December 3, 2008

Sam Fuentes - Gallery Visit

The ‘Waterborne’ exhibit in the Katherine E. Nash gallery was a fine culmination of watercolor works from artists around (predominantly) the Midwest, including a few specially selected from the Weisman collection. A few dozen artists were featured with generally a handful of works from each, ranging from one to five-or-so paintings. All of the paintings were watercolor works, save for a few acrylic paintings by Karen Knutson as juxtaposition to her noted inspiration John Salminen, whose works were featured prominently on the same wall. Besides the proximity of these two artists, there left no real emphasis on the arrangement of the rest of the works in the gallery, since each group of artist’s works were completely independent of the next. I personally enjoyed the ability to wander aimlessly from frame to frame without guilt. The exhibit was mostly on canvas, mostly framed, and displayed a nice dialogue between opaque versus translucent paints.

Each painting need only be a watercolor, and the subjects of each piece were a world of variability. From bizarre abstractions of tangled lines and angry colors, to a soft and clear depiction of a houseboat on a sunlit afternoon, the paintings were of everything worth painting. One of my favorites was a work by James Boyd-Brent entitled “Tired Day, Grand and Still.? It was a collage of translucent hues illustrating a quiet woodland bay, on a lake at sunset, seemingly untouched except for the ghosted outlines of two relaxed human figures in the foreground. The trails of preliminary pencil sketches delineate the natural flow of colors, from the tree line to the lake, and the two figures sprawling across the rocks. And the two figures are the only parts of the work not given much emphasis at all, and hardly even any color beyond the pencil sketch and the bleeding from the hues around them. There is a variety of strokes featured, from the miniscule confetti storm of colors for the ripples in the water, to the ghostly light stains in the sky, which seem to be more spilled than painted. James Boyd-Brent stated his appreciation of watercolors for their permanence on the medium. They cannot be erased, they are irreversible. For his works in the Nash Gallery, he described his inspiration; “That sense of nature reflecting mood and feeling, and an expression of a state of being in the work itself, can emerge when working quite quickly and directly in watercolor.?

I would strongly recommend a visit the ‘Waterborne’ exhibit. As a matter of fact, I already have – to my overstressed mother, who could use some time to look at something pretty. I had never considered much the world of watercolor art, but after walking through the Nash gallery, I’ve come to realize the simplicity and beauty of it. It’s permanence is a characteristic to be respected, and requires much skill and careful craftsmanship. It’s a medium that you do not have complete control of. It’s something to interact with and play to your liking. There is a world of difference between your choice of translucent versus opaque hues, but both require the same care and consideration in each stroke. So for those of my friends who didn’t already know that, I would recommend a walk through ‘Waterborne.’

December 2, 2008

Tetsumi Kudo retrospective at WAC

The exhibition of Tetsumi Kudo, at the Walker Art Center is called “Garden of Metamorphosis?. This is a one person retrospective of thirty years or so of Tetsumi’s artistic career. The exhibition follows his career chronologically, from its beginnings in Japan in the sixties, his travel to France, where he spent roughly twenty years, and his return to Japan. The exhibition contains easily over sixty pieces of work, possibly much more, and spans several rooms. Almost all of his works are mixed media sculptures. Recurrent objects in his work are colored strings, human hair, wood, plastics and resins, as well as many pre-made objects such as birdcages or plastic flowers. Only one work was simply an oil painting, which resembled a Pollok piece, it consisted of interweaving drips of oil paint. All other works were either free standing sculptures, wall sculptures, or, one of his major works, “Philosophy of Impotence’, an installation.

The exhibition’s name could come from several places. A recurrent theme in Tetsumi’s borderline graphic work is metamorphosis and change. Also his work changes over this career, gradually dealing with different themes. Many of Tetsumi’s works appeared almost human in nature, and the struggle of humanity plays a role in his art. A recurrent image, which begins in the late part of his early career, epitomized in “Philosophy of Impotence?, is a limp, often shriveled looking phallus. Tetsumi used it as a symbol not of sexual power, but of impotence, and as a symbolic chrysalis, implying change and growth. Much of Tetsumi’s work deals with population growth, technology, and waste. A concept of overpopulation meets wasteland, meets potential for more and different growth.

