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    Nir Hod at Paul Kasmin Gallery

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    Peek Inside Chamber, a New Design Boutique

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  • 09/29/14--11:50: Brooklyn
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    BLOUIN Lifestyle Pick: Burmese Rubies

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    Sainte-Chapelle is neither the largest nor the most ornate of all the religious spaces in Paris, but the 13th-century private reliquary of King Louis IX nevertheless numbers among the city’s loveliest and most memorable sacred interiors. The chapel, not unlike a bespoke, architectural-scale jewel box, previously held some of the most important relics in medieval Christendom, assembled from across Europe. Though the objects were removed during the French Revolution, dazzling stained glass windows and soaring cerulean-hued ceilings still give a quality of weightlessness to the space. The harmonious beauty of the space, now an homage to the objects Sainte-Chapelle once contained, makes taking a turn inside the chamber an all-immersive experience, completely removed from the surrounding din of central Paris.

    In New York — where consumerism, not religion, is the preferred path to transcendence — Chamber, a recently opened design boutique, is akin to the city’s own modern-day Sainte-Chapelle. Located on the ground floor of the Neil Denari-designed HL23 condos in Chelsea, its unassuming storefront, tucked right below the High Line, reveals a luminous interior filled with limited edition design, vintage objects, and art pieces.

    Founder Juan Garcia Mosqueda, who previously worked for Murray Moss, cites both the reliquary and the cabinet of curiosities as sources of inspiration for his project to establish a platform for design experimentation. Interior architect Hilary Sample of MOS extended the religious metaphor, citing “the idea of a kind of sacred relic” as inspiration for the ceiling’s barrel vaults. Chamber’s stock includes weird wonders, updated for the 21st century: a sculpture made from the ashes of a 17th-generation chicken by a Belgian artist-cum-avian breeder; glass lamps shaped like breasts by Studio Job in collaboration with Venini; and an antique china cabinet updated to play musical tunes at the drop of a coin, by newcomer Jelle Mastenbroek. The resulting enterprise isn’t a quite a gallery (no exclusivity over the designers it sells), but it isn’t just a store (the attention paid to displayed objects and architectural details goes far beyond the basic need to turn a profit). Just as the name suggests, it’s an intimate space for discovery and reflection — and purchase.

    Mosqueda’s approach to retail is decidedly unusual: every two years, he plans to invite one designer or creative to curate and custom-commission 100 objects to be sold for that period in the boutique. For his inaugural collection, the proprietor entrusted curatorial responsibilities to Antwerp-based design firm Studio Job, which spent a year and a half conceiving, sourcing, and designing the shop’s wares. “What I wanted to do is to create a kind of wunderkammer with pieces from all over the world — a real mish mash, not only design and not only art,” explained Job Smeets, who, together with partner Nynke Tynagel, organized the current display. “And that it would look like someone collected all these items throughout their lifetime.” The selection reflects Smeets’s Dutch origins, his absurdist humor, and the scope of his own collecting habit. The results are deeply personal: “Everything that is in here could have been in my collection,” he said.

    Chamber’s atypical business model is reflected in its idiosyncratic merchandise. Mosqueda gave his curators carte blanche to commission new pieces, collaborate with fellow designers and manufacturers, and feature vintage objects. His emphasis is on quality over quantity: “You want to have the most iconic piece from each designer.” Fifty-five of those works are currently on display, and as the shop sells pieces, new ones will be taken out of storage until the entire 100 are spoken for.

    The entry corridor is lined with smaller pieces: Studio Job worked with earthenware makers Royal Tichelaar Makkum and chef Sergio Herman to design a leaning étagère. Available exclusively at Chamber, the cake display features seven white porcelain plates Studio Job originally created as individual pieces for Herman stacked along a hammered bronze spine. There’s also a drawing by Denari rendered in neon lights and original records by David Bowie and Joy Division. In the back, larger items like a custom bicycle by Van Heesch Design, a 1950s penguin chair that Studio Job commissioned three graphic designers to create new upholstery for, and monumental light bulbs that Studio Job designed in concert with glass designer Alex de Witte. Like the merchandise, the price points vary: a rainbow-hued dishcloth by Kooistra sells for $50, but a doll created by fashion designers Viktor and Rolf decked out in miniature versions of their clothes sells for $75,000.

