Posts Tagged ‘American sculpture

12
Dec
20

European art research tour exhibition: ‘Cy Twombly: Sculpture’ at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, London

Exhibition dates: 30th September – 21st December 2019, posted December 2020

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Installation view of the exhibition Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Recovered time

For my friend and mentor Ian, who is a Twombly aficionado. I posted him back three Twombly posters from the pop up shop…

“Twombly made his sculptures from found materials such as plaster, wood, and iron, as well as objects that he habitually used and handled in the studio. Often modest in scale, they embody his artistic language of handwritten glyphs and symbols, evoking narratives from antiquity and fragments of literature and poetry.”

“This thought, that within each piece there is an underlying poetry, an underlying history, to be uncovered, elucidates the potential within each sculpture.”

A Time To Remain, A Time To Go Away.

Marcus

.
All iPhone images by Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“I would like to think in the sculptures there is a tendency towards the fundamental principle in Homer’s world. That poetry belongs to the defeated and to the dead.”

“White paint is my marble.”

.
Cy Twombly

 

 

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Gagosian is pleased to present an exhibition of Cy Twombly’s sculptures, in association with the Cy Twombly Foundation. The exhibition marks the publication of the second volume of the catalogue raisonné of sculptures, edited by Nicola Del Roscio, President of the Cy Twombly Foundation, and published by Schirmer/Mosel.

Twombly made his sculptures from found materials such as plaster, wood, and iron, as well as objects that he habitually used and handled in the studio. From 1946 onward, he created many assemblages, though they were rarely exhibited before the 1997 publication of the first volume of his catalogue raisonné. Often modest in scale, they embody his artistic language of handwritten glyphs and symbols, evoking narratives from antiquity and fragments of literature and poetry.

Many of Twombly’s sculptures are coated in white paint, which unifies and neutralises the assembled materials and renders the newly formed object into a coherent whole. In referring to white paint as his “marble,” Twombly recalls traditions of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman sculpture while also subverting marble’s classical connotation of perfection through his roughly painted surfaces. The intimate scale of these works, together with their textural coats of paint, underscores their fundamentally haptic nature.

Some of Twombly’s sculptures allude to architecture, geometry, and Egyptian and Mesopotamian statuary, as in the rectangular pedestals and circular structures of Untitled (1977) and Chariot of Triumph (1990-98). Untitled (In Memory of Álvaro de Campos) (2002) comprises a rounded wooden trough stacked with a rectangular box, an elongated mound, and a vertical wooden board – all accumulating into a form that resembles a headstone or cenotaph. Thickly daubed in white, the sculpture bears the titular inscription scrawled in the graffiti-like hand so typical of Twombly’s drawings and paintings, and below it, the words “to feel all things in all ways.” Drawn from a poem by Álvaro de Campos (one of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa’s pseudonyms), the inscription suggests the legibility of the sculpture itself, and positions the three-dimensional object as a surface to be worked on.

In 1979, Twombly began casting some of his assemblages in bronze. The first iteration of Untitled (2002), on view in this exhibition, was made in 1955, soon after his return to New York from Europe and North Africa. Like other works from this period, this sculpture makes reference to the ancient artefacts the artist encountered in his travels. Consisting of bundled sticks, it evokes an object of private devotion or fetish. By casting this work in bronze in 2002, Twombly literally and figuratively substantiated the small sculpture into something like an archeological treasure recovered from the past.

A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany this exhibition.

Press release from the Gagosian website [Online] Cited 08/11/2020

 

Twombly made his sculptures from found materials such as plaster, wood, and iron, as well as objects that he habitually used and handled in the studio. Often modest in scale, they embody his artistic language of handwritten glyphs and symbols, evoking narratives from antiquity and fragments of literature and poetry.

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled (To Apollinaire)' 2009 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (To Apollinaire) (installation view)
2009
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled (To Apollinaire)' 2009 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (To Apollinaire) (installation view)
2009
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Humul' 1986 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Humul (installation view)
1986
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled' 2004 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (installation view)
2004
Bronze, edition 4/6
31 ⅞ × 15 ¼ × 11 ⅝ inches (81 × 38.5 × 29.5cm)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled (In Memory Of Babur)' 2009 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (In Memory Of Babur) (installation view)
2009
Bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Babur (14 February 1483 – 26 December 1530), born Zahīr ud-Dīn Muhammad, was the founder of the Mughal Empire and first Emperor of the Mughal dynasty (r. 1526-1530) in the Indian subcontinent. He was a descendant of Timur and Genghis Khan through his father and mother respectively.

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Turkish Delight' 2000 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Turkish Delight (installation view)
2000
Wood, plaster, acrylic, and brass
45 ½ × 18 × 16 ½ inches (115.6 × 45.7 × 41.9cm)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Installation view of the exhibition Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, London showing from left to right, Herat (1998) and Batrachomyomachia (1998)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Herat' 1998

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Herat (installation view)
1998
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Herāt is the third-largest city of Afghanistan.

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Batrachomyomachia' 1998 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Batrachomyomachia (installation view)
1998
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

The Batrachomyomachia or Battle of the Frogs and Mice is a comic epic, or a parody of the Iliad, commonly attributed to Homer, although other authors have been proposed.

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled' 1998 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (installation view)
1998
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'A Time To Remain, A Time To Go Away' 1998-2001

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
A Time To Remain, A Time To Go Away (installation view)
1998-2001
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'A Time To Remain, A Time To Go Away' 1998-2001 (installation view detail)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
A Time To Remain, A Time To Go Away (installation view detail)
1998-2001
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled (AOEDE)' Nd (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (AOEDE) (installation view)
Nd
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled (AOEDE)' Nd (installation view detail)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (AOEDE) (installation view detail)
Nd
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Aoede

In Greek mythology, Aoede was one of the three original Boeotian muses, which later grew to five before the Nine Olympian Muses were named. Her sisters were Melete and Mneme. She was the muse of voice and song. According to Greek mythology, she is the daughter of Zeus, the King of the Gods, and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory.

She lends her name to the moon Jupiter XLI, also called Aoede, which orbits the planet Jupiter.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Chariot of Triumph' 1990-98 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Chariot of Triumph (installation view)
1990-98
Wood, paint, cloth, and nails
42 ½ × 20 ⅞ × 74 ⅜ inches (108 × 53 × 189cm)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled' 2005 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (installation view)
2005
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled' 2005 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (installation view)
2005
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled' 2009 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled
2009
Bronze, edition 2/3
94 ¾ × 15 ⅞ × 12 ⅜ inches (240.4 × 40.3 × 31.5cm)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled' 2009 (installation view detail)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (installation view detail)
2009
Bronze, edition 2/3
94 ¾ × 15 ⅞ × 12 ⅜ inches (240.4 × 40.3 × 31.5cm)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Cy Twombly Shop

Gagosian is pleased to announce a pop-up shop devoted to Cy Twombly at Gagosian, Davies Street, London, to open on the occasion of the exhibition Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, London.

The shop will celebrate the newly published Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonne of the Sculpture, vol. 2, 1998-2011, and Cy Twombly: Homes & Studios, both from Schirmer / Mosel, and will feature an extensive selection of historically important reference books on the artist. Rare ephemera from many of Twombly’s exhibitions in Italy from the 1960s will also be included, alongside vintage and contemporary posters and a selection of prints and photographs by the artist.

Text from the Gagosian website [Online] Cited 08/11/2020

 

Cy Twombly shop

 

Cy Twombly Shop
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly shop

 

Cy Twombly Shop
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly Shop interior showing posters

Cy Twombly Shop interior showing posters

 

Cy Twombly Shop interior showing posters
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Heiner Bastian (ed.,). Cy Twombly: The Printed Graphic Work Catalogue Raisonné 2017 book cover

 

 

Along with his celebrated drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs, Cy Twombly has left an imposing body of graphic work as well. As early as 1984, the Berlin-based art writer and Twombly expert, Heiner Bastian, compiled the first catalogue raisonné of the artist’s printed graphics which has been out of print for 18 years. Now back in print for the first time, this new edition of the catalogue raisonné has been updated and includes the graphic works Twombly created since 1984 until his death in 2011.

Cy Twombly’s graphic oeuvre is characterised by a variety of graphic and printing techniques. Along with monotypes, etchings, lithographs, and silkscreens, the artist tested his expertise using offset lithographs and the combination of various print and reproduction techniques.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Cy Twombly: Camino Real 2010 catalogue front cover

Published in 2010, on the occasion of the exhibition “Cy Twombly: Camino Real” at Gagosian Gallery Paris
Text by Marie-Laure Bernadac
10 7/8 x 13 1/2 inches (27.6 x 34.3 cm); 32 pages; Fully illustrated
Designed by Graphic Thought Facility, London; Printed by Shapco Printing, Minneapolis, MN

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Carlos Basualdo. Cy Twombly: Fifty Days at Iliam, 2018 book cover.

 

 

This revelatory publication provides a comprehensive and multifaceted account of Cy Twombly’s masterpiece Fifty Days at Iliam (1978), a series of ten paintings based on Alexander Pope’s 18th-century translation of Homer’s Iliad. Essays by a team of both art historians and scholars of Greco-Roman studies explore topics including the paintings’ literary and cultural references to antiquity and Twombly’s broader engagement with the theme of the Trojan War, which first appeared in his work in the early 1960s and was a subject to which he would return throughout his career. Firsthand accounts of the artist at work complement the essays. Images of the canvases and related drawings and sculptures are joined by previously unpublished photographs showing Fifty Days at Iliam in the artist’s studio at the time of their completion.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Eva Keller and Heiner Bastian. Audible Silence: Cy Twombly at Daros 2002

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Cy Twombly
Gaeta Sets
1987
Hine Editions
28.2 x 23.8 cm. (11.1 x 9.4 in.)

 

Colour photolithographs throughout. (4to) original cream wrappers, slipcase. One of 1500 copies

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Installation views of the Cy Twombly Shop at Gagosian, London
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Edmund De Waal. Cy Twombly – Photographs. Gagosian Gallery, 2012 and Mary Jacobus. Cy Twombly – Photographs Volume II. Gagosian Gallery, 2015 installation view

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

 

Cy Twombly. Fotografie di Gaeta. Published by Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio, 2014.

Published on the occasion of the exhibition Cy Twombly. Fotografie di Gaeta on view at the Museo Diocesano, Gaeta (July 5 – September 28, 2014)

 

Vincent Katz. Cy Twombly: Photographs 1951-1999. Schirmer Mosel, 2004.

This world premiere is an aesthetic sensation. Since his student days in the early 50s, American painter and sculptor Cy Twombly, one of the greatest artists alive today, has concerned himself with photography. In this volume, he presents his photographic work of 50 years to the public for the first time ever. Taking up 19th-century Pictorialist traditions, Twombly’s photographs are, just like his paintings, drawings and sculptures, documents of a profound personal poetry. Studio shots, details of his own statuary, sculptures from his collection, romantic landscapes, flowers, and portraits of friends constitute the cosmos of his photographic oeuvre. Printed with matte colors on matte paper, a special “dryprint” process lends these images a velvety, porous, almost grainy quality. On the stage of today’s art, they touch long-lost chords. Resonant of the concepts of fin de siècle art they are, yet, thoroughly contemporary in their minimalism, creating an aesthetic vision by the commonest means.

 

Laszlo Glozer. Cy Twombly: Photographs 1951-2007. Schirmer Mosel, 2008.

Ever since his student days, Cy Twombly has concerned himself with photography, but only in recent years has he turned it into a unique artistic concept- and an aesthetic sensation. Twombly’s photographic pieces are documents of a fascinatingly enigmatic and personal poetry. His studios in Lexington and Gaeta, details of his own sculptures and collected sculptural items, landscape motifs, fruits and flowers appear in a mysteriously transformed manner on these delicate sheets. Printed in matte colours on matte paper using a dry-print process that imbues them with velvet and an almost grainy hue, the images are vaguely reminiscent of the pictorialist tradition in fin de siecle photography. In their minimalist way, however, generating aesthetic visions by the simplest of means, they are utterly contemporary. Photographs 1951-2007 presents Twombly’s photographic works of over fifty years- full of surprises and breathtaking beauty.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

 

Hubertus von Amelunxen. Cy Twombly: Photographs 1951-2010. Schirmer Mosel, 2011.

Cy Twombly’s photographs are a late revelation. The painter, world-famous for his scribbled abstract paintings and his nervous drawings, has been a prolific photographer from his early student days. In this late stage of his career, he unveils his poetic treasures step by step. The new volume Photographs III brings together early works and combines them with flower studies and studio interiors. Most interesting are Twombly’s photographic studies on his own paintings and sculptures, casting a special light on the interpretation of these works. The book features some 130 hitherto unpublished photographs. It accompanies an exhibition that starts off in Munich in 2011 and will then travel through Europe. With an essay by art and photo historian Hubertus Von Amelunxen.

 

Achim Hochdörfer. Cy Twombly Vol. IV: Unpublished Photographs 1951-2011. Schirmer Mosel, 2013.

As his final creative surprise, Cy Twombly, one of the greatest 20th-century artists, has given to the world a huge body of photographic works emphasising his unique artistic vision. Contrary to his sharp and teeming drawings his photographs are not sharp at all. They are colourful, soft, and warm and generate a painterly impression. Their colouring is as unique as their fine sense of composition. The photographs reveal the artist’s vision embedded both in the world of objects and the nature that surrounds him. His own artistic creations and collection of art objects in his various homes are a favourite subject of his photographic studies. Twombly’s photographic work offers a new dimension for understanding the artist’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures. The new book features some 120 photographic prints from the Cy Twombly Estate in Gaeta, most of them previously unpublished.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Nicholas Cullinan et al. Le Temps Retrouvé: Cy Twombly photographe & artistes invites. Collection Lambert en Avignon musée d’art contemporain. Actes Sud, 2012.

 

 

Although world-famous for his paintings and sculptures, Cy Twombly (1928-2011) was also a photographer, and his practice of photographing interiors, the sea and still lifes, as well as his paintings and sculptures, spanned the duration of his 60-year career. This massive two-volume catalogue gathers this lesser-known aspect of the artist’s output, contextualising it through an exhibition that Twombly himself curated at the Collection Lambert in Avignon. His selection of works was both original and revealing: Jacques Henri Lartigue’s albums, the marine horizons of Hiroshi Sugimoto, the serial photographs of Ed Ruscha and Sol Lewitt, and the portraits of Diane Arbus and his close friend Sally Mann. With this publication, Twombly also draws a direct lineage between himself and earlier photographer-artists such as Édouard Vuillard and Edgar Degas (a lineage that provides this catalogue’s Proustian subtitle). The two volumes are held together with a blue printed ribbon.

 

 

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20
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘Art AIDS America’ at Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma

Exhibition dates: 3rd October 2015 – 10th January 2016

 

Did You Know?

 

 

This is the biggest exhibition on art relating to HIV/AIDS since the seminal exhibition Art in the Age of AIDS at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra in 1995, which I was a part of.

I was lucky to survive the initial wave of HIV/AIDS infections. The Centers for Disease Control issued its first statement about a cluster of 19 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma (a rare skin cancer most common in elderly men from southern Italy) and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in young, gay men in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in July 1981… and I had my first HIV test in London in 1983. In those days, as the wall text from the exhibition spells out above, you had to wait 16 days to get the result of a blood test. I vividly remember sitting outside a doctor’s office knowing that when I went in, if he said yes you have it, it was a death sentence. In those early days, there was no treatment. You were going to die. I only survived by luck. Many of my friends and lovers didn’t.

“Art reflects and reacts to social, cultural, and political climates, and in the past 30 years, HIV and AIDS has been a constant presence,” says exhibition co-curator Rock Hushka. “So many of us recall friends, family, and partners we have lost and the terror of the early years of the crisis, while younger people are just learning this story. We seek to create a deeper understanding of the legacy of HIV/AIDS in contemporary American art, and encourage our visitors to see their experiences in these works.”

This deep understanding can be supplemented by this posting. I spent many hours securing more images than were sent to me in the press pack, because I think it is really important to have as great a cross-section as possible of work online from this exhibition, as a record of this time and space in the ongoing HIV/AIDS story. At present, there is no website for the 1995 exhibition Art in the Age of AIDS but I am hoping to correct this in the near future, with installation images, art work, interviews and videos.

In terms of the art, I find the earlier narratives are much more powerful and focused than the contemporary work. One of the most moving of these, and one that I have never seen before, is Keith Haring’s Altar Piece (1990, cast 1996, below). Can you imagine being an artist, being Haring, working on the wax mould in hospital being treated for AIDS-related illness, thinking that this could possibly be the last art work that you would ever complete. That you would never see it produced. And then to make something that is so compassionate, so beautiful that it is almost beyond belief… my heart is full of admiration and, like the crowd in the triptych, I am washed with tears.

By comparison, some of the contemporary works seem to have become mere graphic symbolism (leaves, milk and flowers) rather than engaging activism. For example, Tino Rodriguez’s Eternal Lovers (2010, below) – while referencing his Mexican heritage through skull imagery from Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead – is not about loss with presence but loss without presence: a febrile graphic activity that is pure decoration. Other works such as Derek Jackson’s Perfect Kiss (2007, below) or LADZ’s Eden #31 (2012, below) enact only the most tenuous link to HIV/AIDS and only when it is spelled out in text. Again, while not denying the pain of the death of her mother, her persecution when growing up or the problems with living with HIV, Kia Labeija’s 24 (Mourning Sickness; Kia and Mommy; In my room) (2014, below) propositions us with a women photographed in deadpan photography style as glamorous mother with vivid pink lipstick or a Beyonce music star in sequin dress and 6 inch heels. Only in the last photograph is there any hint of vulnerability and, funnily enough, it is the only photograph that I care about and engage with.

In all of these works the key word is enact, for these works are performances of gender and sexuality conceptualised for the viewer, where living with HIV/AIDS is shown to us at a distance. Instead of ACTing up, unleashing the power of the oppressed, artists are now acting out in this (supposed) post-death HIV/AIDS climate. Look at me, I can be whoever I want to be (and still have HIV). Nothing wrong with that I hear you say, and you would be completely right… if only the art commenting on this post-death resurrection of the author, was memorable.

While 1,218,400 persons aged 13 years and older are living with HIV infection in the USA and an estimated 47, 352 people were diagnosed with the disease in 2013, people are still dying by the thousands in America (an estimated 13,712 people died in 2012 of an AIDS related disease – source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website). This is not pretty pink lipstick and sequin dresses, this is 13 thousand people a year still DYING from this disease.

Just think about that for a while.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Tacoma Art Museum, Mark I. Chester and Steven Miller for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987–1995), Let the Record Show… 1987/recreated 2015.

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995)
Let the Record Show…
1987/recreated 2015
Mixed media installation, dimensions variable
Courtesy of Gran Fury and the New Museum, New York
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

 

In 1987, the New Museum’s curator William Olander invited ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) to create a work about AIDS. ACT UP, a diverse, nonpartisan, grassroots organisation, responded with Let the Record Show… providing information about the crisis.

At the time, the only visual presence of AIDS activism was the Silence=Death stickers. Let the Record Show… recreated here in full for the first time, included an LED reader board with statistics about the unfolding medical and political crisis, the neon pink triangle with “Silence=Death,” a photomural from the Nuremberg trials, and photographs of contemporary public figures with their statements about AIDS.

Using the 1986 graphics from the Silence=Death Project, ACT UP appropriated the pink triangle from the badges assigned to gay prisoners in Nazi Germany during World War II. The artists combined this historic symbol of powerlessness along with the photomural of the Nuremberg courtroom to make an explicit comparison between the severity of the AIDS crisis and government inaction and the Holocaust. The complicated installation asked whether simple silence in a crisis is as culpable as actively encouraging one. The anonymous collective Gran Fury formed as a committee of ACT UP, as a result of Olander’s invitation. Gran Fury continued to make provocative and important works about the AIDS crisis.

For the installation of Let the Record Show… at the New Museum, quotes were cast in concrete under the photograph of the irresponsible speaker:

 

“The logical outcome of testing is a quarantine of those infected.”

Jesse Helms, U.S. Senator

“It is patriotic to have the AIDS test and be negative.”

Cory Servass, Presidential AIDS Commission

“We used to hate faggots on an emotional basis. Now we have a good reason.”

Anonymous Surgeon

“AIDS is God’s judgment of a society that does not live by His rules.”

Jerry Falwell, Televangelist

“Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm to protect common needle users, and on the buttocks to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.”

William F. Buckley, Columnist

” …”

Ronald Reagan, President of the United States

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995) 'Let the Record Show…' (detail) 1987/recreated 2015

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995)
Let the Record Show… (detail)
1987/recreated 2015
Mixed media installation, dimensions variable
Courtesy of Gran Fury and the New Museum, New York
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

Carrie Yamaoka (Born Glen Cove, New York, 1957) 'Steal This Book #2' 1991

 

Carrie Yamaoka (American, born Glen Cove, New York, 1957)
Steal This Book #2
1991
Unique chemically altered gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Carrie Yamaoka takes inspiration from Abbie Hoffman’s iconic Steal This Book, a counterculture manual for social revolution. By photographing a page spread and then obliterating all of the words except “slaughter” and “history,” Yamaoka rejects any passive understanding of history. As an activist and artist, Yamaoka will use any means necessary to affect change. Steal This Book #2 may be considered as referring to Yamaoka’s experience as an AIDS activist and her desire to reshape our understanding of our relations with HIV.

 

Jerome Caja (Born Cleveland, Ohio, 1958; Died San Francisco, California, 1995) 'Bozo Fucks Death' 1988

 

Jerome Caja (American, 1958-1995)
Bozo Fucks Death
1988
Nail polish on plastic tray
Collection of Ed Frank and Sarah Ratchye

 

 

One of Jerome Caja’s alter egos was the clown Bozo. Here Caja aggressively turns the tables on death and seeks to gain some control and power over the inevitable, even if only a transgressive, psychological fantasy.

 

Niki de Saint Phalle (born 1930, died 2002) 'AIDS, you can't catch it holding hands' 1987

 

Niki de Saint Phalle (French-American, 1930-2002)
AIDS, you can’t catch it holding hands
1987
Book, 52 pages 8 × 10 inches
The Lapis Press, San Francisco
© 2015 Niki Charitable Art Foundation, All rights reserved / ARS, NY / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Working with collaborator Professor Silvio Barandun, Niki de Saint Phalle wrote and illustrated AIDS: You Can’t Catch It Holding Hands for young adults. Using her characteristically colourful and joyous style, de Saint Phalle offers unusually straightforward information about the transmission of HIV from unprotected sex and unclean needles in intravenous drug use. She also uses the same frank approach to assuring her readers that casual contact from flowers, doorknobs, and toilet seats does not transmit AIDS, notions that were not widely understood in the early years of the AIDS crisis.

