Archives for category: Art

“Let’s talk of a system that transforms all the social organisms into a work of art, in which the entire process of work is included… something in which the principle of production and consumption takes on a form of quality. It’s a Gigantic project.” – Joseph Beuys

“Is Ai Wei Wei a political artist or an artful politician?” wondered Peter Schjeldahl in the pages of The New Yorker – he released an extremely silly video of himself mugging and dancing to the Korean pop juggernaut “Gangnam Style.” It’s not exactly the comportment one expects of the world’s foremost political artist and dissident.

I was reminded today of a time past, a Facebook post of a photograph taken in 1969 of The Beatles, it started me thinking about that era of English culture. I had always wanted to be an artist, well not sure I knew exactly what an artist was at 4 or 5 but certainly had decided that apart from being centre foward for England as a day job, my full time job would be to make pictures all my life.

We lived on the side of a mountain, my parents were early hippies, although the term had not yet been defined. My father worked in the forest and we kept a menagerie of animals and grew our own food (which included said animals). I used to sit at the edge of the forest and day dream for hours, captivated by the red and white mushrooms that grew around  (then I had little idea of their true potential). Fast forward a few years and I am living in the market town of Stafford, boring and mundane a place as one could ever live. I was always thirsty for learning but never quite found what to do with it.

It was Sgt Peppers that changed all that, suddenly I realised there was a word, a pursuit that transcended everything, changed everything, made everything make sense. The word was “creativity’, to be creative, to create, a symbiosis of rational thought and the imagination, making ideas real. Creativity was transforming everyone, it was shared. Creativity became something that everyone was part of, and that was ‘Sgt Peppers’. Here was a vehicle of cultural change that everyone was talking about, so different but people got it, not the reactionary denial so often following change but an embracing, at least with my peers. So for the benefit of Mr Kite I want to share some Peppers.

Lottie wheres Wally?

I remember being on a coach to Plymouth for some school outing, a charabanc to exotic places! It was must have been an upmarket coach because it had a radio and during the journey ‘Penny Lane’ and then Strawberry Fields’ were played. You have no idea (as Lottie would say) how profound and world changing that moment was. If one can say a moment changed your life I can truly say this did. I could imagine these places as if they were mine and yet all the kids on the bus were also part of this imagined world. The discussion last the whole journey, never had I seen this company so energised by something creative, they usually wanted to pull legs off things.

There was a guy across the street from me used to  carry a copy of ‘Peppers’ wherever he went, this became something of a fad at our school and showed you were where it was at man. My neighbour Steve Clewlow became a close friend over the following year and we used to sit and discuss this album for hours. It opened up doors of perception that never closed, art, music, philosophy you name it it was all encapsulated in that glossy cover by Peter Blake (I went on to be taught by him at the Royal College of Art), the hidden messages in the vinyl, the Eastern thoughts of George, the political and society challenging John, we thought Paul a hanger on and Ringo there for god knows what reason. Paul of course was a driving force but hey we were radicals, fanatics for this cultural shift. If you want to hear the creative process in action watch these video clips from the 1992 South Bank show on You Tube.

Pete Nevin 1969

The late paintings of De Kooning have always fascinated me. Here a man with alzheimer’s who has painted all his life continues to paint when he is detached and unaware of the outside world around him and yet still paints with consistently and with coherence! I went to a big exhibition of his at Pompidou Paris what a rush, I was just out of college and all my conceits about modernism and the abstract painters were called to question briefly. I saw the late paintings much later but respect to the geezer, after Alzheimer’s was diagnosed in his late eighties in the following years he painted more than 300 abstract paintings!

De Kooning was declared unfit to handle his affairs 22 years ago, shortly after the death of his wife, Elaine. From that time, information ceased to be available about artworks in his possession, including those still being worked on. His oeuvre was controlled primarily by Lisa de Kooning, his only child and heir; attorney John Eastman, the son of de Kooning’s longtime attorney Lee Eastman; and John Silberman, an attorney who represented Lisa and Eastman in their court application to be appointed as de Kooning’s conservators and later represented his estate. Lisa, Eastman, and Silberman largely determined how the artist’s works were cared for, exhibited, and sold during the last eight years of his life and after his death at the age of 92. 

