Ekphrasis for Saint Michel Vanquishing Satan by Raphael

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Fine-feathered, firm-breasted virile seraphim

Thrust forth thy lance of tiny girth

In preening piety prick the beast

Betwixt bat flaps; piercing spine supine

Stuff the hungry hell mouth full

With broken-winged wickedness

While sweet streams unsullied cleanse thy callow calves

Damnation trod into the abyss

Knee deep in diabolic derrière

Swirled with the sulphurous smog

Of lusting Lucifer’s musky demise.

© Copywright Sigmund Oakeshott, Florence 2016

Joaquín Torres-Garcia at MoMA

Joaquín Torres-García: The Arcadian Modern is a new show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It is a major retrospective of the Uruguayan artist (1874–1949) with works ranging from the late 19th century to the 1940s, including drawings, paintings, objects, sculptures, and of a rarer nature, his personal notebooks and original publications. Structured in a series of major chapters in the artist’s career, the show displays his œuvre in a chronological, and invariably, thematic approach. The emphases are on two key moments:  when Torres-García spearheaded European early modern avant-garde movements, meanwhile honing his signature pictographic/Constructivist style (1923 to 1933); and his late return to Uruguay where he produced one of the most distinguished repertoires of synthetic abstraction (1935 to 1943).

Torres-García remains one of the most complex and relevant artists of the first half of the 20th century, and his art paved the way for modern art on both sides of the Atlantic. Owing to his close affiliations with many early avant-garde movements—from Catalan Noucentismo to Ultraism-Vibrationism, Cubism to Neo-Plasticism—entitles him as a significant figure whose work is due for critical reappraisal in the U.S.

This piece is one of the numerous gems of the show, a late drawing of wood from his mature Uruguay period. A visual manifesto dappled with minute symbolic elements (pyramid, fish, male, cross), names of prominent musicians and thinkers he labeled ‘prophets’ (Beethoven, Bach, El Greco, Pythagoras), and historical periods (the Renaissance, Middle Ages, prehistory).

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Titian’s Transformation: Analysis and Book Review

 

Titian’s Crowning with Thorns (1543) in the Musée du Louvre is arresting. Not for its graphic violence, but for its stylistic contrast to his later work of the same name (1573). While compositionally similar, these two versions comprise entirely different techniques, as if done by different hands. As such, they reflect Titian’s remarkable ability to transform as one of the greatest painters of his time.

The 1573 version, that I believed to be his only Crowning, is vastly different in its sublimation of suffering. Titian cloaks the sinewy forms in shadows that evoke an air of resolution, not pain. Far from explicit, this version is imbued with a biblical purpose for the redemption and salvation of humanity.

Before me on this day was a younger Titian, brutalized in the bloody depiction of Christ’s suffering. Gazing into his youthful violence, I yearned to grasp the nature of his drastic shift into a freer brushwork, a subtlety of tone, and overall thematic transformation. Was Titian’s later style was the result of unfinished works, the insights of age, both, or neither? What were the political provocations and/or his personal afflictions over those thirty years? Most simply, what was at stake for Titian within and beyond the pigment to produce such different styles in his lifetime?

These questions are at the forefront of scholarly discussion regarding Titian’s career. His vastly changed late style is explored in greater depth in Sylvia Ferigno-Pagden’s book, Late Titian and the Sensuality of Painting. In it, she addresses Titian’s entire cultural milieu and enriches her resources with additional research on the patrons and collectors of Titian’s works and his contemporaries (i.e. Schiavone, Tintoretto, and Jacopo Bassano). In short, this volume gives definitive answers to many questions while delving deeper into the great master’s life.

Do Ho Suh’s Search for Home

Written for http://www.artreport.com.

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Installation View

As our lives expand into an age of globalization, the notion of ‘home’ becomes increasingly subjective and open to myriad definitions. In essence, just what does a home mean in our global age? Do­ Ho Suh takes on this very question in his installation at MOCA Cleveland, a show that illustrates Suh’s artistic enterprise: an exploration of ‘global identity, space, nomadism, memory, displacement, and the meaning of home’.

