Sunday, June 30, 2013

Boogie Woogie

by Drew Martin
Yesterday I watched Boogie Woogie, which is a caricature of the contemporary London art world, adapted by Danny Moynihan from his book Boogie Woogie, about his experiences in the decadent art world of New York in the 1990s. Moynihan based the title on Piet Mondrian's Victory Boogie-Woogie (pictured top right), the artist's last, unfinished work from 1944. Even as an unfinished work Victory Boogie-Woogie is as busy as Broadway Boogie-Woogie: Mondrain completed it in 1943 when he was 70 - his De Stijl was energized by his love for boogie-woogie music, through which he interpreted the mid-town Manhattan street grid as a jazzy play of color blocks. 

The so-called Boogie-Woogie (pictured top, left) in the movie is much sparer, like Mondrian's earlier Composition paintings, or even more like Frank Lloyd Wright's stained glass windows, which were influenced by Mondrian. Actually, the closest match (and I wonder if this is by accident/coincidence or is a clever nod to the re-location of the setting of the story to London) is Modrian's Trafalgar Square, the first in a series of paintings titled after locations in cities that gave him refuge during World War II. 

This might explain why Heather Graham, who plays a gallery director in the film, claims it is Mondrian's first Boogie-Woogie painting. I am not really sure where this film prop version came from; if it is a reproduced detail of a larger piece or if the props artist just winged it - most likely the latter. 

The actual similarity in Boogie Woogie, is with Boogie Nights, about the California porn industry in the 1970s and 80s. A young blond rollerblading gallery assistant in Boogie Woogie played by Amanda Seyfried references Graham's rollerskating character from Boogie Nights. And Boogie Woogie shows just as loose a culture, with a rotation of affairs between gallerists, artists and collectors. I would write that the promiscuity portrayed in this film is ironic, since Mondrian believed in the spiritual hermaphrodite... 

“The artist is asexual. The man-artist is female and male at the same time; therefore he does not need a woman.”

...but the stalwart protector of the Mondrian voices his disgust for the hedonistic art world. This elderly, dying character, Mr. Alfred Rhinegold (played by Christopher Lee) repeatedly turns down his wife's request to sell his Mondrian to save them from financial ruin. Rhinegold claims he bought the painting from Mondrian in his studio for £500. Money of course is as ubiquitous as sex in the film. One of the gallery owners eventually makes a deal with Mrs. Rhinegold for 28 million, insured for 40 million (not sure if they are speaking in $ or £). In the end, the painting burns up with a dying Rhinegold when he drops his lit cigar on the carpet and sparks a fire. The real Victory Boogie-Woogie was purchased in 1998 for €35 million and is in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.

This movie is often more about the bare breasts of the actresses than it is about Mondrian or the working of galleries. It is not a great film but is worth seeing for the art references. The comedy is often innocent, such as the scene (pictured here, middle) when one of the art collectors/wife of a gallery owner moves a Brancusi Endless Column back to where she likes it in her house after her husband put it in the middle of the room. The humor is sometimes quite dark, such as when the young rollerblading Seyfried ends up having an emergency operation to remove a teratoma, and her gallery-owner boss (who is trying to get in her pants) has the large cyst encased in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst (pictured here, bottom).

Click here to watch the trailer for Boogie Woogie

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Withdraw with Withnail

by Drew Martin
I understand that there are overwhelmed people who want to unplug and embrace a slower-paced world, but the trend to go on a social media fast for a fortnight or two and then flood the Internet with his or her experiences about what it is like to be unplugged is not only silly but something akin to binge drinking. I think the most valuable thing any artist has ever said is from Francis Bacon; that the purpose of art is to return one to life more violently. There is something in this for social media, which like art has its value not as a fantasy realm but as a place from which one's in-the-flesh friendships, and earthly experiences have more meaning. So sometimes instead of unplugging, finding the right place on the web, might prove to be more reflective than going on a retreat.