One of Tetsumi’s late works, entitled “Mary in Hell? which was created in 1980, reminded me of Chris Ofili’s work “The Holy Virgin Mary?. This work is a mixed media wall sculpture, shaped in a rectangle like a painting. It is made of wood, cotton, fake soil plastic, polyester resin, a Mary and baby Jesus figurine, conch shells, string, and rosaries. It consisted of several shriveled and twisted phalluses, reminiscent of tadpoles or worms, among conch shells, and rosaries. The conch shells generally arranged in a sun or star shape were colored yellow, and the rosaries hung both directly off of the phalluses and off of the green and white fake soil background. Atop the work is the figurine of Mary and baby Jesus covered in yellow strings like moss, or vines. Like Ofili’s work, “Mary in Hell? is another artistic re-examination of a historically relevant religious symbol. Religious iconography is unusual among Tetsumi’s work, and only appeared late in his career. An examination of faith was prompted by an unspecified health crisis he had just been through. The impotent phallic symbols again signifying change, or metamorphosis, keep the work connected to the theme of his career.

I would recommend this to a friend who had the time to spend taking the entire exhibition in. Being a retrospective of an artist’s entire career, and because of the graphic intensity and highly symbolic meaning throughout the works, one would best interpret the exhibition over a long period of time. At first some things may seem offensive and difficult to bear, but as the viewer gains an understanding of the artist, and the meaning of the symbols, most obviously the highly recurrent impotent phallus, individual works become more intriguing than repulsive. The way back through the gallery, from the more recent to earliest works may be the most rewarding, because of the understanding gained from Tetsumi’s progression.

Tyler Olsen

November 26, 2008

Kai Althoff By Emily Barth

Emily Barth
Toyna's Group
Artist Research Project
November 26th 2008

Kai Althoff- A German Painter

A powerful theme in the eyes of the beholder Kai Althoff uses backdrops of war, religion, and pub-land to covey the theme of male domain along with violence, sensuality, vulnerability, and enticement. His painting has a timeless way about them, and as the viewer examines his work they see history repeating itself right before their eyes. He is driven by the need to reconcile with Germany’s history, and his longing for masculine identity and politics is apparent.
Although he is primarily a painter he works with other types of media well. These include but are not limited to sculpture and collage, utilizing materials like resin, oils, tape, and tin foil. He uses a broad visual language to convey his ideas. Many people find his work controversial since it addresses forgotten wars and gruesome scenes, as well as orgy-esque scenes that could be considered crude or too intimate for the eyes of the public. Sexuality and sensuality are both common in his pieces.
Kai Althoff was born in Cologne, Germany and is well known as a musician and the leader of German band named Workshop whose first album was recorded in 1990. This, perhaps, has influenced the ways he makes installations and videos with the touch of urban sound and narrative, not true stories, but as true of a fiction as one could see.
Critics say that Kai Althoff “walks a tightrope between high and low culture? often questioning his pieces but always thinking about the relationship they have with the viewer and the space they are shown in. He tries to deliberately avoid refined and proper techniques, giving his pieces the raw edgy feeling needed to portray his ideas. He tries to balance his work with elements of organic and abstract, combining sound tracks with drawing, videos and installations. It seems surreal and yet a viewer can identify with his message. He is a well rounded artist who knows exactly who he is and what he is trying to say.

Continue reading "Kai Althoff By Emily Barth" »

Matthew Barney Research Project

Matthew Barney is a multimedia artist primarily known for his Cremaster film series. His arbitrary and ambiguous images provoke a densely surreal landscape of bizarre characters throughout a multitude of seemingly unrelated locations, such as the Isle of Man, the Chrysler Building, and Bronco stadium in Boise, Idaho. He was raised in Boise, and as a young boy spent his days playing football and other sports. Barney attempts to recreate the visual stimulus of highly saturated broadcast sports – the bright, thick colors and variety of swooping camera angles. In his films, he focuses on characters that are at times recognizable, but otherwise are essentially incomprehensible. Barney has the assistance of hundreds of actors and extras in his films, including that of his wife, Icelandic pop singer Bjork.

