Posts Tagged “Art History”

08w08:1 Preview: The Cdn Art Reel Artist Film Fest 21-24 Feb 2008

by timothy. 2 Comments

The Canadian Art Reel Artists Film Festival, 21-24 February 2008
screening at the Al Green Theatre, Miles Nadal JCC
750 Spadina Ave (at Bloor), Toronto

In his as-yet-untranslated book Formes de Vie (1999) Nicolas Bourriaud makes the argument that Duchamp treated the gallery as a film camera, a box in which the gallery ‘recorded’ the work and in so doing made it art. Throughout the 20th Century, the dominance of film as a medium has seeped into our consciousness to such an extant that it seems that all art today works in cinematic terms. The spectacle, the grandeur, the big budgets … the gallery has become a film set and must borrow from the film-production’s capacity to make the impossible real. Take for example the open pits of crude oil shown in There Will Be Blood – accurately reflecting the lack of environmental concern of a century ago, and yet filmed in 2006 under conditions that were probably heavily controlled and legislated behind the scenes. Also consider something like Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth, where the Tate gallery undertook intentional damage to the foundations of the building and displayed it with an aloofness which makes it seem no big deal.

But the ugliness of its construction is as hidden as that which goes into the manufacture of our consumer goods by foreign wage slaves. We are only asked to marvel at the gleam, and not think of the grime.

I raise these points as an introduction to the blending of the cinematic and locational art forms, which is annually celebrated by the Canadian Art Foundation’s film series of artist documentaries. This year’s selections have a common theme of monumentalism, and the documentaries give us insight and access to the grime behind the gleam of art-stardom. Having watched previews of most of the films in this year’s series, (I was provided with all but four of the series’ screeners) what follows are reviews and reflections on them.

Jeff Wall | Jeff Wall – Retrospective 58:42 dir. Michael Blackwood (2007)

Peter Galassi and Jeff Wall
Peter Galassi (L) and Jeff Wall (R)

This film is an hour long eavesdrop as Wall walks through his 2007 retrospective exhibition at MOMA with its co-curator Peter Galassi. The format makes it a little boring at times – but it’s worth it if you’re at all interested in his work, and Wall gives wonderful insights into what inspired his classic pieces. It can be said that he’s a painter using photography to make his images, which are so composed and choreographed to assume the one-off aspect of a painting, albeit made in a medium which ensures a maximum reproducibly. Looking at Wall’s backlit images I was reminded they are precursors of the digital photographs we are all getting used to. One imagines that many HD-flat screen panels will be used to display future photography, as luminous and well resolved as a Jeff Wall. It makes his work seem almost prescient in that regard, and makes the technology behind it seem merely primitive rather than gimmicky or even as sophisticated as it appeared ten years ago.

Philip Johnson | Philip Johnson: Diary of an Eccentric Architect 55:00 dir. Barbara Wolf (1996)

Philip Johnson and Rem Koolhaas
Philip Johnson and Rem Koolhaas in the rain
This film is essentially a grand tour of Johnson’s sprawling estate in New Canaan, Connecticut, which was used as a literal field of experimentation by the architect. Johnson gives tours of the projects he undertook on his land over fifty years, meanwhile the film documents the construction of one such experiment, a building inspired by Frank Stella (who comes to see the work in progress), and which when completed is visited under umbrella by Rem Koolhaas. Once painted, it looked magnificent. I appreciated the inclusion of a scene where the construction workers quarrel with the managers, who are quibbling over ten-grand. ‘Ten thousand dollars is a drop in a hat. I see your place over there, you’re not working for $25/hr with guys making $12/hr, and think you’re going to live on that’. This sentence encapsulates what’s wrong with startchitecture to begin with, and for me is the key-phrase of the film.

