Thursday, February 26, 2009

The seeded apple of my eye

Pomegranate seeds and their surrounding pulp are edible bursts of tart crimson with crunch. In the west, pomegranate juice, touted for its antioxidant properties, has become the ingredient de jour in soft drinks, shampoo and even vodka, although it has been part of Middle Eastern cuisine for ages.

The pomegranate, Punica granatum, was first cultivated in Iran several thousand years ago, but with time cultures throughout the world eventually adopted and planted the shrub. Besides consuming the cherry-colored crowned fruit, they used it in their mythologies and iconography and extracted its juice for dyes.

To draw attention to the pomegranate’s past, textile and costume curator Dilys Blum of the Philadelphia Museum of Art has put together nine textiles from the museum’s collection that highlight the fruit as a motif.

Illustrated, above left, from the exhibition, is a velvet ecclestiastical garment called a chasuble from 1450-1480 Italy with the pomegranate in a reverse pile or cut out. Pomegranates in Christian vestments with seeds bursting symbolized Christ's suffering, the museum says.

Also in the show is a silk from Spain, from the 16th century, with both the full fruit and the seeds represented. The textile is believed to originate from Granada, which means pomegranate in Spanish. The fruit remains the symbol of the city. Other items with pomegranate imagery that she found include a 17th century Italian lace, a 20th century Uzbekistan woven silk, and an 18th century block printed cotton from France.

The word pomegranate derives from the Latin pomum, apple, and granatus, seeded. Egyptians buried their dead with it; Greeks associate it with Persephone, the goddess of the underworld and spring; the Jews embroidered its image into the garments of high priests because it symbolized righteousness and fruitfulness. Some argue the pomegranate was the "apple" in the Garden of Eden. Click here for more information about the pomegranate in other cultures.

Living in the tyranny of the fashionable now--with pomegranate cookies, pomegranate yogurt and pomegranate martinis--exhibitions such as these remind where such tastes arose.

(Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Adopt some art in your life

Three years ago, artist Adam Simon started the Fine Art Adoption Network, a web-based service that brings together artists and a different breed of collector: an adopter, not a purchaser. Below Simon answers some questions about FAAN.

1) When and why did you start the Fine Art Adoption Network? FAAN launched in April, 2006. I had received a commission a year earlier from Art in General, which came as a huge surprise to me. An artist friend came up to me on the street with a flyer announcing the New Commissions program. I had two days to get the application in. I had been kicking the idea around ever since my father died a year before that. After he died my mother decided to leave their house in Boston for an apartment in New York and couldn't take a couple of big early paintings of mine. That led to the idea. This story is on the site, "The Story Behind FAAN."

2) How is FAAN financially supported? Altogether Art in General committed about $12,000 to the design and creation of the site and various other things. That money is used up. The server doesn't cost much but we have no money to make improvements.

3) Do you have a selection process for the artists? There's not a selection process but artists have to be invited by participating artists or institutions. This allows for the site to maintain its own flavor and keeps the level of the work higher than it would be otherwise.

4) Why would artists want to donate their art, rather than get paid for it? I think that most of the artists on FAAN realize that they became artists for reasons in addition to the one of making a living doing what you most like to do. Artists have the desire to connect to other people and FAAN gives them a way to connect to people that appreciate what they are doing. Apparently the email exchanges around the adoptions are gratifying to the artists. Many of them continue to put new work on FAAN.

5) What has been the response by artist and adopters since you started? It's been amazing. I think everyone is delighted to discover that the art market is not the only way to get art to its public.

6) How does the adoption process work? Anyone can email any of the artists through the site if they see an artwork on FAAN that they would like to own. The artist may just say great, you can have it or they may want to wait and choose an adopter from a number of people that solicit a given work. The adopter pays for any transfer costs. Often this involves the adopter going to the artist's studio and picking up the work. There are now over 250 artists on FAAN and all the adoption stories are great in one way or another. There's a book being published by Art in General that will include a lot of emails that were sent to the artists and the artworks that were adopted as a result.

