Entries from September 2007

Louis at the Hirshhorn, Hopper at the National Gallery, and arachnids in between

September 28th, 2007 · 1 Comment

If you’re the type that keeps on listening when I get all worked up about abstract expressionism, you’ve probably heard me say some pretty hyperbolic things about Morris Louis’s artwork, the kind I’m sure I’d never repeat when properly composed.

Morris Louis exhibition at the Hirshhorn

Morris Louis probably made the most beautiful paintings of all time.

Ok, so, I’m not properly composed. Its only been five days since I saw the Morris Louis exhibition at the Hirshhorn. I don’t plan on getting properly composed be for a long time.

This really is a magnificent exhibition, although the first paintings are undoubtedly the most spectacular, so if you have any sense of occasion, do a U-turn when you get off the escalator and visit the exhibition backwards. Most of the time I get the feeling that Morris Louis was the first painter to elevate Abstract Expressionism to something that was visually compelling even if it was divorced from all that theory that Greenberg loved to talk about. Quite an accomplishment. It doesn’t hurt that ol’ Mo was based out of D.C.

(Granted, he did steal his whole concept from Helen Frankenthaler, but, hey, that just relates this back to Women and Western Art right?)
Speaking of that fascinating topic, when Molly and I left the Hirshhorn to go catch a lecture at the National Gallery, we went through the sculpture garden, (past Jeff Koons’s war on art, which is almost as offensive to the soul as it is to the retinas¹) whereMolly and LaChaise’s bug Molly and I had a discussion about how Gaston Lachaise’s concept of an idealized woman (physically empowered, sexually dominant but still an object of male gaze) relates to the patriarchal, which is generally based on weak subserviant woman. Plus, she found something interesting right in the center of his composition:

I also got to see the Edward Hopper exhibition, which was fascinating and comprehensive and one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen. Still, woowee, Hopper’s women are certainly rigid, and voyeristically sexualized. (Heather Carey has a great paper topic.)

When I was 10, Hopper was why I wanted to become a painter, but I have to admit, standing there in that crowded gallery, surrounded by polite middle aged ladies talking about how much they like Cape Cod, this painting gave me the willies.

¹ I mean this. It’s so shiny that it’s physically paintful to look at.

Tags: Art · Art Exhibitions · Women and Art

Self Portrait of the Artist as a Creepy Man

September 27th, 2007 · 2 Comments

This post comes in response to the self portrait question on the ARTH 460 blog.

Last year I painted my “Self Portrait of the Artist As a Creepy Man” for my Painting I class, and, disappointed with the results that came from my classmates’ efforts to photograph themselves in alluring, idealized or profound poses, I decided to work from a mirror, making the same vapid expression I make when I paint. When I realized how creepy and uncomfortable the painting was, I decided to emphasize the smaller flaws in my face: crazy-man hair, zits,nosehairs, stubble, a uni-brow. I painted myself in my everyday work clothing, what I am most comfortable in: my favorite plaid shirt, undershirt and corduroy jacket. The background, which I am least happy with, was the actual setting of the painting studio.

The result was a creepy frontal stare from a crazy-looking mountain man, not an altogether incorrect portrayal, but perhaps an ironic exageration of my more controversial (but just as real) features.

Portrait of the Artist as a Creepy Man

The audience question, though, is an interesting one: for painters today, audience theoretically isn’t supposed to change the work. Therefore, I decided I would stand behind my painting for any audience, which worked until my grandparents came to look at the painting. Pappy looked at it closely for a while, then turned to Gramma and said “Remember, its not how we see him, its how he sees himself.” It was the only time I have been uncomfortable presenting myself as my self portrait. Which brings this post back to the topic at hand: much more so than today, baroque and rococo self-portraiture, especially for women, was governed by a need to present oneself at his or her very best. Artists were forced to choose the elements that they wanted to emphasize in their own character, which for women was very much defined by their own appearance. Luckily, in today’s art world, I can comfortably present myself in an uncomfortable way without risking dismissal as an artist.

I’m going to do another self portrait this year for my Caravaggio series. We’ll see how it changes.

Tags: Art · ARTH460 · Women and Art

Art of War

September 17th, 2007 · Comments Off on Art of War

This weekend I had to choose between free tickets to the Edward Hopper exhibition at the National Gallery and the war protest at the Capitol.¹ Picking which side of Massachusetts avenue I was ultimately going to end up on gave me a chance to examine:

Art Rubbing up Against Social Conscience: A Brief History

While art has never been really removed from politics (even Baroque art was tacitly counter-reformation), one could argue that in 19th century France, the goals of art switched over from the “good taste” of the Rococo to the message-laden Neoclassical, Romantic and ultimately Realist art (Courbet’s socialist painting The Stonebreakers²). Still, while Impressionism was occasionally peppered with references to the status quo of prostitutes and Dada sometimes poked fun at a world that couldn’t help blowing itself to smithereens, it could be said that by the 1940’s the pendelum had decidely swung the other way.³ Abstract Expressionism, which was ostensibly a return to “good taste” in art, seemed to announce that art gave up caring about an outside world that was just fodder for Peter Sellers films. So, when “abstract impressionist” Philip Guston went from this to this, the art world practically choked on its own disbelief.

