Tag Archives: abstract

World-class Warhol Exhibit at Beaux-Arts Mons (BAM) in Belgium.

This is the last weekend to catch the world-class Warhol Exhibit!

Andy Warhol: Life, Death and Beauty

– through January 19, 2014 at Beaux-Arts Mons (BAM) in Wallonia Belgium.

Warhol: Life, Death & Beauty poster outside Beaux-Arts Mons ~ photo by Rothstein

Warhol: Life, Death & Beauty poster outside Beaux-Arts Mons ~ photo by Rothstein

Don’t miss your chance to see more than 100 original Warhol artworks in this inaugural exhibition for the reopening of Beaux-Arts Mons. There’s no bigger art-star than Andy Warhol and this show provides a nice variety of his groundbreaking works, some rarely seen outside the USA and some from Belgian private collections.  The security for this exhibition is a bit outrageous however. At some times there are more security personnel in a gallery than patrons. I realize that each piece could be worth millions, but having black-clad officers scurrying everywhere, with loud walkie-talkies squawking every few minutes, does not make for the most enjoyable atmosphere.

Yet this show is indeed enjoyable despite the distractions. Produced by The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and curated by Gianni Mercurio, the galleries in this show are broken up into 12 different sections.

Entrance to BAM.

Entrance to BAM.

After entering the museum and paying the very reasonable 9.00€ admission, the first room you enter focuses on the artist’s Self Portraits. Warhol was obsessed with his image and was most successful at branding himself like a product. Four small (facsimile) strips of photo-booth pictures begin the show. These little black & white images helped set the tone for Warhol’s work throughout his life. Along with the Polaroid pictures he was so fond of, (which are suspiciously absent from this exhibition,) these little, instant photos became a jumping off point for him and the stark style is visible in most of his portraits and self portraits.

© warhol.org

Warhol  Self-Portrait, 1963-1964 photobooth photograph 7 7/8 x 1 5/8 in. (20 x 4.1 cm.) – The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection,  © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

Many of the pieces in this exhibition are very typical of Warhol, the kind of work that made him so famous. But there are also some unique gems in the show that really stand out from the others. One such piece in the self-portraits section is a large canvas from 1978 which combines three different “poses” of Warhol’s face, like a triple-exposure photo. Along with wide strokes of easter-egg-type colors, this painting really feels as though it embodies the soul of Andy Warhol.

Andy Warhol –  Self-Portrait, 1978 acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen 40 x 40 in. (101.6 x 101.6 cm.) The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

There are several other interesting self-portraits in this section including three smaller works from 1978. In two of the canvasses, Andy is posing with a skull, and in the third he is being choked by hands that come from outside the frame. These also hark back to the photo-booth-style pictures.

The majority of unexpected work lies in the Religion section of the show. Warhol’s work was highly influenced by his Catholic upbringing, especially his very early and very late works.  There are several very beautiful yet simple early images of Madonna and Child such as this undated drawing with gold paint and collage elements depicting the Visitation of the Three Kings.

Madonna and Child – n.d.
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

Another highlight in this room is a small colored drawing of Santa as if he were on a playing card.

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And just two years before he died, Warhol embarked on an ambitious group of silkscreen print/collages of The Last Supper. The juxtaposition of torn shapes and colors against the faded black and white background print make this work stand out as a new artistic avenue for the artist.

Last Supper
1986, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, 78 x 306.2 “
© The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA

The Death and Violence section of the exhibition includes some works from the infamous “Death and Disaster” series where Warhol used graphic images appropriated from newspapers. Also a very early drawing from 1954 titled “Dead Stop.

Andy Warhol – “Dead Stop”, ca. 1954 ink and wash on Strathmore paper
(49.5 x 58.4 cm.) The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

This room is dominated by a massive silver canvas of revolvers, possible the largest piece in the show.

Andy Warhol, Gun, 1981-1982 – Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 177,6 x 228,6 cm
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / SABAM Belgium 2013 Ville de Mons

While this room also has images of suicide, skulls, knives and the electric chair, ironically, it also holds some of the most beautiful works in the entire exhibition. There are ten different examples of Warhol’s famous Flower silkscreens with fluorescent paint, and also an original painting that inspired them from 1964-65. But one of the most surprising and delicate pieces in the show is an early butterfly illustration from a private collection. An ink and watercolor on paper from 1956. Unfortunately, due to the museum’s No Photography policy, I am unable to show you this image since, unlike the other images in this review, I was unable to find an example of it anywhere online.