    “Everything has its own context,” said Smeets as he walked through the store. “I have frames like this,” he said, pointing to a Jakob Smits painting for which he created a custom, bright blue frame. “I have the Viktor and Rolf doll in my collection. The David Bowie record first pressing, that was the first record I ever bought.” Each piece is a relic in its own right. And as with medieval relics, it’s easy to imagine pilgrims — faithful to design — flocking to see what Chamber has in store.

    A Chamber of Curiosities and Commerce in Chelsea
    Inside Juan Garcia Mosqueda's Chamber, a new design boutique opening up in Chels

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    Sydney's Powerhouse Exhibition of Jewels

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    Room for Error: Brett Littman On the Nuances of Creative Thinking

    Drawing Center director Brett Littman helms an institution that is anything but predictable: Exhibitions this year have included an examination of the cooking philosophies of Ferran Adrià, as well as a group show organized around Colson Whitehead’s novel “The Intuitionist.” Currently, the non-profit is hosting the textile-focused “Thread Lines,” on view through December 14. ARTINFO caught up with Littman during last week’s Blouin Creative Leadership Summit to discuss the nuances of creative thinking. 

    During the BCLS panel discussion you talked about the now-touring “Ferran Adrià: Notes On Creativity,” and mentioned how the Spanish chef fostered a creative environment in the kitchen. As an institutional director who is doing things that are both creative and administrative, do you aim for the same sort of environment at the Drawing Center?

    I come at this field not as an art historian, but from the world of philosophy and poetry. And the way I’ve tried to run the Drawing Center is to make it like a think tank. I’m not dogmatic; I’m looking at drawing in the broadest possible way, and maybe I’ve been accused of not showing a lot of drawing in the seven-and-a-half years I’ve been director. I do have art historians as curators. I say to them when I come in: I’m hiring people who have a broad base of knowledge, and I prefer them to be generalists. They should try to present shows that are totally outside of their wheelhouse. I’ve tried to create an environment in which the dialogue around the institution’s mission is creative and dynamic. We don’t think of our programming in a linear way — it’s more spherical. Would I like to do something [like Adria’s restaurant, El Bulli, did] where the Drawing Center is only open six months, and then we go off and have a long research and development session? That’d be great, but I don’t know whether there’s any kind of possibility to make that work in the non-profit environment.

    One of the topics that came up during the BCLS was this idea of research as a basis for making. Obviously there are some people whose practice is very research-driven, whereas others are still abiding by the concept of a spontaneous gesture. I assume you’ve worked with both types of artists.

    To be honest, I don’t think pure creativity can come out of not knowing something. I’m a little perplexed when I visit young artists who have the idea that they’ve recreated Modernism, but they don’t actually understand what Modernism is. In order to be creative you have to have a foundation, to understand what came before you, to build on that and analyze it. You have to internalize. From my own experience, in order to become a poet, I had to relearn language. I had to abandon all conception of what I thought the written word was. Which meant that sometimes I just wrote a poem that was one “e” on a page, and that was useful: I got to build back a whole new system in a way that was free of other baggage and other kinds of predetermined ways of thinking. Did Picasso simply paint a painting out of his head, and it was a masterpiece? Yes, but Picasso understood many things about art history and culture. And so I think the real creative people are the ones who are grounded in what came before them, and they understand both how to manipulate and change that. The kind of things that last for a long time are generally part of that continuum. I’m a bit wary when someone says, “I’ve had this huge breakthrough in the studio, and I’ve invented Abstract Expressionism!” The other thing that’s interesting is what I call the unconscious influence: when there’s an artist or a movement that falls outside of history and discourse, and all of a sudden other artists have picked [those ideas] up. Maybe it’s the zeitgeist. Creativity is also about this network of knowledge. You have to be intellectually curious. The way that I’ve been creative in my field is that I read something and that leads me to something else, and that leads me over here, and over here, and all of a sudden I’m 25 steps away from where I’ve started, I’ve made an arc and covered a lot of ground. That’s what drives me to do what I do, and maybe that’s why the Drawing Center can be a place that’s a little more flexible.

    You asked your fellow panelists this question as well: Do you think creativity can be taught?

    I hope that creativity is something that can be introduced at a later age. For me, personally, it started at an early age. I blame my parents. I went to school to be a doctor, but I grew up in New York and went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Museum, and MoMA. My dad was a photographer who became a teacher; that’s what I grew up with. Then later, I understood Sol LeWitt because I studied philosophy. I’m hoping that people who come to the Drawing Center are in other kinds of fields, not just the art world, and that they’re inspired.

