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Posts Tagged ‘sculpture’

jeanneptolomyupsidedown

jorgsyrlinptolomyupsidedownWhen I bring in photographs of figures or faces to draw, my students more often than not choose to draw upside-down.  This may seem counter-intuitive.  I must have been persuasive, about three years ago, when I presented Betty Edwards’ theory and research on the subject:  when you draw something upside down, you are able to disconnect your expectations and verbal labeling, allowing your brain to go into visual.  And then–ta-tah!–you actually see.

Yes, the drawing you see here was made as you see it, upside-down, from a photo that the artist/student was looking at, also upside-down.

jorgsyrlinptolomyjeanneptolomy

This is Ptolemy with is model of rotating heavenly spheres. He is one of the many historical and mythical figures that the sculptor Jörg Syrlin the Elder (1425 – 1491) carved out of oak for the choir stalls in the Ulm Minster, around 1470.

jorgsyrlinselfHere’s the sculptor, portraying himself at the end of a row of his figures, surveys his work.  These sculptures, btw, are perfectly preserved.  1470!  Very moving.

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulmer_M%C3%BCnster

Building on the Ulm Minster in Southern Germany was begun in 1399 and completed in 1890.

Drawing by Jeanne Mueller, graphite on paper, ~14″ x 11″

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/drawing-on-the-right-side-of-the-brain-by-betty-edwards/

jorgsyrlinulmmuensterAll contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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Toes2
Let us now praise famous toes.Famous squooshed toes, that is.

Why is Eirene’s little toe deformed? It’s 360 BCE. Nobody was wearing narrow pointed high heeled boots in Athens at the time.  How did the sculptor come up with the idea of hammering such a crooked little toe out of his marble block?
ToesGSThe Greeks were famously obsessed with perfection and in the visual arts that meant the Golden Section. As an example, you can see that Eirene’s peplos drapes at about the line dividing her body into the Golden Section. But the little toe? Now, granted the Athenians had lost the war with Sparta in 404 BC and were understandably demoralized. They stopped writing juicy drama and instead produced brittle philosophy. Maybe their obsession with perfection gave way to a sense of humor. I was startled by the sight of this toe. It’s funny. Should it be? Can this be explained? Has anyone written a monograph on Athenian toes? Or will I have to live through this coming year distracted by this weighty mystery?
Sappho1I walked on. Heading towards the Café next to the sculpture court at the Met, I was tripped up by yet another set of toes. Here’s a tense, heroic Sappho wiggling her toes as if playing the piano and, look, her little toe is puny and out of line.

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What’s going on here? This sculpture is from the 19th century. Could it be that for two thousand years sculptors have been encoding their deepest existential gloom in little toes and nobody’s taken notice!? The little toe cries out for recognition. The little toe needs to be understood. The little toe demands scholarly attention. The little toe is the elephant in the room.
Ahem. I know three things about toes. 1) only men have foot fetishes, no women do; 2) ballerinas do their best point work if they have the most toes in a straight line; 3) our evolution may dispense with the little toe (and little finger) altogether, over many more eons.

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So, my first thoughts of the new year are on solid ground, on an uneven footing and draped in mystery. I like it already.
An uneven, alert 2015 to us all!
Marble statue of Eirene (personification of peace), Roman, Julio-Claudian period circa 14-68 CE. Copy of Greek bronze statue, 375-359 BCE. By Kephisodotos
Sappho. Marble, 1895. By Compte Prosper D’Epinay (1836-1914)
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2014EACbiennial2
Critically.
Sure, you can swoon over what you like and when you don’t like something you can say, “My five-year-old can do that.” But to get a good mental work-out, ask, ”What qualities got this painting in the show? Why did they hang this next to that? How do these things relate to one another? What kind of mind am I entering here?” If it’s a group show, ask “How did the juror(s) pick these pieces out of the hundreds that were submitted?”
The Evanston Art Center Biennial closes this Sunday. Just a couple of days left. Go and practice asking critical questions.
In the large gallery, you’ll see that the space is dominated by a sculpture that consists of straight elements. When you look at the framed pieces on the walls circling this sculpture, you can immediately see 2014EACbiennial!that these pieces, though by different artists, echo the linear quality of the sculpture. This doesn’t happen by accident. The jurors wanted to create a harmonious space and used the sculpture as the determining element, on the basis of which they chose the paintings.
When you turn towards the entrance of the gallery, you’ll notice that the art work becomes curvilinear, round, and painterly. This progression was installed on purpose. You can then ask yourself, ”You mean, the jurors didn’t select the best work submitted, but rather chose pieces that would conform to their design of the gallery space?”
As you leave the gallery you walk across a little lobby and then you face a huge painting of a seated figure.

