Thursday, July 7, 2011

Full List of 60 Artists in the Vatican Exhibit Celebrating 60th Anniversary of Ordination

I recently visited the Vatican's "Lo Splendore Della Verita, La Bellezza Della Carita," ("The Splendor of Truth, The Beauty of Charity."  Before visiting, I was curious who the sixty artists were, but I was unable to find this information online. For this reason I am publishing the list here.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Vatican Sessantannale? 60 Famous Artists From Around the World Celebrate the Pope's 60th Anniversary of Liturgical Service

Starting July 4th 2011, the Vatican will host an exhibit of sixty famous artists from around the world at its Paul VI audience hall to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's ordination to the priesthood. (1)

Besides the importance of the unprecedented exhibit itself, it is important because it sets the foundation of the Vatican's future cultural policy. The exhibit may be used as a kind of laboratory to experiment with how to communicate the Vatican's message through modern art. This experimentation may center around questions about just how abstract or representational effective modern religious art should be. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, expressed the problems facing such modern religious art exhibits back in 2009 by saying "some will accuse us of giving credit to 'depraved' art and others will criticize our selection as being too 'religious.'"(2) The Holy See will need to navigate a middle path, and this sixty artist exhibit will help them to figure out how to do this.

Why is this particularly important now?.....................Venice Biennale 2013, the first in which the Vatican will participate.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ai Wei Wei's Release, a Cause for Mitigated Celebration

Ai Wei Wei, a Chinese artist who used his art to criticize the Chinese government, was released under strict conditions on Tuesday after months of imprisonment. The Chinese reported that the arrest was for "tax evasion," and certainly had "nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression."(1) (2) 

Photo from Ai Wei Wei's "Fuck You" series
Considering the nature of Mr. Ai's works, such as the one above, and China's history of human rights and freedom of expression abuses which Ai was combatting, it is quite obvious to outsiders that this is a blatant lie. But, what I find particularly revealing is this video by The Guardian which interviews people in Beijing about his release. In the video citizens try to sidestep the issue without sounding too critical of the government, as one would expect, but apparently they 'didn't get the memo' that "it wasn't about freedom of expression."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Copywrong-- a Few Words on Carriou v Prince

By: James Fletcher

Photographer Patrick Carriou successfully sued the "appropriation artist" Richard Prince for Prince's use of Carriou's photographs in eight works of "appropriation art" which sold for a total of over ten million dollars.(1) The result of the suit was a ruling that "[Richard Prince] shall..deliver up for impounding, destruction, or other disposition, as [Carriou] determines, all infringing copies."(2)  The second result was a stream of commentaries. The positions of these commentaries, either in favor or in opposition to the result of the case, seemed to be decided mostly based on what the author thought about Prince's art.

The infringement of copyright in the production of art mostly hinges upon whether the use was transformative-- transforming the original meaning through commentary-- or derivative-- relying on the purpose of the original without making a commentary on it. Upon first seeing Prince's work I assumed Prince was making some kind of commentary on the anonymity of the subjects of anthropological photos and the importance of context. (A good comparison between Prince's work and Carriou's original is here). I set about preparing to write a commentary along these lines.
Then I read this in the documents of the case:
"Prince testified that he has no interest in the original meanings of the photographs he uses....Prince testified that he 'doesn't really have a message' he attempts to communicate when making art. In creating the paintings Prince did not intend to comment on any aspects of the original works or on the broader culture."  (3)
Wait wait wait................REALLY!?   No, really!? THIS is what he said? 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Minipost: Pope John Paul II and Modern Art

The other day I was visiting the Vatican City when I saw the banner pictured below. What I first noticed about the image was how moving it was, particularly because it was such an intimate close-up depiction of the former Pope. Seeing so much of his face, I was able to ignore his position for a moment and see him as a person. A person whose face tightened up in a moment of reflection. A person whose individual strands of hair were pushed here and there by the wind.

