The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) currently has a temporary installation up that belongs to their permanent collection. The Penetrable, 2004-2014, is a large installation by Jesus Rafael Soto, born in Venezuela, that was actually designed about 10 years ago, and finally realized this year. He passed away shortly after designing this installation. This required a collaboration with Atelier Soto, Paris, to create such a massive project without the artist.
Not familiar with the work of Soto, there is much information on him available in the museum and online. He is considered a pioneer of the kinetic art movement and is internationally recognized in Europe and Asia for his work, but not in the US. Creating only 25-30 Penetrables in his lifetime, this is the largest and only site specific installation, created for the museum’s Cullinan Hall, a large open mezzanine. The 1st Penetrable was created in 1967, however, many no longer exist because they were only temporary installations. This specific piece is composed of 24,000 plastic tubes weighing 7.5 tons with the hanging system, it is 28′ high and suspended from a reinforced ceiling. This piece also required that each tube be hand painted to exact measurements to create the perfect ellipse, making it also the 1st Penetrable to have an “image” included, and not be monochromatic.
The most obvious difference from the normal museum experience is that you are encouraged to touch the work. It becomes kinetic and is completed by the participation of the viewer. Soto created his pieces to enjoy by being able to move through and be touched and pulled. Children are encouraged to participate as well. When I arrive, there are plenty of people already immersed in the piece with several children running around. The tubes are soft and flexible, moving with me as I walk through the installation. Even with lots of people there, due to the scale, it was easy to still be alone for a little bit. At 2600 sf, this piece is actually larger than my entire house (1450 sf), so there is plenty of room to explore and feel some solitude. It actually feels endless, that I will never come out and walk through the tubes forever, in a forest of plastic. I have never had an art experience like this, something I was fully immersed in, almost part of it. I suppose I was, by activating the space, I became part of the installation. Artwork that involves the viewer is always an original experience, which is why I think it is important to travel to see art in person. Contemporary art in particular, is a genre that requires the participation of the viewer to complete the piece, whether by thoughts or action.
“For Soto, space was a perceptual field that had to be experienced, not just with the eyes but with the entire body and senses. He designed the Penetrable to make viewers more cognizant of their spatial surroundings, imagining the work as scalable and situated to both indoor and outdoor settings.”
It is the 2nd large scale installation commissioned in Houston that became the final projects of the artists that I am aware of. The other is the Dan Flavin installation at Richmond Hall commissioned by the Menil, According to their website, ” Just two days before his death in November 1996 Flavin completed the design for the space.” Completed by Flavin’s studio, it is a beautiful, large scale installation taking over the entire front hall. I have visited this building many times, writing about my previous experiences.
Designer Carolina Herrera’s line for NYFW (New York Fashion Week) 2014 was inspired by the kinetic art of Jesus Raphael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez. Watch the collection go down the runway in action here. I definitely see the inspiration of both of these artists. Many patterns remind me of the work of Cruz-Diez, but the clothing mostly seems to be inspired by the fact that the work of both artists must be completed by the viewer, from visual participation to actually entering the work, as in Penetrable. The design of the clothing is only complete once it is worn and actively moving. The movement in the clothing is visually beautiful to watch. Coincidentally, the MFAH also showcased the work of Cruz-Diez: Color in Space and Time in 2011, which I was able to experience for myself. His work requires the participation to view the work from different angles, otherwise you will never see the complete work. It was engaging and visually stimulating, being full of movement. This is a great video tour of the exhibition, giving you the experience of how to view a Cruz-Diez, something a static photo cannot do.
On the second floor of the museum Europe 1900-1975 Selections from the Museum’s Collection is being exhibited. I am able to see work from recognized masters that I always appreciate viewing. This included Pablo Picasso, which I had the pleasure of viewing Picasso: Black and White at the MFAH last year, Joan Miro, Anselm Kiefer, Henri Matisse, and Georg Baselitz,
whom I also viewed a solo exhibition in New York a few years ago. This just names just a few of the incredible artists on display here, but they all offer inspiration when it come to pushing boundaries, which is something that refreshes my art sensibilities.