So we’ll have to settle for a similar set of works.

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© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

Imagine an intricate butterfly such as this one on the left, only filled with smaller butterflies similar to the ones on the right. You wouldn’t realize it from this crude example, but this piece alone is worth the trip to see this show.  The work is also signed simply “Warhol” in very lovely lettering. I really wish I could show it to you, but perhaps this will be the thing that brings you to the exhibition…

The next room is reserved for Andy’s Icons where we find examples of his most recognizable work. There are six different examples of the famous, multicolored Marilyn Monroe silkscreens from 1967, but a more intriguing piece is actually a much darker “Marilyn” from 1978.

Andy Warhol, Marilyn (4), ca. 1978 silkscreen and acrylic on fabric 91,4 x 71,1 cm
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / SABAM Belgium 2013 Ville de Mons

Despite its darkness, this piece really sparkles and draws you closer to investigate the usage of black on black. It’s an overused phrase, but its brilliance really IS in its simplicity.

There are also more of the usual suspects in this room including Dollar Signs, A whole grid of blue Jackies, neon outlined portrayals of Lenin, and the obligatory Mao.  Though there’s also a much nicer, larger, acrylic and ink painting of Mao from 1973 with swirling mixtures of green white and ochre.

It’s also here that you’ll find the “poster child” for this exhibition.

Andy Warhol “Red Jackie” 1964 acrylic and ink on canvas
©SABAM Belgium 2013 Ville de Mons

The Red Jackie can be seen on posters all over Belgium and there have even been a few of these flyers for the show adorning the exterior windows of the Belgian Prime Minister’s house, (I pass by his home on a regular basis.)

From Icons we move on to Portraits, which in Warhol’s case isn’t much different. He spent his life making people into icons, not least of all himself. There are many of his signature-style portraits in this room. Warhol used a Polaroid “Big Shot” camera to make little pictures of his subjects and used these as a basis for his large paintings and silkscreens.  This later influenced the cover designs of the Interview Magazine he started in 1969 to follow his obsession with the cult of celebrity .

The faces of the famous fill this room, including those of actresses Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, designers Mario Borsato and Yves Saint Laurent, artists Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein and Joseph Beuys, etc… But several pieces do stand out in this crowd. There’s a small black on pink silkscreen of painter Robert Rauschenberg which is simple yet somehow captivating.

Rauschenberg by Warhol, 1967.

And this striking image of Armani from 1981.

Andy Warhol “Armani” 1981  (101.8 x 101.8cm)

This may not look like much on your screen, but this large acrylic painting is the only piece in the show in a protective case. That’s because it’s sprinkled with “diamond dust.”  There’s debate about whether it is indeed real diamond dust on this painting because, after trying it, Warhol later switched to using ground glass in his paint because it was more sparkly.

At the end of the Portrait room there is a small room with seating to view an excerpt from the film “What’s Happening?” by Antonello Branca. This 1967 black and white movie includes interviews with Warhol and other artists such as Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg. You can view a trailer for it here: What’s Happening?

Continuing upstairs to the second level of the exhibition, the designated themes get a bit more convoluted. There’s a small corner titled Consuming Pleasures, which features some of his more commercial work.  There are graphic designs for Halston and the “Committee 2000” as well as two of his famous Soup Can silkscreen prints, though these are later works from 1968 which were actually commissioned by the Campbell’s Soup corporation.

Also in this room are several interesting pieces from Warhol’s series “Details of Renaissance Paintings.”

One of these screenprint on watercolor works, based on the famous Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci, almost covers an entire wall.  – There is also a lovely Warhol-ized representation of Venus.

Andy Warhol – Details of Renaissance Paintings
(Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1482), 1984
acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen (121.9 x 182.9 cm.)
The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection,
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

This piece really combines the ideas of iconic image and iconic style.

On the other side of this room is a section called Altered Image which presents six large photographs of Andy Warhol by photographer Christopher Makos. You can see some of these photographs in this short video though there is an ad preceding it.