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950) 'Untitled (In a Dream You Saw a Way To Survive and You Were Full of Joy)' 1983-85

 

Jenny Holzer (American, born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950)
Untitled (In a Dream You Saw a Way To Survive and You Were Full of Joy)
1983-85
Packaged latex condoms with printed text, each is 2 x 2 inches
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Anonymous gift, 2001

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950) 'Untitled (Expiring for Love Is Beautiful but Stupid)' 1983-85

 

Jenny Holzer (American, born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950)
Untitled (Expiring for Love Is Beautiful but Stupid)
1983-85
Packaged latex condoms with printed text, each is 2 x 2 inches
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Anonymous gift, 2001

 

 

Art AIDS America aims to abolish the silence about the pervasive presence of HIV/AIDS in American art and open meaningful and respectful dialogues about our experiences with the ongoing epidemic. For too long, we have considered art about AIDS as a tragic, closed chapter in the history of American art. This exhibition demonstrates the deep and continued impact of the AIDS crisis on American art from the early 1980s and continuing to today.

For more than thirty years, artists have actively responded with exquisite sensitivity to HIV/AIDS. They have adopted a broad spectrum of styles and messages from politically activist to quietly mournful art that nonetheless thrums with political content. Through poignant portraits, some artists brought much needed attention to personal suffering and loss from the AIDS crisis. Others employed abstraction and coded imagery to reveal the social and political factors that exacerbated the spread of HIV/AIDS. Artists also widely appropriated various art historical traditions to speak about the devastating impact of the epidemic. Art AIDS America offers an overview of how these various approaches redirected the course of American art from postmodern “art for art’s sake” formulas to art practice that highlights the personal experience and expertise of the artist.

Since the first reports of mysterious illnesses in the early 1980s, HIV and AIDS have touched nearly every American in some way, and operated as an undeniable (though often unacknowledged) force in shaping politics, medicine, and culture. Art AIDS America presents the full spectrum of artistic responses to AIDS, from the politically outspoken to the quietly mournful. HIV and AIDS are not just past-tense problems. As we persist in the struggle with HIV/AIDS, these artworks remind us of humanity’s resilience, responsibility, and history. The legacy of the AIDS crisis and our new relationships with the virus continue to inform contemporary art and American culture.

Text from the Tacoma Art Museum website

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990) 'Apocalypse I' 1988

 

Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990)
Apocalypse I
1988
From the series Apocalypse, 1988
Silkscreen, Edition of 90
Courtesy of the Keith Haring Foundation

 

 

In their first collaboration, Keith Haring illustrated William S. Burroughs’ dystopic poem Apocalypse by mixing references to advertising, art history, and Catholic theology. Haring included his “devil sperm,” the black, horned symbol he created to give shape to HIV and its reign of death and terror.

Burroughs introduced the chaos unfolding:

“The final Apocalypse is when every man sees what he sees, feels what he feels, and hears what he hears. The creatures of all your dreams and nightmares are right here, right now, solid as they ever were or ever will be, electric vitality of careening subways faster faster faster stations flash by in a blur.”

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990) 'Apocalypse III' 1988

 

Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990)
Apocalypse III
1988
From the series Apocalypse, 1988
Silkscreen, Edition of 90
Courtesy of the Keith Haring Foundation

 

 

Grassroots Activism

Artists provided the early warnings of the AIDS crisis with their artworks deployed at the street level. Posters, stickers, T-shirts and other projects made it impossible to ignore messages about AIDS. These activist artists were informed by earlier precedents of feminist art and artists working on issues of identity politics. Communities coalesced around the calls to action.

The most prominent group to address the AIDS crisis was the anonymous artist collective Gran Fury in New York, a committee of ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). The collective used techniques and ideas from advertising, marketing, and the art world to raise awareness and affect political change. Their bold graphic style and refined text continues to influence politically-themed art.

Gran Fury and other activists changed how Americans thought about AIDS. The political and social pressure instigated by their actions and artworks played important roles in changing the approval process for AIDS drugs and treatment protocols. Women’s health issues were brought to the forefront. As a result, American society positively changed their opinions about HIV/AIDS when they had correct information.

 

Memento Mori

The AIDS crisis compelled contemporary American artists to address death with urgency. Artists witnessed a plague sweep through their communities and wipe out their friends, colleagues, and lovers. They used art to express their rage and terror when AIDS had no effective treatment. Their artwork provided a vitally important way to mourn their losses and share their sorrow.

Artists looked back to European and American artistic traditions of memento mori, Latin for “Remember that you must die,” to share their experiences, feelings, and stories. They adapted symbols like skulls and flowers to depict the fragility and fleeting nature of life.

Artists in this section shifted the intent of memento mori away from concepts of death and the afterlife. They refocused on the preciousness and precariousness of life, without forgetting the political and social realities behind the massive wave of death. Nayland Blake’s clock marks the passing of so many individuals with a call to action. David Wojnarowicz rages against the senseless death of Peter Hujar. Bill Jacobson and Karen Finley give form to the fragility of memory. Latino folk traditions connect the living and the dead in the paintings of Tino Rodriguez and Thomas Woodruff.

 

Poetic Postmodernism

In the early 1980s, American art was dominated by a new, postmodern theory. It held that meaning belongs not to the artist who made the work but to their audiences who interpret the works. Called “the death of the author,” the theory was named after a 1967 essay by the French postmodernist thinker Roland Barthes.

As AIDS actually caused the death of thousands of authors and artists by the late 1980s, this metaphor became a terrifying reality. At the same time, a powerful Christian conservative movement aggressively politicised AIDS. Using homophobia and fear of the disease, these politicians passed Federal laws that made it illegal to “promote, encourage, or condone homosexual sexual activities or the intravenous use of illegal drugs” in an AIDS awareness and education bill.

The ramifications for artists and art exhibitions were equally prohibitive. Federal laws were passed that made it impossible for museums to receive government support if an exhibition included obscene content, which was understood to mean gay themes among others, including AIDS-specific art. In this climate, artists knew that overt political content would result in censorship. So they developed a new way to smuggle political meaning into art.

In his research for Art AIDS America, Jonathan David Katz named this new approach “poetic postmodernism.” Artists used the postmodern theory “death of the author” to camouflage their own personal, expressive meanings. Many of the works in this exhibition have the same title format, the word “untitled” followed by a more specific description in parentheses such as in “Untitled” (Water), Untitled (Hujar Dead), or Untitled (Corrupt HIV Activism). The first term, “untitled,” signals the prevailing postmodernist idea that all meanings come from the audience. But the phrase inside the parentheses reveals clues to the artist’s associations and intentions. Because recognition of AIDS content was a product of the viewer’s thought and not the artist’s explicit claim, such works could be shown in museums without fear of being censored under the new laws.

 

Andres Serrano (Born New York, New York, 1950) 'Milk/Blood' 1989, printed 2015

 

Andres Serrano (American, born New York, New York, 1950)
Milk/Blood
1989, printed 2015
Chromogenic colour print
Exhibition print
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Milk/Blood recall the pure, flat colour of hard edged abstract painters such as Ellsworth Kelly. But the simple saturated color fields in Serrano’s photograph bear the evocative title Milk/Blood, the two main body fluids that transmit HIV. Serrano appropriates the formal language of modernism for political purposes, a means of potentially slipping AIDS consciousness into a museum context without fear of exclusion or censure. As with HIV infection itself, the photograph underscores how our key sense, vision, is unreliable in the face of AIDS.

 

Andres Serrano (born 1950) 'Blood and Semen III' 1990

 

Andres Serrano (American, born New York, New York, 1950)
Blood and Semen III
1990
Chromogenic colour print, edition 1 of 4
40 × 60 inches
Courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

 

Like his Milk/Blood in this exhibition, Blood and Semen III also appears to be a rigorously formal composition, this time evoking the gestural appearance of an abstract expressionist painting. Again, the title references two body fluids that transmit HIV. As examples of poetic postmodernism, Serrano activates meaning in Blood and Semen III and Milk/Blood using formal arrangements and references to earlier artistic styles to inform his photographs with personal and potentially political content.

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957) 'Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)' 1998

 

Shimon Attie (American, b. 1957)
Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)
1998
Ektacolor photograph, edition 1 of 3
32 × 38¾ inches
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957) 'Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)' (detail) 1998

 

Shimon Attie (American, b. 1957)
Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.) (detail)
1998
Ektacolor photograph, edition 1 of 3
32 × 38¾ inches
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

 

After an extensive period working in Europe memorialising the Holocaust, Shimon Attie returned to San Francisco in 1996 and began his series Untitled Memory. Attie projected old photographs of his friends and lovers onto places with special meaning to him, including this room of a former apartment. His photographs of these projections became personal studies of loss and melancholy.

 

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) 'Untitled (Hujar Dead)' 1988-89

 

David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992)
Untitled (Hujar Dead)
1988-89
Black and white photograph, acrylic, text and collage on Massonite
Collect of Steven Johnson and Walter Sudol
Courtesy Second Ward Foundation

 

 

Wojnarowicz was briefly lovers with and then became a close friend of the famous photographer Peter Hujar, who died of AIDS-related causes in 1987. Untitled (Hujar Dead) incorporates still images from a film by Wojnarowicz of Hujar’s lifeless body on his hospital bed. Wojnarowicz then overprinted the text of one of his famous “rants.” In these politically-charged performances and texts, he laid blame for the AIDS crisis squarely on the conservative right-wing demagogues who politicised the disease and continually spewed homophobic rhetoric which only exacerbated the crisis.

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965) 'Eternal Lovers' 2010

 

Tino Rodriguez (Mexican-American, born Guadalajara, Mexico, 1965)
Eternal Lovers
2010
Oil on wood
Private collection

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965) 'Eternal Lovers' 2010 (detail)

 

Tino Rodriguez (Mexican-American, born Guadalajara, Mexico, 1965)
Eternal Lovers (detail)
2010
Oil on wood
Private collection

 

 

Tino Rodriguez’s Eternal Lovers incorporates aspects of his Mexican heritage, and especially the tradition of skull imagery from Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. This family-oriented celebration of ancestors brings the living and dead into affectionate proximity. Rodriguez here exuberantly conflates familiar American oppositions such as death and life, growth and decay, and even good and evil. Inherently androgynous, the gender of the skulls remains unknown as does their cause of death. But as in the Dia de los Muertos celebration itself, Rodriguez’s image supplants horror with humour and loss with presence, offering the triumph of love and memory over death in the age of AIDS.

 

David Wojnarowicz (Born Red Bank, New Jersey, 1954; Died New York, New York, 1992) 'Untitled (Buffalo)' 1988-89

 

David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992)
Untitled (Buffalo)
1988-89
Vintage gelatin silver print, signed on verso
Collection of Michael Sodomick

 

 

For Untitled (Buffalo), David Wojnarowicz simply photographed a diorama in a museum in Washington, DC. This image of buffalo being herded off a cliff served as a chilling metaphor of the politics of AIDS in the US in the late 1980s. Rather than an illustration of traditional Native American hunting techniques, Wojnarowicz eloquently expressed his rage, desperation, and helplessness through the great symbol of American identity. His shifting and layering of meaning onto this symbol is a classic example of poetic postmodernism.

One example of how artists hid their message is David Wojnarowicz’s Untitled (Buffalo). It’s a diorama of a buffalo fall, a traditional method of harvesting large numbers of buffalo by chasing herds off cliffs. The buffalo are made from plastic. Wojnarowicz photographed the diorama and cropped it. “This is appropriation,” Hushka said. “He used it as this extraordinarily eloquent cry about the state of American politics at the time.” Katz added, “It’s telling that even an artist of Wojnarowicz’s activist fervour engaged in a metaphor that only cohered in the mind’s eye. You needed to be attentive to what it might be saying to read it. There’s nothing specifically AIDS about it.”

 

Spiritual Forces

Because of the overwhelming number of deaths, the unspeakable losses, and the constant presence of disease, it should not be surprising that artists also turned to issues of spirituality. Yet, the art history of AIDS often neglects this important aspect. Across the United States, faith communities tended to the spiritual needs of people with AIDS and provided critical services for them. These communities continue to support people living with HIV.

The AIDS crisis exposed deep division within many spiritual traditions. Artists such as Jerome Caja, Robert Gober, and Barbara Kruger expressed discomfort and displeasure in how some religious ideologies oppressed gays and lesbians and worsened the AIDS crisis. Others made inspiring works within long-established traditions like Keith Haring’s altar piece. In other artworks, artists created symbols for the dignity of people suffering from AIDS, ranging from Christian saints and Biblical texts to imagery inspired by Buddhism and healing traditions from India.

 

Keith Haring (born 1958, died 1990) 'Altar Piece' 1990 (cast 1996)

 

Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990)
Altar Piece
1990 (cast 1996)
Bronze with white gold leaf patina, edition 2 of 9
60 × 81 x 2 inches
Denver Art Museum, Gift of Yoko Ono, 1996.204A-C.
© Keith Haring Foundation
Photo © Denver Art Museum

 

 

This altar piece by Keith Haring is the last work the artist completed. He worked on the wax mould while he was hospitalised for AIDS-related illnesses. The triptych format echoes traditional Roman Catholic altar pieces. The image of the crying mother holding an infant speaks to the inconsolable losses from AIDS. The mother’s tears fall on the crowds, seeking solace and mercy from the AIDS epidemic.

 

Barbara Kruger (Born Newark, New Jersey, 1945) 'Untitled (It's our pleasure to disgust you)' 1991

 

Barbara Kruger (American, born Newark, New Jersey, 1945)
Untitled (It’s our pleasure to disgust you)
1991
Photographic silkscreen on vinyl
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Gift of Eric and Nannette Brill

 

 

Despite provocative imagery and text, Barbara Kruger intends no specific meaning to her artworks. Rather, Kruger wants to demonstrate how the reader generates meaning each time the text is read. She activates ambiguity and political charge with the phrase “It’s our pleasure to disgust you.” Kruger underscores the gulf between and image and its possible meanings, an issue brought into high relief in the culture wars promoted by religious conservatives, during the period when this work was made.

The work may be interpreted as evidence that artists like Kruger were deliberately insensitive to cultural norms. Alternatively, it could be read as proof that artworks were deliberately manipulated for political purpose by others. Because AIDS was framed in political terms from its earliest moment, Kruger’s Untitled (It’s our pleasure to disgust you) reflects the complexity and deliberate uses of language about AIDS.

 

Robert Gober (Born Wallingford, Connecticut, 1954) 'Drains' 1990

 

Robert Gober (American, born Wallingford, Connecticut, 1954)
Drains
1990
Cast pewter Edition of 8, with 2 artist’s proofs, artist’s proof 1 of 2
Collection of the artist

 

 

Robert Gober’s Drains is meticulously handcrafted to resemble a mass-produced consumer good. Because we think about drains primarily as a tool to remove waste often associated with personal hygiene and cleaning, connections to HIV/AIDS are obvious. By placing the sculpture in an unexpected position on a gallery wall, Gober seeks to generate unanswerable, metaphorical questions about the functions of a drain and the unknown space behind it. The cruciform shape at the back of the drain recalls his childhood and his complicated relationship with Catholicism.

 

Izhar Patkin (Born Haifa, Israel, 1955) 'Unveiling of a Modern Chastity' 1981

 

Izhar Patkin (American born Israel, b. 1955)
Unveiling of a Modern Chastity
1981
Rubber paste, latex theatrical wounds, and
printing ink on a stretched linen canvas
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Izhar Patkin painted Unveiling of a Modern Chastity one year before there was any public announcement about a new disease striking formerly healthy young men. This is the earliest work in the exhibition, and, in retrospect, one of the earliest AIDS paintings ever. Troubled by the sight of a group of such young men with similar dark purple skin lesions waiting in his dermatologist’s office, he presciently titled the work to reflect what he felt might be a forthcoming change in sexual culture. The painting’s skin-like surface erupts in what looks like Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions.

Patkin’s heavily textured surface and use of artificial wounds was his effort to destroy minimalism and other traditions of pure abstraction. He wanted to expose the inability of modernist art to contain pressing social and contextual significance.

DID YOU KNOW? The Centers for Disease Control issued its first statement about a cluster of 19 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma (a rare skin cancer most common in elderly men from southern Italy) and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in young, gay men in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in July 1981.

 

Albert J. Winn (born 1947, died 2014) 'Akedah' 1995

 

Albert J. Winn (American, 1947-2014)
Akedah
1995
Gelatin silver print
171/2 × 21 ¾ inches
Courtesy of Scott R. Portnoff
Photo courtesy of the Estate of Albert J. Winn

 

 

In the artist’s own words: “Every month, because of my illness, I need to undergo a blood test. During the process, a tourniquet is bound tightly about my upper arm. At times when I’ve been on a study protocol for an experimental medicine, I’ve had my blood drawn every day. Having my blood drawn has become a ritual in what sometimes seems is a new religious practice, an AIDS ritual.

“Over time, I’ve transformed this ritual in relation to my Judaism. I wonder if like Isaac, I am being sacrificed. This time to science. I pray that an angel will intercede and spare my life. When my arm is bound with a tourniquet and the veins bulge, I am reminded that I am bound to my illness. I look at the rubber strap and see tefillin. Sometimes the impression of the leather straps from the tefillin are still visible on my skin by the time the tourniquet is wrapped around my arm. The binding of the tefillin is a reminder of being bound to my heritage. The straps also make my veins bulge. Except for the needle stick the binding feels the same.”

 

 

Art AIDS America at the Tacoma Art Museum

Politics, sex, religion, loss, and beauty – all of the topics that you can’t talk about over dinner but can at a museum – are open for discussion in Art AIDS America, an exhibition that reveals for the first time how the AIDS crisis forever changed American art. Since the first reports of mysterious illnesses in the early 1980s, HIV and AIDS have touched nearly every American in some way, and operated as an undeniable (though often unacknowledged) force in shaping politics, medicine, and culture. Art AIDS America presents the full spectrum of artistic responses to AIDS, from the politically outspoken to the quietly mournful.

Art AIDS America is a story of resilience and beauty revealed through art, and the community that gathered to bring hope and change. While recognising and honouring loss and grief, it refutes the narrative that AIDS is only a tragic tangent in American art, exploring how artists’ responses to the crisis and its legacy continue to inform contemporary American art. These artworks offer a vibrant representation of community, caring, creativity and activism. And, Art AIDS America will serve as a vivid reminder that the crisis is not over; HIV infections are increasing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV.

A decade in the making, this exhibition is co-curated by TAM’s Chief Curator, Rock Hushka, and Jonathan D. Katz, PhD, Director, Visual Studies Doctoral Program, University at Buffalo.

“AIDS fundamentally changed American art, remaking its communicative strategies, its market, its emotional pitch and – not least – its political possibilities. But we’ve repressed the role of AIDS in the making of contemporary American culture, as we’ve repressed the role of AIDS in every other aspect of our lives. This exhibition underscores how powerfully a plague that is still with us has changed us,” says Katz. “Art AIDS America creates spaces for mourning and loss, yes, but also for anger and for joy, for political resistance and for humor, for horror, and for eroticism.”

The exhibition assembles 125 significant works in a wide range of media. The artists are diverse, including the internationally acclaimed such as Robert Gober, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Martin Wong, and those not yet as widely celebrated such as Luis Cruz Azaceta, Chloe Dzubilo, Derek Jackson, Kia Labeija, and Joey Terrill. The works date from 1981 to today, and some, like Catherine Opie’s photographs of the 1986 AIDS/ARC vigil in San Francisco, will be on public view for the first time.

“Art reflects and reacts to social, cultural, and political climates, and in the past 30 years, HIV and AIDS has been a constant presence,” says Hushka. “So many of us recall friends, family, and partners we have lost and the terror of the early years of the crisis, while younger people are just learning this story. We seek to create a deeper understanding of the legacy of HIV/AIDS in contemporary American art, and encourage our visitors to see their experiences in these works.”

Works in the exhibition will generally fall into two categories: art with a clear tie to AIDS, and art that requires the viewer to look beyond the surface to understand its connection to HIV/AIDS. Some artists addressed the AIDS crisis through activist works, community projects, graphics, and direct political statements. For example, the collective ACT UP NY/Gran Fury’s installation Let the Record Show… sears the words of public officials whose actions inflamed the crisis, including the silence of President Ronald Reagan, who would not speak publicly about AIDS until 1987. Other artists use camouflage, coding, misdirection, symbols, or other covert strategies to address the social, political, and physical impacts of HIV. An example is Robert Sherer’s beautifully rendered Sweet Williams, a basket of cut flowers, painted in HIV-negative and HIV-positive blood, about the untimely deaths of so many young men. The exhibition will be organised roughly by works created pre- and post-cocktail (in this case, ‘cocktail’ refers to the combination of drugs and therapies used to manage HIV and prevent the development of AIDS).

“Tacoma Art Museum is a safe space where people are able to address important and challenging issues. We are proud to present Art AIDS America. It is fitting that the exhibition debuts in Tacoma, the city that established the nation’s first government-sanctioned needle exchange program in a proactive approach toward controlling the spread of AIDS,” said Stephanie Stebich, TAM’s Executive Director. “TAM also has the scholarship to support this exhibition through our chief curator Rock Hushka and the exhibition’s co-curator Dr. Jonathan D. Katz, who also co-curated the award-winning Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, which we brought to TAM in 2012.”

The Art AIDS America catalogue is a significant component of the exhibition, with 15 contributors, nearly 300 pages, and more than 200 illustrations. It is published in association with the University of Washington Press of Seattle and London and designed by Marquand Books, Seattle. Art AIDS America is organised by TAM in partnership with the Bronx Museum of the Arts and will tour nationally. See it first at TAM, on view October 3, 2015 through January 10, 2016. The exhibition will then travel to Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw State University, GA; and The Bronx Museum of the Arts, NY.