Last night I watched a movie from 1987 on Netflix that put me in such a place. It is the cult classic (which I had never seen before) Withnail and I, which takes place in 1969 London and is about two degenerate thespians who leave their Camden Town squalor for a holiday in the lake region, which turns out to be an utter fiasco. The movie is full of dirty dishes that spawn unrecognizable live matter, "I feel like a pig just shat in my head" hangovers, and a lot of mud. It is such a depressed movie that one can only feel relieved and joyful when it is over. I would like to rewatch it and catch all of the background image references, such as this set up with a rustic chicken painting on the wall, while a real chicken is before them, as they discuss how they should go about killing it.

Click here to watch a trailer for Withnail and I.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Connected: An Autobiography About Love Death & Technology

by Drew Martin
Last week I watched Connected: An Autobiography About Love Death & Technology, written and directed by Tiffany Shlain.  I was curiously hooked from the beginning because the night prior a friend and I discussed a book he had just finished reading about John Muir, the turn-of-the-20th Century naturalist who was an early advocate for the preservation of the wilderness in the United States. Shlain starts the movie with a text plate and a “can’t stop thinking about this” quote from Muir:

"When you tug at a single thing in the universe, you find it's attached to everything else."

I also loved her choice of Janelle Monáe’s Tightrope for the opening credits.

Connected is a highly edited film with a lot of personal footage, custom animations, and a ton of stock clips. Sometimes the movie seems too personal/too centered on Slain, but it is after all (in her words) an autobiography. The strength of the film is her grasping of and extrapolating  her father’s ideas.  Leonard Shlain was a surgeon who also wrote four books: Art and Physics, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image, Sex, Time and Power, and Leonardo's Brain: The Left/Right Roots of Creativity.

There are a lot of profound concepts under the layers of B-roll including father Shlain’s idea that the analytics of alphabets and literacy favored left-brain thinking and therefore shifted society towards male-dominated hierarchies, and that the turn from literacy towards image-saturated media is shifting us back to a more female-appreciated culture. The Shlains continue the thought that the balance of text-based articles and graphic-user interface with image searches that commingle online are actually changing the way our brains work, and synthesizing our minds in the manner of Leonardo da Vinci, with all of his great insights. Shlain repeats the idea that our independence is transforming into interdependence.

The fault of the film lies somewhere in the concept of show don’t tell. Shlain synthesizes this advice with a constant narrative and enough graphics to keep five-year-old glued to movie but graphics (in general) are often too stark and obvious and cannot get under your skin and into your soul the way that art can. I also wish Shlain would have included more about her husband (Ken Goldberg), who has a mere cameo role in the film. He seems like an interesting guy. In her narration Shlain says, "Then I met Ken at one of my dad’s talks on Art and Physics. Ken was a robotics professor who also did art installations that connected robots to the Internet, to gardens, to make commentary on society."

Click here to watch a trailer for Connected.

Click here to watch Janelle Monáe’s Tightrope.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Artfullly Awear

by Drew Martin
I recently stumbled across a blog that I cannot get enough of. It is Artfully Awear by Ariel Maile Adkins, where she merges fashion and art by putting together outfits that reference works of art. At first I simply liked the idea and responded to the joyful tone of her posts, but when I looked closer at this blog, which Adkins has maintained since 2010 with more than 180 posts to date, I found that it is much more than a whim of someone with an eye on fashion and the artworld. Adkins is an intense visual thinker and ingenious with the connections she makes. I reached out to her for an email interview.

You must have the most amazing closet. Can you describe it's organized, the size etc?

I really wish I could say that I have an amazing closet. In reality, I just don’t have the space for it! I’m always intrigued to see how clothing collectors like myself work within NYC spaces because it is a daily challenge. I’m a very visual person, so I always want to see everything that is currently inspiring me; hence, I’ve never been able to put things away in a closet, out of view. My living space has, essentially, become a place where my garments and accessories mingle throughout, both as utilitarian items and as decor.

You obviously have an amazing grasp of art history/the art world, and you are equally into fashion. I read that you studied art at FIT. Did you have a program that let you explore both equally? I also read you are from Virginia (I lived there for a stint). It's not exactly a fashion did you end up in NY?