It’s that time of year again for me, the end of Contemporary Art Month. Like last year, it is an intense period. This year, I had to leave before the month was over. Seven Minutes in Heaven is my biggest curatorial project of the year and then two weeks later I had a solo exhibition of my new body of work, Practice Makes Perfect, at Plazmo contemporary. As if that wasn’t already enough, there are the tons of exhibits open for Contemporary Art Month. Every gallery and most artists try to exhibit, it’s an important month. Of course I had to go to as many as I could fit in. It is about exposing myself to what people are doing and offering my support for their projects. I also made a major change in my life and left Ruiz-Healy Art. Before determining my next direction, I needed some breathing room.
After my exhibit at Plazmo, there were still shows, including the CAM Perennial 2014 Untitled (Public Display) at the Guadelupe Cultural Center. This was a two-person show of Mark Menjivar and Christie Blizzard. I was one of a few selected for a studio tour by visiting curator Leslie Moody Castro in April. While I wasn’t chosen, I always am glad to have a curator look at my personal work. I may not be right for this particular project, but I may be for something in the future. As a curator myself, I know a studio visit can open up working with different people and offer new opportunities. My friend Alex was also invited to participate in a smaller group exhibition in the Perennial where they took their work off of the walls and walked it around the neighborhood, bring art to the people of the West Side of San Antonio. Blizard gave away pieces of her artwork for free, I took home this pixilated photograph. Menjivar “fixed” candles individually for good luck, wealth, and love, adding a piece of art completed by Blizard. I know Menjivar from when I worked at the Southwest School of Art, so I am always excited to see more of his work. It turns out he only fixed 40 candles, so I was lucky to get one.
One piece I was eager to see was The Lovers, 1928. It is romantic and haunting at the same time. Nearby on display was a photo titled Amor, 1928 that was of two people standing together with their heads covered. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find an image of that on the internet. The image of what was real was beautiful.
However, when I was searching images, I came across this other painting by Magritte and a photo credited as being of Magritte that reminded me of the Amor photograph. I’m not entirely sure of the title, it has been coming up just as Lovers, and I can’t find a date to this particular piece. Sometime, I’m sure I can find some kind of raisonne and get the details.
One reason I’m drawn to these particular images is because I have always been impressed when a photograph captures a surreal moment without digital manipulation. My particular fascination in art is with reality. The last couple of years I have been working with found objects because they are what exists, discarded remnants of peoples lives. During this period exhibited here, Magritte plays with reality in many different ways, including a frame within a frame within a frame, what is (or isn’t) an object, or as in the piece Representation, 1937. Another piece I dedicated some time to, this realistically painted female torso in a shaped canvas entranced me.
This exhibition was amazing. I spent a long time going through, slowly digesting the imagery in front of me. When I was done, I walked through again. There was also a smaller exhibit of his later works where Magritte played with reality through visual texture and patterns, but I was not drawn to them, not like his early works. When I was done at the main building, I decided to head to my favorite building, to see Cy Twombly. Spending time surrounded by the work of Twombly is very contemplative for me. I have written about a previous experience I had at the Twombly Gallery.
This time around I was able to get some images from one of my favorite bodies of work by Twombly, a set of five paintings, Untitled (Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair), 1985. This is another body of his work that consists of one title but are made up of several paintings.
In his despair he drew the colours from his own heart
In drawing, and drawing you his pains are delectable his flames are like water
While I didn’t go to the Dan Flavin installation located in another building by the Menil this time, I did go to the James Turrell on the Rice Campus, Twilight Epiphany. Unfortunately, I lost the photos I took during the the light show. But these two photos from before it began show on a low scale the color theory that Turrell applies.
This was another quick, yet inspiring trip to Houston. Art keeps my thoughts processing and clears my head. I am very fortunate that Houston is so close and regularly has fantastic temporary, as well as permanent exhibits that I love to visit. Being able to just take in the beauty of it instead of having to organize or explain it is such a different experience. At the end of it all, I am able to focus and be calm again.