As we go forward, this documentary may become one of those historical curiosities in which the rich playboy gives a tour of his Versailles and the interconnected social and environmental repercussions are totally ignored. Johnson (who I’ve most often seen in a suit at the office commenting in documentaries on the work of other architects) here is seen as a full resolution person, who had lived a blessed life of success and had reached an age when he couldn’t help but take it all for granted. His personal art gallery, brilliantly designed to exhibit many large paintings in a small space, consists of work that he needs explained to him by an assistant who first appears in the film sitting in the gallery in such a way that I mistook him for a Duane Hanson. Had The Simpson’s Mr Burns been written as an architect, he would have been modeled on Philip Johnson, and this Mr Burns would return the affections of his Smithers.

Bas Jan Ader | Here is always somewhere else 70:00 dir. Rene Daalder (2006)

Still from a Bas Jan Ader Film

Bas Jan Ader died the year I was born, and yet he has the best artist website I have ever seen, the result of some benefactor buying up his estate in recent years. As a part of this media revival, Rene Daalder was asked to make this film by Ader’s widow. (The trailer can be seen on the Ader website here). This film was a little slow getting started but got more interesting near the half-way mark. One of the nice things about this feature is how Daalder revisits some of the locations Ader used for his art-films, which have been so transformed in the intervening years as to have become unrecognizable.

Featuring interviews with people inspired by Ader’s work, including Tacita Dean, we learn much about his background, and the similar background of Daalder, who attempts to tell Bas Jan’s story by giving us insight into his own. Before he too immigrated to Los Angeles, Daalder began as a film-maker in Holland (one of his early films’s stared Rem Koolhaas, thirty years before getting his rainy day tour at Philip Johnson’s) before leaving after his first ‘most-expensive Dutch film ever’ failed at the domestic box-office. The result is a story of a small group of Dutch expatriates who ended up in L.A. trying and make their fame and fortune in Hollywood. With the exception of Koolhaas, they succeeded while remaining obscure. For example, one of the actors in another early Daalder film was Carel Struycken who I was familiar with as Mr. Homn, Lexanna Troi’s butler from the Star Trek episodes I watched as a teenager, and who also starred in the Adam’s Family movie as Lurch.

Wikipedia states that Ader’s work began to be revived in the early 1990s, and I first learned about him through the Phaidon Conceptual Art book, published in 1998. Richard Rorty described genius as the coincidence of one’s personal obsession meeting a public need. Throughout the 1980s, Bas Jan Ader was to a small group of Dutch men just that friend who disappeared at sea. As one says early on in the film, ‘I didn’t know I was friends with a myth’. This myth was constructed in the early 1990s, which is to say that the public need for Ader’s obsession only began then, this public being an art-world increasingly interested in the type of work Ader produced. As a video artist, his work can be seen throughout the movie (and on his website), and on the one hand it can seem both boring and absurd (what’s up with all the falling?) but on the other it can seem interesting and profound (the sea captain who had thought about it a lot). Ader’s work is a reminder to artists that there’s an potential audience for anything, but it may take twenty years after your death for the public’s interest to coincide with your obsessions.

Richard Serra | To See is to think 44:33 dir. Maria Anna Tappeiner (2006)

In Sheila Heti’s interview with Dave Hickey, he says of Richard Serra that ‘he’s totally not hip, can’t speak without drawing’. Throughout this film Serra is seen carrying a sketchbook, and only once to we see him actually using it. I’ve often thought that Serra’s work will survive for as long as there’s no iron shortage, but give us another couple of hundred years of material squandering, and then will see if this stuff is really worth something as art. Serra’s obsession with drawing allows one to see his sculpture really as a drawing in itself – only he is marking three dimensional space with the material of steel, rather than working with graphite or charcoal on two-dimensions. This image illustrates this for me: a simple line drawing, highlighting the space of the sky, consisting of one of Serra’s steel sheets seen edge-wise. (Of course, this interpretation is aided by the framing offered by the film camera).


Serra’s work makes me question wether things like Stonehenge were really about the stars and the Equinoxes. Perhaps they too liked to mark space with massive objects? I hope that Serra’s work, if it survives future material scarcity, will never be interpreted as astrological charting. That would make our culture look unimaginative. It’s worth persevering the memory of these rusted pieces of steel as attempts to mark the landscape in a creative way, although here I’m again reminded of what bothered me about Johnson’s estate. The land was fine as it was, and along came some egotistical human set about ‘improving’ it by dumping a hunks of rusted metal in it. I don’t think we’ve (as a culture) quite figured out the balance between imagination and destruction.

