Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cross-Cultural Similarities

I am really not convinced that aliens came to Earth in ancient times and seeded cultures with the same aesthetic ideas, despite programs on NatGeo or TLC that still propose such scenarios, comparing the pyramids in Central America to those in Egypt. I prefer to rely on the idea of “simultaneous development of ideas,” finding it much more plausible that the influence of ancient Greek sculpture was transmitted to Cambodian artists by Indian artists of the Gupta period. While acquiring images of artwork from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I came across this stunning sculpture and thought I’d show you a comparison that may have some wondering if the ancient Egyptians ever visited Southeast Asia!

Early Cambodian art was under the influence of southern China. Cambodian art is perhaps primarily most famous for the large, holy mountain-type temples such as Angkor Wat (ca. 1100–1150). However, the sculptural style that emerged as a result of wave after wave of Indian influence is, perhaps, unique in Southeast Asia. Beginning in the third century ce, there were important contacts by sea with India. After the fourth century, monumental sculpture appeared in both Cambodia and Thailand, based initially on the Gupta style (ca. 320–647 ce). The Gupta Period style was characterized by an elegant refinement of facial features and gestures, but also a strong frontal orientation. Cambodian art ceased to evolve for all intents and purposes in the fifteenth century after Thailand military power crushed Angkor and scattered other religious communities.

Hinduism and Buddhism were imported in to Cambodia at this time. There was a synthesis of Hinduism and Buddhism into a uniquely Cambodian religion called Devaraja, the cult of the God-King. Hinduism was by far the strongest influence from India. This sculpture shows the fusion of Buddhist iconography with Hindu stylistic tendencies. The head of this Buddha, with its diadem of incised decoration and pointed top knot, along with incised lines for eyes and mustache, is typical of Cambodian god figures, seen in heads of Vishnu and Siva as well. The mysterious smile on the Buddha’s face, also typical of Cambodian sculpture, is sometimes called the Angkor Smile

Compare this Buddhist figure with that of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Menkaure, builder of one of the Great Pyramids in Giza. Although almost 3100 years separate the two sculptures, there are striking similarities with the rigid frontality, the generalized anatomy, and the placement of one leg moving forward. This style of male or female figure in Egypt endured for thousands of years, and was codified because such sculptures served a sacred, funerary purpose. The Cambodian Bodhisattva was more of a celebratory figure that would adorn a temple to be seen by worshipers.

Ancient EgyptMenkaure and Khamer-Ernesty II, 2490-2472 BCE, greywacke, 142.2 x 57.1 x 55.2 cm (56 x 22 1/2 x 21 3/4”)  © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston  (MFAB-36)

Activity: Stuffed sculpture. Draw a wide body shape that represents either a self-portrait or portrait of an imaginary person, making sure that it is a wide body shape. Cut around the edges. Trace the shape onto another piece of paper and cut it out, placing it under the original shape. Color in the face and clothes using markers or crayons. Close all the edges but one with glue or staples. Stuff with crumpled up paper then close the last edge.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 2.9-10 studio exploration; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 5.29; Explorations in Art Grade 3 1.3-4 studio exploration, 3.16; : Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.3-4 studio exploration; A Global Pursuit: 1.4, 8.5; Exploring Visual Design: 2, 7, 12; The Visual experience: 10.2, 13.3, 15.3; Discovering Art History: 4.5, 5.3

Monday, October 22, 2012

Epiphany of the Week

Just when I’m in danger of becoming cynical that there is very little in the art world that has not yet been done, I come upon this amazing artist: Eva Hild. This is my epiphany of the week (yes, I have those every week). Her work is so exquisite, so delicate, and yet so forceful, I would just like you all to contemplate on it. Aside from its organic nature, it sort of sums up the idea of “positive and negative space” in an amazing way.

The evolution of ceramic as fine art sculpture began in the early 1900s with such artists as Joan Miró (1893–1983) and Jean Arp (1888–1966), and Peter Voulkos (1904–2002) in the 1940s. It has come full circle in the sculptures of Eva Hild. Hild is known for her ceramic sculptures in highly finished white stoneware. Her work emphasizes her ideas about the coalescence of inner and outer pressures, executed in highly organic shapes. They reflect the angst of the 21st century, in which monetary, societal, and political pressures affect everyone. They also reflect the idea that the inner and outer worlds of human beings are connected through forms that effortlessly define positive and negative space. Hild’s organic shapes always sway in circular movements.

Hild lives and works in southwest Sweden. She studied at the School of Design in Gothenburg. Her technique is comprised of painstaking hand-building of forms. She slowly expands the form without use of an armature. When the work is dry she polishes it with sandpaper to achieve a smooth surface and incredibly defined lines. After the first firing, she polishes it further and then fires it again at 1200 degrees Celsius (roughly 500 degrees). The last step is to coat the works with silicate, a compound that is the base of glass and bricks.

