Art

Portrait with a Spectrum 4/Chad Wys
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One click away: Chad Wys

Chad Wys is one of my favourite contemporary artists. I tried to start this article with something that sounded more professional than that, but I thought I should just be honest. His work is conceptually focused without being aesthetically compromised, it’s approachable without being dumbed down, and it’s fun without ever lacking gravitas.

After Wys completed Masters at Illinois State University, his studies in art theory, criticism and philosophy led to an interest in conceptualism, minimalism and the postmodern as well as the idea of “objecthood”. A major theme in his work, “objecthood”, for Wys, covers questions of “how we decorate our lives with arbitrary as well as meaningful things; how we objectify the ones we love and the strangers we see; how we objectify pain and death; how we objectify complex and sensitive cultural histories.”

[caption id="attachment_60237" align="aligncenter" width="1070"]Chad Wys - Caution Goya - mixed media on found print and frame - 2010 - 21 x 25,5 x 1,5 Caution Goya/Chad Wys[/caption]

Although he describes himself as an “apprehensive artist”, the immediate impact of his adept use of colour and form mean it’s hard to imagine his skill going to waste. When working canvases of readymade works Wys either commits to a completely complementary or a caustically contradictory colour palette. The “aggressive” addition of foreign colour to the familiar, is Wys’s way of creating new meaning from the ensuing tension between ‘paint’ and ‘canvas’. This satisfying visual disharmony is a form of destruction in its own right, asking the audience to question their own response to reviewing a reclaimed object. It is the erection of these barriers of colour “between the viewer and the object through which one must negotiate an understanding of what is both present and hidden” that Wys sees as his “distinctive vocabulary suitable for not only sharing ideas but provoking serious deliberation in the viewer”

“Sure, I’ve got some ideas I want to get across, and aesthetics will always be my main tool for doing just that, but it’s out of my hands by the time it gets to you.”

His most popular pieces feature reproductions of images like those he saw in the “picture books devoted to 19th and 20th century painting” that captured his imagination at a young age which have been reworked and reimagined. In his choices of media Wys experiments with mixing the technological and the traditional with a view “to blur the boundaries between the material and the digital”. This range of visual sources, styles and suggestions make the audience unquestionably aware of the reappropriation at work in front of them. Consequently, the marks that Wys leaves on these readymades can’t help but to instantly evoke images of “R.Mutt 1917” signed on a urinal in their sentiment and often their line quality. These acts of applying contemporary ideas and marks to objects from the past plays with ideas of social constructs, meaning and influence. Wys strikes up this multifaceted conversation with the viewer to engage them into considering their own conceptions of object ownership as a marker of both social and self worth.

“When people get angry at me for “stealing” and/or “vandalizing” another artist’s “hard work,” they unwittingly underscore the complex web of problems at play in our visual world, since, really, I’m doing nothing of the sort; quite the contrary in most cases, I’m pointing out that the original was “vandalized” the moment it was reproduced”

Additionally, Wys only works on mass reproductions of works further raising questions of both image ownership and what it truly means for a work to be an original, especially “in the age of the Internet reproductions, which are now digitally transmitted instantly and endlessly, are more present and more malleable than ever.” Wys warns us as observers to “be as vigilant as ever to distinguish between aesthetics and context, form and function, and the re-presentation of likenesses and the disassociation from referents.”

“Processing “life” and art through a screen requires a good deal of adaptation, as does presenting one’s “life” and one’s art through various screens.  I choose to look at that sort of adaptation as an opportunity, not a compromise.”

But, ultimately, what lies in Wys’s work is entirely in your hands as “in the end as in the beginning [he is decidedly postmodern leaving] the activity, reception, and understanding of my work entirely in the viewer’s hands.”

You can see more of Chad’s work on his website, tumblr, facebook, twitter and pretty much every other social media platform, or you can read our interview with the man himself here

Garage Sale Picture of an English Officer/Chad Wys
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Interview: Chad Wys

Chad Wys is one of my favourite contemporary artists. I tried to start this article with something that sounded more professional than that, but I thought I should just be honest. His work is conceptually focused without being aesthetically compromised, it’s approachable without being dumbed down, and it’s fun without ever lacking gravitas. He describes himself as an artist, writer, designer, and image thief.