Chris Burden’s ShootStill, arguably the most enduring image of Vietnam-era anti-war art was Chris Burden’s 1971 performance Shoot, where he got drunk and had a friend shoot him in the arm. (Then of, course, there is the ineffable subtlety of the National Gallery’s Vietnam by On Kawara…)

So down to the actual business of this post:

Faculty ExhibitionOr Yep, you got four paragraphs in just to discover it was all an introduction. Where does all that leave us today? What does it mean to make art rooted in a particular socio-political climate, and what can the artist do to push it towards the universal? Should art disconnect itself from meaning/recognizable events altogether or does it owe us something more?

Garmon with Sewing Bird Outside My Window, Nickel and Detwiler's Island, foregroundIf you’re looking for answers, I can’t help. (Its art. No one can.) But if you’re looking for all of those questions conveniently packed into one room on campus, check out the duPont Gallery (in the main lobby of duPont Hall) from now until October 21 (MWF, 10 AM – 4 PM, SS 1 PM-4 PM) for the biannual Studio Art Faculty Exhibition. On the social side, Professor Di Bella exhibits two magnificent sets of paintings loosely themed on the war in Iraq, and Professors Carole Garmon and Claudia Emerson present their Sewing Bird pieces (sculptures and a poem, respectively) that showed at Randolph Macon College earlier this year. Meanwhile, Professors Nickel & Detwiler’s ceramic work and Professor Griffin’s horizontal stripe paintings hold up the abstract side of things. (I’ll see what I can do to get some pictures up here for y’all who need extra encouragment:

Garmon -Sewing Birdpainting by Griffin, ceramics by Nickel and DetwilerDiBella)

So Edward Hopper will have to wait—besides, Morris Louis opens at the Hirshhorn next weekend anyways so I’m hoping for a twofer.

Until then,



¹In the end I chose the latter just because some of my elementary school friends have been coming back in pieces. Anyway, ‘nuff said. This blog is for art, not politics.

² Which, in a turn of events spectacularly relevant to this topic, got itself blown up in World War II.

³ This isn’t strictly true, because I neglected to mention Futurism, Muralism, and Social Realism, three between-wars movements with decidedly political agendas. Then again, these have mostly been relegated to footnotes in Art History…just as they have been here.

Tags: Art · Art Exhibitions

What ever happened to Mona Frida?

September 14th, 2007 · 3 Comments

Professor Och made a blog post about the mysterious comings and goings of the Mona Fridas.

I came back from West Virginia this past weekend to discover all the bulletin boards in Melchers wallpapered with photocopies of the Mona Lisa with Frida Kahlo eyebrows. I snagged a few pictures of them when I brought my camera in to photograph some of my printmaking work (which was really lucky because they were all gone by Wednesday.)

Mona Fridas take over Melchers…Nobody seems to know whats the deal with these or who put them up. I figured it was a promotion for something but then nothing happened, and they disappeared just as quickly as they appeared. I have to admit I’m dying to know what was going on, so come forward, whoever you are.

Mona Frida what?Anyway, for me, the most interesting part of this whole thing was how quickly the students joined in. After just a few hours doodles started appearing all over the Mona Frida, and some were pulled down and taken home or moved around into weird places in the building.

Teenage Mutant Mona Frida(In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I was the one who couldn’t resist turning Leonardo’s Mona Lisa into Leonardo the ninja turtle.)

But in seriousness, I think this brings up a topic instantly relatable to the new world of internet publishing, anonymity and appropriation: what happens when art becomes open-source or wikipedia-styled, where everyone just builds on eachothers work with no care towards ownership or individual credit?

Maybe this will lead to a new world of post-modern possibilties?

(…or maybe it will lead to this?¹)


¹ You know, I really didn’t want to be known as the first guy to put the word “poop” on umwblogs, especially not as the featured blog, but I did it, because sometimes art demands sacrifice.

Tags: Art · Melchers

Gender and Kitsch: Paper Proposal

September 12th, 2007 · Comments Off on Gender and Kitsch: Paper Proposal

Pollock, Greenberg, Frankenthaler and Krasner at the beach

In my term paper, I have chosen to examine the relationships between gender and “kitsch” in middle-twentieth century American painting, specifically as they relate to the Greenberg School and all movements related to or reacting against it (Abstract Expressionism, Post-Painterly Abstraction, Pop-Art, Minimalism, Feminist Art).

Gender and Kitsch Paper Proposal

Annotated Bibliography

Tags: Art · ARTH460 · Women and Art

The Entombment of Mike

September 10th, 2007 · 5 Comments

Art is a wonderful thing, ain’t it? It’s a great word too, art. Say it out loud a few times: art, art, art, art, art.

Great! Now that everybody else in the room thinks you’re imitating a sea lion, we can get down to the business at hand:

Entombment of Mike

Judith Slaying Roblofernes

While I was working on my Caravaggio individual study on a Wednesday night, the good folks at Stagnant Water and I tried our hands at imitating Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ and Judith Slaying Holofernes.

Note the stunning accuracy of Michael “The Art Chameleon” Mosely’s gender-flexible portrayals of both Judith and the body of Christ, as well as Molly “Sheldó” Sheldon’s uncanny old maidservant.

Tags: Art · caravaggio