Thursday, June 30, 2011

Extreme Conceptual Art

These two panels show only small parts of the
New Year  Mail Piece (top) and Spring Mail Piece.
With the Mail Piece Project, I had thought I was producing some interesting conceptual art. The project was conceived as a series of multiple originals, created by me, in collaboration with the United States Post Office and my subscribers. So far, a New Year Mail Piece and a Spring Mail Piece have been completed. I currently am at work on the Summer Mail Piece.

But now I see that by actually laboring to produce a series of physical objects, I have fallen short of the full potential of conceptual art.

I have been shown the light by a recent article in Newsweek, Blake Gopnik's "Buying Art You Can't Take Home." 

This Newsweek photo by
Lucy Hogg shows art collectors
Aaron and Barbara Levine at
Art Basel, with unidentified
dealers, and a physical signifi-
cation of their purchase from
Lawrence Weiner.
I have to say, one lives in an interesting world when it apparently makes sense to pay large amounts of money for the idea of--for one example--a museum guard "slowly removing every shred of his clothes." (Gopnik reports that this "work" was purchased by Marc and Josee Gensollens of Marseilles from conceptual artist Tino Sehgal, but "has come alive only when they've 'lent' it to museums.")

The practical Midwestern girl in me can't help feeling that--naked museum guards notwithstanding (do their contracts now have to include a nudity clause?)--there's a major "Emperor's New Clothes" element at work in this type of art.  As long as we all agree to studiously suspend our disbelief, irrespective of how wide the gulfs of "you've-got-to-be-kidding-me" we must span, then we have art.

Somehow, I just can't see it playing well in the artistic universe I inhabit.  Does that make the art buyers I know less "sophisticated" . . . or just less gullible?

If I pay $100,000 for the idea of the Brooklyn Bridge, have I actually been "taken," or am I simply an art patron?  Perhaps the test lies in whether or not I can "lend" it to museums, after my purchase.

Just as ice-climbing is
considered an Extreme
Sport, perhaps Sehgal,
Weiner, and others are
pioneers of Extreme Art.
I can see some advantages to this kind of art, though.  Insurance might be interesting to purchase, but the studio-space requirements would not be excessive.  I certainly would have fewer laundry issues.  Getting ideas splattered all over my clothes would leave far fewer stains than ink, paint, clay, or other more material art media.

Those risks might be minimized, but I can't help wondering how truly brave the pioneers of this kind of art must have been, to seriously stand up in public among the avant gard of the art world, and propose that their patrons lay out hundreds of thousands for their "works."

How courageous, in turn, must an art buyer be, to lay out money like that, then go home and (try to) explain to their friends about this wonderful artwork they just bought?  (of course, it is guaranteed not to clash with the couch).

Wikipedia defines "Extreme Sport" as "a popular term for certain activities perceived as having a high level of inherent danger, and . . . counter-cultural."  I truly think that this kind of artwork, which is definitely not for the faint-of-heart or the uncommitted, really should qualify as "Extreme" Art.

PHOTOS: The two panels from the New Year and Spring Mail Pieces are my own work; the photo by Lucy Hogg is from Newsweek; the ice-climbing photo is courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wondrously Lost in Water Lilies

I am certainly not the first artist to get my imagination tangled up in water lilies, and I doubt I'll be the last.  But certainly one of the most amazing intersections of water lilies and art came through Claude Monet.

Monet is particularly on my mind right now, because I took advantage of a rare opportunity last weekend: I  went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City to experience in person the reunification of The Agapanthus Triptych.

This photo shows the current Kansas City installation, with a new frame.
Built specifically for this show, it was inspired by frames Monet approved
for other massive triptychs at l'Orangerie in France.  The curator standing in
front of the painting is Nicole Myers.  (photo from Art Knowledge News.)
Monet's lily pond at Giverny,
in a photo posted on deviantART
by "Cansounofargentina."
More familiarly called "Monet's Water Lilies," this trio of massive canvases actually is only one of the many works Monet devoted to the water lilies in his garden at Giverny, France.

Being in the presence of the complete triptych is an amazing, immersive experience.  Monet planned it that way, in fact.  He wanted his later series of enormous diptychs, triptychs, and four-part "quadtychs" to be housed in round or elliptical rooms created just for them.

A view of l'Orangerie in Paris shows
how Monet intended for his massive,
multi-part artworks to be seen.
This goal is reached with a collection of other Monet compositions in the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris.

The current display of the entire Agapanthus Triptych is unusual, however, because the work has been separated for most of the time since the canvases were split up in 1956.

That was the year when the St. Louis Art Museum bought only the central panel from a New York art dealer that had acquired the entire work from another dealer in Paris.  The French dealer had displayed the entire work to considerable acclaim, after acquiring it and several other, smaller works from Monet's son Michel.