    To be honest, I’ve had more profound experiences with music than I have with visual art — that transcendent experience listening to something that puts you in a totally different place. I can’t say I’ve ever cried in front of a painting. But with the visual arts, it’s this idea of leverage: You need to be able to look at your assumptions and leverage them. Maybe that’s what creativity is, and I hope that’s what museums can offer, rather than someone comes and looks at a show and learns a bit about history. Maybe creativity is about jiggling the wires a little and creating a little more room for error.

    Brett Littman

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    Protestors Topple Lenin Statue, Guggenheim Plans Expansion, and More

    — Protestors Topple Lenin Statue: On Sunday, a group of Ukrainian nationalists took down the country’s tallest statue of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, which once stood 66 feet tall. Residents of Kharviv, the statue’s former home and Ukraine’s second-largest city, had initially been reluctant to remove it — making its destruction a potent symbol in the ongoing conflict. [NY Mag]

    — Guggenheim Plans Expansion: While local controversy around the Guggenheim’s Helsinki outpost rages on, the museum has announced more expansion plans for its New York space. Few details are being released, but the Guggenheim has said that this new building will be called the Collection Center and that it will be “one efficient, multi-use building” with a “dynamic public-programming component.” The space will hold the museum’s collection and staff. [TAN]

    — Da Vinci Painting Drafts Revealed: French scientist Pascal Cotte used an innovative scanning technique to uncover new layers of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Lady With Ermine.” Underneath the portrait of his patron’s mistress holding a white ermine, Da Vinci painted two different drafts — one in which she’s holding nothing at all, another in which she’s holding a different rodent. “We know that he fiddled around a good deal at the beginning, but now we know that he kept fiddling around all the time and it helps explain why he had so much difficulty finishing paintings,” said Oxford art history professor Martin Kemp. “Leonardo is endlessly fascinating, so getting this intimate insight into his mind is thrilling.” [GuardianBBC]

    — Van Gogh Flowers Up For Sale: An 1890 Van Gogh still life, one of the few paintings by the artist to make it to the open market in the past 30 years, is set to hit the block at Sotheby’s with an estimate of $30 million to $50 million. [NY Observer]

    — Kazakh Ancient Land Art Revealed: Via Google Earth, a research team in Kazakhstan has uncovered 50 ancient geoglyphs. [Hyperallergic]

    — Another Day, Another Banksy: A new Banksy piece in Folkestone has popped up just in time to coincide with the town’s triennial. [Telegraph]

    — Berlin gallery Mathew will open Mathew NYC at 47 Canal Street on Friday. [ARTnews]

    — RIP Robert Ellis, former director of the Hardwood Museum of Art. [Taos News]

    — In gallery roster news, Priska Pasquer added Pieter Hugo, while Lehmann Maupin added Roberto Cuoghi. [Art Media AgencyArtnet]

    ALSO ON ARTINFO

    A Chamber of Curiosities and Commerce in Chelsea

    Room for Error: Brett Littman On the Nuances of Creative Thinking

    Sneak Peek: ART21’s Season 7 Episode With Tania Bruguera

    Here are the Projects in Survey, Miami Basel’s New Section for Historical Work

    Check our blog IN THE AIR for breaking news throughout the day.

    Protestors Topple Country’s Tallest Statue of Vladimir Lenin

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  • 09/30/14--07:57: October
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    A recap of the Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2014.

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    Crime of Passion: Mathieu Amalric's "The Blue Room"

    “We are accustomed to see people driven to their limit,” said the writer George Simenon, responding to a question about violence in fiction in an interview with the Paris Review in 1955. Characters driven to their limit, especially men, is something that occurs again and again in Simenon’s large body of work, which encompasses somewhere around 400 novels (the numbers vary, depending on who you ask) that are usually divided between two categories — the Inspector Maigret detective novels and the romans durs (hard novels), which are considered more serious and less commercially appealing. He typically spent less than two weeks writing a novel, and legend has it that he wrote one in 24 hours while sitting in a glass cage in front of an audience, taking suggestions as he went along. Needless to say, the literary establishment has only recently begun to acknowledge his writing as something more than a factory of words.

    Part of this newfound acceptance has to do with cinema. Filmmakers have been embracing Simenon’s work for a long time — Jean Renoir, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Bertrand Tavernier, and Bela Tarr are among hundreds who have translated the work for the screen, some better than others. Simenon’s stories were popular all over the world because they’re told so simply — he was known to chop away at his sentences until they were nakedly bare — which also makes it perfect material for filmmakers, who can expand on the books without taking too much away from the source.

