Blog started on 12 June 2019

During the last two weeks I have travelled in France, the Netherlands and Belgium.  Apart from visiting my sister in Belgium and other friends, visits to art museums was a highlight: the opportunity to re-visit the Van Gogh Museum as well as D’Orsay Museum in Paris added to more awareness of how this course has influenced my thoughts on art.  I loved the modern museum, Moco, and het Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam for their contemporary art collections, and will surely refer to my experience in my learning blog.    I added three  books to my reading list during a visit to het Stedelijk’s shop:

  • Bertram, Georg W, Art as Human Practice,
  • Baudrillard, Jean, The Conspiracy of Art and
  • Sontag,Susan, Regarding the Pain of Others.

I plan to read at least Bertram and Baudrillard for this part of the studies.

Current exhibition in Dubai that caught my attention: We are Open For Installation

In our Art Hub area, Alserkal Avenue a gallery has come up with a very interesting exhibition.  On the doors of the gallery the following note is tacked: “We are open for Installation”  This is partly a statement by the three artists involved, to describe what is going on inside this gallery as well as the title of the exhibition.  The exhibition takes the form of three artists who have taken over the gallery space, which now ceases to function as an operational art gallery, and became a working studio – or better described, a think tank.

Research and reading on exercise 5.0

The tulip originated centuries ago in Persia and Turkey, where it played a significant role in the art and culture of the time. Tulips originated in Central Asia, and became very popular in Turkey. The tulip’s name comes from the Persian word for turban, because in full bloom tulips have a turban-like shape. Tulips commonly mean perfect love. The meaning of perfect love is tied to a Turkish and Persian legends about the love between Farhad and Shirin. There are a few variations of this tale. According to one story, Farhad was a prince. He was in love with a beautiful girl named Shirin. Unfortunately, Shirin is murdered, and this tears Farhad apart. In desperation, Farhad rides his horse of a cliff, and a red tulip grows where his blood touches the ground — the symbol for perfect love.

As the value of tulips increased, people began trading their land and savings to acquire more bulbs. However, eventually many people were trying to sell the bulbs and not many were buying, causing prices to drop and the tulip market to crash during the 17th century. This crash left the Dutch very hesitant about investing for a long period of time. Tulips have remained extremely popular in the Netherlands. Every year Amsterdam celebrates National Tulip Day in January. On this day Dutch tulip growers build a gigantic tulip garden on Dam Square, and people come and pick a free bouquet of flowers. This marks the beginning of tulip season.

The artist donated the concept of the sculpture, but the actual production cost an estimated 3.5 million euros and was financed by French and American benefactors.  According to the French newspaper Le Figaro, the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo suggested other sites—such as the park of Passy or La Villette—but Koons was adamant about the proposal. “No other place has the same symbolism and it’s a magnificent present from the US to France,” Emmanuelle de Noirmont tells The Art Newspaper, adding that Koons would donate all revenue from the ensuing postcards of the sculpture to the families of the 130 victims from the terrorist attacks for 25 years. According to the NewYorkTimes ( Jan 2018) – “After it took longer than expected to raise the 3.5 million euros, (or $4.3 million at current exchange rates), needed to make the work and that the project has faced further delays due to a mixed reception in Paris. The sculpture, which is being made in Germany, is near completion”.    Gareth Harris of the Art Newspaper wrote the following in an article (29May 2018) ” The French Ministry of Culture has decided that it needs a new setting after all the controversy the work has caused regarding its appropriateness as a commemoratory work and the artist’s intentions in creating such a piece for France.    They presented this bouquet as a symbolic present to Paris, but then we realised it wasn’t exactly a present, since France had to pay to install it,” said the French art critic Isabel Pasquier in an article for the New York Times last year. “Whether you appreciate his art or not, Jeff Koons is a businessman, and we quickly understood that he was offering Paris to himself as a present.”  It was decided that Koons’s work will be erected in a popular and visible place where it can be shared by everyone, said Françoise Nyssen, the French culture minister. The exact location for the sculpture has yet to be announced.   An agreement was finally reached on October 10, 2018, and the work will be installed in late 2019 in the gardens of the Champs-Elysées at the back of the Petit Palais.  Controversy around the work still exists.  Gareth Harris of the Art Newspaper wrote the following in an article (29May 2018) ” The French Ministry of Culture has decided that it needs a new setting after all the controversy the work has caused regarding its appropriateness as a commemoratory work and the artist’s intentions in creating such a piece for France.