2014EACbiennial3The paint glows. Most of the surface is deep black. Could it be? No, not painting on velvet! Yes, indeed, this is a painting on black velvet. You recall that “painting on black velvet” is synonymous with “Kitsch” and you recall seeing matadors, Spanish dancers and sentimentalized old beggars in the interior decorating section of Woolworth’s, oh, decades ago. But here? At the Evanston Art Center Biennial? Is this a joke? We can’t be sure, but the contrast to the rectilinear constructivism in the other room is striking. It has to be deliberate. So, what relates the straight lined assemblage of brown cardboard to this painting on black velvet?
Wit, possibly. There’s something witty about the cardboard towers in themselves, because, well, they will disintegrate. First, the cardboard will absorb moisture, then it will bend and collapse into a pile. It’s part of the aesthetic of decay, of which we’re seeing a lot in our apocalyptic age. Certainly, there’s no grandeur here, not even seriousness. Maybe that’s what the jurors saw in the painting on velvet, too: a pretense of serious thought, but only a pretense. Constructing towers out of cardboard—how vain. Painting on velvet, ditto. Both are melodramatic and pathetic. If you resist seeing humor in this show, look at the feet in the painting on velvet. Laughter in galleries is allowed.
We’re not in Renaissance Rome any more, Toto. Making fun of grandeur is good for us.
(The jurors for this exhibit were Allison Peters Quinn and Sergio Gomez.)
To read about painting on velvet: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/velvet-underdogs-in-praise-of-the-paintings-the-art-world-loves-to-hate/
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RedAtHomeWhen you forget the yarn about angles in a triangle and exponential progressions (see previous post), the hyperbolic plane looks like a sculpture. I positioned mine in my dining room, in relation to a plant on one side and a painting on the other.  The red curly hyperbolic plane relates to both.  Perhaps it functions as a mediator, like a thermostat, hmmm.  A discussion of when we think of an object as art and when we don’t can get heated because of strong opinions on either side.  The question, “what’s the difference between art and artifact,”  is really what the workshop was about.  But you already suspected that.

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14LizzieBrughesMadonnaFineThere are many ways to practice drawing.  A very convenient source of things to draw is sculptures. For example,  sculptures in a park. If that’s inconvenient, try photos of sculptures.  Specifically, Michelangelo’s sculptures.  All forms are dramatically worked out by him, as if for a drawing lesson.

For my drawing class I brought in photos of Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna and his figures for the Medici tomb.  Photos of these works are readily available in books and online.

14MichelangeloHeadThe Bruges Madonna (above) offered abundant challenges in rendering curved shapes convincingly.  The Medici head (left), seen from below, presents a frustrating foreshortened view of the face.  Both challenges were admirably met in these two student drawings.

(Click images to enlarge.)

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The Great Chicago Fire started October 8, 1871 and left 100,000 of the 300,000 inhabitants homeless.  Being Chicagoans, they rolled up their sleeves, cleaned up and started rebuilding.

What to do with the rubble from all those destroyed buildings?  Why, dump it into the lake.  This was the beginning of the landfill east of the railroad tracks that became Grant Park.  The city’s politicians and merchants had to come up with an ordinance about how that land was to be used.  Aaron Montgomery Ward, the department store and catalog tycoon, insisted that the land east of Michigan Avenue, from Randolph to Roosevelt, should remain free of buildings and be used for parks only—for the enjoyment and recreation of all the people of Chicago.  In 1911, after 20 years of court battles against the city, he won.  The only exception he agreed to is the Art Institute, which was part of the Colombian Exposition of 1893.