7) What are the future plans for FAAN? There's a lot of things I would like to do. Someone has suggested we include the estates of deceased artists. I would make this a separate section of the site. I have long wanted to increase FAAN's presence in other countries, most of the artists so far are American although adopters have been coming to the site from other countries. I would like to implement various improvements to the site that promote community, like a bulletin board. All of this requires money and we have none.

(I would be interested in knowing about programs bringing artists and collectors together using a similar model. Email me.)

Opal essence

Sandy Grimm took this eye-popping picture of an opal (Accession No.: 28.2006) at the Houston Museum of Natural Science for Wikipedia Loves Art. According to Grimm's photostream this opal is one of the largest and finest quality boulder opals ever mined and "is unique not only for its size but for its quality – every color of the spectrum is visible, which is extremely rare."

The museum's web site offers:

  • The word opal is derived from the Sanskrit upala, the Greek opallios, and the Latin opalus, meaning “precious stone.” Some cultures believe it to bring good luck, while others claim that wearing it is unlucky.

  • Opal is a mineraloid, as it does not have a crystal structure. Precious opal is composed of closely packed spheres of silica. The multi-hued colors of opal are caused by the refraction of light passing through this microstructure.

  • Opal has been mined for centuries. The Romans extracted it from the area that is the Czech Republic today; the Aztecs made use of local sources in Mexico and the Spaniards exported those opals to Europe. Today, approximately 95 percent of the world’s opal supply comes from Australia.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

If you see something, say something

Soon after the 9/11 attacks, the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York City started an advertising campaign: If you see something, say something. The goal was to enlist members of the public to alert authorities if they saw something suspicious or unattended. After the London bombings in 2005, the agency started searching subway riders' backpacks, suitcases and attaches.

I have seen something, these photographs above, and now I am saying something. A suitcase used to mean adventure, of going on a trip for vacation or even for work. A backpack was for camping or for kids carrying books to school. But now such objects have an ominous quality as captured by photographer Justine Reyes in our post 9/11 world. Propped up on a stool in room with cinder blocks and in chiaroscuro, a suitcase [above left], becomes a possible perpetrator. What is striking about the photograph is its clarity without evoking sentiment or even fear. It is documentarian showing us how we now experience something as mundane as a suitcase, that we usually keep tucked in our closet, in wait. But we don't necessarily know how innocent a suitcase might be in someone else's hands.

As for the other image, [above right], it is arresting, as are the others in her "Mask Series." She photographs herself wearing pantyhose masks into which she incorporates wire, lace, beads, hair, plastic mesh, plastic bags, and thread. "The masks themselves are made out of material that is normally hidden under the clothes, close to the body and private," she says on her website. "Here they are exposed."

In our world so much is exposed, from the prostitution procurement of a former governor of New York State to the tweets of millions of people describing the routine and sometimes profound aspects of their life. Ms. Reyes' masks and photographs of luggage seems to suggest that we cannot really hide from what is underneath, whether it is of a sexual nature or not, making her photographs quite honest and compelling. I guess we hope in transparency we can understand our mysteries and that something dangerous hidden in a suitcase in the belly of an airplane or on a subway station platform will be revealed. But what might we lose with all this disclosure?

(Ms. Reyes current work is on display at the Queens Museum of Art International 2009.)

The life of objects

When I saw this painting, "Influence Machine" and others by Michael Grimaldi, I could tell I was witnessing the results of the hands of a master draughtsman. But the image was clearly beyond the realm of reality, existing in a dream-like world, that was a bit scary, yet welcoming.

Here was a surreal realism I had not quite seen before. I have never really appreciated surrealist art, like that of Dali, because it seems contrived even though I admire the technique. I have always relished realism and enjoy abstraction inherent in creating the illusion of a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional picture plane. But Grimaldi's paintings mystified me. What is he doing? What is this "Influence Machine" that he titled this picture?

