Entries in art (11)
Something to think about: the artist, after the revolution. We are so distant here in this snow-muffled northern country, the end of apartheid so abstracted, that Mandela's gracious processes of reconciliation have effectively buried the bodies.
However, on the ground in South Africa the revolution continues to play itself out. It was announced today that Mamphela Ramphele has become the head of the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition to Jacob Zuma's ANC, which is perhaps a different animal than the ANC of the struggle. Ramphele was Steve Biko's partner, her cred is enormous, as an activist and as a now wealthy mining executive, doctor and World Bank director.
Rodney Place in a 2012 essay about the place of the artist in post-revolutionary times, speaks about the relativism of the word 'freedom'. In the balance between control, as seen in the limits of how and how much the artist can speak, and actual freedom historically charted in other revolutionary times, control has all the weight: the more weighty the control, the more rapier-like the tiny artist must be. But only if the artists are up to it, and for this, they must be uncorruptable, immune to such things as fame, market, comfort and the refuge of apoliticism. Ha.
The occasion of this essay was Brett Murray's 2012 exhibition in Cape Town, Hail to the Thief II, a collection of vicious satirical pieces that rant on the venality of current South African political culture. The exhibition evidently was the site of public protests against such a critique, and it was to this that Place's essay responds.
Revolutions betrayed are tragic, no less so in South Africa than in North Africa and the Middle East. The Arab Spring has turned into a geography of proxy war on a dozen fronts. Rodney Place excoriates artists who, as he says, 'want revolutions but we usually prefer being left alone to make art.' Can art be the gun? A romantic idea; when it happens it reveals polarities covered by other more pervasive mythologies.
'Le monde au temps des surrealistes', published by Breton in 1929 to show the parts of the world important to the surrealists: the places, named by country, tend to be those with aboriginal art, the operative word being original. Thus Europe, the United States, sites of a kind of universal western culture and product, do not figure.
Jean Claire, in an essay on surrealist anti-materialism and non-western art, mentions the universalising tendencies in Europe at the time: the rise of Hitler's Volk, the appeal to Italian nationalism. Politically the surrealists worked against synthesis, coordination, cultural coherence; masks and arcane rituals appealed precisely because they didn't understand them — they couldn't be appropriated by bourgeois culture.
This is an 80-year old anti-globalisation map. It is also the opposite of anthropology that seeks to understand the non-Western world. The surrealists did not want to understand other cultures, it was important that there were other cultures. Can that be said, eighty years on? As a child, David Bailey had read about Nagaland – a very obscure part of India on the Burmese border, and had always wanted to go there. He went, eventually, in 2012 and found kids with iPhones and jeans and the elders living a thousand-year old life in their heads: when they go, it will go too.
Look up Naga people on wikipedia, one finds a struggle for statehood, a desire for autonomy, the predictable results of colonisation – that insistence that all peoples come under some central authority that they then have to spend much blood and many years to undo. The surrealist map of the world isn't an exercise in sentimental preservation of innocent cultures, rather it can be seen as a map of the post-WWI periphery. The south consists of islands and archipelagoes: a metaphor, contradictory, for the surrealist movement itself.
A dandy piece by Rosalind Krauss on reading, or not reading, Twombly. It was written for Artforum in 1994 about the catalogue raisonne of Twombly's works, overseen by Heiner Bastian. Krauss writes about the various projects that assign meaning to Twombly's paintings from those who take the classical references, such as Virgil scrawled across a canvas, as evidence of Twombly's classical humanism and a deep reading of the deep past, to Barthes, who throws all that out and speaks against analogy in Twombly's mark making, where 'Virgil' is a citation running against any sort of classical reference, and is instead a position, modern, cultural, irresponsible.
Krauss writes instead about graffiti — 'performative, suspending representation in favour of action', which is what Action Painting wanted: all emotion and gesture. She writes that 'graffiti's character is the strike against form, ensuring a field in which the only way the image of the body can survive is a part-object, a concatenation of obscene emblemata...' There are marks, but they aren't symbols, ciphers or citations, rather they are fragments that protest the self-reflexivity of his Abstract Expressionist peer group, Pollock, de Kooning and Motherwell.
