Monthly Archives: August 2011

An Evening with Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson by Madeleine Grynsztejn                                 Phaidon Press (2002) Paperback

I am not familiar with the this artist but the structural cover, with its swirl of iron beams, draws me in. Eliasson is a contemporary artist, which makes me brace myself for a trip down the rabbit hole. I associate contemporary art with crazy installations and hard to follow avant-garde ideas that don’t seem fully developed, as I always have trouble appreciating those installations, like Feldmann’s $100,000 room at the Guggenheim (If I had $100,000 I think I could make a statement about money much more creatively than just hanging it up everywhere). This book is great for people not too familiar with contemporary art though, it is set up a bit differently than most books about an artist. Eliasson starts with an interview with the artist himself, followed by a survey of his works by a curator, then an essay about one of his major works (actually a series of photographs), next the ‘artist’s choice’ (an essay about art in general by Henri Bergson entitled ‘Creative Evolution’, and last the artist’s own explanation of his art. This book is part of a series on contemporary artists and offers multiple perspectives on Eliasson and art. The different sections help to form a discussion and full-circle view of the artist and his ideas. It takes a while to digest it all but it’s the closest I’ve come to wrapping my head around a contemporary artist. I believe it is one of the best ways to begin to understand contemporary art as a whole. You have to look at it as more than just a single piece of art but as a a whole sort of philosophy, and all that is compiled stylishly in this book. It is a comprehensive, eye-opening read.

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Marvelous Munch

Munch by Ulrich Bischoff    Taschen (1992)

This book’s design , especially the bright red front flap with a quote by Munch, really brings the reader in. At least, I’m incredibly charmed by it. There are full page, all the way to the very edge of the page sometimes, glossy color reproductions of Munch’s works, it’s great.

The introduction emphasizes how important Munch’s history and journey are as an artist in appreciating his paintings and I couldn’t agree more. Death and illness haunted Munch throughout his life, his mother died when he was five, his sister died when he was fourteen, and his father died while he was an artist in Paris in 1889. His own work has a haunting feeling to it, and holds a lot of that fear of losing those Munch loved. Comparisons of Munch’s paintings with other works done by artists he admired allows for a detailed analysis and comparison of both.

The next section is about Munch’s aspiration to include ‘every aspect of human existence in one painting’, known as the ‘Frieze of Life’, covering how Munch comes into his own style. It includes separate quotes from Munch in the corners of the margins, allowing for a greater grasp of the thought behind his pieces (again kudos on the design of the book). The next section covers portraits, landscapes and self-portraits.

My main qualm with this book is the organization. It’s a bit here-and-there confusing, much like stumbling into different rooms in a museum without a map. It’s not as cohesive as I would like. However, the pictures are gorgeous, the text comprehensive, and Munch’s story is all there. Since the narrative jumps around there is a timeline at the back of the book, complete with black and white photos so, problem pretty much solved!

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Another Aesthetic, Musical Theatre

I was recently introduced to musical theatre this summer through my theatre major flat-mates. Theatre is another form of art, especially musical theatre, and this clip from Anything Goes really blows my mind as far color composition and theme. The musical element adds another layer to the overall experience of the audiences. It makes me wonder how all mediums of art (literary, performing, and visual arts) are connected and appreciated and why and how such forms of expression came about. They all seem to be related and can be judged on a relatively similar scale; taking the history of the performance, directors, actors and actresses into account can deepen a viewing experience just as knowing the history of an artist can deepen the appreciation of a painting. But for what purpose do we have such sensibilities?