Just off this section is a room filled with “Silver Clouds,” an installation from the Warhol Museum Series. Originally made by Warhol for the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1966, this BAM version may be somewhat exciting for children, but it falls a bit short of instilling the Warhol glam experience. There are at least 18 shiny, foil, pillow-shaped helium balloons whirling about the otherwise empty room, but there are also black tape-covered wires leading around the floor to eight various ordinary, modern fans, and the obligatory emergency exit signage, along with the ubiquitous security guard at the entrance. Being immersed in billowing silver clouds sounds like a good idea, but the clumsy implementation here is a bit distracting.

After another video screening room for the eponymous film “Life, Death and Beauty” by Christina Clausen, comes the last Warhol room in the exhibition and it is definitely a melange. One wall offers a section titled Vanishing, which features ten large, vibrant silkscreen prints of endangered species animals from 1983.

These include wonderful representations of Lion, Tree Frog, Elephant, Panda, Bald Eagle, Bighorn Sheep, Rhino, Orangutan, and Zebra.

Also in this room are eight different neon and pastel-colored camouflage prints. You can now find similar patterns to these on the tight pants of many a nightclub-hopping lady.

Portfolio of eight screenprints 1987
(each): 38 x 38″ (96.5 x 96.5 cm)
© Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

But I wonder if Warhol was the first to experiment with changing the typical colors of camouflage? It is quite an absurdist statement when you think about it.

One of the last pieces in this show, and also one of this fanboy’s favorites, is an Apple Macintosh illustration from 1985.

I still remember the first time I saw the Macintosh come out of the box back in 1985. Most people don’t realize that Andy Warhol was one of the first artists to work on the advertising illustrations for this fledgling, world-changing machine.  If interested, you can read this detailed account of The Night Warhol met Steve Jobs, by journalist David Sheff.

Following the final Warhol room is a nice group of works from BAM’s permanent collection. These selections from 1960-1980 meld nicely with the Warhol works. Artists include Pat Andrea, Pol Mara, Peter Saul, Michel Jasmin, and this very Pop piece by Valerio Adami.

Valerio Adami – “Contenitore” oil on canvas 1968

As the exhibition comes to a close there is a room full of screen prints in a makeshift workshop by children and other visitors to the museum. And they have even provided a free “Popmaton” Photo Booth where patrons can have their pictures taken in four Warhol-style colors.

warhol popmaton lance 4

Popmaton photos of/by Lance Aram Rothstein 2014

This was quite fun. All the images are shown on a large video screen outside the photo booth and visitors can download their photos afterward at: http://www.popmaton.com/

So, altogether a very rewarding exhibition. There are some pieces that are rarely exhibited and it’s always exciting to see the old favorites too.   So if you have the chance, POP on over to BAM before it’s too late. (groan)

IF YOU GO:

Andy Warhol: Life Death and Beauty – From October 5, 2013  to January 19, 2014 

Beaux-Arts Mons   BAM, rue Neuve – 7000 Mons   Phone: 0032 (0) 65.40.53.30

http://www.bam.mons.be/

Open Tuesday – Sunday from 10am-6pm

Entry = 9.00€

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La Biennale Sunday Highlights

After nonstop art excursions on Friday and Saturday, we planned to take it slightly slower on Sunday, but still managed to hit three worthwhile venues.
A morning photo walk in Castello along Fondamenta San Giuseppe brought me to a unique Chinese exhibit. “Indeterminacy” was a collateral event of La Biennale. This curated show included work from seven young Chinese artists.

The most accomplished of the work on show in this small, two-room gallery was by Zheng Jiang.
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Five intricate marker drawings on paper are presented by this artist. I originally thought they were color photographs shot through etched glass, but Zheng Jiang’s realist style works perfectly to give the sense of fading memories.
Look for more from this artist, and the others from this little show, in a dedicated post later this week.

 

Our main destination for the day was The Peggy Guggenheim Collection and their exhibition of Robert Motherwell’s Early Collages.

 

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This unique show runs through September 8th and focuses on his works from the 1940s.

 

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It was Peggy Guggenheim who led Motherwell to experiment with collage and this helped him to discover his own voice in the abstract expressionist movement.

 

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This exhibit offers a great chance to get up close an personal with the snips and clips Motherwell used to create these early compositions of paper. Compositions that would later influence his more well-known canvas paintings and printmaking.

