Domo Arigato to all of the visitors to the exhibition “Water Abstracts” – artworks by Berlin artist Silvia Sinha. Thanks for commenting on the tranquil beauty of these works, which mirror the Japanese aesthetic for calm (odayaka), impermanence (mujō) and the essence of minimalist order (kanso). Enjoy this recap. If you like what you see, think about adding Silvia’s works to your collection. Contact Project Art Lounge for details.
After New York graffiti artist Michael Stewart died in the hands of police in 1983, Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat famously said “It could have been me. It could have been me.” It was another case of an unarmed black man who died of a heart attack after being beaten by white police officers in the course of his arrest for what seems like a petty offense. Artists from Lou Reed to Keith Haring paid homage to Stewart as a victim of racial bias and brutality by the police. The officers were acquitted by an all white grand jury in 1985.
Everything happens for a reason. And I’m sure that everything always happens at the right time and in the right place. – Keith Haring
So what was the “reason” for the deaths of Michael Stewart, or Michael Brown, or Eric Garner? What was the reason for the police actions or the grand jury decisions? What does it say about racial relations in America when (young) black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than white men? Have attitudes and behaviors really changed or is the “original sin” of racism in America still rampant?
On the surface, the the “face of crime” hasn’t changed much in recent years. As FBI statistics show, a decade ago 70% of all arrests were of white people, 27% black. In 2013 whites made up 69% of those arrested, while 28% were black. Yet, as the NAACP points out 1 mio. out of 2.3 mio. Americans incarcerated today (or 43%) are black. Among youth admitted to state prison, 58% are black. From beginning (arrest) to end (prison), the odds seem to be stacked against African Americans.
Criminal justice statistics, though, can’t begin to describe the problem of racial-bias adequately. As New York Time’s David Brooks points out, racial bias is not just a problem of the criminal justice system. Deeper issues of income inequality are at the center of a problem which marginalizes the poor and creates “class prejudice…based on visceral attitudes about competence.” Unlike the American dream world where anyone can make it if they just work hard enough, Brooks describes a world of the haves and have-nots which are increasingly detached and fearful of each other.
In one world, people assume they can control their destinies. In the other, some people embrace the now common motto: “It don’t make no difference.” – David Brooks
So how is it that white graffiti artist Kenny Scharf can be arrested for spray painting in Brooklyn and come away unscathed while Michael Stewart winds up in a grave? Maybe art can help capture the meaning of the moment. At the very least, it can force us to focus squarely on the existence of a problem instead of ignoring its existence. Haring’s Michael Stewart – USA for Africa (image above) or Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart) are two specific reactions to the death of Michael Stewart. More broadly, the 2004 movie Crash by Paul Haggis depicts racial tensions and a mindset that exists within communities of color and in interactions with police, including the now frequently quoted situation of “driving while black.”
If you grow up in a white middle-class neighborhood, you learned that if you stay out of trouble and respect authority then nothing bad would happen even if you did have a run in with the law. Growing up in a black community, however, unfortunately means that you are more likely to come under the suspicious eye of the police. A white person’s drunken encounter with a police officer in the suburbs might lead to a night in jail and a day in court, but a disorderly encounter with the police in a black community might get you “taken down”, hurt or even killed.
These are the differences of circumstances and experience which can lead those like Basquiat to conclude “it could have been me,” while others lacking the same experience just ignore it, shaking their heads in disbelief. Be honest: raise your hand if you’ve ever seen racial prejudice in action but decided to look away.
There are no easy solutions. In an era of 24/7 social and mass media, having a calm and orderly national debate about racial relations is difficult enough. It’s going to take more than public gestures of solidarity by professional athletes going viral to make a difference. Both the media and politicians must go beyond the memes of the day and engage in true introspection and reconciliation. To begin with, it would help if leaders across the political spectrum would come together and acknowledge that historic grievances of the African American community are not a thing of the past or self-inflicted and that they still exist in very tangible ways today.
