Transitory, Contemporary, Interactive Art

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Photo credit: Laura Amador, May 2013

While working on her paintings in the old Djerassi barn a month ago, artist Nicole Buffett created these colored balls and placed them in shafts of dappled sunlight on the floor. The spheres are made of packed earth, grass, gravel and pigment and are meant to “embody the serenity and power” that Buffet  felt while working in the barn. She calls this piece, The Guardians, meant as it was, to guard her paintings as they sat outside overnight.

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Artist: Nicole Buffett (Bay Area artist)
Title: The Guardians (created May 2013)
Location: Inside the Old Barn (at Djerassi/SMIP Ranch, Santa Cruz Mountains)
Description: This piece reveals how quickly light moves. It becomes a meditative practice as one tries to follow the light beams, constantly moving the spheres to keep up with the squares of light.
This is a temporary piece. The spheres are fragile and may leave pigment on fingers when it’s wet out. Visitors may pick them up and gently move them into shafts of light, or place them back into the urn at the far end of the room.

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Should you happen to visit the old barn during the long summer months, you will be treated to a visual delight of busy sunbeams dancing across the floor and along the walls. With the installation of  The Guardian, you can have the additional experience of watching the sunlight move across the floor, heightening the colors of the individual balls.

If you stop by on a foggy day – as a group of visitors did recently – your experience will be different, less heightened: The colors of the spheres are totally dependent on the natural lighting derived from the sun. That is the nature of the piece. It is transitory and is defined by an uncontrolled light source that helps to determine how the viewer experiences the work. This installation, like the rest of Djerassi’s outdoor art, will eventually disintegrate. Catch it if you can.

I’ve written about Djerassi and its transitory art collection in previous articles. Here is one of those posts. The springtime photographs of the sun drenched landscape (plus one taken from inside the old barn), should give you an idea of the feel and intensity of the Bay Area sunlight. There is no need for artificial lighting in the barn, at least not during the day.

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Mammy and Myths, Oh Andy!

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The Spectre that is Mammy

I had a friend in college. She loved big hooped earrings, watermelons and fried chicken. But for the four years I knew her, she insisted she hated them all. Her public persona when at school would not allow her to “let Whites see her as a mammy or an aunt Jemima.” Years after leaving college, I went to a barbecue at her house. There she was in the backyard eating watermelon and fried chicken. In her ears she sported a pair of over-sized gypsy hoops. What do you think of that?

Finally Meeting Mammy

I met my friend’s mammy in a Greenwich Village art gallery. There she sat in all her glory, staring at me from her perch. All done up in silkscreen and diamond dust, she and nine other “myth prints” sat next to their respective Polaroids. She wore a head scarf that was knotted into a bow atop her forehead, large hoop earrings, and had large, full lips. She sported a jet black face. Here was my friend’s bugaboo, minus the watermelons and fried chicken.

Until the Mammy print, I hadn’t paid much attention to the artist. He seemed to me an excellent print maker whose real goal was fame. In other words, he didn’t seem to be making art for the sake of making art. Instead, his creations were tied up in being famous in a kind of “Look at me! Look at what I can do!” type of art. How seriously could an under-twenty year old searching for meaning in life and in art, take such an artist? Was it even the artist’s business to seriously engage with me or anyone else? And then it happened: I started to hear little whispers, small talk about “Aunt Jemima” from the gallery crowd. Whatever his reason for including her in his repertoire of ten myths, he had begun a conversation, one that my friend was unwilling to have with me, a Caribbean immigrant. I was an outsider, times two.

Some 30 Years Later, Mammy at Stanford

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Polaroid print of the real life model for the 1981 mammy print screen

Last weekend I went in search of the Warhol exhibition at Stanford’s Cantor Museum. It has been running since mid-February and closes at month’s end (on June 30th). Held as it is within the Freidenrich Family Gallery – where Stanford’s larger contemporary art holdings are showcased – it is easy to miss. The pieces that usually draw me to this gallery are the Isamu Noguchi sculpture, “Victim“, and paintings by Bay Area artists like Nathan Olivera. For this visit I went specifically to see the Warhols but of course, stopped to look at the Noguchi and Olivera as well.

The Warhol exhibition is entitled, “More Than Fifteen Minutes: Andy Warhol and Celebrity”. Had the curators been more creative in titling the show (instead of following the same old trajectory about Warhol), and had they mentioned the presence of the Mammy piece, I would have gone to see this show sooner. As it is, I almost missed it and that would have been a shame. Mammy thirty years ago and mammy today is still relevant. I had a lovely conversation with an elderly black guard who wanted to know, “Who is this Andy guy?” and “Doesn’t this mammy thing get your hackles up?”

