Museums’ Importance in the Growing World of Tech

Museums have had a place in society for centuries as a place to house information. The word museum has been applied to many concepts varying from places dedicated to philosophical discussion in ancient Rome, to curio collections, and finally to collections of art and literature that were of value to scholars. In modern years, the word has come to represent an institution with an aim to provide an education for the public.

Recently however with the incredible wealth of information available through the internet, museums have to find a way to evolve with the people that walk through the door. There needs to be more of a reason for tourists to stop by than to simply check something off a list of things to do.

Now, art museums will always be important for art students and scholars, but it’s getting harder for them to reach the vast majority of those who don’t fit into either category. There’s often a level of stuffiness surrounding the viewing of art in a museum setting, the viewer feels pressured to understand and like it for the sole reason that it’s hanging before them, and there’s very little room for creating a dialogue about the art. After all, it’s not like the curators are hanging out in the galleries to talk to everyone about why they believe that each individual work is important enough to be on the wall, and audio guides and catalogues can only help so much.

Out of the museums that I have visited recently, I have to say my visit to the MoMA was the most immersive and educating, despite the Met being my absolute favorite place on Earth. The MoMA had a gallery talkback session that I happened to stumble into, and the attendants I spoke to were excited to be there, whereas at others I’ve found them much more cold and uninviting. In addition, the exhibitions had a variety to them that made each piece new and interesting. The stuffiness was more of a scent in the air rather than the fog it usually is, and I think they’re really onto something there.

I don’t have all the answers and I’ll be the first to admit it, especially when it comes to what I love. However, I do believe much more can be done to change the environments of these long-esteemed institutions to help keep it that way. What if we took notes from the Ancient Romans, and used these institutions where conversation is fostered, where people come to question, and ultimately learn from what they see in front of them? What if we took a look at what drew people to those curios collections and replicate that same feeling? It’s absolutely possible, and at this point bordering on necessary.

 

Advertisements

Bernini’s Passion

This topic is actually one of the main reasons I started this blog. I’ve made so many of my friends and coworkers listen to me as I ramble on about Gian Lorenzo Bernini for way longer than they really wanted to. Over time, I stopped when I realized that ultimately they weren’t interested at all, which eventually turned into me rambling on the internet.

costanza-bonarelli-337x450.jpg

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the indisputable love of my life, was a fiery, passionate man in everything he set his mind to. Known for his charisma and sweet-talk, as well as his fairly short temper; he fell in love with a woman with a similar disposition. However, Costanza Piccolomini was currently married to Matteo Bonarelli- Gian Lorenzo’s assistant. Of course, that didn’t stop him, and they carried on an affair anyway. That is, until he discovered his younger brother was also sleeping with the woman he loved, and as I mentioned before, he had a quick temper which was then magnified by betrayal and intense passion. Upon discovering that the rumors were indeed true, he chased his brother and attempted to murder him by beating him with an iron rod and breaking two ribs (He was pardoned thanks to his political connections). As for his beloved Costanza, he ordered an assistant to slash her face.

Of course, all of this makes it’s way into his artwork as well. You can feel the excitement and sexual energy just looking at the way the marble ripples in all his sculptures. In The Rape of Proserpina, you can feel the desire in the man, and the desperation and despair as the Sabine woman tries with all her might to break away from him.

the_ecstasy_of_saint_theresa

And then, there’s The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa– a much more pleasant depiction of sexuality. St. Teresa was a nun well known in her time for having an incredible vision from God. However, in depictions of her, she is very clearly orgasmic- a look I’m sure Bernini knew well. It’s a very interesting idea to me, conflating the religious with the sexual, since the two are generally at odds with each other, although with the passion Bernini so obviously poured into his work, it’s not surprising that he would portray Teresa with the same passion.

blessed-ludicova

Where you can argue whether or not Saint Teresa is just in the throes of heavenly contact, there is no denying the sexual nature of the memorial sculpture Bernini created for Blessed Ludovica Albertoni. The, once again, nun, is lying on her back caressing her breasts and torso, with the sheets surrounding her bunched in a suggestive manner, and of course a euphoric look on her face.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was a man of such intense ardor and energy that you can tangibly feel it when looking at his sculptures, you get the feeling he left a piece of his soul in each one. It’s as if they’re formed out of flesh and emotion, not cold marble. They become a moment frozen in time, no longer a monument to whomever they may be dedicated. Utterly incredible.

