Eleven years and 4800 miles apart, Jurgen Bey’s Treetrunk Bench and High Table have welcomed us to sit a while and remember where we come from and where we are going. Trees have that enduring quality about them. From a wedding reception in 2008 at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, Germany to Atlanta’s High Museum in 2019 these spaces of respite and conversation have come a long way. With a mind to the ubiquitous nature of the fallen tree, Bey actually only sells the chair backs and table tops. The tree trunks are locally sourced. It’s an apt reminder that we bring to any artwork our own sensibilities and interpretations. The canvas (or log) is as much a reflection of the recipient’s creative energy and potential as it is of the artist’s vision and message. It’s the dialogue that keeps art and all of us alive.
Michele Schuff’s highly anticipated new show opens on February 2nd at Sandler Hudson Gallery in Atlanta. To explore Michele’s work is to discover a deep and indecipherable sensitivity masked by layers of wax and pigment. Indeed she may only have scratched the surface of her immense talent in a show that promises to take us to a new galaxy “On The Edge of Forever.” Having had a sneak peek inside her studio a few months ago, I am intensely curious to peer through the polished lens of Michele’s telescope. Knowing her work, I don’t expect to unearth any dark abyss, but a world full of light and wonder and awe. Her show runs through March 17th at 1000 Marietta Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30318.
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.