 

Even though we promised ourselves we wouldn’t stray into the Venice Guggenheim’s permanent collection, (having seen it years before and hoping to spend the late afternoon relaxing at Lido Beach,) the lure of the Modern masters, and the iconic terrace proved too strong. We soon found ourselves joining the crowds to gaze at world-changing pieces by the likes of Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Léger, Magritte, Kandinsky, Pollock, Rothko, van Doesburg, and of course my favorite: Mondrian.

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Mondrian – Composition No. 1 with Grey and Red 1938 / Composition with Red 1939

 

 

 

 

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The Guggenheim’s magnificent terrace overlooks Venice’s Grand Canal and allows you to sit beside an Alexander Calder sculpture while enjoying one of the most pleasant scenes of rush-hour traffic on the planet.

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After our abbreviated trip to the beach, and a leisurely dinner back in Castello on Via Garibaldi, we happened across our last little art experience at the Maldives Pavilion and their Portable Nation exhibit focusing on “DISAPPEARANCE AS WORK IN PROGRESS.”   Only allowed to view the works in the entryway due to an evening private party, we were especially intrigued by the interactive work of Patrizio Travagli concerning the memory of disappearance in his piece Pantheistic-Polifacetic.

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Though difficult to see in this photo, shot in the dark, cave-like room, Travagli’s sign instructs viewers to: “1) Photograph the Mirror. 2) Email the photo to the artist.” and then provides an address to send the pictures, which ostensibly will be presented in his Tumblr Blog.

 

Also in near the entrance was a large canvas by Wael Darwesh.

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Titled The Disappearance, it projects the feeling of a passing memory not quite captured. Like a dream you try to try to remember after you wake up but can’t seem to bring into focus.

Perhaps a fitting way to end our Venetian visit? The Maldives is an island chain in the Indian Ocean being heavily threatened by the rising tides of climate change. It is realistically possible that the seas will cover the islands within the next 15 years, forcing the entire population of Asia’s smallest nation to relocate. Of course Venetians are not unfamiliar with rising waters (or sinking lands) and also face an uncertain if less urgent predicament.

So thus we finished our trip to the 55th Art Biennale. And after a sleepless night of fruitful art-making myself, we caught a 4:25 AM vaporetto and cruised the Grand Canal in the starlight one last time, before returning to the real world, where busses, planes and trains carried us to cities that do not have major art exhibits around every corner.

But alas, memories were indeed captured, and I’ll be spending the coming days and weeks recounting them right here. So stay tuned for more!

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ALL IMAGES AND TEXT COPYRIGHT 2013 BY LANCE ARAM ROTHSTEIN FOR LABEAURATOIRE.
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Pierre Lefebvre at Delire Gallery in Brussels

If you’re in the neighborhood, (possibly for the Mapplethorpe show at Xavier Hufkens) don’t miss this delightful small exhibit of paintings by Pierre Lefebvre at Delire Gallery in Brussels, running through 3, August 2013.

Lefebvre is showing some very unique paintings which really draw the eye of passers-by. They are like little windows onto a world which he has chosen to present to his audience. Only the window is one of frosted glass, and the scene isn’t a majestic landscape or remarkable event. Instead Lefebvre has chosen to present little vignettes in the every-day life of towns and cities.

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The back of a dusty billboard, a bird’s-eye view of a warehouse, a rat’s-eye view of a rubbish skip, these are the kinds of things you can vaguely recognize through the window Lefebvre has given you to look through. And you’re thankful. He makes you stop and smell the roses.

And sometimes those roses are just crumpled Belgian flags, laying in puddles on the ground after a visit from the King.

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Or the broken sign and missing poster from a Turkish advertising frame, somehow transformed into a portal of sorts, through which you might wish to pass into a peaceful, more pleasant world.

This isn’t the kind of work you see every day, so don’t miss your chance to catch this unique little exhibit.

 Pierre Lefebvre at Delire Gallery in Brussels, running through 3, August 2013.

ADDRESS
Rue de Praetere 47D
1050 Brussels, Belgium

GALLERY HOURS
Wednesday to Saturday, 1 to 6 pm

CONTACT
office(at)deliregallery.com

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Ray Johnson Fan Club ~ L.A.R. in Monmartre

RE-BLOGGED FROM:  http://rayjohnsonfanclub.com

RJFC sticker #26

RJFC Sticker #26 was completed 4/24/2013 using only trash found on the streets of Paris. I left it the same day on a bus stop sign outside the Moulin de la Galette just off Rue Lepic in Monmartre, Paris, France.

