Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dishing it out (art criticism that is)... by Danielle Hurd

...and we're back! I apologize for our two week hiatus from art-related witticisms and criticisms. I have only one explanation to offer: midterms. But now that's over and it's back to business! Speaking of art criticism...

John Ruskin, famous art critic and writer of Modern Painters

In his article, "An Artistic Tradition in the Making: Looking at American Art in French Nineteenth-Century Criticism," Veerle Thielemans says, "Art criticism is a special genre. It requires audacity in the pronouncement of aesthetic judgements, original insight in the artist's particular project, a connoisseur's eye, and an interest in the environment in which the work was created. Good art criticism is also nourished by art historical knowledge." (The article proceeds to give an insightful critique of French-American art exchanges and expectations at the end of the 19th century. It is a great lens for understanding the development of American art, check it out!)

We (the AHA) want to reiterate that this blog is a place where we hope you (artists, art educators, art historians, and most importantly art enthusiasts) will feel free to discuss and critique what you are hearing in class, seeing in local museums and galleries, reading for research/pleasure, and noticing in art news. Be a critic!

This post, for example was inspired by my reading of Thielemans' essay for my Transnationalism seminar. As I thought about Thielemans' assertion I wondered: What is the role of art criticism in the current art market, and in our own art historical practice? All of us are critics to some degree; we are constantly making assessments about the artist we study, what is "worth" our attention and what is not (Renoir). However, it also seems that while many critics garner fame for their assessments, they also become the whipping boys of the larger art historical community. Vasari is revered, but also questioned; Ruskin saw the genius in Turner, but not in Whistler; Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried decided the direction of much of Modernism and Post-Modernism, but now their ideas are being fundamentally questioned; Rosalind Kraus had a big hit with David Smith and is one of the great Post-Modernist thinkers, but many of her "favorites" have failed to catch on.

Art criticism is a problematic practice, to say the least. Who is your favorite critic? Do you agree with Thielemans' assessment of what it takes to be a good critic? Do you feel that they reflect the skills we  cultivate as students of the arts?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bloch-ed by Camille Robb

The MOA will soon be featuring the long-awaited Carl Bloch exhibit entitled Carl Bloch: The Master’s Hand.  Opening November 12, 2010 on the museum’s main floor, this exhibit will literally bring viewers into Danish churches. Over ten years in the making, the show includes five magnificent altarpieces, a major accomplishment and gathering never before seen (in an all Bloch show). These altarpieces have not been reunited since their original placement in separate churches during the early 1800s. Alongside the altarpieces, are featured Bloch’s more humorous lithographs and etchings such as “The Roman Barber,” as well as more serious depictions of Jesus Christ. Dawn Pheysey, the curator of religious art, has traveled to Denmark and Sweden multiple times throughout these ten years to gain connections, establish trust, and create networks with European curators.

If Bloch seems unfamiliar to you, I am certain you have unknowingly seen his works in LDS Meeting Houses and as a main artist in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ new publication The Gospel Art BookUnderstanding the significance of Carl Bloch to the LDS community, I find myself extremely disappointed in the direction the MOA has chosen to take for the show's education. For this exhibition, it has been decided that the docent program of guided tours will not be effective. Rather, an iPad will be given to small groups of individuals as they enter the exhibit. On this iPad, small icons will represent each altarpiece and, when touched, will bring up information for viewers.

I am thoroughly discouraged by this effort to educate the community. I worry that viewers will be looking more at electronic devices than discovering the beautiful altarpieces for themselves. After ten years of work to get these works, the community will be more prone to gaze upon an iPad than the art. Learning opportunities, as I see it, will inevitably decrease as human interaction decreases.

What are your thoughts on this new implementation? Do you believe this way of educating the public will be effective?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

AHA Halloween Party

Flyer designed by Claire Smith

October 26, 2010, 8:00 - 9:30 pm. 255 UPC (on the corner of University and University). Costume contest (wear your best art related costume), games, food, etc. See you there!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Giacometti's Women by Emily Larsen

While in Venice this past Summer on an Art History study abroad, a few of us spent hours and hours soaking in the art at the Peggy Guggenheim museum. For the past three weeks we had been looking at the sculpture and architecture of Ancient Greece, monumental Roman ruins, Early Christian and Byzantine mosaics, and countless religious artworks of the Renaissance and Baroque periods ( I know, rough life ;) ) - needless to say, we were craving some 20th century visual culture! Towards the end of our stay at the Guggenheim we found ourselves in front of two startlingly different depictions of women by the 20th century Swiss sculptor, Alberto Giacometti. We stood in the gallery discussing the complexity of the two works, displayed just feet away from one another, with one of the gallery interns.

