The Old Jail Art Center

While travelling through West Texas recently I was looking up historical destinations in the area to visit. Frontier forts, Old West ghost towns, and ranches came up in my search, along with the Old Jail Art Center in Albany, the county seat of Shackelford County. Situated in a tiny town of not even 2,000 people, this museum is home to extraordinary paintings donated by various locals made rich by oil. The collection includes monumental works from Modigliani, Caillebotte, and Renoir to Picasso and Grant Wood, including many other artistic heavy-weights whose works are much more likely to be hanging on walls in New York or Paris than the middle of Texas oil country. Viewing works like this in any setting is very exciting, but against the backdrop of a re-purposed 19th century jail house in a frontier town made it an even more unique experience.

The most outstanding work in the modestly sized, yet incredibly valuable collection was Young Girl with Braids (1918) by Amedeo Modigliani. The girl is a classic example of a Modigliani woman, with an almond shaped head and empty, lozenge eyes, but her orange-tinted skin, colored by the sun and braided hair confirm the girls’ young age. Painted against a color-blocked field of muted tones, the young girl stands out, imbuing the work with a vibrant, youthful energy and a hint of aloof absence. I love Modigliani’s portraits of women, so encountering this painting, especially in this remote location was such an amazing experience.

Modigliani’s Young Girl with Braids wasn’t the only youthful girl gracing the walls of the Old Jail Art Center. Immediately next to her hung Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Woman with Hat, (1896), a whimsical and saccharine portrait rendered in soft pastel tones characteristic of the Impressionist. It was portraits like these, especially from Renoir, that featured young women that first made me fall in love with art when I was little. Seeing this Renoir painting was a nostalgic experience recalling the many afternoons I sat in my living room as a six-year-old flipping through my parent’s coffee table books of Renoir and other Impressionists to find pictures of other girls my age in pretty clothes. It was a nice reminder of how I first became interested in learning about art and how simple images such as Woman with Hat kicked off a life-long obsession with art.

I was so happy to find this museum. Visiting the Old Jail Art Center was a truly unforgettable experience. It is a haven of beautiful artworks and history in an otherwise desolate place.

Looking at drawings by Pablo Picasso
Amedeo Modigliani, Young Girl with Braids (1918)
Gustave Caillebotte, Paysage avec Riviere (c. 1888)
Auguste Renoir, Woman with Hat, (1896),
Detail of Woman with Hat, (1896),
Henri Fantin-Latour, Still Life of Roses, 1899

Richard Prince’s ‘Untitled (Cowboy)’ at LACMA

I recently visited LACMA’s exhibit of American artist Richard Prince’s ‘Untitled (Cowboy)’ photographic series in which Prince takes “re-photographs”, essentially photographing old Marlborough ads from magazines, and blows the images up to large scale artworks. Prince does not try to mask the fact that the photographs are not his own, in fact Prince leaves in the centerfold from the magazine that the ad was originally in which appears as a taped line down the center of the work. The result are works that evoke the idyllic Wild West but which also spark debate on appropriation of other artists work and the existence of originality.

Many believe that what Prince does, by taking other people’s photographs and basically exhibiting them as his own work, is stealing and makes the work worthless as a mere copy. I, however, believe that artists can use whatever material they please to craft their works. Working in the Duchampian tradition, Prince takes “ready-made” photographs and slightly manipulates them into his final product. Some say it is fraud, others say it is art and maybe it is this precise debate that Prince is aiming to inspire in those who view his work.  What is your take on Prince’s re-photographs?

All work shown is by Richard Prince apart of his “Untitled (Cowboy)” series and all photographs of the artwork were taken by me.

New Contemporary Art at the MFAH

When I am back in Houston I like to visit my favorite art spots and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is always at the top of my list. The room containing post-War American art is my particular favorite. It houses seminal works by artists such as Franz Kline, Jackson Pollack, Hans Hoffman and Willem De Kooning. In my latest visit I was happily surprised to see that the museum has added more works by important female Abstract Expressionists, namely Elaine De Kooning and Joan Mitchell. Elaine De Kooning’s 1959 painting “Untitled (Standing Bull)” and Mitchell’s “Tournesols (Sunflowers)” from 1976 are some of the incredible new additions to the post-War room at the MFAH. These works are both monumental in scale and, although both completely abstract, reference nature–for De Kooning its the bulls from New Mexico and for Mitchell its dying sunflowers.

De Kooning and Mitchell weren’t the only recent female additions to the museum walls. Kara Walker’s “Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something” from 2016 was added to the main lobby of the museum. The enormous work is done in Walker’s signature silhouette cutouts and continues her narrative of racism and slavery in antebellum America.

I was very pleased to see that many of the new additions to the MFAH walls were from modern and contemporary female artists. Hopefully, as the museum opens its new space for contemporary art, more of their outstanding permanent collection of modern art and especially that of women can be put on view.