    “The Blue Room,” premiering at the New York Film Festival, is faithful to the novel of the same name, which makes it unusual among adaptations of Simenon’s work. Directed, co-written, and starring the actor Mathieu Amalric, the film focuses on a crime of passion between a married man and his mistress that slowly unravels via flashback as the authorities interview the main character. The audience is thrown into the story after it happened and is left to piece together answers through an unreliable main character. “Life is different when you live it and go back over it,” he tells the authorities, attempting to prove his innocence from the emotional fragments left behind.

    In its broad strokes, the narrative resembles “Tropic Moon,” another Simenon romans durs (you don’t write that many novels without repeating yourself a few times), and one of my favorites, which features a similarly dispositioned man whose desire for a woman outside his class upends his fragile life. Amalric’s “Blue Room” treats these class conflicts much more subtly than Simenon does in his novels, and we only catch small instances of the difference between the main character and his mistress — she was the daughter of the town’s doctor, now the wife of the town pharmacist; he built a world of modern middle-class stability to distance himself from his past. As much as they try to escape their existence, they are trapped in the roles they’ve been assigned.

    Amalric heightens this enclosure through the use of the traditional 1:33 aspect ratio, which gives the feeling that the characters are trapped in a box. Where the widescreen frame would have opened up the space, allowing the characters room to breathe, the square aspect ratio closes in on them. Within the frame, Amalric often gives his characters a lot of headroom, leaving the space at the top open and shrinking them in the process. Each composition is static, and the only major camera movement comes during the main character’s romanticized memory of his first meeting with his mistress. The hard-edged precision of the framings, which helps accelerate the intensity, is complicated by the use of natural light that bathes so much of the film and softens the image, ultimately resulting in more questions. Are we to believe what we’re seeing? Is this all just a dream?

    Amalric is content to let these thoughts linger long after the story fades from the screen. We never know exactly what happened, and the questions seem beside the point. The answer may be that there are no answers, no right or wrong, no reality or fiction. There’s no escaping your position in life, no matter how hard you try. By the end of the film, our two main characters get what they want in the most tragic way possible. 

    New York Film Festival: "The Blue Room"

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    Art on the Catwalk: Chanel Spring-Summer 2015