At the urging of faculty and students from the Kansas City Art Institute, the Nelson-Atkins Museum bought the right-hand panel in 1957.  The Cleveland Museum of Art finished the process in 1960, when it bought the left-hand panel.  The last time the three canvases were reuinted as the complete triptych was in 1979, so this is genuinely a rare opportunity.

I went to see the triptych with friends. As a member of the museum's Friends of Art and a lifelong Nelson-Atkins Museum-goer, I of course had seen "our" section many times over the years.  Yet when one of my companions said, "I can't remember--do you recall which one is ours?" I was embarrassed to admit I could not.

Water Lilies and Agapanthus, 1917, by
Claude Monet (Musee Marmottan, France),
 shows what an agapanthus looks like,
when painted by Monet.   The one originally
 gracing the corner of the "Cleveland piece"
pointed right, not left. 
It would've been easier for us, if Monet had left the agapanthus in.  Ironically, the work is named for a plant whose image in the lower left-hand corner of the "Cleveland piece" was painted out by Monet at some point during his extensive revisioning and repainting process between when the work was begun in 1915 and Monet's death in 1926 (a photo from his studio in 1921 shows it was still visible then).

Experts aren't entirely sure whether Monet actually considered the triptych "finished," even in 1926, but his process of increasingly moving from representation to abstraction is a goodly part of why many people feel this is a ground-breaking work.

The Agapanthus Triptych remains in Kansas City through August 7, 2011.  After that, all three pieces travel to the St. Louis Art Museum for a display that is scheduled to run October 2, 2011-January 22, 2012.

The Cleveland Museum of Art also plans to display the three paintings together, but those display dates are less certain.  A blog post on the museum's website says the paintings will be shown together in Cleveland in 2015--exactly one hundred years from the time Monet started painting them.

PHOTO CREDITS: As noted above, the photo of the full triptych in its new frame is courtesy of Art Knowledge News, and "Giverny Water-Lily Pond" is courtesy of "Cansounofargentina."  The personal blog, All the Pages Are My Days by "Mike," featured the view of l'Orangerie.  The image of Water-Lilies and Agapanthus by Monet came from the Painting Mania website, where you can buy reproductions of the image.
ALSO NOTE: I found all of the historical information for this post from a lovely little well-illustrated book that I bought at the show,  Monet's Water Lilies: The Agapanthus Triptych by Simon Kelly, with Mary Schafer and Johanna Bernstein, published by the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Jumping the Rut

It's possible for a routine to get as entrenched
as the ruts in this historic Wyoming wagon road.
It can be a real benefit to break my routine--even if it plays havoc with production for a while.

If you've been following this blog you know I sort of dropped out of sight after the May 5 post. That's because I was deeply involved in a new project that required all my time.

I was working as the Art Show Director for ConQuesT 42, a science fiction convention held on Memorial Day weekend in Kansas City, MO.  ConQuesT is the annual project of the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, Inc.

Four of my intrepid Art Show staff members, Kat Gibb, Kat
McCullough, Signy Gephardt, and Ty Gephardt, helped me
set up the display area Thursday May 26, 2011.
I sort of fell into the job in the early spring, only about 3 months out from the show--so I had to scramble to get ready. This was especially challenging because although I've been showing my artwork at sf conventions since 1981, was an agent who handled other artists' work for many years, and even helped co-author the ASFA Art Show Guidelines for the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists, Inc., I'd never been an art show director before.

It was a job I'd always avoided. I figured it would be a distraction.  It would keep me from creating my own work before the show, and during the show it would prevent me from making professional contacts.   Not worth it, I figured.

Here's a general view of the Art Show, after it was set up.
Oh, it certainly was a distraction. It hampered my ability to make my own work, and it anchored me in the art show all during the convention.

What I did not anticipate was how stimulating it would be, and what a great rush of creative input it would provide.

I did not realize how much more familiar I would become with the work of the other 24 artists who participated in this show, than I could have become simply by looking at their displays at the show.

Being the Art Show Director gave me a chance to interact with them, view their websites, handle their art as we put it up, sold or took it down at the end of the show, and talk with both attending artists and art buyers about this varied collection.

I'd love to offer you a chance to see their work in more detail, too.  That's why the rest of this post consists of links to the websites, blogs, etc. of all the ConQuesT 42 artists who maintain a Web presence. They are:  Allison SteinArden Ellen NixonBev Hale, Cat (R. Cat Conrad), Chris Dame, Lubov, Lucy A. Synk, Mark Roland, Peri Charlifu, Rachael Mayo, Sarah Clemens, and Theresa Mather.

Please take time to enjoy a look at their varied and interesting artwork!

PHOTO CREDITS:  Many thanks to the "Heritage Gateways" website for the pioneer trail image, and to Ty Gephardt for the image of the ConQuesT 42 Art Show as it looked when all set up.  I took the photo of my staff at work on May 26.