Press release from the Tacoma Art Museum website

 

Bill Jacobson (born 1955) 'Interim Portrait #373' 1992

 

Bill Jacobson (American, b. 1955)
Interim Portrait #373
1992
Chromogenic colour print
24 × 20 inches
Courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Alon Reininger (Born Tel Aviv, Israel, 1947) 'Ken Meeks, PWA' 1985

 

Alon Reininger (American born Tel Aviv, Israel, 1947)
Ken Meeks, PWA
1985
Archival pigment print
Courtesy of Contact Press Images, New York

 

Mark I. Chester (Born Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1950) 'Robert Chesley - ks portraits with harddick & superman spandex, #1–#6' 1989, printed 2015

 

Mark I. Chester (American, born Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1950)
Robert Chesley – ks portraits with harddick & superman spandex, #1-#6
from the series Diary of a Thought Criminal
1989, printed 2015
Pigment print
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Mark I. Chester gives us the first portrait of a sexually active person with AIDS. Robert Chesley (1943-1990) was a playwright, theatre critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and music composer. Perhaps his most celebrated play was Jerker, or The Helping Hand: A Pornographic Elegy with Redeeming Social Value and a Hymn to the Queer Men of San Francisco in Twenty Telephone Calls, Many of Them Dirty. At a time when many gay men had come to associate their own sexuality with death, the artist showed Chesley as a vibrant, active person with AIDS, intended as a rebuke to the routine AIDS portraits of mortally ill people. With this series, Chester rewrote the late-1980s codes for representing gay male sexuality from sexlessness and death towards a renewed embrace of life and its pleasure.

 

Steven Miller (Born Tucson, Arizona, 1968) 'Robert' from the series 'Milky' 2004

 

Steven Miller (American, born Tucson, Arizona, 1968)
Robert from the series Milky
2004
Inkjet print
Edition 2 of 10
Tacoma Art Museum, Museum purchase with funds from Curtis Man

 

 

For his series Milky, photographer Steven Miller asked his friends if he could photograph them as he poured milk over their heads. These portraits capture the different reactions to the sensation and convey a sense of discomfort from being drenched by fluids like milk. Miller likens these two aspects to a symbolic infection of HIV. For many gay artists of his generation, HIV looms as a constant presence, and body fluids remain deeply ingrained as transmitters of the virus.

 

 

Portraiture

Artists used portraits to directly convey the devastating effects of the crisis on individuals. Even if we do not know the subject, portraits remind us that someone we know was likely affected by AIDS. Because the science about the retrovirus was new and extremely complicated and frightening, such portraits humanised the disease so it could be understood through personal stories.

Early portraits brought attention to the physical symptoms of AIDS such as the deep purple lesions of the skin cancer Kaposi’s sarcoma and the devastating weakness caused by AIDS-related wasting syndrome. Artists soon refocused on portraits of defiant individuals living with HIV. Refusing to show people as victims of an incurable disease, these portraits depicted fighters and survivors.

From pure abstract representations to straightforward photographic likenesses, portraits continue to illuminate how individuals respond to and overcome even the most complex aspects of HIV/AIDS such as stigma, racism, sexism, and poverty.

 

The Legacy of the AIDS Crisis

HIV is no longer an immediate life-or-death issue facing American artists, but one that quietly and continually persists in intriguing ways. The legacy of the AIDS crisis can be traced either through the motifs and influences of earlier artists or by understanding the psychological trauma and challenges that result from living in a world with HIV.

Artworks made after antiretroviral medicines became available in the mid-1990s beg the questions: If HIV is undetectable in a body and all but invisible in society, why should visibility in art be any different? How do you identify HIV if an artist is unwilling to speak about it but doesn’t live a moment of his or her intimate life without being aware of its near-certain presence?

Artists such as John Arsenault, Kalup Linzy, Patte Loper, and Donald Moffett bring their personal histories as activists and care givers into their artwork. They also use their art to express the discomfort and complexities of living in a world with the constant presence of HIV.

Works of art should be read with empathy and compassion to understand the fullness and richness of the artist’s experience. We need to remind ourselves of the stresses, anxieties, fears, and realities caused by the burden of HIV. To honor these artists’ experiences, we must insist that HIV inform at least part of the meaning of their work. This will ensure an understanding of their art as part of an art history of deep social engagement and connection.

 

Julie Tolentino (Born San Francisco, California, 1964) 'THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey's Self-Obliteration #1' 2008

 

Julie Tolentino (American, born San Francisco, California, 1964)
THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey’s Self-Obliteration #1
2008
Chromogenic color print
Edition 1 of 5
Documentation courtesy of Leon Mostovoy
Courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth & Council, Los Angeles

 

 

These three photographs capture moments in the archival performance of THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey’s Self-Obliteration #1.

Section 1 (left): The work begins with Athey’s solo performance of Self-Obliteration #1 while Tolentino, from a nearby platform, aims to capture his performance movements and affect (a reading of tones, gestures, and movements) as an archival action.

This work involves a long blond wig pierced onto the scalp with hidden needles. The needles are removed, causing blood to stream and pool onto two panes of glass. Ultimately, these glass pieces are positioned to encase the individual body.

Section 2 (center and right): Tolentino and Athey “repeat” his performance, a true impossibility in the live form – displaying a disrupted mirroring of the other.

Like a low current running throughout the work, THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME‘s tension opens to the spectator’s subjectivity. A range of issues are activated: Athey’s openly HIV positive status; the actions performed on a differently-gendered person of colour; and the intimate act of bleeding. This becomes entangled with Tolentino’s practice, history of activism and advocacy, caregiving and artist-to-artist relations as a living archive.

 

Catherine Opie (Born Sandusky, Ohio, 1961) 'Ron Athey/The Sick Man (from Deliverance)' 2000

 

Catherine Opie (American, born Sandusky, Ohio, 1961)
Ron Athey/The Sick Man (from Deliverance)
2000
Polaroid
Private collection

 

 

This work by Catherine Opie, taken with the world’s largest polaroid camera, was made in collaboration with the performance artist Ron Athey. Athey achieved both fame and censure as an HIV positive performance artist whose work involved physical and psychic trials, along with, on occasion, blood.

Clearly a response to AIDS, the pose of Ron Athey/The Sick Man recalls the traditional iconography of the Pieta, in which the Virgin Mary supports the body of the dead Christ. Athey is held by his performance partner Darryl Carlton (a.k.a. Divinity Fudge), two heavily tattooed men in place of the holy family. The implications of self-sacrifice and transcendence through pain and suffering animate both the original scene and this more contemporary incarnation. Opie situated the figures in a beautiful, richly saturated black space. She offers a contemporary allegory of the excluded sufferer whose exile and death can be laid at the feet of those who consider themselves pious.

 

Eric Rhein (Born Cincinnati, Ohio, 1961) 'Life Altering Spencer from Leaves' 2013

 

Eric Rhein (American, born Cincinnati, Ohio, 1961)
Life Altering Spencer from Leaves
2013
Wire and paper
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts
Purchased as the gift of Louis Wiley, Jr. (PA 1963) in Memory of Paul Monette (PA 1963) and his partner Roger Horwitz

 

 

Eric Rhein began The Leaf Project in 1996 to raise awareness around HIV/AIDS and chose to memorialise his friends who had died of AIDS-related causes. He selected the leaf motif to honour the individuality of each person, while also evoking the countless leaves shed by trees in autumn. Life Altering Spencer honours AIDS activist Spencer Cox (1968-2012), a member of ACT UP, Treatment Action Group, and the Food and Drug Administration’s Anti-Viral Advisory Committee. In this capacity, Cox and others became experts on drug trials and approval, successfully lobbying to hasten the approval time for new HIV medications. Cox and his group thus changed the course of medicine in America – the first non-physicians to do so – and, not coincidentally, these new treatments saved the life of artist Eric Rhein.

 

fierce pussy (formed New York, New York, 1991) 'For the Record' 2013

 

fierce pussy (formed New York, New York, 1991)
For the Record
2013
Two offset prints on newsprint, two panels, installed: 22⅝ x 70 inches
Courtesy of the artists
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

 

The collaborative group fierce pussy created this work for the organisation Visual AIDS in New York City. Playing off Gran Fury’s 1987 Let the Record Show… and evoking postmodern text based art, fierce pussy asks that we remember the thousands of people who died of HIV-related causes before antiretroviral drugs became available to control the virus. They insist that we continue the work to end HIV/AIDS despite these new drugs.

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950) Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota 'More Time Expected' 2002

 

Thomas Haukaas (American, b. 1950)
Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota
More Time Expected
2002
Handmade ink and pencil on antique ledger paper, 161/2 x 271/2 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom in honour of Rock Hushka, 2008.10
Photo by Richard Nicol
© TAM

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950) Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota 'More Time Expected' 2002 (detail)

 

Thomas Haukaas (American, b. 1950)
Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota
More Time Expected (detail)
2002
Handmade ink and pencil on antique ledger paper, 161/2 x 271/2 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom in honour of Rock Hushka, 2008.10
Photo by Richard Nicol
© TAM

 

 

The horse with no rider at the centre of the composition represents individuals on the reservation who have died of AIDS-related causes. Using the 19th-century tradition of ledger drawing, with a riderless horse as symbolic of a warrior who fell in battle, Haukaas weaves together the complicated issues of stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and the Native American experience with the disease.

 

Robert Sherer (Born Jasper, Alabama, 1957) 'Sweet Williams' 2013

 

Robert Sherer (American, born Jasper, Alabama, 1957)
Sweet Williams
2013
HIV- and HIV+ blood on paper
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

The title Sweet Williams comes from Robert Sherer’s childhood. His grandmother, an avid gardener, often asked him to help gather flowers from her garden and instructed, “Now, honey, cut down the most beautiful ones first.” Upon reflection, Sherer realised that AIDS was deeply correlated to beauty and sexual attraction. He remembers his many handsome friends and acquaintances who died too early – the Williams, the Billys, the Wills, the Willies – memorialising them in an image drawn in HIV negative and positive blood. Of all his colleague friends, two of whom were named William, only Sherer is still alive.

 

Joey Terrill (Born Los Angeles, California, 1955) 'Still-Life with Forget-Me-Nots and One Week's Dose of Truvada' 2012

 

Joey Terrill (American, born Los Angeles, California, 1955)
Still-Life with Forget-Me-Nots and One Week’s Dose of Truvada
2012
Mixed media on canvas
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Foundation purchase

 

 

Long-time Latino queer rights and AIDS activist Joey Terrill makes paintings that resemble the work of such well-known pop artists as Tom Wesselmann. Departing from Wesselmann’s 1960s pop still-life paintings, Terrill subverts the genre through his many queer references, not least the regular inclusion of the HIV medication Truvada. In these his appropriations of the American dream, Terrill shows himself to be a political activist – a role he has inhabited since the 1970s.

Terrill’s addition of the forget-me-nots at the centre of the composition pays homage to his artistic hero David Wojnarowicz. He also alludes to the daily routine of the antiviral medicine Truvada and pointedly questions why changes in the social and political realms have allowed this to be a normal part of so many people’s lives.

 

Derek Jackson (Born Boston, Massachusetts, 1972) 'Perfect Kiss' 2007

 

Derek Jackson (American, born Boston, Massachusetts, 1972)
Perfect Kiss
2007
Slideshow with found music and original still imagery
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Derek Jackson enacts a series of “hookups” in which his sexual activity should necessarily raise issues of HIV. Although not explicitly mentioned, HIV is evoked by the lyrics of his soundtrack. Jackson relies on New Order’s 1987 hit Perfect Kiss to equate unsafe sex with a suicide. The lyrics of the chorus plead with a suicidal friend, “I know, you know, you believe in a land of love.” Jackson’s hookups demonstrate how self-esteem, mutual respect, and communication are necessary to avoid becoming HIV positive.

 

LADZ (John Arsenault and Adrian Gilliland) John Arsenault, Born Haverhill, Massachusetts, 1971 Adrian Gilliland, Born Douglas, Arizona, 1980 'Eden #31' 2012

 

LADZ (John Arsenault and Adrian Gilliland)
John Arsenault, Born Haverhill, Massachusetts, 1971
Adrian Gilliland, Born Douglas, Arizona, 1980
Eden #31
2012
Chromogenic colour print
Courtesy of the artists

 

 

LADZ coined their name after a humorous autocorrect of “ladies” while texting on their smart phones. The artist group finds virtually abandoned industrial spaces where they enact elaborate scenarios reflecting the complexities of life in Los Angeles. The heightened sexual tension combined with the boxing gloves provides a glimpse into the daily navigation of sexual activity and HIV.

 

Kalup Linzy (Born Stuckey, Florida, 1977) 'Lollypop' 2006

 

Kalup Linzy (American, born Stuckey, Florida, 1977)
Lollypop
2006
Single-channel video
3 minutes, 24 seconds
Collection of Driek and Michael Zirinsky

 

 

Kalup Linzy and his friend, artist Shaun Leonardo, lip sync the 1933 Hunter & Jenkins tune. Laden with the sexual innuendo of the song’s lyrics, Linzy attempts to coax treats from Leonardo. The artist playfully raises issues of gender and performance.

Given the high rates of HIV infection of men of colour who have sex with men particularly in urban centres, a viewer should keep in mind that individuals like Linzy continually navigate HIV in all their sexual encounters. Unlike a generation ago, young men and women have come to have a different relationship with HIV and no longer fear the virus as a death sentence. Empathy toward their experiences is key to understanding how they cope and survive.

 

Deborah Kass (born 1952) 'Still Here' 2007

 

Deborah Kass (American, b. 1952)
Still Here
2007
Oil and acrylic on canvas
45 × 63 inches
Private collection
© 2015 Deborah Kass / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery

 

 

Deborah Kass painted Still Here as part of a group of paintings called Feel Good Paintings for Feel Bad Times, beginning in 2006. A response to the ongoing foreign wars and domestic political issues after the second election of George W. Bush, Kass underscored the gulf between the literal and metaphorical significance of the phrases she painted. Still Here comes from the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies in which a faded film star recalls how she persevered. The song opens “Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all, and, my dear, I’m still here.”

The sentiment of the song speaks to the resilience of the many people who lived through the AIDS crisis and those who continue the struggle against the virus and social injustice. Kass’s title may also recall Still/Here, a dance about perseverance, dying, and HIV by the HIV positive choreographer Bill T. Jones.

 

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

 

Kia Labeija (American, born New York, New York, 1990)
24 (Mourning Sickness; Kia and Mommy; In my room)
2014
Inkjet prints
13 × 19 inches
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Artist and performer Kia Labeija was born HIV positive. She struggled with HIV throughout her childhood, including the side effects of the medications, the stigma associated with the disease, and the death of her mother. In her three photographs titled 24, she celebrates coming to terms with the disease and her new-found role as advocate and spokesperson for AIDS awareness. The title also commemorates her 24th birthday and her home on the 24th floor of a Manhattan apartment building.

 

 

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25
Sep
15

Exhibition: ‘Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust’ at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

Exhibition dates: 4th July – 27th September 2015

The Sackler Wing of Galleries

 

 

Hans Namuth. 'Joseph Cornell' 1969

 

Hans Namuth (American born Germany, 1915-1990)
Joseph Cornell
1969
Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona
© 1991 Hans Namuth Estate

 

 

Now, Voyager

.
“The untold want by life and land ne’er granted,
Now, voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.”

Walt Whitman (1819-1892). “Untold Want,” from Leaves of Grass. 1900

 

Joseph Cornell is my favourite artist who has ever lived on this Earth. I do not make this observation lightly, but after much consideration, thought and reflection.

I have always loved his work, from the very first time I saw it in a book. To then see a recreation of one of his 1950s exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2001 was one of those seminal moments where you are lifted out of yourself, where your life becomes forever changed. For me that transcendent experience is up there with being alone with the Rembrandt portraits in the Louvre for 10 precious minutes. Both were among the most exquisite, poignant and beautiful spiritual experiences I have had in my life.

I am not an expert on Cornell, although I have read many books on his work and on his spirituality. He saw himself as an “armchair voyager”, a bit like a latter day Baudelaire, a man who has romantic notions of travel but never actually goes anywhere, who has romantic notions of love but never finds it, except in his imagination. Cornell never left his native New York. Cornell expressed his self through a passion for the artefacts he collected, through his assemblage of those artefacts into magical boxes that addressed unrequited love and faith – for Hollywood and movie stars, ballerinas, hotels, birds, the Renaissance, princes and princesses, the stars, games and chance. He was an avid collector, rummaging through the junk shops of New York and storing his collectibles for his art, something to which I have an affinity, being an avid op shopper (or thrift shopper) myself.

Here I can see an association with the words of Walt Whitman in his lines “Untold Want” from Leaves of Grass, those lines forming the title for the book upon which the film Now Voyager (1942) with Better Davis was based. “The untold want” of Whitman’s lines are whatever you yearn for and cannot get in the social context (“life”) and place (“land”) where you are born. Whitman says, stop “studying the charts,” and “now obey, thy cherish’d, secret wish,” – in other words he’s saying that your heart’s desire is the best indicator of where your destiny lies, but it is possible to miss out on it by not going for it. Fast forward to Now Voyager where frumpy Bette Davis has an affair with a married man, becomes independent, defies her tyrannical mother who promptly dies, and ends up circuitously looking after her lover’s daughter. They decide to have a platonic relationship “sustaining a romantic, unconsummated relationship and creating a ‘family’ by becoming the surrogate, adoptive care-giver for his daughter.”

There is a specific desire here. Davis and Whitman are freed to love without restriction in a romantic way, and after the end of Now Voyager, perhaps Cornell is channelling Bette Davis. He loved in his mind, he created boxes in his imagination (and then physically), he astral travelled through the stars, he created games of chance (such as penny arcades and slot machines) and shooting galleries (that exposed his inner mind) letting the air rush out into the world. He created surreality itself but he was never surreal, for his work is always based on the collision of realities. His boxes are tiny cosmos, like the Tardis from Dr Who, the interior (under a microscope, within four walls) larger than the exterior … yet, magically, they inhabit the whole world, they inhabit our mind. He used the alchemical reaction of elements, the elementary, to affect travel, love, life and change. And he did it in four dimensions for his boxes affect us as much today as he did when he created them. Perhaps that is why I like his work so much… he used seemingly mundane materials, multi/media objects, imagination and love to let’s our spirits soar into the universe. No other artist has ever affected me so much. No one ever will.

Undeniably, Cornell’s poetic theatres are joyous creations that free our soul from the everyday.

Perhaps it is through love, or in death, or the afterlife, that the Voyager can seek that untold want.

 

My Mind to me a Kingdom Is

Sir Edward Dyer (1543-1607)

1 My mind to me a kingdom is;
2 Such perfect joy therein I find
3 That it excels all other bliss
4 Which God or nature hath assign’d.
5 Though much I want that most would have,
6 Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

7 No princely port, nor wealthy store,
8 No force to win a victory,
9 No wily wit to salve a sore,
10 No shape to win a loving eye;
11 To none of these I yield as thrall, –
12 For why? my mind despise them all.

13 I see that plenty surfeit oft,
14 And hasty climbers soonest fall;
15 I see that such as are aloft
16 Mishap doth threaten most of all.
17 These get with toil and keep with fear;
18 Such cares my mind can never bear.

19 I press to bear no haughty sway,
20 I wish no more than may suffice,
21 I do no more than well I may,
22 Look, what I want my mind supplies.
23 Lo ! thus I triumph like a king,
24 My mind content with anything.

25 I laugh not at another’s loss,
26 Nor grudge not at another’s gain;
27 No worldly waves my mind can toss;
28 I brook that is another’s bane.
29 I fear no foe, nor fawn on friend,
30 I loathe not life, nor dread mine end.

31 My wealth is health and perfect ease,
32 And conscience clear my chief defence;
33 I never seek by bribes to please,
34 Nor by desert to give offence.
35 Thus do I live, thus will I die, –
36 Would all did so as well as I!

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Royal Academy of Arts for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the art work. The excellent, educational text was written by Asha McLoughlin, Learning Department © Royal Academy of Arts.

 

 

 

Bette Davis ~ Don’t Let’s Ask For The Moon (Now Voyager 1942)

 

 

“Cornell was a voyager, travelling through space and time to dimensions of the imagination and the spirit. He infused this sense of adventure and an infinite beyond into modestly scaled works whose fragments of reality give way to worlds to be explored.”

.
Robert Lehrman, Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay Eterniday, 2003

 

“White is just what I mean. Not monstrously, but in wonderful variations. All I want to perform is white magic.”

.
Joseph Cornell quoted in Tracking the Marvellous: A Life in the New York Art World, John Bernard Myers, 1984

 

 

Unidentified photographer. 'The Cornell family' c. 1915

 

Unidentified photographer
The Cornell family
c. 1915
Joseph Cornell (far right) with his parents (Joseph I. Cornell, Sr. and Helen Storms Cornell) and siblings (l to r: Elizabeth, Helen, and Robert)
Joseph Cornell papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

 

Cornell's basement studio, 3708 Utopia Parkway, Flushing, New York, 1964

 

Cornell’s basement studio, 3708 Utopia Parkway, Flushing, New York, 1964
Collection Duff Murphy and Janice Miyahira. © Terry Schutté.

 

 

“What kind of man is this, who, from old brown cardboard photographs collected in second-hand bookstores, has reconstructed the nineteenth century “grand tour” of Europe for his mind’s eye more vividly than those who took it, who was not born then and has never been abroad, who knows Vesuvius’s look on a certain morning of AD 79, and of the cast-iron balconies of that hotel in Lucerne?”

.
Robert Motherwell on Joseph Cornell, Joseph Cornell’s Theatre of the Mind, 1993

 

“He uses selected, sought-for, desired objects. He must have been clipping all the time, poring through magazines, collecting things and haunting junk shops and flea markets, looking for the images that corresponded to his imagination.”

.
Susan Sontag, Joseph Cornell: Worlds in a Box, directed by Mark Stokes, 1991

 

 

Lee Miller. 'Joseph Cornell, New York' 1933

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Joseph Cornell, New York
1933
Vintage photograph. ‘Joseph Cornell, New York Studio, New York, USA 1933’ by Lee Miller (96-2)
© Lee Miller Archives, England 2015. All rights reserved.

