October 22, 2012
I’m willing to bet that at least half of the pennies laying in the bottom of wishing wells across the world are from kids who’ve dreamed of flying like Peter Pan, unhindered by anything but the air rushing against their face. I know that was my #1 wish and could be the reason for my undying fascination with things that fly, float, soar or are suspended in air; could also be the reason I am dating a guy who flies in fighter jets for a living… Anyway, back to suspended objects like stars, clouds, parachutes and Jim Campbell’s Exploded Views installation at SFMOMA (San Franciscio Museum of Modern Art). At the entrance to SFMOMA you are practically oblivious to the thousands of LED light that hang over head as you walk inside, typically I’m too busy staring at the beautiful interior of the museum with the polished black granite juxtaposed to the rough granite that layers the staircase, wall and floor. The start white walls and brilliant skylight contrast beautifully with the artfully designed granite. When you climb the stairs to the second and third level it’s hard to miss the soft glow and slow twinkle of the lights. Once you stop to see that it is more than an overpriced chandelier you start to notice abstracted figures flitting across the cube of lights, that’s when you run back downstairs to study the signage that explains the piece:
“This new installation by acclaimed San Francisco-based artist Jim Campbell explodes the moving image into three dimensions, illuminating the Haas Atrium with a flickering grid of light that is part sculpture, part cinematic screen. Thousands of computer-controlled LED spheres create the illusion of fleeting shadowlike figures that dissolve and resolve as one moves around and beneath the suspended, chandelierlike matrix. Exploded Views investigates the nuances of perception through a series of four different films, changing every two months. The first and final film was a collaboration with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet; the second studied a flock of birds; the third considered the unrehearsed movements of San Francisco pedestrians; the intensely choreographed fourth film captured a boxing match up close with a moving camera.”
Just HOW did he do that?? I have no idea, but yes, it is amazing. My preferred view was beneath the installation. Before I knew anything about the fancy cinematic effect it had I stood underneath it like a cemented road block to the entrance of the museum. I was mesmerized by the hypnotizing soft glow and flickering patterns of the ping pong size LEDs. The not so linear placement of the lights paired with the blinking action reminds you of a bright night sky filled with the twinkle of stars. The view from the stairs is more like watching a number of silhouettes gracefully dancing across a 3D screen. The figures fade in and out of recognition allowing your eyes to rest on the entire screen instead of trying to watch the figures specifically. It would be fascinating to see this piece with the museum in complete darkness; what an experience to have those LEDs illuminate the space and the silhouettes create an even bigger contrast on their screen. I can’t wait to see what Jim Campbell does next! He is being honored at the 2012 Bay Area Treasure Award banquet tomorrow evening!
October 20, 2012
Posted by Emily May McEwan under Art
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As a graduate student of art history I spend all my time studying the eccentricities and intimate details of art and its creators. I look into the artist’s life to detect any connections that may have not been seen before, I look for reasons why they may have done something in particular and I analyze; above all else we analyze. Artists are complicated characters that more often than not create a web of confusion for art historians. Through letters, journals, newspaper and magazine articles, interviews and biographies we try to piece together lives of the past to get a clearer picture of the treasured works of art we cherish so. But will we ever really know? Will we ever be able to confidently say exactly why Caravaggio decided to paint with ferocious intensity and shock the world as he knew it? No.
I think there are so art historians that feel like they know an artist better than they know themselves, or even better than an artist knew themselves. Unfortunately, it just isn’t the case. For years art has been an outlet for me. Anger or sadness was the biggest motivator of all. I never quite realized that until I thought about my most recent hiatus from painting. Why had I stopped? Was it really because I was ‘busy’? Or was it because my life was without turmoil for a longer period of time then I was used to? If I do not realize the motivations initially… How would an art historian? Better yet, how would they know if my motivations changed? The dynamics of anyone’s urges are complicated, I can only imagine the reasons behind someone like Van Gogh or Edvard Munch’s actions.
That’s the gist of my 2:30am thought after a productive night of painting, happy painting. No turmoil motivated this session, hence the late night ramble!
I started this painting last year, around this time. I did the sketch and color theme then painted the sketch on the canvas with an ochre ground, shaded. This is the 2nd phase, I am thinking I will need another two sessions to complete it.
October 18, 2012
Mesmerized by the ever so slight sway of the collective cube, I stood there in awe, soaking up the experiential qualities of way lay in front of me. I had never seen something so beautiful come of such an ugly act. Hundreds of charred pieces of wood hung suspended as if an explosion was frozen in time, captured just as the pieces started to rip away from each other. The smaller pieces lay on the outskirts of the implied cube, slowly rotating in the air as would a spider dangling from its thin line of web in a summer breeze. As my eyes moved slowly into the center, the pieces became larger and one could see how they may fit snugly into one another like puzzle pieces. They sparkled with the crystals of carbon saturating the surface, the wood glimmered in the sunshine that poured through the walls of glass. Knowing the surface of the wood would be tender and unstable to the touch from the break down of organic material, the sleek, hard, manufactured walls surrounding it only further implied the fragility of the elements. The result of an intense fire and complete annihilation of the structure it once was, the slivers, splinters, shards and stakes of wood peacefully danced together in a silent symphony. Each piece pointing to one another, each piece allowing your eye to gracefully connect them as if trying to reverse the destruction that created it. I felt as if all of a sudden there would be a rewind and all the small elements would snap back, connecting with the larger elements until the structure was once again whole. The beauty of it was that it would remain, suspended in time, remembering what it once was and knowing its renewed purpose.