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An Engaging Account From a Life of Looking

About Looking by John Berger                                                     Vintage (1992) Paperback

From the disappointing experience of looking at an animal in a zoo (compared to gazing in it’s eyes face to face) to insights on photography and artistry this book is a great jumping off point for many discussions about art. For inspiration, look no further than About Looking, with its vignettes on various artists, from Magritte to Romaine Lorquet, to short reflections on other more mundane things to be seen, like fields, it truly nudges the reader into seeing things from a different perspective. My favorite essay would have to be one on Giacometti’s work before and after his death. Berger claims that when Giacometti was alive, viewing his work was seeing his own process of isolation, his gaze and considerations of the irrelevance of society. After his death however the work no longer represents his way of living but the viewers own, since you know he is dead, you ‘take his place’ while gazing. Berger’s insights on art and looking at it are beautifully written, humorous, and engaging. Each essay is sure to brighten your day and/or deepen your perspective!

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Rodin, A Romantic Read

Rodin (World of Art) by Bernard Champigneulle                  Thames & Hudson (1999) Paperback

I love Rodin! I love his work and reading about his love affair with his student and protege Camille Claudel, it is just too juicy to ignore. So, I was happy to find this cute little stylish black book and even more overjoyed by the foreword. Champigneulle writes a very touching personal account of his own induction into the art world involving Rodin’s sculpture. He sees writing this book as repaying a debt he owed to Rodin for showing him how art can tap into something deeper within people. That deep affection for the artist comes out in each page of Rodin.

There’s a lot of text in this book, but Champigneulle’s engaging tone holds the reader through this detailed biography, which chronicles many of Rodin’s works through different periods in his life. How and why each work was created is fully explained along with Rodin’s inspiration at the time. Champigneulle discusses Rodin’s sculpture lyrically allowing for smooth transitions of reading and looking at Rodin’s work. Overall it’s a great biography, the author’s appreciation for the artist carries straight through to the reader. Rodin Museum in Philidelphia, here I come!

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Collage Conundrum

Along with reading about and looking at art, I occasionally take it upon myself to see what I can do as an artist, namely collages. I make collages mostly while watching television and get my inspiration from whatever magazine is handy (and no one minds me furiously snipping away at).

So here are a couple! Titles included. My question is, is this art? There was definitely a process and thought went into where each snippet would end up, yet I have trouble seeing it as art, as it’s more of a hobby than an artistic endeavor. What do you think, art or craft?

Dog on Head

Tree of Monty Python

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Who knew? O’Keeffe and Frank Lloyd Wright, A Delightful Duo

Frank Lloyd Wright/Georgia O’Keeffe: Duets by Llorenc Bonet   Harper Design International (2004) Paperback

This book was a surprising discovery, an architect and an artist with two seemingly distinct styles mixed together on the same pages?! Crazy. Not so much though, Bonet assures us in the introduction that these people are ‘two pioneers of US art’, in that they never joined avant-garde or fashionable movements happening in Europe. Instead they determined to create their own course in creating, and in doing so reflected the art and style of a nation, the United States.

The structure of this book lends to the melding of ideas that created both Wright’s and O’Keefe’s iconic styles. Bonet starts with a section on only Wright and his ‘turbulent private life’, letting the reader know they are in for an adventure, accompanied by gorgeous glossy photos of Wright’s architecture. There is a lovely assortment of Wright’s work with many photos detailing different angles of each of Wright’s houses, along with clear descriptions of how it was made, increasing my appreciation of the artist’architect’s skill. Bonet’s writing makes for easy, smooth reading and a firm grasp on Wright’s concepts and style.

The middle of the book is filled with side-by-side comparisons of O’Keefe and Wright showing both artists had visions of open space, and had a deep connection with nature. Here is where I’m most enthralled. I would never have put these two artists together but I’m glad Harper Design did. Both artists accomplished phenomenal pieces in their careers and their visions are distinct yet hold the same ideas and feelings behind them. The artists seem to have gone through similar hardships in their lives, and both take inspiration from many of the same things.

The next section is a biography of O’Keeffe and some of her paintings and processes are explained. This section is just as comprehensive as the first about Wright. Overall this book was an eye-opening fun run through great art, showing how many different possibilities can be taken from the same source of inspiration. What great range art encompasses!