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Schooner)' 1931

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled (Schooner)
1931

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled [Sagittarius, Scorpio, and Lupus Constellations]' c.1934

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled [Sagittarius, Scorpio, and Lupus Constellations]
c. 1934
Collage with ink on paper
14 x 18.6cm
Drs. Steven and Sara Newman. Photo Collection of Drs. Steven and Sara Newman, Chicago, Illinois, USA
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (M'lle Faretti)' 1933

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled (M’lle Faretti)
1933
Box construction
27.9 x 20.3 x 5.1cm
Private Collection
Photo: Michael Tropea, Chicago
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Object (Soap Bubble Set)' 1936

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Object (Soap Bubble Set)
1936
Box construction

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Object (Soap Bubble Set)' 1941

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Object (Soap Bubble Set)
1941
Box construction
46.4 x 31.4 x 9.5cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015
Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC. Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Object (Soap Bubble Set)' 1941 (detail)

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Object (Soap Bubble Set) (detail)
1941
Box construction
46.4 x 31.4 x 9.5cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015
Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC. Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Pharmacy' 1943

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Pharmacy
1943
Box construction
38.7 x 30.5 x 7.9cm
Collection Paul Schärer
Photo Dominique Uldry, Bern
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Pharmacy' 1943 (detail)

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Pharmacy (detail)
1943
Box construction
38.7 x 30.5 x 7.9cm
Collection Paul Schärer
Photo Dominique Uldry, Bern
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Palace' 1943

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Palace
1943
Box construction
Glass-paned, stained wood box with photomechanical reproduction, mirror, spray-painted twigs, wood and shaved bark
26.7 x 50.5 x 13cm
The Menil Collection, Houston
Photo: The Menil Collection, Houston. Photography: Hickey-Robertson
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Tilly Losch)' c. 1935-38

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled (Tilly Losch)
c. 1935-38
Box Construction
25.4 x 23.5 x 5.4cm
Collection of Robert Lehrman, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo: The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman. Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

“Creative filing
Creative arranging
As poetics
As technique
As joyous creation”

.
Joseph Cornell, diary entry, 9 March 1959

 

“On the way to ART OF THIS CENTURY from Julien’s, carrying De Medici girl Slot Machine and bird with cracked glass saw Marlene Dietrich in polo coat and black beanie cap on back of hair waiting at curb of Jay Thorpe’s for a taxi. First time I’d seen her off screen and brought an unexpectedly elated feeling. Working in cellar that night on Soap Bubble Set the green glass locket portrait of her on the floor evoked very special feelings.”

.
Joseph Cornell, diary entry, spring 1944

 

“Original inspiration of the bird store, windows, simplicity of magic, pet shop.”

.
Joseph Cornell, c. 1943, Joseph Cornell Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

 

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled Object (Mona Lisa)' c. 1940-42

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled Object (Mona Lisa)
c. 1940-42
Box construction
3.5 x 7.6cm
The Collection of Marguerite and Robert Hoffman
Photo: Brad Flowers
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Owl Habitat)' c. mid- to late 1940s

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled (Owl Habitat)
c. mid- to late 1940s
Collection Jasper Johns Photo Collection Jasper Johns
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

“Some of his boxes are less cryptic, and more naturalistic, such as Untitled (Owl Habitat), from the 1940s. The snowy owl trapped behind a pane of glass is not a fancy piece of taxidermy fit for a natural history diorama, but a mere paper illustration pasted onto plywood. The midnight-blue forest the owl inhabits is contrived from painted bark and lichen. Cornell, of course, was himself a famous night owl. In some ways the owl box can seem as close as he ever came to self-portraiture, with its majestic creature alone in the woods, eyes wide, watching.”

Deborah Solomon, May 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery' 1943

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery
1943
Mixed media
39.4 x 28.3 x 10.8cm
Purchased with funds from the Coffin Fine Arts Trust; Nathan Emory Coffin Collection of the Des Moines Art Center, 1975.27
Photo: Collection of the Des Moines Art Center
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Soap Bubble Set' 1948

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Soap Bubble Set
1948
Box construction
36.8 x 52.1 x 9.8cm
Mr. and Mrs. John Stravinsky
Photo © 2014 Christie’s Images Limited
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l'Observatoire' 1954

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l’Observatoire
1954
Box construction
46.5 x 33 x 9.8cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Partial gift, C. and B. Foundation, by exchange, 1980
Photo © SRGF, New York
Photography: David Heald
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l'Observatoire' 1954 (detail)

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l’Observatoire (detail)
1954
Box construction
46.5 x 33 x 9.8cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Partial gift, C. and B. Foundation, by exchange, 1980
Photo © SRGF, New York
Photography: David Heald
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Medici Princess)' c. 1948

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled (Medici Princess)
c. 1948
Box construction
44.8 x 28.3 x 11.1cm
Private collection, New York
Photo courtesy private collection, New York
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

 

Joseph Cornell and travel

The title of our Joseph Cornell exhibition is Wanderlust. Curator Sarah Lea describes how this theme is closely linked to Cornell’s artistic practice, and his travels of the imagination.

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Celestial Navigation)' 1956-58

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled (Celestial Navigation)
1956-58
Box construction
30.8 x 43.2 x 9.2cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), born on Christmas Eve in Nyack, New York, remains one of the most enigmatic yet influential American artists of the twentieth century. Almost entirely self-taught as an artist, Cornell lived quietly for most of his life with his mother and younger brother, crafting in the confines of his basement or on the kitchen table the ‘shadow boxes’ for which he is best known.

He rarely travelled, and almost never left New York, yet his work, based on collage and assemblage, resonates with references to foreign places and distant times. In the course of his life he befriended ballerinas, film stars, poets and generations of world-famous artists. He showed in a succession of New York galleries, participated in landmark group shows at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and was honoured before he died with major surveys at the Pasadena Museum of Californian Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

A popular romanticised image of Cornell pervades as an ascetic outsider – a shy, eccentric man yearning for intimacy, unable to converse with the women who enthralled him but with a vibrant interior life of daydreams and an imagination capable of crossing oceans, centuries and the celestial realm. Yet this mythologised version of the man belies his active interest in the art movements of his time, and the innovative nature of his creations which have paved the way for today’s appropriation and installation artists, contemporary collage and archive based practices.

This exhibition at the Royal Academy brings together 80 of Cornell’s most remarkable shadow boxes, assemblages, collages and films, including many works held in private collections and a number never seen before outside of the USA. The first major UK exhibition solely devoted to Cornell in almost 35 years, it presents a rare chance to experience a concentrated survey of his oeuvre, and to journey inside the mind of an artist who described himself as ‘an armchair voyager’. The ‘wanderlust’ referenced in the exhibition title – the desire to explore and travel the world – is central to Cornell’s art, as was his penchant for collecting and his astonishingly wide-ranging interests. His creations transport the viewer into private universes, populated with objects and ephemera imbued with personal associations.

From a basement in New York, Joseph Cornell channelled his limitless imagination into some of the most original art of the 20th century. Step into his beguiling world at this landmark exhibition. Cornell hardly ventured beyond New York State, yet the notion of travel was central to his art. His imaginary voyages began as he searched Manhattan’s antique bookshops and dime stores, collecting a vast archive of paper ephemera and small objects to make his signature glass-fronted ‘shadow boxes’. These miniature masterpieces transform everyday objects into spellbinding treasures. Together they reveal his fascination with subjects from astronomy and cinema to literature and ornithology and especially his love of European culture, from the Romantic ballet to Renaissance Italy.

Wanderlust brings together 80 of Cornell’s most remarkable boxes, assemblages, collages and films, some never before seen outside the USA. Entirely self-taught, the independence of Cornell’s creative voice won the admiration of artists from Marcel Duchamp and the Surrealists, to Robert Motherwell and the Abstract Expressionists, with echoes of his work felt in Pop and Minimalist art. Wanderlust is a long overdue celebration of an incomparable artist, a man the New York Times called “a poet of light; an architect of memory-fractured rooms and a connoisseur of stars, celestial and otherwise.”

 

Early Life

Joseph Cornell was the eldest of four children – he had two sisters, Elizabeth and Helen, and a brother, Robert, who suffered from cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair for most of his life. When Cornell was thirteen, his father died of leukaemia and Robert became Joseph’s responsibility (partly to assuage their overbearing mother). Robert however was a cheerful child and took pleasure in drawing and collecting model trains. Cornell considered Robert to be a pure soul, and willingly took on his brother’s care. A salesman and textile designer, Cornell’s father had left considerable debts for his family to manage and for several years Cornell’s mother was forced to take odd jobs to support the family, and move them into a succession of smaller rented houses. In 1917, with the help of his father’s former employer, Joseph was able to enrol at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts: a highly regarded private school. There he discovered an interest in American and European literature, poetry, history and French. Yet, away from his close knit family and after the relatively recent death of his father, Cornell struggled and was a mediocre student. He developed the first in a lifelong series of nervous crises and stomach problems, and left the Academy in 1921 without graduating.

Upon his return home, Cornell assumed the role of ‘man of the house’ and became a sample salesman in his father’s trade for a wholesale textile business, the William Whitman Company on lower Madison Avenue. Cornell found the job mundane and himself unsuited to its demands. In his twenties, a time when the stress of supporting his family was exacerbating his stomach ailments, he converted to Christian Science. This religion teaches that reality is purely spiritual and the material world an illusion, so disease and other afflictions associated with the physical body are thought to be manifestations of a troubled mind that ought to be treated with prayer, not medicine. Joseph remained an active member until his death and recruited his brother Robert and sister Elizabeth into the fold.

In 1929, Mrs Cornell moved the family to an unassuming house at 3708 Utopia Parkway in Flushing, Queens, New York. Here, Cornell would live with his mother and brother until he died. His main escape from the tedium of domestic life and the awkward social interactions thrust upon him at work was to walk the city streets in his lunch hour, browsing the second-hand bookshops on Fourth Avenue, the flea markets and dime stores, collecting keepsakes and scavenging for relics and once-precious fragments of other people’s lives. Cornell loved to explore Manhattan and the ‘teeming life of the metropolis’, which seemed to him the epitome of glamour. These wanderings led to Cornell amassing a vast personal archive of treasured finds – books, prints, postcards and three-dimensional ephemera such as clay pipes and watch springs – often tinged with the romance of foreign places and the nostalgia of times past, which would in due course form the material elements of the very personal poetry that is his art.

 

Play and Experiment

Although he did not complete his formal education, Cornell was extremely well read and kept abreast of Manhattan’s literary, musical and artistic events. Not only did he regularly attend the theatre and the ballet, but he also became an avid cinema-goer, thriving on the excitement of the city. Indeed, Cornell often waited at the stage door of theatres and opera houses for a glimpse of the female performers he idolised. He also spent time in art galleries, and in 1931 at the Julien Levy Gallery he came across collages by Max Ernst (1891-1976), a pioneer of Surrealism, who combined high art and popular imagery in his work.

Although Cornell was never officially part of the Surrealist movement and came to dismiss Surrealist associations with his own practice, it had a major influence on him, most notably inspiring his embrace of unexpected juxtapositions in his assemblages and his experimental films, like Rose Hobart (1936). Rejecting Surrealism’s more violent and erotic aspects – the shock effect of jarring images – Cornell preferred instead what he described as the ‘white magic’ side of Surrealism, and the poetic connections between everyday objects.

By 1931 Cornell had shifted from simply collecting objects to creating them. He began to make collages and assemblages first in a style resembling Max Ernst’s, then in his own manner. The basis of collage – piecing together and assembling – would be central to Cornell’s works throughout his life, be they two- or three-dimensional. At this early stage he took images from the dense dossiers of engravings and clippings that he had accumulated by this time, fashioning compositions from seemingly unrelated cutout images to create whimsical pairings, which often revealed his dual interests in science and the world of children. Both these themes would recur and overlap throughout his career…

After viewing a number of Cornell’s small surreal collages, such as Untitled (Schooner), 1931, Julien Levy invited him to show in his exhibition, Surréalisme, which opened in January 1932. Later, Levy offered Cornell a solo show, the first of several that were held at his gallery. Entitled Objects by Joseph Cornell: Minutiae, Glass Bells, Shadow Boxes, Coups d’Oeil, Jouets Surréalistes, it included a series of collages and small three-dimensional objects such as bell jars and pillboxes. All the works were made at his kitchen table at night as his mother and brother slept.

Uneasy about his work being associated with Surrealism, Cornell later wrote to Alfred H. Barr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and organiser of the 1936 exhibition, Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, in which Cornell’s work was to feature: “In the event that you are saying a word or two about my work in the catalogue, I would appreciate your saying that I do not share in the subconscious and dream theories of the Surrealists. While fervently admiring much of their work I have never been an official Surrealist, and I believe that Surrealism has healthier possibilities than have been developed.” Regardless of Cornell’s own attempt to distance himself from the movement, Surrealism provided him, at least, with a context in which he could make his collages and objets, and understand them as deserving of a mature and discerning audience.

Around this time, Cornell encountered the collages and box constructions of Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), composed of urban detritus, and the ‘readymades’ of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), which are ordinary, unaltered manufactured objects designated by the artist to be works of art. In Duchamp, Cornell discovered an unlikely friend; the two regularly corresponded throughout their lifetime. When Duchamp visited New York in the 1940s, he enlisted Cornell to help him with a new project, a miniature ‘museum’ of his work, known as the Boîte-en-valise or ‘box in a suitcase’. Cornell already had his own ‘valise’ experiment, Untitled (The Crystal Cage: Portrait of Berenice).

 

Collecting and Classification

In the 1930s, Cornell began to make the ‘shadow boxes’ for which he is best known – glass-fronted box constructions containing intimately-scaled arrangements of found objects and paper ephemera, assembled in a sort of three-dimensional collage. The 1936 exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at MoMA, New York, showed one of his first shadow boxes, Untitled (Soap Bubble Set) (above). This was the first in a long series of the same name and recalls the children’s pastime of blowing bubbles, as well as the eighteenth-century European painting association of bubbles as memento mori, a reminder of the transience of life. Precisely what led Cornell to the idea of the box remains unclear. In a Life magazine article from 1967 he said that it came to him during one of his walks through Manhattan, as he passed a collection of compasses in the window of an antique shop:

“I thought, everything can be used in a lifetime, can’t it, and went on walking. I’d scarcely gone two blocks when I came on another shop window full of boxes, all different kinds […] Halfway home on the train that night, I thought of the compasses and boxes, it occurred to me to put the two together.”

Before Cornell developed his own carpentry skills, his early shadow boxes were housed in prefabricated, semi-antique wooden boxes, popular during the Victorian era for displaying small paintings, ship models, ladies’ handiwork and mementoes. In the nineteenth century, a similar tradition existed in China, where hardwood boxes with sliding glass covers and papered or silk-lined interiors were used to display fine ceramics, especially figurines made for export. Cornell’s approach also recalls European traditions that began to appear in his research dossiers during the 1930s: small seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch and Flemish kunstschranke or kunstkammer – cabinets that housed separate elements assembled to represent the world in miniature. In the mid 1930s, Cornell’s neighbour Carl Backman taught him some basic carpentry skills, which allowed him to construct his own boxes. The boxes are often hard to date accurately, as Cornell would tinker with and refine his constructions over several years, returning to them gradually. However, except for his early boxes which tend to be singular, we can see patterns emerging in his practice as he worked on larger ‘families’ of works that share discernible visual motifs, often unfolding over a decade or more. These series include: ‘Hotels’, ‘Pharmacies’, ‘Aviaries’, ‘Dovecotes’, ‘Observatories’ and ‘Night Skies’.

The ‘Pharmacy’ assemblages, with their compartmentalised structures and associations with collection and classification – a nod to the ordered world of museum display – are a good illustration of one of Cornell’s ‘families’. Here, in this early example of a series that stretched over a decade with at least six similar works, we see a small specimen case containing four ordered rows of five glass jars. Its title appears to refer to medicine and healing, yet as a practising Christian Scientist, Cornell was forbidden to take medicine. Instead, in this miniature apothecary, he has created tonics for the soul and the imagination, with each fragile jar containing an object or substance that has poetic connotations – shells and sand for travel, feathers, delicate butterfly wings, tiny snippets of parchment. The interior is lined with mirrors, creating echoing reflections of the jars that line the shelves. Though its contents may seem trivial, each jar is imbued with significance, its humble items elevated and made precious through the language of their display. Looking into this box, we see a world of associations, nostalgia and elusive meaning.

By the time Cornell created Pharmacy, he had stopped working, and was pursuing his art full time. From this point on, Cornell regularly exhibited and sold his artwork. He also did freelance design work and picture research for magazines such as Vogue and House & Garden. He set up a workshop and storage area in the basement of the house on Utopia Parkway. Working in his new studio, which he sometimes referred to as his ‘laboratory’, Cornell was able to conceive works with more complex craftsmanship than he had been able to do when working at the kitchen table. While most days were spent at home, he would still escape into New York in search of inspiration and to visit friends. A keen diarist, he would sit in Manhattan coffee shops, indulging his notorious sweet tooth with sugary snacks while furiously scribbling notes on scraps of paper that would later be typed up into more formal diary entries.

As well as being an avid people-watcher, Cornell enjoyed ornithology and expressed his love of birds in the ‘Aviary’ and ‘Habitat’ series, which speak of their exoticism and beauty. Birds often symbolise freedom, their flight paths linking the heavens and the earth. In myths and religion, small birds in particular have been used to represent the souls of children freed from their earthly bonds.

While visually distinct from the ‘Pharmacy’ series, Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery (above) continues the theme of arrangement and classification in Cornell’s work, with the cut-out illustrations of macaws, a parrot and a cockatoo mounted like museum specimens or dioramas against a bright white background. However, this dynamic construction has an uncharacteristic aura of violence, and contrasts with other pieces where the box is seen as a safe environment in which objects could be placed, secure and cherished. In this case, the glass that protects the sanctuary of the box has been cracked, its contents exposed to external elements. The central ‘bullet hole’ directly in front of the cockatoo’s crown acts as a focal point for the assemblage, guiding our eye in and then out to the four corners of the box. Bold splashes of colour convey a sense of theatricality and drama (Cornell referred to some of his boxes as ‘poetic theatres’), and the game counters placed over each bird evoke the targets of shooting galleries in penny arcades. Scattered feathers at the bottom of the construction, the shot glass and splotches of paint all suggest a violent event. In a rare moment of political commentary in Cornell’s work, this habitat serves as a metaphor for the horrors of the Second World War, with the birds embodying the innocence of victims caught up in the destruction of war.

 

Observation and Exploration

One of the great paradoxes in Cornell’s life was the gulf between the multitudinous references in his work to distant times and foreign places, and the fact that he himself never physically left the USA. He was a devotee of nineteenth century European culture and a collector of Baedeker Guides (to travel, published in the 1830s), timetables and travel literature, yet he never went abroad – not because he didn’t have the means to do so but because, as one commentator noted, he ‘preferred the ticket to the trip’, which makes his evocation of a traveller’s sense of wanderlust even more remarkable. Cornell let dreams of voyages, particularly to Europe, remain imagined and thus unrealised, preserving his reveries in the same fashion as his glass-fronted boxes. Recurring often in his work are poignant emblems of transience and travel – birds, celestial maps, exotic-sounding hotels and luggage tags – but they remain frozen in their boxed confinement. Thus, fittingly, the central paradox in Cornell’s life found expression in the very medium for which he is now best known.

“Original inspiration of the bird store, windows, simplicity of magic, pet shop.”

Joseph Cornell, c. 1943, Joseph Cornell Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

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Cornell also dreamed of celestial navigation and was fascinated by the night sky and planets. In Soap Bubble Set (1948, below), Cornell arranged fragments collected during his Manhattan wanderings against the backdrop of an antique lunar map, the roundness of the moon alluding to the titular spherical soap bubble. In his shadow boxes, soap bubbles came to symbolise the relationship between science and childhood imagination, knowledge and wonder, as well as serving as an allegory of vanitas and the ephemerality of life. White Dutch clay pipes, the signature motif of the ‘Soap Bubble’ series, are positioned symmetrically in side compartments, laid out like scientific instruments in a lab, gleaming against the dark velvet interior of the case. These pipes, used as toys for blowing bubbles, suggest the element air, while at a lower level a fragment of driftwood (probably scavenged by Cornell while beach combing on Long Island) grounds us in the natural world and hints at the weathering effects of wind and water over time. A cordial glass stands alone, delicate and vulnerable, empty in this construction but in others from this series cradling a marble, perhaps as a metaphor for forces securing the planets in place. At the top of the construction, the artist has hung a row of seven cylinders, the number possibly invoking the Copernican model of the solar system (in which seven planets orbit the Sun). The overall impression is of a poetic understanding of science, the infinity of space made bearable by the inclusion of objects whose culturally recognisable associations position us, along with Cornell, on Earth.

Ironically, Cornell’s first recorded response to the cosmos was fear. According to his sister Elizabeth, after having returned from school for the Christmas holidays, he woke her one night, ‘shaking like a leaf’, and stood at the window while confessing his anxiety about the concept of infinity. His concern translated to intrigue later in life and his shadow boxes abound with references to astronomy and space exploration. Cornell kept up to date with the latest scientific discoveries and was a keen stargazer, regularly observing the night sky from his backyard, or his kitchen window, sometimes referred to as his ‘observatory’.

In 1949, Cornell joined the Egan Gallery in New York, run by Charles Egan. Around this time we can see a fresh approach emerging in his work, as he branched away from the more theatrical Victorian constructs of his early career, which can appear comparatively dense. This may have been a reaction to Abstract Expressionism, a new movement developed by American painters such as Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) who used abstraction and gesture to convey expressive content. The Egan Gallery’s roster of artists included notable Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) and Franz Kline (1910-1962).

Cornell continued to explore themes of astronomy and celestial navigation in the ‘Observatory’, ‘Night Skies’, and ‘Hotel’ series (the latter also playing with the notion of a hotel as a microcosm of the wider world and, for Cornell, the universe). This work, Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l’Observatoire (1954, above), combines many of the motifs prevalent in these series, yet is noticeably pared back. The deep, contemplative blue of the composition suggests a starry night sky, and the cracked, aged, white frame evokes the faded grandeur of forgotten European hotels, built for wealthy travellers between the 1880s and 1920s but now fallen into disrepair. Cornell scrapbooked the names of the hotels in this series from adverts in turn-of-the-century guidebooks to European cities.

Despite the smallness of the box, Cornell has created a sense of space within by foregrounding a delicate silver chain and white dowel against the rich starry expanse beyond. The female figure we see in the background is Andromeda, a character in Greek mythology who was chained to a rock as a sacrificial offering to a sea monster because her mother, Cassiopeia, had angered the sea god Poseidon and the Nereids by boasting of her and her daughter’s beauty. Andromeda was rescued from her plight by the hero Perseus, who then married her. Upon her death, she was placed in the skies as a constellation alongside her husband and her mother. Like her rescuer, Cornell has liberated Andromeda from the chains that bound her to the Earth. She is not attached to the silver chain, which both recalls the myth and suggests a ladder to the heavens. With the lightest touch, Cornell has skilfully created both the physical presence of a beautiful woman, and her heavenly equivalent as a constellation in the night sky.

