Sunday, August 22, 2010

Gallery Visit: Marion Goodman Gallery: Rineke Dijkstra:

Rineke Dijkstra, the Dutch artist, photographer, videographer, is best known for her portraits of teens. Her recent show at the Marion Goodman Gallery on 57th Street in New York, caught their awkwardness included three brilliant videos and some still photographs of British adolescent kids visiting the Tate Liverpool galleries.

Most of her portraits are close-ups of a single subject. Her close-ups of adolescents are moving. They are set against a white backgrounds, causing you to focus on their expressive and open faces, to notice what they feel, their slightest reactions.

In the 12-minute video "I See a Woman Crying," nine British school children view Picasso's "Weeping Woman," a portrait of Picasso's wife Dora Maar broken into glass-like shards.

The kids are asked what they feel about the portrait. You never see the painting; the camera stays on the faces of the kids.

Another video shows one of the girls sitting on the floor drawing the painting.

A third video shows adolescents dancing at a club, a subject that Dijkstra explored earlier.

In other series, she photographed a row of adolescent boys, and a row of girls at the beach, with the sea as the background.

Most of her portraits are close-ups of a single subject. Her close-ups of adolescents are moving. They are set against a white backgrounds, causing you to focus on their expressive and open faces, to notice what they feel, their slightest reactions.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Studio Visit: Charles and Ray Eames

I was cutting up shirt cardboard, looking for ways to create a simple system that preschool kids could use to build simple arches and walls. I remembered Charles and Ray Eames's brilliant "House of Cards," a little box of slotted cards you could combine to build sturdy little constructions. Maybe slotted cards would be a solution. I found some shirt cardboard and began to cut 4x6 cards with slots.

I thought about the great design legacy of the Eameses. Their designs are timeless. They were done in the 1950's and 60's, but they are still fresh. You can find them in the Museum of Modern Art's Store catalogue. I called the MoMA Store to find out if the "House of Cards" box was in stock. It was, and I hurried there to buy it, and then spent the afternoon playing with different ways to play with those beautiful cards.

Who were Charles and Ray Eames?

Charles (1907–1978) and Ray (1912–1988) Eames (pronounced /ˈiːmz/) were American designers, who worked in and made major contributions to modern architecture and furniture. They also worked in the fields of industrial and graphic design, fine art and film.

The Eameses were definitely among America's greatest designers. The husband and wife design team began designing products shortly after the Second World War. Production had slowed all over the world. Products needed to be energized, re-designed. They believed that products needed to be simpler, more practical, easy to use, easy to mass-produce, and above all beautiful. They were quintessential contemporary designers, at a time when contemporary design was becoming a great international force. They were passionate about design and quickly became an important part of the American design scene.

They had a major impact on the design world. They re-invented office chairs, giving them a sleek beauty that would be at home in the new contemporary architectural spaces.

They gave elegant little objects a new look, clocks, whimsical coat racks, humorous toys. Many of their products are still in production today. (See the Museum of Modern Art catalogue.)

The US federal government, in a moment of great wisdom, sent the Eameses around the world as ambassadors of American design. They helped establish America as an international resource for modern design excellence.

The Eameses took thousands of photographs of American design, new architecture, new products, art, everything they thought was exciting and beautiful. They used the images in multimedia shows and films, that taught corporate executives how to think about modern design.Their dedicated efforts to teach us about design helped place American designers in the center of international design, a position we continue to enjoy today.

Here is a link to the TED conference talk the Eameses grandson gave.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Musing: Jane Jacobs Urban Planner