So I had to ask him? This is what he said:

"I will start by saying that all of my work is really triggered by a desire to capture elements that are not inherently visual or simply seen. By constructing works from life over many months, the process brings me to a point where I feel I can perceive elements that are not apparent from a fleeting glance. In short, the passage and wear of time, an object's history, and the associations I make between an object, my memories and its importance (real or imagined) is what I consider to be the driving force behind my composing a drawing or painting.

From an early age, I was fascinated by the appearance of things and how something (whether a person, a place or an object) could elicit an emotional response. This urge to observe, interpret and capture brought me to pursue a more classical form of artistic training than the more common contemporary arts education that tended to be less structured and less aware of the history, science and practice of art. In the classical training I went through, there was a great emphasis on the thorough examination of many elements that could go into a painting. Perspective, anatomy, chemistry of the materials in addition to becoming hyper-aware of one's perceptions. As a result of this training that has a great respect for the works of the past, most classically trained artists end up adopting a more victorian, neo-classical aesthetic language that pursues more conventional ideals of beauty and ignores anything that challenge these notions.

Personally, I was more interested in things that were often in contradiction to standard ideas of beauty and aesthetic and drawn to subjects that edged towards the uncanny, simultaneously familiar and foreign. Does a defunct, useless object still maintain, in some form, a projection of it's original use or it's memory of experience? Can an inanimate object convey, as the surrealists maintained, a sense of humanity? I think that if subjected to acute, almost forensic scrutiny, a subject will yield a spectrum of information and as a result, an empathetic connection to something that wouldn't normally be given a passing glance.

"Influence Machine" is a byproduct of the search into objects as explained above. "Influence Machine" portrays a World War II field telephone found in a veteran's attic. Knowing the history of the object, its use in passing battlefield information and role in influencing what must have been life and death decisions became my first draw to it as a subject. When I first opened its bakelite case I was struck that this inanimate object had what seemed to be a very human expression of surprise. While centered and stable in it placement within the picture, I wanted to capture that almost explosive, shocked look.

The title of the painting refers to two things: 1. the Fieldphone has an electromagnetic generator as a back up power source (aka, influence machine) and 2. In psychology, schizophrenic patients often refer to inanimate objects as having the ability to exert influence on them (often believing that a common object retrieves, transmits or influencing their thoughts)."

I felt from "Influence Machine" what Grimaldi expressed in words but did not know that it was what I was feeling from looking at it. His explanation clearly helped me understand what he was conveying. But I feel now by posting his words that I have given away the mystery of his art, like saying to someone who has never seen Citizen Kane that "Rosebud was his sled." Why? That sense of unease in unknowing and suspense and the capacity to wonder are also worth experiencing, too.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Upstairs, downstairs at ADAA

Hustle bustle, golden hues and military green at the Art Dealers Association of America show at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan. As the stock market went lower and lower, was anybody buying?

Some things I liked at the show, photographed with permission from the respective galleries.

Obsolete professions

No doubt our current jobs will look as quaint in 50 years as these above. Clockwise from top right, a beach photographer, a milkman, ice deliverers and a lamplighter. The photographs are from the Nationaal Archief of the Netherlands.

I can imagine people in the future being amused by pictures of, say, writers sitting at their desk surrounded by these things called "books." Shots of newspaper delivery people, also will be worth a chuckle.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Embroidered art

When I was a little girl, decades ago, I had a few boxes of embroidered handkerchiefs. Each day, my mother would pin one to my dress and if I needed to wipe my nose or hide some tears at school I would unpin it and use it. Washing each handkerchief by hand, and ironing and folding it precisely in a triangle to reveal the embroidered flower, butterfly or day of the week for display on my dress, was among the many rituals I had with my mother to learn the "skills" of being a female.

