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Posts Tagged ‘paintings’

Plumbing the Depths

September 18, 2014 | by

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It was 1917 when Marcel Duchamp debuted Fountain, that perennially scandalous urinal, that Dadaist taunt, that porcelain keystone. Since then, befuddled museumgoers worldwide have asked, “How is that art?”; about half a dozen performance artists have made a show of peeing on, in, or around one of the many replicas of Fountain; and, at the Pompidou Center, one guy threw a hammer at it. But now, in 2014, the artist Alexander Melamid has outdone them all: he’s reconnected the urinal to plumbing. It flushes anew. And through its pipes, he hopes, will flow more than a century’s worth of the art world’s built-up shit.

Melamid’s new exhibition, “The Art of Plumbing,” opened last night at Vohn Gallery. It comprises paintings of assorted plumbing components—sometimes superimposed on canonical works by, say, Picasso or Rothko—with names like Form-N-Fit 1-1/2 Flanged Tailpiece, Large Drain Cleansing Bladder, and The No Clog Drain, Permaflow. At its center, atop a kind of plinth, is a fully functional urinal, its working parts very much visible.

“Modernism in art began in earnest with that urinal, severed from the sewage system. It was a truly revolutionary act,” an accompanying statement read. And yet, as the twentieth century wore on, artists descended into meaningless self-referentiality and the pursuit of wealth, thus necessitating another revolution:

Having acquired the skills to wield both pipe and wrench, the artist Alex Melamid will successfully perform an aesthetic coupling that will flush the human as well as the elephant waste from our great museums. Once sent down the drain and into the sewage system, this effluvial excess will affront the senses of public no longer.

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“Are You Being Processed?” and Other News

September 16, 2014 | by

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Detail from the cover of the first issue of Processed World, 1981.

  • The National Book Awards have published this year’s poetry longlist: Louise Glück, Edward Hirsch, and Fanny Howe are among the ten nominees.
  • Technology was supposed to increase our leisure time and enliven our workplaces—that hasn’t really panned out. But in the early eighties, amid all the Pollyannaism of the Bay Area, a magazine called Processed World seemed to foresee all the resentments of the contemporary office drone. “In the writing … one can also find the beginnings of today’s revolt against Silicon Valley and its pernicious mix of libertarian economics, techno-utopianism, and the deracinated remains of the sixties counterculture.”
  • “Fingerprint words”: the words and phrases we overuse to the point that they become our personal trademarks. (Mine are probably foresee, edify, and floccinaucinihilipilification.) The strangest thing about these words is that they’re contagious: “We’re all simultaneously donating to and stealing from those around us. But how do we pick up these linguistic signature words, and what is going on when we notice other people using those words and we feel, well, a certain way about it?”
  • Writers seeking peace, quiet, and old-fashioned American bonhomie: Washington, D.C.’s Politics & Prose is renting a cottage in Ashland, Virginia—a town where “people wave at you from their front porch”—for weeklong retreats.
  • On the performative paintings of Avery Singer: “The gentle sarcasm embedded in her work is usually aimed at art-world stereotypes. Her first solo exhibition at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler in Berlin last year, for example, was a satiric take on the art industry and its conventions. Works with titles such as The Studio Visit (2012), Jewish Artist and Patron (2012) and The Great Muses (2013) play on myths around the romantic figure of the artist. The show was accompanied by a short text by Singer, a fake press release for an exhibition that will never happen.”

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Mad, Etc.

August 5, 2014 | by

A panda painting, small-claims court, and the perils of communal living.

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From a 1937 advertisement.

Of the many collectives in West Philadelphia, the Mitten was widely held to be the ideal model. Founded by six young progressives from the Inter-cooperative Council in Michigan, it hosted workshops on social justice and fundraised for local nonprofits. And it was a staple of the queer-arts scene: punk bands played in the basement and drag shows filled the living room, with performers grinding on audience members and audience members grinding on banisters. In the adjacent lot they had grown a lush garden with six raised beds and a chicken coop.

When I first moved to Philadelphia, I was eager to join a house like this one—but brimming with collaborative energy, they were in high demand, and the ones I found lacked the character and spirit that’d drawn me to communal living in the first place.

I was impatient, though, and took a room in Cedar Park, aka “University City,” at an A-frame Victorian with a huge mulberry tree. The quaint facade hardly matched its sterile interior: overhead lighting reflected off marble countertops, the white walls were bare, and there was La-Z-Boy furniture in suburban quantities. This collective included five members, young professionals who, surprisingly, spent the majority of time away from the house, staying often with their partners. A math teacher, a product engineer, a classical vocalist and a software designer—they were mild and even a little shy. But one of the members, Jeff, maintained a particular enthusiasm for the house. He spoke in an affectedly deep voice, noticeably straining as he described the order of things: regular meals “kept costs down”; adherence to the chore wheel “kept everything running smoothly.” He appeared to be the oldest by a significant difference; his skin had a jaundiced tint, and his goatee was visibly grayed. A baseball cap covered his bald head, and in his beige clothing he nearly blended with the plush chairs in the living room. Read More »

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Strindberg’s Landscapes

May 14, 2014 | by

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Flower by the Shore, 1893

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Vågen VIII, 1901

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The Town, 1903

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Wonderland, 1894

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Tallen, 1873

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The White Horse, 1892

Fact: August Strindberg could paint. Though he was always more renowned for his plays and novels, he was a prolific artist, producing more than one hundred works over the course of his life. In their brooding expressionism, his paintings were every inch as forward-thinking as his contemporaries—he counted Gauguin and Munch among his friends—and his work received enough notice that in 1894 he published an essay on his methods in a Parisian journal.