Joan Mitchell, Tournesols (Sunflowers), 1976.
Joan Mitchell, Tournesols (Sunflowers), 1976.
Elaine De Kooning, Untitled (Standing Bull), 1959.
Detail of Elaine De Kooning’s, Untitled (Standing Bull), 1959.
Kara Walker, Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something), 2016.

Claes Oldenburg and the Art of the Everyday

Welcome back to another video blog! Today’s video is about one of my favorite pop artists, Claes Oldenburg. Oldenburg stands out to me as a really fascinating figure in the movement of pop-Art which came out as a reaction against the dominant school of Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s and 1960s. Instead of following Abstract Expressionism’s values of art elevated above the realm of everyday life, pop-Art strove to plant art firmly within the banal reality of every-day existence. By creating monumental works of art that depict nothing exciting, just everyday objects one encounters every day and often overlooks due to their banality, Oldenburg forces the viewer to think about himself, society, politics, and beauty in an entirely unique way.

“Floor Cake,” 1962
“Soft Toilet,” 1966
“Two Cheeseburgers, with Everything,” 1962

 

Jasper Johns “Diver”

A work that really inspired me this week was a 1962 painting by Jasper Johns titled “Diver.” I was in a lecture this week in one of my art history classes and this particular painting was briefly discussed, however it really stuck out to me as an incredible amalgamation of many of the themes Johns focused on throughout his career.

This 14-foot-long canvas in a private collection is divided into three registers (although the painting contains five panels): the far left including a “device circle”, the middle consisting of a grayscale, and the far right containing Johns’ signature encaustic strokes of primary color.  Examining a single canvas by Johns can be difficult because they are often aloof and seemingly meaningless in their banality, so combining three of his major motifs: grayscale, the “device circle”, and his signature thick strokes of color with text can be even more of a complex and daunting task. I do not think, however, that the object of this painting is to make the viewer decipher it, but rather to merely see it and understand its relation to viewer as a unique individual.

Johns was fairly vocal about his thoughts on interpreting his works, and, any art work for that matter. He thought that language and trying to grasp for an overall meaning in his works corrupted the experience of looking at art. He was quoted saying “Everybody is of course free to interpret the work in his own way. I think seeing a picture is one thing and interpreting it is another.”

Thus I do not appreciate “Diver” for the meaning I think I see in it, but rather its visual effects and the way I interact with it as an individual viewer. Its vibrant and contrasting colors, combinations of handicraft and industry, and text and image, interest me because I do not understand what it means, but it engages me in such a way that provokes an inner dialogue about not only the purpose of art but also the function of an artist.

What do you think about Jasper Johns’ “Diver”?

 

Citations 

Photograph: https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/1996/johns/pages/johns.diver.html

 

Rachel Feinstein “Secrets” at Gagosian Gallery

Welcome back to latest video blog on Rachel Feinstein’s show “Secrets” at Gagosian Gallery. The work in this show was a brilliant mash-up between Rococo and Renaissance figures and traditions, and modern images of consumerism, “perfection”, and gilded lifestyles. I highly recommend you visit this show if you are in Los Angeles before it closes February 17. (And sorry for the shakiness in this video! I am working on solving that issue!)

 

 

The Critic and the Artist: Clement Greenberg and Abstract Expressionism

Post-WWII America was a time of revolution–a new consumerist society was born and mass-media was taking shape, and so too was a new school of art surfacing. This new type of art, known as abstract expressionism or post-war art, was completely polar opposite to the new mass-consumerist societal values in 1950s and 1960s America. Artists like Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Louis Morris, Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline were at the center of the abstract expressionist movement, however the person truly curating and outlining the rules for this school of art was critic Clement Greenberg.

Greenberg defined a strict set of guidelines for painting that included eschewing all unnecessary components to the medium of painting in order for the work to be considered relevant. I hope you enjoy this video on the mutually-reinforcing relationship between the critic and the artist that emerged during the post-war era.

Here are some examples of the works by abstract expressionists that ascribe to the Greenbergian ideal of painting.

Jackson Pollock, ‘Autumn Rhythm (Number 30’, 1950.
Franz Kline, ‘Black Sienna’, 1960.

Walton Ford “Calafia” at Gagosian Gallery Beverly Hills

Gagosian Gallery Beverly Hills exhibit called “Calafia” of New York artists Walton Ford’s watercolor paintings told the story of the Spanish settlers of California and the animals, both real and fictitious, that were impacted negatively by this event. This exhibit consists of all large scale watercolor paintings on monumental scales of extending over ten-feet long. It is quite a feat to paint such large canvases using the medium of watercolor.

My favorite painting in this exhibit was “Ars Gratia Artis” which translates to “Art for Arts Sake.” It depicts a lion lounging beside a pool of a mid-century modern home in Hollywood. The lights of the pool cast a soft, blue glow revealing the lions tired and weary eyes. The lion looks like it is being held captive for entertainment purposes–behind his tired body are broken liquor bottles and over-turned lawn furniture indicating a party just took place.

