Monday, September 27, 2010

Whose Public Art Is It?

Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor
The placing of works of art in public settings has long been a popular way to introduce people to a variety of artistic techniques and visions. Art that might have been seen only in museums could now be enjoyed in parks and plazas and public buildings.
The city of Chicago has long had an excellent public art program, with examples ranging from Picasso’s fifty- foot sculpture at the Civic Center to the more recent minimal masterpiece, Cloud Gate, by Anish Kapoor.

Public art as a form of government subsidy has become so successful that there are now over 350 public art programs around the country.

However, the open and progressive nature of the movement has created a backlash in many communities. Under the banner of diversity, budget constraints, local history or political correctness, local art boards are placing such prerequisites on artists that their unique visions become compromised.

Chicago Picasso by Pablo Picasso
photo: SOM/Ezra Stoller
Having, at some point, offended a few vocal citizens, public art programs have chosen or been ordered to play it safe. Thus, in an effort to appeal to the most people, they often select safe, conservative and family-friendly art. Sadly, the unwritten message received by visionary artists becomes “do not apply!”

The answer to this problem should be that there is enough public art to please everyone, but that is being unrealistic. I’m sure there are still people in Chicago who absolutely hate Picasso’s monumental cubist sculpture.

A better solution might be to cultivate as many visionary citizens as there are visionary artists. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Art of Martin Puryear

Over the course of a long career, artist Martin Puryear’s work has consistently been the product of much thought, assembled in a minimalist, simple design. He is clearly a modern sculptor, but uses primitive techniques to create his final works.

Puryear uses common materials such as wood, tar, wire and various metals to create forms that reference traditional crafts and building methods and, at the same time, formalist sculpture. Puryear’s work is often associated with Minimalism, although the artist himself rejects the minimalist ideal of complete objectivity and non-referentiality. Of minimalism he once said, “I looked at it, I tasted it, and I spat it out.”

His works are held in the collections of the Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, The National Gallery of Art, Walker Art Center, Art Institute of Chicago and Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art presented a 30-year survey of Puryear's work in 2008-09.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Art With A Capital "A"

The Art world appears to be wedged between two opposite ideas. One side, believing that “Art is in the eye of the beholder," pushes against the other side, expressed by artist Marcel Duchamp’s dictum that “Art is whatever I say it is.”

Both schools of thought have validity – people bring their own ideas and experiences when viewing art and praise or reject it based on those preconditions. On the other hand, for artists like Duchamp, with their entire lives immersed in art, even a bicycle wheel on a stool can be art.

The problem seems to hinge on semantics. Art may or may not be in the eye of the beholder but appreciation of art can only be in the eye of the beholder. When a person looks at a painting, they respond to what they see - color, line, composition, and subject matter. If the technique and content are to their liking, they pronounce it art. If the painting is not pleasing to them, they may reject it as art.

There are also certain assumptions we make concerning art. A framed abstract painting hanging in an art gallery automatically becomes a work of art. If the same unframed canvas were lying in a garbage heap, we may think otherwise.

Context then plays a part in our perception of art. Duchamp was keenly aware of this when he made his famous statement and exhibited that bicycle wheel in a museum.

Duchamp’s ready-made works were deemed art based on his fame and experience as an avant-garde artist; here the context became one of notoriety. “Art is whatever I say it is because I am Marcel Duchamp.”

However, absent these qualifications, there must be agreed-upon guidelines when determining if a work is good art or bad art. Does the piece accomplish what it sets out to accomplish? Do color, line, composition, and content create harmony or dissonance? In short, does it work as a piece of art?

Years ago, I was asked to be on a panel of jurors for a group art exhibition. For the better part of an hour, we wandered the gallery, checking out two and three-dimensional art pieces. Near the end of the process, the curator pulled several of us aside to say that we had failed to even consider one entry. She then drew our attention to a sculpture lying at the back of the gallery.

I had seen the piece on my first walk through and thought it to be left over wood pieces from some gallery remodeling project. I did not consider it art. Later, I had the opportunity to meet the artist and visit his studio. He explained how he worked and the artistic lineage from which he drew inspiration. I suddenly had the sensation that I was in the presence of something wonderful and unique.

That studio visit became a re-defining moment for me and overhauled my notions of what exactly constitutes art. Art is in the eye of the beholder and through experience we are able to determine if it is good or bad.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jun Kaneko, Master Sculptor

Jun Kaneko is a prolific artist who learns by process and through the dialog between maker and object, a distance he is constantly challenging, achieving an intimacy with his medium where his bold hand can seem invisible. Mainly identified as a sculptor, Jun Kaneko also works on equally technical and innovative levels in glass, textiles, bronze, paper and canvas.

Kaneko came to prominence during the contemporary ceramics movement of the 1960s and 1970s along with colleagues and teachers Peter Voulkos, Paul Soldner, and Jerry Rothman. He has taught at some of the nation's leading art schools including Cranbrook Academy of Art, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Scripps College.

His work is included in more than 40 museum collections including Cranbrook Academy, Detroit Institute of Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; and the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery.

Kaneko's work was featured in an extensive exhibition at Morean Art Center, St. Petersburg, in March, 2008.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Second Saturday Gallery Walk

It was a dark and sticky night in St. Petersburg. Rain rolled off windows like sweat on a bottle of Jagermeister. Fortified souls braved the sauna of Central Avenue to take in Saturday Night’s Gallery Walk.

Over at the Morean Arts Center, art lovers gathered to see new works by Denis Gaston. While goth girls slouched by outside on their way to the State Theatre, the intimate Gallery setting provided solace to another group seeking culture and Chianti.

Late reports indicate a good time was had by all.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tar Baby at Morean Arts Center

The sad disaster of BP’s Gulf Oil Spew affected me so much that I created a piece of statement art – a not so gentle reminder of the seemingly endless ability of humans to delude ourselves.

In the painting’s initial stages, I thought of one of art’s most powerful statement pieces – Guernica, Picasso’s masterful reaction to the Nazi bombing of the Spanish city in 1937.

As the oil catastrophe played out in the media, viewers were confronted daily with a stream of disturbing photographs. One image that kept popping into my mind was that of tar balls. The thought of hundreds of these black blobs washing up on beaches became a compelling picture that ultimately led to the central theme I sought – The Tar Baby.

The story of the Tar Baby is well known in American literature through the writing of author Joel Chandler Harris. In his popular Uncle Remus series, Harris drew on old African-American songs and folklore to write about the foibles of human nature.

In Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby, the trickster Br’er Fox takes a lump of tar and puts clothes on it. He intends to fool Br’er Rabbit but ends up getting tricked himself.

There is a lesson in the Tar Baby that still rings true today. In our stubborn will to continue an increasingly unsustainable lifestyle, we end up fooling ourselves.

The Tar Baby and nineteen other new works will be on exhibition at Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg.
Click this link to view more about the show: Denis Gaston: Morean Arts Center Featured Artist