Your eyes and ears on the world of art and culture. We remind you that 18 years of back issues of eMusings can be found on our archives page.
As more of the world migrates to the online universe, we find wider choices to steer you to. Here are some of the best that we have culled from hours and hours of looking.
The Jack Bell Gallery in Gabon brings us the colorful works of Boris Nzebo. His layered images reflect life as he sees it in Douala, the largest city in Cameroon, and may include advertising signs and murals that he sees around him. You can find additinal information about him and his strong urban influence here, as well as an understanding of his intense feeiings about inequality, violence, and political turmoil.
LaGuardia Airport in New York is undergoing extensive remodeling. One of the more arresting installations has been created by Sarah Sze. Titled "Shorter than the Day", her glittering sculpture was inspired by Emily Dickinson's poem on finality, with the lines "Because I could not stop for death". Although the airport's remodel will not be completed until 2025, Sze's glittering sculpture has already garnered much praise. Another public installation by Sze took place at the Second Avenue Subway station, also in New York. Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1969, Sze likes to use materials from everyday life to build her massive pieces.
Last month I mentioned a new biography of Francis Bacon called "Revelations" by the Pulitzer Prize-winning team of Annalyn Swan and Mark Stevens. At 900 pages, I suspect that not many of you ventured to buy it. The New Yorker's esteemed journalist Joan Acocella has now written an extensive and detailed review that is worth reading. (You may have to create an account at the New Yorker to read it, but it's free.) Acocella goes into Bacon's obsession with meat and slaughterhouses, his intense focus on the mouth, particularly when screaming, his boozing, his generosity, his appalling upbringing, his absorption with the body's innards, his intense depictions of suffering and menace. His triptypch called "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion" has been designated as perhaps "the most disturbing painting produced in Britain in the twentieth century". A critic of the Sunday Times wrote, "while nothing would induce me to buy one of Bacon's paintings, a representative collection that did not contain one would lack one of the most definite and articulate statements made by contemporary art". Francis Bacon's paintings may not be for the faint of heart, but there is definitely something compelling about them, seductive and repellent at the same time. Acocella makes that abundantly clear.
Marlette Pathy Allen is known as a photographer who has spent her life picturing the transgender people she has met. Allen feels that the 1990's marked the start for "gender variant people". Her upcoming book, "The Gender Frontier", will show many of the tender and insightful images she has made. (Thanks to NF for this.)
Judson Glass Studios, founded 124 years ago in Los Angeles, has been given a retrospective at the Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale, California. Now run by a fifth generation Judson, the glass studio has ranged from intimate glass pieces to architectural monuments. They are now focusing on contemporary glass art using the fused glass technique.
I had not heard of Geneva Free Port, but this article certainly opened my eyes. It seems to have had a long and noteworthy history as a secure and secret location for all kinds of goods and materials. Of interest here is its art collection, stored in a large windowless concrete building (buildings?) surrounded by barbed wire, with substantial basements to resist earthquakes and explosives. Estimates say that it contains 1.2 million artworks - you might compare this to the 200,000 pieces stored at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. (Think 1000 Picasso's, for example.) No one is allowed to visit the art: secrecy is the password, with buyers and sellers, prices and terms remaining anonymous. In 1995 a series of scandals enveloped the facility when it was discovered that hundreds of looted ancient works were stored there. The result was a $10 million USD fine and a prison sentence. Other frauds were uncovered, resulting in tighter restrictions against money laundering. The full story is compelling, and the few art works illustrated are impressive.
The Whitney Museum of American Art is featuring the works of Julie Mehretu. Born in Ethiopia, Mehretu bases her abstractions on historical references brought forward into examinations of how civilization has progressed. In addition to the works shown here, there are several videos, from the artist's viewpoint to that of a curator. A closer view of her process is shown in another video that goes into detail about her "Extended Play" mural commissioned for the Goldman Sachs headquarters in New York.
White Cube brings us a video on the work of Isamu Noguchi. Noguchi was able to bridge dual aesthetics, ancient and contemporary, Eastern and Western. Working primarily in stone and steel, he felt that opposites did not conflict: rather they form a "purity". As he said, "Stone is the depth, metal the mirror." Noguchi's output was prodigious, from sculpture to furniture, installations to intimate works. At one point he designed a one-square-block leisure and entertainment venue in Manhattan. Noguchi stated, "I don't have much faith in objects. I tend to believe in the space around an object....There is beauty everywhere in the world....What I think is important is how an object in a certain place can teach us to see the beauty of the world. Art for me is something which teaches human beings how to become more human."
