Monday, July 23, 2018

Art report / England 2

The artworks were somewhat incongruously displayed in the ornate formal rooms of the palace, and our docents didn't seem to know what to say about them -- a few awkward and clueless words, then on to the important stuff: the furniture and the family portraits.  There was no signage anywhere in the palace, nor any brochures to read.  So I suspect 90 percent of the visitors got little to nothing out of their art exposure.  Too bad, because this is world class art!

One of Ai's recurring themes is the problematic status of the individual in the current repressive regime.  Ai himself was under house arrest for a time, and forbidden to leave China for years afterwards, so he worked on the Blenheim exhibit long-distance.  His passport was returned in 2015 and he now lives in Berlin.

Ai typically acquires old stuff and reworks it, as in this sculpture using three-legged stools.  In the past every Chinese household owned at least one stool, but many of them have been discarded, replaced perhaps by plastic chairs?  In some other artworks Ai has taken hundreds of the stools and displayed them in installations.  In this one, he has joined maybe a dozen into a puffball of legs.  I'm not sure about the metaphor -- are individuals stronger when they hang together?  Or have the individuals, forced into formation, been robbed of their ability to stand on their own?

Ai Weiwei, Wooden Stools

In another room, Ai made hundreds of porcelain crabs to recall a big party he threw for his friends when he was arrested.  He had arranged for the crabmeat before he was hauled away, but the party went on without him.  The crabs come in two colors, red and gray; he has observed that if you're a gray crab, blending into the landscape, you may be safer than the red crab who stands out.  (But don't they all get eaten in the end?)

(Please forgive the photos -- my camera couldn't seem to decide what to focus on and we were hustled away before I could get a better shot.)

Art report / England 3

One of Ai Weiwei's recurring themes is the destruction of China's history and traditional culture by the current regime and its replacement with shallow consumerism.  He has depicted this by finding old things and somehow redoing them for art.  His most infamous such act was to drop a 2000-year-old urn, documenting it in three photos -- holding it out, in mid-fall, and smashing on the ground.  (Critics have understandably given him a hard time over this endeavor.)

At the Blenheim Palace exhibit he wasn't so dramatic.  Here's a table from the Qing dynasty (somewhere between 100 and 350 years old) with legs sliced down to sit askew.

Here's a huge chunk of wood salvaged from the demolition of Qing dtynasty temples, which has been beautifully milled and polished into a map of China.

And here are a bunch of more 2000-year-old urns, painted in shiny automobile enamels. 

I detected puzzlement from the tourists who bothered to look at these artworks.  Ai is an artist who requires an explanation -- if you aren't familiar with his life story, his political opinions, and the materials and metaphors of his work, you won't get much out of looking at the art itself.  I was fortunate enough to know the basics, and the Blenheim show made me want to see more. 

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.