Twombly has a writing hand. The work from the 1950s, yesterday's Poems to the Sea, is perhaps a protest against the vigorous, obliterating masculinity of Motherwell, but it became how he made his marks. By time he had appointed Bastian to assemble essays for the catalogue raisonne, the summary of an artist's life, he quite liked the idea that he was a channel to Apollo and Dionysus. One might, towards the end of one's career find it more noble than being a thirty-year old artist working through artistic differences with one's friends in New York.
Rosalind Krauss, always true to the work, restates the critic's responsibility to make an independent reading. I love her for this.
I looked up Sesostris, whose coronation we are presented with, above, and found this sculpture, below.
I would say that in Twombly's Sesostris we are looking at a crown. A fragment of a sculpture. Sesostris III has departed.
Rosalind Krauss. 'Cy was here; Cy's up'. Artforum International Magazine, September 1994
A provocative portrait of the architect and her building. Zaha Hadid's addition to the Serpentine Gallery has opened; big fanfare, diehard modernism that neatly jumps over all those tedious conversations about architectural context and replication of: the original 1805 gunpowder magazine remains intact with its proportions correct, the new and necessary addition for a new gallery, restaurant and lobby lands like a hankie beside it.
1805: Napoleon had designs on an invasion of Britain, the magazine was part of the defensive strategy, built in the gardens of Kensington Palace. Just because it was a warehouse for armaments, no reason not to make it look lovely. War with Napoleon appears to have been the backdrop to continuation of elegant Georgian reason: Jane Austen's novels are full of it; some of the most beautiful buildings in London are military. Today, our military occupy dismal metal or concrete buildings set far away: aesthetics are, perhaps rightly, completely absent from military life, and the military is completely absent from public view.
All that aside, one feels it keenly, the absence of an aesthetic public realm here: no annual pavilion by famous architect set in beautiful palace gardens, no gallery additions by famous architect, no galleries actually. Here in wealthy oil land life is very utilitarian.
Much dismay that the Vancouver Art Gallery is going to move out of its present location, the classical Rattenbury court house on Georgia Street, and into a new building on the site of the old bus depot on Cambie. The streets don't mean much to those who don't know Vancouver well, but the bus depot site is at the end of Georgia that is accumulating large cultural edifices: the CBC building, Vancouver Public Library, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and now the art gallery.
The QE Theatre — an opera and ballet hall – is in its original 1959 Affleck building, the library moved from its 1957 Burrard Street location and building into the 1995 Safdie coliseum-referenced library on Georgia: Library Square with huge public spaces in and out, often used by the CBC as performance space. The CBC is in a 1975 Merrick building on Georgia, expanded in 2009 (Dialog and Bakker) to include a 4000 square-foot performance studio and a glassy public face on the street. The 1958 McCarter Nairne Post Office building, also on Georgia, its future very much in danger, has been discussed as a possible home for the Vancouver Art Gallery: right location, large industrial spaces, although its massive structure would make changes almost prohibitively expensive, plus it was sold in March for $159 million to a developer.
The Vancouver Art Gallery's first building was built in 1931 on a 66'-wide lot (the original CPR survey grid based on chains for residential plots) a couple of blocks away on Georgia from the Hotel Vancouver. It looked like a bank vault, which says something about the way art was perceived, as a precious commodity meant to be safeguarded.
The building was given an International Style renovation and expansion in 1950 by Ross Lort: a part plate glass front wall, part slab, all offset planes and classic white gallery space behind. It had become a small, exceptionally accommodating gallery that under the direction of Doris Shadbolt and Tony Emery, was at the centre of the explosion of art and performance, from N.E. Thing Co to Gathie Falk, in Vancouver in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Then, in 1983, the Vancouver Art Gallery moved to the Erickson-renovated 1911 court house building, made redundant by the 1980 Erickson-designed Law Courts complex and Robson Square which filled the two blocks to the west behind the court house. It seemed appropriate in the ghastly post-modern 1980s when protests on the Court House steps were over, and museums, opera companies and symphonies turned to block-buster shows for survival, that the VAG be housed in the pomposity of a building shouting out its authority.
