jeudi 6 janvier 2011

Salt Lake City Art Gallery ‘Promotes’ Immigration Discussion

Jimmy Lucero, "Anchor Baby", 2010.
Just in time for upcoming immigration reform in the Utah Legislature, a Salt Lake City based art gallery has put on display a new exhibit titled, ‘Driven From the State: An Exhibit of Art and Ideas.’ The new art show includes the work of more than a dozen Utah artists who works hope to convey “compassion and reason to the debate” on immigration.
Though the exhibit has sparked controversy surrounding its forward stance on the hot-button issue of immigration, artists involved in the show hope that their works with convey an understanding and open discussion about this issue. The gallery has defended the exhibit stating that art can be a rational means of discussing this topic.
I have to say that I find the art show is an inventive and effective way of taking a stance on this issue. By using art as a means to openly discuss this controversial topic, those unsure of their position can begin to see another side of the debate. Take a look at an image of one of the paintings included in the exhibit.

“Hide/Seek” Exhibit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

Controversy is still simmering after officials at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. recently decided to remove a piece of video art depicting Christ with ants crawling on him after complaints were received from a Catholic organization and members of Congress. The piece was included in the museum’s current exhibit titled “Hide/Seek,” which takes a look at sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture.

The exhibit itself touches on a number of controversial topics including sexuality, gender, desire and romantic attachment. There is an equal amount of controversy surrounding the curators for including the piece in the exhibit, but now equally for having decided to have the video installation removed. National Portrait Gallery director, Martin Sullivan expressed disappointment following the decision saying, "Was it a great decision? Absolutely not."
Was it a great decision? That is the big question surrounding the recent decision. I definitely think it was the wrong decision. Controversy and art has been a common theme for quite sometime. Does that mean that we should begin to censor all art exhibits in order to avoid controversy with all members of the general public? I definitely don’t think so. If we begin to censor exhibits based on the content contained there within, where does it end?
The whole situation surrounding this piece of video art reminds me of what recently took place in Paris at the Musée d’Art Moderne when a recent exhibit covering the photographic works of American photographer Larry Clark were banned to those under the age of 17 and featured a warning about the content of the exposition. The exhibit featured young teenagers engaging in sexual acts, drugs and in some cases violence. I by no means think the age limit for those under 17 was a good decision, but I feel that at least the entire exhibit was not censored because some may have found its content displeasing. There was quite a lot of controversy surrounding the Mayor of Paris’s decision to place an age limit ban on the exhibit, but I still feel that it was a better decision than what happened at the National Portrait Gallery.  

If we begin censoring the content of art exhibits, at what point do we stop? When is it too much? How many complaints are too many? And whose complaints do we listen to? In any case, if you have the opportunity to make it to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, you should definitely go see this exhibit. And if you don’t like what you see, just remember that maybe you aren’t supposed to.  

lundi 22 novembre 2010

Gruau and the line of beauty : between pure art and advertising

Here is a good opportunity to go to London if you ever need one. René Gruau's work, the famous French illustrator, is showed at the Somerset House from november 2010 to january 2011. All his work is at the very thin line between art and advertising since it is mostly posters and drawings made for Dior. Here is my point : is it still art when it is used in commercial purposes ?

By promoting elegance and charm, Gruau celebrates women like no one did before. He obviously expresses his very own view of what feminity should be. Beauty is never obvious but rather suggested, the line are precise but light. The talent of Gruau is to make us feel like every pieces of work is in perpetual movement, full of life !

Yet, his daring and his sense of freedom perfectly match the identity wanted by Dior. This exhibit is like a luxuous journey through Dior's values and vision. It shows seduction, it shows glamor, it shows a certain sense of adventure. The strenght of this work is beyond the only drawings : you have to look at what is not depicted but only suggested. It make us feel where the true inspiration comes from for both Dior and Gruau. But this exhibit is not only a tribute to Gruau's talent. It is also a way to celebrate a true friendship between two men, René Gruau and Christian Dior. The first one revolutionized the sense of aesthetics and the art of drawing. The second one revolutionized the silhouette and the sense of fashion. Both inspired each other.

Gruau's works seem to be out of time and that's why you will take a real pleasure to walk through the exhibit!

mardi 26 octobre 2010

Gauguin's exhibit at the Tate Museum

Was Arthur Gauguin only a scandalous man or a genuine artist ? One century after his death his paintings are showed in numerous places, especially at the Grand Palais in Paris and at the Tate Museum in London.
Most people will only see the gift he had as a painter when seeing the exhibit. And they will be rigth ! I'm really sad to read that some journalists or critics try to sully his art these previous days by underlying his personal side.
I think that writing about the fact that Arthur Gauguin left his wife and his five children to devote himself to his paintings does not really help to understand his art. I agree that he was certainly fiendish, that he slept with very young girls when living in Tahiti etc. But he also did magnificent portraits of these women. I don't want to be misunderstood. Of course, Arthur Gauguin could not be forgiven for some sexual deviations because he was a great artist. But his paintings should not be condemned because of these acts.
I'm still astonished when I look at Nevermore O Tahiti. This woman lying naked has one of the most intense look I have ever seen in paintings !
And this exhibit is not only about Tahiti. There are also a lot of his really beautiful Breton landscapes. These ones are not only my favorite because they are really well-painted or because of the subject. I love them because they express all the love Gauguin had for Brittany. He painted it not the way he saw it but the way he felt it. And his talent is actually the fact that we feel the same when watching them...