Protesters must be mindful of the long road ahead, stay peaceful and formulate a constructive agenda to affect change within their communities as well as in the officials and policies that affect them. Maybe then, can we all move beyond suspicion and hatefulness. In the book and movie “Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” by Alan Sillitoe, the rebellious young character Colin never makes it to the finish line in a race toward reconciliation, stopping short in a moment of reflection about his victimized past. In the end he chooses loneliness and defiance rather than reconciling himself with authority. As understandable as that may be in light of personal experience, I have to believe that it is better in the spirit of Maya Angelou to rise above circumstance in search of a better future.
“I don’t know what just happened.” That was Bearskis‘ reaction when Project Art Lounge introduced them to Design Festa vol. 40 at Tokyo Big Sight on November 8th. Understandable. Sprawling over two floors of Tokyo’s largest international and futuristic exhibition center, Design Festa brings together a wild and crazy assortment of creative characters. Artists, designers and performers of all types present their paintings, photographs, toys, clothes, masks, bags and all sorts of other things. Visitors, too, get into the act, many complete with outfits and costumes to emote their favorite meme. Coming on the heels of Halloween, vol. 40 was like a art fair dress-up party or Harajuku on steroids with a punk band playing on the outdoor parking lot. Design Festa cannot be compared to other contemporary art fairs, but careful observers will discover some talented young creators. The interesting thing about this fair: anything goes. First timers may be surprised and a little overwhelmed, but it’s definitely a trip worth taking. Welcome to Tokyo everybody.
The ultimate collector’s dream is not only to have a one-of-a-kind collection, but also to collect one of everything – a comprehensive compilation of everything the collector’s heart desires. Taken to an extreme, however, collecting for the sake of collecting can quickly turn into a nightmare. Such was the case at the 55th Venice Biennale entitled “The Encyclopedic Palace.” With an ambitious title borrowed from the work of artist Maurini Auriti, the 2013 edition of “the” Biennale alluded to Auriti’s dream “to hold all the works of man in whatever field, discoveries made and those which may follow.” In the end, it seemed like Auriti was trying a little too hard. After an inspiring collection of country pavilions, the overwhelming and disparate selection of art and artifacts in the main hall was a disappointment. Akin to the “uncertainty and collective acts” shared by artist Koki Tanaka at the Japan pavilion, the Biennale itself was an endless loop of memories and routines with few moments of inspiration or hope.
So why this belated critique of the 2013 Venice Biennale? The answer can be found in Yokohama. After a disillusioning experience in Venice, I became skeptical about the repetitive and exaggerated nature of biennials, triennials and the like. Thankfully, the Yokohama Trienniale has re-awakened me to the dream of a fresh and well curated collection. To begin with, artistic director Yasumasa Morimura does away with the idea of an “all encompassing” collection. He reminds us that the ability to let go and forget (discard) is a conscious choice, whether it regards the thoughtful editing of a curator or our own individual acts of dismissal of memories and routines. To drive this idea home, Morimura invited British artist Michael Landy and his 7 meter tall “Art Bin” into the center of the main hall of the Yokohama Art Museum in which artists and visitors could discard of artworks thereby sending them off into a “see of oblivion.”
The natural and easy flow from one section of the Triennale to the next is perhaps as quintessential as any experience in Japan which appears effortless on the surface but is actually the result of detailed preparation and hard work, with little left to chance. From “Unmonumental Monuments” and “Listening to Silence and Whispers” to “Laboring in Solitude” and “A drifting Journey,” the Yokohama Triennale is quietly provocative. The section entitled “Fahrenheit 451” presents New York artist Taryn Simon’s piece “Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII” including works censored by Chinese authorities last year. Still, some may criticize the Yokohama exhibition as being “too clean” or Morimura for “playing it safe”. What it lacks in drama, however, the Triennale makes up for in a compelling and well developed narrative, which is easily accessible in wall texts, a mobile app and the official guide book. Compared to Venice – the professional level of english language “outline” at the Yokohama Triennale is unrivaled, and that’s no easy accomplishment in an otherwise language-challenged Japan.
