Saturday, October 31, 2009

Who Does The Stuff Belong To?


[caption id="attachment_799" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Viewing the Elgin Marbles"]Viewing the Elgin Marbles[/caption]

Derek Fincham, honcho of the blog, Illicit Cultural Property quotes Michael Kimmelman in his recent New York Times article, Michael Kimmelman,When Ancient Artifacts Become Political Pawns, The New York Times, October 24, 2009, as follows:

"So argues Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times in describing the recent calls for repatriation of works of art. He takes as examples the recent repatriation claims made by Egypt against Germany and France. He makes two points that I'd like to draw out of the article."

"First, he claims that globalization has intensified "cultural differences" between nations. This allows nationalism to "exploit culture". He may be correct in some cases, but he fails to note that the frescoes returned by the Louvre had been purchased recently, with little history. Given what we know about the antiquities trade, this means they were likely illegally exported or looted."

"Second, he argues these claims are often based on emotion. That is certainly true in some cases, because after all works of art are often designed to conveyemotion. One example of this would be Scotland's desire for the return of the Lewis Chessmen. But not all of these claims are without merit. Moreover, why is it that only claimant nations are "emotional". Are not museums and other groups "emotional" when they make arguments that works of art should stay where they are currently situated? Kimmelman makes the argument that justice has shifted. But I think that is a good thing. We are closer to better justice for all nations, not merely the wealthier market nations via International treaties like the 1970 UNESCO Convention, and important decisions like the Schultz and Barakat decisions in the United States and the United Kingdom."

The Damien Hirst Problem

[caption id="attachment_797" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Damien Hirst"]Damien Hirst[/caption]

Fabled and much feted art bad boy Damien Hirst opened his newest paintings to the dismay of the critics.

The London Telegraph's critic, Mark Hudson, said in a headline "It couldn't get worse for Damien": Here, Hirst's daubs have been hung on walls newly lined in blue silk at a cost of £250,000, close to, if not actually alongside works by Titian, Rembrandt, Velasquez and Poussin. The result has been one of the most unanimously negative responses to any exhibition in living memory. Sarah Crompton, writing in this paper, was one of the kinder critics, finding the paintings merely "thin and one note". "Deadly dull, amateurish", wrote the Guardian's critic. "Not worth looking at", said the Independent. "Dreadful", pronounced The Times.

"Not to like the dipsy wild-card Tracey Emin, self-styled bad boys Jake and Dinos Chapman and the spectacularly vacuous Sam Taylor-Wood was simply to be out of touch. Never mind that most of their supposed innovations had been made by other artists, most of whom had stayed poor, decades before. Ordering his art to be made by other people over the telephone, which earned Hirst such admiration and notoriety in the 1990s, had been done by the Hungarian artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in 1924. Indeed, the very name is telling: while the names of other modern art movements, from Cubism to Pop, tell you about their intentions, the term YBA says nothing more than that they were young and British."

"No, the groundbreaking aspects of the YBA phenomenon related almost exclusively to money and celebrity. When people look back to the initial "Freeze" exhibition, it's to the fact that the catalogue of a student show was sponsored by property developers Olympia & York. The actual content of the exhibition is rarely mentioned. The entire meaning of Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull is embodied in its price. The title, For the Love of God, is meaningless spin."

The Time's critic was even nastier: "And here's where Damien's work goes off the historical track, or more rather exemplifies the immoral roller coaster we've been riding, only to fall off in the current bursted bubble. The work of Hirst and the YBAs celebrate nothing bigger than the bloated egos of the money people, exalted no higher ideals than money and celebrity."

To my mind, here's the big ah-ooof, Hirst actually painted all these paintings himself and the gimmick of hiring others to execute is gone. Vanished. The critics can't get over it. The alleged novelty of hiring others gone. Silly critics, silly Damien. Art and artists have always been collaborative. Artists and their patrons have always hired services, vendors and expertise. It was only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the myth of the lone, starving artist wove its way into our narrative. Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Vermeer used assistants. Picasso's lithographs and etchings were pulled by master printmakers. I myself have hired fabricators to make panels for my big drawings and paintings. Damien Hirst was always right, and he's still right, in this regard, it is okay for an artist to present his ideas via whatever means he/she chooses. It doesn't matter whose hand makes the work. The thing that matters, that has always mattered, is the idea. Then decide if the shark in formadelhyde matters, if the diamond encrusted skull matters, if the paintings painted by the actual hand of Damien Hirst matter.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why Don't More People Collect Art?

[caption id="attachment_214" align="alignleft" width="201" caption="Rainbow's End, 44x30in., pencil, prismacolor, charcoal, oil stick, oil wash on 90# white Stonehenge, 2009"]Rainbow's End, 44x30in., pencil, prismacolor, charcoal, oil stick, oil wash on 90# white Stonehenge, 2009[/caption]

Hat tip to Lisa Boumstein-Smalley, in Chicago Now, Gallery Director Chicago Art Source Gallery.