More and more artists today are putting their work online, do you think an online presence is essential to being a successful (commercially or otherwise) at present?
I doubt it’s essential.  The art world still seems to be dominated by the politics of collecting and selling and the influence of subjectivity from a select few, which still seems to originate in particular real-world, geographic hubs like New York, London, LA, et al.  But I think being technologically-present, -aware, and -fluent will always be useful, especially for communicators such as artists (and especially for emerging artists).

It’s obvious that the Internet is not a fad and that it’s only the most powerful communications tech the world has ever known.  An artist who doesn’t wish to exploit that premise is, for whatever reason, proactively invested in preserving traditions of the past.  That’s their prerogative and I certainly won’t judge them harshly for it; there are good reasons to base one’s practice and the reception of one’s work in the material world.  However, I think the Internet is so pervasive and so utterly powerful that it has become the norm.  To not have a portfolio website and to be a visual artist is to be a kind of “off-grid rebel,” or you’re someone who hasn’t caught-up, or you’re someone who’s made a particular set of choices that exclude the massive elephant in the communications room, or you’re so well-liked by the correct art world elite that you don’t need to do much of anything to assert yourself.
The advantage to being an Internet-present artist is fairly clear: access to a virtually unlimited audience; while the disadvantage is also fairly evident: there’s practically infinite noise in which to get lost, and the noise is chaotic and difficult to overcome on one’s own terms.  Adaptation is a prerequisite to using the Internet and especially social media.  I can understand why some would not be willing to adapt to tech systems of this sort because that can easily be construed, and I think often wrongly so, as compromise.  You’ll have to ask someone who avoids the Web why they do so, but you’ll have to dig up their phone number or unearth their street address first (maybe that’s the advantage!).

[caption id="attachment_60238" align="aligncenter" width="832"]Chad Wys - Composition 476 - paint on laser print - 2014 - 10 x 7,75 Composition 476/Chad Wys[/caption]

What do you mean by the “noise” of the internet? And what’s involved in adapting to online communication?
Well, adaptation can be as simple as learning to use 140 characters effectively on Twitter, or learning to edit one’s oeuvre down to a manageable size on one’s personal Website.  One has to adapt to the tools one chooses to use, or one has to seek-out or invent new tools to fulfill one’s goals.  Processing “life” and art through a screen requires a good deal of adaptation, as does presenting one’s “life” and one’s art through various screens.  I choose to look at that sort of adaptation as an opportunity, not a compromise.
As for the “noise” of the Net: simply, there are a lot of us.  My attentions are strained through my various information “feeds,” whether on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or what have you.  There is a lot of information, potentially limitless amounts, and it’s impossible for each of us to process everything.  I think we can easily become desensitized to images, text, art, et al (not only online, but everywhere).  It becomes necessary to process information differently and more rapidly and each of us grapples with that in our own way.  It’s easy to gloss over an artwork to which one might otherwise deeply respond; it’s easy for one’s work to get lost in the shuffle of information, to be ignored, or to be shallowly received and unfairly dismissed.  There are different solutions for overcoming the “noise” for different goals.  I think the solution to being widely seen and perhaps even understood as an artist is to be present, persistent, consistent, and to create “good” work.  But the better “remedy” for the social noise is to not expect to overcome it, and to not desire to overcome it; it ceases being an obstacle at that point.

In the statement on your website you say that “notion of object” is a major strand in your work, how would you say that “objectification” has been changed by the free availability of (quite often sourceless) images on the web?
That’s an important and sizeable question and it strikes to the core of my practice.  My work generally grapples with art (history) and decoration/ornamentation and how we process our experiences of these things, so along those lines the game totally changed at the dawn of “the age of mechanical reproduction” (to lift a line from 20th century German modernist Walter Benjamin).  Art’s “aura,”  Benjamin argued, is dislodged, displaced, or diminished as reproduction is mastered and streamlined through advanced machinery.  For example, viewers stopped observing the painting and started observing photographs of the painting, and in so doing lost a bit of the influence/experience/meaning of the original (for it’s no longer necessary to observe the enormous canvas and the vivid color palette of, let’s say, a Klimt painting since it has been reduced to a two-inch black and white illustration for rapid consumption).
Computers, and the ease of the anonymous digital imaging and text that you speak of, are simply (but complexly) a continuation of the industrialization of aesthetic and intellectual experiences that has coincided with the industrial revolution.  I’m sympathetic but resistant to Benjamin’s notion that within each artwork there is an idealized “aura” waiting to be accessed by a special kind of recipient; that’s quite modernist and dated in its determinism.  But I think the spirit of Benjamin’s cultural theory–which is that reception matters and is malleable through re-presentation–continues to be extremely prescient, and this is why I grapple with image- and object-based reproductions as my source materials: information is easily displaced and manipulated in the age of the Internet, so we have to be, as ever, vigilant and informed receivers.  The marks I make on the particular materials I appropriate are my attempt to draw attention to the digital/mechanical outsourcing of experience… so by creating a new, modified experience through color and form, in my small way I’m trying to draw out the objectification, in some instances quite literally, of visual-intellectual experience.  The Internet is a huge, glorious, and horrible part of this dynamic.

