Worth a Second Look

Worth a Second Look

Arab WithJug by Irma Stern

ORIGINAL POST......While thumbing through a recent issue of The Art Newspaper and turned the page to see Arab with Jug by Irma Stern, I was instantaneously and completely awestruck by this painting. I was blown away by the way you can immediately sense the entire life of the man portrayed. Every aspect of the painting—palette, brush strokes, facial expression environment—adds to feeling and understanding the life presented.

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Jeff Koons and the Parisian Controversy

This week I read a few articles about the ongoing controversy surrounding Jeff Koons donation to commemorate and honor the people impacted the the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. At the heart of the issue is that Koons did not donate a work of art, instead he donated the idea for a work of art. I sincerely believe project concepts and ideas can have significant value, however what Koons’ donation feels more like marketing than philanthropy.

And the donation of an idea isn’t the only unsettling part of the controversy. During an interview Koons draws a connection between his donation and the donation of the Statue of Liberty that the USA received from France more than 130 years ago. But the French gave America the entire Statue not just a rendering. Big, big difference! To further sour this entire venture, the planned installation site is nowhere near the site of the terrorist attacks it’s supposed to commemorate. I can’t help but wonder exactly what the $4 million dollar production and installation price includes. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the artist is receiving a fee for overseeing the production efforts. It seems unlikely that he would just provide the concept and then turn over the production without having any input or management.

I have to side with the French artists and other people who want to prevent sculpture’s installation. It just feels very wrong. I hope they are can successfully block the project’s completion. The only downside is that production is nearing its end so at this point millions of dollars will have been wasted if the project is stopped.

Be Good or Be Destroyed

An article in Artsy’s online newsletter recounts the circumstances when well known artists destroyed their work. The primary and common reason was that they were eliminating works that didn’t meet their standards—either because they shifted focus in their work or they believed the quality to be unacceptable. I get that, but I don’t see it as newsworthy.

The only part of the article that truly intrigued me was the open paragraphs about Belgian painter Luc Tuymans. His practice is to never spend more than one day on a project then leave it sit for a day. If he likes what he sees the next day he sends it to his dealer. If he doesn’t like the artwork he destroys it. I think that’s a very cool approach to creating art. I wish I had the courage to try it.

Calder's Conceptual Journey

A recent article in Artsy’s enewsletter, “Understanding Alexander Calder Through 6 Pivotal Artworks”, follows Calder’s development from his early concepts to the gigantic mobiles for which he is most known. It always fascinates me to learn about the creative journey—especially an artist’s journey. I can easily follow most of the concept development but I struggle with the high praise the author gave the first work presented. I get and admire the concept of adding a fourth dimension to the piece however it didn’t appeared finished. It was very rudimentary in presentation and all the movement required manipulation by the artist. It was done in the first part of the 20th century so Calder had limited tools to deliver on the concept.


The difference between the first and second works is significant. In fact, the movement concept is minimized perhaps even eliminated. He evolved toward a single media—twisted wire. I’m thinking there was a smoother progression that led to the wire sculpture. The work in the article looked like it was created from a single length of wire which is amazingly impressive.


From that point forward, Calder follows a very interesting path. It makes sense without being overly predictable and certainly not boring. I appreciate Calder’s work a lot more than I did prior to reading the article. I think the other reading I’ve done recently on physics concepts has added to my understanding and appreciation of Alexander Calder. I’m also motivated to learn more about the artist.

Your Brain on Art

“…although the reductionist approaches of scientists and artists are not identical in their aims—scientists use reductionism to solve a complex problem and artists use it to elicit a new perceptual and emotional response in the beholder—they are analogous.”

Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures, Eric R. Kandel, Part 1 Introduction.

When I became aware of this book by Eric Kandel I was excited and intrigued. I never bought into the long-touted theory that art and science reside at opposites of a spectrum. Science is formal, intellectual and complicated; while art—especially modern art—is emotional, spontaneous and subjective. So, I am continually looking for theories and essays that explore commonalties between these realms.

As much as I want to learn more about Mr. Kandel theory, I also have some reservations about his book’s premise (which is how he presents the above quote). My hesitation comes from the way he differentiates between the goals of scientists and artists. I see both artists and scientists solving complex problems and striving to change perceptions. Maybe I have to understand reductionism better, or at least comprehend the argument Mr. Kandel is presenting.

So far I’ve only read the sample of Reductionism in Art and Brain Science which means it’s entirely too soon to draw conclusions. I am anxious to read the rest of the book. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I have.