RJFC sticker #26 (left in Monmartre)

Do you LIKE me? www.facebook.com/rayjohnsonfanclub
USING TRASH OFF THE STREETS TO MAKE ART ON THE STREETS.
I use only trash and found items to collage these handmade, signed & numbered stickers. They are made to compliment my larger works which in which I use trashy paperback book covers, record & magazine covers, posters, postcards and other mass-produced media as a base for my hand-cut & paste collages, which I usually leave out on the streets for anyone to enjoy (or destroy.)

See all my stickers here!

SERIOUSLY TRASHY STREET ART!
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RUINS ~ Richard Stone & Saad Qureshi at ArtEco Gallery in London thru 18 May 2013

RUINS ~ Richard Stone & Saad Qureshi

at ArtEco Gallery in London thru 18 May 2013

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Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

While in London last week to review the major Schwitters & Lichtenstein exhibitions, I was looking for a good local pub in the Wandsworth neighborhood where I’d rented a room. (The Alma fit the bill perfectly.) There I came across a great little gallery and to my surprise they were having an opening that very night.

The ArtEco Gallery, at 533 Old York Road, is run by Kristin Hjellegjerder. It has a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere and offers a spacious, well-lit environment for viewing and socializing.

Their current show “RUINS” features the work of Richard Stone & Saad Qureshi and runs through 18, May, 2013.

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Works by Saad Qureshi on display at ArtEco Gallery.

Saad Qureshi‘s work is not easily categorized. His large, framed pieces feature intricately printed designs that are reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts, but instead of calligraphic scripture or princely portraits, the ornate designs seem to be framing something that isn’t there, or perhaps isn’t there any more.  The sooty clouds of explosive destruction suggest that the once main subject of these works has possibly been obliterated, leaving only the borders and smoke. 

Saad Qureshi “Beyond oracle and doubt” 2013
mixed media, wax pencil on giclee print 45×51 cm

They purposefully challenge the expected concepts of spacing and placement within their frames, often drawing the viewer to the edges of the work.  The multiple overprinting at first seems like someone went a bit overboard with the unsharp mask tool, but when combined with the smoke clouds, they actually give the feeling that perhaps the whole scene is still rattling from an explosion that the viewer has just missed by a matter of seconds.

More intriguing to me were Qureshi’s engravings on carbon paper.

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Persistence of memory / Untitled, I-V
Saad Qureshi 2012 carving on carbon paper

These finely worked, fragile pieces are framed between two pieces of glass that protrude out into the gallery space so they can be viewed by both sides.

Qureshi also has several other mixed media, installation-type sculptural pieces in the show.

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The work of Richard Stone really took me by surprise and I must say I became an instant fan. What on first glance may appear to be a faded, unfinished, or barely begun painting is actually a complete reworking and obscuring of an antique landscape painting. Reminiscent of Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Kooning Drawing“, these works actually go much farther and seem to investigate the very nature of existence.

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Only patches of the original paintings peek through the abrasions and the appearance is very pleasing to the eye. These ruins are genuine, and like an ancient tempra painting, unearthed from a Byzantine bath house, the viewer searches the remaining details attempting to decipher the original, secret subject matter.

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But Stone isn’t giving-up the secret. Instead we quickly give in, and are content to appreciate the results of the process as a new work of art, incorporating the past and the present together as one.

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Detail from Stone’s “days of violent light.”

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In his four-part “waiting for england” series, Stone’s destruction is almost complete, and yet the spirit of the original painting, or perhaps just our perception of the original, offers us a sense of serene perfection. The kind of perfection found in dreams or in the anticipation of a great love affair, when the real thing seldom fulfills our expectations.

Stone’s work surpasses expectations and the only thing we’re left wanting is more of it.

Stone also featured several of his obscured sculptural pieces in the show.

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Richard Stone “trophy” 2012
brass, wood & wax

On these vintage figures of porcelain, spelter, wood & brass, Stone uses a thick wax to obscure most of the details.

In a similar way to The Belvedere Torso and other ancient sculptural fragments, we’re forced to appreciate the remaining details for what they offer, and can only speculate as to what is hidden by Stone’s shroud of wax.