When the estate was closed, in 2003, the foundation received 1,344 works, valued at $53.7 million. Lisa received works of an unspecified quantity and value and began collaborating with Gagosian to exhibit and sell them. “A lot of the good things are picked over,” says a source familiar with Lisa’s collection, which primarily contains paintings from the ’60s through the late ’80s. “The de Kooning estate is really just a name. There is volume but not necessarily quality.”

The foundation’s collection—which contains works of all periods, predominantly works on paper and a collection of paintings from the 1960s onward, including a significant number of 1980s paintings—is thought to be considerably more valuable than its initial valuation. This collection has never been represented by a dealer.

According to its IRS filings, three years ago the foundation sold a 1987 painting for $3.4 million (reported inventory value: $199,750); around the same time, it sold a 1984 painting for $3.9 million (reported inventory value: $246,750). Silberman won’t disclose who bought the works but says that the foundation does not sell to dealers or at auction.
Since its establishment in 2001, the foundation has sold 18 works for a total of $13 million. Silberman says that works are sold to pay for the administration of the foundation—whose stated purpose is to catalogue and maintain its own collection and archive and facilitate museum exhibitions and scholarly research about de Kooning. (Or, as Eastman describes its mission: “De Kooning is the greatest American artist ever. Prove it.”)

You can draw your own conclusions about their actions in the matter, but whatever the truth of his last years watching a video of this frail and vulnerable old man going instinctively about his painting struck a cord.

Untitled XII

Willem de Kooning
Date: 1983
Medium: Paintings
Size: unframed 80 x 70 x inches
Institution: Walker Art Center

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” –Carl Gustav Jung


LA aesthetes fight pop-art billionaire

Interactive Bar Tables The Interactive Bar Tables (2004: Golan Levin and Zachary Lieberman with the production of Ars Electronica Futurelab) are an interactive installation for cafe-like social venues, and an early example of a multi-touch surface in interactive art. The project forms the natural habitat of a species of creatures that exhibits a unique pattern of social behavior. When someone touches the surface of their virtual terrarium, these digital organisms react with playful curiosity. They flock to drinking glasses placed in their vicinity like hungry sharks, and teem around everything that enters their world. But have no fear: they don’t bite. If you catch one with your fingers, it will follow your movements, and you can send it on in any direction and from table to table. Left alone, the creatures descend back into the depths of their digital environment. In this way, the colorful organisms become part of a communicative game involving the users of the Interactive Bar Tables, whereby the flow of communication extends throughout the individual terrariums and creates an interconnection among the participants. The following 1’49” video documents the Interactive Bar Tables installation at its premiere in the new SAP regional headquarters, Berlin, February 2004; and in the American Museum of the Moving Image (AMMI), May 2004, as part of the Interactions/Art and Technology exhibition. This video is also available at Vimeo and YouTube.

The German prankster who joked his way to the truth

The YBAs learned a lot from the late Martin Kippenberger, says Sean O’Hagan. Now the Eighties shockmeister’s work is due a reappraisal

Towards the end of his short, unruly life, Martin Kippenberger made a print called Matisse’s Studio Sublet to Spider-Man. In it, the great French painter is pointing with a long stick at a detail of one of his big drawings, while the action hero encircles him in a variety of dramatic poses as if fighting the very idea of art itself.

For Spider-Man, read Kippenberger, a kind of self-styled art anti-hero, whose life represented a similar battle of wills with the art establishment, whom he constantly provoked and often offended. With hindsight, though, the Joker might have been a more apt alter ego for a man who attempted to turn his life itself into an ongoing work of art.

Having come of age in the punk era – he ran a Dadaesque night club in Berlin in the late Seventies – Kippenberger initially revelled in shock tactics, though some of his provocations were seen by many as evidence of a juvenile tendency to take things too far. This was a man who once created a sculpture of a toad being crucified, who opened his own museum without walls in an old slaughterhouse on a semi-deserted Greek island, who purchased a run-down petrol station in Brazil, and reopened it as ‘Gas Station Martin Boorman’. He made headlines but, amid the controversy, it was easy to overlook the fact that he also made some powerful art. And, in constantly confronting the limits of taste and behaviour, he asked some uncomfortable questions about what it meant to be an artist, and what it meant to be German.