Getting Comfortable With Acrylic Skins

An acrylic ’skin’ is a dry acrylic film that can be made of paint, medium or a combination of paint and medium, that is not attached to any substrate,” Golden Artist Colors, Inc. provided this definition in the most recent edition of its newsletter, JustPaint.org. And although it’s sometimes too obvious that the primary purpose of the newsletter is to market Golden products, Golden also provides a lot of worthwhile information about the painting techniques. This specific article was a how-to for making these very cool, very versatile films using acrylic paints. All the materials needed and basic steps are presented.

I’ve been interested in this technique ever since I first saw works that incorporated it. I had some general thoughts on how the effect was produced but I wasn’t sure on the process. Now Just Paint lays out the steps in an easy-to-follow guide and the usual practice makes perfect mantra. I definitely think this effect will work well with my style of art. I hope I have the patience to develop some level of proficiency.

If you want to know what can be done with acrylic skins in the hands of a master, check out the work of Erik Benson. His urban scenes and cityscapes are absolutely incredible. I have no doubt that his process, not to mention his skill and artistry, take the process presented on JustPaint.org to the ultimate level.

The $150 Million Staircase

In a September 20th editorial for Artsy, Isaac Kaplan expresses concerns for the merit merit, or lack thereof, of the $150 million staircase sculpture which will be built and displayed in the Hudson Yards area of New York City. He makes several worthwhile statements disputing the merit of the 14-story, 2,500-stair piece, and the glaring contradiction in the artist's comments that the sculpture serves no commercial purpose, instead it is only for public use and enjoyment. The reason these remarked are self-contradicting that the entire project is being funded by a private real estate firm. And the fact that the real estate firm is developing a luxury complex adjacent to the site of the sculpture.

I am completely in board with what Mr. Kaplan is saying about the sculpture. Any project of this magnitude that is entirely privately funded by one firm definitely has a commercial purpose. Why else would the real estate firm make such a sizable investment. It's a calculated business decision with a favorable bottom line as its end game. However, I do take some comfort in the knowledge that public funds--ultimately taxpayers dollars--are not gong to be used for this project.

A rendering of Thomas Heatherwick's Vessel (image from Forbes Massie)

A rendering of Thomas Heatherwick's Vessel (image from Forbes Massie)

The Girl & Van Gogh's Ear

In its September issue, The Art Newspaper ran an article revealing the name of the recipient of Van Gogh's severed ear. Too young to be a registered prostitute, Gabrielle Berlatier was a maid at the brothel that inspired Van Gogh's painting, The Night Cafe. Although the details are sketchy it seems that Van Gogh gave the girl his ear as some type of sympathetic gesture because her ear was bitten by a rabid dog and had to be cauterized, leaving 18-year-old Gabrielle permanently scarred. Both the dog bite and the incident with Van Gogh's ear happened in 1888, but the girl's name and the details of the incident remained a mystery for decades. Almost 50 years later, a 1936 newspaper article revealed her first name but no other details. That's until last July when a book devoted to the topic was published. 

Talk about having a bad year! That poor woman! Van Gogh is one of my favorite painters but I never understood the whole self-mutilation thing. Now, thanks to The Art Newspaper, I at least have more facts about the incident.

Expo Observations

Every year I go to Expo Chicago to see what type of works artists are doing and the art that gallery owners feel collectors will want to buy. It’s an informative, inspirational, and validating experience. With so much art in one place, I expect to see some commonalities in concepts and techniques, but this year there were two themes that really stood out. These themes were repeated often enough to cause me to wonder why so many artists are incorporating them into their work. Perhaps it’s what collectors are interested in buying, which would explain why the galleries are focus these works. 

The first theme is words—actual text—as a focal point of the art. Using words in art is not a new concept but it seems to be done much more often than it has in the past. Works with words, letters and symbols and entire stories seemed to be exhibited by one out of every 304 galleries. There was a wide range of how the words and letters were used. In some pieces they reinforced and compliments the pictorial elements and the others the words were the entire expression made by the artist. One example is Scheherazade by Diane Samuels. This is a large scale piece, about 8 ft. sq., with intricate layering and detailing of the materials. At first glance the light color at the edge of each layer appears to be a striping detail, however, when you get closer to it, you can see that the striping is actually words. I don’t know if the artist scribed the entire Thousand and One Nights written by Scheherazade but it’s possible, considering the amount of handwritten words included in this piece. In contrast, but no less impactful, is the use of words by Mel Bochner. Words are upfront and boldly presented in his work. The stencil-like block lettering is evenly spaced and runs on in a monotonous droning way, which I surmise is the point.