There are plenty of other interesting works I have not shown or discussed, so if you’re anywhere near London, take this opportunity to catch these two artists in the comfortable venue of the ArtEco Gallery before the show closes next weekend.

“RUINS” features the work of Richard Stone & Saad Qureshi and runs through 18, May, 2013.

Links:

ArtEco Gallery, at 533 Old York Road, London

Website of Richard Stone

Website of Saad Qureshi

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REVIEW: Kurt Schwitters in Britain at the Tate thru May 12 then Sprengel Museum Hanover this summer.

THIS IS YOUR LAST WEEK TO CATCH THE MAGNIFICENT KURT SCHWITTERS EXHIBITION AT TATE BRITAIN running through May 12, 2013 Before it moves on to the Sprengel Museum in Hanover scheduled for June 2, – August 25, 2013.

Photograph of the Tate Britain poster for Schwitters in Britain.

Photograph of the Tate Britain poster for Schwitters in Britain.

The name Kurt Schwitters isn’t on most people’s list of must-see artists, but when I heard about the Schwitters in Britain exhibition planned at The Tate this spring, I knew it would involve a minor pilgrimage for me. Indeed, I spent about 16 hours of budget-class travel to see the show and it was worth every cramped and smelly minute for me.

There are many controversies surrounding the life and death of this German-born artist, but this is not the place to discuss them.  Best known for his collages and “Merz” projects, Schwitters’ other works span a wide spectrum; from powerful portrait and landscape paintings to quirky poetry and enigmatic sculptures.

Unfortunately, photography of this exhibition was prohibited by The Tate so I will be referring to some works which I am unable to show here. While there are several rooms dedicated to his earlier time in Germany and Norway, this exhibition focuses sharply on the eight years Schwitters spent in Britain, from his arrival and internment in 1940, until his death on January 8, 1948, just one day after he received notification that his British citizenship had been approved.

– Pre-Britain

Kurt Schwitters was born in Hanover, Germany on June 20, 1887. He studied art in Dresden at the Royal Saxon Academy of Art and participated in several local exhibitions before serving in the German military for a short time in 1917-18.

Ja-was?-Bild  (Yes-what? Picture) by Kurt Schwitters 1920 - Oil, paper, cardboard and wood on cardboard. 89x69cm [Collection of Victor &Marianne Langen]

Ja-was?-Bild (Yes-what? Picture) by Kurt Schwitters  Germany 1920
Oil, paper, cardboard & wood on cardboard. 89x69cm
[Collection of Victor &Marianne Langen]

After withdrawing from military service to focus on his artwork, Schwitters came in contact with members of the German avant-garde and was influenced by Cubism, de Stijl, Futurism, the Dadaists, and members of the Bauhaus school. His work was included in several international exhibitions.

It was during these formative years of 1918-21, that Schwitters began his collage and assemblage work and also delved into the world of poetry. He also refined and explained his new artistic concept of “Merz;” “… the combination, for artistic purposes of all conceivable materials,” and after his first solo show in April 1921 at Galerie der Sturm, in Berlin, he started to publish a Merz periodical to document the development of the movement.

In the 1920s and 30s, Kurt Schwitters’ star rose sharply.  After starting his notorious “sound poem”  Ursonate, he exhibited and traveled throughout Europe and associated with many of the cutting-edge artistic minds of his time, including Max Ernst, Oskar Schlemmer, Hannah Höch, Raoul Hausmann, Hans Arp, Nelly and Theo van Doesburg, Tristan Tzara, El Lissitzky, André Breton, Piet Mondrian, Walter Gropius and Lázló Moholy-Nagy.

It was also during this time that he began a structural assemblage of Merz Columns that would eventually evolve into six whole rooms of his Hanover apartment, and later entire buildings of assembled and arranged items he called Merzbau. These structures became an underlying obsession for Schwitters throughout his life.

Kurt Schwitters, Merzbau Hanover - a partial view from 1933 (destroyed in 1943)  Photo from Sprengel Museum Hanover © Photographer: William Redemann

Kurt Schwitters, Merzbau Hanover – a partial view from 1933 (destroyed in 1943) Photo from Sprengel Museum Hanover
© Photographer: William Redemann

With his family in 1932, Schwitters visited the Norwegian island of Hjertøya and there he began a small Merzbau which he continued to develop through 1939.  Back home in Germany, the rising Nazi Party included Schwitters in their Degenerate Art exhibition touring the country. Today, the official Nazi list of Degenerate Artists reads like a Who’s Who of brilliant creatives, but at the time, it was a sign that Schwitters was becoming unwelcome in his own country.

