Art getting in your face?

I just spent the day in Philadelphia and no sooner had I stepped off the train, than I found myself assailed by Art. I don’t mean a few nicely displayed framed pieces, or an aesthetic attempt at Public Art. I mean ART – a huge 50-foot tall sculpture of some cartoon character sitting right there in Philadelphia’s historic railway station.

KAWS at Philadelphias 30th Street Station

Whether you love it or hate it, you can’t ignore it, and that is the point. This work by Brooklyn-based artist KAWS is an example of how far art institutions are willing to go to entice the public to come and see their exhibitions. By placing this oversized art piece outside their walls and in the public eye, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) is hoping to nab an otherwise inaccessible demographic. I was recently knocked off my feet by an incredible video of this very trend and just have to share it here. In this case, Amsterdam’s newly renovated Rijksmuseum re-enacted one of Rembrandt’s masterpieces in a local mall. Spectacular! I was grinning for an hour after watching it.

I can’t sign off before mentioning the wonderful ceramic works on exhibit at one of my absolute favorite Philadelphia galleries in Old Town – The Clay Studio. If you are still thinking little floral teacups when someone mentions the word ‘porcelain’, think again. Porcelain is at once exquisitely delicate, incredibly strong and versatile enough to match any artist’s vision. Here are some examples of contemporary porcelain works on display during the Science as Muse exhibition, unfortunately closing today.

Artist: Lindsey Feuer
Artist: Lindsey Feuer
Artist: Undine Brod
Artist: Undine Brod
Artist: Jason Briggs
Artist: Jason Briggs

(Yep, this last one is a weird one….)

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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!