2013 was an interesting year for me. I made many life changes and forged on with invisible gallery. Accepting a job at a gallery, Ruiz-Healy Art, for half of the year, I have spent my time primarily fluctuating between working on RHA or invisible. It has been a fascinating experience, learning from a commercial gallery many lessons I can apply to my artist run gallery. While my schedule was a little more stable, I have tried to continue travelling as much as time and my finances would allow. It felt like my travel had decreased dramatically, but after trying to recall my trips writing now, it seems I still traveled frequently. While that also seems to be repeatedly to the same locations, I had a unique trip every time. Since I mainly plan my travel around exhibits, art fairs, and temporary installations, it is easy for a fresh experience.
Places I traveled to see art in 2013:
Houston: Picasso Black and White at MFAH in March, James Turrell at the MFAH in July, Houston Fine Art Fair in September, and the Texas Contemporary Art Fair in October, Luc Tuymans’ Nice. at the Menil , and Houston Artcrawl Studio Tours in November
Ann Arbor, MI: UMMA (University of Michigan Museum of Art) in June
This year was primarily spent travelling around Texas, Houston being where I traveled the most. While most of my travel this year has been much closer to home, the art I experienced was fantastic. Not leaving the country this year did not lower the quality of art I saw. The diversity in what I went to see was pretty extreme. This year included many large scale installation and pieces from the James Turrell Retrospective and the permanent installation of Dan Flavin, Cindy Sherman’s huge photography, Louise Bourgeois and her large spider sculpture…the list goes on. While none of these pieces were created this year, size seems to be the theme in what was being exhibited, either touring or displayed from a permanent collection. Working on a large scale with my sculptures as well, it is always interesting to see art that influences your work. I will always expose myself to as many different medias of art as is available to me. Inspirations and ideas should come from all sources. I am also interested in learning about themes or ideas that are different than my own, including the use of materials. Art is a thought intensive process that I appreciate and enjoy experiencing greatly. I am very fortunate that I have many friends that support this and often are the reason I can travel as much as I do.
The top 5 posts read this year:
- 1 Seeking Refuge: Twombly, Flavin, and Picasso
- 2 Cindy Sherman at MOMA
- 3 Banksy hits NYC by Jonathon A. Sims
- 4 Cindy Sherman Comes to Texas
- 5 Heading to the Big Easy: New Orleans
My 2nd year documenting my art experiences has continued to remind me of all the wonderful and exciting things that are waiting to be explored. By continually exposing myself to new thoughts and ideas is how I keep growing. As I open myself up to new experiences, I find many new opportunities arise. At the end of this year I find myself in a much different place. I am (currently) more stable, slowly pulling invisible together in a more secure direction, while trying to continue making my own art. Personally, I have also been going through a divorce this year, another major change in my life. Art has affected my life in various ways and I feel fortunate to feel so passionately about something. My life takes a lot of planning and patience, as well as unpredictability and chance. It’s a slightly crazy balance I don’t think everyone can handle, although I know plenty of people who happily do. It is very difficult to juggle everything, but I feel a little lost when I don’t have several project going on. Sometimes I wonder if I have a short attention span or just really that many ideas. Although finishing several major projects to completion every year, I will go with I have that many ideas. As I visual person, I work best with constantly new imagery to stimulate me. As an artist that likes to discuss ideas of repetition and multiplicity, I notice people patterns everyday. New environments are just as exciting to me as new ideas. This was another unpredictable year. Only so much can be planned, the rest I figure out as I go along.
I love street art. Something about the freedom of working without traditional materials in an often unlimited canvas captivates me. Those are some of the ideas that first attracted me to art. I have long followed the career of Banksy, one of the most infamous street artists around. Controversial for his messages, as well as the fact that his art is technically done illegally, his career has spanned across the world on walls, in books, and in film. For the month of October, Banksy took up residency in New York City, a place long known for avant-garde art. While I am fortunate enough to visit NYC fairly often, I was not able to be there when as part of his residency, Banksy was putting out a piece of work a day. However, I do have friends there, just as curiously wondering what he would do there. Since this was such a major event in the art world, I wanted to know more and get a first hand account of what exactly went on there. So I introduce to you my first guest writer, artist Jonathan A. Sims and new resident to Brooklyn, and his thoughts on the phenomenon that is Banksy.