Other artists who come to mind when looking at Hild’s work:

Ruth Duckworth (born 1919, Britain/US), Untitled, 1975. Porcelain, height: 14cm. Courtesy the artist. (8S-19413)

Jean Arp (1887–1966, France), Human Concretion, replica of 1937 work, cast 1949. Cast stone, 49.5 x 47.6 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2012 Estate of Jean Art / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.(MOMA-S1137ajars)

Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975, Britain), Hollow Form, 1955–1956. Lagos wood, partly painted, 90 x 66 x 65 cm without base. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2012 Estate of Barbara Hepworth. (MOMA-S1027)

Fulvio Bianconi (1915–1996, Italy) with Venini Company (form 1921–1997, Murano, Italy), Fazzoletto Vase 1949. Blown glass, height: 26 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Estate of Fulvio Bianconi. (MOMA-D0654)  

Jacques Lipchitz (1891–1973, Lithuania / US), Reclining Nude with Guitar, 1928. Marble, 41.6 x 70.3 x 34.3 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Estate of Jacques Lipchitz. (MOMA-S0755)  

Kazuo Yagi (1918–1979, Japan), A Cloud Remembered, 1959. Ceramic, 22.6 x 21.5 x 24.8 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Estate of Kazuo Yagi. (MOMA-S1190) 

Sugiura Yasuyoshi (born 1949, Japan), Fallen Camellia Flower, 2009. Glazed stoneware, 12.7 x 11.4 x 8.9 cm. Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. © Sugiura Yasuyoshi. (WAM-823)  

Correlations to Davis programs: A Personal Journey: 9.4; Exploring Visual Design: 1, 2, 12

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Art on the body: Jewelry

Jewelry is one of those art forms that had previously been lumped under the designation “craft,” which you all know I hate, or decorative arts (not much better).  The consideration of jewelry as fine art began during the Art Nouveau movement (flourished ca. 1885–1920) through the period of the Bauhaus in Germany (ca. 1919–1933). It blossomed during the mid-1900s when artists such as Pablo Picasso (1883–1971) and Alexander Calder (1898–1976) designed jewelry. Art Nouveau emphasized the merging of art with design, and Bauhaus continued that idea. The period of Picasso and Calder was a time when “fine” artists branched out in all directions. Jewelry artists finally achieved status as “fine art” in the 1950s and 1960s, the same period when ceramics and textiles also became recognized as something more than “craft.”

In the mid-1900s, in Padua, Italy, a school of goldsmiths and jewelers developed that eventually attained international renown for its avant-garde designs. While the “school” was rooted in Renaissance ideals of geometry and formal and technical emphasis, its training accommodated those artists who wanted to expand on the foundation of its teachings. Annamaria Zanella, trained in Padua as a sculptor, also studied in Pforzheim in Germany, where she learned enameling.

Although Zanella has used the geometric emphasis of Paduan design, she creates Deconstructivist works that defy the logic and symmetry of classical design. Deconstructivism is a term used for works of art and architecture that defy the classical norms of balance, symmetry, and geometry that was so pounded into everyone’s head during the Renaissance. Interestingly, Zanella’s work reflects a similar aesthetic to that of Frank Gehry (born 1929, a Deconstructivist architect) in his architecture

Frank Gehry, Guggenheim Museum, 1991–1997. Bilbao, Spain. © 2012 Frank Gehry. (8S-29748)
When you think about the classical ideals of balance in nature being rooted in basic geometric shapes, and how that has carried through many periods in Western art, Zanella’s pieces art not that radical. They are beautifully rational and pleasing. The artist also uses many types of discarded materials, including garbage, tin, paper, etc.

Studio activity: Design and make a pendant. Using cardboard, aluminum foil, glitter, glue, and markers, make an abstract pendant to wear. Think of a design for the pendant, either geometric or organic, and draw the design on the cardboard, cutting out the shape with scissors. Cut out shapes in different colors of construction paper and aluminum foil to decorate it. Finish decorating by coloring areas with markers.

Correlations to Davis programs:   Explorations in Art Grade 2: 2.11, Explorations in Art Grade 3: 4.1

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Color, Color, Color

I know that the art historical term Post-Modern is meant to designate art after the “modernist” period (starting in the early 1900s and ending in the 1960s).  But, that really doesn’t speak to me of art I’m seeing in galleries now. What do we call art of today? I am of the belief that we should try and stop labeling works of art with the category “style.” Peter Halley’s work is hit with the stylistic term “Neo-Geo” (Neo-Geometric Abstraction, essentially Neo-Minimalism).  As you all know, I’m a sucker for color.  We recently added this work and I have to say that it‘s awesome! What’s even more awesome is the artist’s consideration of society in the 2000s. It’s one of those summations of the insular nature of our lives in the 21st century.

