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.

samedi 28 août 2010

Blitz in London

Another exhibition is about to be showed in London, at the London Transport Museum. This one is a commemorative exhibition about the 70th anniversary of the Blitz in London. The Blitz was an aerial attack from the Luftwaffe, the German air force Under the Nazi regime. This attack was part of a plan initiated by Hitler, who wanted to invade Great Britain. A huge resistance to the attack by the British soldiers and citizens, and of course its royal air force, made Hitler back down and gave up his plan of invasion.

Certainly a turning point of WWII, the Blitz, which is believed to have hardened the British resentment and hatred towards the Nazi regime, was a terrible shock for British citizens, especially in London and Coventry, the two main targets of the German bombers in 1940. The exhibition also puts forward the same atrocity inflicted on the German civilians of Dresden, by the bombers of the Allied Forces. This, I think is not surprising but greatly appreciated as a sign of recognition, sorrow and disenfranchisement from the past. It calls for a greater comprehension of the past of some countries: people should not hold grudges toward others for what their ancestors have done, something that certainly a lot of British people have trouble with putting in practice. As Robert Mac Namara said, and sorry if I don’t remember the exact quote, if the allied forces had lost the war, they would have been judged, and rightly so, as war criminals. Of course nothing can excuse and counter-balance the Shoah inflicted on Jews and other minorities by the Nazi administration, but Dresden is another example showing how everyone can be held as responsible for the atrocities of war, not mentioning the US atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki…

Anyway, a good exhibition to reflect the reasons to commemorate the shallow past of Britain and Europe to a larger extent.

jeudi 5 août 2010

Naked Boys with Guns – Sean O’Carroll

An exhibition by Australian photographer Sean O’Carroll sparked a polemic from a part of the public because some of his photographs presented boys naked - or admittedly so – and holding guns. The photographs show the boys only from the waist and upwards, so nothing too intense is shown to the public, and the guns they are holding are obviously fake, although they don’t exactly look like toys but rather like, at worst, replicas.

I am personally not really appealed by this kind of art, but the debate around it can get interesting, although there are, and not to my surprise, still some useless points made by, notably, furious Australian caring mothers. The core of the art presented is not extremely interesting but to the contrary, the message it could carry can be :

« Sean says he is asking a question with these photos. He wants to get people thinking about young boys and masculinity and the messages about masculinity in society.
He asks ‘’What does this say about how we raise boys?’’ »

I read one of the mothers’ comment on a forum saying, ‘My sons played with toy guns from 3yrs of age’, and carries on commenting about how her other boy drew a gun in his hand in kindergarten drawing class, concluding that boys don’t need to be told that guns are good toys, that they are naturally attracted to them. Surprisingly, this is the type of comment I was referring to earlier but which can however lead to an interesting debate.

First I don’t believe at all, that kids, and especially boys, are attracted to guns from the moment of their birth ‘til the moment of their death. What makes them attracted to them is the simple fact that society builds up boys to be attracted to guns and girls to be attracted to barbies. Just as the simple fact that there are approximately 90% chances that you will also dress your baby-boy with blue and dress your baby-girl with pink. Generally speaking of course. This is not a pathetic attempt to judgemental statements towards the vicious leading forces of society. What I am saying is that society is like that whether we like it or not. In this perspective, Sean O’Carroll’s photographs can be interesting, although it might just be as effective and convenient to just ask the question directly instead of staging naked kids in a photograph studio in Melbourne. This is certainly a provocative mechanism to advertise his exhibition, in which case it can be considered clever.

Despite the interesting debate it initiates, if the only intrinsic value of his work is the provocative nature of it, it couldn’t really be called art could it ?