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Posts Tagged ‘Soviet art’

The Soviet Man of the Future, and Other News

February 1, 2016 | by

Georgy Zimin, Still Life with Light Bulb, 1928–1930. Image via NYRB

  • Philip Larkin’s poems and letters present him as misanthropic, hard-hearted, and above all miserable—but he moonlighted as a photographer, and his work in the medium shows a dramatically different side of him. “In their sociability, tenderness, and sweep, the photographs complicate the caricature of Larkin as England’s laureate of despair, squeezing out lines between shifts as a university librarian … Rather than a poet committed to monkish isolation and routine, Larkin the photographer appears as an eager traveller through Britain and Ireland, with [Monica] Jones often in tow … Larkin kept these travels, and the photographs they inspired, a secret from pen pals like Kingsley Amis, for whom he reserved obscenity-filled reports of his own bitterness and alienation—his wide-eyed curiosity replaced by an ironic sneer.”
  • A new exhibition at the Jewish Museum, “The Power of Pictures,” looks at the revolutionary intent of early Soviet photography and film: “Russia’s new political masters wanted to create a new society and a ‘new Soviet man’ … Many of the best-known avant-garde artists embraced this task with enthusiasm: some felt as though their art was the engine driving history. Artists like El Lissitzky, Rodchenko, Stepanova, Goncharova, Malevich, Mayakovsky, and Tatlin—to varying degrees influenced by Cubism, Futurism, and other western European movements, as well as by Russian folk traditions—had been making work that in different ways sought to redefine the very notion of art … Photography was the perfect medium for promoting the new state order. Its use in newspapers, magazines, posters, journals, and books as something other than portraiture was a new phenomenon. It was by definition ‘modern’ and ‘forward-looking’—a non-elitist medium for the age of mechanical reproduction.”
  • We’ve all tired of the manic-pixie dream girl, that brazen testament to the narrowness of the male imagination. But John Green, in his young-adult novels, gives the stereotype considerably more depth: “In Green’s novels, there is considerable tension between the potent appeal of his manic pixie characters, the excitement and fun they bring into the narrators’ lives, and the messages these characters impart about their own lives and identities. It is only through celebrating the quirky charisma of manic pixie dream girls and fully exploring their attraction that he is able to show their accompanying problems … In his most complex work, he deconstructs the type, showing readers the pitfalls of defining others in narrowed ways … ”
  • Afronauts, the Ghanaian director Frances Bodomo’s new film, tells the little-known story of the Zambian space program, which mounted an ambitious attempt to send twelve astronauts to the moon in the sixties. “Zambia’s landscape isn’t really arid desert; it’s not really desolate,” Bodomo says. “And this is where the sci-fi comes into it, because you can take liberties and telling an alternative history comes into to it. You know it’s wonderful that they’re already on this landscape that already feels like the moon, that already feels like they’re already where they’re going. That feels like the message at the end of the film, that they’re already where they always wanted to be. The loneliness and the pain and the self-negation that exists here is what it’s going to be up there. The trials and tribulations here are going to be up there. Visually, they’re already in their dream space.”
  • Concrete, simplicity, utopia—let’s hear it for brutalism, people. Put your hands together for brutalism. A new book by Christopher Beanland argues that we must learn to love brutalist architecture, and that there’s plenty to love in it: “The key thing about concrete, Beanland argues, is it can span great distances (enabling architects to construct stronger and more spacious buildings) and be stretched into wild shapes, from ziggurats and beehives to flying saucers … Beanland believes our concrete nostalgia is a protest against the greed of the current housing market, with cities like London being bought up by the international super-rich.”

Shut Off Your Heating Systems, and Other News

January 21, 2016 | by

Vagrich Bakhchanyan, Attention! (detail), 1972–73, transfer process, colored pencil, and ink on paper. Courtesy of Zimmerli Art Museum, via Hyperallergic