Exacting in his memories, Suh recreates the domestic spaces in which he has lived: his childhood home (in traditional Korean hanok­ style), his student house in Rhode Island, and his current apartment in New York. He constructs these renditions out of monochrome polyester and steel tubes – the result is a mnemonic trigger. They become architectural exoskeletons with a ghost like quality as they blend between form and obscurity. Their spectral force, however, is pierced by the banality of daily life represented in replica inspection certificates and left-open power boxes. The effect is like a jolt from a lucid dream.

The overall translucency recreates the feeling of vague remembrance, or the heightened nostalgia that occurs when something escapes one’s tenure. Yet the element of nostalgia is not a tender one: the homes are left ‘broom clean’- bereft of personal keepsakes and furniture. This suggests all living quarters are suspended in a state of architectural latency, as if inhabitation is ephemeral. Suh thus depicts the sense of belonging to one’s home as antediluvian; it is called into question and overturned.

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Installation View and ‘Rubbings’ in the background.

In essence, the installation invites reflection on what it means to live in a space, and the extent to which one can claim ownership of material things. A principal tenant of this is mass production, which Suh illustrates through blatant commercialization of household items. He stitches Phillips brand labels on replica bulbs, the Medeco label on door locks, and the Underwriters Laboratory label on the door of his circuit breaker panels. Such accents underscore the anomaly of a home, the insurmountable question. In this light, our modern day homes do not really belong to us; they are mere constituents of a manufactured society. And despite our greatest efforts to adorn our homes with personal mementos, they remain cipher in their structure.

It is like a Nietzschean call to the notion of ­perception, our inability to see the world and its social constructs. Such as, that our sense of home is a concept, a human invention necessitated by our need for security and comfort, nothing more. Going further, Suh illustrates that our sense of belonging, even our identity, is ultimately an empty and fabricated conception – as void as the rooms he reproduces.

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Specimen Series

Beyond the diaphanous walls of this installation are two more shows. Specimen Series is a collection of household appliances that echo like an afterthought of his ghostly rooms. Assembling again his essential materials – polyester fabric with stainless steel – and display the items in LED lit display cases, Suh transforms common appliances into luminous facsimiles. These radiators, ovens, refrigerators, and bathtubs are Dada-­like as they recall Marcel Duchamp’s readymades and Jeff Koons’ Hoover convertibles. Yet despite their conceptual frankness, they remain phantasmal in their encased luster.

Rubbing/Loving focuses on the dimensions of the interior textures and details of his current apartment in New York. These large­scale rubbings, made from walls and appliances and paired with drawings of the same objects, express the artist’s quest for a sense of home. The rubbings are not recreations but copies; the exact indexes of the thing being represented, his state of inhabitants. Clinging to his tenancy and the value he affords it, these rubbings become the two­dimensional records of his home that he can always keep with him.

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Rubbing/Loving Project: New York Corridor (2014)

His New York apartment is not his first subject for the Rubbing/Loving project. Debuting in the Gwangju Biennale, this city was the site of a democratic protest where hundreds of civilians died. Seeing how the news media and government roguishly censored the tragedy, Suh wanted to expose the incident as a salute to the lives lost, an imprint of their lives on South Korean history.  With a team of blindfolded assistants, Suh covered a dormitory room at Gwangju Catholic Lifelong Institute in vellum paper and rubbed the entire surface with colored pencils. The act of exploring a space without sight was key in this project as it symbolized the attempt to make sense of a massacre that was largely erased by the media. What rubbings will we make of ourselves? What memories do we choose to imprint and erase? Such are the questions we are left to ask when looking up his newst works.

Despite the bare and sardonic adaptation of his homes, Suh remains relentless in realizing that for which he yearns – something that is fundamentally elusive – a sense of attachment. However wistful his quest, his work is not in vain. The show invites the viewers to reflect on the age, an era that upends traditional notions of time, space and place. Or one that erases the very structures of our identity like the transparent, mass produced structures of Suh’s projections.

In Suh’s presence our understanding of home, and therein our identity, undergoes a transmutation from the real to the virtual. We can feel our identity, as it crosses this threshold, escaping us and are pushed to contextualize our certainties to the oscillations of a changing world. Suh does not answer our most personal investigations; he presents them in stark clarity so that we can find our personal tenor of a home along the way.