Reading an email from MAS the Municipal Arts Society, I caught the name Jane Jacobs. I remembered that when I was at college, I was a big fan of Jacobs, an urban planner, and her ideas about what makes for a vibrant city. I remembered that she lived in "The Village," Greenwich Village, and took many of her ideas, later described so magnificently in her book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," from the streets around her home. I liked that she was concerned with the safety of streets; she felt that streets with people on them at all hours made for safe streets.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the New York Times about Jacobs: Jane Jacobs was celebrated as the author of "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," arguably the most influential book on city planning ever written. And, in her estimation, her block in the West Village contained all the necessary virtues. It was short (encouraging foot traffic) and crowded (spurring a busy street life) and made up of three- and-four-story buildings of varying ages and conditions, with apartments above and shops on the ground floor: a grocer, a barber, a hardware store. In one of the best-known passages of "Death and Life," Ms. Jacobs writes of the intricate and vibrant daily rituals of the block, what she called a "sidewalk ballet." "I make my own first entrance into it a little after 8 when I put out the garbage can," she wrote. Soon after, "well-dressed and even elegant men and women with briefcases emerge from doorways and side streets," and "simultaneously, numbers of women in housedresses have emerged and as they crisscross with one another they pause for quick conversations that sound with either laughter or joint indignation, never, it seems, anything in between." The block was peopled by longshoremen and children walking to Public School 41, by the delicatessen owner, Joe Cornacchia, and Mr. Lofaro, "the short, thick-bodied, white-aproned fruit man who stands outside his doorway a little up the street, his arms folded, his feet planted, looking solid as earth itself. "In Jacobs's view, it was a mixture of these functions, as citizens crossed paths and exchanged goods and news, that gave a neighborhood vitality. She even contended that theaters and music spaces should be integrated into the neighborhoods of the populations they served. The Death and Life of Great American Cities was not just a polemical attack, however; Jacobs also outlined what she saw as positive features of urban neighborhoods. They were fourfold. First, what would later be called mixed use was beneficial, with residential, retail, civic, and industrial buildings jumbled together and growing organically. Second, city blocks should be compact. Third, buildings should be diverse in age, condition, and size; Jacobs's ideas dovetailed effectively with the growing movement in favor of historic preservation. Finally, population should be dense. For Jacobs, the ideal neighborhood was often represented by her home of Greenwich Village, where she interacted with a wide range of individuals. Here is a link to the article on Jane Jacobs.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Museum Visit: MoMA: Matisse's Radical Years

The Museum of Modern Art exhibition called "Matisse: The Radical Years," the art of Henri Matisse from approximately 1913 to 1917, features major works created during a pivotal time in his career, when he was influenced by the cubism of Picasso and Braque. It is a smallish exhibition, but a very important one.

The exhibition includes one of Matisse's most magnificent paintings, the "Bathers By a River." It is larger than I remembered, more powerful, extremely beautiful, and very architectural. (Some of Matisse's greatest paintings were composed for architectural settings.) The color is almost monochromatic black, grays, and white, with green. The canvas is divided into vertical bands, like columns. The figures, like the figures in a Greek frieze, are confined to the bands. There are four stylized figures: one is side view facing right, one is back view, one is side view facing left, and one is front view, like the views of elevations in architectural plans. Matisse labored on the canvas for several years, constructing and re-constructing the figures, over time, making them more geometric. MoMA offers xray photographs of the changes.

Matisse always created near-perfect compositions. But each time I see "Bathers By a River," I am awed by his patient search for the ultimate composition. Wow.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Musing: Why Art?