What I noticed next was the form of the crucifix he was carrying during this moment of thought and reflection captured in an image that the church chose to remember him by. It was a bronze crucifix produced in not quite realistic form. It reminded me of the type of modern form employed in the statue dedicated to Pope John Paul II that I discussed in an earlier post. It seemed to me that there could be no greater testament to Pope John Paul II's approval of such modern form than this image.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Flip-Side of Cultural Diplomacy-- China's Exhibits of RomanticTibet

Cultural diplomacy through the foreign exhibition of art is an extension of diplomacy which is usually positive and uncontroversial. But as the example in this article shows, countries can and do use cultural diplomacy to manipulate foreign opinion in support of their foreign or domestic policy.

In October 2009 the Chinese government sponsored an exhibit titled "Snow-Covered Plateau--Chinese Painting Works" that was displayed for six days in Milan, Italy. The explicit intent of the exhibit was to showcase the region's "social and economic development in past 50 years," and therefore the benefits of "cooperation" with China.(1) The purpose of having this exhibit in Italy instead of in Tibet or Beijing logically must have been to garner support for the cooperation between Tibet and China and to divert popular support for the cause of Tibetan independence, which has significant support in the rest of the world. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Design of the Rubells' Upcoming Contemporary Art Museum in D.C.

The foundations or patrons funding art museums are aware of the importance of image. Because of this, the architecture of the museum is often chosen to make a statement. Most art museums are examples of "modernist" architecture, which can be characterized by its clarity and simplicity. The upcoming Rubell Contemporary Art Museum in D.C. ,which is still in development, can be considered an example of "post-modern" architecture, which can be generally described as eclectic. Is this an official endorsement of postmodern architecture, a style which has remained somewhat controversial since its beginnings in the late 1970s, by the contemporary art establishment and a shift away from modernist architecture?

The patrons of the new museum intend to keep the original facade of the Randall School in Southeast D.C. which was built in the "early 20th Century."(1)(2) Preliminary plans show that within this facade there will be dramatically modern architecture, although the firm Bing Thom Architects is still in the development phase.(3)  This composition of modern within old style closely compares to an example of postmodern architecture, the Harold Washington Library in Chicago. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Auction Guessing 1 (Part 2): Fallibility of Christie's and Sotheby's?

As you might imagine, my estimates for the works sold at Christie's were off by a substantial amount. The ratio of the actual price to the estimate provided by the auction house at Christie's was higher than at Sotheby's for two artists but lower for the third. If we assume that the market for Latin-American Art in New York City is fairly integrated, an assumption I believe is reasonable, what does it mean that their estimates were off in different ways?

I had assumed that the comparison between the actual prices and the estimates of the painting for both auction houses would simply reveal the difference between how the current market values the work and the "essential" or inherent value of the work.  But unless the demand for two of the artists increased drastically overnight while demand for the third dropped (possible?), it simply reminds us that no matter how knowledgeable one is, it is impossible to accurately determine an "essential" price.  Does this suggest there is no inherent value, only the value placed by the market?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Auction Guessing 1: Estimating the Results of Christie's Latin American Auction Based on Sotheby's

Sotheby's recently concluded its 2011 auction of Latin American art, with sessions on the 25th at 7 p.m. and the 26th at 10 a.m. In this post I use the results of that auction to estimate the forthcoming results of Christie's Latin American art auction, which has sessions on the 26th at 6:30 pm (NY time) and the 27th at 10 a.m.

I apply a very basic model based on the sold price/mean estimate ratio of works by specific artists, just to see how this compares to the eventual results. After the auction I will compare these revised estimates with their actual price. 

The 'Summer of Sequels,' Information Costs, and Museum Exhibits

Or: Why You Won't See a Nicolas de Largillière Exhibit, But May See Many of Joshua Reynolds.(1)

Costs of obtaining information incurred in consumption can explain both the recent prevalence of sequels and, at least partially, the choices by curators of museum exhibits. Consumers incur information costs in finding out a base level of necessary information about the movie or artist they are going to 'consume.'(2) Consumers incur less information costs when consuming something that has already become familiar to them, either through prequels or previous exhibits. Curators and movie producers, as experts in their field, are not as constrained by information costs as consumers. Instead the information costs of the consumers affect the choices of the 'producers' as they try to reduce barriers to consumption. Great curators attempt to introduce their audience to new artists or at least new aspects of these artists, but are still constrained by the willingness of their audience to incur information costs. 