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The Art Question (still remains largely unanswered)

the Art Question by Nigel Warburton     Routledge (2003) Paperback

While the design of this book is appealing, with the French flaps and the minimalistic frame cover, the content was somewhat disappointing. Warburton begins by going over some seemingly ‘incorrect’ ways of defining art, which sort of put me off and made me wonder if Warburton will ever write about a ‘correct’ way to approach art at all. After trudging through a long back and forth of tiresome refutations between many philosophers about the art question, I finally come to Warburton’s answer, which is largely that the art question is ‘not answerable’ and better left to be thought of individually. So to each his own, and it’s a great compilation of historical thoughts about art, but I feel a bit duped. Why did I spend so much time reading when I could have been looking at art and coming up with a theory that applies to only myself, as Warburton encourages his readers to do? Great design, but a bit misleading. I think the answer to the art question can be found, and applied, not in speculation so much, but in why people continue to invest time and energy in looking at art, with less analyzing of many art critics’ back and forth bantering, and more delving into the facts of mass art appreciation and why.

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Hogarth by Mark Hallet                                                                       Phaidon Press (2001) Paperback

I’ve never really seen Hogarth’s work, although I have heard of him as he is ‘the most celebrated English painter and engraver of his day’, his day being 18th century London. Stumbling upon this book, however, has invested a much deeper appreciation for Hogarth and artists of his time within me. Before reading this book I regarded art during this time period and time periods past as relegated to portraits and other such whims of the rich and powerful, like religious paintings. Upon further exposure though I’ve found many of Hogarth’s engravings and paintings provocative, indicative of a point of view of the artist and truly able to make a statement from the artist’s own train of thought.

‘The Lady’s Last Stake’ (1759), a painting of Hogarth’s featured in the book, in particular I find humorous and endearing, not to mention the rich colors and textures (the wallpaper, her dress, the intricately welded clock) involved are gorgeously reproduced upon the book’s full-color glossy pages. Hallet describes the backstory to the painting clearly, allowing for better appreciation of a Londoner’s wit and humor during that time period. Overall Hallet covers Hogarth’s life gracefully and with charm and I feel I have a good handle on this artist’s repertoire with the paintings and etchings Hallet has chosen to reproduce in this book.

Did I mention Hogarth has French book flaps? They’re ideal for marking the pages of your favorite painting. The design of the book is modern yet leads to the historical context that comes along with Hogarth’s art. The text is dark brown, which I rather liked, it lent to something I imagine to be a late 18th century feel, reminding the reader of wood. Hallett also mentions Steve Bell’s satirical cartoons as a modern reference to Hogarth’s art, further answering that ever present itch of a question, why is this artist still relevant to the art world today. Well, satire will always have a place in art and entertainment, and that element is sprinkled throughout Hogarth’s work. This book was a quick but comprehensive glance into 18th century art and it was an enjoyable read!

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Toulouse-Lautrec: Scenes of the Night

Toulouse-Lautrec: Scenes of the Night by Claire Freches-throy and Jose Freches                        Harry N. Abrams (1994) Paperback

Flipping through this book, I enjoy it with only the brief historical background I know of Lautrec, which is, that he was a dwarf, an outcast who painted primarily other outcasts, those employees of Moulin Rouge. In Scenes of the Night these paintings/depictions are in full gloss color. I love the expression Lautrec paints in the ladies, and the movement and liveliness of the the dance halls in general. This book contrasts his paintings with historical photographs as well, which is fun. I appreciate the paintings more though, because I like to imagine Lautrec sketching in the club. I can feel the music and dancing though the paintings, while the photos in contrast may be more technically accurate but remain dully still.

His lithographs are also shown in full color, which only makes me admire Lautrec’s skill as an artist/designer more. The posters are incredibly original, the text flowing with the images.

I consider pieces by Lautrec true art because he lived art, devoted his life to it, and the thought and effort he put into all his prints and paintings is expressed through his pieces, brilliantly reflecting that historical period. What a lovely book!

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