The same drama of gifts and misunderstandings is now being repeated. Former U.S. ambassador Jane Hartley, who was in office in Paris after the 2015 and 2016 attacks, convinced Koons to give his monumental sculpture to the French capital. The project was supported by the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. “This question is as diplomatic as it is artistic,” she said to the Paris Council last year. “Can you imagine the international outcry if the city of Paris told the Americans, ‘We don’t want your gift’?  Antoine de Galbert , the founder of La Maison Rouge art centre, says: “[The work is] a present that’s not costing the artist anything; a publicity stunt which would enable him to benefit from the most beautiful place in the world. Furthermore, the financing for this work’s production through private sponsorship would generate substantial tax breaks. This work has no artistic interest and is unworthy of a homage to victims of the attacks. There are very great French or foreign artists that are more deserving of this honour.”

The French photographer Raphaël Gianelli-Meriano says: “Placing this artwork in front of the Palais de Tokyo would taint the museum and take up too much of its landscape. Jeff Koons had enough attention with his installations at the Château de Versailles [in 2008-09] without resorting to benefit from the memory of the Paris attacks.

This episode has a historical precedent. In 1886, it was the Americans’ turn to dig deep and fund Auguste Bartholdi’s base for the Statue of Liberty following a “crowdfunding” campaign. This gift was originally the idea of French senator Edouard Laboulaye in 1865, who saw it as both a gesture of friendship to the United States and a political message for the French. Napoleon III was emperor at the time, and Laboulaye was advocating for the American republican constitution to be adopted in France. The statue was shipped in separate pieces to the U.S. By way of thanks, American philanthropists presented Paris with a smaller replica of the statue, which is now found on the Ile aux Cygnes on the River Seine, and an identical reproduction of the torch located on the Place de l’Alma. According to Normointart Art Production Company (website accessed on 15 June 2019) ” 30 years after France gave the Statue of Liberty to the United States, Jeff Koons wanted to celebrate the remarkable Franco-American alliance that has endured and flourished for over 200 years, by creating Bouquet of Tulips.” NoirmontArt was founded by Jérôme and Emmanuelle de Noirmont, and is the production company behind Koons in Paris. Further reading on their website provided more of the intention: “The work also has a dialogue with Pablo Picasso’s Friendship Bouquet and his sculpture Woman with Vase in the act of offering. You can also look at the sculpture and think of the Impressionist flowers of Monet or the Rococo flowers of François Boucher or Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Flowers are associated universally with optimism, rebirth, the vitality of nature, and the cycle of life. They are a symbol that life goes forward.”

Exercise 5.2

Reading Stallabrass, Contemporary Art,  Jean Baudrillard, The Conspiracy of Art and G W Bertram, Art as Human Practice to understand more about Contemporary art and the end of Modern Art Movement and how to answer Exercise 5.2.

In 1936, Barr prepared the exhibition and catalogue for the groundbreaking show Cubism and Abstract Art (MoMA Exh. #46, March 2-April 19, 1936). This exhibition is particularly notable because it marks the implementation and use of Barr’s famous chart, which illustrated the genealogy of modern art from Cézanne and Gauguin to Surrealism and the Bauhaus (Barr had been working on the chart for nearly a decade before it was included in the exhibition catalogue). As Barr wrote in the exhibition’s catalogue, Cubism and Abstract Art was “intended as a historical survey of an important movement in modern art.” It was the first in a series of exhibitions, curated between 1936 and 1943, devoted to the principal movements in modern art, which included Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism (MoMA Exh. #55, December 7, 1936-January 17, 1937); Masters of Popular Painting: Modern Primitives of Europe and America (MoMA Exh. #76, April 27–July 24, 1938); Americans 1943: Realists and Magic-Realists (MoMA Exh. #217, February 10–March 21, 1943); and Romantic Painting in America (MoMA Exh. #246, November 11, 1943-February 6, 1944). During this time, Barr also had the opportunity to mount a retrospective exhibition on the work of Pablo Picasso. Picasso: Forty Years of His Art [MoMA Exh. #91] opened to the public on November 15, 1939, in MoMA’s new “International Style” building, designed by Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone. The show contained ninety-five pieces lent by the artist himself, including the large-scale mural Guernica.