Cremaster 3 video still

Barney’s work is devoid of any easily-interpreted meaning, and are primarily an assortment of highly complex visual stimulus. His films are created, however, in a very comprehensible process. Barney describes, “This body of work began by selecting five locations that would eventually come together as one body. Once those locations were established, I went to those places and started writing stories that would grow out of those particular places.? The images and characters in his films are embodiments of the “mythology? of those places he describes. He relates his images and stories to those we see every day, citing his own inability to follow any one thread of storyline for very long – the sorts of stories we might glimpse into when passing someone on the street, or changing channels on the TV.

Of any artist we’ve studied in class, Matthew Barney relates most to alternative multimedia artist Chris Larson. Both of these artists are well known for their intriguing art-house films. Both rely heavily on bizarre visual stimuli, at times very grotesque, and other times very simple and mysterious. Both include unexplainable characters and some forms of sculpture. But in the convoluted sources behind these films is where they differ just slightly. Whereas Larson primarily documents the interaction of people with machines, Barney focuses more on the interaction of people with their locations. Larson presents a scant story-line if any, and Barney supplies us with a brief glimpse into many different stories. Beyond the visual portion of their works, Larson includes a deeper audio dimension to his pieces in a cacophony of rhythms and drums. Barney’s Cremaster series include a soundtrack, but are merely supplementary in a strange wishy-washy echo to his visuals.

I would probably not suggest a visit to see Barney’s work. At least not to my friends, who enjoy more culturally-infused political/social referenced works. They enjoy digging deep to find strong meaning. Barney’s work is intentionally incomprehensible, because his films are all about the visual stimuli. But even in an aesthetic respect, I don’t find his works very moving. The images force me to ask “Why?? When I keep having to ask “why,? I expect an answer now and then. But I don’t get an answer with Barney’s work. You’re not supposed to know why the characters are doing whatever it is they’re doing, why they’re dressed that way, or why they’re there. Every frame gives me more questions than answers, and I personally don’t dig it.

Continue reading "Matthew Barney Research Project" »

Richard Hawkins

Richard Hawkins is an artist who currently lives and works out of Los Angeles, California. He works with many mediums, and has a wide variety of work that is not readily classifiable. Paintings, collages, and digital images are some of the varied forms his work takes. Hawkins was co-curator of an exhibition of gay male artists called “Against Nature?, which occurred in 1989. This is the earliest reference to his artwork available. Following the exhibition in the early nineties, Hawkins began working a lot with collage.
His collages often contain male models, or porn stars, sometimes put into new context. Sometimes the collages would consist of only two pages, of a model, and a different background. Throughout these works themes of desire, and being desired, objectivity, and youth and masculinity were addressed. The surfaces for his collages, and some of his paintings were often found images, such as old desks, or other random things. As his work progressed through the nineties, his themes and the work itself evolved.


Toward the end of the nineties Hawkins work became more decadent. Work characteristic of this time include images of severed zombie heads floating in front of an amorphous background of bright colors. These symbolic images were said to exemplify the relationship between cutting, collage, and sadism that was evident through all his work of the nineties. His work eventually lost its symbolism, and took on a painterly theme. Though he painted throughout his career, in the early 2000’s he moved through abstraction, and later got into narrative paintings associated with his native Creek heritage.


Hawkins early works are seen as autobiographical, and having a lot to do with shedding identity and exploring relationships. His abstract painting had more to do with the validity of abstraction, and, as with all of his works, many paintings he did looked like they were all done by different artists. His later paintings became narrative and exploratory. He is part Native, and wanted to explore his relationship to that identity, as well as the suffering by Creek people.


In relating Hawkins to Andrea Carlson, who also has a mixed ancestral cultural identity, there are both similarities and differences. Hawkins has explored many more materials for conveying his art than Carlson, however his work relating to his ancestry is in the form of narrative painting. Both Hawkins and Carlson explore their relationship to identity in an ambiguous, yet narrative way. In Carlson’s work it is easy to see cultural influences, whereas Hawkins stays away from clear connections. Both portray their feelings about the assimilation of identity and struggle associated with that.
I would recommend a friend see an exhibition of Hawkins’ work. I would like to see one myself. I would tell someone that his mediums are always changing, and the identities and concepts of art he works with are both rational and expressive.

Frieze Magazine
Issue 97, March 2006

Library Referencs:
Art in America v.83 May, 1995, p. 116, exhibition review

Tyler Olsen