I had not thought about my handkerchiefs until I stumbled upon Joetta Maue's work "So Tired" [from 2007, right], one piece in the Gallery Hanahou's exhibition, "Forget Me Not" on embroidery art. Maue's use of a found linen embellished with additional embroidery spoke to me, a much older woman now whose "body is sometimes so tired." Also, I recalled I did needlepoint and embroidery as a teenager [with my symbol, a planet and a star, stitched onto my blue jeans. I still have the leftover threads.] and am aware of the history of women doing needle arts.

Maue, 30, a photographer, fiber artist and yoga instructor, from Brooklyn, says "the piece always breaks my heart a little, and almost always rings true." She says that when she does embroidery she feels connected to its history and the women who did it prior. "The re-working of the linen works as a collaboration with the women before me," she says. She became interested in artful stitchery because embroidery allowed her to work slowly and meditatively, helping her bring to closure the theme of trauma that had been in her art before. Her first needle-based work was "On My Sleeve" [below] from 2006. She became hooked. Other projects are on her website. "Working with fiber and thread feels like coming home," she says.

I thank Maue for bringing me home, too.

(Credit to Boing Boing on 2/18, for highlighting the work of Sarah Horton and bringing my attention to the Gallery Hanahou show. )

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hiroshige's "Sleeping Dragon Plum"

I guess I was looking for virtual warmth at the online Honolulu Academy of Arts, [71 degrees there today], when I came upon this wood block print of the "Sleeping Dragon Plum" at Kameido Garden by Hiroshige (1797-1858) from his One Hundred Views of Edo, now Tokyo.

What grabbed me was its perspective through the thick diagonal grey tree branch. Balancing it, though, is the wispier, vertical thinner branch with a few plum blossoms. The people, tiny blips in the background, are inconsequential, although still there. He could have removed them, but didn't.

Clearly, the old tree is more important than the transitory visitors to the garden. It seems Hiroshige wanted to capture a time when the delicate blossoms are just emerging, but not fully bloomed. Perhaps a late winter, early spring. The red sky seems ominous for rain or a storm and the bronze-green lawn is cold, not the chartreuse green of the warm spring.

I have no idea if I am correct. More research is warranted. The Brooklyn Museum Web Site has the full collection of the Edo prints online. It says the series is considered Hiroshige's masterpiece, offering celebrated sites in 19th century Edo not for their grandeur, per se, but for their contemplative aspects. He started the ambitious project in 1856 and died soon after during a cholera epidemic in 1858

The museum says the actual "Sleeping Dragon Plum" was the most famous tree in Edo, known for the purity of its double blossoms. The blossoms, according to an old guide book, the site says, were "so white when full in bloom as to drive off the darkness." Is the tree still in Tokyo? No, according to Fuji Arts ,the tree died in a flood in 1910; what remains is a roadside marker.

The Brooklyn museum classifies the print in the collection's Spring images. So perhaps the dingy days of winter were plaguing Hiroshige [as they are me] and he was hoping the tree would refresh him and a viewer with the hope of the sun's eventual return.

(As a footnote, Wikipedia points out Van Gogh made a painting of this print. At the time, at the end of the 19th century, Japanese prints were popular in Europe. His painting, though, feels different: the trees are more in bloom, so it seems more like spring at sunset . )

Monday, February 16, 2009

More Wikipedia loves art

Click here for my first post on Wikipedia Loves Art at the Met.

Art and text

I recently found myself zeroing in on art with words in it. There was the Fleisher/Ollman Gallery exhibition called Rich Text, photographed beautifully by Roberta Fallon. The works, including a collage of snaking E's snaking, brightly colored sculptures made of words and neon light art with text, captured my attention.

Then there was the "pocket cloud" piece by Audra Wolowiec at the Fine Art Adoption Network. It is flat, square object, five inches by five inches colored psychedelic cerulean blue embossed with the words: pocket cloud. It also has a silver lining. The artist says the user should scrunch the thing into a pocket. How pleasant to be carried aloft by a pocket cloud when feeling earth bound.