Scheherazade  by Diane Samuels

Scheherazade by Diane Samuels

Blah, Blah, Blah  (Prussian) by Mel Bochner

Blah, Blah, Blah (Prussian) by Mel Bochner

The second theme is three-dimensional paint application in all types of variation. Some artists used volume-generating techniques to accentuate realistic representations while others chose a purely abstract expressionistic approach. One example is Methuselah by Lisa Alonzo. Acrylic paint and molding paste were piped onto a wood panel to give a real sense of the depth and movement of the subject. Pia Fries takes another approach in her Konstellation series. In Konstellation 13, shown here, the paint is worked into ribbons as well as the more conventional palette knife applications.


Methuselah  by Lisa Alonzo

Methuselah by Lisa Alonzo

Konstellation 13  by Pia Fries

Konstellation 13 by Pia Fries

I’m not sure what conclusions should be drawn from the commonalities I saw at Expo Chicago. On one hand the works caught my attention and were thought provoking. But there’s also a part of me that wonders if they are reaching the “been there, done that” level. I suppose it all depends on the reaction and perception of the viewer. Besides as long as collectors are interested, you can be sure artists will continue to produce such pieces and galleries will continue to sell them.

Good > $1 Million

"The resulting bumper crop of good material, along with many items priced under $1 million, made for brisk sales even before the first hour was up....."

Robin Pogrebin, Inside Art, Art Basel, Upbeat Dealers and Brisk Sales, June 16, 2016


This statement was the author's way of describing the quality of art and the enthusiasm of collectors at Art Basel, which is arguably the largest, most prominent international art fair in the world. My first reaction was, "wouldn't be amazing if some of my work ended up at Art Basel some day?". Oh, dare to dream!

Then I reread the statement..........

So there was "good material" and ALSO many items priced under $1 million. The longer I think about this the more humorous and pompous I find the statement. Especially because with the quoted statement as an introduction, the author goes on to mention several--maybe 15-20--works and the prices at which they were sold. Everyone of them had at least six figure on its price tag, and roughly half must have been what is referred to as good material because they had seven-figure price tags.

Wasted Resources

A geographical profiling study of the mysterious street artist Banksy claims to have found significant evidence to support a previously suggested real identity: a nomad named Robin Gunningham who has lived or frequented places where the artist has been active. The study was apparently delayed by lawyers for the artist before its Thursday release, adding to the intrigue.

From NY Times Friday Briefing on March 4, 2016

Maybe I watch too many crime shows, but shouldn’t geographical profiling be used to hunt down serial killers and rapists and other scary criminals? Using these resources to locate a street artist seems like a huge waste of time, effort and money. I suppose some people street artists are criminals, but the examples of Banksy’s art I’ve scene are amazing and they beautify the boarded up buildings and other canvases of choice.

Rightful Owners

"In 1998, the United States agreed to the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, a set of nonbinding principles encouraging “a just and fair solution’’ for compensating pre-World War II owners of art and other valuables, or returning the art to them."


Under the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016, the statute of limitations for those families would be reset to start when a looted artwork is found. The original owners would then have six years to complete their claims ..."

USA TODAY, "Bill would help families recover art work looted by Nazis" by Brian Tumulty, and as presented in Apple News

World War II ended over 70 years ago. I look upon this situation sickening disbelief. With all these families and their ancestors went through, recovering confiscated art should not have to be a lifelong, arduous process. Based on the first quote, it took over 50 years for the United States government to take any type of formal action. And when they did, it was vague, inept and woefully inadequate. Now, twenty year alter, the act under consideration is only marginally better. The article's author also explained that the locations of many works are known but none have been returned to their owners. In fact the onus to locate, claim and prove ownership is completely on the families of the WWII ancestors. Why isn't the governmental agency, museum or other establish entity who knowing has acquired confiscated art, or even suspects the art was part of the Nazi confiscation, required to make specific efforts to identify the original owners, or at least announce in a VERY public way they are in possession of such treasures?

This entire situation is so wrong on so many levels that I can't even begin to name them all. I can't think to long on this topic without getting really angry. Sometimes "It totally sucks!" is the only applicable response!

Matisse Sets the Bar for Artists

“A work of art must carry in itself its complete significance and impose it upon the beholder even before he can identify the subject matter.”             Henri Matisse, as presented in Henri Matisse, Carolyn Lanchner, MoMA, 2012

Although I whole-heartedly agree with Matisse’s statement, it also causes me some anxiety. Now that I’ve said that out loud, I feel some added pressure to produce artwork that can live but to all the statement contends. I consider this the ultimate goal for an artist regardless of subject, media or skill level.