Why hadn’t Stanford written a more stimulating advertisement than the one below?

As a Pop artist trained in advertising, Andy Warhol was obsessed with fame and the media. This exhibition features prints, drawings, and Polaroid photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Mao Tse Tung, Mick Jagger, and other contemporary icons, exploring ideas about fame, ephemerality, and the legacy of Andy Warhol. Approximately 24 works on display.

Does Stanford not believe in some of its own contemporary art shows? It does a better job advertising its Rodins and the feature exhibitions that it puts on in the Pigott Family Gallery on the main floor. This mammy print could have attracted a wider cross-section of viewers and maybe opened up a different kind of conversation about perceptions in America in the year two-thousand-and-thirteen. But the curators failed to mention the print in their announcements, choosing instead to focus on Monroe, Tse Tung and Jagger. Therein lies a huge part of the trouble with museums, art magazines and art critics: They don’t understand or try hard enough to attract a wide range of viewers and readers. Too often, they fail to engage in meaningful ways with the public and so, art remains a rarefied entity accessible only to certain types of people. It oughtn’t to be that way.

Although no mention was made of Mammy in any of the write-ups, she is the one that I spent most of my time with and she is the reason the guard and I had that conversation. Sure I was attracted to the Tse Tung and Jagger pieces, but it was she who held my attention. That guard recognized as did I, that in mammy, there is a bit of talk about us. That, for me, is the beauty of Warhol’s mammy. She exists.

A nice touch and a nod to the Cantor, is the covering up of the Polaroid that couldn’t withstand exposure to the light. If I wasn’t so taken up with the Mammy print, I would’ve remembered what was under the cloth. If I get back to the campus before the show closes, I’ll look again and let you know.

More Myth-Making: Andy and Jean-Michel, Provocateurs?

The following photographs are ©Andy Warhol Foundation. Make what you will of the last two. I see more historical baggage, perhaps meant to startle or simply to continue a conversation long begun in a Greenwich Village art studio. Long before there was ever a Black President named Barack Obama, there was this image of Africa and Africans and monkeys all tied together into one single entity. Here stands Jean-Michel Basquiat in a Warhol Polaroid, posing as a caricature, as a monkey. Over thirty years later comes a Black/African American president and both he and his wife are referred to as monkeys. Time marches on not at all.

The State of the World: Money and Art Markets

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Limited access open space, La Honda Creek, CA (Sept 2012)

A Different Kind of Perspective

I have been an art lover and creator for as long as I can remember. And I’ve been engaged with history, looking at it from all different perspectives for quite some time now.  But art history, art criticism and their effect on the art market? I can take them or leave them. They grab me pretty much the same way my Fidelity Money Market home page grabs me.

To get to my Fidelity account page, I first have to get past the “World Markets” page. Maybe I can change that but I’m not exactly invested in figuring out how to change my home page anymore than I’m interested in figuring out what the Facebook people are up to on my Facebook page.

The World Markets Today, 5/18/13

At the very top of  Fidelity’s world markets list is the United States. No surprise there, though it may be a great surprise to China. I hear we owe them the shirts off our backs. The number ascribed to the United States’ finances on the world markets stage today is 1667.47. What does that mean? Is that the Dow Jones Industrial average? If so, what does it mean? Also linked to the United States (listed immediately below the country’s name) is this: +17.00 (+1.03%). I just want to look at the balance in my little checking account! First though, I need to navigate past this world markets list. Every once in a while I stop and look. Today I look and I wonder.

Down on the list, a little after the United States, comes two Latin American countries, Chile and Mexico. Mexico, at number four, has the number 2742.94 ascribed to it. Is that bad or good? I know that isn’t better than the United States’ world market listing: Although Mexico has 2,742.94 listed next to it, underneath it the numbers read +2.20 (+0.08%).  (The United States’ numbers are +17.00 (+1.03%.)) Listed at number four as it is, it cannot be better than numbers one, two and three – the United States, Canada and Chile – on the list.

Why These Fourteen Countries?

The two Latin American countries on this world markets list are higher up than the Olde World country, Spain, to which they owe their “genesis.” Countries like the one I’m from will never show up on this market exchange. It’s not simply because we are small or that we are New World countries. If that were the case, New Zealand and Singapore wouldn’t be on this list. But they are.

Fourteen countries in all, are on the world markets list. Does the world then, consist of  only these fourteen? Do other places not matter, not exist? Does money in places like India, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Australia, behemoths because of their land mass, not exist?