The first image, Woman with her Throat Cut, 1932, is a violent, abstracted depiction of the female form. The Peggy Guggenheim museum website states, from 1930 - 1933 Giacometti was making surrealist works that used anatomical representations to express subconscious fear and anger (partially due to his associations with André Masson and other surrealist artists). On her back, with no head to think with, this woman is weak. But although weak, and incompetent, she is still dangerous - a temptress, scorpion like - wild and vicious. She is the ultimate depiction of the femme fatale - abstracted, sexualized, and dangerous - but with no real intellectual threat, or ability. In my opinion (feel free to disagree), it is one of the most demeaning images of women in the art historical canon.

However, just four years after creating this gruesome, brutal image of a woman - he created Woman Walking, 1936 - a beautiful, elegant, elongated depiction of the female form. Her sexuality is not emphasized. She is not dangerous, or violent, or gruesome. In fact, Giacometti is hearkening back to early Greek Cycladic figures with their simplified, flat anatomy (as well as referencing Egyptian sculptures, and Archaic Kouros figures source). This is significant because women were extremely important in Ancient Aegean societies - both being worshiped, and as worshipers, carrying out the most important aspects of religious ceremonies.

What do you think caused this drastic change in Giacometti's visual representation of women? The intern at the museum recalled that between 1932 and 1936 Giacometti had met a girl and fallen in love.

What are your other thoughts about these sculptures? Do you find Woman with her Throat Cut as problematic and misogynistic as I do? How would you compare Giacometti's more well-known sculptures of women walking with these two earlier works? Why do you think Peggy Guggenheim would have collected these works?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Blasting the Canon by Danielle Hurd

The majority of readers probably do not know the origin of this blog and it's name. So let me tell you:

It was originally conceived by a few members of the AHA during the department field trip to Los Angeles last Winter semester. At the time LACMA was hosting a Renoir retrospective. The exhibit focused on the last three decades of the artist's career and was co-curated by LACMA and the d'Orsay. LACMA is a Wonderful museum and I loved their facilities and collections. However, I HATE Renoir. I am sorry if he is your favorite painter and that offends you. You are entitled to your opinion, but I have my reasons (see below). So, as I strolled the gallery halls I shared my (strong) feelings with a few others of the group and we realized we all hated Renoir and couldn't understand why he was even a part of the canon any more. Thus The Canon was born as a place to laud those artists we felt were underrated and rail against those artists we hated.

Now The Canon is meant to be a forum for all members of AHA and beyond to give their insights on art, but in the spirit of the initial purpose of the blog I offer:

Top 5 Reasons to Kick Renoir out of the Canon:

5. He went turncoat on the Impressionists. Boo!

4. Speaking of the Impressionists, he blatantly copied Monet, who was a MUCH better artist.

3. He was horrible at painting figures, faces, and really any other part of the body (see above). Not that being able to paint a figure is the only mark of artistic merit, but for someone who devoted so much time to it, you would think he'd be better.

2. His works serve better for mass poster reproductions to be hung on the walls of teenage girls than they do for academic research.

1. THE most important! He was a misogynist pig who said things like: “I consider women who are authors, lawyers and politicians are monsters," and "When I've painted a woman's bottom so that I want to touch it, then [the painting] is finished," along with many other choice phrases which I won't quote here, but you can find in Anna Chave's "New Encounters with Les Demoiselles D'Avignon."Anna Chave, now there is someone I can get behind. She rocks, no matter what Renoir has to say about lady authors.

Like I said, this is my opinion. Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know! Who would you add in or edit out if you were re-writing Gardners?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Has a "new age" of curating arrived? by Haddy Jarvis

In an article I read from the New York times it gives an account about the "New Guard" of curators.  Currently at the MoMA, as well as other museums across the country, the average age of the curators is drastically decreasing, and with this younger age of curators a younger audience is being attracted to the art museums.
"This is a generation who grew up entirely in the digital world and they are untroubled by distinctions of media.”
This younger group is thinking differently and not only do they organize the exhibits, they play a role in the fund-raising and advertising aspects for the museums.  These curators are thinking differently, they think through their ideas.  Its fresh and new, and they are beginning to think beyond the physical museum, reaching out for new ideas to engage their audiences.

Personally for me, this was an exciting and endearing article to read.  I am apart of this younger generation and will soon have the opportunity to contribute to the "new age" of musuem curating. 
What are your opinions on this younger age of curators and their far-fetched ideas for designing exhibits?  Are they taking it too far? And more importantly- is there a down side to the "New Guard?" 


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Original Gangster by David Marble

In 1983, a medical doctor published an article about Sandro Boticelli's painting Portrait of a Youth (c. 1482/85), arguing that the youth's hand gesture was an indication of juvenile arthritis. See the article here

But why would Boticelli depict a physical defect in the young man? It seems odd that Boticelli would so prominently portray such a crippling handicap in a portrait. The look on the young man's face is one of confidence and ability, and contradicts the idea that he has a debilitating physical defect. Had the young man actually had juvenile arthritis, it would make sense that Boticelli would portray him without his hands, as in his other famous Portrait of a Young Man (c. 1480-5).