In 1937, Schwitters took the opportunity to emigrate to Norway and moved in with his son Ernst. During this time, his wife Helma was able to transfer some of his major artworks to Norway from Germany, where the Nazis had confiscated a number of his pieces from museums. The natural beauty of Western Norway prompted Schwitters to paint many landscapes there and these naturally evolved into landscape-inspired abstracts and assemblages. In the 1937 oil on plywood painting “Mz. Oslo Fjord” (on display), Schwitters captured the spirit of the unique Norwegian coastline in a maelstrom of sharp strokes and reflective hues. He also completed several portraits there before his German countrymen finally invaded in April of 1940 and Schwitters made passage to Scotland on an ice-breaker with his son and daughter-in-law.

– The British Years

As were thousands of Germans and Austrians fleeing the war, Schwitters was deemed an “enemy alien” upon arrival, and was set for internment. The Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man came to be known as The Artist’s Camp because, in addition to Schwitters, there were a significant number of other talented souls held there, from virtually every branch of the arts .

Kurt Schwitters, Untitled 1941 (Roofs of Houses in Douglas, Isle of Man) Oil on Linoleum 38.7x43.7cm Kurt and Ernst Schwitters Stiftnung on loan to Sprengel Museum Hanover

Kurt Schwitters, Untitled 1941 (Roofs of Houses in Douglas, Isle of Man)
Oil on Linoleum 38.7×43.7cm
Kurt and Ernst Schwitters Stiftnung on loan to Sprengel Museum Hanover

It has been proven time and again that restrictions breed creativity and this was also true for Schwitters. During his 16 months of captivity, he used the meager supplies provided to capture the camp’s surroundings in stark detail. He also took the opportunity to paint striking portraits of some of his fellow artist friends at the camp.

Kurt Schwitters Untitled (Portrait of Fred Uhlman), 1940 Oil on wood 1000 x 730 mm Hatton Gallery: Great North Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne

Kurt Schwitters Untitled (Portrait of Fred Uhlman) 1940
Oil on wood 1000 x 730 mm
Hatton Gallery: Great North Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne

Additionally, as he so often had, Schwitters continued to collect the bits and pieces of life discarded by others and assembled them into poignant works of art. These pieces seem even more meaningful when we learn they were the remnants of an internment camp, a necessary evil in the greater, unnecessary evil of war. In his Untitled 1940 piece (glass flower), Schwitters transformed a sharp, jagged-edged shard of broken glass, into an etherial, translucent blossom, standing strong against it’s unnatural surroundings. Not unlike the artist himself.

Kurt Schwitters Untitled assemblage 1940 (Glass Flower) 77.5 x 67.5 x 25.5 cm Ludwig Collection

Kurt Schwitters Untitled assemblage 1940 (Glass Flower) 77.5 x 67.5 x 25.5 cm Ludwig Collection

Upon his release in 1941, Schwitters settled in London where he met Edith Thomas who would later become his companion. His work was immediately influenced by these new surroundings. No longer restricted to the items found in the confines of the camp, the everyday minutiae of life in a world metropolis found their way into his art.

Kurt Schwitters  Untitled (This is to Certify that) 1942 Kunsthalle Mannheim

Kurt Schwitters Untitled (This is to Certify that) 1942
Kunsthalle Mannheim

Despite his newfound enthusiasm and new friendships with British artists such as Ben Nicholson and Herbert Read, Schwitters’ fame and recognition would slowly but steadily decline during his years in Britain. This was certainly not due to a lack of production or innovation.

After numerous international exhibitions that included his paintings, assemblages and live poetry readings, Schwitters began making small “hand-sized” sculptures and found great satisfaction in them. But bad things come in threes, and the years of 1943 and 44 brought a trio of tragedies for the, now 56 year-old artist. His first Merzbau in Hanover was destroyed by bombing and his wife Helma, who had been caring for their elderly parents back in Germany, died of Cancer. Schwitters looked for solace in his work but even that was hindered by a temporary paralysis brought on by the stroke he suffered in April of 1944.