Anish Kapoor | Art in Progress: Anish Kapoor 27:24 dir. John Wyver (2007)

Anish Kapoor discussing the maquette for his installation
Anish Kapoor discussing the maquette for his installation of Svayambh

This documents the Kapoor retrospective which opened three months ago (Nov 2007) in Germany. Kapoor is one of the bigger names in sculpture right now, but he’s another reminder that artists these days (when they are successful) make big work that highlights vulgar industrial excess (a block of red wax weighing 45 tons and measuring 10 x 4.5 x 3.5 meters. WTF?) and it’s all ok because there’s enough money in the world, it’s affordable to these aristocrats, and besides, what else are we going to do with 45 tons of red wax? Cover cheese with it?

Kapoor emphasizes that his work is about color. The monumentalism of its material just seems like a paradoxical cheap trick: an expensively produced contrivance. Like, this is what it takes to awe people today – not fragility, not the delicate, but the heavy metal (Serra) in your face ear-bleeding loud message. The red wax is awe-some because it’s big.Kapoor’s ____, 2007

In a world where the British-American Empire is guilty of war crimes while we face environmental catastrophe, this type of work just pokes my cynicism. When the process is supposed to be an important part of the work, and when that process is fictionalized (as it appears to be in this case) than what is the work but bullshit? Asking me to imagine the process just renders such installations as the set-design for an unmade film that it so often appears to be these days. With that in mind, I’d much rather walk through the set of the now-filming Star Trek movie than look at a giant block of red wax smeared against a gallery’s wall. Then again, if I saw this is person I might disagree with what I’ve just written.

Sam Wagstaff | Black White + Grey: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff 72:15 dir. James Crump (2007)

Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe

As Philippe Garner (Director of Photography at the London Christie’s) says near the end of this documentary, ‘It horrifies me to think that there’s a generation growing up now in photography that doesn’t know who Sam is. And yet his legacy permeates the field, there’s absolutely no doubt about that.’

Featuring an extensive appearance by Patti Smith, roommate of Maplethorpe and part of the relationship wherein Maplethorpe took advantage of his wealthy sugar-daddy Sam Wagstaff, this is also a reminiscence of the New York 1970s art-scene and gay-demi-monde. What I most appreciated learning was that Wagstaff was responsible for a vast bulk of the collection of Getty Images.

There was some structural problems with this film’s editing, near the middle it became too crowded with interviews and from that point began to seem incongruous. Nevertheless a nice history of a man who helped change the direction of art through his curation and who amassed one of the most important photo collections in the world.

Phyllis Lambert | Citizen Lambert: Joan of Architecture 52.00 dir. Teri Wehn-Damisch (2006) Citizen Lambert

One scene of this I recognized as something I’d seen on TVO’s Masterworks last year – a scene where Phyllis Lambert-neé Bronfman is walking through a Mies van der Rohe building and showing disgust at the curtains put up in its lobby. If I remember correctly, that scene was originally from a Mies-centered documentary. One of the fellow-architects interviewed for this portrait of Lambert (ridiculously modeled on Citizen Kane for god-knows-what reason) stated that architecture as we know it today would not have been without Lambert, primarily because when her family wanted to build their corporate phallic symbol in New York, she reviewed the initial design and convinced them to hire Mies instead, the result being the Seagram building. This resulted in a collaboration between Mies and Phillip Johnson, reputations established and architectural history writ. Considering how devastating architecture has become (the renegade architect Christopher Alexander having declared most of it ‘insane’) Lambert’s role is either a good thing or a bad thing considering which side your on.