Portraiture was generally used to aggrandize patrons, and associate them with a particular family, class, or group. In another work, Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo the Elder (c. 1474-5), the young man, similarly dressed, is holding a medallion with the profile of Cosimo de' Medici, identifying him with Medici family.

Couldn't the hand gesture of the young man in Boticelli's later painting similarly connect the youth to a certain family or group in 15th century Florentine culture? Is this the original "Westside" gang sign? Is this work the inspiration for the hand gesture that later inspired Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, countless rappers, gang-bangers, and white kids across the West coast?

While in prison, Tupac extensively read the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli. Several editions of The Prince have Boticelli's painting as the cover artwork.

Tupac was so inspired by Machiavell's writings he later used "Makaveli" as a pseudonym for his last album. Perhaps Tupac saw this hand gesture as a representation of the Machiavellian ideals that inspired him.

I haven't found any information on the exact origins of the modern "westside" sign. I first saw this connection during ArtHC 202 freshman year in 2006 as I explored Gardner's Art Through the Ages. I thought it was humorous and sent the image to some family and friends, but was again reminded of it with all the current discussions of hip-hop culture and art history. Apparently, I'm not the only one to make the connection, as I just saw on another blog this image of Snoop Dogg mimicking Boticelli's young man's confident look and hand gesture.

From Florence to the inner-mountain West, let's give it up for the West Side...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Power? by Alicia Harris

Reading Foucault's Panopticism, I have been thinking a lot about power.

First off, I want you to watch this video. On a side note, I think that there's a lot of fascinating intersections happening between hip-hop culture and art historical theoretical practice right now (more on that here, here, or here).

On with the video:

Thanks, Kanye. Now let's dissect.

Foucault does a lot of work to explore how power itself serves to homogenize individuals and mediocratize society. Kanye seems to feel a degree of injustice at this. He explains:
I just needed time alone, with my own thoughts
Got treasures in my mind but couldn’t open up my own vault
My childlike creativity, purity and honesty
Is honestly being prodded by these grown thoughts
Reality is catchin’ up with me
Takin’ my inner child, I’m fighting for it, custody

But Kanye. KANYE! Who holds the power in this video? What is that power. He stands alone, with his ostentatious all-red skinny jeans and leather jacket, and with his Mr. T bling. He is alone, with his Ceasar crown of laurels, among all of those scantily clad women, who are utterly homogenized and same-ified. The normalizing judgment is at an all-time high here. They have become a writhing mass of super- sexualized nothingness. He is as controlling of power as they come, the assumed male gaze, once again, is taking its expected position.

Foucault counters and explains:
The body of the king, with its strange material and physical presence, with the force that he himself deploys or transmits to some few others, is at the opposite extreme of this new physics of power represented by panopticism; the domain of panopticism is, on the contrary, that whole lower region, that region of irregular bodies, with their details, their multiple movements, their heterogeneous forces, their spatial relations; what are required are mechanisms that analyse distributions, gaps, series, combinations, and which use instruments that render visible, record, differentiate and compare: a physics of a relational and multiple power, which has its maximum intensity not in the person of the king, but in the bodies that can be individualized by these relations.

Many interesting things are happening with race in this video. In the foreground, one black and one white woman wrassle about at 1:45. I think there are interesting things Kanye is trying to say here about race, but maybe he is forgetting gender...

My questions are these:
-Is everything really all about power?
- Does power and our relationship to it produce our reality? To what degree?
-What are the power systems that you operate within? School? Church? Gender roles? Race? What else?
-How much power do we have as individuals in our various systems?
-Can we live deliberately enough to subvert a system, or is that systematic in and of itself?
-How does this inform art historical practice? What power do you hold?

After all,
No one man should have all that power
The clock’s tickin’, I just count the hours
Stop trippin’, I’m trippin’ off the power

As Foucault says, the power might not be directed at you, but the fear of it keeps you in check- keeps the ladies fighting (sometimes literally) for attention.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

We, the audience by Danielle Hurd

I love getting art recommendations from non-art history majors. I find it fascinating to see what people who don't study art all day really like. One such culturally savvy friend recently directed me to this article. It is a review of the (I think) fabulous Marian Abramovic installation that took place in the MOMA in the spring. Check it out, it's a quick read and a great overview of her work.

My questions are threefold: 1) Do you like the piece? 2) What would you have done if you had been face-to-face with Marina? 3) Are there any recent exhibitions/installations/events that you would have loved to see but just didn't have the $$ for?

P.S. My answers are as follows: 1) Yes, obviously. 2) I think I would have sat done and gotten up pretty quickly because: I am not that patient, I still have problems sitting still, and I would want to give others a turn. I would probably just say "thank you" and leave. 3) I kick myself everyday that I didn't do an impromptu fly-away to see Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates. Next time.