As well as seeking inspiration across galaxies and the limitless expanses of space, Cornell would also delve into myth and history, both factual and personal, to seek out the characters who reside in his shadow boxes. In one of his most famous series, the ‘Medici Slot Machines’, Cornell superimposed memories of his own happy childhood (before his father’s death) onto reproductions of portraits of Medici princes and princesses by the Renaissance artists Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625), Bronzino (1503-1572) and Pinturicchio (1454-1513). By mixing his personal history (Cornell recalled with fondness the outings to penny arcades and shooting galleries of his youth) with these Florentine children, and further juxtaposing Old Master paintings with symbols of popular amusement, he created a mysterious world that contrasts high and low culture with haunting beauty.

This elegiac composition centres around Bronzino’s posthumous portrait of Bia de’ Medici. Bia, the illegitimate but beloved daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici, died from a fever aged 6, and Bronzino used her death mask as a model. Around her neck, she wears a medallion with her father’s profile on it. Cornell has effectively enshrined Bia in this box, simultaneously surrounded by the trappings of childhood (marbles, jacks, toy blocks), and, notably, the metal spirals of watch springs in the upper corners, which act as a metaphor for time cycles and life repeating itself. A bright red ball in front of the young girl attracts the viewer, as do the sightlines, mimicking the cross-hair targets of amusement park shooting galleries, which converge over one eye. Bia is flanked by columns, decorated with Baedeker maps of Italy, and further side compartments stacked with repeated images, like the spliced frames of a film, recalling Eadweard Muybridge’s (1830-1904) early sequences of animal and human movement, as well as foreshadowing Pop artist Andy Warhol’s (1928-1987) multiple silkscreen homages to celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. There is a concealed drawer at the base of the box, containing a bundle of letters tied with thread, and a paper fan, perhaps a nod to the attributes of the courtly life of a princess. Cornell’s creations often included kinetic elements like marbles or toy balls, although they are seldom activated now, as the assemblages are too delicate. In this box, the unfixed objects placed around Bia accentuate her stillness and steady gaze. Perhaps because of the blue staining of the glass, we become more aware of the wall that separates us from this young girl, frozen in a world that we can look in upon, but not enter. She looks out at us directly, but is she imprisoned or merely on display?

“Peering into glass panelled boxes to inspect their contents is not unlike looking through a telescope in order to bring the distant closer. Windows, doors, compartments, drawers, cross-hair targets – all of these elements grant access or focus as we navigate the world Cornell has framed.”

Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay Eterniday, 2003

That he visited the opera and the ballet in New York is not surprising, as his miniature dioramas also recall stage sets with a scenic and narrative quality. As Mary Ann Caws writes in Joseph Cornell’s Theatre of the Mind, “Cornell’s shadow boxes invite us to peek, to peep, and finally to yield to our imagination… We meet in the confines of this tiny frame, this microcosm of complicity.” The boxes are filled with potential energy, as if just about to move, and are spaces in which multiple scales co-exist: time and history, the natural world and the cosmos. They are places of curious juxtaposition: take Untitled (Celestial Navigation) (1956-58, above), in which the universe is depicted through everyday objects.

 

Longing and Reverie

For Cornell, a relationship with a woman (other than his mother) seemed unattainable. He never married, and for him the female figure took on an elevated accumulation of hope and desire of almost mythic proportions. Throughout his life he developed obsessions with opera singers, waitresses, film stars, shop girls and most vividly, ballerinas (alive or dead). In the 1930s he discovered the international revival of the Romantic ballet, and spent the next 30 years exploring his fascination with the ‘queens of the dance’. His favourites included Romanticera prima ballerinas Marie Taglioni (1804-1884) and Fanny Cerrito (1817-1909), and their modern counterparts Tamara Toumanova (1919-1996) and Allegra Kent (b. 1937). He also became good friends with Pavel Tchelitchew (1898-1957), the Russian Surrealist painter and set and costume designer who, as a well-known figure on the international dance scene, introduced Cornell to dancers and other balletomanes.

This box (Naples, 1942, below) is a tender homage to Fanny Cerrito, a nineteenth-century ballerina who captivated Cornell (he first came across her likeness in a bookstore on Fourth Avenue, on a souvenir lithograph from 1842). Cerrito was best known for her 1843 performance in Ondine, a ballet based on a fairy tale about a knight who falls in love with an ethereal water sprite. For her first entrance on stage, Cerrito posed in a giant cockleshell, rising up on a platform through the stage. In this assemblage, Cornell celebrates her birthplace of Naples, illustrating its famously narrow streets festooned with lines of laundry. The luggage label and the handle of the box, which recall a suitcase, give a sense of travel and distance, but the seashells propped up in the corners of the box and the faded sea-green paint that borders the scene speak to Cerrito’s most famous role.

Another example of Cornell’s devotional works is this stunningly austere piece entitled Toward the Blue Peninsula: for Emily Dickinson (1953, below). The purity of this box and the inclusion of a grid-like structure recall the signature style of Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), a Minimalist artist who radically simplified the elements of painting to reflect the underlying spiritual order of the visible world that he believed in. Cornell admired Mondrian’s work and mentioned him in his 1946 diary: ‘Mondrian feeling strong. Feeling of progress and satisfaction.’

As the title suggests, this shadow box was created for the nineteenth-century American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), with whom Cornell felt a deep affinity. Like Cornell, Dickinson lived with her family, never travelled far from home or married, and translated her intense longing into her art. A withdrawn and enigmatic woman, she rarely left the upstairs bedroom in her home in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she wrote her poems. Dickinson’s bedroom inspired the setting for this simple, white-washed box that resembles an abandoned aviary. At first, almost everything about this box suggests containment – the white mesh cage, the dowel perch and bird feeder – but we find no resident here. In fact, the mesh has been cut open and to the left we see a rectangle of clear, refreshing blue suggesting a window open to the sky – the infinite beyond into which our bird has flown. Emily Dickinson sometimes referred to herself as a ‘little wren’ and often, like Cornell, included birds in her work. Here, Cornell ensures that she has been set free, present only in spirit, with two small scraps of printed paper at the bottom of the case the only physical reminder of her presence. The empty box is silent, a vacuum left after the action has occurred. The title of this work comes from a poem by Dickinson that begins: ‘It might be lonelier / Without the Loneliness / I’m so accustomed to my Fate.’ It ends:

It might be easier
To fail – with Land in Sight –
Than gain – My Blue Peninsula –
To perish – of Delight –

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Here, Dickinson is asking whether longing is better than having, a question that clearly spoke to Cornell and his own deep-seated yearning. Better that dream remain imagined but unrealised, the poet advises, lest it disappoint. It seems these are words that Cornell heeded his entire life.

In the early 1960s, Cornell did finally break with tradition and became attached to a young woman, a New York waitress named Joyce Hunter. This was Cornell’s first real-life romance and he was dazzled by her, making her several gifts of his boxes and collages. Joyce eventually stole artworks from his home (though he refused to prosecute her), and was later murdered by an acquaintance in an unrelated incident in December 1964. Her death devastated Cornell, and marks the beginning of his decline into isolation; his brother Robert died in 1965, his mother a year later. In the winter of 1965 he began a series of collages dedicated to Robert’s memory…

Now alone in his family home, Cornell still received visitors (an invitation to Utopia Parkway had become something of an art-world trophy) but conditions in the house declined as his involvement in Christian Science and the metaphysical world increased. He would write letters to the ghosts of his former life – Robert, his mother, Joyce Hunter. Cornell became more and more interested in sharing his work with a younger audience and one of his last exhibitions in 1972 was expressly for children: A Joseph Cornell Exhibition for Children at the Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture, where cake and soda pops were served instead of the traditional champagne and canapés. He often said children were his most enthusiastic and receptive audience, and lent boxes to children in his neighbourhood for their enjoyment. Cornell continued to work until the end of his life, although he stopped making new boxes sometime in the 1960s, after which he focused on ‘refurbishing’ earlier boxes by breaking them down and reconstituting them. His main focus was a renewed interest in creating collages, which he saw as freer and more spontaneous than box construction. He also concentrated on making films and re-editing earlier cinematic work. Following prostate surgery in June 1972, he spent several months recuperating with family in Westhampton before returning to Utopia Parkway in November. Cornell died of heart failure alone at home, just a few days after his sixty-ninth birthday.

 

Conclusion

What can we make of the life of Joseph Cornell? From his shadow boxes we get the impression of a man who preferred fantasy to reality, finding inspiration and affinity with long-dead characters from history, from Renaissance princesses to Romantic ballerinas. But Cornell was also conscious of and responded to the changing landscape of twentieth-century art – Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and Minimalism – and had a tremendous influence on other artists during his lifetime. He had an appetite for subjects that were as far ranging as his imagination, and was able to express, with the deftest of touches, huge concepts within intimate, self-contained spaces. Cornell’s cloistered worlds seem to encompass the entire universe in microcosm – its infinity, wonder, mystery and power all contained within a small box. Their appeal can only be accentuated by the fact that their creator conjured these worlds purely from imagination rather than experience. His last reported words to his sister Elizabeth on the day he died were, “You know, I was thinking, I wish I hadn’t been so reserved.” While this restraint may have caused him regret in his daily life, we see little trace of it in his art, which seems instead to be a magical, generous invitation to the viewer as a gateway to reverie, and to dream.

Written by Asha McLoughlin
Learning Department
© Royal Academy of Arts

 

Joseph Cornell. 'L'Égypte de Mlle Cléo de Mérode cours élémentaire d'histoire naturelle' 1940

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
L’Égypte de Mlle Cléo de Mérode cours élémentaire d’histoire naturelle
1940
Box construction
11.9 x 27.1 x 18.4cm (closed)
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Naples' 1942

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Naples
1942
Box construction
28.6 x 17.1 x 12.1cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015
Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Toward the Blue Peninsula - for Emily Dickinson' c. 1953

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Toward the Blue Peninsula – for Emily Dickinson
c. 1953
Box construction
36.8 x 26 x 14cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015.

 

 Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Pinturicchio Boy)' 1942-52

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled (Pinturicchio Boy)
1942-52
Box construction
35.4 x 28.4 x 9.8cm
Photo: Tim Nighswander/Imaging4Art.com, courtesy Glenstone
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'A Parrot for Juan Gris' 1953-54

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
A Parrot for Juan Gris
1953-54
Box construction
45.1 x 31 x 11.7cm
The Collection of Robert Lehrman, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust offers an overview of the American artist’s inventive oeuvre, surveying around 80 of his remarkable box constructions, assemblages, collages and films. The last major solo exhibition of Cornell in Europe took place nearly 35 years ago, originating at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1980, and travelling to the Whitechapel Gallery in the UK. With very few works on permanent display in European museums, the exhibition is an opportunity to see rarely lent masterpieces from public and private collections in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Cornell (1903-1972) never left America and hardly ventured beyond New York City, yet through his art he set out to travel through history, the continents of the globe and even the spiritual realm. His works are manifestations of a powerful ‘wanderlust’ of the mind and soul.

Collecting was central to Cornell’s creativity; he amassed a vast and eclectic personal archive of paper ephemera and found objects, eventually numbering tens of thousands of items. This material revealed his wide-ranging interests from opera, ballet, cinema and theatre to history, ornithology, poetry and astronomy. Europe held a special place in Cornell’s imagination, and many of the works selected for this exhibition highlight his love of its historic cultures, from the Belle Époque to the Italian Renaissance. Inspired by these interests, he incorporated his collected materials inside glass-fronted wooden box constructions creating miniature worlds known as his ‘shadow boxes’, as well as producing collages and film.

Cornell was entirely self-taught and has often been characterised as an outsider to the New York art scene. In reality, he was highly engaged with the art movements and artists of the time, exhibiting regularly alongside the Surrealists and Abstract Expressionists, whilst carefully maintaining his independence from any one group. He counted many vanguard artists among his friends including Marcel Duchamp, Robert Motherwell, and Dorothea Tanning.

The exhibition is arranged thematically in four sections that reflect the artistic processes expressed in Cornell’s diaries and notes; Play and Experiment, Collecting and Classification, Observation and Exploration and Longing and Reverie. The selection brings together key works from his major series: Museums, Aviaries, Soap Bubble Sets, Palaces, Medici Slot Machines, Hotels and Dovecotes.

Press release from the Royal Academy of Arts website

 

 

“Impressions intriguingly diverse – that, in order to hold fast, one might assemble, assort, and arrange into a cabinet – the contraption kind of the amusement resorts with endless ingenuity of effect, worked by coin and plunger, or brightly coloured pin-balls – travelling inclined runways – starting in motion compartment after compartment with a symphony of mechanical magic of sight and sound borrowed from the motion picture art – into childhood – into fantasy – through the streets of New York – through tropical skies – etc. – into the receiving trays the balls come to rest releasing prizes.”

.
Joseph Cornell

 

 

Royal Academy of Arts
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14
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 4th October 2014 – 18th January 2015

Contemporary Galleries and The Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium, second floor

 

Many thankx to MoMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'X Playpen' 1987

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
X Playpen
1987
Wood and enamel paint
27 x 37 x 37″ (68.6 x 94 x 94cm)
Batsheva and Ronald Ostrow
Image credit: D. James Dee, courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

 

“Begun in 1984, the sink series appeared during the darkest period of the AIDS epidemic. Gober, who is gay, responded to the tragedy with poetic indirection: the sinks’ cold air of clinical hygiene. The Times critic John Russell nailed the artistic effect: “Minimal forms with maximum content.” The fact that the content must be intuited by the viewer, who is free to regard the sinks as just cleverly manufactured found objects, typifies Gober’s circumspection. His works are enigmatic but not coy, morally driven but not aggrieved. They radiate a quality that is as rare in life as it is in art: character. …

The heart is an excitable physical organ that registers sensations of fight or flight and of love or aversion: the first and last unimpeachable witness to what can’t help but matter, for good and for ill, in every life.”

.
Peter Schjeldahl. “Found Meanings: A Robert Gober Retrospective,” October 6, 2014 in ‘The Art World’ October 13, 2014 Issue on ‘The New Yorker’ website [Online] Cited 09/07/2021.

 

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'The Ascending Sink' 1985

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
The Ascending Sink
1985
Plaster, wood, steel, wire lath, and semi-gloss enamel paint
Two components, each: 30 x 33 x 27″ (76.2 x 83.8 x 68.6 cm); floor to top: 92″ (233.7cm)
Installed in the artist’s studio on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, Manhattan
Collection of Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner, New York
Promised gift to the Whitney Museum of American Art
Image credit: John Kramer, courtesy the artist
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954) '
Untitled Closet' 1989

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled Closet
1989
Wood, plaster, enamel paint
84 x 52 x 28″ (213.4 x 132.1 x 71.1cm)
Private collection
Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober. 'Untitled' 1991

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1991
Wood, beeswax, human hair, fabric, paint, shoes
9 x 16 1/2 x 45″ (22.9 x 41.9 x 114.3cm)
Collection the artist
Image credit: Andrew Moore, courtesy the artist
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'Untitled' 1994-1995

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1994-1995
Wood, beeswax, brick, plaster, plastic, leather, iron, charcoal, cotton socks, electric light and motor
47 3/8 × 47 × 34″ (120.3 × 119.4 × 86.4cm)
Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation, on permanent loan to the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel
Image credit: D. James Dee, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

 

Chronicling a 40-year career, Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor is the first large-scale survey of Robert Gober’s (American, b. 1954) work to take place in the United States. The exhibition is on view from October 4, 2014 to January 18, 2015, and features approximately 130 works across several mediums, including individual sculptures, immersive sculptural environments, and a distinctive selection of drawings and prints. Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor is organised by Ann Temkin, The Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator, and Paulina Pobocha, Assistant Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, MoMA, working in close collaboration with the artist.

Early on, Gober’s sculptures declared themselves an indispensable part of the landscape of late-twentieth century art; since then they have continued to evolve while remaining tightly bound to the principles outlined by the artist almost four decades ago. Gober places narrative at the centre of his endeavour, embedding themes of sexuality, religion, and politics into work drawn from everyday life. Spare in its use of images and motifs while protean in its capacity to generate meaning, Gober’s work is an art of contradictions: intimate yet assertive, straightforward yet enigmatic. Taking imagery familiar to anyone – doors, sinks, legs – Gober dislocates, alters, and estranges what we think we know. Although a first glance might suggest otherwise, all of Gober’s objects are entirely handmade, by the artist and by collaborators with the necessary expertise.

The earliest works in the exhibition date from the mid-to-late 1970s when Gober was largely working in two dimensions. A painting of the house he grew up in Connecticut hangs at the entrance to the galleries. The first room of the exhibition offers an introduction to Gober’s career, as told through five works: a sculpture of a paint can, a man’s leg, and a closet, as well as a drawing and a small print.

Between 1983 and 1986, Gober created more than 50 sculptures of sinks and scores of related drawings. Based on real sinks, including one in the artist’s childhood home, Gober built them from wood, plaster, and wire lath, and finished them with multiple coats of paint to mimic the appearance of enamel. But, crucially, they lack faucets and plumbing. The sinks’ appearance coincided with the early years of the AIDS epidemic, and their uselessness spoke to the impossibility of cleansing oneself. The sculptures on view in the second gallery of the exhibition were featured in Gober’s first show of sinks, held at the Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles, in 1985.

Gober’s early and straightforward sink sculptures gave way in 1985 to a group of distorted sinks whose bodies are variably stretched, bent, multiplied, and divided. The evolution of form registers in the works’ titles: self-evident descriptions become increasingly expressive (eg. The Sink Inside of Me). By the mid-1980s, the artist’s preoccupation with domestic objects expanded to include sculptures of furniture such as beds and playpens, as well as an armchair, on view in the third gallery. Between 1986 and 1987, Gober created Two-Partially Buried Sinks, among the last sink sculptures of the decade. This work is positioned outside the walls of the Museum on a scaffold, and can be viewed through the gallery’s window.

In 1989 at the Paula Cooper Gallery, Gober exhibited his first room-sized installations. Each is framed by wallpapers: a pattern pairing a sleeping white man and a lynched black man in one, and line drawings of male and female genitalia in the other, both of which are on view in the following galleries. These backdrops powerfully inflect the sculptures contained within: a freestanding bridal gown and hand-painted plaster cat litter bags in the first room and a bag of donuts with cast-pewter drains inset into the walls in the second. With characteristic concision, Gober sets off a complex swirl of questions about the unease surrounding issues to everyday life in America.

Gober made Slides of a Changing Painting between 1982 and 1983. During this year, he painted on a small Masonite board and photographed the imagery as it changed over time. Eventually, he had accumulated more than 1,000 slides, which he edited down and organised into a slide projection that he showed in 1984. After the exhibition, Gober put the slides away. When he revisited the project around 1990, he realised that he had unknowingly employed many of the same images in his subsequent sculptures. Slides of a Changing Painting has continued to be generative; it provides a nearly complete index of Gober’s visual themes and vocabulary. The work is on view in a gallery centrally located within the exhibition.

The human figure was absent from Gober’s sculptural repertoire until 1989, when he made his first sculpture of a man’s leg, a breakthrough that ushered in many related works. Single legs wearing trousers and shoes and truncated at mid-shin were followed by pairs of legs that Gober left whole to the waist. He showed these surreal sculptures in a 1991 exhibition in Paris, recreated in the following gallery. Three pairs of legs, augmented by candles, drains, and a musical score, are positioned around the perimeter of a room wallpapered with a kaleidoscopic landscape of a beech forest in autumn. In the centre of the gallery sits a human-sized cigar composed of tobacco sheafs purchased from a Pennsylvania supplier. To learn how to preserve this organic material as it aged, Gober consulted an expert at the American Museum of Natural History. Seeking out specialists’ advice on complicated projects is a hallmark of the artist’s craft based practice.

The works on view in the following gallery were made by artists Anni Albers, Robert Beck, Cady Noland, and Joan Semmel; photographs by Nancy Shaver hang in the adjoining space. Gober brought these objects together for the first time in an exhibition he organised at the Matthew Marks Gallery, New York in 1999. Gober has been curating exhibitions since the mid-1980s, most recently focusing on monographic presentations of the works by American artists Charles Burchfield and Forrest Bess. The contemporary artists included in this gallery share with Gober daring approaches to the representation of sexuality, violence, and American culture.

The immersive installation Gober conceived for a 1992 exhibition at the Dia Center for the Arts, New York is on view nearby. All three rooms of that original presentation are reconstructed: an antechamber, a central gallery, and a dark cul-de-sac. The main space features a hand-painted mural, executed in a paint-by-number method by scenic painters, depicting a forest inspired by the landscape of Long Island’s North Fork. Barred prison windows, through which a blue sky is visible, interrupt the verdant panorama. Placed throughout the gallery are hand-painted plaster sculptures of boxes of rat bait and bundles of newspapers – actually photolithographic facsimiles of newspapers featuring real and invented content. After a six-year absence from Gober’s work, sinks reappeared in the installation at Dia, water now running freely from their faucets.

Following the introduction of mens’ legs into his sculptural vocabulary, Gober cast the leg of a young boy and used that mould as the basis for several subsequent works, including a fireplace where legs take the place of firewood, a vision invoking childhood nightmares and uncensored fairy tales. Also on view is a sculpture of a suitcase that occupies space below ground as well as above. Its lid opens to reveal a sewer grate and a brick shaft that leads to a subterranean tidal pool complete with seaweed, mussel shells, and starfish. Visible through the depths of the water, amid the marine life, are the legs of a man and baby, one holding the other in a manner suggestive of baptism. While primarily a sculptor, Gober has worked across a range of media throughout his career including drawing and printmaking. Drawings sit the closest to his work in three dimensions; most of his sculptures and installations are preceded by preparatory drawings. A selection of Gober’s works on paper is also on view in this gallery.

The final installation included in the exhibition was made in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and results from Gober’s desire to create a space of refuge and reflection. The overall structure evokes the interior of a church: a central aisle separating rows of pews leads to an altar-like area flanked by two chapels. From the nipples of a headless Christ, regenerative “living water” flows into a large hole jackhammered into the floor. In the pastel drawings hanging on the side walls, the power of human embrace confronts the harrowing news contained within the photo-lithographed pages of the September 12, 2001, issue of The New York Times. In this installation, the overt references to Catholicism explore the vitality of such symbolism in the wake of contemporary tragedy.