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been interested in both clothing/fashion and art. During my undergraduate studies at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, I studied painting and drawing, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art in the idyllic setting of Colonial Williamsburg. Recognizing my need for a business perspective on art and sartorial inspiration, I applied to the Art Market Master’s program at Fashion Institute of Technology. During my time at FIT, I was able to acquaint myself with the New York art world and also gain insight into the art market, as well as the inner workings of art galleries, museums, and arts non-profit organizations. I also discovered a wealth of fashion inspiration, and my personal style and creativity began to thrive.

Regarding your time in Colonial Williamsburg, did seeing all of those people in costume have an influence on you?....the playfulness of it? Theirs is an interpretation of history while yours is an interpretation of art.

The thing that most inspired my style from living in the surreal historical world of Colonial Williamsburg for four years was simply the idea of dressing up. I was interested in the colonial fashion, but was more interested in the idea that the re-enactors were taking on a persona when they wore certain clothing. Ultimately, clothing is an expression of cultural identity, and this is why we, individually, choose what to wear and when. Clothing is just one of the myriad ways that we are able to express ourselves, and I find daily fulfillment by expressing myself through the art that I experience and the clothing that I wear.

How did you start your blog?

I photographed my outfits for a long time before I considered blogging. Before I had a digital camera, I kept an outfit journal for reference, and would sketch pictures of what I wore or what I wanted to wear. I began blogging around the time that I moved to NYC, but it took a few years for my Artfully Awear thesis to come about. I had been trying, unsuccessfully, to find a style sensibility that really reflected the way I dressed and how I wanted to look. In fashion magazines, it always seemed like you had to fit into a category: “bohemian”, “rocker”, “vintage”, “romantic”. Then one day I realized that my style didn’t fit into any one category. I was inspired by art, not fashion. From that point on, I began to truly identify my personal style, and Artfully Awear became a chronicle of the discovery.

You have an Artfully Awear Facebook, Twitter and Instagram account. Which platform, including your blog, do you like most and why? Is there a Pinterest site in the works? What's your take on all the social media sites?

It’s a full-time job just to maintain social media! I spend a lot of time creating my Artfully Awear posts, so social media is appealing in its immediacy, but sometimes I fear that I just can’t get my point across in 140 characters or less. Instagram is the most natural outlet for me because I always take a lot of photos and it’s almost strictly visual.

How many of your outfits do you buy, borrow, or make?

All of my outfits are bought, and all of the clothing on my blog is my own. I’m an avid thrift shopper, love sample sales and diffusion lines, and live for the occasional splurge. I like to make things as well, and have an Artfully Awear line of jewelry on the horizon.

Who's your favorite designer and who's your favorite artist?

I will always love Marc Jacobs, Jean Paul Gaultier, Matthew Williamson, and Duro Olowu. I also like to find lesser-known, quirky designers, which abound in Brooklyn. My favorite artists are Yinka Shonibare, Ryan McGinness, Nick Cave, Willem de Kooning, Henri Matisse, Egon Schiele, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Do you start with an piece of clothing and work towards the art or are you more inspired by an artist and his or her work and try to find an outfit to match?

It works both ways. Sometimes, I’ll even have an artist or work of art in mind when I purchase a piece of clothing. Other times, I’ll see something I’ve owned for years and suddenly notice its affinity to a particular work of art or genre that I’d never realized.

What is your day job?

I work at a non-profit organization with the mission to connect students and professionals in advertising, design, illustration, photography, and interactive media. Through our events and exhibitions in NYC and abroad, I have the opportunity to meet many creative people and to share ideas, which helps me to maintain inspiration in my personal pursuits as well as professionally.

Is this a labor of love or is there something else fueling your blog and the other social media platforms?

Artfully Awear is, to an extent, a “labor of love”, as you said. However, it is a wonderful outlet for me, and has also been an avenue through which I’ve explored by personal style and also encountered some great opportunities, such as my partnership with Pantone, so I intend to keep it going as long as I feel inspired.

I like when you include Pantone color swatches. When did you start including those in your posts? What is your favorite color?

I’m currently wrapping up a project sponsored by Pantone, in which I created outfits and ultimately Artfully Awear posts featuring a chosen palette of the Pantone trend colors of Spring 2014. It has been a fabulous challenge for me, as a lover of color, and it has simply been a dream to work with the Pantone team of color experts. My favorite color is green, and currently Pantone Green Glow 13-0442 TCX.