Recovery came relatively quickly and by December of 1944 he held a substantial solo show at The Modern Art Gallery in London. Thirty-nine works were exhibited including ten of his new small sculptures.

Several of these, and later “hand-sized”  pieces are on display in this Tate exhibit.

Kurt Schwitters Untitled (Togetherness) c.1945
219 x 75 x 70 mm
Tate Collection lent by Geoff Thomas 1991 on long term loan

They seem to express a slight sense of unease. Perhaps after enduring war, captivity, destruction, debilitation, and the death of a loved one, making a monumental sculpture or composition seemed a bit far-reaching? These are works of art you could set on a nightstand to watch over you as you sleep, or cradle in your arms as you cross national borders on a dreary night.

Though the Tate museum strictly forbids it, these small works in wood, plaster and found objects, beg to be touched, concealed, comforted. One piece is simply a rock, painted wistfully with faded colors, and like the bowerbird that Schwitters was himself, I desperately wanted to put it in my pocket and secret it away to decorate my personal lair.

In 1945 Schwitters moved with Edith Thomas to Ambleside in the picturesque Lake District, and just as the items of the city streets had infiltrated his art in London, the items of the natural world took precedence in these new, serene surroundings. Schwitters called on his early training and painted quaint country landscapes and local landmarks to sell to tourists.

Kurt Schwitters Untitled (Bridge House) 1945
Oil on cardboard 255 x 191.5 mm
Courtesy of The Armitt Trust, Ambleside on short term loan

But even these paintings had a feeling of assemblage to them, as if each brush stroke were a colored matchstick, carefully put in it’s perilous place, joining with the others to form the familiar image.  But Schwitters’ collage work didn’t take a vacation during this time. Though he was physically secluded, he was still corresponding regularly with friends and colleagues in the art centers of the world and participating in exhibitions as well. And with the growing prevalence of print advertising and Schwitters’ fondness for English words, his collages inevitably became adorned with these pre-Pop images.

Kurt Schwitters, EN MORN, 1947
Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013

1946 and 47 brought more health issues for Schwitters, but a second stroke, a broken leg and an asthma attack, didn’t dampen his resolve. At 60 years old, with financial assistance from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he embarked on his final Merzbau; an abandoned barn on an Elterwater estate. Schwitters had now worked on his Merzbau structures in each of the three countries he lived in. Although he had previously proclaimed each of them to be “finished,” he actually continued working on both until he was forced to abandon them. And this one would be no different.  He had gathered some of the remnants of the rural farm, part of a cart wheel, some sticks and stones, to help form a nature-inspired plaster structure, when his work would be interrupted yet again. Only this time is wasn’t angry politicians or invading armies. On July 17, 1947, Schwitters was struck by a hemorrhage and later admitted to Kendal hospital where he would eventually die of an acute pulmonary adema and myocarditis on January 8, just one day after being notified that his application for British Citizenship was scheduled for approval.

Kurt Schwitters had virtually fallen off the art world’s radar by the time he passed away, but as it did with so many great ones before him, his true genius and prolific legacy rose through the years to be counted among the masters of Modern Art.

The meager beginnings of his final Merz Barn were removed and in 1966, were installed at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle where it can still be seen today, but there are so many other treasures in this Schwitters in Britain exhibit, I implore you to see it for yourself. If not at The Tate before May 12, 2013, then head over to Hanover and catch the second act at the Sprengel Museum where it’s scheduled scheduled for June 2, – August 25, 2013.

LINKS:

Tate Britain

Sprengel Museum Hanover

Hatton Gallery in Newcastle

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all text © Lance Aram Rothstein 2013


First 3 Disc Stickers Ready for Barcelona

20121222 3 disc stickers

I’ve decided to apply my trashy collage to some CD labels to use as stickers. I’ve never seen it done before, but it seemed so obvious to use the stack of ready-made labels in that shape that is instantly recognizable as a CD/DVD. Each one is hand-cut and pasted using only trash and found materials. Each is also hand signed and stamped. “PAY NO ATTENTION TO Ray Johnson Fan Club .com” I’ll be posting these up in Barcelona next week and making a few more while I’m there as well as my usual Album Cover collages.

Later I plan to actually collage on some CDs themselves and have some original art on them digitally.
Stay tuned! at www.rayjohnsonfanclub.com