The Colombian Exposition and Jackson Park were laid out by the pre-eminent landscape architect in 19th Century America, Fredrick Law Olmstead (1822-1903). His successors, the Olmsted Brothers, consulted Daniel Burnham in planning Grant Park.

Olmsted also planned Central Park in New York and advised the planners for Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.  He was a nature lover. He believed that parks were vital to city dwellers for relaxation and rejuvenation. I remember reading, though not where exactly, that Olmsted hated sculptures in parks.

This bit of Chicago history and Olmsted’s part in it went through my head when I walked down Michigan Avenue recently.  There, past Jackson, is a little rectangular park with benches. It’s a spot to sit a spell and reflect, to get away from man-made structures and institutions, to be surrounded by nature for a short breather, just the thing Olmsted designed parks for.

IMG_1489But, alas, now this little park, called Solti Gardens, is cluttered with humanoid metal objects.  There are twenty-six of them, all insipid male-ish figures, with the same bland face, standing, sitting and kneeling pointlessly. If they were heroic and Rodin-y they would be just as much of a nuisance. The sculptor, no doubt, thought she would add a note of poignancy by making her bland figures on one side of the park out of dark metal and those on the other side of light metal.  No, Ms. Thórarinsdóttir and your financiers, you’re not helping us think about race in America with these lifeless figures. Olmsted would throw this junk out.

Presiding over the clutter is a monstrous head on a pedestal, supposedly commemorating George Solti.  It’s an insult to music lovers and Solti-admirers and Olmsted would not approve.

13ParkOlmsted1A woman in a red coat was walking her two little dogs over the gravel and the grass.   A young couple took a brisk detour through the park to get to the intersection at Congress.  An artist was sneaking photos of the scene and reflecting on the history of Chicago and on what parks are for.  Our great designer of parks would be happy to see how these people related to a city park.

Thank you, Mr. Olmsted.  Sorry for the sculpture clutter.

For more timid reviews:

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-08-07/entertainment/ct-ent-0808-borders-sculpture-20130808_1_art-institute-sculptures-exhibition

http://artdaily.com/news/64247/Icelandic-artist-Steinunn-Th-rarinsd-ttir-brings-26-life-sized-sculptures-to-Chicago#.UrDZJPup2UY

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13SAICsophiekahn2

When I saw the MFA exhibit at the School of the Art Institute in May, the piece that I found most moving was a sculpture, or rather the shadow cast by a sculpture.  The sculpture itself, the bust of a woman, was fragmented.  It wasn’t clear whether she was in the act of becoming or was being shredded to disintegration.  But in the shadow cast on the wall, she was whole.  It seemed to me that the work was not about a piece created by strips of white clay, but about the shadow. 

It seemed obvious to me that the artist, Sophie Kahn, was working with light. Her medium was not clay at all, but light and shadow. People who only saw the raggedy clay forms were missing the point.  Look!  The shadow!  That’s where we have the art—the life of this piece is in the shadow!

How did she create this effect?  I imagined her sculpting with a certain light source precisely placed on one side of her sculpting stand and a wall precisely distanced on the other side.  Then, for the installation in this gallery, she had to precisely duplicate these distances and angles.  A daunting task.  And for what? To create a shadow! 

This is profound, I thought.  When watching a movie, I’m inclined to think it’s about something other than the plot; when reading I’m inclined to be skeptical; in drawings and paintings, I’m inclined to look at the so-called negative space (an inclination well-documented in these posts) ; in general, it’s all about illusions.  Or as Goethe says in Faust:  “Alles Vergängliche  ist nur ein Gleichnis”…Am farbigen Abglanz haben wir das Leben.”  (All that must disappear is but a parable…We live our life amongst refracted color.)

Those lines are wafting through my brain whenever I contemplate art. Add to that the fact that in May when I was looking at this sculpture-shadow, I was reading “A Short History of the Shadow” by Victor Stoichita.

Well, I had to meet the artist.  I did and she talked about her work.————————–

13SAICsophiekahn1

Stay tuned.

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