I just did a site search for some artists...Richard Serra...nothing...and then my teacher for two years and mentor when I was at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Ann Hamilton (I studied installation art), and you have her!! Who are some artists you have not covered yet, but would like to explore?

I love Ann Hamilton and would be delighted to discuss her further with you sometime! I feel as though I’ve written volumes of posts, but there is still so much, art historically, that I haven’t covered. The vast majority of my posts are centered on Modern and Contemporary Art, specifically painting. I would like to continue to explore other time periods, such as Medieval, as well as genres, such as Conceptual Art.

Where is this all heading? What are your dreams for this combination of fashion and art?

One day I would love to launch an Artfully Awear gallery/boutique showcasing artwork alongside garments and a forum for creative people to share inspiration. Whether it would be an online shop, modified from my blog, or take the form of collaborations, with pop-up gallery/shops within other stores or galleries, I think Artfully Awear could reach a wider audience with inspiration and influence. As I mentioned, an Artfully Awear jewelry line is in the works, specifically inspired by one of my favorite artists, so stay tuned.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Chasing Ice

by Drew Martin
Climate change is an earth-shaking subject. Personally, it never freaked me out (except for a period in college when I was worried we were running out of Oxygen) because our planet has always been in a state of flux, and the idea of warming up the chilling places I have lived actually sounds nice. I would not mind if my town in New Jersey got a bit more like Santa Barbara. Additionally, I am amazed at how adaptable humans are. I have jumped on a plane during the dead of winter on the East Coast and landed in the baking desert of California, only to feel great. And I have lived through five-year-long droughts, and in extremely polluted regions of the world. I did not like those conditions but I see how my lush, wooded environment could be turned upside down and still be habitable. But if we are in fact moving towards the worst-case scenario, a dead planet, then you've got my attention.

The arguments against climate change are shrinking as fast as the retreating glaciers around the world. It is hard to wrap your head around how fast we are losing these fjords and mountains of ice. A documentary that I saw yesterday, puts it into perspective.

Chasing Ice
is about the obsession of a geomorphologist-turned-nature photographer,  James Balog, to visually record the affects of climate change in regions including Alaska and Montana, Greenland and Iceland. The logistical challenges of his program, the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), pan out in this beautifully filmed documentary and give the viewer front row seats to some of the most amazing changes to our planet.

Balog's crew, a couple quirky guys, capture a five-football-length by 300-foot-high chunk of the Store glacier in Greenland breaking off and heading out to sea. The process is called calving, and it is uncommon to film such major calving. This inspired the team to try to capture even greater calving at the mother of all glaciers, the five-mile-wide Ilulissat glacier (also in Greenland). It is said that calving of the Ilulissat gave birth to the iceberg that sank the Titanic. After three weeks of "glacier watching" Balog's two young assistants witnessed and captured the calving of area the size of lower Manhattan.

Balog comments,

Photography for me has been, as much as anything, about a raising of awareness. Through that camera, we become vehicles to raise awareness outside my own experience. And in this case, we're the messengers.

Click here to watch the trailer for Chasing Ice.

On a completely different note, if you want to see a Czech film I like with a good calving scene, of a real calf, watch The Country Teacher. Click here to watch the trailer.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Game of Thrones and Crowns: Heavenly and Global Visionaries

by Drew Martin

The American garage is an incubator of innovation. With no/low rent and fit-to-suit raw space, any idea can hatch, spread its wings, and take flight. The most famous garage success is Apple. We do not often relate garage to art because a garage space would typically be converted into, and then referred to as a studio.

Yesterday I had the chance to see real garage art - The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly by James Hampton. He was a janitor in Washington, D.C. who spent the last 14 years of his life working on The Throne, which he made with gold and silver aluminum foil, and colored paper over wood furniture, paperboard and glass. It went undiscovered until his death in 1964, when it was found in his garage.