‘What you have to understand is that everything Martin did was very intense,’ says his younger sister, Susanne, who lives in a Berlin apartment adorned with her brother’s work and images from their childhood in the industrial Ruhr Valley. ‘From an early age, he was someone who demanded attention, who seemed naturally to rebel against order. He was provocative, but always for serious reasons, and this did not make it easy for people to like him. He did not think that art should be easy on people.’

He most famously caused offence with one of his early paintings, a kind of Cubist puzzle of lines and blocks, entitled Try as I Might, I Cannot Find a Swastika. It was a painting about collective denial and, simultaneously, about the populist reaction to abstract art, but it inspired a chorus of dismay and disapproval in the German press.

‘In Germany, in the Eighties, he did things and said things that some people thought were funny but many people perceived to be offensive,’ elaborates Susanne, herself a journalist, ‘but, in a way, he was behaving as a satirist should. He was exposing our weaknesses to show us some kind of essential truth about ourselves. It was often an uncomfortable truth.’

Now, nine years after his premature death from liver cancer at the age of 44, Kippenberger has been granted a British retrospective at Tate Modern, where his prodigious output of paintings, prints, sculptures, books and often huge installations will give some idea of the man’s restless energy and extraordinary range. It is timely. As the hype and hullabaloo around the YBAs finally subsides, it seems fitting that the legacy of an artist who is a kind of bridge between them and the more politically engaged work of Josef Beuys be examined. Both Gavin Turk and Sarah Lucas have acknowledged his influence, and the young Scottish painter Lucy McKenzie wrote a penetrating essay about his work for a recent Dutch show.

I met Susanne and her older sister, Bettina, in Cafe Einstein in Berlin, one of their brother’s old haunts. This is where he held court, often jumping on to a table for a drink-fuelled impromptu public performance. Sometimes he would retell an old joke that everyone present had heard a hundred times before but, to the delight of his coterie of friends – and the mounting dismay of everyone else – he would make it last a torturous half hour.

This was art, Kippenberger style, as much as the paintings, sculptures and performances he made for the so-called cognoscenti, many of whom mistook his loudness and his prankster ideology for simple attention-seeking and a lack of seriousness.

‘He was a very complex personality,’ says Susanne. ‘He wanted to be loved and accepted as an artist but, in the end, he didn’t care what people thought. He was not a clown. He made jokes, he liked to laugh, he had fun doing what he did, but he was very serious about his art. This made him exhausting to be around. He was very demanding about his work.’

Born in Essen, the middle child of five, and the only boy, he was, says Bettina, a ‘born showoff and a rebel, someone who saw even school as a form of entertainment’. On his first day there he was punished for sticking his foot out to trip up the teacher. The family grew up in a house that was always bustling with people, but, from early on, Martin ousted his father as the centre of attention. Kippenberger senior was, according to the artist and family friend Albert Oehlen, ‘an extreme version of his son’, a self-taught painter, writer and performer. Bettina remembers a particularly fractious family holiday in Scandinavia, after which he presented his wife and children with a self-made book entitled, ‘Poor Father’.

At home, Martin constantly bossed and cajoled the girls into posing for elaborately staged photographs. In one, the children are arranged in order of age on stone steps, all pointing in the same direction with outstretched arms. ‘It’s not the Nazi salute,’ says Susanne, quickly. ‘Its a homage to the TV series that the pop group the Monkees starred in.’ He called the photograph Hey Hey, Here Come the Monkeys which, either by accident or design, announces the wordplay that would feature in many of his later titles.

In the catalogue for the Tate Modern show, Susanne writes poignantly about Martin’s childhood hut in their garden: ‘His very first house. It was to be his only house’. Ever on the move, always in search of company, conversation, drink-fuelled conviviality, Martin Kippenberger lived as he worked, frantically, intensely, impatiently. His odyssey took him far and wide, from Berlin to Florence, then on to Cologne, Paris, Madrid, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Greece, always in search of a place he could call home. ‘I never managed it,’ he once said, ‘but the will is still there, as it ever was.’

