A recent Sunday N.Y. Times article “Show of Hands Please, Who Can Buy Art?” described the current art auction season in Manhattan where
despite trouble outside, life in the art bubble remained effervescent.
In part it asked the reader to consider the contrast between the extreme wealth of those actually buying art and the other 99% of our country. A stark contrast indeed; one that raises the question of who art is meant to be for?
The rising prominence of street art speaks to this question. Through time art has been largely subsidized by the wealthy. Caravaggio and Rembrandt both had their patrons. Ed Ruscha (whose Strange Catch For a Fresh Water Fish sold this fall in auction for $3.8 million) has had numerous commissions from wealthy supporters for paintings, t-shirt series and even a painted private jet. Art generated by wealthy grants can remain cloistered in the world of the rich or upper middle class but, surely art itself is the great leveler? Created from the passion and drive of an individual and meant to move the soul of everyman.
We have watched graffiti with increasing acceptance as it has evolved from simple, defacing tagging to being in some magical cases, art. I find graffiti sprayed on trains often forms just such magic. The pairing of this art form (meant to be temporary and fleeting) painted on trains that move through time and space with their roving art exhibits can often be quite spectacular!
Now there are increasingly other forms of art to be found on the streets. This is termed post-graffiti or street art and is separate from the potentially vandalizing nature of graffiti or corporate-sponsored works. The art itself ranges far from aerosol paints to mosaics, ceramics, stickers and yarn.The works are fun, startling and sneaky; you may see a window painted into a wall, a tree with a crocheted trunk and branches or, a ceramic man rising, seemingly formed out of a mud puddle. “Yarn bombing” in particular seems to be urging us to take life less seriously; to smile as we walk by. Some works make us think; one wheat paste applied poster proclaimed “Let’s fall in love like both our parent’s aren’t divorced” asks us to consider the effect of our family story on our current loves.
Protestors far and wide are occupying in an attempt to question the increasingly unequal financial conditions of this time. The artists of our world, ever a forward-thinking lot, have been quietly occupying our streets for years. Their work reaches beyond the grasp of those in the rich art bubble and straight to the heart and minds of those of us in the other 99%. Enjoy!
My muse has been distressingly quiet lately. Sitting here earlier I was wondering if maybe I need a trip to a museum to stir up the creative juices but, alas… no trip in the works at this moment. So, instead I began thinking through the art I have seen or studied in the past year, turning the virtual pages in my mind. It was a good year for travel; a good year for experiencing art. Here are some of the highlights:
- Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds This sculpture presented by the conceptual artist was made up of over one hundred million porcelain sunflower seeds. The seeds we handmade by hundreds of artisans working in small workshops in the city of Jingdezhen, China. The exhibit is meant to evoke thoughts of the role of the individual in society, our increasing numbers and the effects of our needs, wants and demands on the world. It is made all that much more meaningful by the recent arrest of Ai Weiwei.
- Shiva Linga Paintings These were perfectly introduced by Franck Andre Jamme: “The thought has often occurred to me that perhaps never in the universal history of painting, have works at once so mysterious and simple, yet so powerful and pure ever been produced – a bit as if, here, man’s genius had been able to assemble almost everything in almost nothing”. The were created as aids to meditation and indeed they are powerfully meditative. While looking at them, I had to wonder if Mark Rothko studied them such are the parallels between his work and these paintings both in simplicity of design and intended purpose.
- Rivane Neuenschwander: Rain Rains This incredible installation in the New Museum in Manhattan was introduced rather limply as: being “an environment of leaking buckets that are controlled from flooding by a Sisyphean recirculation tended to by museum staff in four-hour cycles”. This description fails. Rain Rains formed what may have been the most for me moving few art-related moments of 2010. The slow leaks of water from suspended metal buckets to matched buckets below, formed a symphony of plonkety-plonk sounds that filled the room and my heart. Perhaps this again begs the question of why certain art moves each of us individually so much. Why was there, for me, such transcendental power in this room of “rain”?