This exhibit was a very thought-provoking and thoughtful with its exploration of the clash between humans and the animals they exploit and abuse.

Although this exhibit has since closed, to learn more about Walton Ford and “Calafia” please follow this link: https://www.gagosian.com/exhibitions/walton-ford–november-02-2017

Walton Ford, “Ars Gratia Artis” ca. 2017
Walton Ford, “La Brea” ca. 2016 (One of Three Panels)
Walton Ford, “La Brea” ca. 2016
Walton Ford “Eureka”

 

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at The Broad

Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrors” was a comprehensive look at the artists most important works from her over-half-a-decade career. From her psychedelic mirror rooms to her lesser-known works on paper, the full-force and sheer talent of the prolific Japanese artist is on display. The works are organized by subject matter and medium and follow a roughly chronological time-line from Kusama’s early drawings as a teenager on her family’s plant nursery, then her very first mirrored rooms, phallic sculptures, infinity net paintings, and her pumpkin sculptures and later paintings and sculptures. The exhibition is a monumental look at one of the most influential female artists, and artists in general, of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Belonging to a number of artistic movements, from minimalism to 60s pop, Kusama produced pivotal works every decade that she worked and contributed tremendously to each movement. The works which stood out to me the most were her Infinity Net paintings and her 1965 Phalli’s Field mirror room. The dot motif is consistent throughout the exhibition, but in these two works its significance is the most apparent and powerful. Kusama explains the origins of the dot saying “Since my childhood, I have always made works with polka dots. Earth, moon, sun and human beings all represent dots; a single particle among billions.” This notion of everything as dots and how it is all connected is ever apparent in her Infinity Net paintings where the repetitious black dots of paint are simultaneously separate but also held in tension together to create one large net. Similarly, in the Phalli’s Field mirror room the dotted phalli’s are repeated to infinity by the surrounding mirrors to create a vast field of connected yet independent particles.

Recognizing an incredible and prolific artist, the Infinity Mirror exhibition was highly educational, inspiring, and compelling, not just because of the fantastic art on view, but also the story of the artist whose story is one of perseverance and extraordinary vision.

White Infinity Nets

Kusama, “Phalli’s Field” ca. 1965

 

Kusama, “Obliteration Room”

For more reading about Yayoi Kusama and the exhibit at The Broad please click these links:

https://www.thebroad.org/art/special-exhibitions/yayoi-kusama-infinity-mirrors

https://hirshhorn.si.edu/kusama/yayoi-kusama/

https://www.artsy.net/artist/yayoi-kusama

 

Kim Dingle at Susanne Vielmetter Gallery

I recently visited an exhibition of Los Angeles artist Kim Dingle’s work at Susanne Vielmetter Gallery in Culver City called “Yipes.” The exhibit included Dingle’s paintings as well as an installation starring her recurring characters Fatty and Fudge called “The Afterthought”. The paintings included some abstract works, but most were of young girls shown in their everyday lives–temper tantrums and all. Most of the paintings, too Dingle painted blindfolded.

The best paintings, in my opinion, were the ones depicting the little girls. They are kitschy and funny but have an eerie undertone of youthful pent-up energy and violence. All of her work is filled with action and is charged with energy, however, the real piece-de-resistance was in the last gallery where Fatty and Fudge  have gone on a rampage and destroyed the art on the on the walls and the gallery room itself. These babies are porcelain dolls, however, they are not friendly or remotely inviting looking. They have self-confident and almost devious smiles on their faces that make them look proud of the destruction they have done and their tiny hands are clenched into aggressive fists. There is a painting on the floor that has been ripped apart by Fudge and slashed by some baby scissors, small and low to the ground baby-fist sized holes on the wall stuffed with crumpled drawings, crayon graffiti reading “pissed”, soiled diapers on the ground, and crumpled pieces of paper, and much more evidence of two babies on a rampage.

It is hard to miss that this installation is a metaphor for the anger on part of Dingle at the current political situation and the mistreatment of women’s rights on the part of politicians. Fatty and Fudge are wearing ‘pussyhats’ from the 2017 Women’s March and there is a picture of Donald Trump on the ground next to Fatty’s area of destruction. This installation seems to have an added poignancy, beyond the current political climate, because of the recent outpouring of victims of sexual assault in the news. This installation puts a humorous and even cute touch on serious topics relevant to women now. By using baby dolls, Dingle both lightens up the subject matter and simultaneously calls attention to how important it is to open a dialogue about these themes with younger people.

The young girls depicted in Dingle’s art are strong, despite their age and gender, and this is what makes her work so important. Fatty and Fudge and all the other girls in Dingle’s art are able to transcend their “limitations” to take a stand and be vocal on issues important to them. Although this exhibit is now closed, I highly recommend looking into the work of Kim Dingle, she is an amazing artist that deserves more recognition. 

 

Click this link to learn more about Kim Dingle, her work, and stay updated on her upcoming shows- https://www.artsy.net/artist/kim-dingle