[caption id="attachment_60242" align="aligncenter" width="798"]Chad Wys - The Girl With Stars In Her Eyes - paint on found bust - 2014 - 15 x 8 x 5 The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes/Chad Wys[/caption]

You also say that you “enjoy taking contemporary ideas into the past”, could it be said you are doing the reverse as well? As in your readymades you take older, quite often 19th century, pieces of art, rework them and then put them into a thoroughly modern context – the internet.
Yes, I think that’s true; certainly aesthetically speaking.  But much of what I do, much of the material I source, is distinctly contemporary (or modern) insofar as the digital image I appropriate, or the factory-crafted copy of the Greek statue with which I’m interfering, or the mass-produced photomechanical print of a 19th century portrait that I’m re-purposing are of a time and of a context often separate and distinct from whatever originals these copies are referencing/mimicking/reproducing.
Broadly speaking, my work concerns the interplay between the aesthetic resonance of whatever image or object I’m sourcing, and that which the image or object literally is–which is often an inadequate transmission of the original, often several times removed by technology and through time.  When people get angry at me for “defacing a Raphael painting,” that’s the dishonesty of their experience of the reproduction bubbling up, out, and over; they wind up defending the very process–the process of mass-reproduction–that so “endangers” the experience of the original that they ostensibly wish to protect.  I’m quite interested in that sort of visual deliberation, or the deliberation of objectification.  I want viewers to consider what it is I’m appropriating and why.  When people get angry at me for “stealing” and/or “vandalizing” another artist’s “hard work,” they unwittingly underscore the complex web of problems at play in our visual world, since, really, I’m doing nothing of the sort; quite the contrary in most cases, I’m pointing out that the original was “vandalized” the moment it was reproduced (and that’s not a criticism of reproducibility more than it’s a criticism of our lack of consideration of reproducibility).

 

[caption id="attachment_60234" align="aligncenter" width="830"]Nocturne 109/Chad Wys Nocturne 109/Chad Wys[/caption]

How much are the marks you make on works influenced by aesthetics versus making a specific point etc.?
I once heard that Franz Kline, the great abstract expressionist, used light projectors to plot out his bold, black paint strokes onto canvas.  I’m not really interested in whether or not this’s true, but in my experience it could be.  It’s difficult to instantaneously and instinctively execute a perfectly balanced minimal composition.  It’s difficult to proportion a simple scene expertly and all of Kline’s compositions are expertly balanced.  His paintings look and “feel” perfectly proportioned, despite (or because) the fact that they’re often just black strokes on a white ground.  The reason why the light projector and the careful planning of the strokes could be seen by some as upsetting and detrimental is because abstract expressionist theory is so mythically built on the process of impulse… like an open nerve violently shooting paint onto the canvas.  If Kline plotted out every brush stroke, some might view that as a nullification of the attractive image of an abstract expressionist at work: an artist putting every ounce of his or her raw brilliance onto the canvas in a rapid, divine, artistic orgasm.
The reason I tell this story is because the aesthetics of the mark and the purpose of the mark don’t seem very distinctive to me; well, they do, but not insofar as qualities should change depending on method or intent.  Kline’s work represents the same things to me whether or not he carefully composed his compositions.  My marks are the same intervention whether or not I have a point to convey or I’m going for a certain brand of color theory.  How the viewer responds to the materials and the ideas I’ve put in front of them is all that really matters at the end of the day.  Sure, I’ve got some ideas I want to get across, and aesthetics will always be my main tool for doing just that, but it’s out of my hands by the time it gets to you.

You can see more of Chad’s work on his website, tumblr, facebook, twitter and pretty much every other social media platform

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A night at the museum? Robots takeover the Tate.