What we call “Modern Art” lasted for an entire century and involved dozens of different art movements, embracing almost everything from pure abstraction to hyperrealism; from anti-art schools like Dada and Fluxus to classical painting and sculpture; from Art Nouveau to Bauhaus and Pop Art. So great was the diversity that it is difficult to think of any unifying characteristic which defines the era. But if there is anything that separates modern artists from both the earlier traditionalists and later postmodernists, it is their belief that art mattered. To them, art had real value. By contrast, their precedessors simply assumed it had value. After all they had lived in an era governed by Christian value systems and had simply “followed the rules.” And those who came after the Modern period (1970 onwards), the so-called “postmodernists”, largely rejected the idea that art (or life) has any intrinsic value.

Thinking about narrative and an artist’s medium

The term of medium (plural: media) covers a wide variety of phenomena: (a) TV, radio, and the internet (especially the WWW) as the media of mass communication; (b) music, painting, film, the theatre and literature as the media of art; (c) language, the image and sound as the media of expression (and by implication as the media of artistic expression); (d) writing and orality as the media of language; (e) handwriting, printing, the book, and the computer as the media of writing.

The definition provided by Webster’s dictionary puts relative order in this diversity by proposing two distinct definitions: (1) Medium as a channel or system of communication, information, or entertainment; (2) Medium as a material or technical means of expression (including artistic expression). The variety of the phenomena subsumed under the concept of medium stems not only from the two distinct functions mentioned by Webster’s definition—transmitting information or forming the support of information—but also from the nature of the criteria that differentiate individual media. These criteria belong to three conceptual domains: semiotic, material-technological, and cultural, each of which can be linked to different approaches to narrative.

Exercise 5.5 Reading and research on Richard Serras’ films and why he used this medium of film.

Richard Serra was first working in sculpture and using steel as material for his creative process. During the time, 1965 -1980 he challenged long accepted conventions of what sculpture is and explored the process and constraints on  the making process – almost like ‘process art’, the artist at work and also involving the viewer.  On the Moma site I read the following quote by Gregoire Muller, in 1972,  writing in The New Avant-Garde:   ” It is impossible to dissociate the physical properties of a Serra piece and the psychological conditions of its perception.  Materials, processes, thought mechanisms, time, horizontality, verticality, composition, weight, disorder, perspectives, Gestalt, Knowledge, structures and physicality are some of the different aspects under which his pieces may be considered, but, they are all interconnected”

Hand Catching Lead: a 16mm black and white, film that is 3 min. 30 sec long

From the right, a hand extends into the center of the image, palm facing
the camera, fingers spread, ready to grasp. From outside the frame,
small pieces of lead sheet are dropped in a steady rhythm, close to the
hand. The hand snaps shut, again and again, like a machine. When a
piece is caught, the gripping hand deforms it, then immediately drops
it to catch the next. After 120 pieces, the hand tires and the film ends.
What we see could be described as an allegory on filmmaking itself,
with the pieces of lead as the individual frames of an imaginary strip
of celluloid rushing past us in a fluid movement. Here, the hand acts
like the camera shutter, whose snapping open and shut exposes the
film – and thus transforms the artistic raw material. With this analogy,
Serra is not comparing the media of sculpture and film. He is looking
for an image that conveys the core of his artistic approach which,
regardless of medium, always derives form from the material used and
the possibilities for processing. Opening and closing, grabbing and releasing, gathering and giving: this video could be seen –among other things– as an accompanying illustration to Jacques Derrida’s essay on “Heidegger’s Hand” (“Geschlecht 2: Heidegger’s Hand”, Loyala University Conference, Chicago, March 1985, reproduced in Psyche: Inventions of the Other, Volume II. Stanford University Press, 2008). For a short summary of Derrida’s argument, see Leonard Lawlor’s introduction to his essay “”Animals Have No Hand”. An Essay on Animality in Derrida” (CR: The New Centennial Review, vol. 7, no 2, pp. 43-69, 2007: PDF).

Assignment 5

Discuss difference of video installations from films shown in a cinema.  List of video installations artists have been supplied in study material.  I chose to work with only that of Douglas Gordon to answer this question.  