 

Allegorical Villages and Participatory Art in Yoko Ono’s New Show “The Riverbed”

Original article featured on Art Report

Renowned for her collaborative art and social activism, Yoko Ono has maintained a cardinal force in the art world. She has an artistic potency that is both poetic and profound, often engaging with her audience via “instruction pieces.” This tryst between art and society, visitor and artist, is the crux of her newest show The Riverbed. Occupying both Galerie Lelong and Andrea Rosen with identical installations, The Riverbed invites visitors to reflect over river stones, mend broken ceramic, and discover the infinite through line drawing. Due to the work’s interactive nature, the two installations evolve over time, departing from their parallel forms into two ostensibly different shows. The process is an anthropological study as much as an art show. Under the guidance of Ono’s tonic guidelines, the audience undergoes intrinsic transformations of perception; she sheds Hikari (light in Japanese) on our acuities and inspires us to question established modes of thought.

Working in tangent with one another, The Riverbed galleries betoken an allegorical village, and as such they function as a crossroad for healing. She speaks directly to the soul of the viewer; as such her art is a medium between consciousness and transcendence. In “Stone Piece,” Ono has gathered, smoothed and sprawled out river stones on the floor. Per her instructions, you choose a stone and hold it until “all your anger and sadness have been let go.” Some have words inscribed like “imagine” and “dream.” Although this makes them somewhat doctrinaire, they are meant as meditation tools for restorative processing. “Line Piece,” another debuting work, is comprised of twine converging the gallery walls and desks, topped with measuring kits next to large sketchbooks, instructing: “Take me to the farthest place in our planet by extending the line.” Finally, her famed work “Mend Piece” is a welcomed old piece revived in the Riverbed village in both galleries’ tangential rooms. Visitors are encouraged to tape, cement and string ceramic fragments into their original form – to form many pieces into a single whole. Once repaired, there is coffee to enjoy and to signify the communal space of the village, to relish in the metaphysical mending of cracks in world misfortunes.

The truly fascinating feature of the installations is their contrasting facades. How the two galleries have evolved into radically different artworks in a single week. In other words, the interactive nature of The Riverbed allows visitors to overtake Ono’s artistry through a Barthesian form of semiosis. The installations, although first designed by Ono, are subject to the anonymous hands of many: At Lelong people placed the river stones in neatly formed worship circles, whereas at Andrea Rosen the stones were clumped together dappled with precarious cairns. Then there is Lelong’s “Line Piece,” comprised of labyrinthine lines in the sketchbook, while Andre Rosen’s extended more freely onto the walls themselves, pursuing abstract mountain tops and other indefinable doodling.

The most palpable difference was evident in both galleries’ “Mend Piece.” At Lelong, the visitors rendered the shattered ceramics into origami-like swans or modernist Arp-like fictions with twine wrapped aplenty. Andre Rosen featured more layered combinations, taping the fragments into makeshift forms. It wasn’t so much a process of mending as it was a passionate execution of assemblage. The real mending was internal, an unspoken harmony of improvised form. Ultimately it was, as all of Ono’s works so perfectly become, a reflection of the visitors’ narratives: what makes us find inner peace, what tickles our rage, what allows us to enter quietude and unearth beauty in the interconnectedness of the world. This show exhibits the poignant nature of those discoveries, and in every reverie of every mended crack, we find ourselves pieced together, orchestrated in solidarity by virtue of our human condition.

 

 

 

 

Titian’s “Allegory of Prudence” (ca. 1565)

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Titian’s ‘Allegory of Prudence’ operates on a number of levels. The first is an inscription that reads: EX PRAETERITO/PRAESENS PRUDENTER AGIT/NE FUTURA ACTIONẼ DETURPET (“From the experience of the past, the present acts prudently, lest it spoil future actions”). Below each clause corresponds a man’s profile depicting ‘The Three Ages: youth, maturity, old age’. The directions they face play are crucial in extending the metaphor as they represent the wider concept of Time having a ‘past’ (praeterito), ‘present’ (praesens), and ‘future’ (futura).