Even at the Antiques Show at the Armory in Manhattan in late January, I became fascinated by illuminated manuscripts at one stall , called Les Enluminures. I had done some study of these kinds of pages in art history, but seeing the tiny, hand-inked letters and miniature paintings in hand-sized, handwoven books made me realize how much respect these prayer books warrant. In the digital age, experiencing so much virtually, one sometimes forgets the physical aspect of things.

I am not unfamiliar with how cubism, surrealism, Jenny Holzer and grafitti art have exploited text visually. But I may now be so attracted to word art because I have been using words every day of my life as a writer for a long time. Their squiggly forms and edges are familiar. They are friends. I try to respect them. I also like to see them appropriately appreciated and raised to the level of art or humor or absurdity, if necessary.

It is funny, that when I called this blog "artfultext," I wasn't thinking of the "beauty" of words or the beauty of words as physical objects. I was simply interested in words about art. But I guess art and words are intertwined for me.

Though when I really think about it, this artful mixing of words and meaning became acutely joyful, even with the economic downturn, after the 2008 election. To commemorate that day, in a small way, I bought a keychain with a picture of President Barack Obama and "Yes We Can" on it. Here were three words spoken by the candidate who became our president. And I could carry them in my pocket. A friend was collecting election memorabilia, so in the spirit of the moment, I gave her the key chain.

But I was feeling bereft. I wanted a token of the election, too. So I Googled other keychains. No luck. I then came to I found a little circular, silver pendant, stamped with the words "Yes We Can," from onelifejewelry for $15, as illustrated above and I bought it. I guess it is my little piece of text-art-cum-jewelry that I wear around my neck every day.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Canaletto drawing

It's still mind blowing to me that I can go to a museum's web site and see images from its collection on my computer screen. No trip across town. No crowds. No entry fee. The software is such you can blow up the picture and see details you might not even see in person.

I came upon a Canaletto capriccio at the Morgan Library and Museum Online Collection, which shone some sun on an overcast day. In the sepia ink and wash drawing, Canaletto created a vibrant church scene that moves even though it is absolutely still. Your eye drifts from highlighted church facade with its semi-circular window, to the left curved door, to the canal arch. The dark shadow on the right contrasts with the receding middle tones, revealing depth. No YouTube video can do what his hand on paper could.

Although it is a capriccio, a fantasy, it seems as real as Venice might look, warm under pale pink sunlight.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wikipedia loves art

I love art. I love the Metropolitan Museum. So when I found out about Wikipedia Loves Art, in which volunteers during the month of February were asked to take pictures of art and objects in several U.S. museums and then upload them to Flickr for worldwide use, I jumped into a taxi with my Canon digital camera to participate. The project's purpose: to use the jpgs, gifs and whatevers to eventually illustrate Wikipedia articles about art.

The instructions--no flash allowed--for the Metropolitan asked for images reflecting Valentine's Day or to highlight the museum's Greek and Roman, Medieval, Africa, Oceana and Americas and Arms and Armor collections. They framed it as a treasure hunt.

Normally, when I go to the Met, I go to major exhibitions and rarely walk through the galleries. But this time, I meandered through the building to find objects that showed kisses, Venus, hearts, or the color red to honor the suggested Valentine's Day theme. I thought it would be a snap. Here was a Venus. Here was a wedding plaque. Here was a cupid.

Not so easy to capture the love objects. The pieces either were too small to be photographed in ambient light or too close to other things to make a nice shot. So I dejectedly went on a hunt for better lit and larger works. My first paydirt was the gold in the Americas wing. South American funerary masks glittered. Then there was the Olmec and Maya pottery. The picture above shows one of my successes. Here are some others. February is not over yet. I hope to go back and shoot some more art at the Met soon.