For close to two decades, media immersion placed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan squarely in our sights. With the troop draw down beginning in 2010, media attention turned to the returning veterans. News of the shameful bureaucratic difficulties they encountered became more frequent, as were stories about the lasting emotional, psychological and social impact of war.
I felt compelled to portray these young men and women as the diverse individuals they are, deserving of our respect and recognition for their personal sacrifice, irrespective of our political views on the conflict. As the project began to take form, I discovered that their tattoos provided insight into their journeys, their personal experiences and their beliefs and I chose to expose their stories by translating them into a visible medium that would far outlast the individuals themselves: porcelain.
Juan Gatti’s over-sized paintings in the luxurious Faena resort’s lobby are so…Miami. Big, brash, over-the-top, oozing with fabulous detail and dripping with gold. They are pretty fabulous and apparently each mural panel cost one million dollars! As you stroll through the lobby (referred to as ‘The Cathedral’) towards Faena’s private beach, the path splits when you get to ‘The Mammoth’, Damien Hirst’s gold-dipped and encased mammoth skeleton. It’s quite a sight.
Every detail at the Faena has been tastefully curated to create a seamless blend of art, architecture and design. Even the hotel doors are glitzy.
And then there’s the Jeff Koons work upstairs at the entrance to the resort’s signature restaurant. But just up the road on Collins Avenue, theBass Museum of Contemporary Art offers a more serene and contemplative style of art in the form of Sheila Hicks’ fiber art.
Born in Nebraska in 1934, Hicks has had an expansive career. Her resume reads like an artist’s wet dream – Yale University, Fulbright Scholarship, Venice Biennale, Whitney Biennial, solo shows in Tokyo, Korea, Israel and on and on. Impressive to the point of intimidating. Oh, and she divides her time between Paris and New York just for good measure. But you can’t begrudge Hicks her success because she deserves all the accolades and more. The current exhibition is loosely centered around the theme of landscape. Her creativity with her medium knows no bounds.
You don’t have to wait for Miami Basel to see some great art in Miami. Hicks’ exhibition, Campo Abierto (Open Field), is on through the end of September, 2019. It’s a winner.
Having to cut down a dying, 90-foot tree in my front yard yesterday was a sad event. But it brought to mind a mixed media artwork I created several years ago entitled ‘Life after Death’ that touches upon the cycle of life.
Looking at this artwork reminded me that I often use chairs as an evocative motif in my art. Discarded chairs by the side of the road have always saddened me for some reason. The chair is a uniquely human object – an empty chair is a powerful signifier of the absence of people just as a chair can elevate the person sitting on it. A chair can take on human qualities and convey a wide range of emotions.
Many artists have used chairs as a conceptual vehicle to make political statements. One of my favorite artists, Ai Wei Wei, created a series of works whose fundamental building block was a simple wooden stool that was symbolic of China’s past.
By re-configuring the stool to make it non-functional, he challenges China’s push for modernization at the expense of its traditions. By using multiple stools, the artist also visually expresses the loss of the individual in China’s rapidly industrializing society.
Another famous conceptual artist, Christo (1935-2009), renowned for wrapping buildings, bridges, and even islands in swaths of fabric, similarly wrapped a chair to distort its purpose and to ‘reveal through concealment’ according to art critic David Bourdon.
One of the first artists to use ready-made objects as art was Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). He is credited with being one of the fathers of modern art in so far as he upended all conventional notions of what constitutes Art. In the example below he uses a simple kitchen stool as a pedestal to elevate a bicycle wheel into an object worthy of being called Art. When it was first displayed it was met with outrage and incomprehension. Today it is an iconic symbol of Modern Art.
At the Milan Design Fair this year, an 8-meter high installation paying homage to Italian designer Gaetano Pesce’s Up Armchair, was installed in the central Piazza del Duomo in Milan. Fifty years ago, it was conceived as an industrial design project that heavily implied his support for women to start standing up for themselves and to fight for equal rights.
Check out the latest New York exhibition ‘The Chair’ at The Future Perfect. In a similar vein, look at all the chairs on show at Brooklyn’s newly launched Object & Thing, an art fair blending art and design with a non-curatorial approach to the 200-plus gallery objects.
So next time you plop your behind into a chair, realize that a chair is not necessarily only a chair..
Contemporary art chafes against constraint of any shape or form. This manifests itself in many ways, from seeking out unexpected and alternative venues for exhibiting art, to experimenting with new media and materials that until recently were not part of the artistic lexicon. Light is one of those relatively new mediums that has been harnessed and embraced as a legitimate art form, successfully championed (see above) by the minimalist artist Dan Flavin (1933-1996), James Turell and Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson to mention a few.
On a recent visit to The Philips Collection in D.C. I was introduced to the dazzling works of Bernardi Roig, an artist from Palma de Mallorca whose installations combine the power of light with figurative sculpture.
Several of Roig’s works were spread throughout the museum – inside and out. The image of a life sized figure dragging a long train of light like penance was startling. There was something absurd and meaningless about this activity yet one felt that the figure was committed to this journey and accepted his fate. I responded deeply to the work despite the ‘artspeak’ text provided by the museum: “Roig’s work addresses existential dualities of blinding and illumination, absence and presence, memory and temporality as well as entrapment and liberation.” Sometimes it’s best to just look at the art and let it speak for itself.
Another artist who works in a most extraordinary new medium is German-born artist Wolfgang Laib. His medium of choice is beeswax. The Philips Collection commissioned him to create a permanent installation within the museum. The result is a small chamber, not much larger than a closet, that is totally covered in burnished beeswax.
For this particular work, the artist was inspired by Rothko and I see the connection in the subtle play of color tones created by the wax. Entering the space one is assaulted by a heady aroma of honey warmed by a single light bulb. I don’t know if I was imagining it, but I thought I could even hear the murmur of the hive….
(f you’re fascinated by the way artists can use beeswax, check out another up-and-coming artist who works in the same medium – Jessica Sanders.)
According to one influential art critic, “Go big or go home” was the underlying theme at this year’s FIAC – the French International Fair of Contemporary Art, celebrating its 40th year in Paris. Anxious to re-establish its relevancy, FIAC seems to be making a comeback on the global art map. Judging by the oversized artworks on display, I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s FIAC showstoppers could be seen from space.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Iron Tree (above) is a good example of FIAC’s supersized sculptures. Weiwei is by far one of my favorite contemporary artists. He likes to think big – very very big.
However, while talking to a talented fellow ceramicist today, I was dismayed by his blanket statement about there being no point in his trying to get into galleries because “they just want big”. I take issue with that. Artists these days have to be wary of falling into the trap of thinking that ‘bigger is always better’.
One successful artist who has followed his passion for the other end of the size spectrum is Thomas Doyle who, in his own words, sculpts in “1:43 scale and smaller” (see image below):
Publications such as Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal laud Doyle’s illustrious international career based on his tiny worlds. I was naturally very excited to have him select one of my 4″ high figurines (see below) for the upcoming Small Worldsexhibition opening December 7th at the Target Gallery in the Torpedo Factory, Alexandria.
Likewise, my tiny 5″ x 5″ portrait entitled Le Parisien (below) just won second place in the small format section of the Mortimore Prize for Realism in Australia.
Thinking on a gargantuan scale often means that the artists cannot possibly produce the works by themselves. They need to hire a team of assistants to create their masterpieces. I personally would miss making things with my own hands – after all, that’s what drew me to art in the first place.
So for those of us artists who often enjoy creating on a small scale, and for those art appreciators who like to experience artwork of an intimate size, let it be known that we are notgoing home!