Archive for the ‘What I'm looking at’ Category

Via The Infrastucturist, James Ogle’s time lapse piece on New York City:

He has made lots of other equally fantastic videos.


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The American Folk Art Museum transformed the Park Avenue Armory’s 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall with the installation of 650 red and white American quilts. They are all on loan from Joanna Semel Rose who requested the free exhibition as a gift for New York when her husband asked her for what she wanted for her 80th birthday.

“The title ‘Infinite Variety‘, though evocative and accurate, belies the sheer magnitude and and poetry of Mrs Rose’s accomplishment. The lyrical installation conceived by the New York-city based Thinc Design tosses these hundreds of quilts into space like so many playing cards, where they hover weightlessly, seemingly frozen in midair.”

Maria Ann Conelli, executive director, and Stacy Hollander, senior curator, American Folk Art Museum

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What I really fear is time. That’s the devil: whipping us on when we’d rather loll, so the present sprints by, impossible to grasp, and all is suddenly past, a past that won’t hold still, that slides into these inauthentic tales.

The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman

Christian Marclay’s 24-hour video The Clock was acclaimed as one of the cultural highlights of 2010 when it was shown in London, so I was very excited when it came to New York.

In fact, I was so excited that I broke two of my rules – I woke up early at the weekend and I was prepared to queue. In fact, I  waited for nearly three hours to get into the gallery on a February morning that was so cold that it started to snow. But I have to say The Clock was so fantastic that I would do it all over again.

Marclay has trawled through thousands of films and TV programmes to find scenes that reflect the passage of time and spliced them together so they unfold in real time over 24 hours – 1.15 in the afternoon in the video matched the actual time in New York.

It’s hard to explain the hypnotic effect of the video as you watch the time pieces on the screen. You are aware that something dramatic will happen on each hour, or half-an-hour, or quarter-of-an-hour, but at the same time, as in real life, you are aware that time is unstoppable and the bigger picture will continue to flow on regardless of the ripples created by these individual events.

The BBC News had a piece on the video which gives some idea of the experience. I only watched The Clock for a few hours one Saturday afternoon but would have loved to seen the whole 24 hours.

The New York Times had the same feeling:

Time is a kind of music, music is a kind of time, and Marclay — who’s worked with music for much of his career, as a turntablist, conceptual artist and filmmaker — seems to understand this implicitly. A 24-hour video composed of nothing but people all over the world, in many languages and from the beginning of moving images to now, tied to time, resenting it, making friends with it, sweating it or ignoring it or dying from it, becomes the mother of all jams.

The screen action in each viewing, for me, ran along the same rhythms: the clock’s rhythm and Marclay’s sequencing rhythm. And, in some sense, the heartbeat. It becomes a movie about mortality; it becomes a movie about staying alive.

The Economist met with Marclay towards the end of the two years it took him to edit his masterpiece – which puts my three-hour wait into perspective. Just as his video puts time, and life, into perspective.

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The Renaissance Popes, Gerard Noel

Pope Julius II has rightly gained fame as the patron of Michelangelo;  but hereby hangs a tale. He persuaded the young sculptor to abandon his stonemason’s craft and mercilessly goaded him into painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Julius had a keen appreciation of artistic genius – or, as he put it, ‘the humours of such men of genius.’ This did not prevent him from working Michelangelo like a dog, and starving him of funds. When Michelangelo quit Rome in a rage, swearing he would leave his work uncompleted, a horrified Florentine official admonished him: “You have behaved towards the Pope in a way the King of France himself would not have ventured upon. There must be an end of this. We are not going to be dragged into a war and risk the whole state for you. Go back to Rome.”

When a surly Michelangelo finally reappeared in Rome, a prelate tried to save him from the Pope’s wrath by pleading “Your Holiness should not be so hard on this Michelangelo; he is a man who has never been taught good manners, these artists do not know how to behave, they understand nothing but their art.” Julius rounded on the prelate in fury, declaring that it was he who had no manners. From then on the arguments between Julius and Michelangelo were no less vehement, yet characterised by mutual respect. Julius would abandon all papal dignity to clamber up dusty ladders and crawl over grimy scaffolding so that he could confer with Michelangelo at the ‘coal face.’ The pair of them would stand together for hours, critically inspecting the frescoes that this ‘man of genius’ was creating. Five hundred years later, we owe a huge debt to both of them.

Five hundred years later, the Vatican has created a digital tour of the Sistine Chapel so you can see the magnitude of this debt for yourselves:

Sistine Chapel

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“Pictures must be miraculous” – Mark Rothko in 1947

I am lucky enough to live just a few blocks from MOMA so I get the chance to visit shows more than once and spend time with paintings that I love.

The  first few times I went to see Abstract Expressionist New York I couldn’t get past the rooms of Rothkos and Pollocks where you are surrounded on all sides by their paintings. The feeling you get is summed up by Hedda Sterne, the only woman in the famous 1951 Life magazine cover of the Abstract Expressionist painters, The Irascibles :

Leonardo drew things to explain them to himself…. That’s an essential quality of any work of art, the authenticity of the need for understanding. I once told Barney [Newman] a story which he wanted to adopt as the motto for the Abstract Expressionists: A little girl is drawing and her mother asks her what are you drawing? And she says, “I’m drawing God.” And the mother says, “How can you draw god when you don’t know what he is?” And she says, “That’s why I draw him.” (The New York Review of Books)

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The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds 2010 at Tate Modern

I recently caught Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern in London:

Each seed has been individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Far from being industrially produced, they are the effort of hundreds of skilled hands. Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall’s vast industrial space, the 100 million seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape.

Porcelain is almost synonymous with China and, to make this work, Ai Weiwei has manipulated traditional methods of crafting what has historically been one of China’s most prized exports. Sunflower Seeds invites us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange today.

So it is heartbreaking to learn that Shanghai authorities have demolished his studio which he had the strength to describe as an ultimate work of art.

British journalist Jon Snow met Ai last October and the artist handed him some  sunflower seeds from the exhibition. Snow has kept them in his jacket pocket ever since.

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Anish Kapoor is one of my favourite artists so I was very happy to catch his first outdoor exhibition in London on my visit home. I have also been lucky enough to see one of the same pieces, Sky Mirror 2006, at the Rockefeller Center in New York and Cloud Gate , on a visit to Chicago in 2009.

As the New Statesman says:

“From his early pigment sculptures that constructed deep voids, Kapoor has asked questions about the nature of existence and belief. He investigates what we hardly know, turning the world upside down and inside out to extract meaning. It gives us a glimpse at the mysteries both of the human imagination and the universe we inhabit.”

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