I have been writing some Artbus stuff and decided to look up "What is Art" online. Why not? I discovered Leo Tolstoy's essays* on art. They had some wonderful things to say. Also found the work of a woman named Dissanayake*. She feels we're biologically "hard-wired" for art. I like her ideas. Fun trying to understand why art is necessary in our lives. We know it, but can we explain it?
This morning, I was struggling to write this blog explaining why art is important, and why it's important to teach children, especially young children, about art. My husband and I talked about what art is and why it is important. We are both artists, he is an architect, I am a designer-architect. Our conversation helped me clarify some ideas.
We agreed that art is a dialogue. It's a communication. It's a special kind of communication, one that goes deeply into your human-being-ness. Ok, not a word. But there it is. Art touches our deepest human feelings, if it's good.
We read that when architect Philip Johnson saw Frank Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, he cried. Was it because he heard the dialogue? Saw Bilbao's beauty? Understood its power to transform architecture forever? Leading architects, in a poll, voted the Bilbao the most important building of the last hundred years. They felt it too.
Art speaks to us in non-verbal ways. Verbal too. A person who has been working in art, can understand the dialogue. It's rare that you hear it, but when you do, you are deeply touched. When I visited my teacher, the great architect Louis Kahn, after being out in the workplace for twelve years, he spoke to me in his unique monkish way, and I was so deeply moved that I cried. When I saw the play "Red," about Mark Rothko's passionate dialogue with art, I cried. Art touches us deeply. It reminds us that we are human, that we have profound feelings.
Author Leo Tolstoy, explained that the art that you feel, springs from the artist's deepest feelings. We need artists and art to awaken our deep feelings.
So how do we encourage our children to enter this human playground of art, and to enjoy the passionate feelings that can inform their play, their relationships, their work, and their art? How do we encourage them to communicate their most unique ideas?
Parents are our first art teachers and our first "art" dialogue: baby's earliest singing sounds and the responsive singing of a parent. Toddlers move on to singing and dancing, then plunge into finger-painting and forming playdoh shapes, happy with Mom's responses. So important, Mom's responses to her child's art works.
Later on, children need art experiences that will engage their sense of process, problem-solving, and idea-making. They need innovative, conceptual projects that will help them see elements that can become art, that will develop their vocabulary and promote their desire to communicate ideas.
The Artbus parent-child workshops, are designed to offer parents and their children a special art experience: art at the highest level. The workshops take place in an artist's studio. Parents and children meet the artist and learn about his art. His paintings are on the walls. His favorite objects are all around the studio. His latest materials are on the table. The children are excited by all this. They understand immediately, that this is a "real" art studio, a place where exciting art ideas happen. Where process is important. It is inspiring.
Artbus started in 1980. The first Artbus children, are now parents. They remember the workshops with affection and would now like their children to have a similar art experience. In response, we are preparing another series of workshops that will we hope will inspire another generation of young artists, but certainly, another generation of art sponsors.
We plan to begin visiting artists in September 2010. We wonder how we can bring these special art workshops to schools and museums, to inspire a great many more children to step into the world of creativity and art?

Ellen Dissanayake approaches philosophical aesthetics not from the standpoint of psychology, but from ethology and anthropology. Her Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes from and Why (Free Press, $24.95) is a wonderfully stimulating contribution to thinking about art. Dissanayake, who teaches at the New School, brings to her work fifteen years of life in Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and Papua New Guinea. It is not just broad cultural experience that informs her writing, but a knowledge evolutionary ethology. She advocates what she calls “species-centrism” in aesthetics, preferring to see art against a brackdrop of four million years of human evolution. In a modified sense, she intends to construct a sort of sociobiology of the human aesthetic response, beginning with the implications of the brute fact that art makes people feel good. Art persists in all human societies, and it must do so for reasons. Among these is the pleasure it gives, and anything as strongly pleasurable and compelling as the arts probably in some way contributes to biological survival.

"What Is Art?" (excerpts from Leo Tolstoy's Essay on Art)
#1. In order correctly to define art, it is necessary, first of all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure and to consider it as one of the conditions of human life. Viewing it in this way we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man.

#2. Every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship both with him who produced, or is producing, the art, and with all those who, simultaneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same artistic impression.
#3. Speech, transmitting the thoughts and experiences of men, serves as a means of union among them, and art acts in a similar manner. The peculiarity of this latter means of intercourse, distinguishing it from intercourse by means of words, consists in this, that whereas by words a man transmits his thoughts to another, by means of art he transmits his feelings.
#4. The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another man's expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion which moved the man who expressed it. To take the simplest example; one man laughs, and another who hears becomes merry; or a man weeps, and another who hears feels sorrow. A man is excited or irritated, and another man seeing him comes to a similar state of mind. By his movements or by the sounds of his voice, a man expresses courage and determination or sadness and calmness, and this state of mind passes on to others. A man suffers, expressing his sufferings by groans and spasms, and this suffering transmits itself to other people; a man expresses his feeling of admiration, devotion, fear, respect, or love to certain objects, persons, or phenomena, and others are infected by the same feelings of admiration, devotion, fear, respect, or love to the same objects, persons, and phenomena.
#5. And it is upon this capacity of man to receive another man's expression of feeling and experience those feelings himself, that the activity of art is based.
The link to more: