It is not the banana: it is the idea. It is not the banana: it is the money it produces, the attention it causes. The images it generates in social networks and media, New York Times included. It is not the banana: it is the rumor, the criticisms, the laughs, the conversations, the intelligent interpretations, the teasing: “Did you know that some naive ones paid 120 thousand dollars for a banana? Did you know?” “Did you know that the world of contemporary art is gone crazy by an Italian artist who stick a banana on a wall with a gray tape and put a huge price on it? Did you know?” “What does that Instagram filter mean with a banana in your face?”
Some days ago, Maurizio Cattelan presented Comedian at Art Basel Miami, a banana that has been the subject of any number of comments. The work was completed when David Datuna, another artist “just passing by”, stopped to see the banana, removed it from the wall and ate it. Then, the old question reappeared: is this contemporary art?
In a time when it’s become especially hard to say “this is not contemporary art”, perhaps it would be better to border the meanings that emerge from Cattelan’s gesture rather than trying to answer the question in a resounding way. Other critics have already said it with more grace than here: in the history of art, Natures Mortes were protagonists of the discipline for a long time. In contemporary art, fruits have also been used as objects that refer to concepts such as death, transience, deception or perishability, from Yoko Ono with her Apple 1966 to the Kitchen Pieces by Karin Sander in 2016, to Warhol’s banana included on the album cover of Velvet Underground or Contract by David Bestué and Marc Vives.
Cattelan’s gesture is a mockery that has had its effect: while provoking criticism on social networks, he manages to put his name in the center of the debate, as if it were a successful advertising campaign. His Comedian also looks critically at contemporary art to invalidate it. But the joke doesn’t tell itself. As Freud said at Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious: making a joke is a game where at least two people are fundamentally involved: the one who tells it and the one who listens to it. But the one who tells it is unable to laugh, because his purpose is for the other, the listener, to react to it:
The comic can be content with only two persons, one who finds the comical, and one in whom it is found. The third person to whom the comical may be imparted reinforces the comic process, but adds nothing new to it. In wit, however, this third person is indispensable for the completion of the pleasure-bearing process, while the second person may be omitted, especially when it is not a question of aggressive wit with a tendency. Wit is made, while the comical is found; it is found first of all in persons, and only later by transference may be seen also in objects, situations, and the like. We know, too, in the case of wit that it is not strange persons, but one’s own mental processes that contain the sources for the production of pleasure. In addition we have heard that wit occasionally reopens inaccessible sources of the comic, and that the comic often serves wit as a façade to replace the fore-pleasure usually produced by the well-known technique.
And so here we are at the threshold of 2020 and contemporary art continues to surprise us. Unstable and flexible, art today more than ever is a question about what happens around us. What are the questions we can articulate from Cattelan’s work? Perhaps examining Comedian carefully is an unproductive exercise. In the end, the banana is a fruit that spoils easily. In that sense Comedian is a wise metaphor for itself: like any joke, its grace lasts just a moment.
It is not news: the architects and contemporary artists of Africa are shaking the market and the spaces dedicated to their respective disciplines. In addition, in recent years, women artists have gained difficult terrain to predict. As mentioned by theArtTacticreport, published in July, on auction sales of Modern and contemporary African art between 2016 and 2019, which found that the average price for female artists was consistently higher than for males. In 2019, women fetch on average $91,338, compared with $19,555 for men.
What are the reasons why African women have achieved this goal? On the one hand, Hannah O’Leary, the head of Modern and contemporary African art at Sotheby’s, mentions that although women artists are taking a decisive role in the art market, there is still much to do, because only a low percentage of these artists are represented in the market. On the other hand, many collectors still do not find the most interesting artists because they are waiting for the way the market behaves to purchase one of the works that come from Africa.
2019 can be considered as the year of the start of the rise of the art of African women. In a recent article The Art Newspaperis highlighting that “the South African photographer Mary Sibande has her first solo show in the UK at Somerset House (until 5 January 2020), while the non-profit space Gasworks is hosting Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s first ever institutional solo show. She is one of four artists to represent Zimbabwe at the Venice Biennale this year and has just been signed by Goodman Gallery. Further afield, Nigerian-born Otobong Nkanga has her first UK museum show at Tate St Ives.”
On the other hand, one of the most interesting artists of recent times, Isaac Julien, focused on unveiling the ills of capitalism, organized an exhibition at Victoria Miro’s space based on the feminist book Bell Hooks, which talks about black people and self-esteem. The exhibition includes African artists such as Akunyili Crosby – who was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the artists whose work value grew considerably in recent years (her paintings began selling at $ 3,000 and today reach $ 100,000) -, South African Zanele Muholi, the Kenyan Wangechi Mutu and the Gambian-British photographer Khadija Saye In Sybaris Collection this year we selected as revelation artist the South African photographer Miora Rajaonary as one of the most interesting contemporary looks that fuses documentary and fictional interests, not only as a market trend, but as a way of recognizing the aesthetic and social value that she owns her work. What does 2020 hold for us? It is not casual to say that Africa will continue to make its way into the international market as one of the most interesting territories for collecting.
Casa Nakasone is a collaboration project I did with Escobedo-Soliz architectural firm, in which I activated their new piece, a residential house “Casa Nakasone”, located in Mexico City, with art. For the project, pieces by Gabriela Salazar, Gustavo Artigas and Manuela Garcia were selected. The curatorial line was based on conceptual and material pieces., although a slight “brush” of minimalism was visible, both in the house and in the artworks. Roughly, the house and the pieces shared a tendency of doing the maximum out of the minimum, the use of very rough materials, and combining natural elements, like the air and the light to complete the pieces. We decided to present the exhibition to the public only through the records we did: videos and photography. The idea behind was to create a concept exhibition, that could match the works we were exhibiting.
Conceptual and Material Art
‘Word-art’ became prominent in the second-half of the 20th Century with the development of conceptual art. The viewer confronts an artwork replete with words, which easily convey a message. The message is akin to a poetical composition insofar complex meanings are contrived and reunited in few sentences. Yet the message contains something more than poetry. With John Baldessari, for instance, we see an ironic use of words; with Barbara Krueger we see a political use of words. Being original in this art genre requires mastery, for one has to effectively link or connect meanings with the distribution of words within a surface. This already requires a design skill and choosing a personal typology, but in the artwork we also need something more: the distributed words must adequately connected with pictorial forms. In the case of Artigas’ Vermilion (2017), the used colors not only exemplifies the label which refers it (“vermilion”) but it also relates color and label to meaning. Surprisingly, in this work the artist uses a shade of orange instead of vermilion, so this itself provide a dislocation in the immediate identification between the exemplified color and the label. Call this the ‘rhetoric’ of the work. It is not as if Artigas is only inviting to disclose the meaning of the particular white sentences; we require to do more than just this to appreciate said work. Having these dimension, Vermilon is close to minimalism, and, with respect aesthetic considerations, the presentation follows cinematographic typographies and also cinematographic mode of presentation, as if it were a screen. As for the pictorial form, the arrangement of elements is elegant, at some point simple, yet the overall composition is balanced and appears to float naturally in an indeterminate, orange, close to vermilion, field or space. In Cadmium Vermilion Red (2017), the same rhetoric is put forward –one where the label, sentences and pictorial medium cohere– but we see an advancement of the narrative pertaining the sentences themselves. While in Vermilion the inhalations and ingestions (which are alluded with the used colors) causes damages to parts of the body, in Cadmium Vermilion Red the inhalations and ingestions includes also damage to the “bones”. There is a culmination in the narrative in bone damage. Why the artist stopped there in the narrative is certainly something worthy to be asked.
Gabriela Salazar’s work explore non-conventional material for advancing her artistry. She plays with the shocking but she is also tempered, gaining a sense of equilibrium. Visually, Knot Level (2012-19) presents a vynil tube filled with blue liquid. The salient blueness creates a pleasing perceptual arrangement when combined with soft and elongated curves. Even more, we reach a sense of “horizon” far distant, when we see four lines dividing the portentous blue from the whiteness. In this respect the piece could be seen as a landscape work. It is also important to see the found hook at the top. This is a recursive element that pervades Salazar’s work. In Hook Crook, Fair Foul (2017-18), the artist emphasises the presence of found hooks for the overall composition. These hooks sustain other materials, like wood, rubber, plasticine and paper pulp. As the viewer can note, some hooks are filled and others are empty, as marking a discontinuity in the linear arrangement. In fact these hooks become a presence, a metaphor with respect possession and dispossession, like a movement between content and emptiness. Visually, the various elements tend to respect each other spaces but they also form a compositional unity. There is a palpable order though not necessarily a pattern in it. This creates a sense of displacement of the composition, as if it were departing, or arriving, to a more diluted space. In Wall Wedge (2012), Salazar disposes wood in such a way that it creates an impression of dynamism with respect the curve and a point created by the wall and the floor, which “pulls” the material into a movile centre. This provides a sense of movement in the overall, as if the piece were something volatile. However, the materiality of the wood also makes the piece heavier, as rooted firmly in the floor. It is as if the piece where a mixture of lightness and a material which is not longer free, being pulled by this movile centre.
This is an erudite, insightful and amenable readable collection. Few living artists can claim to have had the influence of Michael Craig-Martin in the artworld. He was born in 1941 and he has been celebrated internationally for his art; he has also helped many generations of younger artists. His teachings have combined personal example and individual guidance, offering students insights gained from his own professional highs and lows. On Being an Artist, which partakes from memory and practical instruction, mixes reminiscence, personal philosophy, self-examination and advice for young artists. In a series of interesting episodes, Craig-Martin expresses himself with wit and candor on many ideas and concepts, events and people that have inspired and shaped him throughout his life, from his childhood in postwar America through his time as an art student in the 1960s and subsequent work as an art teacher, to his international success in later years.
Craig-Martin enters into controversial issues such as the fashionability of contemporary art, the snobs, the enduring status of painting as an art, the relevance of drawing and practical skills, the qualities of art schools, the role of commercial dealers and the judgment of critics: what is good and bad in art. More than the life of one of the most creative minds of our age, On Being an Artist provides lesson after valuable lesson to anyone wishing to know what it means and what it takes to be an artist today.
Tittle: Moma Now: 375 Works from the Museum of Modern Art, New York
Published to accompany the reopening, this year the Museum of Modern Art celebrates its 90th anniversary with the reopening of its extensively renovated and expanded works of art. MoMA Now is an enlarged and expanded edition of MoMA Highlights, and presents a rich chronological overview of the art of the past 150 years, culled from the Museum’s permanent collection of almost 200,000 objects. Beginning with a photograph made around 1867 and concluding in 2017, the book introduces readers to some of the most beloved artworks in the museum’s collection –iconic works by Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol, among many others– as well as lesser-known but equally fascinating and significant objects of art, architecture and design from all around the world.
MoMA Now celebrates the richness of the museum’s collection and the diversity of issues, ideas and concepts embraced today. This book is not meant to be a comprehensive overview, nor to provide a definitive statement on the Museum’s collection. On the contrary, its purpose is to explore the complexity and variety of possibilities that exist within its collection, and to suggest new and imaginative ways of understanding the works of art that are part of it. Featuring new works not included in earlier catalogues, including a greater representation of works by women, artists of color, and artists from around the world, this new book is both a record of the Museum’s past and a statement in anticipation of a promising future.
Tittle: Voyaging Out: British Women Artists from Suffrage to the Sixties
Author: Carolyn Trant
Editorial: Thames & Hudson
Place: New York, 2019
This is a fresh book about an urgent theme: in this revealing chronicle of a period of social change, artist Carolyn Trant examines the history of women artists in modern Britain, filling in the gaps in traditional history of art. It introduces the lives and works of a rich network of neglected women artists. Voyaging Out sets these alongside such renowned personalities as Barbara Hepworth, Laura Knight, and Winifred Nicholson. In an era of radical political activism and great social change, women forged new relationships with art and its institutions. Such change was not without its challenges, and with poignancy Carolyn Trant writes about the gendered makeup of the avant-garde and the tyranny of artistic “isms.” A strikingly intimate picture of women, this book brings gender issue into the table once again. Trant’s illustrates the history of British female artists from suffrage to the 60s, and her story is in many ways representative and it certainly need to be considered once again.
Editorial: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Place: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2019
Fiona MacCarthy brings the image of Walter Gropius as an architectural rationalist, signaling out the vision and courage that carried him through a politically hostile age. Approaching the Bauhaus founder from all angles, the author offers a poignant personal story, one that examines the urges that drove Euro-American modernism as a whole. MacCarthy was attending the Bauhaus exhibition at the Royal Academy, a landmark event intended to introduce postwar London to the seminal art school Gropius had founded 50 years earlier in Weimar. As it is known, the Bauhaus-trained artists –Germans, but also Swiss, Czechs and Hungarians– worked towards a sleekly modern “international” aesthetic in service of a “total work of art” in which buildings and their meanings were conceived as a whole entity. Here was a rational, functional and above all integrated design for living.
In the history of 20th-century design, it is a commonplace to fall into the old trap of believing that modernists valued ideas and form –and more particularly ideas about form– over living, breathing people with all their warm mess. In this brilliantly recuperative biography, Fiona MacCarthy provides an overall account of the context in those years. In short, she shows us the man behind the art.
Título: The Lives of Lucian Freud: The Restless Years, 1922-1968
Author: William Feaver
Editorial: Alfred A. Knopf
Place: Nueva York, 2019
This is the first biography of the life of one of the most important, enigmatic and private artists of the 20th century. Drawn from almost 40 years of conversations with the artist, letters and papers, it is a major work written by a well-known British art critic William Feaver. Lucian Freud (1922-2011) is one of the most influential figurative painters of the last century. His paintings are in every major museum and many private collections here and abroad. William Feaver’s daily calls from 1973 until Freud died in 2011, as well as interviews with family and friends were crucial sources for this book. Freud worked day and night energetically, but his circle was broad including not just other well-known artists but writers, bluebloods, royals in England and Europe, drag queens, fashion models gamblers, bookies and gangsters. Fierce, rebellious, charismatic, extremely guarded about his life, he was witty, mischievous and a womanizer. It begins with the Freuds’ life in Berlin. Sigmund Freud was his grandfather and Ernst, his father was an architect. In London in his twenties, his first solo show was in 1944 at the Lefevre Gallery. Around this time, he was introduced to Virginia Woolf and also Dylan Thomas; he was also meeting Sonia Orwell, Cecil Beaton, Auden, Patrick Leigh-Fermor and the Aly Khan, and his muse was a married femme fatale, 13 years older, Lorna Wishart. But it was Francis Bacon who would become his most important influence and also the painters Frank Auerbach and David Hockney. This is a brilliantly researched and well written book.
Tittle: The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World’s Most Expensive Painting
Author: Ben Lewis
Editorial: Ballantine Books
Place: New York, 2019
This is a passionate and exquisitely written book: Da Vinci’s “The Salvator Mundi” has temporarily disappeared. Lost and hidden for so long, the masterpiece is now back again in the public world. In September of last year, two weeks before the scheduled unveiling of the painting in its new home, the event was abruptly cancelled. A press release promised further information, but none has been forthcoming: an unexpected chapter of silence, which the ghost of Leonardo might just be enjoying. An epic quest exposes hidden truths about Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, the recently discovered masterpiece that sold for $450 million and might not be the real thing. In 2017, Leonardo da Vinci’s small oil painting the Salvator Mundi was sold at auction. In the words of its discoverer, the image of Christ as savior of the world is the rarest thing on the planet. Its $450 million sale price also makes it the world’s most expensive painting. For two centuries, art dealers had searched in vain for the Holy Grail of art history: a portrait of Christ as the Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci. Many similar paintings of greatly varying quality had been executed by Leonardo’s assistants in the early sixteenth century. This is a book about the history of this valuable painting, and the reader will learn a lot in carefully reading it.
