounded (as opposed to artificial and fleeting) sense of self, and ultimately help prevent the alienation and self-hatred that has led to senseless mass killings in American schools.  

Certainly HEW could be tasked with improving arts education. But there’s a bigger picture here. Promoting ones culture at the international level is perhaps the most effective form of informal diplomacy.  Sure, to paraphrase Wim Wenders, American culture has colonized the subconscious of peoples around the globe.  But couldn’t elevating the focus on the arts to the Cabinet level demonstrate a (new) seriousness in our belief in the glorious multiplicity of influences that make up the American culture? Wouldn’t that be a good thing as we work to repair deteriorated relationships abroad?  

Sign the Petition

Wider Connections

Colin Stutz weighs in.

Support the Hustle

Rolling Stone

Washington Post

 


Inauguration Fever: Proud to Be an American (Again)

Posted in Liz Hager, Politics, Pop Culture Miscellany with tags , , on January 21, 2009 by Liz Hager

“. . . On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. . . “

 

 

20090120-p1060111

photo ©2009 Liz Hager


As shots appear on the Jumbotrons, the enormity of the visual impact made by 1.8 million of us on the Mall was clear. The symbol of hope seen ’round the world.  On the ground, the crowd sizzles with pent-up energy.  Eight am rolls into 9 am and 10 am; the Mall filled. The rainbow coalition is reporting for duty.  The weather oscillates between biting cold (wind chill in action) and almost tolerable. People shuffled and marched to stay warm, aided by Sunday’s concert re-play on the Jumbotrons. 

With the arrival of dignitaries on the podium stage, we forget all about our frigid bodies. Anyway, the sun has come out, a portend of things to come. Random and large cheers rupture, ripple, reverberate. John Lewis, Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, and Puff Daddy come and sit.  Cheney rolls in on his wheelchair—what righteous symbolism!  With the announcement of the man soon to be “Formally Known As,”  the crowd sends forth loud boos, chants of “Good Riddance,” “Go Back to Texas”and choruses of “Na, Na, Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Goodbye.”  The party is underway!

And then The Moment arrives. Our Man waits for the Chief Justice to get the words straight; alas he is unable, so our Man, poised as ever, repeats the wrong sequence.   “Congratulations, Mr. President.” The crowd goes wild.  Ding, dong the witch is dead!

 

 

. . . The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. . .”

 

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©2009 Liz Hager

 

“Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.”

 

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©2009 Liz Hager

 

“All this we can do. All this we will do.”

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Inauguration Fever: Martin Luther King/National Day of Service

Posted in Liz Hager, Politics, Pop Culture Miscellany with tags , , , , , on January 19, 2009 by Liz Hager

20090119-p10600531

Moving in a Straight Line ©2009 Liz Hager

We brave Massachusetts Avenue and the traffic jams at Union Station (hoards of people arriving today), then head SE down Pennsylvania Avenue and cross the Anacostia River. It’s a part of town none of us have ever been in. From the elevated overpass, we can see a small part of Anacostia Park below us. Anacostia is a very large park, which hugs the river for miles upriver. The park looks bleary in the hazy low-slung sunshine of the afternoon. The Pennsylvania Avenue overpass bisects the park, creating a no man’s land underneath it.  A collection of shabby buildings huddles together at one end of the park  and a sorry playground sits forlornly on the downriver side. With some trees standing along the river, this part of the park seems to be holding on to a last shred of dignity.  The river, industrial structures lining its shores here and there, chunks of ice bobbing along, definitely gives this area an aura of bleakness. It’s the dead of winter on the Eastern Seaboard.

We turn into the park and head towards the parking lot. 

Anacostia borders one of the poorest districts in Washington, DC.  The Anacostia River was once referred to as “DC’s forgotten river,” because of its state of severe pollution, caused by the dumping of raw sewage and industrial waste. Since 2004 a coalition of the willing—including No Child Left Inside, the National Park Service, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and a number of Senators and Congresspeople—have banded together to spearhead clean up efforts. It seems that the Park too has its share of the audacity of hope.

A lot of us have come for speeches and a tree planting on this National Day of Service.  Senators Steny Hoyer and Ben Cardin are here. (Hoyer gives a truly impressive speech linking Martin Luther King’s legacy to all of us.) The formidable Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC’s representative without a vote) is here. Even former Mayor Marion Barry is here, his drug-related problems apparently behind him.  There has been a rumor that Obama might show up. That would be truly exciting, but we’re content to support No Child Left Inside and the Park Service, even if he doesn’t come. And, as big fans of Friends of the Urban Forest back in San Francisco, the idea of participating in a tree planting feels like a way to be a good national neighbor on this National Day of Service. 

A local gospel choir kicks off the event; their undulating sea of rhythm is infectious. Speeches follow—most are

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