Reflections on “Better Out Than In,” the Banksy NY Residency
Banksy’s New York “residency” started on October 1, 2013, approximately six weeks after I unloaded a Penske truck with my fiancée into our Brooklyn apartment. It was easy to be excited about it.
There is no denying that New York City has an irrepressible reputation for being the epicenter of the arts in the United States. And once you get here, and you start to pay attention, this fact slowly cements itself into the brains of newcomers. It’s the names. The names of the biggest American and international artists. The names of the best-funded galleries. The names of the biggest museums, with the names of some of the most famous masterworks. And it quickly becomes apparent that in New York City, apart from anywhere else in the U.S., all of these names from books and blogs and documentaries are suddenly very, very, accessible.
For the month of October in New York, Banksy was the most accessible of them all. The arts media started to drum up anticipation, and the blogs began to speculate. I didn’t pay too much attention until the first piece dropped. It seemed like the whole city was caught up in the scavenger hunt. Anyone could see images and location clues of the artwork du jour by simply checking Banksy’s Instagram or banksyny.com. The arts blogs ran posts that quickly filled with “updates” before you even reached the lede, crediting the first lucky searcher who found the work, or noting the dramatic crowds, or posting photos of the work after it had been vandalized by others. A friend of mine Instagrammed a photo with the October 1 stencil, but not before the “Graffiti is a Crime” street sign had been swiped, “not five minutes!” before he got there.
There was a local phone number stenciled nearby, and calling it greeted the listener with Muzak and a calming voice (you can still hear this “gallery description” on the website). A clever parody of the audio guides you can hear on rented audio players in museums, the narrator proceeds to mispronounce Banksy’s name and make fun of the typical artist statement verbiage before throwing up his hands and pronouncing “You decide. Really. I have no idea.” The narrator also mentions that the piece has “probably been painted over by now.”
This transience was a major part of the experience with Banksy NY. For anyone else in the world unable to see these works firsthand, the first image taken by Banksy or his assistants is the way they encounter the work– in pristine condition, fully in line with the artist’s intentions. When we finally got a chance to see his October 2 stencil, “This is my New York Accent,” you could see the hands of at least four or five other vandals. Graffiti begets graffiti, and Banksy is a magnet for spray paint, markers, and thieves.
Viewers are so used to seeing artwork as inviolable. Spend enough time in museums, and most of us will at some point be firmly chastised by a docent or guard for getting too close to a piece, or forgetting to turn off a flash, or some other minor gallery crime. These institutions work hard to create an atmosphere where visitors maintain an assiduous self-consciousness. With public art, there is something exciting about having no restrictions with the art. And there is also offensiveness in seeing that same art molested by others.
Banksy was very careful and very smart about where he chose to display his art. Walking past the Bedford stop on the L train in Williamsburg (the epicenter of the tragically hip neighborhood), we stumbled upon is first mobile piece. “A New York delivery truck converted into a mobile garden (includes rainbow, waterfall and butterflies),” was driven and left at local hot spots chosen to reach maximum promotional visibility. It attracted crowds and cellphone lenses. Shortly after we found it, inexplicably, a young man decided to climb into the truck and walk around its cramped interior. Once he got in there, I think he realized that he had no idea why he did it, and soon climbed back out. It was a mindless decision. It is easy to guess that most of the vandalism of the Banksy artwork was driven by the same mindset.
I couldn’t get upset about the destruction of the public work for very long. With few exceptions, these were illegal canvasses to begin with. The choice of Banksy to continue to work as a rebel artist invites that same kind of behavior. But the early culture that emerged around working in stencil and spraypaint demands that authenticity as a street artist be accompanied with risk and disobedience.
Maintaining street rep normally also includes an apparent indifference for the material gain that would accompany being an international art star, a disingenuous myth that continues to celebrate the “starving artist” as the most pure form of the professional. Banksy is now extremely wealthy, but he has carefully choreographed the impression that he is still giving his art away. Perhaps the most notorious and humorous day of “Better Out Than In” was a video of an old man in Central Park selling authentic and signed Banksy canvases for $60 each. The punch line? Only eight paintings sold for a total of $420, though some media outlets inflated the value to $225,000 in total.