The Evolution of Street Art

Vandalism is illegal, right? That’s common knowledge, I’m sure. But what about when you take something ordinary and make art out of it? How can society dictate what’s art and what’s vandalism?

if-graffitti-changed-anything-it-would-be-illegal-banksy
If Graffiti Changed Anything, It Would Be Illegal, Banksy

Street Art began as quite possibly the only truly subversive art form in recent years. I don’t mean that lightly, as the word subversive is tossed around to describe artists from Jeff Koons (you can read my opinion of him here) to Lady Gaga, but very few artists actually deserve the adjective. However, street art- whether it’s “good” art or not, is still illegal on it’s home turf.

Beginning simply as artists tagging public property, the stencils slowly grew more elaborate and the messages in the work became more overtly anti-establishment. Despite how common graffiti has been, it didn’t break into the art scene officially until Banksy’s 2006 solo show in Los Angeles, Barely Legal, which had people lining up outside the doors- including art collectors.

Since then, street art has made a marked move into the contemporary art scene, taking many of the large names out of the streets and plopping them in galleries. Art collectors have since started snapping up works from Shepherd Fairey and Mobstr- and of course Banksy.

look-mum-look-mobstr
Look mum, look– Mobstr, prints available on his site for £80

Since street art’s recent popularity in galleries, the question still remains- does it really belong there? Does the work being in the gallery (legally) to be viewed by a specific ‘art crowd’ as opposed to being in the street (generally illegally) and viewed by everyone who passes by? Personally, I believe it does detract from the statement of the work, but if allows the artists to make a living doing what they feel they’ve been called to do, does that make it worth it?

Eric Rhein and the Shadow of HIV/AIDS

In honor of National Coming Out Day, I want to discuss something largely forgotten by the LGBTQ+ generation of today- the AIDS crisis.

ken-and-me-noon-june-5th-eric-rhein
Ken and Me – Noon – June 5th, Eric Rhein. Eric had recently made an incredible recovery, whereas his then boyfriend, Ken, was not doing so well.

 

Eric Rhein was a young artist living in the East Village of Manhattan in the 1980s, where he witnessed many  friends and lovers go through the struggle of living with HIV and AIDS. And then, in 1987, he found out he was HIV positive. Out of fear for his career, he kept the information secret for years until he found a few people he felt he could trust, and they helped him become comfortable enough to be open about his fight. Unfortunately, shortly after his courageous step he took a turn for the worse and ended up hospitalized for a stretch of time.

eric-rhein-uncle-liges-sword
Uncle Lige’s Sword, Eric Rhein. Rhein’s uncle Lige was a gay rights activist.

Referring to the time he spent at St. Vincent’s Hospital as his “Artist Residency”, the whole experience was brimming with creativity and inspiration. He felt the presence of everyone he lost to the disease around him, particularly in the leaves he found on the ground outside during his walks. Thus, his internationally collected and ongoing Leaves project began, in which he dedicates a wire silhouette of a leaf he traced to a friend with AIDS who passed away.

In his own words, “One by one, I picked up leaves until a host of kinsmen was gathered in my arms. In death, they continue to be the teachers that they were in life, generously sharing with me the gifts of their individual attributes.”

img_leaves_malta_lrg
A small selection from Leaves.

Currently, there are over 250 portraits.

We lost almost an entire generation to the AIDS crisis, and since there are so few left to tell their stories, it feels like few talk about it. Please, take some time to remember the history as you celebrate today.

(If you’re interested in learning more about the AIDS crisis in the LGBT community, I highly recommend the documentary We Were Here, available to stream on both YouTube and Netflix.) 

African Art is So Underrated

For some reason, it’s often overlooked in favor of Western art.

I happened to stumble across a jazz festival in my city, and sat (and danced) through a wonderful performance by Awa Sangho of Mali, whose timbre and energy  is similar to that of another favorite of mine, Angelique Kidjo. The vibrancy of the song and dance reminded me how much I love African art. However, I will preface this saying that I really only have a background in Ewe and Yoruba art, so that’s what I’ll focus on.

It’s rather unfortunate that African art is so commonly overlooked in favor of European and American art. The people of West Africa have such a rich, vibrant culture that reflects throughout everything they create, be it song, dance, textiles, or even sculptures and masks. They pour their souls into the craft, and it’s truly incredible to see.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Ewe of Ghana and Togo produced (and continue to do so) wonderfully diverse and vibrant tapestries called Kente, described by the annual Kente Festival as “the web of human emotions, cultural values, social identity, ideas, and even dreams that have been woven inextricably into one unit.” A lofty claim for sure, but there’s no doubt that they’re made with extreme care.

deceased-twin-yoruba
Ere Ibeji (twin figure), by the Yoruba of Nigeria

Art has flourished with the Yoruba people for centuries, clearly evidenced by their intricate ceremonial masks and fertility statues. For example, the statuette above was carved to protect a deceased twin from abiku, or spirits of the children born to die. The careful engraving of the hair and carving of the figure’s face, however  the features are exaggerated, show how skilled the artisans are. The masks are also incredibly detailed and really represent the heart of the group of people who make them.