 

Art and robots: an irresolvable dichotomy between art and technology, or a symbiotic and novel way to exhibit art to the world? The Tate Britain’s showcasing of the After Dark project invited the public to decide. Created by design studio The Workers, After Dark was the winning project of the IK prize inaugurated this summer by the Tate Britain. Between Wednesday 13th and Friday 15th August those who logged onto the Tate’s website had the chance to view its galleries at night with the aid of four camera-equipped robots. This interface between art and technology begs the question of whether art is the experience of the viewer or the innovation of the creator.

The IK prize was conceptualised by the Tate with the ambition to “widen access to art through technology.” The Workers, a digital product design studio, received a prize of £10,000 and a £60,000 development budget in order to make the publics’ access to art fun, easy and educational. The robots were created in collaboration with RAL Space, and Colonel Chris Hadfield, former commander of the international space station, was the first person to test the robots out. The four robots roamed the deserted galleries and gave viewers a unique experience of nocturnal art accompanied with commentary on the pieces. Select viewers even had the chance to remotely control the robots and therefore what the rest of the world could see, and I was lucky enough to have this privilege.

I was left to wander through the museum at night, catch glimpses of dark corners, and see art against the backdrop of abyss-like uncertainty… Space was redefined and separated into the known and unknown.

At 9.58pm sharp I sat in front of my laptop praying that the online streaming was not going to be a cultural rendition of Robot Wars. It wasn’t. Instead I felt like a commander of a space station with four screens in front of me linked to four different robots in various exhibitions. I was left to wander through the museum at night, catch glimpses of dark corners, and see art against the backdrop of abyss-like uncertainty. The robots and the commentary ping-ponged back and forth through the centuries, rendering the commentary spontaneous and exciting.  A connection was forged between the commentator and the viewer since we were both at the mercy of the robots and we were constantly being taken by surprise. Throughout the night there was a heady sense of suspense. Space was redefined and separated into the known and unknown. Works by Turner, Henry Moore and Damien Hirst were excavated from unusual angles and areas of light. A Francis Bacon painting of three figures seemed ghoulish in the eeriness of the dark and cavernous space whereas Gainsborough’s ‘Carthorses Taking a Rest’ was bathed in synthetic light illuminating the colours, giving it a whole new concept of technological realism. After being randomly selected, I was able to control the robots on my keypad. This proved to be a challenge for someone who has no spacial awareness. I was allocated room 4- 20th century art, which housed pieces such as Damien Hirst’s ‘shelf’.  Once I learnt how to avoid hitting things, it was actually an enjoyable experience; but I lost focus on the art I was supposed to be viewing and instead became ensnared by this novel mode of transportation. For me the robots had taken over and the art was receding further and further into the dark.

 

[caption id="attachment_59282" align="aligncenter" width="779"] After Dark Interface[/caption]

 

One of the creators Tommaso Lanza said, “We’re not trying to give you this perfect representation of the art…It’s giving the art a different angle, and different light.”

 

[caption id="attachment_59284" align="aligncenter" width="779"]after dark screen shot 3 Screenshot of the experience[/caption]

 

The Tate Britain has joined the voyage into the modern, an odyssey of technology that promises to make our lives faster, easier and, in the case of art, damn right cooler, but I fear that on this journey we are travelling too fast to take in the view. Admittedly, the idea of enabling the whole world to see 500 years of British art would be impossible without this project. One of the creators Tommaso Lanza said, “We’re not trying to give you this perfect representation of the art…It’s giving the art a different angle, and different light.” He achieved this and at the same time pointed to an important dilemma; the notion that we must sacrifice personal experience for mass convenience. I couldn’t help but wonder if the robots were a fun kind of symbolism for our technologically capable society’s inability to stop and smell the roses. Often It was very difficult to see the paintings clearly since they were partially subdued in darkness and restricted by the diameter of the robot’s light beam.  I could not make out the individual brush strokes, materials or composition of the pieces clearly, nor have time to reflect on the effect the art works were having on me. Unless I was controlling the robot, I was completely at mercy to the will of others, saw what they wanted to see, heard what they wanted to hear. I found it hard to locate myself and connect to the artwork in this strained compromise of artistic experience and artistic globalisation. The experience was crazily cool and solemnly sacrificial.

So between the hours of 10pm and 3am I found myself wondering how ubiquitous can art ever be if it has to be technologically transmitted within the rigid constraints of time and at the will of those few who were in control? Is this a glimpse of the future or a subtle reminder that, although the world is becoming globalised, humanity is becoming perpetually cemented in front of an LCD display?