The lower two levels are the sets of heads – bestial and human – bound at the nape of the neck and facing different directions. Titian adheres the ancient tradition of animals as embodying time. In fact, the significance of a wolf, lion, and dog can be traced to Hellenistic Egyptian tradition. The god Serapis, according to the Saturnalia of Macrobe, was indeed the embodiment of Time and was often depicted alongside the same Cerberus here: A wolf ravenously devouring memory of all things past; A lion looking to the present with a stoic force; A dog bounding forth into an unknown future.

The composition itself is not characteristic of Titian. Indeed, the epigrammatic portrait looks more like a heraldic shield than a painting. This suggests it is a “timpano,” or a painted cover meant to protect a more important painting from deteriorating, and something Titian was known to make. The painting has other practical uses in who it depicts. The three faces represent (from oldest to youngest) Titian, his son Orazio, and Orazio’s younger cousin Marco Vecellio. Both of these young men worked in Titian’s Venetian workshop and so, the painting could be associated with the inheritance of Titin’s property to succeeding generations. The image itself thus acts as a visual guidance to all generations, advising them to act prudently in the administration of inheritance.

 

 

 

Artist in the Spotlight : Peter Doig

Increasingly rare in the modern art world, Peter Doig has a delectable childlike wonder – an embrace of vibrant color and a reimagining of the figure that is both retroactive and new. Devoid of pretense, his paintings resonate at first glance. They are somehow innately familiar, like images from subconscious hypnagogic states or splinters of unfiltered imagery that Doig uncovers with his brush. Doig beckons the viewer with his vivid scenes and swathes them in his own desire filled with frenzy and longing. Always melancholic or contemplative, his work speaks volumes to the plights of human experience, slashing through the common scrape of lost time and rendering plebeian life into an imaginative modern fairytale.

Evocative of Miro, Chagall, Bonnard, and at times Penck, Doig surprises the modern viewer with his precipitous and often dazzling palette, washing otherwise routine scenes in the miraculous hues of cinematic illusion. He is visceral in his craft, often combining humility and humor where it seems unfit. In these moments, it is as if he suddenly becomes conscious of himself, of his hand and its role as narrator. He dapples his own strokes of farce – the lapping tongue of a horse, the feather in a lion’s cap, the decided bulge of a horseman’s genitalia – like a signature of fresh cognizance and wit. Doig extracts bathos in such contemporary lucidity, exposing the fragility of human experience in glimpses of the mundane. In short, Doig surfaces man’s travail to the blithe of expression, igniting a wholly familiar response from the viewer and cementing an inextricable bond to the composition itself.

Doig is notable in the discussion of contemporary painting. Departing from the despotic claims of it alleged ‘death’, Doig reaffirms figurative painting as one of the most powerful tools in contemporary art. Fixated with the evocative powers of visual language, his pictorial work combines the history of abstraction with tropes of narrative painting and nods to popular culture. Forever pushing the possibilities of his medium, Doig maintains his prominent place as one of the most ingenious and original artists today.

For a larger selection of Doig’s works, see Michael Werner’s gallery website.

Gerard Richter’s ‘Cage Series’ at the Tate Modern

In the year 2006, Gerard Richter was to reveal one of his most monumental series of paintings. Six large-scale canvases, resembling his past squeegee abstractions, the ‘Cage Series’ are like overcast vistas of painting and erasure. Lines stir the surface where squeegee has tarried, with vivid brushstrokes, scrapings, and pockets that desiccate the paint to an organic erosive form. Pictured below, Cage 2 is a gossamer veil of grey stroked with chartreuse yellows like a thin mist; Cage 6 has striking chromatic range but still retains an air of refinement with its sweeping cast of muted light and incandescent undertones of grey.

Described by Sir Nicholas Serota as ‘magisterial’, these works were named after the American avant-garde composer John Cage. Although Richter never met his muse personally, he felt a profound resonance with his music. In a conversation with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, Richter said that he had been listening to the music of Cage whilst working in his studio at the time. These works are thus the visual recordings of Cage’s music, the painted aftermaths of his aleatory rhythms, melodies, and chance procedures. Repeating it like a mantra, Cage’s quote ‘I have nothing to say and I am saying it’ became Richter’s own idiom, and his paintings his own expressive way of saying nothing. In the visceral scrapings and vaporous hues is Richter’s uncompromising freedom, choreographed by the constant flux of Cage’s own polychromatic compositions.

