As I was unable to attend the LACMA trip on 11/5, I am choosing to reflect upon Ai Weiwei’s He Xie, an installation that was part of the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibit “According to what?”, from April to August of 2014. “According to What” featured a diversity of important works than span Weiwei’s career, from his Coat Hanger portrait of Marcel Duchamp during his membership of the 1980s New York Avant-gard collective “Stars”, to his appropriated and painted over collection of Neolithic vases from the Han dynasty that reflected upon themes of collective memory and historical knowledge.
While it is difficult to remain complacent in the face of any of Weiwei’s interdisciplinary works, saturated with questions of representation, autonomy, freedom, and the roles of art in the social, political and cultural domains, I was particularly moved by the 3,200 porcelain crabs of his installation, He Xie. In the presence of this piece, I found the awe-inspiring scope elicited the gravity of the piece’s concept equally that was equally if not more immense. The installation is a type of residue or homage of a performance art conducted in 2010 in reaction to the ambiguous destruction of Weiwei’s new studio at the hands of the Chinese government. Weiwei openly invited all citizens via twitter to attend his “Shanghai River Crab Banquet” as a good-bye party for the studio. Similar to the word play of the panda project, the mandarin word for River Crab “hexie” is a homonym with the word “harmonious”. Due to China’s overuse of the word “harmony” to describe its filtering endeavors, “harmony” has become a synonym with “censorship” to the online community. Weiwei was promptly put on house-arrest hours before the gathering for threats of “subversion,” but the banquet continued regardless. Weiwei created not only a precedent to continue fighting for freedom of expression in the face of rebellion but also a platform for everyday citizens to do the same.
While the performance piece and resulting installation was born out of a circumstance specific to China, censorship is an issue that threatens the entire world. Experiencing the installation in walking distance from my home was a reminder of this universality and the potential art has through an artist arguably the most prolific, multitalented and revolutionary of the contemporary area to create multifaceted modes of social discourse that transcend national and geographic barriers as well as the conventional boundaries of medium.
My visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art really enhanced the overall appreciation of a wide variety of art master-pieces that were studied in class. One of the first things really caught my eye while wandering around the museum was that there is a noticeable color distortion that takes place when seeing an art piece in a book or a computer screen. In order to illustrate this point, I will reflect on the Fauvistic painting “Boats on the Beach” by the prominent, avant-garde artist Georges Braque (1906). Out of all of the paintings that I could have picked, I chose this one particularly because Fauvism is a movement that is characterized by the use of wide array of colors, and instinctive brush strokes. One of the first things I instantly noticed in this painting was that the aggressive, inconsistent brushstrokes create a sense of texture to the painting. This type of texture is hard to grasp on when seeing a virtual image of the painting.
It is also worth commenting that this work was developed during one of the early stages of Braque’s life, when impressionism can be accurately described as the “denier cri” of modern art. Nevertheless, despite presenting a lot of characteristics of a impressionist works (i.e. aggressive brush strokes, the impression of a dock on a peaceful beach, ect.), this work pushes the boundaries of what impressionism in itself by experimenting with all of the characteristics one would expect an impressionist work to have. After appreciating this work for quite some time, I noticed that the paintings of the expositions at LACMA were arranged in such a way that it allows for people to presence the evolution of modern art. It was almost like a timeline. This is important, but can nonetheless be shocking, especially because some of the cubist works that were placed right beside “Boats on the Beach” present a change in style that is nothing like the works he developed early during his life.
Because I was unable to attend the trip to LACMA two Saturdays ago, I decided to write on my experience at the Broad Museum in Downtown Los Angles during my OxyEngage trip.
Dancing to Miles is one of the earliest works by George Condo, an oil painting measuring at about 110×137 inches. Looking back on my experience with the painting now, the first thing that pops in my head is Cubism. This is definitely more on the side of Analytic Cubism, as there is a presence of geometric fragments and a monochromatic color scheme, and not outside patterns or textures like Synthetic Cubism. Turns out, according to his bio on the Broad website, he was largely influenced by artists such as Picasso and Cezanne. This is supposed to represent the chaos that is a Miles Davis song, as he often performed pieces that “spiraled in and out of structure” (The Broad).
Going to the Broad was my first ever experience in an art museum, so I only knew about the worldwide famous pieces, by people like Van Gogh or O’Keefe, and sadly only saw them online. So, seeing all of these paintings and sculptures in person was truly an eye-opening experience for me, as you don’t really get to see all of the minute details such as size, or method, or material. When I first encountered this painting in the museum, I simply saw it as a slightly larger than average painting, but it was not until I saw its actual dimensions online that I realized how big it actually was.