There’s no question that the contemporary art world is much more diverse (and controversial) than the well-curated exhibition in Yokohama. That being said, there’s much to enjoy about an exhibition which doesn’t prompt the question “Is that Art,” but is – to borrow the words of Mark Twain – “like a good story well told.” It’s like waking from a dream that you won’t want to forget. Last chance to see it: the Yokohama Triennale runs through Monday, November 3rd.
Unlike the “uncertainty and collective acts” shared by artist Koki Tanaka out of at the Japan pavilion, the encyclopedic palace felt disconnected
When visiting a contemporary art exhibition, who hasn’t heard the expression “my four year old could have done that”? Or how about the other favorite quip: “is that art, or is it trash that can be thrown away.” The fact is that both of these statements might sometimes be true – and that’s the beauty of it.
Recently, artist Michele Schuff introduced me to the Drifters Project by her friend Pam Longobardi. By turning plastic debris found in the ocean into beautiful sculptures, she is raising awareness about the massive amount of plastic drifting around the oceans, washing up on beaches and how it is personally connected to all of us.
Pam Longobardi: Drifters: Plastics, Pollution, and Personhood
In her artwork, Pam Longobardi’s encourages us to see that trash for what it is and not just walk by and ignore it. She challenges us to recognize our own role as consumers of plastic and to do something about it. By picking it up and making great art from it, she’s done her part as an artist. Now it’s our turn. Read more about the Drifters Project and The Concious Ocean on her website and buy her book Pam Longobardi: Drifters: Plastics, Pollution, and Personhood.
If children’s songs are known for their easy melodies and lyrics, the exhibition Go-Betweens: The World Seen through Children demonstrates that the lives of children are all but simple. The Mori Art Museum in Tokyo has put together an impressive collection of artwork depicting a complex world, in which children are challenged to endure, transgress and bridge cultural, personal and family conflicts and other borderline situations as they are growing up. A common theme is how children uniquely master these challenges through their ability to move freely between the worlds of reality and imagination.
Through creative cardboard cutouts, drawing tables for kids and placement of many works at child-eye-level, the exhibition is a summertime invitation to the whole family. Content-wise, however, the orchestration is clearly tuned to the adult visitor. The works of 26 artists are divided into 5 thematic categories, which at times feels a bit overdefined, but helpful nonetheless.
The title of the exhibition stems from the Danish-American photographer Jacob Riis, whose works in the first section of the exhibition show the plight of children confronted by cultural and economic division. Images of Japanese-Americans in internment camps by Toyo Miyatake are particularly impressive. Prideful large format photographs by Kim Insook of Zainichi Korean families in Japan are juxtaposed against oddly disturbing pictures by Zhang O showing young Chinese girls posing with their adoptive American fathers. Set among garden flowers and trees, the latter pieces suggest something both natural and unsettling about these relationships.
After raising questions about cultural ambiguity, the next two sections deal with sources of isolation, pain and conflict that children face in their everyday lives. The video loop “Eight” by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler show the infinite, “rainy day” loneliness of the child in a adult world, while an impressive mixed media piece by Christian Boltanski portrays the almost faceless anonymity of young people in a world full of evils as unimaginable – even for children – as the holocaust.
Luckily, Tracey Moffat’s edgy photographs with lighthearted tag lines add a welcome irreverence to ease the mood before we move on to the fourth section which is dedicated to the trials and tribulations of emotionally insecure pubescence.
The depiction of teenagers in search of their own identity is surely no easy task. An important film by Tomoko Kikuchi portraying the sexual exploration of a young tom boy in China gets drowned out by a larger surrounding piece showing the downfall of a Chinese town as if the teen’s soul searching was simply the fate of a decaying society. The pictures of Kayo Ume and installation “Tomorrow” by Fiona Tan are further interesting attempts to go inside the adolescent psyche. Unlike the highly charged photographs of Larry Clark and Ryan McGinley in other exhibitions, though, the world as seen through the eyes of “the fourth sex” here comes up short.