Over the past decade, Gober’s sculptures have become increasingly complex, both technically and iconographically. The artist sometimes uses casts of existing sculptures and combines them to create hybrid objects, as in the conjunction of a chest, a stool, and a twisted network of children’s legs. Elsewhere, Gober pushes recognisable imagery into unpredictable terrain: a sink’s backsplash morphs into gnarled planks of wood interwoven with casts of fragmented arms. New motifs, such as a surrealistically melting rifle, also have entered the artist’s visual universe. The strangeness of these new sculptures is presaged by Prayers Are Answered (1980-81), an early work loosely based on a Catholic church on 7th Street and Avenue B in the East Village. Rather than the traditional religious scenes to be found in paintings lining the walls, Gober has furnished the church with murals depicting the harshness of daily life in the city.

The exhibition’s final gallery presents works made as early as 1979 and as recently as this past spring. Images of domestic objects and architecture and themes of childhood and the body reverberates across the decades. The dollhouse placed on the floor is one of several that Gober designed and built during his first years in New York City, as one way of earning a living. The sculpture and installations that would follow may be considered life-size realisations of the imaginative potential contained within these small structures.

Published in conjunction with the exhibition and prepared in close collaboration with the artist, Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor traces the development of his work, highlighting themes and motifs to which he has returned throughout the decades. The book features an essay by Hilton Als – a text both wide-ranging and personal – and an in-depth narrative of Gober’s life. The rich selection of images illustrates every phase of the artist’s career, and includes previously unpublished photographs from his own archive. Hardcover. 6.5″w x 9.75″h; 272 pages; 169 illustrations. ISBN: 978-0-87070-946-3. $45.

 

Ann Temkin

The Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture
The Museum of Modern Art

Ms. Temkin assumed the role of Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture in 2008, after joining The Museum of Modern Art in 2003 as Curator. During her tenure, Ms. Temkin has worked extensively with her colleagues on reimagining the Painting and Sculpture collection galleries at the Museum. Along with Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not A Metaphor, her exhibitions at MoMA include Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New (2013); Abstract Expressionist New York (2010); Gabriel Orozco (2009); and Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today (2008). Prior to MoMA, Ms. Temkin was the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1990 to 2003, where she organised such exhibitions as Barnett Newman (2002), Constantin Brancusi (1995), and Thinking is Form: The Drawings of Joseph Beuys (1994).

 

Paulina Pobocha

Assistant Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture
The Museum of Modern Art

Ms. Pobocha is an assistant curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art. She joined the Museum in 2008 and has worked on the exhibitions Gabriel Orozco (2009) and Abstract Expressionist New York (2010). In 2013 she co-organised Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store. She has also worked extensively with the Museum’s collection. Prior to MoMA, Ms. Pobocha was a Joan Tisch Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where she lectured on a broad range of subjects in contemporary and modern art. In 2011, she was appointed Critic at the Yale University School of Art.

Press release from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
X Pipe Playpen
2013-14
Wood and bronze
26 1/8 x 55 x 55″ (66.4 x 139.7 x 139.7cm)
Collection the artist

 

Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1989-1996
Silk satin, muslin, linen, tulle, welded steel, hand-printed silkscreen on paper, cast hydrostone plaster, vinyl acrylic paint, ink, and graphite
Dimensions variable, approximately 800 square feet installed
The Art Institute of Chicago, restricted gift of Stefan T. Edlis and H. Gael Neeson Foundation; through prior gifts of Mr. and Mrs. Joel Starrels and Fowler McCormick
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Bag of Donuts
1989
paper, dough and rhoplex (12 donuts)
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Cigar
1991
Wood, paint, paper, tobacco
15 3/4 x 15 3/4 x 70 7/8″ (40 x 40 x 180cm)
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Purchased with funds provided by the Collectors Committee in honour of Marcia Simon Weisman
© 2014 Robert Gober

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Forest
1991
Hand-printed silkscreen on paper
180″ x 124″ (457.2 x 315cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1992
Paper, twine, metal, light bulbs, cast plaster with casein and silkscreen ink, stainless steel, painted cast bronze and water, plywood, forged iron, plaster, latex paint and lights, photolithography on archival (Mohawk Superfine) paper, twine, hand-painted forest mural
511 3/4 × 363 3/16 × 177 3/16″ (1300 × 922.5 × 450.1cm)
Glenstone
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled (detail)
2003-05
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled Door and Door Frame
1987-88
Wood, enamel paint
Door: 84 x 34 x 1 1/2″ (213.4 x 86.4 x 3.8cm); doorframe: 90 x 43 x 5 1/2″ (228.6 x 109.2 x 14cm)
Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Gift of the John and Mary Pappajohn Art Foundation, 2004
© 2014 Robert Gober

Installation views of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014 – January 18, 2015
All works by Robert Gober © 2014 Robert Gober © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art
Photos: Jonathan Muzikar

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954) '
Untitled' 1992


 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1992
Paper, twine, metal, light bulbs, cast plaster with casein and silkscreen ink, stainless steel, painted cast bronze and water, plywood, forged iron, plaster, latex paint and lights, photolithography on archival (Mohawk Superfine) paper, twine, hand-painted forest mural
511 3/4 × 363 3/16 × 177 3/16″ (1300 × 922.5 × 450.1cm)
Glenstone
Image credit: Russell Kaye, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'Untitled Leg' 1989-1990

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled Leg
1989-1990
Beeswax, cotton, wood, leather, human hair
11 3/8 x 7 3/4 x 20″ (28.9 x 19.7 x 50.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Dannheisser Foundation
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954) '
Untitled' 2008


 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
2008
Cast gypsum polymer
14 ½ x 10 ¾ x 6″ (36.8 x 27.3 x 15.2cm)
Edition of 4, with 1 AP
Collection the artist
Image credit: Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober. 'Untitled' 2005-06

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
2005-2006
Aluminum-leaf, oil and enamel paint on cast lead crystal
4 3/4″ high × 4 1/4″ diameter (12.1 × 10.8cm)
Collection the artist
Image credit: Bill Orcutt, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954) '
Slip Covered Armchair' 1986-87

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Slip Covered Armchair
1986-87
Plaster, wood, linen, and fabric paint
31 ½ x 30 ½ x 29″ (80 x 77.5 x 73.7cm)
Collection the artist
Image credit: D. James Dee, courtesy the artist
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'Untitled' 1980-81

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1980-81
Oil on wood panel
8 x 5 ¾” (20.3 x 14.6cm)
Collection the artist
Image credit: Ron Amstutz, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954) '
Untitled' 1991


 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1991
Wood, beeswax, leather, fabric, and human hair
13 1/4 x 16 1/2 x 46 1/8″ (33.6 x 41.9 x 117.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Werner and Elaine Dannheisser
Background: Forest, 1991
Hand-painted silkscreen on paper
Image credit: K. Ignatiadis, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober. 'Untitled' 2003-05

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
2003-05
Courtesy MoMA and Matthew Marks Gallery
Image credit: Russel Kaye
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'Leg with Anchor' 2008

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Leg with Anchor
2008
Forged iron and steel, beeswax, cotton, leather, and human hair
28 × 18 × 20″ (71.1 × 45.7 × 50.8cm)
Glenstone
Image credit: Bill Orcutt, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'Untitled' 1984

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1984
Plaster, wood, wire lath, aluminium, watercolour, semi-gloss enamel paint
28 x 33 x 22 1/2″ (71.1 x 83.8 x 57.2cm)
Rubell Family Collection
Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'Two Partially Buried Sinks' 1986-87

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Two Partially Buried Sinks
1986-87
Cast iron and enamel paint
Right: 39 x 25 ½ x 2 ½” (99.1 x 64.8 x 6.4cm)
Left: 39 x 24 ½ x 2 3/4″ (99.1 x 62.2 x 7cm)
Private collection
Image credit: Andrew Moore, courtesy the artist
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

 

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22
Jul
14

Exhibition: ‘Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic’ at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 24th November 2013 – 27th July 2014

 

Alexander Calder. 'Blue Feather' c. 1948

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Blue Feather
c. 1948
Sheet metal, wire and paint
42 x 55 x 18 inches
Calder Foundation, New York
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Photo: Calder Foundation, New York/Art Resource NY

 

 

Any of them – or just one of them. I don’t care!

Just to have one in your home would be like wishing upon a star… to contemplate, to observe, to understand these inherently tactile sculptures. What a joy.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Download Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic Didactics (30kb pdf)

 

 

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Installation views of 'Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation views of 'Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation views of 'Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation views of 'Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation views of 'Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation views of 'Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation views of 'Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation views of 'Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation views of 'Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation views of 'Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation views of 'Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation views of 'Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation views of 'Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation views of 'Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

 

Installation views of Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Photos: Fredrik Nilsen

 

 

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, the first monographic presentation of Alexander Calder’s work in a Los Angeles museum. Taking as its compass the large-scale sculpture Three Quintains (Hello Girls), a site-specific fountain commissioned by LACMA’s Art Museum Council in 1964 for the opening of LACMA’s Hancock Park campus, Calder and Abstraction brings together a range of nearly fifty abstract sculptures, including mobiles, stabiles, and maquettes for larger outdoor works, that span more than four decades of the artist’s career. The exhibition at LACMA is organised by LACMA’s senior curator of modern art Stephanie Barron and designed by Gehry Partners, LLP.

Barron remarks, “Calder is recognised as one of the greatest pioneers of modernist sculpture, but his contribution to the development of abstract modern sculpture – steeped in beauty and humour – has long been underestimated by critics. Calder was considered a full-fledged member of the European avant-garde, becoming friendly with André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Joan Miró, and Piet Mondrian, and exhibited alongside Jean Arp, Wassily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, and many of the Surrealists. His radical inventions move easily between seeming opposites: the avant-garde and the iconic, the geometric and the organic, art and science – an anarchic upending of the sculptural paradigm.”

Calder and Abstraction offers a window into the remarkably original thinking of this distinguished artist and elucidates his revolutionary and pivotal contribution to the development of modern sculpture,” says Michael Govan, CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director of LACMA. “Three Quintains (Hello Girls) at LACMA has for decades been seen as an emblem of the museum. Following in the footsteps of its legacy, our campus continues to be enhanced by large-scale, public art – most recently with the inclusion of Chris Burden’s Urban Light (2008) and Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass (2012).”

 

Exhibition overview

Calder and Abstraction traces the evolution of abstraction in the artist’s sculptural practice. The exhibition, arranged in loose chronological order, presents highlights of Calder’s oeuvre from his earliest abstract works to the crescendo of his career in the late 1940s to his later public sculptural commissions. While he is considered one of the most popular artists of his time, his work also shares sensibilities with less immediately accessible artists, including the Surrealists and the champions of pure abstraction that made up the Abstraction-Création group, such as Robert Delaunay, Theo van Doesburg, and Kurt Schwitters, among others.

From 1926 to 1933, Pennsylvania-born Calder lived primarily in Paris and was a prevalent figure of the European avant-garde along with peers Marcel Duchamp, Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian, Jean Hélion, Wassily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, Alberto Giacometti, fellow American Man Ray, and many of the Surrealists. At the time, Paris was the epicentre of creative production, and Surrealism was the most significant artistic movement in France. A number of his works from the 1930s referenced astronomy, a preoccupation shared by a number of avant-garde artists. In Gibraltar two off-kilter rods thrust upward from a plane encircling a wood base, suggesting a personal solar system. Calder was fascinated with representing the natural world and the cosmos as potent and brimming with energy: “When I have used spheres and discs … they should represent more than what they just are. … [T]he earth is a sphere but also has some miles of gas about it, volcanoes upon it, and the moon making circles around it. … A ball of wood or a disc of metal is rather a dull object without this sense of something emanating from it.”

A crucial encounter for Calder occurred in 1930 upon visiting artist Piet Mondrian’s studio. Calder credited Mondrian with opening his eyes to the term “abstract,” providing the catalyst to a new phase in his practice. Calder later described this visit as pivotal in his move towards abstraction: “The visit gave me a shock. … Though I had heard the word ‘modern’ before, I did not consciously know or feel the term ‘abstract.’ So now, at thirty-two, I wanted to paint and work in the abstract.”

Calder appropriated Surrealism’s affinity to curvilinear, biomorphic forms into his sculptures, and when he met Miró in 1928, the two men discovered a mutual admiration for each other’s work and developed a close friendship. As Calder stated, “Well, the archaeologists will tell you there’s a little bit of Miró in Calder and a little bit of Calder in Miró.”

The decade after he met Miró and Mondrian proved to be the most radical of Calder’s career. He embraced the Surrealist notion of integrating chance into his works in addition to the Constructivist idea that painting and sculpture should be freed from their standard constraints, such as gravity and traditional sculptural mass. He consequently developed his two signature typologies: the mobile, a term coined by Marcel Duchamp after a visit to Calder’s home and studio in 1931; and the stabile, named by Jean Arp in 1932.

Calder’s mobiles are hanging, kinetic sculptures made of discrete movable parts stirred by air currents, creating sinuous and delicate drawings in space. Either suspended or freestanding, these often large constructions consist of flat pieces of painted metal connected by wire veins and stems. Eucalyptus (1940), one of Calder’s first mature mobiles, was created during World War II. The piece can be seen as a composition of violent, tortured biomorphic shapes that suggest gaping mouths, body parts, sexual organs, and sinister weapons.

Stabiles, which were developed alongside Calder’s mobiles but came to full maturity later in his career, are stationary abstract sculptures, often with mobiles attached to them (standing mobiles). In several of Calder’s works from the 1940s – the most prolific decade of his sculptural production – he effectively blended the mobile and stabile forms, as seen in Laocoön (1947), in which the stabile supports graceful, arcing branches that cut a broad swath as they rotate at an irregular rhythm.

In the mid-1950s, Calder began working with quarter-inch steel (thicker than the aluminium he had used during the 1940s), which enabled him to construct larger, more durable, and more ambitious sculptures and posed him as an ideal collaborator with architects to create works for public spaces. With commissions from the city of Spoleto, Italy (1962), Montreal’s Expo (1967) and Grand Rapids, Michigan (1969) – represented in the exhibition by La Grande vitesse (intermediate maquette) – Calder began a virtually non-stop output of public sculpture until his death in 1976.

Calder’s public sculpture evolved at a time when communities were becoming increasingly proud of public sculpture, although his resolutely bold abstract forms, though hard to imagine now, were initially met with some controversy. Today encountering Calder’s iconic sculpture in the centre of a city, in front of a courthouse, in the midst of the Senate Office Building, or in front of a museum is a hallmark of postwar public sculpture that he helped to invent.

 

Exhibition design and installation

Calder was constantly in conversation and collaborated with other artists and architects in his lifetime, but a major architect has not designed a Calder show since the 1980s. Frank O. Gehry’s design for LACMA’s exhibition allows for quiet areas of contemplation, unexpected juxtapositions of related works, and opportunities for both intimate and panoramic views of the works. Gehry’s gently curved walls frame the sculptures and recall the harmony between art and architecture, emphasising the organic nature of Calder’s works. Gehry’s own method of developing architectural forms is inherently tactile, sharing some of the same hands-on techniques of a sculptor.

With the assistance of technology and effective planning, Calder and Abstraction at LACMA features a selection of sculptures that are animated throughout the course of the day.

Press release from the LACMA website

 

Alexander Calder. 'Three Quintains (Hello Girls)' 1964

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Three Quintains (Hello Girls)
1964
Sheet metal and paint with motor
275 x 288 inches
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Photo: Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Alexander Calder. 'Little Face' 1962

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Little Face
1962
Sheet metal, wire and paint
42 x 56 inches
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Photo: Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Alexander Calder. 'Laocoön' 1947

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Laocoön
1947
Sheet metal, wire, rod, string and paint
80 x 120 x 28 inches
The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studio, Los Angeles

 

Alexander Calder. 'Yucca' 1941

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Yucca
1941
Sheet metal, wire and paint
73 x 23 x 20 inches
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Hilla Rebey Collection, 1971
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Photo: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, by Kristopher McKay

 

Alexander Calder. 'Un effet du japonais' 1941

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Un effet du japonais
1941
Sheet metal, rod, wire and paint
80 x 80 x 48 inches
Calder Foundation, New York
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Photo: Calder Foundation, New York/Art Resource NY

 

Alexander Calder. 'Gibraltar' 1936

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Gibraltar
1936
Lignum vitae, walnut, steel rods, and painted wood
52 x 24 x 11 inches
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist.
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Digital image: © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art/Licences by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

 

Alexander Calder. 'Constellation Mobile' 1943

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Constellation Mobile
1943
Wood, wire, string and paint
53 x 48 x 35 inches
Calder Foundation, New York
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Photo: Calder Foundation, New York/Art Resource NY

 

Alexander Calder. 'Bougainvillier' 1947

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Bougainvillier
1947
Sheet metal, wire, lead and paint
78 x 86 inches
Collection of John and Mary Shirley
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Photo: Calder Foundation, New York/Art Resource NY

 

Alexander Calder. 'Le Demoiselle' 1939

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Le Demoiselle
1939
Sheet metal, wire and paint
58 x 21 x 29 inches
Glenstone
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)

 

Alexander Calder. 'Red Disc' 1947

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Red Disc
1947
Sheet metal, wire and paint
81 x 78 inches
Frances A. Bass
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)

 

Alexander Calder. 'Untitled' 1947

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Untitled
1947
Sheet metal, wire and paint
66 x 53 inches
Private collection
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Photo: Calder Foundation, New York/Art Resource NY

 

Alexander Calder. 'Trois Pics (intermediate maquette)' 1967

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Trois Pics (intermediate maquette)
1967
Sheet metal, bolts, and paint
96 x 63 x 70 inches
Calder Foundation, New York
© Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Photo: Calder Foundation, New York/Art Resource NY

 

 

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA, 90036
Phone: 323 857 6000

Opening hours:
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: noon – 8pm
Friday: noon – 9pm
Saturday, Sunday: 11am – 8pm
Closed Wednesday

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08
May
14

Exhibition: ‘Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture’ at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 11th May 2014

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture' at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014
Foto / Photo: Gert-Jan de Rooij, Amsterdam

 

 

What a magnificent exhibition. We all know Brancusi and Man Ray but it is the work of Medardo Rosso that surprises and delights here, an artist I admit I knew nothing about before this posting. What a revelation, both his sculptures and photographs. I must try and do a whole posting just on his photographs!

The two self-portraits of the artists in the studio are telling… Rosso, pensive, brooding, with a stack of chopped wood surrounding him, face wreathed in shadow, head titled slightly down and hands stuffed in pockets; Brancusi, seated on a plinth, legs crossed, swarthy arms folded replete with large hands, staring directly at the camera and surrounded by his work. Rosso in malleable darkness, Brancusi in towering light. The photographs reflect their respective personalities and inform the art which represents them.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the image for a larger version of the art.

 

Alessio delli Castelli considers the Italian sculptor’s photographic legacy.

“Medardo Rosso was born in Turin in 1858 and died in Milan 1928. However, he spent most of his life away from Italy, in Paris especially, from where he travelled to all the major European capitals. It was in Paris that, towards the close of the 19th century, he emerged alongside Auguste Rodin as a serious contender for the title of father of modern sculpture. Yet it was Rodin who achieved universal recognition. In spite of Rosso’s influence on sculptors such as Constantin Brancusi – whose Sleeping Muse (1909-10), with its radically abstracted features of a female head, is strongly reminiscent of Rosso’s Madame X (1896) – he was long held hostage by a provincial criticism which saw his practice confined, chronologically, thematically and formally, to the 19th century. Although it is true that Rosso only created two original sculptural works in the 20th century, to claim that he was no longer a practicing artist would be to overlook the variations he made of his sculptures, and the copies from antiquity. More importantly, it would be to dismiss his photographic work of that period merely as images of sculptures that already existed. This would mean ignoring the fact that his photography showed all the signs of rigorous artistic investigation – and was not, as critics in the 20th century often declared, indicative of either an accident that injured his leg and made him weak or a more general creative block.

It is only in recent years that Rosso’s photographs have acquired the status of art objects in and of themselves…”

Read more on the Frieze Magazine website

 

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture' at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture' at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture' at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture' at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture' at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014
Foto / Photos: Gert-Jan de Rooij, Amsterdam

 

 

In mythology, Leda is a girl who is seduced by Zeus who turns her into a swan. In the Brancusi sculpture, Leda (foreground, above) is that metamorphosis. The swan is an animal whose body is often associated with a hybrid identity between male and female. His neck is close to a phallic shape while her body has feminine attributes. The bird and woman, male and female mingle in the same sculptural movement. This transfiguration is reflected in the complex forms of sculpture, asymmetrical contours, the offset top shape intersecting with the lower form, giving rise to multiple passages and perceptions.

In 1932, Brancusi sculpture adds a large polished steel disc which suggests the presence of water and Leda is reflected in the mirror which changes its shape. Modifications qu’accentuera still provide a motor and a ball bearing arranged in the circular plate. Within the workshop, the body of Leda is in a state of constant metamorphosis. The shimmer of light on the surface of polished bronze sculpture blends with its reflection in the steel circle and absorbs its environment. Leda becomes a pure luminous presence. Weight and lightness, balance and imbalance are the same event within a continuous time duration in the sculptures of Constantin Brancusi.

Translated from the French on the Constantin Brancusi web page of the Centre Pompidou website [Online] Cited 05/05/2014 no longer available online

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture' at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2014
Foto / Photo: Gert-Jan de Rooij, Amsterdam

 

 

“In the spring of 2014 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen brings together works from all over the world by three artists who were decisive for the development of modern art. This is the first exhibition to combine sculptures by Brancusi, Rosso and Man Ray together with their photographs, affording a unique insight into the artists’ working methods.

Masterpieces that have rarely or never been seen in the Netherlands will be lent by important museums such as the Centre Pompidou, MoMA and Tate. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen will show more than 40 sculptures and hundred photographs by Constantin Brancusi (Hobita 1876 – Paris 1957), Medardo Rosso (Turin 1858 – Milan 1928) and Man Ray (Philadelphia 1890 – Paris 1976). The exhibition will feature sculptures such as Brancusi’s Princesse X (1915-1916) and Rosso’s Ecce Puer (1906) alongside works by Man Ray from the museum’s collection, including the sculpture L’Énigme d’Isidore Ducasse (1920 / 1971). Presenting the sculptures together with the artists’ photographs of their sculptures reveals their often-surprising perspectives on their own works.