Everyone was talking about the payday. How if we had been there, we could have raked it in. Of course, it isn’t funny to remind people that the paintings themselves were pretty boring, and if any name besides Banksy was attached to them, it would be hard to value them at $60 each. In the end, it was, like everything else produced in October by Banksy, a feat of amazing marketing. A clever promotional event, in which every part serves to increase the value of the artistic artifacts.
If there is a single argument that can be made in justifying Banksy as a meaningful contemporary artist, it is in the fact that the market price of his work continues to confront us with the dilemma of defining what is valuable as “art.” Property owners who had never heard of Banksy before were suddenly confronted with a totally new situation. In a closet somewhere nearby, or in the trucks of professional vandalism remediators, sit buckets of thick paint ready to erase graffiti. These buckets get employed hundreds of times a week all over New York City. If you walk up to the wall you own and find a crowd of people ready to attack you for painting on your wall, it can be pretty stunning. If art has enough cultural or material value to challenge the accepted notion that vandalism is inherently wrong, then the word’s definition has to be expanded again for the millionth time.
But in that same fact rests the anger and resentment that I was surprised to find in New York against Banksy. It is no surprise to find that many established members of the arts community judge the work as banal, as they are wont to do, and scoff at its popularity amongst the youth. Rebellion is the leitmotif that constantly follows Banksy. His refusal to come out of the shadows of anonymity and work in a more traditional capacity as an artist rankles more than a few people, an irritation even more grating by his inarguable success. Articles appeared in New York papers telling Banksy that he was unwelcome here— a recurring theme among them centered around the cosmic injustice that Banksy could elicit such a popular response when New York’s own resident graffiti artists, such as 5 POINTZ in Queens, are languishing.
In the last week of October, in the buildup to Halloween, Banksy unveiled an absurd and timely performance piece in the Bowery, which was to remain up from dusk to midnight from Friday to Sunday. A friend of mine texted me on Sunday asking if I had seen it yet, and we were compelled by the deadline to grab a train into Manhattan. There, behind a large fenced area on a concrete slab, a humongous mannequin of Death himself crouched in a remote-control bumper car and zipped back and forth, his battle-worn scythe extended above him in homage to the sparking electrical contact typical to the carnival ride. Musicians took turns playing continental accordion music as interludes between the real show: disco lights flashed and a machine pumped smoke as “Don’t Fear the Reaper” blared into the cool night. The Grim Reaper zipped into overdrive at these moments, and the bobbed to and fro on springed joints in the cramped space and occasionally slammed into a wall with stunning force. The whole thing was utterly ridiculous. View video here
In that ridiculousness is the joy of Banksy. Almost all of his work hinges on humor in some way—be it the general silliness of stuffed animals going to slaughter, or the observational jokes at the expense of capitalism or the political establishment, or the situational comedy of his site-specific gags involving children and beavers. A lot of the jokes are clever, and viewers enjoy his ironic juxtaposition of the beautiful and the decrepit (butlers and geisha girls), or the political and entertainment (Syrian fighters and Dumbo), and this alone probably goes a long way in explaining his popularity. But like anything that relies on joke-telling, some of the jokes aren’t that funny, and work built on facetiousness will always risk being seen as trivial.
But seeing the Grim Reaper riding a bumper car and slam into a wall with a Blue Oyster Cult soundtrack? That just makes me happy.
Jonathan Sims is a painter living in Brooklyn, New York. His work can be seen at www.chromadetic.com.
For the second time this year I head to New Orleans. This time I was on a vacation, I finally took some time where I didn’t have to be anywhere, so I didn’t have an art agenda. However, my one priority was to find Banksy from when he did a “residency” there. I had also been following his month in New York and am interested in the messages that he wants to leave with his graffiti.