Strindberg, who died today in 1912, had an array of interests: at various points, he turned to painting, photography, telegraphy, theosophy, alchemy, and Swedenborgianism, a sect of Christianity that denied the Holy Trinity. The plenitude of his hobbies made him, depending on whom you asked, a polymath, a dilettante, or an insane person.

Strindberg tended to paint only in times of grave crisis, when he found himself too distraught to write. Maybe accordingly his landscapes are seldom sylvan, his seascapes seldom serene, and his skies seldom sunny. In 2001, Cabinet published a well-observed essay by Douglas Feuk about Strindberg’s vatic art:

In his paintings there is always a “motif”—often stormy skies, agitated waves, perhaps a lonely rock by the sea. But these landscapes or seascapes are still half-embedded in the material, like a world in the process of being created. Boundaries and differences are fluid: Air might have the same density as stone, and the rock seems mysteriously fused with the water—as if they were all but different manifestations of the same matter. In fact, the tactile surface in Strindberg's paintings is at times emphasized so much that not only does it provide an image of nature, it also, in part, gives the impression of being nature. In the painting High Sea, for example, there are sections that Strindberg has blackened with a burner, but also patches of a brownish-gray, rough structure that seem to be not so much painted as oxidized, or in other ways created by some elementary process of nature.

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Infinite Reality

April 9, 2014 | by

Reviving the art of Turkish miniatures.

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Goodfellas, drawn by Murat Palta in the style of traditional Turkish miniatures.

In Turkey, people used to yawn when they heard the word miniature. “He looks just like one of those guys in miniatures” was a good way to insult someone. Generations of students have learned to ignore, or dislike, the art of miniature and the broader category of traditional Turkish arts—tezhip, the art of illumination; ebru, paper marbling; cilt, bookbinding; and hat, calligraphy. After all, uncool people practiced them—better to keep one’s distance.

Miniature paintings date to the third century A.D. They’re small paintings used in illustrated manuscripts (decorated books, basically) to depict scenes from the classics: the Iliad, the Aeneid, the Bible. Illuminated bibles—like the Syriac Bible of Paris, believed to have been produced in the Anatolian city of Siirt—helped spread the message of God. In Asia, miniatures developed into an independent art form, with techniques quite distinct from those of Western painting. As Wikipedia says, in Persian miniatures,

walls and other surfaces are shown either frontally, or as at (to modern eyes) an angle of about forty-five degrees, often giving the modern viewer the unintended impression that a building is hexagonal in plan. Buildings are often shown in complex views, mixing interior views through windows or “cutaways” with exterior views of other parts of a facade … The Ottoman artists hinted at an infinite and transcendent reality (that is Allah, according to the Sufism’s pantheistic point of view) with their paintings, resulting in stylized and abstracted depictions.

Kamāl ud-Dīn Behzād was one of the most prominent practitioners of Persian miniatures. Read More »

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Painting with Fire: A Visit with Betsy Eby

March 10, 2014 | by

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Sanguine II, 2009.

Encaustic means “to burn.” The ethereal quality of Betsy Eby’s encaustic paintings belies the labor-intensive process of their making—an ancient method involving heated wax, damar resin (the sap of a Southeast Asian pine), and pigment applied in translucent veils with brushes and knives. Using a blowtorch, she liquefies the wax and fuses the layers with fire.

Eby’s solo show, “Painting with Fire,” is now at the Morris Museum in Augusta, Georgia. Eby is also a classical pianist, and many of her works are titled for musical pieces; her delicate compositions often seem to possess fluttering rhythms reminiscent of piano music. Eby is steeped in the Romantic era’s exploration of the interplay of senses. In a new book, Betsy Eby, art historian David Houston contributes an essay about synesthesia in her work, exploring the connections between sound and image. He mentions Baudelaire’s idea of correspondence, “anchored in the belief that sensory experiences can correspond to common emotions.” One of the surprising benefits to viewing Eby’s work in person is the engagement of another sense—smell—in the presence of natural beeswax. Drawing from poets and philosophers, composers and visual artists, her paintings resonate as much with history as they do modernity.

I recently spoke with Eby from her studio in Columbus, Georgia, where she lives with her husband, the Realist painter Bo Bartlett, in his childhood home. (The Morris Museum is also hosting a concurrent show of Bartlett’s work, “Paintings from Home.”) Read More »

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