Rodin | Rodin: The Sculptor’s View 53:00 dir. Jake Auerbach (2006)

Interviews with contemporary sculptors on the legacy of Rodin. This is really for sculpture geeks. Featuring Antony Gormley, Marc Quinn, Rachel Whiteread, Rebecca Warren, Barry Flanagan, Tony Cragg, Anthony Carro and Richard Deacon. (I just copied that from the blurb, incase those names spark any interest on your part. Honestly, this one I found the least interesting, since I’m not a sculpture geek. It’s just sculptors talking shop, with requisite cinematic close ups of Rodin’s work).

Tickets and times for the screenings available at the links listed above.

08w07:1 'Jack who?'

by timothy. 2 Comments

I was at this panel discussion in 2005, and was glad to see its transcript on the CCCA site when I remembered the quote in bold below. My recent research has led me to find this at this time and it is for this reason that I am posting it on Goodreads at this relatively late date. – Timothy

Isaacs Seen | Panel Discussion: Make the Scene: Get Critical
University of Toronto Art Centre Thursday, June 23, 2005, 7 – 8:30 pm
Moderator: Sarah Milroy | Panelists: Harry Malcolmson, Barry Lord, Joyce Zemans
“[Barry Lord]: ‘And of course we know Av, with the kind of promise he gave to the work of Joyce and others, was part of that. But one of the really big changes, one of the big improvements certainly, is that nowadays that kind of article would not be written, because we all take it for granted that there are serious women artists. Just to add just a line to what I was driving at in referring to the need for biennials and retrospectives, the tragedy is to go into a young artist’s studio and see real talent and real passion and real commitment, real capability, and see a link with other Canadian artists. So one says ‘That’s really pushing farther than Jack Chambers did on that line’ … or whoever you happen to recognize. And he looks at you blankly and says ‘Jack Who?’ We laugh at that, but that’s terrible. That is an absolute tragedy because it means that we are losing the potential for a Canadian tradition. And if we want to talk about loss, I think that in that period we had a grasp, suddenly, that there was something that was ours and that you could build on it, you could run with it and go with it. Many fall by the wayside. It doesn’t mean that every artist who plugs into it is able therefore to become great. But the point is simply that it is a terrible thing when an artist is working in a vacuum, and of course we know the they are never working in a vacuum because we have an enormous power to the south of us which is always telling us about the Judds and the Warhols, and what have you. So that young artist doesn’t know about Jack Chambers, and he sees himself in relation to Warhol or whatever, and that’s what he sees as his tradition or her tradition. And that is a terrible shame bbecause it is a loss of the potential of a real tradition that we can build, we have the potential to build, if our private and public institutions will do the job of making everybody familiar with the tremendous accomplishment we have. Even just looking at this exhibition, you can see that Meredith is a pretty damn fine painting. That’s pretty major stuff. I want to see a retrospective of Meredith. I wrote about him at the time. I thought he was really major. We can’t judge it until we see that retrospective.'”

07w51:2 Mourning the Myth of the Cultural Elite

by timothy. 0 Comments

An ode to snobs, and a rehashing of the PR of the previous GR:

The death of the cultural elite | Stephen Moss

// Comment: Consider the demographic of people who will read and care about this peice: a self-selecting group who are interested in the High Arts to begin with. And these from the comment thread:

gingerjon Comment No. 841691 December 20 15:5 London/gbr

“Have you ever read The Good Soldier?”


It’s not as good as Seinfeld.


Alarming Comment No. 841856 December 20 17:14 Manchester/gbr

This article would have merit if those who actually created art weren’t influenced by “low” art or vice versa. There’s no barriers except in the eyes of inveterate snobs. I can only assume there’s an episode of “Grumpy Old Men take on Culture” in the offing and the writer is making his bid to be included.

Stephen Moss ends his piece with this: ‘The great majority of popular culture in the UK is worthless, moronic, meretricious, self-serving, anti-democratic, sclerotic garbage: it’s the enemy of thought and change: it should be ignored, marginalised, trashed. There I’ve said it.’