 

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Cage 2

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Cage 6

Exercise in Translation: Sappho’s “Hymn to Aphrodite”

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I have been reading a lot of Ancient Greek lyric poetry lately, from the likes of Sappho, Alcaeus, Bacchylides, and the rest of the “Nine Lyric Poets,” a canonical group of poets who pioneered the art of choral and monodic verse. Highly esteemed by the scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria, they are stated to have established lyric song. This entry features a famous poem by the poetess Sappho in which she entreats Aphrodite, the goddess of love, to ensnare a reluctant lover. She implores the goddess not to spurn her pleadings, lest she break a heart which is already afflicted with grief.

I

Ποικιλόθρον᾽ ὰθάνατ᾽ ᾽Αφροδιτα,

παῖ Δίοσ, δολόπλοκε, λίσσομαί σε

μή μ᾽ ἄσαισι μήτ᾽ ὀνίαισι δάμνα,

πότνια, θῦμον.

II

ἀλλά τυίδ᾽ ἔλθ᾽, αἴποτα κἀτέρωτα

τᾶσ ἔμασ αύδωσ αἴοισα πήλγι

ἔκλυεσ πάτροσ δὲ δόμον λίποισα

χρύσιον ἦλθεσ

III

ἄρμ᾽ ὐποζεύξαια, κάλοι δέ σ᾽ ἆγον

ὤκεεσ στροῦθοι περὶ γᾶσ μελαίνασ

πύκνα δινεῦντεσ πτέῤ ἀπ᾽ ὠράνω

αἴθεροσ διὰ μέσσω.

IV

αῖψα δ᾽ ἐχίκοντο, σὺ δ᾽, ὦ μάσαιρα

μειδιάσαισ᾽ ἀθάνατῳ προσώπῳ,

ἤρἐ ὄττι δηὖτε πέπονθα κὤττι

δἦγτε κάλημι

V

κὤττι μοι μάλιστα θέλω γένεσθαι

μαινόλᾳ θύμῳ, τίνα δηὖτε πείθω

μαῖσ ἄγην ἐσ σὰν φιλότατα τίσ τ, ὦ

Πσάπφ᾽, ἀδίκηει;

VI

καὶ γάρ αἰ φεύγει, ταχέωσ διώξει,

αἰ δὲ δῶρα μὴ δέκετ ἀλλά δώσει,

αἰ δὲ μὴ φίλει ταχέωσ φιλήσει,

κωὐκ ἐθέλοισα.

VII

ἔλθε μοι καὶ νῦν, χαλεπᾶν δὲ λῦσον

ἐκ μερίμναν ὄσσα δέ μοι τέλεσσαι

θῦμοσ ἰμμέρρει τέλεσον, σὐ δ᾽ αὔτα

σύμμαχοσ ἔσσο.

I

Immortal Aphrodite, atop thy irised Throne,

Daughter of Zeus, Weaver of Wiles

I plead thee, bruise not my Spirit with

Torments and despair, O Queen.

II

But if once thou heard my voice from afar,

Heeding thou, come hither now

And hearken, as once thou left the

Golden dominions of thy father;

III

Yoked went thy shining chariot,

Swift-wing’d and Sparrow-drawn,

From the bright Aether you flutter’d

Pinions o’er the black-bosom’d Earth.

IV

Fleetly then didst thou appear with

Sudden brilliance of deathless countenance

Alight with thy smile, thus I had called thee

To my side, thou asked:

V

“What now has befallen thee? And

Whom should Persuasion (Peitho) summon to soothe

Thy heart’s stinging Madness of Desire?

Who wronged thee Sappho?

VI

For she now flees, but soon shall pursue,

For gifts she now slights, but soon shall offer,

And if she loves not, soon her heart shall burn ,

Though she may remiss.”

VII

Comest now I pray thee, and release me from my suffering,

Rid my heart of cruelest cares, I beseech thee,

Fulfill for me what I pine to arouse, O Queen,

Be thou my ally.