The Getty Museum introduces us to some of the demons found in the worldview of the Mesopotamians. The influence of demons can be seen in everything from illnesses, they felt, to thunderstorms. Since humans were unable to understand these hazardous events, Mesopotamians viewed them as punishments or attacks from the gods. Illustrated here is one demon, Pazuzu, worn as an amulet on the body and shown on the walls of homes. Ancient writings tell us, "I am Pazuzu, the son of Hanbu, king of the Lilu demons; I have scaled the powerful mountains; they trembled; the contrary winds were headed west; one by one, I broke their wings." Another powerful demon was named Lamashtu, thought to harm pregnant women and kill little children. In ancient spells, it was stated that "her hands are a net, her grip means death". In the face of disasters, the Mesopotamians frequently turned to their demons for help.
If, like me, you are itchy to travel, perhaps one of the first places to go is the Carnavalet Museum in Paris. If nothing else, you can revel in the exhibition of old shop signs, dating back to the 17th century. After an extensive remodel, the mile-long interior path is showing 3,800 exhibits from 8,000 years of history. Devoted to the history of Paris, the Museum boasts items from pre-historic times to the present. You will find more than 30 period rooms, including a luxurious ballroom, and the bedroom of Marcel Proust. (Thanks to GS for this.)
Keith Haring is best known for his lively wriggling figures, seen now in everthing from t-shirts to coffee mugs, but in fact he had a darker side. In an exhibition titled "Keith Haring: Radiant Gambit", at the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, Haring's increasing discomfort with global leadership comes to the fore. Shown are images of death, violence, and sexuality, along with the livelier forms known to many. The darker images are fearful and anxious, graphically portraying oppression and inequality. The show is a stark reminder that this talented artist had much more depth than is generally acknowledged.
Joan Semmel used painting, particularly of her own body, as a feminist statement. Her depictions of her own breasts, limbs, and belly exemplify the feminist belief that "your body is a battleground". Semmel's "Sex Paintings" presented intimate acts of sexuality as experienced by the female. She directed her unflinching gaze toward the inner life of women as lived rather than as projected by the male gaze. As Semmel aged, she continued to paint her body without apology. It is felt that she gave other older women the permission to show themselves as they are, not as society would like to see them.
Rosa Verloop is taking the field of soft sculpture to new heights. Her sewn, folded, stitched and pinned human forms are eerie, contorted, and deeply disturbing. Using red thread beneath nylon surfaces, she has created faces and bodies that are beyond strange. You can see more of her contortions at her own website. Utterly frightening, brilliantly done, and not for the faint of heart.
Figurative painting with a punch is perhaps the best way to describe the works of British artist Ania Hobson. Her description of going to art school is illuminating: she tells us that she almost failed her degree, as her tutors insisted that she abandon portraits and direct her energies elsewhere. Fortunately she persisted in seeing the world through her own perceptions, and these portraits show the wisdom of her choice. Her portraits are strong on emphasis and short on distracting details. At Hobson's own website you can get a better feel for the stylish eloquence of her subjects, currently one or two figures, with some larger groups in earlier work. Hobson seems fascinated by hands and fingers. Her self-portrait, done during a period of frustration, won a BP Portrait Award in 2017.
I did not know much about the work of Milton Avery so this overview at Christie's Auction House came as a welcome introduction. Admired by Abstract Expressionists like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, Avery was described as a master of a "subtle but potent approch to representation". Rothko said of Avery, "His is the poetry of sheer loveliness", and indeed a feeling of poetry seems to fill his works.
The work of Helen Frankenthaler has occupied a somewhat ambiguous place in American Abstraction. This review may bring her the respect she deserves. Described as someone who was "always searching", she developed the "Soak-Stain" process, in which she applied paint to an unprimed canvas. When she discovered that oil paint eroded on that surface, she switched to acrylics. The new material also changed her aesthetic, from flowing to crisper edges. Her later works also featured thick globs of paint. She has been compared to Rothko and to Pollock, yet she remains consistent to her own vision. The images shown here give a refreshing new look at her life's work.
I can't resist showing you this item titled "The Cardiovascular Secrets of Giraffes". According to the Smithsonian Magazine, "Giraffes are just as astonishing on the insides as they are to look at". They have enormously high blood pressure, needed to pump blood against gravity, and an electrical heart rhythm that differs from any other mammal. They don't faint. They don't get dizzy. And they are able to run very fast, in spite of their cardiovascular oddities.
c. Corinne Whitaker 2021