Happy Birthday Andy!

Andy Warhol would have been 88 today. He most certainly would’ve loved the number, its shape, the repetition of the symbol of infinity, and, as 8 is the Chinese lucky number: “Maybe they’ll buy my paintings!”

There was nothing natural about Andy, everything was a construction, everything was make-believe. He took the mendacious social codes of the 50’s and transformed them into a queer (as in strange and gay) self-serving artsy pose. With one single goal in mind: make the most money at the least expense. What’s more American than that : )

You become an artist because you decide to. Being a wonderful draftsman and having an eye for color certainly helps, but the true success of an artist of Andy’ s generation lies in the “idea”, the thread that leads the art and makes it pertinent.

Andy is prominent among a list of ‘Creative Directors’ who have a feel for what is trending and use shock as an attention grabber. A masterful communicator and polymorphous teaser, he would’ve loved Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.
A beautiful example of this constructed persona is revealed in a filmed interview where he responds vaguely to the somewhat dismayed journalist:  “I am what you say I am”. What a performance! Andy, a true Leo, with an ego larger than the Grand Canyon, pretending to be a mere thoughtless and selfless sponge is quite hilarious.
His true genius lied in transforming his desires, greed, avarice, superstitions, fears and sexual frustrations into art. Art that has been reproduced, copied, imitated ad-nauseam, and, is simply inescapable.

While growing up extremely poor in Pennsylvania, the Movies were Andy’s preferred past time and first opportunity in studying how ordinary people could become “other”. Undoubtedly stirred by Scarlett O’Hara’s cry: “I’ll never be hungry again!”, this awkward looking, determined, fay creature set himself on a path to transformation and success.

Andy’s paintings are based on two simple principles. Multiples: (reproduce the same image many times) and use the least expensive technique. The use of multiples comes from his religious upbringing. Andy intrinsically understood the powerful effect of repetition. Roused at an early age by Orthodox Churches glistening with thousands gilded Icons; countless reproductions of the same image scintillating above a myriad of flickering candles.
Andy’s technique was rooted in first year Art school simplicity. Take a copyright free photograph, blow it up, silkscreen it and, with the new water-based, inexpensive easy flowing acrylic paint, print them onto canvas as many times as you want. Use relatable, secular Icons such as Elvis, Marilyn, Liz, Jackie! And make them big. America is big, bold and colorful.
Bear in mind Andy’s conversation with Henry Geldzahler in the early 60’s as he was complaining about Roy Lichtenstein’s success and how to best him. Henry replied: “Andy, just paint what you love and crave for: money, boys, movie stars and Coca-Cola”
So there you have it: it takes talent, determination, the will to adapt, and being able to channel one’s paradoxical character into a single aim. Andrew Warhola, son of poor, uneducated immigrants from Miko, Slovakia became a symbol of America’s power of transformation and opportunity.

Thank you paradoxical America, Thank you Andy. Love you.

​Art Basel 2016: ​Dizzying delights

I was fortunate enough again this year to be one of the many VIP guests, (allegedly more than 10 thousand cards sent) at Art Basel, the ultimate art fair. More than 280 galleries showing everything from classic modern masters and contemporary artists to future art celebs, compete for the attention of pampered art collectors from all over the World.

Walking through the vast treasure filled halls and the gigantic “Art Unlimited” pavilion is a walker’s dream. My iPhone step counter reported 14,627, or 11.62 kilometers in just one day. Proving that art hunting is not only good for the soul but for the heart too!

The New York Times and many other news purveyors report brisk sales. I modestly was privy to a few. Deciding what are the best art works within such a dizzying array of choice can only be the result of chance and subjectivity. Here are some of my favorites:

A must have at $80K, Hiroshi Sugimoto‘s serene and ethereal Five Element Pagodas @ Fraenkel. For the last 36 years, Frish Brandt (the one with the beautiful blue eyes) and Jeffrey Fraenkel have been San Francisco’s taste makers setting quality standards for photography’s modern masters.

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Five Elements, 2011 English Channel, Weston Cliff,1994, 2011 optically clear glass, black and white film, housed in a wooden box , 3 x 6 inches

Quickly sold at $175K a pop, Christian Marclay‘s “Body Mix” series; brilliant, playful and gender fucking early works @ seriously chic powerhouse Paula Cooper. This series generate the same delight as they did when I first saw them in the early ’90’s. Christian Marclay shares the intelligent tongue-in-cheek humor and love for simple craft as his Swiss compatriot elders Fischli and Weiss.

In the $20K range, Peter Hujar‘s haunting “Trucks, night” 1976 @ Thomas Zander. Delighted to see that this seminal 1980’s artist is coming to the fore again.