 

Framing Sculpture

Brancusi, Rosso and Man Ray employed photography not so much as a means of recording their work. The photographs show how they interpreted their sculptures and how they wanted them to be seen by others. Brancusi is considered the father of modern sculpture with his highly simplified sculptures of people and animals. In his photographs he experimented with light and reflection so that his sculptures absorb their environment and appear to come to life. Rosso is the artist who introduced impressionism in sculpture. The indistinct contours of his apparently quickly modelled figures in plaster and wax make them appear to fuse with their surroundings. Rosso cut up the soft-focus photographs of his work, made them into collages and reworked them with ink so that the sculptures appear even flatter and more contourless. Man Ray is best known as a photographer but was also a painter and sculptor. His choice of materials was unconventional: he combined existing objects to create new works, comparable to the ‘readymades’ of his friend Marcel Duchamp. Man Ray’s experimental use of photography led him to make photographs without the use of a camera. He made these so-called ‘rayographs’ by placing objects directly on photographic paper and exposing them briefly to light, leaving behind a ghostly impression.

Press release from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'L'Énigme d'Isidore Ducasse' (The Riddle of Isidore Ducasse) 1920 (1971)

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
L’Énigme d’Isidore Ducasse (The Riddle of Isidore Ducasse)
1920 (1971)
Iron, textile, rope, cardboard
45.4 x 60 x 24cm
Collection Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2013.

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'L'Énigme d'Isidore Ducasse' (The Riddle of Isidore Ducasse) 1920 (1975)

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
L’Énigme d’Isidore Ducasse (The Riddle of Isidore Ducasse)
1920 (1975)
Gelatin silver print
47.5 x 59cm
Courtesy Fondazione Marconi, Milan
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2013

 

Medardo Rosso (Italian, 1858-1928) 'Enfant à la Bouchée de pain' (Child in the soup kitchen) 1897 (1892-1893)

 

Medardo Rosso (Italian, 1858-1928)
Enfant à la Bouchée de pain (Child in the soup kitchen)
1897 (1892-1893)
Wax over plaster
46 x 49 x 37cm
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome

 

Medardo Rosso (Italian, 1858-1928) ''Enfant à la Bouchée de pain' in the Cézanne room at the Salon d'Automne' 1904

 

Medardo Rosso (Italian, 1858-1928)
Enfant à la Bouchée de pain in the Cézanne room at the Salon d’Automne
1904
Felatin silver print
12.3 x 15.5cm
Private collection

 

 

The Italian sculptor Medardo Rosso (1858-1928) is the oldest and most traditional of the three artists. He stands in the Impressionist tradition of French sculptor August Rodin. Rosso has made many portraits of children, which he adored. They were one of his favourite subjects. Rosso kept working on the same pieces throughout his career, making changes to their titles, shapes or materials. Sometimes he combined materials or poured another substance over the original. A work of plaster then became a wax sculpture. Other times he made two different versions of the same image, using different materials…

Rosso… used his camera to present his art in the way he preferred. By taking pictures and displaying them next to the actual sculptures he could show the audience what was, in his opinion, the right angle to look at his piece. Of course, everyone is free to walk around the sculpture, but the photographs show what the artist had in mind when he created it. Many times he would cut up his pictures, tear away corners or colour them with ink. This way he even reinterpreted his interpretations. Together the sculptures, photographs and collages give a complete picture of the work by Medardo Rosso. Never before have there been so many of his works on display in the Netherlands.

Text by Evita Bookelmann on the Kunstpedia website [Online] Cited 05/05/2014 no longer available online

 

Constantin Brancusi. 'Tête d’enfant endormi' (Head of a Sleeping Child) 1906-07

 

Constantin Brancusi (Romanian, 1876-1957)
Tête d’enfant endormi (Head of a Sleeping Child)
1906-07
Plaster, coloured dark brown
10.8 x 13.6 x 15.2cm
Private collection

 

 

A previously unknown sculpture by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) can be seen in Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture, the exhibition opening at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen on Saturday. The museum is especially delighted by the arrival of Tête d’enfant endormie (Head of a Sleeping Child, 1906-07). This early sculpture is an important key work in Brancusi’s development of his famous ‘ovoid’.

The exhibition, which features more than forty sculptures by Constantin Brancusi, Medardo Rosso and Man Ray and a hundred vintage photographs taken by them, runs in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen for three months from 8 February. The plaster sculpture was purchased at a sale by a French private collector. Leading expert Friedrich Teja Bach has recently confirmed that it is a version of the ‘head of a sleeping child’. Curators Francesco Stocchi and Peter van der Coelen remarked, “It is unusual for a previously unknown work by Brancusi to turn up at a sale. Works by Brancusi are rare and almost all of them are in prominent museum collections like those of the Centre Pompidou, the Tate and MoMA.”

 

The Road to Abstraction

The child’s head with natural features is in the tradition of the contemporary Impressionists Auguste Rodin and Medardo Rosso. At the same time, this early work is a starting point in Brancusi’s journey towards a more abstract style, which culminated in an entirely smooth oval form, devoid of any facial features. This process can also be seen in the photographs taken by Brancusi himself, in which he pictured Tête d’enfant endormie in his studio with Le Nouveau-Ne II, a work he made ten years later. The exhibition in Rotterdam examines the artistic practices and development of Brancusi, Rosso and Man Ray by showing the sculptures alongside the photographs they took of them.

 

Painted Bronze

Brancusi’s oeuvre contains a number of recurring subjects, which the artist executed in a variety of materials, including plaster, marble and bronze. This allowed Brancusi to explore various effects, such as the reflection of light. The signed Tête d’enfant endormie is an early version in the series. It is unusual that Brancusi painted the plaster, making it look like bronze.

Press release from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

 

Constantin Brancusi. 'La Muse endormie' (Sleeping muse) 1910

 

Constantin Brancusi (Romanian, 1876-1957)
La Muse endormie (Sleeping muse)
1910
Bronze
16.1 x 27.7 x 19.3cm
Arthur Jerome Eddy Memorial Collection. The Art Institute of Chicago
© 2013 c/o Pictoright Amsterdam

 

Man Ray. 'Noire et blanche (Black and white)' 1926

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Noire et blanche (Black and white)
1926
Gelatin silver print
18 x 23.5cm
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP – PICTORIGHT / Telimage – 2013

 

 

Man Ray’s Noire et blanche is a photograph exemplary of Surrealist art. The striking faces of the pale model and the dark mask have a doubling effect. This repetition is a reminder that a photograph is a double of what it represents, namely, a sign or an index of reality. In Surrealism the act of doubling indicates that we are all divided subjects made up of the conscious and unconscious. In reading this photograph as typical of primitivism, the woman can be understood as European civilisation and the mask as “primitive” Africa. The image draws a parallel between the two faces presenting them as related to each another. The title “black and white” is a word play because the order is reversed when reading the image left to right. The artist also printed a negative version of this image. The photograph was first published in Vogue. It is a portrait of Kiki of Montparnasse, Man Ray’s lover and model at the time the photograph was taken.

Text from the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam website [Online] Cited 05/05/2014 no longer available online

 

Medardo Rosso. 'Enfant malade (Ziek kind)' c. 1909

 

Medardo Rosso (Italian, 1858-1928)
Enfant malade (Ziek kind)
c. 1909
Aristotype
7.9 x 6.3cm
Private collection

 

Medardo Rosso. 'Enfant malade (Ziek kind) 1895 (1903-1904)

 

Medardo Rosso (Italian, 1858-1928)
Enfant malade (Ziek kind)
1895 (1903-1904)
Bronze
25.5 x 14.5 x 16.5cm
Collectie Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan

 

Medardo Rosso. 'Madame X' 1896

 

Medardo Rosso (Italian, 1858-1928)
Madame X
1896
Wax
300mm
Venice, Ca’ Pesaro

 

 

“Con una coerenza assoluta, insensibile alle polemiche e alle controversie che la sua arte suscitava, e più ancora al disprezzo oltraggioso di cui lo faceva segno la cultura ufficiale, il Rosso deduceva alle estreme conseguenze le premesse fondamentali della sua visione. Davanti ai nostri occhi una sgomentante superficie d’ombra da cui emerge la lama trepida e vibrante di un essere vivente, che contesta al nulla misterioso che lo incalza e in cui in un soffio si dissolverà, il suo diritto alla luce, cioè all’essenza vitale. Le premesse letterarie, le suggestioni filosofiche o vagamente esoteriche sono totalmente assorbite nella suprema qualità stilistica: lo scultore modula ed assottiglia la materia al limite del possibile, sull’orlo dell’astrazione assoluta, ricercandone spasmodicamente ogni vibrazione musicale; l’equazione scultura-luce-pittura poteva dirsi verificata.”

“With absolute consistency, insensitive to the controversies and disputes that his art aroused, and even more outrageous contempt of which he did hold official culture, Rosso deduced to the extreme the basic premises of his vision. Before our eyes a daunting shadow surface which shows the blade trembling and vibrating of a living being, which criticises the mysterious anything that presses him and when you blow in a dissolver, its right in the light, that all ‘vital’ essence. The premises literary, philosophical or vaguely esoteric suggestions are totally absorbed in the supreme quality of style: the sculptor modulation and tapering the matter to the extent possible, the absolute brink of abstraction, seeking spasmodically every musical vibration; the equation of light-sculpture-painting could be said to be verified.”

Terrible translation by Google translate of an anonymous text = but so beautiful at the same time!

 

Constantin Brancusi. 'Princesse X' (Princess X) c. 1930

 

Constantin Brancusi (Romanian, 1876-1957)
Princesse X (Princess X)
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
29.7 x 23.7cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Paris
© 2013 c/o Pictoright Amsterdam
Photo: Bertrand Prévost

 

Constantin Brancusi. 'Princesse X (Princess X)' 1915-1916

 

Constantin Brancusi (Romanian, 1876-1957)
Princesse X (Princess X)
1915-1916
Bronze
61.7 x 40.5 x 22.2cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Paris
© 2013 c/o Pictoright Amsterdam
Photo: Adam Rzepka

 

 

Princess X is a sculptured rendering of the French princess, Marie Bonaparte, by the artist Constantin Brâncusi. Princess Bonaparte was the great-grand niece of the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte…

According to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Brâncusi had been “at the center of two of modern arts most notorious scandals.” One of the scandals being that the Salon des Indépendants, in Paris where Brâncusi practiced his trade, discontinued the display of Princess X from its establishment for its apparent obscene content, as some thought it looked like a penis. After having his art taken off display, Brâncusi was shocked. He declared the incident a misunderstanding. He had created Princess X not as a sculpture depicting a more masculine subject, but the object of feminine desire and vanity.

After much accusation, Brâncuși insisted the sculpture had been his rendition of Marie Bonaparte. Brâncusi discussed the comparison of the bronze figure to the princess. He described his detest of Marie, as a “vain woman.” He claimed she went as far as placing a hand mirror on the table at mealtimes, so she could gaze upon herself. The sculpture’s C-like form reveals a woman looking over and gazing down, as if looking into an object. The large anchors of the sculpture resemble the “beautiful bust” which she possessed. Without knowing the context, to a viewer Princess X could look like an erect penis. Brâncusi allows the princess to gaze upon herself in an eternal loop locked in the bronze sculpture.

The style of Brâncusi is one that “was largely fuelled by myths, folklore, and primitive culture,” this combined with the modern materials and tools Brâncuși used to sculpt, “formed a unique contrast… resulting in a distinctive kind of modernity and timelessness.” The technique Brâncusi was known for and used on Princess X could be mistaken for a penis, but in fact it was the simple form of a woman.

“What my art is aiming at, is above all realism; pursue the inner hidden reality, the very essence of objects in their own intrinsic fundamental nature: this is my only preoccupation.” – Constantine Brâncusi.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Constantin Brancusi. 'View of the Studio with Maïastra' 1917

 

Constantin Brancusi (Romanian, 1876-1957)
View of the Studio with Maïastra
1917
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 17.8cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Paris
© 2013 c/o Pictoright Amsterdam

 

 

According to Constantin Brancusi’s own testimony, his preoccupation with the image of the bird as a plastic form began as early as 1910. With the theme of the Maiastra (1910-18), he initiated a series of about thirty sculptures of birds.

The word maïastra means “master” or “chief” in Brancusi’s native Romanian, but the title refers specifically to a magically beneficent, dazzlingly plumed bird in Romanian folklore. Brancusi’s mystical inclinations and his deeply rooted interest in peasant superstition make the motif an apt one. The golden plumage of the Maiastra is expressed in the reflective surface of the bronze; the bird’s restorative song seems to issue from within the monumental puffed chest, through the arched neck, out of the open beak. The heraldic, geometric aspect of the figure contrasts with details such as the inconsistent size of the eyes, the distortion of the beak aperture, and the cocking of the head slightly to one side. The elevation of the bird on a saw-tooth base lends it the illusion of perching. The subtle tapering of form, the relationship of curved to hard-edge surfaces, and the changes of axis tune the sculpture so finely that the slightest alteration from version to version reflects a crucial decision in Brancusi’s development of the theme.

Seven other versions of Maiastra have been identified and located: three are marble and four bronze…

Extract from Lucy Flint. “Constantin Brancusi: Maiastra,” on the Guggenheim website [Online] Cited 17/03/2021

 

Constantin Brancusi. 'Self-portrait in the studio' c. 1934

 

Constantin Brancusi (Romanian, 1876-1957)
Self-portrait in the studio
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
39.7 x 29.7cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Paris
© 2013 c/o Pictoright Amsterdam
Photo: Philippe Migeat

 

Man Ray. 'Rayographie' (Rayograph) 1925

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Rayographie (Rayograph)
1925
Photogram
50 x 40.5cm
Collection Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2013

 

Man Ray. 'Le Violon d'Ingres' (Ingres's Violin or The Hobby) 1924

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Le Violon d’Ingres (Ingres’s Violin or The Hobby)
1924
Gelatine silver print
17.2 x 22.4cm
Private collection Turin
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2013

 

Man Ray. 'Self-portrait with the lamp' 1934

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Self-portrait with the lamp
1934
Gelatin silver print
10. 8 x 8cm
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2013

 

Medardo Rosso. 'Self-portrait in the studio' c. 1906

 

Medardo Rosso (Italian, 1858-1928)
Self-portrait in the studio
c. 1906
Modern contact print of the original glass negative
12.7 x 13cm
Private collection

 

'Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray - Framing Sculpture' exhibition poster

 

Constantin Brancusi, La Muse endormie, 1910. Arthur Jerome Eddy Memorial Collection. The Art Institute of Chicago. © 2013 c/o Pictoright Amsterdam /
Medardo Rosso, Enfant malade, c. 1909. Private collection /
Man Ray, Noire et blanche, 1926
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP – PICTORIGHT / Telimage – 2013
Design: Thonik.

 

 

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Museumpark 18-20
3015 CX Rotterdam
The Netherlands
Phone: +31 (0)10 44.19.400

Opening hours:
Tuesdays to Sundays, 11am – 5pm

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen website

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04
Apr
14

Exhibition: ‘James Turrell: A Retrospective’ at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Exhibition dates: 26th May 2013 – 6th April 2014

 

Many thankx to LACMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

James Turrell
Breathing Light
2013
LED light into space
Dimensions cariable
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation
© James Turell
Photos: © Florian Holzherr

 

James Turrell. 'Bridget's Bardo' 2009

 

James Turrell. 'Raemar Pink White' 1969

 

James Turrell. 'Key Lime' 1994

 

James Turrell. 'Light Reignfall' 2011

 

'James Turrell: A Retrospective' installation view at LACMA 2014

 

 

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents James Turrell: A Retrospective, the first major U.S. survey of Los Angeles-native James Turrell since 1985. The exhibition features approximately fifty works tracing five decades of the artist’s career. In addition to early light projections, holograms, and an entire section devoted to his masterwork-in-progress, the Roden Crater project, the exhibition features numerous immersive light installations that address our perception and how we see. LACMA’s retrospective is complemented by concurrent, independently curated exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH)(June 9 – September 22, 2013); and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (June 21 – September 25, 2013). Additional Turrell exhibitions on view this year include the Academy Art Museum, Easton (April 20 – July 7, 2013); and Villa Panza, Varese, Italy (October 24, 2013 – May 4, 2014).

“The theme of light has preoccupied artists for centuries,” says Michael Govan, CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director of LACMA and exhibition co-curator. “No one, however, has so fully considered the ‘thing-ness’ of light itself – as well as how the experience of light reflects the wondrous and complex nature of human perception – as James Turrell has for nearly five decades.” Christine Y. Kim, exhibition co-curator and Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at LACMA adds, “There is nothing quite like the experience of a Turrell work, which is truly about and for the viewer and his or her perception. Perception is the medium for Turrell, as his work provokes viewers to see themselves see.”

Turrell’s revolutionary use of light in art makes for an experience that is both physical and optical – requiring visitors to spend anywhere from five to twenty minutes with one artwork, often alone in a gallery or with a limited number of fellow viewers.

 

Exhibition overview

In the mid-1960s, James Turrell was inspired by a beam of light from a slide projector while sitting in the darkened room of an undergraduate art history class at Pomona College. The sight provoked a question: what if light wasn’t the tool that enabled people to see something else but rather became the thing people look at? Thus began an inquiry that has led to a vast, prolific career.

James Turrell: A Retrospective comprises works that range in scale from an intimate watercolour made in 1969 to a 5,000-square-foot “Ganzfeld” installation – designed to entirely eliminate the viewer’s depth perception – offering visitors multiple entry points into Turrell’s practice. Evident in the array of works is the artist’s interest in perception, psychology, religion, astronomy, meditation, and science. The exhibition also draws connections between the artist’s light installations, architectural projects, and his famous masterwork-in progress at Roden Crater, in the high desert of Arizona. James Turrell: A Retrospective presents the most expansive installation of Roden Crater works shown to date, presented in the form of models, drawings, photographs, holograms, and other documents from the 1980s through the present.

 

Exhibition Organisation

The work of James Turrell requires a vast amount of exhibition space. James Turrell: A Retrospective presents nearly fifty works exhibited in 33,000 square feet populating two venues across LACMA’s campus: the 2nd floor of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) and the east galleries of the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion (Resnick Pavilion). BCAM’s east galleries begin with works that Turrell completed at his Mendota Studio in Santa Monica from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, followed by a succession of full-room installations that feature projections, holograms, a “Shallow Space” – a large room designed to challenge a viewer’s depth perception – and a “Cross Corner Projection,” in which light is projected in a way that suggests weight and mass. A subsequent gallery contains information and media highlighting a selection of site-specific projects and commissions around the world. BCAM’s west wing is populated with a “Magnatron” work – consisting of an aperture in the shape of an old television screen – followed by three full-scale installations: Key Lime, a “Wedgework” in which the illusion of walls are created through light and architecture; a “Wide Glass,” a type of work that adds a temporal element to Turrell’s light-based installations; and St. Elmo’s Breath, a “Space Division Construction,” which appears to be a flat surface but upon closer inspection reveals itself to be light emitted from a seemingly bottomless cavity in the wall.

Upon entering the Resnick Pavilion, visitors first encounter work that resulted from Turrell’s collaboration with artist Robert Irwin and Dr. Ed Wortz as part of the Art and Technology program at LACMA in 1969, namely a “Perceptual Cell” called Light Reignfall; Dark Matters, a “Dark Space” that presents a seemingly blacked-out room with only a minimally perceivable trace of light; and Breathing Light, a “Ganzfeld.” The Resnick Pavilion also holds an expansive gallery dedicated to the Roden Crater project, including large-scale mixed media drawings and a model contoured with actual cinder from the crater, as well as other models for autonomous spaces.

Press release from the LACMA website

 

James Turrell. 'Roden Crater Model (Large Overall Site)' 1987

 

James Turrell. 'Roden Crater Model (Large Overall Site)' 1987

 

James Turrell. 'Roden Crater Project, view toward northeast' 1987

 

James Turrell in front of Roden Crater Project at sunset, October 2001

 

James Turrell. 'Twilight Epiphany' 2012

 

James Turrell. 'Twilight Epiphany' 2012

 

James Turrell. 'Twilight Epiphany' 2012

 

James Turrell. 'Afrum (White)' 1966

 

James Turrell. 'Raethro II (Blue)' 1971

 

James Turrell. 'Bullwinkle' 2001

 

 

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA, 90036
Phone: 323 857-6000

Opening Hours:
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: noon – 8pm
Friday: noon – 9pm
Saturday, Sunday: 11am – 8pm
Closed Wednesday

LACMA website

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06
Jan
14

Exhibition: ‘Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion’ at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf

Exhibition dates: 7th September 2013 – 12th January 2014

 

Many thankx to the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

'Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion' Installation photographs

'Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion' Installation photographs

'Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion' Installation photographs

'Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion' Installation photographs

 

Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion
Installation photographs
Fotos: Achim Kukulies, © Calder Foundation, New York / Artists’ Rights Society (ARS), New York
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

 

“These hesitations and resumptions, gropings and fumblings, sudden decisions and, most especially, marvellous swan-like nobility make Calder’s mobiles strange creatures, mid-way between matter and life.”

.
Jean-Paul Sartre, 1946

 

 

For the first time in 20 years, a German museum is presenting a major selection of works by the American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976). With the exhibition Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion, the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen invites art lovers to reevaluate Calder as an astonishingly multifaceted member of the twentieth century avant-garde. Never before has the artistic oeuvre of this pioneer of Kineticism been presented in its surprising proximity and intimate interplay with the experimental film and music of its time. This approach highlights the intellectual universality of an artist whose mobiles are familiar worldwide today.

The focus of the exhibition at the K20 Grabbeplatz is the 1930s and 1940s, documenting Calder’s path toward abstraction and his lifelong friendships with members of the European avant-garde. On view in two exhibition halls are approximately 70 works, ranging from small-scale works in wood and sheet metal to the monumental steel stabile Le Tamanoir (1963), weighing 2300 kilograms, on loan from Rotterdam. A special architectural feature of this presentation is the long, accessible catwalk in the Kleehalle, which will offer visitors unexpected perspectives of the suspended mobiles.

For the Düsseldorf exhibition, Calder’s first solo show of abstract works at the Galerie Percier in Paris in 1931, has been partially documented as a crucial station on the path toward his singular formal language. His artistic friendships during his time in Paris are highlighted by important individual paintings by Piet Mondrian, Joan Miró, and Hans Arp that are found today in the collection of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen. The impulse that initiated this major exhibition project was modest in proportions: in 2008, the sculpture Untitled, dating from 1936, was acquired by the Federal State of North-Rhine Westphalia, and hence and came into the possession of the Kunstsammlung. This work is among Calder’s relatively unknown “noise-mobiles,” which generate sound through the gentle pendular movement of a ball that hangs from a wire. A complex work, Untitled connects various phases of Calder’s career, pointing toward the beginning of the wire sculptures of the 1920s and also the “sonorous” mobiles of the later period, which are set in motion by air currents. The forms of the individual elements signal Calder’s turn toward abstraction, but also resemble the organic language typical of the works of Arp and Miró.