Take note of the environment as well as the immediate space in which a film is shown as well as consider the types of film and select an example form more detailed discussion. Good material was obtained from Youtube viewings on the site.

Shot entirely in close-ups of Conlon’s arms, fingers, mouth, eyes, and forehead, the film functions on many levels. In it, Gordon engages in his familiar strategies of disrupting the viewing experience of traditional cinema and demanding of viewers that they see the artifice of cinema for what it is. In the installation version he is also creating a type of vertigo (an experience of disorientation and dizziness) as viewers try to simultaneously balance the visual dual between Gordon’s film of the music performance and Hitchcock’s engaging, fast-paced mystery featuring the movie icons James Stewart and Kim Novak. Viewers are not sure where to focus. They are inevitably drawn to the familiar film noir on the small television, yet Gordon’s large, full color projection demands that they look at the handsome conductor as he engages with the music. But where is the orchestra and why do the conductor’s hand movements seem at times out of synch with the music we’re hearing? Gordon has always been interested in establishing conflicts, in creating disjunctions. Describing Feature Film, he says, “it involves a slight but serious rupture in cognition by taking one thing from its natural home to another place, another time….(I am) taking this score and divorcing it from one film (Vertigo) and arranging an affair with another (Feature Film).” For Gordon, this is “an interesting game to play.” Problematic mental states such as psychological splitting and anxiety (including hysteria) often become materials for his art. In Vertigo he has found a cornucopia of psychological disabilities including paranoia, guilt, deception, suicide, cross-dressing fetishism, to name a few. These themes may have sparked his interest, but in Feature Film something very personal is happening. In his first directed (as opposed to appropriated) film, Gordon finds in James Conlon a doppelganger of sorts. We see the conductor dressed, atypically for his profession, but typical for an artist, in a black cotton, turtle-neck shirt, sleeves rolled up, revealing arms that, while less hirsute, are similar to Gordon’s own, as he has displayed them in numerous photographic works over the years from Tattoo I and Tattoo II, both 1994; A Divided Self, 1996; Blue, 1998; to Fragile Hands Collapse Under Pressure, 1998. Feature Film is essentially a ballet for hands, choreographed by a musical conductor, James Conlon, who, not coincidentally, is roughly the same age as Gordon, has Gordon’s Irish/Scottish complexion and is himself an interpreter of other artists’ works, in his case, composers. Feature Film is at once a performance, a documentary and an autobiography. Gordon’s intimate focus on Conlon’s arms and eyes, in particular, are an homage to the artist/director whose vision and hands-on involvement with the tools of his art, whether they be a camera, a musical score, paint, or marble define the very production of art.

The film was made in super 16 mm before being blown up to 35 mm. The soundtrack of the film, which consists of the music that the subject is conducting, is played at high volume. Showing Feature Film at Tate, it comprised of two large wall projections showing the same closely cropped footage of a conductor’s hands and face. The projections, measuring at least 3 x 5.5 m, were shown on opposing walls in a blacked-out room, with one image flipped horizontally so that the images mirror one another. In the editing process the footage was cut into a study of only the conductor’s body and face, sketching his gestures and creating intense close-ups of his lips, hands and bulging eyes. The rhythm of the cuts in the film was determined by the rhythm of the score. In the movie situation the film tells a story of love, obsession and murder, and Herrmann’s score heightens the suspense of its gripping plot- the viewer experience these thrills. Vertigo uses repetition and reflection throughout – mirrors and metaphorical dream mirrors, sitting next to a self portrait, or reflections in glass of a window, blurring is used. (examples are:Madeleine as repetition or reflection of her ancestor. Scotty repeating his former life. The zoom out/track in shots were done with miniatures of the buildings laid on their sides, since it was impossible to do them vertically.

I am now very aware that Alfred Hitchcock’s films are studied widely and that his work as a director was profound – he developed the idea of showing a mental thought, and it was Deleuze that focussed on this. I understand that Gordon looked at the technical side of producing his video and film installations, learning much from a producer like Hitckcock – using slow motion footage, static long shots, close-ups and deep focal length shots – whether it is wide or low angled or tilted. Interesting that this Hitchcock film was reproduced. When this movie opened at San Francisco’s legendary Castro Theatre during its restored re-release in October of 1997, a few months after the death of lead male star James Stewart, it did more business there than any other theatre in the US that weekend.

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