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Peter Hujar – Trucks Night, 1976 – gelatin silver print on paper

Swiss native Pamela Rosenkranz @ Miguel Abreu. Despite his two-toned South American dictator shoes, Miguel is one of New York’s most successful and young(ish) gallerists representing recently minted stars and up and coming art promises.

African Artists are emerging with great aplomb. I particularly liked the intricate and laborious aluminum wire work of South African Walter Oltmann @ Goodman Gallery from Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Truly sublime @ Art Unlimited: Julie Meheretu‘s immense poetic “Eye of Ra” ink painting – Wolfgang Tillmans “New York Installation PCR, 525, 2015” – the soothing light magic of James Turrelland many more too famous to mention 

In its forty seventh edition, what keeps making Art Basel the best fair ? Why are they always on target? What are their tricks? What do they do that we should learn from? Perhaps it is because of the city in which it was founded and whose name it carries. A small city known for its collectors, Basel has a tradition of quality powered by money, an impeccable Swiss sense of logistics mixed with a passion for art; and the knowledge that today’s avant-garde artists are tomorrow’s classics.

In Praise of: Wolfgang Tillmans

“Photography always lies about what’s in front of the camera, but it never lies about what is behind, it always clearly reveals the intentions that are behind… Allowing and being as prepared as possible for what might happen, while staying open for what chance may come into play, is my way of working.”

As beautifully said by Wolfgang in a Lecture at Royal Academy of Arts in London on February 22, 2011. The viewer always gets to glimpse at the soul of the artist: the freer and more sensitive the soul, the better his gift to us.

Using the medium of photography in all its forms, hyper sensitive, refined and inquisitive, Wolfgang Tillmans is one of his generation’s most prominent and pertinent artists. He challenges the presumptions of contemporary life, the subterfuge of expected transparency. Like his admired fellow-countryman, Gerhard Richter, well known for his multiple forms of painterly expression, Wolfgang enjoys experimenting with a palette of techniques and variety of subjects. His approach to photography, oscillating between the random and the specific, is sensuous and sensorial. His subjects vary from portraits, still lives and architecture, or  can be abstract, such as  Freischwimmer and Blushes or the earlier Silver series. Painterly images made purely from reactions of light or dirt and agile manipulation of photographic printing paper.

In many ways, he is the natural heir of Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. Like them, he  develops series, has a love for texture and serendipitous flubs. These imperfections add a touch of humanity, a touch of the relatable. Wolfgang engages us in the pleasure he gets from the chance effects on his first “Photocopy” series, or, in “Arcadia”, the texture of the sweat on nape of the necks of nightclub revellers, to the exuberant explosion of high definition color in his recent still lives.

As Warhol and Rauschenberg before him, he uses photography as a base for his art, but is not limited by it. Much like his forefathers, Wolfgang is man of his times and is aware of the Political power his work can convey. His seemingly ordinary images of modern life always carry an undercurrent message. Freedom to live and love is never a given, it always involves vigilance and work.

“This photograph (The Cock (Kiss), 2002) of two guys kissing got slashed by a visitor at the Hirshhorn Museum, in Washington. I’m always aware that one should never take liberties for granted. For hundreds and hundreds of years this was not normal, not acceptable, and this term of acceptable is really what I connect beauty to … beauty is of course always political, as it describes what is acceptable or desirable in society. That is never fixed, and always needs reaffirming and defending.”

With homes and studios in Berlin and London for the last twenty years, Wolfgang is well aware of the magnificent luck we Europeans have in living in the most progressive and inclusive place on earth. The blatant electoral ambitions of Britain’s Prime Minister and the bleached blond Iago, his brutal and egocentric wannabe successor, remind us of Alphonse de Lamartine’s words: “Charmer, s’égarer et mourir” (to charm, to stray and to die). Enticing youth to enlist and participate in their future, Wolfgang, staunchly anti Brexit, launched a powerful open source campaign denouncing the dangerous and self serving game played by manipulative politicians.

Curious of the alchemy of the world and its vulnerability, Wolfgang transforms his extraordinary sensitivity and intuition into tangible objects for us to admire. Open hearted but attentive, he is unburdened by the corrosive breath of melancholy and studies the world without judgment. A beautiful mirror of our need to love, our battles, our gains and our frailty.

All images ©Wolfgang Tillmans

Published in SuperMassiveBlackHole Mag. 20.05.16

In Praise of: “A Subtlety, or the Marvellous Sugar Baby” 2014

“An Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant” 

Fathom a gigantic (35 x 75 feet) sculpture of a strange Deity made from 5 tons of melted white sugar. She rests surrounded by thirteen little black boys. Each 60 inch tall sculptures of small Blackamoors made from sugar and molasses are enlarged versions of ceramic blackamoors still made in China today. These small figures melting slowly as the exhibition progressed.

