Saturday, December 29, 2012

Another Damn List

...©William Evertson, Go Make Another List. (ink on paper)

I feel strangely compelled to jump on the yearly wrap up bandwagon with a few of the exhibitions that inspired me during 2012. None of these shows were huge blockbusters but they did speak to me and in particular with relation to two topics in my own art that are becoming more important in my 4th decade of art making, the narrative and process.

Narrative in the sense that my work is becoming more literal; moving from the symbology of an idea or concept to telling a more personal narrative of my relationship to my milieu.

The other concern is process or the method of making art.  Since my days as a student in the seventies when conceptual art was prevalent to today's incarnation where we seem to be in a post skills generation I often felt that arc of development grating on my perhaps naive, or nostalgic or romantic notions of what it was to be an artist. Frankly, I want a strong idea well executed.  But what happens if you have a weak idea well executed by others? (as many artists do)  Or a strong idea you can only poorly execute yourself, either through lack of resources or lack of necessary skill?

So, it is through those two lens' of concern that I've selected several shows that inspired me in 2012.

Ten Thousand Waves, video installation by Isaac Julien

Just when I thought I had lost the capacity to watch another multi screen video installation Boston Institute of Contemporary Art hosted Isaac Julien's 9 screen projection Ten Thousand Waves.
(Link to ICA press release which also contains a link to a slide show of stills from the project)

Three separate stories are interwoven among the screens and as you wander and pause to view the installation from different vantages the stories blend in infinite permutations. Especially evocative is the use of the green screen images of the ancient sea goddess Mazu, protector of fishermen and sailors, who is said to guide shipwrecked sailors safely to shore as she glides from screen to screen.

Julien has taken a powerful idea for alternative narrative and through collaboration with actresses Maggie Cheung and Zhao Tao, video artist Yang Fudong, poet Wang Ping, and venerable Chinese calligrapher Gong Fagen created a fascinating platform for contemplating storytelling.

Junirui Gassen, The Battles of the Twelve Animals (detail)

The Met hosted a lovely exhibit called Storytelling in Japanese Art.
(Link to Met press release)

This quiet (ie: non-blockbuster) group of works shows the power of narrative in various formats from scrolls to screens to objects.  It also foretells and serves as the precursor to our more modern forms of animation and graphic novels.  

Bernini, terracotta sketch

Another Met hosted exhibit that fascinated me was Bernini, Sculpting in Clay.
(Link to Met press release - and closing on Jan. 6)

This exhibit featured drawings and clay "sketches" that show the development of the artist's vision for his renowned statuary and fountains in Rome.  Detailed yet raw and powerful in their preliminary form they exemplified my particular fascination with that romantic notion of an artist able to conceive and execute at the highest levels while also maintaining a workshop for the fabrication of the full scale pieces.

Quay Brothers

Before MoMA presented Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets I have to admit they were barely on my art radar.

Now, I've visited twice and purchased the DVD of their films.  In this retrospective not only are the films available but also the very idiosyncratic stage sets used in the making of the Quays very strange stop motion pictures.  Their art is a throw back, an anachronism in the art of film and the results are largely indecipherable yet immensely mysterious and rewarding. (on-going until Jan.7th)

Glass, Wilson and Childs,  Einstein on the Beach

Finally, the re-staging of Einstein on the Beach this fall at BAM.

To me this opera/ expression of avant-garde rebellion circa 1976 was like a unicorn; that is, I'd never seen one. (until this fall)  Now, although in many moments of its performance I felt my numb seat like never before, it is one experience this year that continues to haunt me with its odd yet precise construction.  Obviously not the result of the lone genius variety of artist but instead a fortunate collaboration in which seemly disparate elements seem to meld to work as a mesmerizing dream. Truly a marvel of stagecraft.

As I prepare for another year in my own studio, concentrating on authentic narrative and mastery of process, I'll finish with a link to the exact opposite type of art I am at work on.  (Link to Jonathan Jones review of Damien Hirst)  

Concerning Hirst's U-turn from conceptual to traditional; 
"Now he has confessed, with his ambitious yet miserably unaccomplished still-life paintings, that he admires the skilled art of the past, and would love to paint like Manet or Velázquez, after all."


Well friends, may your artistic endeavors meet with much, much better's to a fruitful 2013.
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