Friday, July 20, 2018

Art report / England 1


Seeing photos last week of the Trumps' gala dinner at Blenheim Palace, outside of London, reminded me of our visit to Blenheim Palace a couple of years ago, during which we saw some Serious Art -- and I never got around to writing about it.  So here's my belated report to you.

NYTimes photo

The fabulously grand Blenheim Palace was built about 300 years ago as a gift from Queen Anne to John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, who led British forces in the Battle of Blenheim, which won the War of the Spanish Succession.  Winston Churchill, whose father was the third son of the current Duke, was born at Blenheim Palace and is buried in the churchyard of the local parish.

When we visited the palace it was the site of an exhibition of work by Ai Wei-Wei, the great contemporary artist from China.

In the palace courtyard, two of Ai's "Pillar" sculptures were installed between the indigenous pillars.  These are tall-man-size vases, suggesting the human form; he has made many of them.



In the huge reception hall of the palace, Ai's crystal chandelier looked totally at home.  He has made many chandeliers, in different forms, to comment on the extravagance of contemporary Chinese consumer culture.   Ai's father, a poet, was one of the victims of China's Cultural Revolution, sent into exile in a labor camp when Ai was one year old.  He grew up without lamps or candles in the home, let alone chandeliers.






















By contrast, you immediately walked down a hallway covered by a carpet that replicates the surface of a dirt road with tank tire tracks.
























More about the Ai exhibit in another post.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Form Not Function 1


Form, Not Function: Quilt Art at the Carnegie, our local annual juried show of art quilts, opened the day after I got home from Europe; I attended the opening reception in a jet-lagged haze and barely remembered what I had seen.  A week later, still jet-lagged, I went to see the show again with my friend Paula Kovarik, who had been one of the jurors but hadn't been able to get here for the opening.  I took a lot of pictures but didn't feel up to writing about the show in the aftermath of my unexpected eye surgery.

Now the summer has slipped away, FNF is about to close and I still haven't told you a thing about it.  My local fiber art group held its monthly meeting at the Carnegie last night and I am reminded about the most striking quilt in the show -- especially urgent and timely in light of this week's political events.

Arturo Sandoval, Covert Affairs: Bright Future (details below)

Yes, it's Trump and Putin kissing, against the Russian and U.S. flags as a backdrop.  In the center, cheerful butterflies; everywhere, money: coins and gold bars make up their hair, bills stand in for the white stripes of the flags.























Lots of gaudy fringe trims the central figure and edges the entire quilt.  At the opening I chatted with Arturo and said "What's with the fringe?  I never took you for a fringe guy."  He explained that every time he sees a picture of a nouveau riche home there's fringe on everything, so what better shorthand for people with more money than taste.

I didn't ask about the butterfly, but I know that Arturo has made a companion quilt called "Dark" something or other, featuring an ominous black moth as the central motif, so I gather the two pieces are meant as yin and yang.

This is a very large and complex piece and I can't identify all the processes.  I think the background image was woven to order with the images of the faces; many other fabrics are raw-edge appliqued on top.  The quilting seems to have been done with "invisible" thread that has a lot of sparkle to it.

The first time I saw the quilt I didn't like it.  Each successive viewing has made me appreciate it more, and last night I was in awe at its prescience as well as its visual power. 

Saturday is the last day for FNF, at the Carnegie Museum of Art and History in New Albany IN, just across the river from Louisville.


Friday, July 13, 2018

Art report / Hamburg 2


The Hamburger Kunsthalle had several pieces of fiber art from well back in the previous century, giving an interesting spin on the days when it was considered avant-garde simply to get some nontraditional materials and display them (gasp!) in a mainstream museum.  Seeing them five decades later makes me realize that fiber art has come a long way.

Robert Morris, Untitled (Felt Tangle), 1967

Robert Morris is an American artist who has worked in sculpture, land art, performance and conceptual art.  One of his favorite materials has been industrial felt, which in this piece is both hung from the wall and arranged on the floor.  I'm not sure this particular installation does much for me; I can't tell whether he's exploring felt's drapability, its firm structure or just its ability to sit there in the gallery looking transgressive.

Reiner Ruthenbeck, Hammock, 1969

Yes, it's a big piece of red cotton, suspended across a corner of the gallery from four skinny straps.  What is it saying to us about cotton-ness, about redness, about hammock-ness?  Beats me.

As I contemplated these two works in the gallery and now at home reviewing my photos, I confess that my major questions had to do not with the materials, not with the formal aspects of the compositions, but with their maintenance.  Do the janitors come in every morning and carefully pick up the edges of the felt so they can dust under the first six inches of the sculpture?  Do they vacuum the whole thing every now and then?  Does the hammock require periodic washing and ironing to keep the drapey folds from getting permanently creased?

I don't suppose the artists wanted viewers to be thinking about such issues, but they didn't give me much else to chew on.  Sorry.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Art report / Hamburg 1


Rosemarke Trockel is a German artist who works in practically every medium and technique that she can think of, but I have always kept an eye out for her knitted works.  Seen in the Hamburger Kunsthalle, this large work from 1986:

Rosemarie Trockel, Ohne Title (Untitled)

In the traditional modernist trope of referring to art in your art, Trockel has cleverly executed the "Woolmark" logo in her wool knitting.  She stretched the knitted fabric over a canvas for rigid display.

Whenever I see mainstream artists use fiber techniques I wonder how much if any of it they did themselves.  A bit of googling gave me this explanation from a London gallery that exhibited some of her knitted works:  "In choosing wool and knitting, a material and technique traditionally associated with the female domestic realm and craft, Trockel explores the negative connotations of these 'inferior materials and skills'.  Distinguishing her practice from traditional craft, Trockel made blueprints for her designs and had them produced by a technician using computerised machinery.  By mechanically producing the knitted patterns, she questions whether the cliche of women's art relates solely to the choice of materials or whether it is also influenced by the treatment of these materials."

Hmmm.  I wonder what was the answer to her questioning -- is the cliche just in the wool, or in how you process it, or in what you choose to depict in your knitting?  And I also wonder what she considers to be "the cliche of women's art."

Do you suppose we'll ever get past being a cliche?  I'm not sure Trockel is helping on that score.  What do you think?