Halley was born in New York and received degrees from Yale and the University of New Orleans, where he taught. In the 1980s his work The Grave was the beginning of an exploration of geometric forms reminiscent of Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman (1905–1970). Halley’s works starting in the 1990s, often in day-glow colors, elicit a sense of isolation and alienation seen in the work of many artists of the early 2000s. At the same time, the vibrant color gives the work a sense of joy. I realize the Halley’s interpretation of contemporary society is one of isolated, cold, disconnected masses, but, his work is instrumental in reasserting that even in such times, beauty emerges, and his work is a perfect example. Color rules!

Let’s look at works from the mid-1900s in which personal statement seemed to be nullified, for instance the Homage to the Square works of Josef Albers (1888–1976). I’m sorry, but I see blatant love of color harmonies in his work. Also, let’s look at some works by Ad Reinhardt (1913–1967). I so love his work and the color harmonies are sometimes so subtle! What separates these artists from Halley is their emphasis on disconnection from any human emotion, though I might add, I get emotionally excited by their works!

Joseph Albers, Temprano from Homage to the Square, 1957. The Phillips Collection. © 2012 The Estate of Joseph Albers/The Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.  
Ad Reinhardt, No. 15, 1952. Albright-Knox Art Gallery. © 2012 The Estate of Ad Reinhardt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

While many people see Minimalism as a stark, cold expression, I see it as a vibrant form of the expression of the artist’s convictions about art being, sometimes, a thesis on color, shape, or form. And if these are the artists’ convictions, what makes such works any less compelling emotionally? I sure get teary-eyed looking at Halley’s gorgeous work.

Studio activity:  Geometric shapes that express an idea. On an 11" x 8 1/2" piece of heavy paper, using acrylic or watercolor paint, create a non-objective painting that expresses a point of view. Think carefully about what the main idea is, and choose geometric shapes (square, circle, triangle, rectangle, etc.) that could possibly express the idea. Make sure to choose colors to heighten the feeling about the idea of the work. It might be interesting to mount the whole class’s works on the wall side by side to see if the geometric images create a visual rhythm.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 4: 6.35; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.25; A Global Pursuit; 9.4; Exploring Visual Design: 1, 4, 11; The Visual Experience: 16.8; Discovering Art History: 17.6

Monday, October 1, 2012

Trade Cards

Davis Art Images has acquired over 150 trade cards, mostly from the 1800s, from the collection of the Winterthur Museum in Winterthur, Delaware (and we’re still in the process of cataloging all of them). Trade cards were essentially the descendant of broadsides from the 1700s, and they are the ancestor of the modern business card. I just wish contemporary business cards could be this interesting!  Wouldn’t you love to have an image like the above trade card on your business card, or any image pertaining to what you do as a job? Who knows the whacky images I would have on my business card as a curator/art historian!

Trade cards were distributed in businesses by salespersons or even by kids standing outside of businesses. They advertised every conceivable type of business and service. I often think of some of the designs as miniature posters, since color lithography became the prime medium for posters starting in the 1870s. Many are amazingly inventive in shape and design. My favorite from this group is the Columbia Bicycle card (view the reverse, as well). It demonstrates the range of tonalities possible with the recently developed color lithographic process.

Lithography became the primary advertising medium after the 1860s, because it produced multiple copies of an image from a stone rather than a plate that needed to be carved. That meant that the artist producing the print merely had to draw it on the stone in a waxy medium that attracted the ink. Color lithography replaced wood engraving as the primary medium for illustrating magazines and newspapers, as well as for producing posters, advertisements, and trade cards. Color lithography required multiple stones, a different one for each color (much like color woodcut prints). Thus, often the registration of the different colors is not always spot on.  It was, however, an easy way to produce hundreds, if not thousands, of duplicates of an original drawing.

In the 1800s, lithography was the main form of communication (before the telephone of course). Many artists produced color lithographs of their paintings to advertise their work. I think, in many ways, these trade cards from the 1800s are a brilliant salute to the lithographic medium, many of which feature outstanding compositions.

Activity: Design an advertising (trade) card for an imaginary business. Think up a business that sells a certain product and design a trade card using color pencils, markers, or design software. Try to choose a business that sells contemporary merchandise such as computers, MP3 players, or tablets. Also consider choosing a service such as internet provider, auto dealer, or cable provider. Make sure to include details that highlight the value of the product the business sells, after looking at this array of trade cards from the Winterthur Museum.