If you were expecting to enjoy childhood fun, fantasy and cheer, you’ve so far been disappointed. In the fifth and last section entitled “Moving between Different Dimensions,” you’ll finally be rewarded. Whether listening to kids explain how they came into the world in Shiota Chiharu’s video series or the fantastical fairy tale collages by Won Seoung Won, this is where kids finally get their say. One of my favorite pieces in the whole exhibition is the video “The Weeping Woman” by Rineke Dijkstra, in which school kids give their own interpretations of a painting by Picasso (it’s actually more fun if you don’t know what they are looking at).
As if too much good cheer is a bad thing, the final room of the exhibition is a display by the artist Yamamoto Takayuki from her series “New Hell.” In response to the question, “What kind of hell will we go to?” children created sculptures depicting fantasy filled monsters and machines to devour and eradicate the bullies and bed guys (and presumably themselves if they don’t watch out). With these prospects in mind one is left with the ambiguous feeling that even a fantastical world weighs heavy on children. If it weren’t for their honesty, creativity and ability to bridge differences as “go-betweens,” our world would be a lot worse off. This exhibition will not make you reminisce about or long for a warm and innocent childhood, but to the credit of the exhibition’s curators it will leave you with a good question in mind: why do we subject children to so many “evils” and force them to deal with unsettling realities they didn’t create. Instead, we should encourage them to do what they do best: imagine things as they ought to be.
*On that note: here’s a TED talk by Korean novelist Young-ha Kim to cheer you up:
Last summer I visited Kapoor in Berlin with my friend and Atlanta based artist Michele Schuff. Conveyor belts and cannons discharging hot red wax projectiles, splattering them on the walls and floors of the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Anish Kapoor’s Symphony for a Beloved Sun. The breathtaking size and scope of Kapoor’s work on display made me ask myself: how in the world can anyone create art on such a scale? As an extremely successful artist with the institutional resources and staff to support him, there really are no limitations to Kapoor’s creativity.
When I asked Michele how she recognizes great art and what appeals to her as an artist, she answered “when it feels authentic.” In a contemporary art world full of successful artists who have turned their ateliers into factories, appropriating the work of other artists and creating amazing art out of everyday objects, it can be hard to differentiate between art and avocation, between the authentic and the deceptive. And what if deception is precisely what the artist intended (see “Exit through the Gift Shop“)…don’t worry, you are not alone in asking: is that art?
Who better to explain the (r)evolution of contemporary art than Japanese artist Morimura Yasumasa, who has been “appropriating” the work of other artists for years and has been appointed artistic director of the 2014 Yokohama Triennale. At Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum annual cocktail party for new members, Morimura gave an honest reflection about the current Andy Warhol exhibition. A teenager at the time of Andy Warhol’s rising popularity, Morimura recalled how obscure Andy Warhol and his pop art was in the mid to late 1960s. In contrast with conventional wisdom that painting is a window to the innermost thoughts and feelings of the artist, Morimura quoted Warhol’s famous saying: “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” In other words, it is what it is – take it or leave it. In fact, Morimura concluded, there is much more behind Warhol’s work than first meets the eye. He sees an homage to the concealed advertising artist (Brillo) and the insightful eye of a discerning art director well attuned to the iconic imagery of his day (Marilyn Monroe). Whether you appreciate Warhol for his aesthetic use of color and form on the surface or for a deeper – and perhaps nostalgic – and concealed context, it is impossible to deny Warhol’s authenticity as an artist. Morimura, whose self-portraits also include projections of himself as Marilyn Monroe, knows as well as anyone what it means to test new waters, while paying tribute to the artistic past.
So the next time you find yourself asking “is that art,” it is worth taking a step back for a moment. In contemporary art – as in life – it often makes sense to reserve judgement and simply “take it all in” before drawing a conclusion, because contrary to conventional wisdom, beauty in art is not only in the eye of the beholder, but foremost in its creator.