Here's her explanation of why more people don't collect art: It's our own damn fault that more people aren't collecting art. I choose to embrace the fact that it's not easy for some people to get over the intimidation hump, and that truly they want to have cool/beautiful/smart/evocative artwork on their walls without getting roped into a huge involvement of the artist community. I am confident that we can do better as a community because when a pedestrian turns into a first time collector, everybody wins. That's a beautiful thing.

Of course, the image is a "collectible," Rainbow's End, 2009, by Nancy Charak, 44"x30", oil, wash, pencil, on 90# white Stonehenge.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Henry Moore Elephant Skull Etchings

[caption id="attachment_789" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Henry Moore"]Henry Moore[/caption]

Deb and I went to the Block Museum on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, yesterday; we looked at Henry Moore's etching series on an elephant skull. In the process I learned and relearned an important lesson on looking and seeing and drawing.

[caption id="attachment_790" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Henry Moore"]Henry Moore[/caption]

An inscription on the wall of the exhibit quoted this from Henry Moore: "You may think you are observing an object carefully when you stand in front of it, but you really look much more intensely if you draw it. . .because then you have to look very searchingly to understand its shape."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bridget Riley on Drawing and Painting

Bridget Riley has some wonderful things to say about drawing and painting in an article with the lovely title of "At the End of My Pencil," in the London Review of Books.

[caption id="attachment_786" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Bridget Riley"]Bridget Riley[/caption]

For me, drawing is an inquiry, a way of finding out – the first thing that I discover is that I do not know. This is alarming even to the point of momentary panic. Only experience reassures me that this encounter with my own ignorance – with the unknown – is my chosen and particular task, and provided I can make the required effort the rewards may reach the unimaginable. It is as though there is an eye at the end of my pencil, which tries, independently of my personal general-purpose eye, to penetrate a kind of obscuring veil or thickness. To break down this thickness, this deadening opacity, to elicit some particle of clarity or insight, is what I want to do.This practice is rooted in my experience of drawing from the nude and from nature. But I found it could be moved across surprisingly easily to the elements of abstract painting, centering as it does on inquiry and what happens down there on the paper. I have always believed that those ‘ultimate’ statements of the great protagonists of abstract art were, in fact, declarations of new radical beginnings. Would those principles and geometric forms really yield the riches dreamed of? Or would they prove a block to creative will and passion? But, in art, prohibitions and denials are always a challenge and a powerful spur to inquiry.

[caption id="attachment_787" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Bridget Riley"]Bridget Riley[/caption]

Perhaps the time I had spent drawing allowed me to trust the eye at the end of my pencil.Movement in Squares (1961) began in this way. It came at the end of a time of great difficulty for me. I had very nearly lost the studio, and even when I managed to secure it, I had no real sense of what to do there. Although I had taken a few steps in the direction of abstract painting, I had not yet arrived at a point where I could establish a dialogue. One evening on my way to the studio, I thought of drawing a square. Everyone knows what a square looks like and how to make one in geometric terms. It is a monumental, highly conceptualised form: stable and symmetrical, equal angles, equal sides. I drew the first few squares. No discoveries there. Was there anything to be found in a square? But as I drew, things began to change. Quite suddenly something was happening down there on the paper that I had not anticipated. I continued, I went on drawing; I pushed ahead, both intuitively and consciously. The squares began to lose their original form. They were taking on a new pictorial identity. I drew the whole ofMovement in Squares without a pause and then, to see more clearly what was there, I painted each alternate space black. When I stepped back, I was surprised and elated by what I saw. The painting Movement in Squares came directly out of this study. My experience of working with the square was to prove crucial. Having been lately becalmed, now a strong wind filled my sails.

We Were Switched from Lead to Zinc White Because....

Everyone knows that lead white is poisonous and thus had to have been banned. So all the manufacturers of both common house paint and artists' paints switched to zinc whites. Now, there's no evidence that lead whites poisoned artists, but became dangerous in the modern era when used as house paint. Now a study from the Smithsonian Museum's Conservation Institute quoted by George O'Hanlon for Rublev Natural Pigments has bad news for artists using zinc whites. It becomes brittle and cracks easily after a mere 28 years.

The article concludes:
"Paints made with zinc oxide and drying oils become extremely brittle in as little as three years. Paints containing zinc oxide exhibit severe delaminating problems after drying and especially zinc oxide paint on acrylic emulsion grounds. Even commercial lead white and titanium white oil paints containing zinc oxide become quite brittle after seven years of drying ... Mecklenburg and Tumosa's paper forewarns us about the potential problems with oil paints containing zinc white commonly used by artists today. Artists may choose to ignore the report and continue using zinc in their paintings -- perhaps at their own peril. Whatever the choice, the paper helps artists gain a better understanding of the materials used in their work."