 

 

PHOTO/Cawa
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What to do in (non-Fringe) Edinburgh

If you’re in Edinburgh and you’re exhausted from seeing fringe shows, or need a break from having 5 flyers handed to you a minute, or even just looking for somewhere to escape the rain that doesn’t feature a questionable comedian, this run down of the best art exhibitions in town might just help.

Edinburgh Art Festival

Now in its 11th year, the Edinburgh Art Festival has exhibitions across the city, so you’re never more than 4 or 5 minutes walk away from one. These are just a few highlights:

 The Ingleby Gallery

[caption id="attachment_58966" align="alignleft" width="300"]PHOTO/Cornerhouse PHOTO/Cornerhouse[/caption]

Any review of the Ingleby Gallery has to start with the fact that the quality of its curation is phenomenal; works are given enough space to breathe without ever looking small, and its exhibitions flow rather than simply being depositories of separate unlinked pieces. This quality works to enhance the already thought provoking pieces of Scottish artist Katie Paterson, whose cross-medium, multi-disciplinary work is conceptually driven towards investigating ideas of nature and the cosmos. There are meteorites, moon fragments and a fossil necklaces amongst other works which expand your horizons, literally and metaphorically. Also, if you can, go before 1pm to find out where the daily performance of Paterson’s piece ‘100 Billion Suns’, a confetti gun which mimics an explosion of stars, will be, because it’s really something. 

 

Old Royal High School

Set in what was potentially going to be the seat of the Scottish Assembly before the last referendum, Amar Kanwar’s ever changing work ‘Sovereign Forest’ fittingly raises questions about community, representation, and democracy. Staged as a court case, the work is in three parts: a video which acts as a witness statement, a library which represents documented evidence, and then an archive of primary source material; all of which comes together to produce a powerful case against the destruction of land in rural India. 

 

Easter Road Police Box

If you find yourself on Easter Road, you’ll likely end up walking past a bright blue police box. That police box is actually an installation by artist and musician Yann Senzec called ‘Currents’. Constructed from discarded computer fans, ‘Currents’ uses real-time weather information to move air around visitors. You can go from standing in the tail end of an Edinburgh hurricane to a gentle breeze in Sai Mai with just one step.

 

 

[caption id="attachment_58965" align="alignright" width="300"]PHOTO/Adam Wilson PHOTO/Adam Wilson[/caption]

The Manna House Bakery & Patisserie

Alice Finbow is attempting to exhaust a place. Inspired by Georges Perec’s 1974 novel ‘An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris’, Finbow spent a week documenting the goings-on in Easter Road’s Manna House Bakery on a single roll of paper the exact length of the cafe’s display wall. You can now see the fruits of her labour and enjoy some of the fruits, or rather cakes, that inspired it.

 

 

 

Jupiter Artland

[caption id="attachment_58969" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]PHOTO/Mr. Evil Cheese Scientist PHOTO/Mr. Evil Cheese Scientist[/caption]

I’ve left this one until last as it’s the only EAF exhibition I’m recommending that has an entrance fee (£4.50 for students). But, for those of you wanting a more adventurous art excursion, take the bus out to Jupiter Artland. On a nice day, or just a passable day (let’s not be too hopeful), you can walk around their famed landscaped gardens and take in some art along the way. If it’s not quite so sunny, they have a lovely cafe you can dry off in whilst enjoying a well-deserved slice of cake. Inside there’s also a fascinating piece by Katie Paterson called Earth-Moon-Earth, some slightly unsettling decapitated figurines by Jessica Harrison, and cement popcorn courtesy of Mick Peter. To get to Jupiter Artland, you need to take the number 27 FirstGroup bus from Regent Road in the city centre or from Dalry Road, Haymarket to Coxydene/Jupiter Artland, which takes about 35 minutes. Alternatively, Edinburgh Art Festival are periodically running a bus from Charlotte Square directly to Jupiter Artland, the cost of which includes your entrance fee.

