“Go big or go home!”

Ai Weiwei, Iron Tree, 2013.

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.

Artist Weiwei holding handfuls of the millions of porcelain sunflower seeds that make up his installation 'Sunflower Seeds' at the Tate Modern
Artist Weiwei holding handfuls of the millions of porcelain sunflower seeds that make up his installation ‘Sunflower Seeds’ at the Tate Modern

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 Worlds exhibition opening December 7th at the Target Gallery in the Torpedo Factory, Alexandria.

Goose that Laid the Golden Egg

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.

Parisien I medium

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 not going home!

My figurine 'Wet Dreams', recently sold through Susan Calloway Fine Art, Washington DC
My figurine ‘Wet Dreams’, recently sold through Susan Calloway Fine Art, Washington DC
Irit Ovadia Rosenberg suspends tiny clay fragments overlaid with multiple glazes and her signature prints. Currently at Tova Ossman Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Irit Ovadia Rosenberg suspends tiny clay fragments overlaid with multiple glazes and her signature prints. Currently at Tova Ossman Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel.
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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!

Greetings from Artscape, Baltimore MD

Heralded as America’s largest free arts festival, Baltimore’s Artscape is a visual extravaganza, a riotous excuse for anyone who has an ounce of creativity to come out of the woodwork. Artscape offers a cornucopia of arts and crafts but to be honest, the people-watching exceeded the art in terms of interest and creativity. From punks to old hippies, to hipsters, to bizarre characters, it was a time to let it all hang out.

Although I did not discover any fine art which made any lasting impression, I came across some really different and creative sights. Take for example a Houseboat parked on the street and converted into a landlocked gallery. Very cool indeed!

I also enjoyed chatting with the bearded lady at A Feminist Tea Party – politics and conversation over a cup of tea. Now that’s taking art in a direction I never thought of….

An estimated 300,000 people mingled on Baltimore’s streets. Every square inch of space was taken up with a multitude of creative outpouring – art, music, food, dance. It made me feel grateful that we live in a society which fosters freedom of expression. While we are able to enjoy such an abundance of freedoms, artists in Russia (Pussy Riot) and China (Ai Weiwei) are being imprisoned and harassed by the state. And now news of Syrian sculptor Wael Kaston being tortured and killed by government forces. These incidents are a blight on humanity. It’s hard to believe that that sort of repression of artistic voices is still so prevalent around the globe.

One particular sculpture caught my attention just as I was leaving – a beautifully carved torso (alabaster I believe) by sculptor Corrine Thompson.