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    In the summer of 2009, Nir Hod flew to Buffalo, New York, for the preview of “Wall Rockets,” a group show featuring works in dialogue with the titular Ed Ruscha piece, at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Hod was there to introduce his now infamous painting, The Night You Left—four lines of cocaine painted in white oil atop a 44-by-60-inch obsidian mirror—which was also his first abstract work. After talks by other artists detailing color choices, shadowing, and exhaustive art history references, Hod wasn’t exactly sure what to say, so he decided to tell a simple, if heartbreaking, personal story.With his throaty Israeli accent, Hod explained that in 2006 he had gotten engaged and traveled to Venice, Italy, with his fiancée to celebrate. Brimming with sappy romanticism, the couple chartered a late-afternoon boat ride in a vintage wooden Riva. Everything was impossibly idyllic until Anna fell off the boat—and drowned. “It took hours to find her, until the middle of the night,” Hod said. “It was very hard for me to work after this. The painting here is called The Night You Left because it was one of the first works I made after I came back to my studio.” What might have initially come across as a shallow, too-slick showpiece appealing to debauched party types was suddenly a supercharged meditation on love and loss.
    “They wanted to hug me. It was very emotional for them, almost like the work became something religious,” says Hod, who went on to tell the story numerous times to other audiences. “For me, this
is the magic of the story of an artwork.”
    Magic also implies a deviation from reality, a sleight of hand, a deception, which is exactly what it was. Hod concocted the entire story (from a loose narrative) on the spot, and he doesn’t regret it. To him, the tale is less about mendacity and provides insight into his process. “When
I tell this story, I really feel like I
miss somebody or like I really remember the event,” he says. “The imagination takes over the reality, and I don’t feel like I’m lying, I don’t feel like I’m doing something wrong. It just makes everything the way it’s supposed to be.”
    It’s the same reason Hod tells collectors and curators who visit his Meatpacking District studio that a large stone he found on vacation in Upstate New York is a remnant from the World Trade Center. “It’s amazing how differently people look at this stone in one second. All of a sudden, they act like it’s not OK to smoke next to it or breathe next to it,” he says, laughing, moments after fooling me with the same story in the studio this spring. “One element can completely change the rules.”
    Breaking the rules has been Hod’s MO since he was a reckless Tel Aviv teenager who got kicked out of numerous schools and competed in BMX ramp competitions, living, as he puts it, the “life of the child from Cinema Paradiso.” His father, who owned a marble factory, and his homemaker mother were very lenient, and Hod eventually found his calling at
an art high school, where he read Goethe and watched David Lynch films and “adopted this Romantic kind of look,” he says. “I wanted almost to die in my studio from hunger and go to these coffeehouses and argue, to be a victim of all these stories and books and movies.” When he turned 18, Hod was drafted into an experimental artist unit of the Israeli army. “I came to them with canvases
and books, thinking ‘I’m not going to do too much in the army,’” he says. “Five minutes later, they threw my easel and canvases into the garbage.” Less than
a year after that the brass told him, “Go back to art school; this is not for you.”
    Hod spent his early 20s at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem, battling
against conceptualist students and expatriate Russian professors who brought dead animals into the classrooms, while he experimented with narcissistic videos and paintings that focused on beauty. On a student exchange at New York’s Cooper Union, he discovered daguerreotypes at
a New Museum exhibition and later found a Russian master who helped him make prints in the medium from photos of friends’ children he had positioned to look dead. Hod printed 120 of the images on handkerchiefs he piled in an installation surrounded by videos of other children smoking, driving, and basically serving as precursors to his breakout series of “Genius” paintings. He followed this early work by making a wax sculpture of himself, self-portrait paintings as an army officer, and a printed canvas of himself saving Madonna—whose Girlie Show tour famously visited Tel Aviv in 1993—from an attempted suicide. “It was a very bloody, very Hollywood reference to Jeff Koons and Cicciolina. The idea was to bring something
very glamorous to a provincial place,” says Hod, who became a celebrity in Israel from the press surrounding these works. He parlayed this attention into
a book of poems, Forever, followed by a spoken-word album, Last Letters to Anna, recorded with Israel’s top rockers. Copies of the album now fetch as much as $300 on eBay and turned Hod into a veritable pop star. That fame helped him make the jump to New York, initially living in his current studio, where he made meticulous oversize paintings of floral bouquets, dead porn stars, drug paraphernalia, and himself in androgynous getups. At one point, he even developed a pilot with a Hollywood producer for an Entourage-like show with the Vincent Chase character modeled after himself.
    Hod’s mischievous approach has played to his advantage. During his first decade in New York, his large canvases rated
a solo exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and a slot in Jack Shainman’s stable. While Shainman “didn’t get” the direction in which Hod was going with his “Genius” paintings, Paul Kasmin saw their potential and signed Hod in 2011. “Nir is incredibly ambitious, and he generates ideas at a remarkable rate,” says Kasmin. “I can only see his work
growing conceptually and technically in our shows to come.”
    Over the past two years, Hod has generated three new bodies of work and translated The Night You Left into sets of coveted mirrored coasters, “perfectly executed trompe l’oeil objects,” says Kasmin—available in black, gold, pink (for Valentine’s Day), and red (for Christmas)—which hipsters have gobbled up by the thousands at top boutiques
and five-star hotels from Los Angeles to London. “There’s this purity that is so sublime in a great Van Gogh or Gerhard Richter, but there’s also something beautiful in making something powerful into something weak,” says the artist, who grew up loving the tchotchkes outside Israel’s religious destinations. “It makes it more spiritual.”
    For Hod, the point of art is to tell a story that appeals to pop-culture vultures as well as art historians. His pieces scream glamour while whispering of terror just below their exotic surfaces. They partake of the nightclub-frequenting, drug-snorting, sex-abusing, terror-inducing, luxury-fiend atmosphere of Bret Easton Ellis novels. “Atmosphere is so important to me,” says Hod. “Reality can be very poor, but if you have the right atmosphere, it doesn’t matter.”
    With Kasmin, Hod has concocted dazzling, if at times disturbing, atmospheres. In 2012 he placed the cigarette-smoking children of his “Genius” portraits—many modeled after dictators and rock stars—against Old Master-influenced backdrops. The children were followed, naturally enough, by “Mother,”
a series of 10 identically painted images of an elegant woman seemingly rushing through a city, handbag hanging from her arm, each illuminated by colored halos invoking Warhol’s Shadow Paintings. The shocking reveal came when visitors read a small plaque explaining that the mother, whom Hod “painted like a Louis Vuitton ad, so much about luxury, and fantasy, and decadence” was actually lifted from a well-known Holocaust image. She was the anonymous lady beside seven-year-old Tsvi Nussbaum in Warsaw Ghetto Boy. In his current show at Kasmin, “Once Everything Was
Much Better Even the Future,” Hod, now a father himself, has abandoned his teasing, haunting figures for a series
of abstract works.
    The show is a deliberate mélange
of reflective surfaces and gaudy sensibility invoking everything from drug culture and boutique hotels to the Arab Spring uprisings. A triptych of purple orchid paintings sprouts Richter-inspired flames from their blooms; an assemblage of chromed canvases manipulated with acids, paints, and thinners resemble clouds in a broken mirror. The idea, he says, is to gesture
at “the very narcissistic people with ridiculous collections of what, for other people, look strange.” For instance, “the collections of all these Arab dictators. It’s not about art; it’s about luxury objects, to build something over the top. When I close my eyes, sometimes
I would really like to be like these kinds of people. It’s something about freedom which is connected to childhood, and it’s very important for me to keep this kind of feeling and point of view.”
    The show also features a supersize snow-globe sculpture filled with oil and an operating derrick, as well as
“The Back Room,” a series of two massive chrome canvases painted to match the fingernail scratches on the CBGB bathroom walls and the gas chambers of Auschwitz. “The most amazing things are created after major violent vandalism and death events, like after 9/11,” says Hod, who justifies his outrageous juxtapositions by pointing out that these days, people are forced to behave. “Everybody has become the same—there are no unique voices anymore. It’s almost like you can’t even be a rock star like there were in the ’70s
or ’80s. There are no rock stars today.”
    A version of this article appears in the October 2014 issue of Modern Painters magazine.

