Thrilled to share my personal essay just published in the Huffington Post, entitled
‘How An Encounter With The World’s Most Famous Vagina Painting
Changed My Life’
WHAT’S EVERYONE STARING AT? READ MY ESSAY TO FIND OUT!
Like many, many people living in the US right now, I am experiencing great anxiety about the state of this nation. It’s hard to believe that we will ever extricate ourselves from this free-for-all bog of lying, fear and hatred. A recent visit to the MOMA exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria comforted me by reminding me of my mother’s wise words: ‘This too shall pass‘ – words that got me through some tough times. Hundreds of iconic artworks created over the past 130 years were on display, portraying the challenges that each new decade brought with it.
Walking through the highlights of New York’s Museum of Modern Art collection was like a visual walking tour of history. The impressionist, cubist, surreal, abstract expressionist, fauvist, modernist and contemporary works revealed the artists’ responses to wars, culture clashes, political upheavals and inner turmoil.
I won’t even begin to attempt to walk you through such a content-rich and complex exhibition – I’ll leave that to the NGV’s curated site. But I will share a few teasers.
I also enjoyed the ephemeral contemporary installation by Roman Ondak, Measuring the universe. This dynamic installation was created by marking the height of individual museum visitors, creating a panorama of human height variables.
On site volunteers stand you up against the wall (just like your mom or dad did then they marked the kitchen doorway to check your growth) and mark your height along with your name and date. The names scribbled by the volunteers one on top of another become a black mass of jumbled individual names ultimately unreadable but representing all of humanity.
Ondak’s goal in this work is to unite people in a shared action. After all, we inhabit the same universe – that comes with privileges and obligations to treat one another as equals.
(Oh, by the way the Belgian artist’s name was Magritte and the famous Dada artist’s name was Marcel Duchamp).
NEWS UPDATE: I will be teaching a three-day collage workshop at the Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs to accompany my exhibition there in November. Stay tuned!
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.)
HEADS UP EVERYBODY! SHARING IS IN ORDER – CHECK OUT THE BLOG POSTED ON THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS, FEATURING MY PERSONAL ILLUSTRATED JOURNAL!!!!!
Is this scene all too familiar? By now it should be no secret that I am gaga over art, but museums are daunting. They are tiring. They can be boring. Many visitors confess to dragging themselves around for hours just to feel like they are getting their money’s worth or, in the case of the free Smithsonian museums, visitors feel guilty if a day’s visit to a museum fails to produce swollen ankles and blisters on their feet.
Pulitzer prize-winning art critic Philip Kennicott wrote a very useful and quite hilarious article in the Washington Post’s museum arts section entitled HOW TO VIEW ART. I have provided the link to the article, but most people would rather have the abbreviated Cliff Notes of the five pointers Kennicott outlines. So here goes:
1. Take time
Obvious, right? But Kennicott points out that looking at art while distracted by our ubiquitous digital devices or thinking about competing demands on our time makes the museum visit a lost cause. As he puts it, “there is no hope that anything significant will happen.” In other words, don’t even bother.
2. Seek Silence
You’ll get a lot more out of those quiet rooms hiding forgotten gems than you will crowding around the most famous artworks that have become a parody of themselves. Kennicott also warns of another danger in following the crowd: “Always avoid noise, because noise isn’t just distracting, it makes us hate other people”.
3. Study up
What? He wants us to do our homework? Shouldn’t we just lazily sweep the walls and pedestals till our eye alights – for a fleeting moment – upon a work of art that ‘speaks’ to us? No, says Kennicott. The more you know, the more you will enjoy. I couldn’t agree more. I always try to time my visits with a tour and invariably learn interesting tidbits of information that heighten my enjoyment of the art.
4. Engage memory
Here Kennicott wants us to engage in mental exercises. He suggests that we try to remember a fact, or two, or three, about a particular work (artist’s name, year created, etc.) so that it will have some lasting power. Try this: observe a work of art, turn away from it and try to describe it in your head. Kennicott makes no bones about how he feels about those museum educators who dismiss the importance of remembering such details: “They are lying.”
5. Accept contradiction
Even the so-called experts flip-flop about how they feel about art. One can’t generalize or have just one response. “Art is inspiring and depressing, it excites and enervates us, it makes us more generous and more selfish.” And this is just as it should be. In fact, don’t expect a museum visit to cure the blues. Kennicott concludes that “If you feel better about yourself when you leave a museum, you’re probably doing it all wrong.”