It wasn’t hard to find. I just googled Banksy in New Orleans and found out that he was in New Orleans three years after the Hurricane Katrina, in 2008. I easily found Umbrella Girl still existed in Marigny neighborhood. Considered to be one of his most poignant pieces from this series, the umbrella is supposed to protect her but instead is the source. It had plexi glass over it that was broken through, left with a note PLEASE DO NOT COVER written in marker.
It was in an lower class neighborhood, in fact on the corner on an empty building, at a bus stop. This is an important factor for me, it really shows Banksy is trying to bring art to the people, trying to discuss their struggle.
Photos taken of the guy. Apparently he covered up the area to be in private.
I’m lucky she still exists. A total of fourteen pieces were made but only a couple remain today.
Just as recently as July 2013, A Girl Frightened by Rat was covered up by graffiti. The tag obviously intentional, bearing the words “real graffiti”.
Yet someone began documenting the removal of some of the pieces as early as July 2009, about 9 months after they went up. This piece “Bush” was also intentionally covered up. Besides the threat of vandalism by taggers, Banksy had a war with the Gray Ghost. A man committed to the removal of graffiti in New Orleans, his name comes from the uniform gray paint he uses to cover up the walls.
In response, he became a subject of some of Banksy’s work, depicted as removing the color from the landscape.
While my intention in New Orleans wasn’t art related, but as usual, I couldn’t help but find images relating to one of my on going bodies of work. Salvation Everywhere is a project I have been working on for the last year. It is about being bombarded with religion everywhere you turn. Everyone wants to save you. If you perform certain rituals, such as prayer, confession, or attending mass, you will be cleansed. My ideas primarily form around this concept of ritual and repetition that drives people’s behavior. My second multi media series, it will be composed of sculpture, installation, sound, and photography. The images are what I found everywhere in New Orleans. Religion seemed to be embedded everywhere, including in and around the debauchery on Bourbon Street. I have been randomly capturing images of religion that exists everyday, everywhere. It has been a very interesting project to work on, However, to collect the amount of found items and images I would like to present will take quite a while longer. Many of my projects take a year or two to complete. They are normally larger in scale and generally require much contemplation, Working on my art has really taught me the virtue of patience.
New Orleans is a city of mystery and beauty. There is much to explore, from art to the streets. Any visit here has left me with unique experiences. Hopefully next time I visit I can dedicate a little more time to art. Although with all the inspiration I found, I consider this trip to be very successful art wise.
This is the third year the Texas Contemporary Art Fair has been in Houston, but my first time attending. The art displayed here differs greatly from what is exhibited at the Fine Art Fair. It’s less traditional, more experimental, and as I would expect, pushes the boundaries further. Contemporary Art is one of my favorite types of art to experience. Sometimes I want to experience art that makes me think and is relevant to the world today. While there is beauty in more traditional ideas of art, I’m not sure all of those ideals still apply today. To be able to view art from recognized artists such as Damien Hirst, Robert Rauschenberg, Nam June Paik, Ann Hamilton, and Andy Warhol is always a fun experience for me. Immediately walking in, there was a huge pink sculpture looming in the entrance created by Ann Wood. A small structure with animals on the roof, everything was covered in layers of pink rubbery goo oozing down the sides. Also covered in flowers, this piece was very tactile, alternating between tacky and smooth plastic. It was pink, girly, shiny, and attractive, yet grotesque all at the same time. The animals are very skinny, showing ribs, and covered in this goo as well. When something is entirely covered, I always think of suffocation and being restricted. I have previously discussed this particular feeling regarding a sculpture by Cy Twombly and a photograph by David LaChapelle. My thoughts are also about the objects being merged together, bound by this goo like substance. The structure itself may be a shelter for hunting, but I’m not entirely sure. With no other explanation but the title, One More Reason to be Good, I am left to decipher what this piece is about. Walking further into the entrance, was another building, a laundromat covered in graffiti. A familiar place to most people, the inside is lined with brightly colored bottles of detergents that extend to the playful and colorful imagery taking over the walls, spilling out from within. This has a more welcoming environment that’s well lit, inviting the viewer to enter. The ritual of doing laundry is something the