The art of these people is so unlike what westerners are accustomed to, since it’s not “art” in the same sense. It’s less about creating a work of art, and more about creating something not just useful, but deeply meaningful. Everything- masks, statuettes, clothing- is crafted with such remarkable care. One thing I find interesting is there are generally no artists names’ attached since the objects  weren’t just created for the veneration of the artist, and served a function in daily life, whereas European and American art has no purpose besides being art. Yes, it can inspire thought and extricate specific emotions from the mess of human life, but if you don’t look at it, what does it do? I hope that more students and artists decide to give African art a chance, there’s so much more to learn from it than you’d initially think.

Post-Impressionism’s Resurgence

Van Gogh finally gets his time to shine, a few years too late

In the last few years, I’ve noticed an incredibly large amount of art history thrown onto anything and everything- from Frida Kahlo earrings (I had a pair), Hieronymus Bosch Doc Martens (high on my wishlist), to it’s popularity in meme culture. Art history is everywhere, but there’s one particular movement that sticks out, Post-Impressionism. In particular, Van Gogh.

van-gogh
#Selfie Van Gogh tee by BootsTees on Etsy, you can get it here.

You can find his paintings anywhere, Doctor Who (this clip made me cry the first time I watched it, fair warning), socks, even my dad had a phone case with Starry Night!  He’s also the subject of the first fully hand-painted movie, titled Loving Vincent, which took over 100 individual artists to complete. Needless to say, the world has an intense infatuation with Vincent, and his work deserves it. The man was a genius.

van-gogh-self-portrait-detail
Detail of a Self Portrait Drawing, Van Gogh. Look at how he describes the planes of his face through linework.

Vincent’s incredible popularity I believe can be attributed to a host of things, first and foremost being his ingenuity in both color and linework. If you were to take a look at any one of his sketches, finished drawings, or most definitely paintings, you would see that every single line he lays is describing the plane of the surface it rests on. Every single line. In addition, his markmaking is ridiculously descriptive of the textures he is attempting to capture, all while retaining it’s impressionistic feel. Not only does he use the line work of the piece to emphasize form, he also is incredibly skilled in color theory. He meticulously chose colors based on their compliments, even writing about his choices in a letter to his brother, Theo. He chose his colors from the specific color wheel created by the chemist Eugène Chevreul after reading about his take on color theory. He places colors directly, or extremely close to their complimentary colors in order to make the color really pop.

wheat-field-with-cypresses-1889-vincent-van-gogh-met
Wheat Field with Cypress Trees, Van Gogh 1889. One of my personal favorites.

In addition to his creative genius and technical skill, I believe that a part of people’s love for his work reflects a slow shift in society’s contemporary artistic values from heavy abstraction to more of an appreciation for technical skill, particularly when it’s used to express emotion.

All in all, dear Vincent truly deserves the posthumous fame he’s garnered, no matter the reason. Anyone- art lover or not, can enjoy Starry Night, and it’s bringing art back to pop culture. Although to be honest, I just really enjoy buying everyday items covered in art.

 

 

 

The Kult of Koons

Yeah, I’m really not a fan

Anyone who has had a discussion with me about modern art knows that I dislike Jeff Koons’ work, and from more recent talks with friends of mine, I am far from alone.

Jeff Koons has built himself a following beginning in the 80s by trying to be like the Dadaist Duchamp, yet injecting his sculptures with consumerism and marketing them to the rich instead of attempting to make them mean anything. His sculpture is about aggrandizing the mundane- recycling the idea of a simple balloon dog, for example, onto a much larger scale for the purpose of profiting off of them. Color temperature is foreign to his paintings, which often come off as flat, cut and paste collages. Although his Made in Heaven series is not in the same style, it only serves to glorify himself and his sexual conquests. To be honest, it’s almost repulsive to look at, complete with overt narcissism and run-of-the mill depiction of sexuality.

made-in-heaven-koons
Made In Heaven by Koons, 1989 “Starring” himself and his ex-wife.

His following is incredibly large despite all this, and the only reason I can really think of is his reliance on consumers. There’s nothing to be learned from his work, and quite frankly, I’m disappointed that Gaga chose to work with him as opposed to someone like Richard Macdonald, who has done incredible work for Cirque du Soleil. The only thing  keeping him relevant is his marketing and working with the large galleries of the world, who pander to rich, influential patrons.