Unlike any of the other pieces at the Broad, Dancing to Miles and other works by Condo were the only pieces that appeared to stem from some sort of modernist movement. The other works, in my opinion, were more “modern” than “modernist,” as the other works (except for the Andy Warhol pieces) just seemed to be taking advantage of the advancing pop culture and technology around them. As much as I did love this piece, that and other paintings were not what made my experience at the Broad the most memorable, but rather the sculptures.
While I did not go with the class for the LACMA trip as part of our CSP, I did manage to get a look at a lot of the artworks on display during LACMA College Night. This was fairly after we had learned about Impressionism in class, and because I personally also enjoy Degas’ art, this painting captured my attention. Although the painting was not the most obvious work of art in that gallery, I was actually really happy to see a familiar painting. I remember looking very closely at the rough strokes and the graininess of the drawing, and remembered what we discussed in class about Impressionism and the attempts it had at capturing the essence of the scene rather than the physical details. The obvious sketchiness of the drawing and the candid postures of the dancers really encaptured that for me and I was glad to be able to appreciate this rather small drawing better after learning about it through our readings. I could really see more clearly how that took effect by seeing it in person. Seeing the same drawing through the computer definitely creates a different impression because the different strokes are not clearly visible through the screen. Although I do not have a photo of the painting from the museum (we weren’t allowed to take photos in that part of the gallery), the colours, especially the blue in the dancers’ dresses, were much more bright when seen in person. The perspective in this drawing was a lot similar to that of the Degas paintings we had looked at in class such as how the viewers were looking from a rather candid point of view. While I did not have much time to carefully look around the entire museum, this drawing was one of the artworks I remembered the most that night because it related to something I had actually learned about and could now appreciate better.
Totem, the painting on canvas by Adolph is a perfect example of the concept of primitivism. Adolph Gottlieb was an America artist who painted this totem in 1947. The over simplified figures in the boxes of this canvas represent the western way of thinking about African art. Many westerners had distorted views of Eastern art. Westerners view eastern art as primitive because it is more simple than the art that they are used to seeing. This idea of our art being more sophisticated than eastern art is entirely untrue. The sense of cultural superiority that western cultures have over eastern cultures comes from the fundamental difference in art. The art from the east is simple compared to the art in the west, This was not because the eastern artists were unable to make paintings as detailed as those in the west but because they did not want to. If we look into the past we see examples of art from Nigeria that are beautifully crafted and very realistic. This proves that eastern artists are fully able to create realistic art that is thought of as so western, they just chose not to. The sense of superiority that the west feels over the east manifests itself in ways other than just art. One of the reasons that the west found eastern art more barbaric may have been because the first encounters they had with eastern art was during colonization. Colonization was an attempt to westernize the nonwestern world. Many of these western cultures who colonized eastern countries and found there art already had a sense of cultural superiority as they were imposing their western culture upon others. Those who first discovered eastern art found art in a place that had to be helped by western powers because they are more primitive. This misconception happens all too frequently in art. Pieces that are simply painted are not always that way because a culture is less advanced, it is because that is how the artists choose to depict their art.
Although I spent most of my time in the Japanese Art Pavilion due to its reflective and calming atmosphere, the work that I connected with most in regards to our class was Metropolis II by Chris Burden. The work is a kinetic sculpture depicting a scaled, fast-paced modern city with miniature cars, 18 roadways, buildings, and trains. His idea is that “The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars produce in the a viewer the stress of livening in a… 21st century city”.I always believe that the best pieces of art (in whatever medium) are those that evoke real life emotions. I find this piece to be associated with the Expressionist movement, due to its ability to evoke a real emotional experience. Although Expressionism is meant not to capture the external world, I feel that this piece is a very dramatic version of our own world, cars do not really speed at the 240 scaled miles per hour, freeways are not that closely interwoven, especially around buildings, and there isn’t 100k cars so close together in real life. However, being in the room and actually viewing the object for yourself is necessary because in just a picture of the piece you cannot hear the cars, your eyes cant race in an attempt to follow just one car, and you do not feel bigger than life from an image. Being in that room sincerely evoked a sense of stress and angst from my heart and mind due to the loud noises, cramped room, and the always-prevalent thought of “what if a car flips off the edge or causes a crash?” In the same gallery, oddly juxtaposed with Metropolis II, a piece making you feel like a Giant, is a piece in the next room that was a large mountain, Grand Canyon-esque steel construction which made the viewer feel insignificantly small and surrounded. Both pieces fill the observer with a sense of angst.