Art goes on no matter what the official gallery is, artists challenge and change; where they do it and where you see it is worthy of attention. In the 1980s artists were like the punk scene occupying marginal and arcane spaces, they certainly weren't in the main spaces of the new Vancouver Art Gallery in the way that they had fluidly slipped in and out of the old modernist unpretentious gallery down the street. The more we pull access to art out of the everyday, the more inexplicable it becomes to the everyday. Much like the original 1931 vault-like gallery, the court house gallery demanded, simply by the architecture itself, reverence for the exceptionalism of art.
I'm not unhappy to see the Vancouver Art Gallery leave the court house building, but one does worry about the current civic support, all over the country, for Bilbao-effect galleries and museums. By their very spectacularity they become objects rather than fabric, appropriate one would think perhaps for programs such as justice, or health, or governance. Historically, art is deemed to be one of these important conditions requiring separation in a significant architecture.
Might we have something more wabi-sabi: a necessary anchor for history, retrospectives, biennials and curation, plus the infiltration of the rest of the city, starting from that block, with a rootless, opportunistic, transient architecture that reflects the kind of programming most major galleries are engaged with today. There must be some place for a gallery architecture to constantly renew and reconstruct itself if it is to be an embedded part of the processes of cultural renewal and reconstruction, and not just the place where, after the fact, such changes are displayed.
Hosfelt Gallery, New York
23 June - 29 July
from the blurb —
Adams' art considers the concept in biological speciation called adaptive radiation, in which a pioneering organism enters a relatively untapped environment, reproducing profusely while differentiating rapidly and extensively. At the same time, the organism never departs too dramatically from the original form.
Each of Adams' pieces starts with a common structure and evolves into an ornate form. Some are broad and brightly-colored, others are mottled and shrunken or morphologically reduced. Some appear floral, others cephalopodal, and others have no identifiable counterpart in nature.
Christopher Adams has a degree in organismic and evolutionary biology.
Didier Faustino, such an architect despite the title of his exhibition: lots of brilliant talk while other little bods run around making the piece. Click on the image above to take you to a short video of the setting up of this project.
From the press release: '"Don't Trust Architects" by Didier Faustino at the Calouste Gulbekian Foundation. Didier Faustino is presenting a series of new pieces at the Calouste Gulbekian Foundation (Lisbon) from 14th January to 3rd April 2011. Five new installations produced for the exhibition will immerse visitors in the permanent confrontation of the body with architecture and architecture with movement, via visual and sound tools implemented by Faustino.'
Hill Strategies Research sends reports every so often on the status of the arts and artists in Canada: how many are there, where do they live, how much do they make. Always the results are surprising and seem to confound general expectations.
The study that came out today is about how many of our artists live in small and rural towns: as many as in Toronto and Montréal combined. Vancouver, with the highest concentration of artists (2.35%) of the large cities, would rank only 21st among small municipalities. Previous Hill Strategies studies have pointed out the sub-poverty income levels of Canadian artists, so this might have something to do with where they live.
47% of all Canada's artisans and craftspersons live in small towns, 35% of our visual artists do. Cape Dorset is the centre of Inuit carving and printmaking. West Bolton is in the Eastern Townships with 10% of its labour force in arts occupations. Denman and Hornby Islands off the east coast of Vancouver Island have been intense centres of island crafts, arts and music since the 1960s.
Lou Lynn, of Monday's post, lives in Winlaw, BC in the quite remote Slocan Valley. The work isn't all rural wood carving and fiddle music, it is as sophisticated as the work seen in urban centres.
Since the Massey Report of 1949-51, the arts have been seen as the way to confirm and support the development of an independent Canadian identity. It is surprising that so much of that identity is still investigated, and developed, in rural Canada.