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I am lucky enough to have seen Mark di Suvero’s sculptures at Storm King Art Center. However, it was a completely different experience viewing them juxtaposed against the Manhattan skyline on Governors Island:

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Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa has a site specific work in Madison Square Park:

Echo depicts a nine-year old girl from Plensa’s Barcelona neighborhood, lost in a state of thoughts and dreams.

Plensa’s sculpture also refers to an episode in Greek mythology in which the loquacious nymph Echo is forced as punishment to repeat only the thoughts of others. Both monumental in size and inviting in subject, the peaceful visage of Echo creates a tranquil and introspective atmosphere amid the cacophony of central Manhattan.

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You can also see a video of the making of the 44 ft sculpture (YouTube)

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Today I went to see the MOMA exhibition by Francis Alÿs which is very aptly named A Story of Deception.

One of his works, When Faith Moves Mountains, was inspired by a phrase from the bible (Mark 11:23) when he asked  a group of 500 volunteers to move  a 1,600-foot sand dune just  using shovels.

The work is neither a traditional sculpture nor an Earthwork, and nothing was added or built in the landscape. That the participants managed to move the dune only a small distance mattered less than the potential for mythmaking in their collective act; what was “made” then was a powerful allegory, a metaphor for human will, and an occasion for a story to be told and potentially passed on endlessly in the oral tradition. For Alÿs, the transitory nature of such an action is the stuff of contemporary myth. (The Guggenheim)

To go with the piece were some definitions of faith provided by Alÿs, which chime with my own views of religion :

The difference between faith and insanity is that faith is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with evidence, whereas insanity is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with evidence (William Harwood, Dictionary of Contemporary Mythology, London, 1st Books, 2002)

and

Faith is a means of by which one introduces resignation to the present, as an investment in the promise of an abstract future. This off course is the Catholic church par excellence.

I would also recommend his video Tornado where he literally runs into the eye of the storm :

For Alÿs, the dust storm suggests the imminent collapse of a system of government or of political order. The act of running into the storm, which we see repeated over and over again, also invites interpretation: is the artist no longer able to combat the chaos he encounters? Is he recognising the vanity of poetic gestures at a time of calamity? Or is it only within the chaos that he can challenge the turmoil around him?

Reaching the centre of the storm, the artist is breathless and almost blinded, yet he encounters a furtive moment of peace that could hint at a new moment of possibility. (BBC)

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My June 2011

Very late because of my holiday:

Art

The Transfinite (Park Avenue Armory) : Ryoji Ikeda’s installation was an amazing immersion in sight and sound

Set in Style: The Jewellery of Van Cleef & Arpels (Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum) : set in style is a very apt name because each piece was a miniature work of art.  I have always thought of myself as not being motivated by money but the stunning exhibition came close to changing my mind

Books

The Blind Assassin (Margaret Atwood) :  the title is also the title of  a novel within this novel but the multi-layered structure fits perfectly with the multi-layered story which encompasses the multitude of layers in love and life

Cinema

The Trip (Michael Winterbottom) : wanted a dose of British humour and found myself laughing at completely different times from the American audience

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It was sad to hear of the death of Lucian Freud.  He was my favourite living British artist and I can still remember going to his exhibition at Tate Britain way back  in 2002. The best description of his work is the one from Freud himself that accompanied the show:

“I paint people not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be.”

The Economist finds a description from Sue Tilley, the 280-pound (20-stone) subject of Freud’s painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, which sold for $33.6m in 2008:

He wasn’t cruel—he painted what he saw. What strikes me most is, I look at my fat ankles and my fat feet every morning and I think they look just like that painting. Even the skinny girls don’t look good, do they? He painted out of love.

Benefits Supervisor Sleeping is also one of the paintings in The Guardian’s gallery of Freud’s Life in Pictures.

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So how do you move many billions of dollars in art through Philadelphia?

“Very carefully,” says Barnes spokesman Andrew Stewart.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece on the transportation of paintings from the Barnes Foundation to a new building six miles away near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The move includes more than 181 paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 69 by Paul Cézanne and 59 by Henri Matisse – including the mural The Dance II.

This reminded me of documentary I saw last year, The Art of the Steal, all about the contentious battle for ownership of the Barnes collection, which will culminate in next month’s move. It also reminded me of how I felt the documentary finished – that the art world is just as murky as Wall Street but at least on Wall Street they are honest enough to admit that it is all about the money.

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My May 2011

Around New York

High Line – disused railway line turned into an urban park above the streets of the city

32 mile walk around the shoreline of Manhattan – totally worth the effort

Art

Picasso and Marie-Marie-Thérèse , L’Amour Fou (The Gagosian Gallery, Chelsea) – a visual love letter

Rembrandt and His School: Masterworks from the Frick and Lugt Collections (The Frick Collection) : in a digital era 400-year old drawings on paper still have the power to move

Books

Moby Dick (Herman Melville) : hard to believe it was published in 1851 because the structure is so modern

A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan) : my favourite book this year, and is very modern with one chapter in Powerpoint

The Solitude of Prime Numbers (Paolo Giordano) : unique combination of teenage angst, mathematics and love

Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) : scary and heartbreaking combination of teenage angst and love amongst children who grow up with a dark secret

Cinema

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog) – forget Avatar, this is what 3-D was made for

Thor – in contrast I went to see this because it looked totally ridiculous but fun and it totally delivered on this premise

Music

Kylie Minogue : a modern goddess

Theatre

The House of Blue Leaves : manages the difficult trick of being funny and tragic at the same time though pitch-perfect performances from Ben Stiller, Jennifer Jason Leigh and especially Edie Falco

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