The most (only?) obscure country on this list is New Zealand. Those of us from the “Third World” must be somewhere on the periphery or totally non-existent. Am I a figment of my own imagination? Are Jamaica, Africa, India, Portugal, and Scotland non-existent? All these places go into making up who I am. So forgive me when I say, “Meh!,” to the world of art history and criticism. They are pretty much like this list of fourteen world markets countries, absurd. The same is true for overpriced art works. (See yesterday’s reblogged article on this issue.) And so, I look askance as I create and define my own art and space in this world.

(The countries listed in order from 1-14 on the world markets list are: USA, Canada, Chile, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kindgom, China, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore. If one were to buy into what is being said about today’s financial markets, shouldn’t China be the one at the top? Go figure.)

Reblogged — Buying Barnett Newman’s Art on Faith

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Today’s elite art buyers deluded into investing tens of millions on the Emperor’s new canvas.Newman-and-karabekian Blue painting with one white stripe fetches over 43 million at Sotheby’s auction. I’ve been to a Barnett Newman exhibition, stood in person before the canvases and patiently took in the subtle permutations of color and form, along with other museum goers, and probably appreciated them better than most. I’ve even done work in a similar vein, such as my “Composition with Bars of Soap“. However, I had a litmus test of art that somehow eludes the top buyer connoisseurs and aficionados. As an art student, I felt that a lot of my classmates weren’t really being honest with themselves when they said their favorite artist was someone like Kasimir Malevich, who painted the infamous “Suprematist Composition” – a white square on a white canvas.

When I’d pressed for why someone…

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New Sculpture at Djerassi: “After the Celestial Axe”

After the Celestial Axe - detail
detail (credit: the artist, Drue K., April 2013)
Fall of the Celestial Axe

Where: Woodside, CA (in the Santa Cruz Mountains, “near” the towns of Sky Londa and La Honda)

Note: Djerassi is also known as Djerassi SMIP Ranch.

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Updated: 5/4/13 — Above is a part of the sculpture, “After the Celestial Axe”. This is my favorite section. It looks like a woman and man in embrace and possibly a child, a baby, is in her arms. I see what I see and this may not be what anyone else sees and may not be what the artist herself sees. I will post more photos of this piece later this month.

As of April 2013, there is a new sculpture at Djerassi. It is by artist, Drue Kataoka whose inspiration for the piece is the fallen oak tree pictured below. The artist has incorporated the sculpture into the tree and the tree into the sculpture. She calls this work “After the Celestial Axe,” and describes it as follows:

“A giant axe fell from the skies, leaving a sparkling residue of starry formations.  Twenty-seven surfaces of frothy mirror fragments, shaped & arranged with a high degree of optical awareness, create dynamic intersections of multiple refraction planes.  From afar, these reflective arrangements sparkle in the sun; but when examined more closely, they break, distort & expand the boundary between viewer & artwork, allowing both viewer & environment to infiltrate the world of the artwork.”
 
Fallen Heritage Oak, picnic grounds at Djerassi (credit: Djerassi)
Fallen Heritage Oak, picnic grounds at Djerassi (credit: Djerassi)
When I was last at Djerassi about two weeks ago, pieces of the sculpture lay on the floor near the artists’ residences, far away from the tree. There Drue fused shards of mirrored glass onto the many surfaces of wood. A work in progress, the artist would later assemble the mirrored wood by the tree. Would she lay them on the ground? Would she assemble some on the tree itself? In what order would they be juxtaposed, one to the other? These questions have now been answered. The sculpture is complete. In the next month or so I will visit and take pictures. Look for them in a follow-up post.
About the Artist, Courtesy of Djerassi
Drue Kataoka is a Palo Alto based artist and Stanford Alumni who now has commissions all over the world, even in outer space! She participated in the Zero Gravity Art Exhibit at the International Space Station. The piece, “After the Celestial Axe,” was made by cutting slices of the tree with a chainsaw, sanding it down, sealing the wood, and adhering patterns of broken mirror to the surface.
Some interesting conversations about the tree are on Djerassi’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151100874571636&set=a.351297911635.159925.50314976635&type=3&theater
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ACTIVITIES: Guided hikes and outdoor art tours; one month artist residencies
REGION: In the Santa Cruz Mountains
HOURS: Open to the public on a limited basis from April through November; annual open house in July
COST: Free and paid hikes
LOCATION/VENUE: Djerassi Resident Artists Program, 2650 Bear Gulch Rd  Woodside, CA 94062
Phone: (650) 747-1250

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