So here is my only piece of advice : go for it ! There are many things to tell about who was Gauguin and how he lived but there is even more to say about his paintings. And no one can pretend to really understand him without judging his personal life in the light of his works and vice versa.

Nevermore O Tahiti

mardi 28 septembre 2010

Murakami at the « Château de Versailles »

The exhibition of the work of Murakami hosted by the Château de Versailles (Ile de France, in Paris’ suburbs), which consists of sculptures inspired by the manga culture, has brought with it much criticism and I think, many misunderstandings.

Some people, and amongst them some associations from the city of Versailles, (the Château being situated in that city’s heart), have explained that the exhibition - needless to say, contrasting with the dominant architectural style of the region and, predominantly of the Château itself, renowned for its flamboyant symmetrical attributes – was contrary to the culture and insulting to the environment in which it was hosted. I understand that royalists feel they have been invaded in what constitutes one of their country’s best source of income in the tourism industry, and a place which carries a very heavy symbol of their royal history. But is the exhibition this shocking ? Should it really be banned from « the castle » ?

What i think is almost shocking, is the lack of open-mindedness of some people. The Château de Versailles has already hosted a couple of exhibitions, namely one of Jeff Coons so why is this one lacking of warmth regarding its welcoming within the walls of the Château ? Maybe the fact that it’s inspired from the manga culture has uninspired some locals. But the exhibition is temporary anyway. What I personally like with this exhibition is the contrast it creates. The art itself does not naturally appeal to me, but the idea of penetrating the royal environment with manga characters is, to me, just exhilarating. Adding to that, when one takes a look at the different sculptures presented, none of them are truly shocking. And everyone knows the mangas can be very, very un-presentable. So in the end - and let me be clear, this is my own opinion - this exhibition is at worst amusing and surprising, and at best exhilarating and inspiring for someone enjoying the contrasts and provocations that art can create.
It’s a little bit like watching Tarantino’s Kill Bill : prepare yourself to intertwine classy backgrounds with manga references or you might end up asking yourself what you’ve just seen.

mercredi 15 septembre 2010

Is Dior's Shanghai dreamers racist?

I’ve heard a lot of criticisms about the exhibition of Quentin Shih entitled Shanghai Dreamers. Most of them (if not all) were accusing him of racism. The reflexion, if reflexion there was, consisted in saying that because the Chinese people in the photographs were all similar and the only occidental was taller and dressed in fancy Dior cloths, then it could be considered that the artist wanted to demonstrate the superiority of the occidentals and their individualistic values over the subjugated Chinese people, oppressed and homogenised by the communist party. This interpretation led to people thinking the artist was patronising and racist towards the Chinese people. I even read someone claiming he was an American artist.

I would like to rectify a couple of things said recently :

First of all, although settled in New-York, Quentin Shih - who’s real name is Shi Xiaofan - is nonetheless Chinese and NOT American. This first rectification does not entirely undermine the legitimacy of the argument saying he is racist, but certainly weakens it. Also, I’d like to say that a deeper reflexion and deeper focus on Shih’s work would have been appreciated before the debate started. Only because there’s no reason to think this work of art is racist if one observes and thinks rationally for the following reasons :

How can the simple fact that a people is pictured as very homogenous be the reason to think the photographs are racist ? I think Quentin Shih simply wanted to put forward the great production of High standard clothing brought by occidentals, because let’s remember this was done in the context of the re-opening of a Dior Store in other words, it can be considered advertising. Also it could be, and certainly is since Quentin Shih said it himself, that the photographs show the homogeneity of the Chinese people during the communist years, while comparing it to the individualism of some occidental countries.

This contrast shown in the photographs does not mean that the artist’s work constitutes a racist judgement, nor does it constitute the most un-insulting judgement. Why do people have to see a critical statement or a judgement in every work of art? It may just as well be an observation. That the observation is biased or not is another problem, but I think we should see Shih’s photographs as an (obviously) exaggerated observation, which is nevertheless quite true when one looks at China’s history (particularly in the 1960s-1980s).

jeudi 2 septembre 2010

Jimi Hendrix – London Exhibition

There’s a nice exhibition in London, about late musician Jimi Hendrix, who died at the age of 27 in 1970. The commemoration his 40th death anniversary is taking place in the hotel where he lived during a year (1968-1969). You can visit the house between the 15th and 26th of September, and a larger exhibition composed of photographs, handwritten lyrics, cloths etc… is taking place in the house of 18th century composer George Handel, which is the house right next to Hendrix’ hotel room. Journalists say that Hendrix was interested in this geographic and neighbouring connection with Hendel, and bought all tracks he could find of Hendel as soon as he discovered the coincidence. I encourage you all to go and take a look at that exhibition for the unique aspect of it, since you get the chance to literally penetrate the late best-guitarist-on-earth’s house and discover a part of his life that was not known of the public. Hendrix was apparently not like the medias enjoyed to picture him. His sound manager Roger Mayer said he was friendly, quiet, calm and not overtly outgoing. He also said, to my surprise, that Jimi Hendrix was not stoned on drugs all the time like everyone seems to think:

« "When I knew him he wasn't stoned all the time, which is what people think," he says.

« You can't play guitar to that standard on stage or in the studio if you're stoned on drugs. I've seen other people try but it doesn't work. » (bbc)

I think, if it is not too late, this exhibition is worth seeing. I’ve got to admit i didn’t know a lot about Hendrix, and this exhibition does make you want to get interested in the legend and the 1960s rock, Woodstock experience.