Lessons learned

ImageI have said this before and I’ll say it again – every time I take in an art exhibition I come away with something for my own practice even if I didn’t particularly like the art. I recently saw some outstanding exhibitions in Washington DC, Philadelphia and New York City that inspired me in different ways.

The Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum is larger than life, like the artist’s persona. For fans of this contemporary Chinese artist/dissident/activist, it is nirvana.  His work conforms to his belief that “art is not a secret code” and that is precisely what makes his art so accessible. Weiwei is that rare artist who makes Art That Matters.

LESSON LEARNED: Weiwei utilizes the simplest of materials and objects (see bicycles above) to make the grandest and most sweeping social commentary. Even though I don’t have scores of assistants and an unlimited budget, it is good to be reminded that as an artist, you don’t need to overreach and get too complicated to get your message across.

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Two of Weiwei’s minimalist Installations of compressed tea leaves (top) and bath-sized ceramic vessels filled with cultured pearls (bottom) are signature Weiwei – exquisitely understated, masterfully executed and heart-stoppingly deep. An absolutely must-see show, closing February 24, 2013.

In Phildelphia I visited the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) to see The Female Gaze:Women Artists Making Their World, which nicely dovetails with my current preparation for a solo show of Parisian portraits in July.

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Viola Frey’s gigantic ceramic portrait with vessel
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Portia Munson’s painting of her underwear

LESSON LEARNED: The hugely disparate takes on portraiture just underscore the uniqueness of the individual and the singularity of the artist’s vision. Sharing a peek (below) at my own intimate apparel version – porcelain panties!

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Of course I could barely tear myself away from the recently renovated Rodin Museum also in Philadelphia. Rodin’s sculptures take my breath away – every single time, without fail. They positively contort in their joy and in their hell. I couldn’t resist a quick pencil drawing (below) which resulted in being invited to the Saturday sketch sessions. Too bad I don’t live in Philly!

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One more exhibition worth noting is Brooklyn Museum’s Mickalene Thomas’ shiny, oversized, brilliant exhibition Origin of the Universe. Thomas’ paintings are a cross between collage and patchwork quilts – she paints on wood in acrylics and oils and then embellishes them with hundreds of sequins and crystal beads. Her shiny bling take on black women within the context of iconic paintings by Courbet and Manet are simply amazing. Here is her take on Monet’s dining room at Giverny:

ImageLESSON LEARNED: There is no material or medium that cannot be transformed into fine art in the hands of a truly distinctive talent. So go off and see art. It is inspiring, educational and visually exciting!

Playboy centerfold next…?

I  had a bit of a giggle when I received notification that my painting Back View (below) was selected along with 30 other beautiful nude artworks for Barebrush’s January Calendar. The juror was Mikaela Sardo Lamarche of New York’s ACA Gallery,  who made the selection from close to 800 entries.

self portrait back view

It brought to mind the pin-up calendar which took off at the turn of the last century and boosted the morale of American GI’s during WWII. One of my very favorite pin-up artists is Alberto Vargas (1896 – 1982) who introduced America to the Varga Girl in 1940. Check out his September Varga Girl in Esquire’s 1947 calendar (below). I mean, nobody can match his illustrative rendering of satin and chiffon, the lustre in the hair, the sexy poses…divine!

Esquire

These images are a lot more appealing than the National Counterterrorism Center’s newest daily planner illustrated with photographs of wanted terrorists and groups, among them al-Qaeda’s al-Zawahiri and Taliban chief Mohammed Omar. Both these men have a hefty price tag on their heads.

In any case, I hope it’s an auspicious sign to be included in Barebrush’s January 2013 calendar – if nothing else, its a fun way to kick off the New Year!