average person would experience on a regular basis, going to a laundromat to perform this cleansing. Created by the Clayton Brothers, this piece is titled Wishy Washy. I get the sense that something should be cleansed, all the components are there to do a load of dirty laundry. This idea of a structure, a familiar place, a shelter, domesticity were strong concepts presented in these two very different installations. The 1st is a sticky, layered mess, while the latter is a clean, organized location that serves a specific purpose. The 1st structure is a curious type of place, not existing prior to it’s creation while the other represents a familiar place where you would clean your clothing. The choice to juxtapose these two different structures as you enter is an interesting choice that I hoped was the beginning of an engaging display of art throughout the fair. There were many major art dealers here. The Kristy Stubbs Gallery from Dallas had an impressive roster of artists that included Damien Hirst and Robert Rauschenberg. The Hirst butterfly pieces were priced at $225,000 each. Well known artists with familiar pieces at serious prices. This is only the 2nd time I have seen his butterfly pieces in person, the other time in a small gallery in New York that represented more modest pieces by Hirst and Jeff Koons. In contrast with my 1st experience, these pieces were more intricate. One of my new favorite light artist was presented here, Chul Hyun Ahn. I had included his work when I wrote about last year’s Houston Fine Art Fair. His work appears endless, creating repetition with the use of lighting and mirrors. A new element existed that I don’t recall seeing last year, was the lighting changed through a spectrum of colors. His work is now ever changing, both in color and depth, each view point offering a slighting shifting perspective. Every time I have seen his work, people are always drawn to it, enjoying the illusion created, looking into infinity. Another great neon piece is by Tim Etchells. I have written several times about light pieces, including art I have experienced by James Turrell and Dan Flavin. I am very drawn to them and will take every opportunity to view them. The contemporary use of a message is something I am particularly interested in. Bruce Nauman is one of my favorite pioneers, smartly displaying similar words or shifting text, changing the original context. Neon has traditionally been used to give information, such as open/closed, enter, XXX, etc. Now it is often used to express a sentiment, another type of information that is now documented. With so much intriguing art, it is difficult to just discuss a few pieces. One thing that did stand out was the amount of art that sold. Many limited edition pieces sold out. Red dots seemed to be everywhere. It is always a good sign to see many pieces of art being sold. The fact that it is contemporary art also says the art market is currently playful and open minded. Art fairs are an experience. The opportunity to visit with many galleries from different locations is a rare opportunity. However, it is just a sample, as most are small spaces displaying a quick view of their most sell-able artists. My goal is to get to Art Basel (Basel Switzerland or Miami), Pulse (New York), and Frieze (London) someday. All of these fairs exclusively exhibit contemporary art. This is just one way to experience art. I recommend mixing art fairs in with studio visits, as well as regular visits to the museums of any city you are in or visit. The more art that I experience, I find I am able to have a better understanding of contemporary art, a better idea of topics being discussed, and often am introduced to new ideas I have not come across before.
Since I really enjoy art using light, of course I went to see the work of James Turrell as part of a unique retrospective that is consecutively taking place in three different locations. The largest installation is at the Guggenheim in New York. I also read an article about the installations at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Much closer to home, I went to the part taking place at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). As the press was coming out, I kept reading about the installations at the Guggenheim and LACMA, but nothing about Houston. The star piece of the entire exhibition is the light piece that takes over the main rotunda at the Guggenheim. The images of it look amazing, and I know photos never give light installations justice. Since I couldn’t find much on Houston, I really didn’t know what to expect. I greatly admire and draw inspiration from experiencing contemporary art. The concepts and contemplation that it takes to create some of these pieces amazes me. Contemporary art fascinates me because it challenges preconceived notions in an intellectual way. I enjoy thinking about an art piece and seeing an idea in a new way. Large installations, light pieces, and sculptures are some of my favorite medias to experience. Another light artist I have been following is Dan Flavin. I have seen some of his large installations in Marfa and in Houston.