I was not able to attend to visit to the LACMA this Saturday, so I am choosing to write about an experience I had at the High Museum of Art, in Atlanta (my hometown). The Forty Part Motet was a sound installation the High Museum had a few years ago. I had no idea that this work was going to be at the museum the day I went, and I just stumbled upon it while visiting. It is a little hard to explain, but the instillation was comprised of forty separate free standing speakers, each with a different members of a choir singing a hymn composed in the 1500’s. You could walk the circumference of the speaker circle and hear each voice individually and when you stood in the middle, you could hear the full choir. It was by far the coolest piece of art I have ever experienced, and it fits really well into what we’ve studied because its such a perfect combination of the “modern” (technology) and the old (a 600 year old hymn.) Experiencing it in person was central to being able to fully enjoy the work, as there would not really be any other way to truly experience it. At risk of being overly effusive, experiencing it was one of the most memorable parts of my life thus far.
The work that stood out most to me while on the LACMA trip was the painting “The Orator” by Magnus Zeller, c. 1920. The work was displayed in the room dedicated to German Expressionism in the Ahmanson Building. It is an oil painting on canvas with dimensions of 65 in. tall and 83 in. wide.
Seeing the work in person is a very different experience from looking at its picture in LACMA’s digital collections gallery. This largely has to do with the size of the painting; looking at a reproduction that is less than a square foot in size on a laptop screen does little to impart the sense of grandeur and drama that seeing it in full size does. Additionally, the colors in the online version are slightly different than I remember them to be. They seem a hair too bright in hue – the painting appeared to me to be quite dark and gloomy in real life, with the exception of the hint of light shining on its titular central figure. The contrast in the hues is one of the more notable features of the painting, and it was lost in the online photo.
The work relates to our class in obvious ways; it is considered an example of Expressionism, one of the movements we studied. It was displayed in a room alongside many other works that are considered Expressionist. What I liked about that presentation was that there was a huge variance in style amongst all the works, even though they are all part of the same movement. “The Orator” is representational and depicts figures drawn with sharp lines and angles in dim color, while “Cows in the Lowland” by Emil Nolde, on the opposite end of the room, is characterized by blurry outlines of figures accentuated by vibrant color, and “Sign” by Wassily Kandinsky is brightly colored, sharply defined and abstract. Having all of these works in one room emphasizes the exciting and fluid character of Expressionist art.
LACMA: “Construction for Noble Ladies” (Kurt Schwitters, 1919)
One of the more intriguing movements in the history of modernist art is that of Dadaism. Dadaist paintings were rarely just that: they frequently used different mediums, such as pieces of printed material, sand, and found objects, in their works along with paint. This creates an intricate texture, one that cannot be fully conveyed by p hotographs. Kurt Schwitters’ Construction for Noble Ladies, currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is a perfect example of a dadaist found-object “painting”. This work mimics a traditional painting, and, in fact, is displayed in a room full of them. However, Schwitters’ piece is comprised of several seemingly random objects, including a wheel with broken spokes, a ticket for shipping a bicycle, a funnel, a flattened toy train, and other bits and pieces of detritus, along with paint.
The three-dimensional texture of this masterpiece is not properly conveyed through photographs. In a photograph, the effects of the layered depths of the different parts of the work is somewhat diminished, and the work develops an overall sense of unity that takes away from the experimental nature of the piece. Seeing this work in person highlights the distinct contrast within the work created by Schwitters’ use of almost sculpture-like relief. The intricacies in texture are much clearer, and give a better overall understanding of the piece.
The juxtaposition of this work and the other pieces in the gallery also adds to the avant-garde nature of the piece. Even though the paintings currently displayed on either side of this work are modernist and were experimental art for their time, Schwitters’ creation is clearly cutting edge on another level entirely. It also adds to the absurdity of the dadaist movement as a whole: you don’t typically walk into a German Expressionism gallery in a major art museum expecting to see a flattened toy and an old receipt painted to a piece of cardboard and hung on the wall. This helps the viewer better understand the context in which the dadaist movement existed, and thus better understand how Schwitters’ piece and other dadaist works were received.
The painting above is titled “Untitled Improvisation III”, by Wassily Kandinsky. We looked at the painting in class when we were discussing abstractionism. In person, while I don’t remember the experience perfectly because it was a few days ago, it is interesting. It is an unusual feeling seeing something in person that is well known, which is a common opinion. I remember the frame was interesting. It was white, had a border, then a recessed part between the border and the painting, making it 3 dimensional almost. Compared to other works in the gallery, it was separate. A lot of the art was either featuring realistic things, or realistic, but this is abstraction, so it stood out, not being about anything realistic. It relates to our class because it is modernist, and was “new” because it was not realistic, as we learned. It was in a room of mostly paintings, but with a few sculptures in the center. On the wall, it looks interesting, because it is so abstract, but is on the wall like another realistic painting. It is like a series of paintings I saw in my hometown, Santa Cruz, where there were paintings in the style of Renaissance paintings, but with current subjects, like a person in a hoodie.