    Where Have All the Rock Stars Gone? A Conversation With Nir Hod
    Nir Hod, Paul Kasmin Gallery

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  • 09/30/14--13:44: October
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    Rashid Johnson’s “Magic Numbers” at the George Economou Foundation in Athens, Dorothea Tanning’s fever dreams in London, “Wanton Mobility” at Klemm’s Berlin, Allora &

    Calzadilla, Tom Friedman, Manfred Pernice, Hito Steyerl, and more

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    Joan Jonas

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    Robert Gober's "The Heart Is Not A Metaphor"

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    VIDEO: In the Studio With José Parlá

    NEW YORK — September was a big month for José Parlá. The Miami-born, Brooklyn-based artist worked to complete an expansive mural that will hang in One World Trade Center, and he staged his second solo exhibition at Chelsea’s Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery. “In Medias Res,” which opened September 12, features new paintings, sculpture, and another large-scale mural installation. Parlá says the exhibition — whose title is drawn from the name of a writing technique — chronicles his life, beginning with his childhood and including his travels around the world.

    ARTINFO visited Parlá’s studio as he was working on the exhibition and the WTC mural.

    “In Medias Res” is on view at Bryce Wolkowitz through October 18.

     

     

    José Parlá Studio Visit

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    Robert Gober’s retrospective “The Heart Is Not A Metaphor,” which opens on October 4 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is a strange and moving survey of domestic unease, seemingly pointless labor, and creeping horror, among other things. You enter the exhibition past a pair of very different works: “X Pipe Playpen,” 2013-14, a sculpture of a child’s crib bisected by an industrial pipe; and an untitled painting from 1975 depicting a suburban house, its lawn criss-crossed with ragged shadows of barren trees. The two pieces feed each other — the fairly straightforward, even bucolic scene can’t help but emit sinister vibes next to the modified baby furniture, a symbol of security gone awry. You carry that feeling of molested comfort through the rest of the show, with its sinks and legs and re-contextualized slices of mundane architecture.