I have always been amazed at the permanent installation there by Turrell, The Light Inside, 1999, which I briefly wrote about when I was at the MFAH last, in March. This piece takes over a long underground hallway connecting two buildings. The tunnel is composed of a walkway maybe just a foot off the ground. On either side of the walkway is a few feet to the wall, in a light wash of color. However, the way the light is presented makes it seem endless, like an abyss. The more you focus on the environment, the more the illusion takes over. I get a little distorted, it feels like I would fall forever. Art21 did a great interview with Turrell that focuses on The Light Inside in Houston and the Roden Crater in Flagstaff, Arizona. The volcano has been his most ambitious project that he has been working on since the 70’s.
Hands down, my favorite installation here is the Ganzfeld, the only piece in this exhibit that you can actually walk into. No photos, of course. It is meant to simulate a white out, something that occurs during blizzard, where there is no perception of the space. Experiencing this condition for an extended amount of time has been known to cause hallucinations. This was created with curved walls, making the room seem endless. There are people inside to keep you from going over the “edge”. As with the other pieces, the lights are completely hidden, just casting a glow of slowly changing colors. LACMA has a Perceptual Cell that costs an additional $45 entry fee and requires a waiver be signed before entering. That specific piece really may cause hallucinations, being in an isolated cell, just the experience of light.
What is amazing about experiencing work by Turrell is the illusion that is created in the space. He creates an environment, many of his pieces require their own room. Some pieces seemed to occupy both negative and positive space at the same time. This was particularly true of the wall cut outs. The light seemed to be cubes floating in the air, or breaking up the floor. The entire time seeming to fluctuate between a physical object in front of you, and a recessed object within the wall.
Going a few blocks away from the MFAH, we walk onto the Rice University Campus. They have an outdoor permanent installation, Twilight Epiphany, 2012, that sits upon a hill. However, it is actually a man made area, the grass is actually camouflaging the interior seating for the piece. There are two levels to sit on. The bottom space is made of marble seating, with tall slanted backs, on the inside of the cube like installation. The upstairs has the same type of seating but made of concrete, also slanted for you to be at an angle looking upwards. The upstairs chairs are on the outside of the open cube, so both levels can view above. The entire structure is covered by a flat roof, with a cut out facing the sky. This is where the art takes place. Even before the sunset show began, you can begin to see how the piece subtly changes, with the use of both natural and artificial light. I have seen the sunset many times, sometimes able to stop and view this beautiful natural occurrence. But this particular piece utilizes color theory to create or isolate colors. A forty minute light “show” unfolds as the sun sets. The staff requests silence and no photos. As in the main exhibit, outside light will affect the piece. It was a very meditative experience. The sky changed through many different colors – light blue, teal, gray, black, a brilliant colbalt blue. While the light is progressively getting darker, Turrell then uses the artificial lights projecting onto the roof, bringing the colors from light to dark, and back to light again. It was a very interesting experience and experiment. This show also takes place at sunrise. I think I will have to experience that as well, at some point.
A statement was made by the Guggenheim stating the large installation piece in the Rotunda is not a Skyspace, as at Rice. The specific difference is a Skyspace has an opening to the outside, while the Guggenheim’s opening is covered in glass.
Leaving Houston, in the paper was a story about a woman in Florida that realized she had a Turrell in her home and had been using it for storage. Disappointing, the new owner is trying to sell the piece. The bottom of the article has a nice slide show of a few Turrell pieces.
Yes, I am currently dreaming of seeing the Guggenheim exhibit. Unfortunately, there is no way I could make that happen by the closing September 25. It would be amazing if I could make a trip for my birthday on September 23….but that will not happen with my current work schedule and financial situation. However, the show in Los Angeles runs through April 6, 2014. There is a possibility I could make it there before the closing. And save an additional $45 for the Perception Cell. Yes, I would. I already would like to visit this exhibit at the MFAH again before it comes down. I will definitely also be revisiting Twilight Epiphany at Rice, as it is a permanent installation. This exhibit really expanded my mind. The possibilities of what a media like light can create is endless and ever changing. Perceptions of color, space, and what is tangible where all pushed and questioned. I find that exhilarating and the entire reason why I continue to seek new experiences with art. Of course, my pictures do not do this exhibit justice. It is something to experience in person.