- Tino Sehgal’s This Progress: Surely this would be on the list made by any NYC art-goer over the last year or so. As I walked up the ramps in the Guggenheim I was in turn approached by 4 people of increasing age (from about 11 to 65) who walked with me for a level. As we walked we talked. I was asked in turn (increasing in age and altitude with each question): “what is progress?”, “Is personal choice always good?”, “what is the meaning of the word amateur” and “This is progress?”. I have continued these magical discussions in my mind since.
- Jennifer Steinkamp’s Rapunzel. I spend much of my time in museums wishing that all good art had a comfortable bench placed right in front of it to facilitate relaxed contemplation. Such seats are rare. Rapunzel is hung in a stairwell at the Crocker Museum. The steps their form an unusual but restful nook to perch in while watching these enchanting swinging vines; perhaps the best “bench” of the year.
- The ever-moving ephemeral art of graffiti passing by on trains continues to fascinate me.It even inspired some of my own efforts:
What do Jean-Michel Basquiat, Tino Sehgal and Andrew Goldsworthy have in common?
Well, I didn’t really expect you to get that one. But the answer to this question is one worth discussing (in the ongoing dinner-table conversation with your kids that I have by now stirred up).
Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American who began as a graffiti artist and developed into a respected painter of canvases hung in galleries and museums. I was fortunate this year to see an extensive retrospective of his work in a museum. His paintings have an Afro-Carribean influence and also show hints of the influence of other artists of his time. But, for the purposes of our conversation, think of him as a graffiti artist. Andrew Goldsworthy is a british sculptor who works primarily in the outdoors making site-specific and land art. He makes art created out of what he finds in nature. Breathtaking, monumental art made of icicles, twigs, leaves and piled rocks. Tino Sehgal is an artist who creates situations meant to move his audience, meant to make them think but – not meant to be preserved. His work occurs in museums but is not documented in anyway. I recently saw his work “This Progress” – an installation of progressive encounters with people who walked with me, asking me questions (“what is progress?” “is progress always good”) as I ascended the spiral at the Guggenheim museum in New York. While my memories are sharp, there is no image to link here for you to see.
The answer to my question is that all three men created in part, art meant to be temporary. Graffiti and land art are to more or less degree ephemeral in nature. Sehgal’s work is designed to be such. When you look at each of these art forms you find an unarguably appealing nature to them. Certainly Goldsworthy’s is the most widely approachable so, start there. What is it about the fleeting nature of his work that adds to its beauty?
I asked my children this tonight at dinner. I admit, the 15 y/o rolled his eye a bit but then, even he joined in the conversation. They all agree that Goldsworthy’s installments are “really cool” but we struggled with the question of what their impermanence adds to the art. Does its fleeting nature make it more precious and therefore simply more valued (volunteered by the 9 y/o)? Do the changes that occur as Goldsworthy’s sculptures are decayed by the forces of nature (tides, wind, heat) allow for our own interpretations; our own artistic input in how we see them? Do my memories of Seghals situations similarly add to the interpretation of his art? Questions of vandalism aside, I find something magical about the creation of a graffiti mural that will soon simply become a canvas for the next artist.
Is there something about art meant to be physically transitory that makes us pause and stretch our mind’s eye to really take it in? We are perhaps, encouraged to be really in the moment with this art that is by nature of the moment.
To start your own discussion at home try watching these two very different but equally moving videos: Goldsworthy in action and graffiti being created. Consider making some of your own art at home as Meg Schiffler and her son did described in her terrific blog post for the SFMOMA Andy Goldsworthy: Big Tears (Part 1) and A Gift to the Backyard (Part 2).
This question has been often debated at my house. I like looking at well done graffiti. I enjoy thinking about graffiti on trains. The pairing of this art form (meant to be temporary and fleeting) painted on trains that move through time and space with their roving art exhibits can often be quite spectacular! nd yet, graffiti is often done in an illegal, defacing manner that is obviously, hard to support wholeheartedly.
You might open this discussion in your house by watching this video with your kids. There is much to talk about. The end project is striking in its beauty; the means to the end may be objectionable. What do your kids think?