All of those epithets work for me except the ‘anti-democratic’ one. We should distinguish between ‘popular culture’ and ‘broadcast culture’, since the examples of the article come from television, and much of what’s on television (especially those abysmal reality-shows) lives up to those insults. But not ‘anti-democratic’. In fact, they are especially democratic in that they appeal to a wide audience, and the dance and song shows actually encourage people to vote with their cell phones. If anything they represent attempts at cultural democracy. If they fail aesthetically, that may just be because snobs like the author, and other self-identifying elites who are more interested in consuming the pop culture of the previous century (I mean, isn’t Beethoven the Led Zepplin of the 1810s?) have refused to participate in it and bring to it their knowledge and influence it with their taste. What you have instead is the mess of a culture being formed from scratch by people without ‘culture and taste’, making it up as they go along, and over-producing a garbage to be later sifted through an evolutionary selection; what works will survive to become the next century’s classics, while the rest will be lost as it should be.

07w47:1 The Edwardians in Colour

by timothy. 0 Comments

I found this series on the weekend was astounded by it. Albert Khan’s archive of very early colour photographs from the first two decades of the 20th Century.

Related links below were previously on Goodreads (04w20:2; 04w22:1) and are of Charles Cushman’s archive and the images of Russia from the second decade of the 20th C.

Part 01 A Vision of the World

Part 02 Men of the World

Part 03 Europe on the Brink

Part 04 The Soldiers’ Story – The War

Part 05 The Civilians’ Story

The Empire That Was Russia

The Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection

07w44:5 Dave Hickey

by timothy. 2 Comments

‘Now he teaches English,’ Sheila Heti writes in her intro to the interview with David Hickey, and this instantly reminds me of Richard Rorty, who I’ve been reading lately. (His Contingency book is so fantastic). Rorty, who was sometimes called the greatest American philosopher, ended his days teaching philosophy to literature students, having walked away from the academy’s philosophy departments. It seems that the literature department is the contemporary haven for independent thinkers. – Timothy

Interview with Dave Hickey | Sheila Heti
“SH: OK, so what are the supposed art magazines interested in hearing about, if not about art?

DH: They want touting. In twenty years we’ve gone from a totally academicized art world to a totally commercialized art world, and in neither case is criticism a function. We’re all supposed to be positive about art. Nobody plays defense! I mean, my job, to a certain extent, is to be in the net. My job is to mow stuff down.
SH: I suppose the schools have something to do with the change—the craziness that you have to get an MFA to be an artist.

DH: Thirty-five thousand MFAs a semester, 90 percent of whom never make another work of art.

SH: And do you think that that kind of system produces—

DH: Almost no one. Idiots with low-grade depression. When I opened my gallery in the late ’60s, Peter Plagens—who’s now the critic for Newsweek and still shows his paintings—was the only artist I represented who had been to graduate school. The MFA thing is an invention of the ’70s. Its raison d’être is evaporating.

SH: Which is?

DH: Training sissies for teaching jobs. Well, the official raison d’être was to create an intellectual and pedagogical justification for the most frivolous activity in Western culture, so you go back and read things from the past. It’s the traditional Renaissance desire that artists should be taken seriously, and that art not be a practical but a liberal art. But I tend to think it’s a practice, like law or like medicine.

SH: Right, and nobody wants to be a clown! No artists want to be clowns. That’s a shame.”

07w41:2 More 'art-world is too rich for its own good' bitching

by timothy. 0 Comments

The first half of this decade saw stories in the MSM complaining that art was too theoretical, and in this latter half, we are seeing stories complaining that the art world is too rich.

Has Money Ruined Art? | Jerry Saltz
“Meanwhile, do we think less of an artist whose art sells for less or doesn’t sell at all? After all, more than 99 percent of all artists fit into the Lifestyles of the Not Rich and Not Famous category. Can the general public look at contemporary art without thinking about money? Will young artists having 30-month careers be able to also have 30-year careers, or are we simply eating our young? And if money is mainly what people are thinking about, does that mean art’s audience will turn cynical or hostile toward it?”

Soaring Prices Turn Art Into a Commodity… | Farah Nayeri