    In the following room, for instance: A closet from 1989, shallow and empty, its baseboard a bit dingy. Like many of the objects in Gober’s oeuvre, it’s an emptiness, a void, a lack (unless you walk inside it — then you’re the content). MoMA’s wall text describes another work in the show — a wedding dress, sans human inhabitant — as a “vessel” waiting for the “hopes and dreams of marriage.” A series of sinks from 1984 — all of them modeled on sinks that he had personal experience with, Gober clarified during a Q&A session at yesterday’s press preview — are mounted a bit too low on the wall. As the exhibition progresses we see the artist taking more liberties with those sinks — hanging them in stacks or, most successfully, burying a pair like tombstones in a patch of grass outside the gallery’s window. Along with those signature sinks, the exhibition is dotted with another of Gober’s most recognizable tropes: beeswax limbs augmented with actual human hair. (The artist didn’t make any sculptures of human anatomy until 1989, but during the Q&A alluded to the partial roots of his fascination with such forms, which often incorporate candles into the physiognomy: He was raised Catholic, a faith that had “this array of body-rich symbols.”)   

    One of the strangest elements of Gober’s practice is the sheer number of lovingly recreated, ordinary objects — paint cans, cat litter bags, store receipts, gin bottles — that, while impressive, never seem to fully justify the amount of intricate labor that must have gone into producing them. Why conjure an exact replica of a Table Talk brand apple pie using cast hot glass, cast plastic, and paint? Why make a wood engraving and subsequent prints simply to memorialize a urology appointment-reminder card for some guy named Keith? These items either have a buried, opaque significance, or they’re arbitrary challenges, a self-imposed mimetic assignment: The work was pointless in many ways but the thing is real, and has weight, in a way that an apple pie box sealed in a vitrine would not. These skillful, perverse objects are scattered throughout the show, often in rooms with artist-designed wallpaper (depicting a lynched man, or forest scenes, or sketches of male and female genitalia, or the river-veined outlines of states).

    “The Heart Is Not A Metaphor” is also noteworthy for its inclusion of large installations, like one (with sinks, newspapers, wallpaper, and windows) that Gober made for Dia’s space in Chelsea in 1992, and another, made in response to the 9/11 attacks and featuring a statue of Jesus that spews water from his nipples into a hole in the ground (MoMA acquired the piece itself). There’s a room that focuses on Gober’s role as curator — he’s responsible for two spectacular retrospectives at the Whitney, of Charles Burchfield and Forrest Bess — and includes a show-within-the-show with work by Cady Noland and others. Not everything is pitch-perfect; the weirder or more grotesque certain later works get, the less effective they can be — like a stool sporting beeswax breasts and dangling a child’s leg. But most of the time Gober pushes adeptly against kitsch and mere stagecraft. Consider a 1997 sculpture of a suitcase that contains a grate, which opens onto a chimney burrowed into the floor, which terminates in a submerged pool of water with some sort of genuflecting marine plants. In the wrong hands, something like that could be corny as hell, but Gober nails it; the subterranean universe is so transfixing that you might even forget to Instagram it.

    The small, early graphite drawings and paintings here could constitute a show of their own, from depictions of dish racks and other household products to one tiny canvas that belies Gober’s allegiance to Bess: an undefined orifice, populated by bats hanging from nails, being pried open by strange, green hands. The latter work hangs next to a sculpture of a petite bed, child- or monk-sized, neatly made. That juxtaposition is a nice summary of Gober’s retrospective in general: An invitation to relax, swiftly pierced by a jab of terror.    

    Robert Gober Brings It Home at MoMA
    Robert Gober's "Untitled" 1991, on view at his upcoming show at the MoMA.

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    Pace Fetes Unsung Picasso Muse, Hong Kong's Protest Art, and More

    — Pace Fetes Unsung Picasso Muse: In the past few years, quite a few shows have been devoted to the many muses of Picasso, but now Pace is bringing out works inspired by the artist’s second wife. Long overshadowed by Fernande, Marie-Thérèse, and Françoise, Jacqueline Roque married Picasso in 1961 and was the inspiration for many of the artist’s late works. “It is so free and full of love,” said Guggenheim curator Carmen Giménez. “Jacqueline created peace for him. That did not happen before.” [WSJ]

     Hong Kong’s Protest Art: Since Sunday’s escalation of the peaceful #OccupyCentral demonstrations in Hong Kong, protestors have begun to use the image of an umbrella — originally brought out as a way to protect themselves from pepper spray — as a unifying symbol, akin to Occupy Wall Street’s appropriation of the Guy Fawkes mask. The protestors and their supporters, who are calling for democratic elections in 2017, have created a plethora of graphic art images using the symbol (often in yellow) and uploaded them across social media platforms, many bearing the hashtag #UmbrellaRevolution. [Mashable]