Figure 1: Nicolas de Largillière, Elizabeth Throckmorton, 1729

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sarah Williams: Painting the New American Landscape

The painted landscape can serve as the locus of a cultural identity in both a productive capacity (forming a conception around which others coalesce) and a "reflective" capacity (re-presenting the conception of a culture already shared by its members). Beyond, or within, this cultural meaning of landscape, the composition may create a narrative or allegory that subverts or supports the cultural message communicated. By working within a culture's shared conception of itself, an artist is able to more readily communicate the deeper messages and meanings at work in the painting. This dynamic is evident in the painting below.

St. Joseph, by Sarah Williams, 2011, oil on canvas, 24" x 24", in private collection.
Image reproduced with consent of the artist.

Sarah Williams, a Houston-based artist, paints scenes of modern America. She often paints night scenes, whose lack of life and serene lighting impart a sense of stillness and timelessness.  At the same time, this lack of life and the lack of uniquely-identifying features maintain an ambiguity that would allow any American to identify with the scenes. As other critics have pointed out, it would be misguided to read into this a commentary on "the generic flavor of American life." (1)  Instead, her choice of imagery is a result of her "connection to the rural Missouri where she grew up." (1) Williams' intimate familiarity with the imagery in addition to its ambiguity allow her paintings to have both an immediacy of communication to American audiences and a narrative depth.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Il Papa, non Il Duce: a defense of Rainaldi's statue of Pope John Paul II

By: James Fletcher
Recently a modernist sculpture of Pope John Paul II by Oliviero Rainaldi was placed in front of Rome's Termini Train Station.  Soon afterward, the official newspaper of the Vatican condemned the statue as unfitting to the memory of the blessed Pope. (1)  It has been condemned by Romans on two grounds: the similitude of the statue's head to the head of Mussolini, and the fact that it's non-representative, "it doesn't even resemble the late pontiff." (2)  This post defends Rainaldi's statue against these objections.
Images provided by the artist, and reproduced here with his consent.

To the first objection, that the statue is non-representative, I would point out that the Vatican museum itself features a collection of "Modern Religious Art" inaugurated by Pope Paul VI in 1973. This collection features works by such paradigmatically non-representative artists as Paul Klee and Kandinsky. It is apparent in the address by Pope Paul VI upon the inauguration of the collection, excerpted below, that he conceived of modern religious art as (potentially) more effective at communicating to the modern man.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Diary of Banned Frank

T., Banned Frank, 2008, silkscreen print on paper

Banned Frank is a 2008 image that inspired a great deal of debate in the Netherlands and on that lightning rod of controversy we call the international blogosphere. In this post, I want to write about the image itself briefly and then discuss some of the controversy. The intent is not to feed the fire because honestly, the debate is over. I just recently learned about this image and wanted to offer my own perspective.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Karma Phuntsok--Tibetan Thangka Painting in Australia

Karma Phuntsok, a Tibetan-born artist now living in Australia, creates work that reflects this hybrid existence by using aspects of traditional Tibetan painting in new ways.  After fleeing Tibet with his family following what is referred to as the Tibetan Uprising of 1959, Karma Phuntsok eventually studied the traditional Thanka style of painting from a Thanka master in Nepal.  Since 1981 he has been living in Australia practicing his art. His application of traditional methods to new uses and settings is a reflection of the existence of the Tibetan culture in exile, forced to adapt to new settings while maintaining a cultural heritage and tradition.  In doing so, this art offers his audience a visual model of the mediation between two cultures, which serves a social function within the exiled Tibetan community in addition to its aesthetic purpose.

Guru Rinpoche, Karma Phutsok, 2001
Image reproduced with consent of artist.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Conventions and the Evolution of Imagery

In some ways a successful image is characterized by a harmonious balance of familiarity and novelty. Visual conventions, pictorial devices which become standardized, allow for this balance by allowing the artist to adopt an accepted imagery to their novel purpose. In addition to creating an image that resonates with earlier successful images, it allows the audience to better read the image. One such convention, prevalent in Western-European portraits of royalty, was the use of a column and velvet drapery.

King Edward VII of England, by Sir Samuel Fildes, 1902, Oil on Canvas