There is a common belief that only things that can be seen, actually happened, as if there is no place for private memory. “To” witness and “a” witness are the key of history. Herodoto and Thucydides began the tradition many years ago. The importance of the trace, and the document have only grown in time: voices, notes, systematizing, catalogues, archives, photos, all resources that evidence that yes, something took place.
I wonder if “History of Art” is something else than this effort to record the traces of the artistic experience and the objects produced during it? Is Art History in this regard an artwork itself? One carefully including pieces, assigning values, classifying, in sum: creating this collective compendium of beauty and the sublime? The artwork named culture?
Our artsy consumption takes place most of the times through secondary resources: through books, media, art stores, image reproduction; through the records we have of it. I am sure I have seen more times Rembrandt’s “ Nightwatch” in clusters than the canvas itself. How many people will actually see Mona Lisa at the Louvre? And for how long would those with the privilege to see her, be in front of the painting? And can they really “see” the painting in the middle of the crowd ? A large majority access her through books and comments, and art historian analyses or google, as I have done with Nefertiti and many other pieces.
A relation between the document and the value, one in which information creates or validates the object is also needed to take under consideration. It is the “I have seen it before in books, but now I am actually contemplating it t ” that increases the excitement when a real approach takes place Yet. this external value faces a slight contradiction: that the aesthetical experience when observing, seems to have a slight private side, one in which chaos and the grotesque or beauty and harmony can be the objects of our affections.
With the raise of new mediums to produce artworks like digital arts, computer graphics, robotics, among others, comes a change as well in the ways of display and a challenge for the eyes of the observers to find new ways of interaction. Ways of seeing, like John Berger would say. Since the rise of third Revolution, what Daniel Bell forecasted back in the seventies, transformations in the artworks and the art market keep going on and on. We can see that now in the production and the consumption at the same time. From galleries, to Museums; from artist to collectors, there is no turnover. Yet, what today seems like evident, was for few more than 50 years ago a path to discover; and one that was almost empty. It is my intention to turn the attention to 3 visionary institutions, located in the “old world” that understood that the relation between art and technology was certainly worth the research and the risk to invest because it was the way to produce “new art”.
One: The ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany
Founded in 1989, the ZKM Center for Media and Arts has housed more of the risky art projects and collected some digital arts, before no one did. Located in a small town in Germany, the Center is a hot spot for those who want to see avant- garde exhibitions and simply join the digital conversation. Focused on technology and innovation, and celebrating their 30 anniversary, the German Institution is also associated also with the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, with a strong focus on media, digitzation and globalization.
Two: L´Atelier des Lumiers in Paris, France
When the brothers Lumiere claim their selves in 1895, to be the first filmmakers in the history, many thought they were mad! When they claimed, cinema was art, the fire burnt even more. Can someone deny today the status quo of the seventh art? Well, the history seems to repeat when it comes to French visionaries. Launched in 2018 as the first Digital Art Center, with an exhibition about Gustave Klimt, the Atelier des Lumiers is certainly a reference on how technology can create new mediums and expand horizons.
Three: Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria
A research center, a festival, a museum, Ars Electronica is likely to be a hybrid institution with an eye on the important aspects when it comes to innovation. They have been analyzing since 1979 the digital revolution. “The focus is always on current developments and possible future scenarios and the questions of how this will change our lives”. All about, art and technology, but also a community with strong social focus, they have turn out an industrial city into a cultural one.
October 21, 2019
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