The Throne is part of a permanent collection of the MacMillan Education Center in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. The MacMillan Education Center is dense with outside artist paintings, sculptures and craft objects, but The Throne commands the gallery space. One of the plaques by this recessed installation says it is "praised as America's greatest work of visionary art." Hampton posted Proverbs 29:18 in his garage with The Throne,

Where there is no vision the people perish.

Speaking of visionaries, there is a fantastic show on the third floor of the museum, Nam June Paik: Global Visionary through August 11, 2013. I was in D.C. for a day and could only spend a half an hour in the National Portrait Gallery so I decided to do a run through. This might sound uncouth (I wasn't actually running) but it is a fascinating way to visit a gallery and deal with the typical fatigue and overwhelming sensation we get when we spend the day in a museum. It is best to devote undisturbed time to one object but museums make us want to see everything. The nice thing about flying through gallery spaces is that you are hawk-eyed and focus on one or two things.

The works that stopped me dead in my tracks were Hampton's  The Throne and Nam June Paik's Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii. This piece is in the Lincoln Gallery and is a mural-sized representation of the United States with neon lights defining state borders and clusters of television sets within each region playing content related to that region. For example, Oklahoma features Oklahoma, the musical. I noticed New Jersey shows Allen Ginsberg, and someone told me later in the evening that Washington, D.C. is a security camera display of the viewer looking at that area.

The Special Exhibitions space on the same floor has more than 60 of Paik's works for the show. There are several walls of television screens that are as stimulating as Times Square. The works that I found most mesmerizing, and quite beautiful actually, are three of his TV Crowns. Paik used the television in each case to not broadcast content, but rather to generate content by feeding the sets with audio signals, which create rotating and gyrating rainbow-colored wreaths of light.

A young man from the museum was explaining the TV Crowns to three polite women when I wooshed by and screached to a stop on my heels to listen in. He explained that the effect was only possible with the old television tube technology and that once the tubes are gone there will be no way to show these works in their original. It is a strange thought to pull bygone television tubes into the realm of art conservation.

Later in the evening a friend told me he used to live on the floor beneath Nam June Paik. He complained that Paik's wife made too much noise in her clogs and then revealed that he turned down Paik's offer on several occasions to trade his work for this friend's photography services.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Dust Is A Contemporary Witness

by Drew Martin
I grew up in a very tidy and clean house, and yet when I used to sit by a window with sunlight streaming through it,  I would marvel at how the air seemed to be filled with dust; tiny fragments, which floated about like plankton, unaffected by the laws of gravity observed by everything else in my room.

I just watched an interesting German documentary, Dust, which examines house dust (made up of our hair and skin), industrial dust (coal, limestone, asbestos, etc.), land dust that gets kicked up and travels thousands of miles across continents and makes clouds possible, and stardust, which yields new planets and stars.

The film features candid but emotionless interviews with a number of scientists, industrial workers and even a house-proud homemaker who goes so far as to dismantle her television so she can soak the back panel in the tub while she continues cleaning inside it.

The arts are featured as well. The film shows art restorers who clean precious antique statues. There are a couple scenes of dust being cleaned from museum spaces, sculptures and paintings. Two artists collaborate and feature dust as a theme of their paintings and other art projects. My favorite was a third artist who set up her studio as a laboratory and morphologically arranged dust samples by the Linnaeus system used by biologists. Some of her quixotic comments include:

Dust and science both belong together, and they don't. Dust is a kind of interface. There's something philosophical about it. It has a scientific side to it but also an everyday side. To me, dust is a kind of proto-matter. It is a phantom particle. It exists out of the public eye. Yet it essentially has the potential to create matter.

Dust is a contemporary witness. We are always emitting dust. It is essentially the "personal cloud" around us.

Dust needs people. Man, culture creates dust, the dust we know at home. but on the other hand dust needs our absence in order to collect and grow. It's always going back and forth. It is like Leibniz said, like a herd where something is added and something is taken away. And the herd needs interaction between man and his environment, and between men themselves. Dust is a partner. We shouldn't forget. It belongs to us. Man wants to keep the dust out, but it's one of his very own mediums in a certain sense. Dust is the sediment of Creation so to speak.

Click here to watch the trailer for Dust.