Generation

[caption id="attachment_58964" align="alignright" width="202"]PHOTO/Mr. Evil Cheese Scientist PHOTO/Mr. Evil Cheese Scientist[/caption]

This self-admittedly “ambitious” project attempts to document 25 years of contemporary art in Scotland. Although its timing may make Generation a political as well as artistic statement, its guide subtly includes a foreword by an MSP, there is no denying that contemporary art is an internationally heralded part of Scotland’s national identity. Due to the sheer volume of great Scottish art, the exhibition is being held in over 60 venues across the country. The best bits of Generation in Edinburgh, for me, can be found in three sites across the city. The Scottish National Gallery (the smaller one at the front) has a small but high quality selection of work, including a piece by Christine Borland that adeptly deals with image, identity, and interpretation. The Fruitmarket Gallery has a showing of colourful and conceptual work by Jim Lambie such as ‘Zobop’, a piece which attempts to both fill and empty the space by covering the floor. Then finally, Modern One where the bulk of the work in Edinburgh can be found.

Modern Two

Currently showing at Modern Two, handily opposite Modern One, is American Impressionism: A New Vision, a show which traces the development of Impressionism in America in the 19th century. The show is divided into two main narrative strands. The first follows the American Impressionists who worked with and befriended Monet and Degas when working alongside them in France. This strand includes works by Cassatt, Singer Sargent and Whistler. The second narrative remains in America with ‘The Ten’, who were a group who focused on American subjects and then gradually adopted the colours and stroke quality of impressionism. The selection of paintings from both make for an exhibition which is culturally and historically fascinating as well as difficult not to find aesthetically pleasing.

PHOTO/Cawa

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8 Times The Vatican Did It First

 

  1. Dude looks like a lady! Michelangelo promoted questioning of gender stereotypes – check out these Sistine chap(ettes)…


1Michelangelo; detailing from the Genesis scene, ceiling of The Sistine Chapel , The Vatican Museum”

“Do you even lift, bro?”

Proof from Michelangelo’s sketches show that all of his women were anatomically based on the bodies of male models. This explains the bulging biceps, thighs, and shoulders, which share little in common with other women painted in the era. Where some argue his apparent distaste for the traditional representation of the female form stemmed from his sexuality, others claim that his exploration instead pushes the viewer to question the way certain religious ideas and biblical concepts, manifested themselves as part of the everyday. This could be seen particularly interesting in light of Eve and her representation of sin, sexuality, knowledge and the fall from grace.

 



2. “The Photobomb!”

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Raphael; The Parnassus (1509-10), Vatican Museums


 
     3. When anyone who was anyone had a boob job

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Michelangelo; Night from the Medici tomb, Florence

 

I mean…

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Michelangelo, The Last Judgement, The Sistine Chapel, Rome

 

…I MEAN….

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Artemis of Ephesus, The Vatican, Rome (unknown artist) –  Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

Two in the wrong place were bad enough, but apparently two ain’t enough for this Turkish goddess of fertility (N.B. Different interpretations have placed this multi-breasted masterpiece as potentially sporting many eggs, or indeed testicles if you will, to show signs of fertility).

 


     4. Those ‘before’ and ‘afters’

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Left: Michelangelo Buonarroti; Last Judgment (1534-41), Sistine Chapel, Vatican.
Right: Marcello Venusti; Last Judgment,  Museo e gallerie nazionali di Capodimonte. 

Whereas Pope Clement VII, who commissioned The Last Judgement, accepted Michelangelo’s artistic choices, his follower Pope Pius IV was not so happy. Consequentially another artist, Daniele da Volterra, was employed to add ‘breeches’ to the nudes. The painting has recently been restored to a state deemed truer to that of the original.


 

5. “The Candid”: avoiding having subjects in the painting looking out (probably in order to create a ‘natural’ look that could be used for a more effective indie cover photo)

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Raphael, School of Athens (1509-1510), Vatican Museums



6. Oops, apart from the person who was ‘taking the picture’ (I should probably say the painter, here) #selfie #poser

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Raphael, detailing from School of Athens (1509-1510), Vatican Museums

Looking good Raph. Shame instagram doesn’t have a ‘School of Athens’ filter. I reckon surrounding oneself with famous philosophers would be the ultimate way to make sure you get more than 10 likes.


7. The evolution of the selfie didn’t stop there. Michelangelo went all out in pioneering #natural and #nomakeup respectively. (Although possibly not for breast cancer charity, as we’ve already established he had very little commitment to that area of things.)

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“Michelangelo, Giudizio Universale 31″ by Michelangelo Buonarroti 

The Last Judgement was painted much later years in Michelangelo’s life, when he was suitably old and decrepit. In accordance with such a state, the artist chose to depict himself hiding in the face of the skin held up by St. Bartholomew; this is found in the bottom- right corner of the painting.