October 18, 2012
Cindy Sherman’s work is like a trick question. At first glance you see a lost, scared, beautiful woman captured at an unsure moment in quick need of help, or so it seems. Her steep angles and versatile background settings, chameleon like appearance and convincing expressions cause the viewer to have some deja vu. “Have I seen this movie?” “Who is this actress?” “Which Alfred Hitchcock movie is this still from?” When in fact all of the above do not apply. Her witty titles for this series Untitled Film Stills from 1977-80 convinces the viewer that they are looking at film still from the 50′s, or even older. In return for the uneducated (in art history) viewers’ ignorance Sherman slaps them with the reality of the series, things are not as they seem.
The issue of male gaze cannot be ignored when analyzing the familiar yet unknown film scenes that Sherman has materialized. Laura Mulvey reveals the pleasure people experience in watching films, with characters like Sherman in them. In Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema Mulvey argues that the pleasure people seek in films is that of scopophilia and identification with the ideal ego, the main male character, or the hero in the film. The pleasure is not unisex though, it is divided between the active male (actor and viewer) and the passive female (actress and viewer). Only male viewers can completely identify with the active male actor, according to Mulvey. The female viewer can try to identify or just play the passive viewer. This dynamic focuses films and their entertainment value on satisfying the male ego, hence the passive female actresses that do not pose any threat to the male character. In fact her presence is an affirmation of the strength of the male character because the female will typically need him in some fashion, and he will not be in need of her aside from her physical or aesthetic presence.
Sherman touches on both of these pleasure points by turning the viewer of her film still into the voyeur. She places them in a position of voyeurism and therefore by looking at her work, they are receiving the pleasure of non-consequential gazing. The moment she captures herself, or the unknown female character, is always a tense, dramatic moment and the viewer expects the male character to arrive onsite at anytime to assist her in her distress. The absence of the male character is in fact a reinforcement of his presence, an unseen presence. The viewer, therefore still identifies with him, whether male or female.
October 3, 2012
Skin deep is never something that describes the multi-faceted works of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. He has his hands in many pots including blogging, sculpting, photography, humanitarian and internet activism, that he can’t help but create dynamic works that have a voice of their own.
At first glance this piece, Map of China (2004) looks like a beautiful, quality sculpture of the map of China, as the title describes. The sculpture is completed with excellent technical virtuosity. Ai Weiwei hires traditional Chinese carpenters to join his wood pieces together without the use of nails to present a seamless presentation. This is the one way the view can look at the piece, a 3-D wood map of China. However, after a small amount of research one can find that Ai Weiwei uses pieces of 14th-17th century wood from dismantled Chinese temples to create the map. Is this piece now a tool for his anti-authority voice that he publicly shares with the world? Are the old materials used to make a Contemporary artwork a comment on how the old and new can co-exist in China? Can the piece remain “voiceless” with the viewer knowing where the material came from and more importantly the artist’s activist background?
September 18, 2012
The simplicity in which David Hammons uses charged icons enables his work to make a profound statement, because it’s rarely repeated. His use of the American Flag design in African American Flag
of 1990 is used once, unlike the work of Jasper Johns were the symbol is used over and over again. In Chasing the Blue Train
from 1989 Hammons uses a simple blue toy train with a track that covers the gallery floor and weaves in and out of an almost minimalist setting and piano wings and a tunnel covered in coal.
At first glance, that is what the installation looks like, a toy train set up with a track, a tunnel and some simplistic obstacles to go in and out of. From an iconographic standpoint, this installation is filled with art historical and cultural symbolism. In America the main character of this installation, the locomotive, was considered to embody the intense take over of the Industrial Revolution and all the fast-paced adventures it brought. In so many ways the train provided freedom, adventure, discovery, opportunity and wealth for Americans. The coal covering the tunnel the train glides through represents another opportunity for wealth and growth. Although both of these symbols of the Industrial Revolution were positive for many Americans, they were also sources of strife and oppression. The coal mines were unhealthy and dangerous to work in, but popular because of the economic downturn during the 20′s. Manual labor was typically the only choice for immigrants and uneducated Americans, particularly African Americans who were still facing prejudice in the educational systems.
Hammons often includes his African American heritage in his pieces, and this cannot be ignore when viewing Chasing the Blue Train. Hundreds of African Americans used the underground railroad to escape from slavery. The train was a symbol of freedom to many, or at least the hope for freedom. In addition to the coal being representational, the train was the main form of transportation for many African Americans to go to their jobs as coal miners. Although Hammons uses a traditional train in this work, it cannot be ignored that the Harlem A-Line Subway is the “Blue” line as well. The Harlem Renaissance began shortly after the 125th Street Harlem metro station was built. The piano wings used in the installation harken back to the revolutionary music that came out of that culture during the Renaissance. The title uses the word chasing, as if the blue train represents a dream that is unreachable as no man can run as fast as a train can move. The artist uses many loaded symbols that can be interpreted in many different way regarding this work, he forces the viewer to think about all of the implications a simple blue train can have while slowly gliding across a gallery floor.