  • We’ve known for a while that fairy tales are old, but only now have we discovered that they’re in fact really, really, really old—an important distinction. Stories like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Rumpelstiltskin” originated thousands of years ago, researchers suggest, in “prehistoric times, with one tale originating from the bronze age”: “Using techniques normally employed by biologists, they studied common links between 275 Indo-European fairy tales from around the world and found some have roots that are far older than previously known, and ‘long before the emergence of the literary record.’ ”
  • The sound is as important as the surface and the feel. It’s important because our ears define for me the nature of space,” said Derek Sugden, an acoustic engineer who died this week at ninety-one. He headed Arup Acoustics, which designed buildings with sound in mind, thus starting a kind of quiet revolution in architecture, as Gillian Darley writes: “The more recent transformation of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam by Cruz y Ortiz takes its responsibilities to an immense visiting public seriously. Enormous frame-form baffles hang from the Gothic Revival roof of the original atrium, while several interior windows are blanked out with fabric ‘shutters’ to keep resonance at a minimum. Thousands of people come and go (the café is in a separate space beyond) and the experience remains convivial and pleasurable, sound levels no higher than a gentle hum. Yet nothing is made of this achievement in features on the renovated museum in the architectural press: Sugden was right, architects don’t hear.”
  • The Soviet artist Vagrich Bakhchanyan hoped to subvert his government by using its own language against it in his art: “He made works on paper in which appropriated texts and images were combined and layered using transfer techniques, some utilizing official notices by Soviet administrators—the terse, usually handwritten flyers that punctuated the everyday life of Soviet citizens with warnings, admonitions, and exhortations. One such announcement scribbled on a page torn out of a logbook reads: ‘Comrade residents! On Monday the 19th there won’t be any cold or hot water. We ask you to close the taps and shut off the heating system in your apartments.’ Over top of this message, Bakhchanyan has layered an image of a peaceful country landscape. In this and other works, the juxtaposition of random texts and images was meant to produce a momentary disorientation, a visual and mental shock caused by two or more layers of signification clashing and negating one another. The artworks reflect the absurdities and humiliations of the Soviet life—the tragic contradictions between the official ideology of socialism and its everyday reality.”
  • Last November, Yurina Ko went to the Big Eaters World Championship in Times Square, where passersby were fascinated by a Japanese woman—everyone called her a girl—who could eat and eat and eat: “ ‘But the girl. She can eat.’ ‘I wonder what her stomach looks like’ … It’s the magic of the Little Big Eater Girl. She’s skinny, prepubescent, and childlike in her seeming ignorance about what constitutes an appropriate portion of food. And yet she’s an adult. If you take her on a date, she won’t order just a salad but every item on the menu and beg for dessert after. After enjoying every spoonful of this giant meal, she still looks healthy, small, and fuckable … Someone in the crowd points to the Japanese eater and says, ‘But look, now she’s sick.’ The woman looks like she’s in pain, breathing into a paper bag. What’s really happening is she’s starting to regurgitate into it. People scatter at the sight of this.”
  • Today in corporate-media pissing contests: anyone who dreams of landing a gig at Condé Nast has a foolish, outmoded dream, because all the cool kids work at Hearst now. “Working at Condé is passé,” an “insider” told Page Six. (Another compared Condé to Icarus.) “Hearst has the better perks now: visiting chefs in the cafeteria and free workout clothes in the gym. There are also master classes from the likes of Gloria Steinem, Ethan Hawke, and Arianna Huffington.”

Futurism on Wheels, and Other News

July 1, 2014 | by

soviet concept car

The Torpedo-GAZ, from 1951—a Soviet concept car with a tubular duraluminum skeleton. Via io9.

  • The nineteenth century “had its own explosion of media … Much as with today’s web, people complained there was too much to read … The solution to overload? For tens of thousands of Americans, it was the scrapbook.”
  • Authors turn to pseudonyms for a number of reasons—some strange, some prosaic, some almost metaphysical. In Sarah Hall’s case, the problem was another Sarah Hall: “I could never be published as me. Someone had got there first … my agent reminded me, gently: ‘I really don’t think you can be Sarah Hall.’”
  • An interview with Jeff Sharlet, whose new book looks at religion in America: “In nine out of ten cases ‘spirituality’ is a con—not a con by the person invoking it, but a con on that person. It offers the illusion of individual choice, as if our beliefs, or our rejection of belief, could be formed in some pure Ayn Randian void … We’re caught up in a great, complicated web of belief and ritual and custom. That’s what I’m interested in, not the delusion that I’m some kind of island.”
  • “It felt like the water was rising and lapping just under my nose … I really began to wonder whether my career was over.” Classical musicians contend with stage fright.
  • Soviet concept cars from the fifties and sixties show what might have been, had futurism held its grip on the national imagination—these sleek, modular vehicles are a striking counterpoint to the American cars of the era.

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Exit Art, 1982–2012

April 12, 2012 | by

Jeannette Ingberman and Papo Colo in front of the gallery's 578 Broadway location.

Papo Colo and Jeanette Ingberman founded Exit Art in 1982 as a space for “unusual” art, which is saying a lot given that this was a time when artists were bisecting public plazas with giant panels of unfinished steel, using subway trains as canvases, and performing year-long pieces that consisted of never going indoors. That February, Papo and Ingberman curated their first exhibition, “Illegal America.” The show explored the ways in which the practice of art had occasionally run afoul of the law, from Charlotte Moorman playing cello in the nude to Chris Burden ordering his assistant to shoot him in his arm. The catalogue consisted of a series of artists’ statements housed in a box, which was sealed shut. In order to open it, you had to tear through a dollar bill glued across the flaps—an illegal act, albeit of the mildest kind.

Exit Art’s mandate was clear from the very beginning: the brash claim that they represented an “exit” from the traditional art world; a neck-and-neck passion for politics and aesthetics; that gag of a catalogue, the kind that implicates gallerygoers as more than passive collectors of names on placards. Yet their remarkable, thirty-year existence on the fringes will soon come to an end. Read More »

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