 


 

8. #hatersgonhate

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http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMichelangelo-minos2.jpg

Having been heavily criticized for the nudes by Cardinal Baigio da Cesena, Michelangelo decided to return the critique. He chose to paint the papal master in the depths of hell, complete with donkey (or ass) ears, and entwined in a rather unorthodox and spectacularly uncomfortable position with a serpent…

 

 

 


 

Image credits

Michelangelo; detailing from the Genesis scene, ceiling of The Sistine Chapel , The Vatican Museum”
Michelangelo Buonarroti 022″ by Michelangelo Buonarroti – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo_Buonarroti_022.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Michelangelo_Buonarroti_022.jpg)

Raphael; The Parnassus (1509-10), Vatican Museums
(“Raphael – The Parnassus” by Raphael – See below.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Raphael_-_The_Parnassus.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Raphael_-_The_Parnassus.jpg)

Michelangelo; Night from the Medici tomb, Florence
(“Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici (casting in Pushkin museum)
{{WikipediaUser:Shakko/Credit}}

Left: Michelangelo Buonarroti; Last Judgment (1534-41), Sistine Chapel, Vatican.
Right: Marcello Venusti; Last Judgment,  Museo e gallerie nazionali di Capodimonte. Images and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.; artres.com | (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

Raphael, School of Athens (1509-1510), Vatican Museums
“Sanzio 01″ by Raphael – Stitched together from vatican.va. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sanzio_01.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sanzio_01.jpg

Raphael, detailing from School of Athens (1509-1510), Vatican Museums
“Sanzio 01 Zoroaster Ptolmey” by Raphael – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sanzio_01_Zoroaster_Ptolmey.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sanzio_01_Zoroaster_Ptolmey.jpg [user: Jacobulus]

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Self-Portrait, 1953. © 2014 Vivian Maier, Maloof Collection, Ltd.
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The beautiful desecration of Vivian Maier

Above: Self-Portrait, 1953. © 2014 Vivian Maier, Maloof Collection, Ltd.

Vivian Maier. Hers is the name of the moment in the world of art. The reclusive photographer, who died in 2009, has shot to public fame and critical acclaim with her strikingly intimate, curiously detached street photography. But who was this woman? How did an unknown amateur become so artistically accomplished? These are the questions that have whetted the appetite for Maier’s work, and for herself as a kind of posthumous celebrity. The story of an eccentric, intensely secretive nanny who roamed the streets of Chicago, photographing outcasts and loners, whose collection was discovered purely by chance after her death – it is the stuff of the silver screen. Indeed, her enigmatic story has already spawned two excellent documentaries. “Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny’s Pictures?”, produced by the BBC was originally released in 2013, and the other, “Finding Vivian Maier” was released earlier this year by Charles Siskel and John Maloof. With the UK release of the award-winning latter, the British art-press and public alike have latched wholeheartedly onto the puzzle of this intriguing recluse.

[caption id="attachment_58703" align="alignleft" width="300"]1955, New York, NY 1955, New York, NY. © 2014 Vivian Maier, Maloof Collection, Ltd.[/caption]

Maier took tens of thousands of photographs of Chicago and its multitudinous denizens. She died destitute in hospital, having spent almost all of her small income on film, developing and storage. Having no family or associates, the contents of her lockers were auctioned off. The succession of men who bought her battered suitcases of photographs began what was to become the establishment of a new name amongst the greats of photography. After the contents of her lockers were snapped up by an auctioneer, many of Maier’s photographs became flea-market fodder, in turn sold on to photography enthusiasts and collectors. As her collection was fragmented and dispersed, academics began to recognise the importance of her work, and her star began to rise. The rest is history, the Maier phenomenon began to sweep the globe and ‘vintage’ prints now sell for upwards of $8,000.

This sounds like a modern rehash of a familiar story: the starving artist, impecunious and ignored in life, posthumously finding fame and fortune – Vivian following, in shit-kicker boots, the footsteps of Van Gogh and his ilk. Yet, there is a crucial difference, with troubling implications for our relationship with Maier’s work. The difference is that she presumed no audience, in the most absolute way. During her lifetime, most of her photographs were never shown to another living soul, and most were never even developed. Maier made absolutely no attempt to gain recognition, in fact she seemed to consciously eschew it. The mother of one of the prominent Jewish families that she worked for was the editor of a photography magazine; Maier never showed her a single photograph. She bumped into Salvador Dali outside a photography exhibition; she hid behind a column and took his picture.