At first one is overtaken by a sense of awe at the enormous undertaking and sheer size of the space. Quickly as we grasp the context it evokes, our initial feeling is replaced by wonder, empathy, and a deep sense of unease.

Kara Walker‘s storytelling is made of attractive, energetic, undulant and playful imagery that carries, on closer inspection, a violent and powerful message.

Regal, this beautiful slightly menacing Mama Sphinx bearing generous breasts and an Aunt Jemima knotted kerchief, looks down at us. She sits proudly, her body the shape of a Lioness resting serenely on her paws. As we walk along her monumental body, we discover her impudent and magnificent “Ti Bounda“.

Offered as it where, to our embarrassed or attracted view, large and perfectly proportioned heart shaped round buttocks ensconce protuberant labia. Symbol of the absolute vulnerability and ultimate humiliation of slavery: rape.

Slavery functions on the premise of the complete annihilation of self, you have no name, no family, no identity other than the one of the Master to whom you belong.

This horrific “droit de cuissage” had obvious consequences. It created new beings with undefined identities. They were neither black, nor white, neither Master nor slave. Born ostracised, they later became the ruling Bourgeoisie. Sprung from violence, the new Establishment, perhaps to atone from the seed of the original sin, created a fresh layer of humiliation and self hate within its own structure: skin tone, the lighter the better.

The triumph from these bleak realities is the result of the most admirable and powerful human ressource: resilience. Through a project such as this, Kara Walker inspires, educates and enriches our culture. Cultural history and knowledge gives perspective, culture is identity, identity is power.

 

A Subtlety was made possible by the munificent generosity of CreativeTime

Art Rant: Ai Weiwei’s intellectual shenanigans

(Art Rant: because sometimes you just gotta vent!)

Ai Weiwei has the jovial face of a Chinese Santa. Albeit a slightly creepy one. Then again aren’t all Santa’s a bit creepy ? Ai Weiwei’s trade is to denounce. Denounce the way the Chinese government treats dissidents, denounce the way ancient Chinese art is used for political propaganda, denounce his own country’s unyielding rules to the point of becoming a martyr of his own game and getting arrested. That in turn becomes more material to make very effective grand installations, successfully exhibited in important art venues around the world.

True, giving the finger to the (painted) face of one of 20th century’s biggest murderers, or photographing a nymphette (wearing Birkenstocks no less) showing her white undies on Tiananmen square must feel quite good. Denouncing the abuses of a totalitarian regime, even by using shrewd visual effects, is not exactly new and it hardly constitutes the premise of sustainable art. But we, Western society bombarded by narcissistic vacuousness eagerly and greedily want it to matter.

ai-weiwei-study-of-perspective-tiananmen-1995

Shameless self promotion is not exactly new either, recent examples abound; Tracy Emin (oh sister, please !) Damian Hirst, (don’t get me started!) Jeff Koons (whom I happen to adore). Are we to assume erroneously that because Ai Wewei is Chinese he would be a little more crude and insensible ?

But wasn’t Marcel Duchamp, the chic looking, pipe smoking chess player of Cadaquès, the ultimate provocateur ? Wasn’t he the one who got this whole mess started with his exquisitely funny LHOOQ, and Rrose Sélavy. To say nothing of his pissoir or bicycle wheel, thus throwing a series of extraordinarily stupefying bombs in the face of early 20th century convention. The French humorous contrarian was onto something. Something that has sustained the test of time and free our minds to question.

Why, pray tell, do we put Ai Weiwei’s eruptions into the “art” department ? Because, merci Monsieur Duchamp, we have now been trained to understand that when you take a common/usual element, fact or event and bring it out of its habitual context, we accept that it can be considered in a different manner, a new interpretation process is awakened. Dear Marcel started it more than 100 years ago, so the concept has had time to become accepted as natural in our minds. This way art performs its own transubstantiation. (had to use that word!)

So, where does one draw the line? apparently nowhere as Mr. Weiwei seems to tell us in his use of little Ilan’s tragic death. To denounce Europe’s handling of the refugee crisis, Mr. Weiwei has himself photographed face down on a beach just as the little boy from Syria was horrifyingly found.

I suppose after the tepid and lovely bourgeois pleasing renditions of Chinese dragons at Le Bon Marché in Paris, (Aah, the mellifluous lure of LVMH millions!) he needed to get back in the media circus with something more in tune with his idea of self relevance.

And so, again, he has won, in shamelessly raping an atrocious personal and public tragedy for his own promotional purposes, Ai Weiwei is back in the news and Google algorithms everywhere percolate his name to the top of the list…