    — Huge Head Hits DC Mall: Artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada has installed a six-acre landscaping project on the DC mall that, from an aerial view, resembles the face of a man. Sponsored by the National Portrait Gallery, the face was created from a composite of photographs of local Cuban Americans. [Washington Post]

    — Artist Buys Instagram Followers: In an effort to equalize the oft-fraught influence of social media, Constant Dullaart, with DIS magazine and Jeu de Paume, paid to flush out prominent accounts — from Gagosian Gallery to Jeff Koons — to an even 100,000 followers apiece. [ARTnews]

    — New Art Start-UpsArtolease offers US companies the opportunity to rent and display prominent artworks, while GalleriesNow.net promises an algorithm that evaluates more than just sales to determine the true “top 10” contemporary galleries. [ArtDailyArtDaily]

    — HuffPo Cracks Art World Codes: Apparently, “Does the artist have positive romantic baggage?” is but one of 10 essential questions to consider when deciding how to price a painting. [HuffPo]

    — Derek and Christen Wilson have given $1 million to Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art. [ARTnews

    — While controversy rages on about the Guggenheim Helsinki, the museum has announced a #guggathon (a Wikipedia edit-a-thon on the topic of museum architecture). [Guggenheim]

    — Clearing Gallery is moving to a 5,000-square-foot ground-floor space in Bushwick. [ARTnews]

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    Check our blog IN THE AIR for breaking news throughout the day.

    Pablo Picasso and his wife Jacqueline

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    Swarovski's 25th Anniversary for the ANDAM Awards

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    A History of Violence in Two NYFF Docs

    Two documentaries that are playing at the New York Film Festival deal with systemic violence through the documentary form, displaying the myriad ways film can address tragedy through the lens of memory. Death is haunting and never leaves us, but in reexamining the past we might be able to better understand the present and navigate the future.

    “The Look of Silence,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to last year’s astonishing “The Act of Killing,” takes a different approach to the same material as his previous film, which focused on the government-backed purge of communists in Indonesia in 1965. “Silence” is a more somber view of the same events that unfolds from the perspective of the victims. Oppenheimer follows Adi, whose brother was murdered by the subjects of “Killing,” while he travels around and confronts those responsible. The camera lingers on these conversations between perpetrator and victim, over and over again past the point of comfortableness, acting less a witness to what is being discussed than a tool to prod the truth out of those who are most likely to obscure it.

    South Korean filmmaker Jung Yoon-suk takes a different approach with “Non-Fiction Diary.” The film centers on the crimes committed by a group called the Jijon Clan, who murdered five people and were arrested in September 1994. Their case became a media bonanza, sparking public dialogue about the corrupted moral core of Korean society. The film then expands to include two more no less horrific tragedies: the collapse of both the Seongsu Bridge in Seoul one month after the arrest, which killed 32 people, and the towering Sampoong department store, which killed 502 people and injured nearly 1,000. Using media footage from the time period along with accounts from police officers who were on the scene, the film draws links between the three events and what they reveal about the connection between wealth inequality, class resentment, and violence.

    Both films speak from the present tense and in their own ways hope to affect change. “Silence” is the less subtle of the two, but no less powerful because of it. Oppenheimer seeks truth less in connections than in confessions, especially those that shock the audience, such as when one of the perpetrators confesses to drinking the blood of those they killed. But the most shocking thing in the film is a simple phrase of denial, repeated again and again: “The past is the past.” With his camera, Oppenheimer intends to rebuke that claim, no mater how painful the process seems for subject and viewer alike.

    “Diary” is more restrained, not engaged in an act of simply remembering the past but in re-contextualizing it. It’s the more sober of the two works and more resonant for the questions that are asked about violence. Why are people killed? Is it because killers are “born with the seed of evil,” as one political commentator remarks in the film? Can we remove violence from its context, and what role does capitalism play in the tragedies at hand? Should the wealthy owners of the Sampoong department store, which collapsed due to negligence, be punished any differently than the members of the Jijon Clan, who emerged from the other end of the social and economic spectrum? Is one guiltier than the other?

    The questions in “Diary” and “Silence” are at once obvious and complex — which is part of what makes them work so well — while the answers are so easy to comprehend and so difficult to put in words. The simple act of asking, of remembering, of taking another look, is the first step toward understanding. 

    New York Film Festival: "The Look of Silence/Non-Fiction Diary"

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    Chicago-based gallerist and conservator Joel Oppenheimer on knowing when to restore a piece and when to walk away.

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