Kippenberger possessed the frantic restlessness and disregard for social protocol common to many alcoholics, and would often arrive at his own openings with a sidekick in tow. He would sing or dance for the assembled guests, accompanying himself on a variety of instruments, none of which he could play. Once, Susanne remembers, he led everyone in a dance which ended with him doing a handstand, his head in the loo. His life echoed his art: the madcap loner who never quite knew when to stop. Unsurprisingly, he got on many people’s nerves, and was accused of everything from vulgar self-promotion to wilfully bad painting to Nazi sloganeering.

After a German art critic accused him of the latter, Kippenberger made one of his signature works: a self-portrait in which a life-size mannequin of himself stands in a corner, red-faced, hands clasped behind his back, like a punished and humiliated schoolboy. He called it, Martin, into the Corner, You Should be Ashamed of Yourself. A self-mocking joke, maybe, but a deeply resonant one. He was the eternal outsider, often derided and ignored by an art world who could not, or would not, see the seriousness behind the prankster’s facade.

‘People who knew of him but did not know him could find him overpowering, and even bullying’, says Gisela Capitain, his one-time gallerist and the director of the Kippenberger estate, ‘but that was not the case if you spent time with him and got to know him. He was brutal on those who took art for granted, and he was always provocative towards any audience, especially his own. For him, art was always a test. How far can I go? How much can they take? It is not an attitude that endears an artist to collectors, but perhaps, in the end, it is the most honest attitude.’

A year before he died, Kippenberger seemed finally to have found some peace, marrying the photographer, Elfie Semotan and approaching his work, according to Capitain, ‘with a new, more focused level of intent’. This is reflected in his last two series of works, entitled Medusa and The Pictures that Picasso Couldn’t Paint Anymore. Whether he knew how ill he was is open to question: if he did, he certainly did not want anyone else to know.

He left behind an extraordinary, and, among the experts, still contested body of work, which ranges from the vast series of small sketches done on hotel stationary to epic installations such as 1994’s vast The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’, which is included in the Tate’s show.

‘He questioned the whole notion of the towering artist, the heroic Picasso figure,’ elaborates Gisela Capitain, ‘and yet he took such big risks all the time, constantly reinventing himself, constantly confounding his critics and even, especially, his audience.’

It may be that Martin Kippenberger’s conflicts and contradictions still define him as an artist: the sense that he wanted to be both ubiquitous and elusive, knowing and naive, cruel and tender. In the process – and the process is all-important – he walked a tightrope between the intellectual and street smart, the politically aware and the wilfully offensive, the provocative and the downright funny. And often in the space of one work. He worked hard, and his best work requires us to do the same. As Albert Oehlen once said of him, ‘All day long and with all of his heart, he really does believe in nothing else but art.’


In 1919, Joan Miró left his native country of Spain for France, where, along with fellow Spaniard Salvador Dalí, he became one of the pioneers of Surrealism. Inspired by the movement’s engagement with psychology and poetic play with form, Miró developed a dreamlike style based on whimsical allusions to reality and lyrical, fancifully colored compositions. In May 1940, after the invading German troops disturbed Miró’s quiet life in Varengeville, a village on the northern coast of France, he returned to Spain. In June he settled in the town of Palma de Mallorca, where he was to remain until the summer of 1941. In Palma, Miró resumed work on his Constellations series, which he had abandoned when he left Varengeville. “Toward the Rainbow” is the fifteenth in a series of twenty-three gouaches on paper that were produced over twenty-one months from January 1940 to September 1941. Characteristic of the works begun at the end of his stay in France and those painted in Spain, the entire sheet of paper is covered with hourglass shapes and a multitude of forms suggesting stars, eyes, circles, triangles, and crescents that are linked by thin black lines to evoke a fantastical wrought-iron screen or perhaps a magical constellation in the cosmos. Each picture took about a month to complete.
Much has been written about these Constellations, and Miró often referred to them himself. Their consistent strength, vivid colors, gaeity, and poetry provide a striking contrast with the dark period in which they were created. In fact, these gouaches seem to represent the artist’s escape from the terrors of World War II. Looking back on the period in 1948, Miró told an interviewer that in France in 1939 “a new stage in my work began which had its source in music and nature. It was about the time that the war broke out. I felt a deep desire to escape. I closed myself within myself purposely. The night, music, and the stars began to play a major role in suggesting my paintings.”Text from          The Metropolitan Museum of Art Logo The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Images Various sources

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