Like no other American artist, and in a way comparable only with his friend Man Ray, Calder was a consistent member of Parisian avant-garde circles between 1926 and 1933. He was recognised by the main representatives of a range of artistic tendencies, yet never allowed himself to be drawn into the rivalry between abstraction and Surrealism. During these years, Calder moved uninhibitedly between various orientations, positioning his work in the field of tension residing between Mondrian’s cool geometric compositional structures and the biomorphic, playful abstractions of Miró and Arp. The exhibition features in particular the abstract works Calder produced after a legendary and pivotal experience in Paris: in the fall of 1930, he visited Mondrian’s studio and was deeply impressed by the space’s total composition, in particular by the black-and-white structuring of a wall on which coloured rectangles were mounted for study purposes. In his autobiography, Calder characterises his visit to this environment as a “shock” that prompted him to reevaluate his artistic production to date.

During the ensuing weeks, he produced abstract paintings exclusively – a brief intermezzo. Subsequently, he developed his first nonobjective, spatial wire constructions. In the autumn of 1931, the influences of the preceding years found a more distinct expression in Calder’s art when he produced the first moving sculptures by a system of motors or cranks. Marcel Duchamp gave them the name “mobile,” a word that means both “motion” and “motive” in French. The mechanics were abandoned as Calder developed hanging kinetic sculptures, which are linked together by wires and joints and held in a state of equilibrium; through the principle of contingent and dynamic rotation, the individual parts continually form new and unanticipated constellations. As a counterpart to the mobiles, Calder developed immobile constructions, which Hans Arp dubbed “stabiles” in 1932.

Contributing to our understanding of Calder’s works are experimental films, likely seen by Calder during his time in Paris, in which movement and rotation are thematised in their most various facets. During the 1920s, many artists in Calder’s intimate circle were preoccupied with the medium of cinema and the moving image, for example Fernand Léger with Ballet Mechanique (1924), Marcel Duchamp with Anémic Cinéma (1926), and Man Ray with Le Retour à la Raison (1923). In the exhibition, these experimental films will be screened as part of the broader context of Calder’s studies of movement and space. Indispensable to a comprehensive presentation of Calder’s involvement in the historic avant-garde is a consideration of the experimental music of the time: Calder cultivated friendships with the composers Edgard Varèse, Virgil Thomson, and John Cage, among others. Calder was intensively preoccupied with contemporary music, which is also incorporated into the exhibition. And it seems likely that it also exerted an influence on the “noise-mobiles,” for which the randomness of sound events plays an important role.”

Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion is on show at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, in two large exhibition halls at the K20 Grabbeplatz in Düsseldorf. In the Klee Hall the visitor will experience Calder’s early sculptures – set against works by trend-setting fellow artists, such as Mondrian, Miró and Arp, as well as artistic and documentary films. In the high Grabbehall, by contrast, the large mobiles and stabiles will be exhibited to impressive effect by allowing the individual shapes to move freely. Here the visitor can experience how the artist makes playful use of space and proportions. At various points throughout the exhibition, Calder’s mobiles enter into a dialogue with experimental music dating from the 1920s onwards, ranging from compositions by Edgar Varèse to those of John Cage. This illustrates how Calder constantly sought inspiration from other branches of the arts and broadened his own horizons.

Press release from the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen website

 

Alexander Calder. 'Quatre systèmes rouges' (mobile) 1960

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Quatre systèmes rouges (mobile)
1960
Iron, steel wire, colour
155 x 200 x 200cm
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Dänemark, Donation: The New Carlsberg Foundation
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Dänemark
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Araignée d'oignon' (Onion peeler) c. 1940

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Araignée d’oignon (Onion peeler)
c. 1940
21.8 × 35 × 36.5cm
Iron
Moderna Museet, Stockholm
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Foto: Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Moderna Museet, Stockholm
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Constellation with Red Object' 1943

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Constellation with Red Object
1943
Wood, steel wire, colour
62.2 x 38.7 x 24.1cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, James Thrall Soby Fund, 1943
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: © 2012 Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/ Scala, Florence
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Little Spider' c. 1940

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Little Spider
c. 1940
Sheet metal, steel wire, colour
111.1 x 127 x 139.7cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Klaus G. Perls
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Performing Seal' 1950

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Performing Seal
1950
83.8 × 58.4 × 91.4cm
Sheet metal, steel wire, colour
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. The Leonard and Ruth Horwich Family Loan
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Nathan Keay, © Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Nathan Keay, © Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Portrait of a Man' c. 1928

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Portrait of a Man
c. 1928
Messingdraht
32.5 x 22.2 x 34.2cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist, 1966
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: © 2012 Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/ Scala, Florence
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Upstanding T' 1944

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Upstanding T
1944
Bronze
78 x 37 x 25cm
Calder Foundation, New York
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Courtesy Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, New York
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Courtesy Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, New York
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Ohne Titel' (Untitled) 1936

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Ohne Titel (Untitled)
1936
Standing Mobile (stehendes Mobile)
Steel sheets, steel wire, wooden ball, black, gray, red, blue and yellow painted
75.5 x 32.8 x 41cm
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Leihgabe des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Achim Kukulies, Düsseldorf
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Achim Kukulies, Düsseldorf
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Untitled' c. 1934

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Untitled
c. 1934
Steel tube, round bar, wood, wire, paint, string
114.5 x 94cm
Calder Foundation, New York
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Courtesy Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, New York
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Courtesy Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, New York
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Cello on a spindle' 1936

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Cello on a spindle
1936
158 × 118 × 90cm
Metal, wood, lead, colour
Kunsthaus Zürich
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Kunsthaus Zürich
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Kunsthaus Zürich
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

 

Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen
Grabbeplatz 5
D-40213 Düsseldorf

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 6pm
Saturdays, Sundays, holidays 11am – 6pm
Mondays closed

Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen website

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25
Mar
12

Sculpture: ‘Metropolis II’ (2010) by Chris Burden at LACMA, Los Angeles

Installation dates: 14th January 2012 –

 

Poetic, historic, amazing, fantastic, incredible, indescribable (the words of an eight year old, comment on the website). Great video as well. Take your ear plugs!

Marcus

.
Many thankx to LACMA for allowing me to publish the video and the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

Chris Burden (American, 1946-2015)
Metropolis II
2010
Courtesy of the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Foundation
© Chris Burden

Dimensions: 9’9″ (H) x 28’3” (W) x 19’2” (D) (297 cm x 862 cm x 584 cm)

Media: 
3 1/2 hp DC motors with motor controllers
1,100 custom-manufactured die-cast cars
13 HO-scale train sets with controllers and tracks
Steel, aluminium, shielded copper wire, copper sheet, brass, various plastics, assorted woods and manufactured wood products, Legos, Lincoln Logs, Dado Cubes, glass, ceramic and natural stone tiles, acrylic and oil-based paints, rubber, sundry adhesives

 

Chris Burden. 'Metropolis II' 2010

 

Chris Burden (American, 1946-2015)
Metropolis II
2010
Courtesy of the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Foundation
© Chris Burden

 

 

Created by artist Chris Burden, Metropolis II (2010) is a complex, large-scale kinetic sculpture modelled after a fast-paced modern city. The armature of the piece is constructed of steel beams, forming an eclectic grid interwoven with an elaborate system of eighteen roadways, including a six-lane freeway, train tracks, and hundreds of buildings. 1,100 miniature toy cars speed through the city at 240 scale miles per hour on the specially designed plastic roadways. Every hour, the equivalent of approximately 100,000 cars circulates through the sculpture. “The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars, produces in the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling 21st Century city.”

Situated in the centre of the grid are three electrically powered conveyor belts, each studded with magnets at regular intervals. The magnets on the conveyor belt and those on the toy cars attract, enabling the cars to travel to the top of the sculpture without physical contact between the belt and cars. At the top, the cars are released one at a time and race down the roadways, weaving in and out of the structure, simulating rapid traffic and congestion.

Metropolis II is on long-term loan to LACMA, thanks to the generosity of LACMA Trustee Nicolas Berggruen. Beginning January 14, 2012, the work will be on view on the first floor of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) and run on weekends during the scheduled times below.

  • The cars are attached by a small magnet to the conveyor belt that brings them to the crest
  • The only motorisation of the cars is the conveyor belt to the top
  • Once the cars cross over the crest and head downward, their entire movement is by gravity
  • They travel at a scale speed of 240 mph, plus or minus
  • The tracks they take are Teflon coated to reduce friction
  • The tracks are beveled at 7 degrees to give added torque for speed when they come through corners and curves

.
Beginning Saturday, January 14, to see Metropolis II in action, please visit the gallery at these times:
Fridays: 12.30 – 2pm; 3 – 4.30pm; 5 – 6.30pm; 7 – 8.30pm
Weekends: 11.30 – 1.00pm; 2 – 3.30pm; 4 – 5.30pm; 6 – 7.30pm
Weekdays: not operational”

Press release from LACMA

 

Chris Burden. 'Metropolis II' 2010

 

Chris Burden. 'Metropolis II' 2010

 

Chris Burden (American, 1946-2015)
Metropolis II
2010
Courtesy of the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Foundation
© Chris Burden

 

Chris Burden. 'Metropolis II' 2010 (detail)

 

Chris Burden (American, 1946-2015)
Metropolis II (detail)
2010
Courtesy of the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Foundation
© Chris Burden

.
Operator Alison Walker watches miniature cars move along the roads in Chris Burden’s latest kinetic sculpture, Metropolis II, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012. The sculpture does more than just imitate life. The colorful display of roads, cars, trains and buildings is art imitating what the artist foresees life being like in five or 10 years.

 

 

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA, 90036
Phone: 323 857-6000

Opening hours:
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: 11am – 5pm
Friday: 11am – 8pm
Saturday, Sunday: 10am – 7pm
Closed Wednesday

LACMA website

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03
Mar
11

Exhibition: ‘Duane Hanson/Gregory Crewdson: Uncanny realities’ at Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden

Exhibition dates: 27th November 2010 – 6th March 2011

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Duane Hanson/Gregory Crewdson: Uncanny realities' at Museum Frieder Burda

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Duane Hanson/Gregory Crewdson: Uncanny realities at Museum Frieder Burda

 

 

A great double act! Inspired curating puts the work of these artist’s together – everyday Americans with ethereal, theatrical image bites. The mis en scène created in the exhibition space, the tension between sculpture, photograph, frame and space – is delicious. Crewdson is at his best when he resists the obvious narrative (for example, all the traffic lights stuck on yellow in the photograph ‘Untitled (Brief Encounter)’ (2006, see below). Personally I prefer his staged photographs with pairs or groups of people within the image, rather than a single figure. The storyline is more ambiguous and the photographs of people walking along railway tracks always remind me of the Stephen King story filmed as ‘Stand by Me’ (1986) with a young River Phoenix. Either way they are intoxicating, the viewer drawn into these wonderful, dark psychological dramas.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Museum Frieder Burda for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Duane Hanson/Gregory Crewdson: Uncanny realities' at Museum Frieder Burda with Duane Hanson 'Old Couple on a Bench' (1994) in the foreground and Gregory Crewdson 'Untitled (Worthington Street)' (2006) in the background

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Duane Hanson/Gregory Crewdson: Uncanny realities at Museum Frieder Burda with Duane Hanson Old Couple on a Bench (1994) in the foreground and Gregory Crewdson Untitled (Worthington Street) (2006) in the background

 

 

The works by the two American artists Duane Hanson (1925-1996) and Gregory Crewdson (born in 1962) confuse and touch the observer.

Both artists present people in their everyday lives, with hopes, yearnings and broken dreams. People we usually do not notice, aged and marked by reality, by life itself. While Hanson shapes his life-sized figures with a great deal of sympathy, Crewdson rather spreads a gloomy and depressing atmosphere in his pictures of lonely people in their houses, gardens and in streets.

With his realistic sculptures, the American artist Duane Hanson has become a synonym for contemporary realism in contemporary art. Typical motives are average people like  housewives, waitresses, car dealers, janitors. Posture and expression of these figures are very close to reality. The photographer Gregory Crewdson arranges his large format pictures with cineastic arrangements and lets the abyss behind every-day life scenes become visible.

The exhibition at the Frieder Burda Museum presents about 30 figures by Duane Hanson, mainly from the artist’s estate, in dialogue with 20 large format works from the series Beneath the Roses by the photographer Gregory Crewdson. The photographies are mainly owned by the artist himself.

The curators Götz Adriani and Patricia Kamp are not aiming at a direct confrontation. They are rather presenting two artists who work with different materials, but deal with very similar topics. Both artists, Hanson and Crewdson, are grand when it comes to arranging their art. Crewdson always puts very much effort into the arrangements of the scenes in his pictures, and Hanson always keeps an eye on his close surroundings.

The works of both artists impressively reflect the complexity of the human existence. …

 

Duane Hanson. 'Children Playing Game' 1979

 

Duane Hanson (American, 1925-1996)
Children Playing Game
1979
Polyvinyl chloride, coloured with oil, mixed technique and accessories
Collection Hanson, Davie, Florida
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

 

Duane Hanson. 'Tourists II' 1988

 

Duane Hanson (American, 1925-1996)
Tourists II
1988
polyvinyl chloride, coloured with oil, mixed technique, accessories
Collection Hanson, Davie, Florida
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

 

Duane Hanson. 'Self-Portrait with Model' 1979

 

Duane Hanson (American, 1925-1996)
Self-Portrait with Model
1979
Polyvinyl chloride, coloured with oil, mixed technique and accessories
Collection Hanson, Davie, Florida
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

 

Duane Hanson. 'Housepainter I' 1984/1988

 

Duane Hanson (American, 1925-1996)
Housepainter I
1984/1988
Epoxy resin, coloured with oil, mixed technique, accessories
Collection Hanson, Davie, Florida
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

 

Duane Hanson. 'Queenie II' 1988

 

Duane Hanson (American, 1925-1996)
Queenie II
1988
Epoxy resin, coloured with oil, mixed technique, accessories
Collection Hanson, Davie, Florida
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

 

 

Duane Hanson

Duane Hanson (1925-1996) is one of the most influential American sculptors of the 20th century committed to Realism.

The proximity to reality of his lifelike, detailed human figures make for perfect irritation. Despite all the seriousness hidden behind the socio-critical issue, which prompted Hanson to create his protagonists, the figures have a great deal of entertainment value, above all – and it is precisely this that makes them so appealing – due to their occasional gravitational bearing. Featuring twenty-five works, the exhibition presents a representative cross-section of the American’s extensive oeuvre, which comprises a total of only 114 works. The figures enter a dialogue with the large-format photographs by the American photo artist Gregory Crewdson, who has a flair for relating human abysses in a different and very subtle way.

In the early 1950s, after completing his study of sculpture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Hanson was initially guided by the abstract style of art that prevailed during this period. However, this would not lead to a satisfactory result. In 1953, he turned his back on his homeland and spent nearly ten years of his life earning a living as an art teacher at American schools in Germany. It was during this period that he discovered the materials polyester resin and fiberglass, which would become crucial for his future creative work. After returning to the United States, Hanson spent the ensuing years perfecting his artistic skills in the treatment of these materials in such a way that the boundaries between reality and artificial figure seem to blur – where Hanson was never concerned with the mere illusionistic reproduction of reality, but chose this veristic manner of representation as a medium for communicating his concern in terms of content, i.e., shedding light on the tragedy of human lives that hauntingly consolidates in his characters.

In the human figures produced in the early work phase in the late 1960s, Hanson responded to the sociopolitical tension and protest movements of the day. He created sculptures and ensembles that very directly take issue with social hardship, violence, or racism, and he took a stand for the victims of this system, for the people who never had a chance to successfully face the demands made by life.

Influenced by Pop Art, Hanson turned to thematising everyday American life, frequently switching his observations to a critically satirical attitude that was, however, always guided by compassion. Housewives, construction workers, car salesmen, or janitors – the models for his figures are people in the American middle and working classes in whose biographies the disappointment in the American dream has become entrenched. He often puts his people and all of their small insufficiencies into perspective with ironic kindness, such as, for example, the Tourists, in whom are combined all of the clichés associated with the typical Florida tourist.

Hanson’s participation in documenta 5 in Kassel in 1972 gave rise to his international breakthrough. His figures became more lifelike; they more and more naturally blended into their surroundings. Their gestures, facial expressions, and postures related the emotional and physical burdens of life. The artist concentrated on older people in whose physiognomies one can read the traces of existence, the impact of loneliness, the problems that accompany being old, and their alienation. Hanson was struck by the isolation of this generation by society, a circumstance that has not lost any of its relevance.

Hanson’s interest in rendering the figures as lifelike as possible is surely not rooted in a desire to want to convince the viewer of their “authenticity”; rather, their lifelikeness was meant to move the viewer to experience empathy and concern, thus manifesting Hanson’s humanism. Human values and destinies comprise the focus of his art; he transforms the reality of life into the realism of art and in doing so sharpens our outlook and our view of the world, our fellow human beings, and our own life as well.

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Birth)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2007

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Birth)
From the series Beneath the Roses
2007
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Blue Period)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2005

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Blue Period)
From the series Beneath the Roses
2005
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Brief Encounter)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2006

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Brief Encounter)
From the series Beneath the Roses
2006
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Debutante)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2006

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Debutante)
From the series Beneath the Roses
2006
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Forest Clearing)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2006

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Forest Clearing)
From the series Beneath the Roses
2006
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (House Fire)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2004

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (House Fire)
From the series Beneath the Roses
2004
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Kent Street)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2007

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Kent Street)
From the series Beneath the Roses
2007
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Maple Street)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2004

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Maple Street)
From the series Beneath the Roses
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Merchants Row)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2003

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Merchants Row)
From the series Beneath the Roses
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

 

Gregory Crewdson

Born in 1962 in Brooklyn, New York, Gregory Crewdson is one of the best-known contemporary photographers internationally. In his most important series to date Beneath the Roses, which he created between 2003 and 2008, Crewdson explores the American psyche and the disturbing realities at play within quotidian environments. In his dramatically detailed and realistic photographs situated in America’s morbid, small-town milieu, the artist succeeds to stimulate the viewer’s subconscious on various levels. Twenty outstanding works from the series are being placed in a dialogue with sculptures by Duane Hanson. Gregory Crewdson does not spare either effort or expenses for the production of his visual inventions, which are reminiscent of film productions. The stagings are planned and arranged in advance down to the smallest detail and then elaborately implemented in a major logistical and human effort. The final photograph is the result of what is frequently work lasting several weeks, a circumstance that is substantiated by its depths in terms of content and its technical perfection.

Gregory Crewdson works in two distinct ways to create his photographs. On one hand, he works on location in real neighborhoods and townships. On the other hand, the artist works on the soundstage inventing his world from scratch. Before the photographic location productions start, Crewdson drives around upstate Massachusetts looking for interesting settings, which he then has prepared in an elaborate process. In most cases, local residents of the ramshackle towns also play the characters in his work. Crewdson works closely with the art department of the museum MASSMoCA, when shooting his pictures done on the soundstage. The results are much like stills from a movie and reflect his affinity with cinema. Filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, or Steven Spielberg are the inspiration for Crewdson’s uncanny stories, which he seems to freeze in a single snapshot in time.

The construction of this narrative instant demonstrates the artist’s extraordinary talent. Like sophisticated literature does the reader, his works pose a challenge to viewers, as they have to mount the decisive share of the creative effort themselves. A brief, fleeting glance is not enough. Viewers become immersed in the staged scenes full of details and accessories to experience a moment that is intensely real. Fantasy and the powers of imagination and association fashion the visual event in the mind to become a subjective, alternative reality – an uncanny reality.

In his photographs, Crewdson deliberately works with emotions and fears that extend through his oeuvre in recurring, in part very different scenarios. They mirror alienation, absence, shame, sexuality, and loss – human states of emotion that deeply touch the viewer. That the artist focuses on the mind in his works may be due to the fact that, as the son of a psychoanalyst, he experienced insight into the profundity of the human soul very early on. His works can be regarded as metaphors for fears and desires, for the things that take place below the surface, the palpable, as if Crewdson wanted to make visible a new or different level of reality situated somewhere between the conscious and subconscious.

At the same time, the Beneath the Roses series can be seen as a psychological study of the American province. The settings show social realities and document the economic decline of a society behind the backdrop of the American way of life. Unsentimental and direct, they reflect working-class life – which allows us to strike an arc to the work by Duane Hanson, whose oeuvre also revolves around the concept of humanity, the facets of which he lends expression to in his silent, introverted figures.

The evolution of Beneath the Roses was documented in a series of production stills, original drawings by the artist, and detailed lighting plans. About sixty works from this reservoir are presented in a studio exhibition at the museum in order to illustrate the complex technical process of producing the photographs. Gregory Crewdson completed his study of Street Photography at the Yale School of Art in New Haven in 1988. He returned to Yale in 1993 and has occupied the Chair of Photography since.

Press release from the Museum Frieder Burda website

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Natural Bridge)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2007

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Natural Bridge)
From the series Beneath the Roses
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Railway Children)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2003

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Railway Children)
From the series Beneath the Roses
2003
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (RBS Automotive)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2007

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (RBS Automotive)
From the series Beneath the Roses
2007
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Shane)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2006

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Shane)
From the series Beneath the Roses
2006
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Sunday Roast)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2005

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Sunday Roast)
From the series Beneath the Roses
2005
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Temple Street)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2006

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Temple Street)
From the series Beneath the Roses
2006
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (The Father)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2007

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (The Father)
From the series Beneath the Roses
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Trailer Park)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 200

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Trailer Park)
From the series Beneath the Roses
2007
Digital carbon print
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Worthington Street)' from the series 'Beneath the Roses' 2006

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Worthington Street)
From the series Beneath the Roses
2006
144.8 x 223.5 cm
Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
© Gregory Crewdson, 2010

 

 

Museum Frieder Burda
Lichtentaler Allee 8b
D-76530 Baden-Baden
Phone: +49 (0)7221 / 3 98 98-0

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm
Closed Mondays

Museum Frieder Burda website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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