I would like to preface all of what I have now to say with the disclaimer that it is unequivocally a good thing that Maier’s work was discovered. Her work is stimulating, absorbing and technically accomplished. Many of the photographs are exquisitely beautiful. The world of street photography, and art in general, is richer for Maier’s contribution. But just how much of the phenomenon we are revelling in is actually Vivian’s contribution? In the aptly named “Who Took Nanny’s Pictures?”, Steven Kasher, the owner of a gallery selling Maier’s prints, explained that “we believe that she never fully realised her work, so we are helping her to realise it, printing it in a certain way, editing it in a certain way, picking the pictures that have meaning to us”. The sentiment here is proactive and productive, yet also patronising and rather despotic. The emphasis is on ‘we’, ‘us’. The meaning is for ‘us’, the ‘certain way’ of editing and printing is ‘ours’, that is to say, implicitly not Vivian Maier’s. This is something that photographer Joel Meyerowitz also articulates, expressing concern “because we’re only seeing pictures that the people who bought the suitcases decided to edit…and what kind of editors are they? What would she have edited out of this work, and what would she have printed? How do any of us know who the real Vivian Maier is?”.

[caption id="attachment_58705" align="alignright" width="300"]Self-Portrait, 1954. © 2014 Vivian Maier, Maloof Collection, Ltd. Self-Portrait, 1954. © 2014 Vivian Maier, Maloof Collection, Ltd.[/caption]

Of the numerous uncomfortable lines that Maier’s work treads, between amateur and professional, technique and intuition, the one between public and private is the most fascinating. Maier forces us to ask the most fundamental of questions about art – if it has no audience, does it exist? Jeffrey Goldstein, an owner of a large chunk of Vivian’s collection believes that “artwork isn’t artwork until it’s shown”. He may have a point, but at the same time one is put in mind of John Stuart Mill when he contended that the difference between eloquence and poetry is that the former is “heard” whereas the latter is “overheard”. Indeed, the quality most often praised in Maier’s work is its poeticism, and she herself is frequently declared ‘a poet of the streets’. Though this may just be the normal gushing overuse of the word, there could very well be something in the crowning of Maier as a poet.  Most of her photographs were seen only once, through the viewfinder of her Rolleiflex camera, by her alone. These photographs challenge what it means to be a street photographer, and force us to reconsider our presuppositions about the nature of art. We now naturally think of her photographs as works of art, but at the time of production, for the woman we now designate ‘the artist’ were they really ‘art’?

This is the essential paradox that an figure like Vivian Maier (I deliberately do not say ‘artist’, for the term is retrospective) presents us with. In the revelation and publicising of her work, its ‘becoming art’, it is no longer the essential thing that it was created as. The establishment of what was essentially Maier’s diary as artwork could be seen a destructive process, as well as conventionally constructive. Perhaps this offers an explanation for why people are so fascinated with her life story, and so keen to mythologise and sensationalise her, it is an attempt to fill in the hole that has been rent in her work by its revelation. There is an essential something missing from Vivian’s photographs as perfect artefacts, and that is their privacy, their inscrutability, their function as a personal, self-reflexive, hermetically sealed diary. We, as spectators (along with collectors, curators, and the press) have interrupted the dialogue between Vivian and Vivian.

However, whilst we have lost the true nature photographs, we have gained a collection that retrospectively exposes a poignant truth about the nebulous boundary between art and the art market. The claiming and transfiguration of Maier’s photo-diary is also one of the very things that renders the work fascinating. The glimpse into a private mind, the dislocation of the self, the construction of a personal world – is this not what great, visionary art strives for? Vivian Maier exposes a poignant truth about art and its commodification: the tragedy of the necessary subsumption of private lives into a conglobulate public consciousness. Vivian Maier’s work is fated to forever be uncomfortable in its own skin, and it is on this level that it is most fascinating.

But, to return to my original argument: whatever we may be seeing in Vivian Maier’s work, there is a blank spot in our vision. We can never fully appreciate the true significance of these photographs because of the sphere that they now exist in. They have been transposed out of their intended function, and so have been transfigured by circumstance – the death of their creator, the movement of auction hammers and the dusty fingers of collectors. The world stole Vivian Maier’s photographs, and exquisite as they are, this is something that should not be ignored.

 

The Oxford Student

Oxford's Newspaper since 1991