Tag Archives: art

Gutai: Splendid Playground at the Guggenheim

I spent five days last week in New York City and, like most of my trips to the Big Apple, it was a bit of a whirlwind. I didn’t get half of what I planned to see and do, but I did manage to squeeze in a couple of hours at the Guggenheim before I left for the airport.

Image: Stage of the Art

I was content just to get to explore Frank Lloyd Wright’s magnificent building but the opportunity to see the new Gutai exhibit really made my trip. The Gutai Art Association was founded by Yoshihara Jirō in Ashiya, Japan in 1954; for 18 years its 59 members created some of the most influential avant-garde works of the postwar era.

Kazuo Shiraga, Wild Boar Hunting II (1963); Image: Guggenheim Museum

“Gutai” means “concreteness,” and the group’s name reflects its collective interest in explorations of materiality, in a manner similar to the contemporary western Abstract Expressionists. Kazuo Shiraga’s “Performance Paintings” illustrate this practice. The artist abandoned the brush and used his feet to smear crimson, blood-like paint on a bullet-ridden boar hide canvas, evoking the very slaughter of the animal though thick impasto.

Atsuko Tanaka, Electric Dress (1986); Image: Jamie Ratliff

Performance came into play in many of the Gutai Art Association’s pieces. Included in the Guggenheim exhibit is Atsuko Tanaka’s Electric Dress, an electrical costume meant to be worn in performance. When lit, it evokes the neon streets of postwar Japan and echoes the interest that several Gutai artists had in the intersection of art and technology. I was disappointed that the Electric Dress was not plugged in, as I have seen at other shows, and there wasn’t a video of her performances as there were for other works on display.

Yoshihara Jirō, Please Draw Freely (1956); Image: Guggenheim Museum

Gutai artists were interested in breaking down the barriers that kept art-making and display within the walls of studios and museums, which lead to numerous outdoor performances and installations, but they were also interested in involving their audience in their work. One such ground-breaking piece was Yoshihara Jirō’s Please Draw Freely, which invited visitors to Ashiya Park to participate in the painting’s creation and critiqued the Japanese government’s strict control on artistic expression of the time. This installation also captured Gutai’s interest in play and the untapped creativity of children.

Please Draw Freely (2013); Image: Guggenheim Museum via Facebook

One of my favourite features of the Guggenheim’s exhibit is the interactive elements. Please Draw Freely (2013) has been installed in the lobby, inviting its audience to contribute to the drawing just as visitors to Ashiya Park did in 1956; while it isn’t the defiant act it was 57 years ago in Japan, it brings a sense of fun and involvement that few contemporary exhibits include.

Image: Guggenheim Museum

On Saturday, February 16, children had an opportunity to work with Gutai artists and imitate their painting techniques. And weekday visitors can buy a postcard from the Gutai Art Box, a recreation of a 1962 installation. I only wish this was operational when I visited!

Motonaga Sadamasa, Work (Water) (2013);
Image: Guggenheim Museum via Facebook

With over 100 works displayed along the spiraling corridors of the Guggenheim, interspersed with videos, photos of installations, and displays of the Gutai Manifesto and the group’s print projects, this exhibit is the largest and most comprehensive showing of Gutai work in North America. For those with an interest in the avant-garde, and specifically contemporary Japanese art, this is not to be missed.

Gutai: Splendid Playground is on display at the Guggenheim NYC until May 8, 2013.

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In the Buff

Michelangelo's David. Via Wikimedia Commons.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by any form of art that has anything to do with the human form. I myself had enjoyed trying to draw my Dad playing Tevye in a local production of “Fiddler on the Roof” — back when I was in kindergarten, in my clumsy but earnest stick figures. I went on to drawing my favorite cartoon characters, a fictitious girl band, my classmate’s faces, Tom Cruise’s and David Duchovny’s. and the random figures in magazines ads that struck my fancy.

As a subject of art, nothing captivates me more. The textures of skin and hair, the hills and valleys of bone and musculature, the grace and symmetry – I love it all. I wrote my very own version Pymalion and Galatea in my head when a high school teacher introduced Michelangelo’s David in my humanities class. And then there was Renoir, Rodin, Herb Ritts, and all who followed.

Several summers ago, a friend of mine invited me to join a bunch of other artists for a series of nude drawing sessions, sponsored by an art gallery. I had never drawn nudes from life before, so the experience was quite new for me. I felt not a little bit uncomfortable at first. But there was a palpable energy crackling about in the room, and it was contagious, so that after a few minutes, the shock of in-your-face nudity wore off, and the sense of beauty and wonder set in, and then it was all about the futile yet wonderfully fulfilling task of trying to get a grasp of the ephemeral and pinning it down in graphite and paper.

Here’s a product of one of those afternoons.

Eroticism isn’t even the point. It is power, movement, balance, form, the wonderful parts coming together to make a wondrous whole. The human body, in all its possible variations, in its perfections and imperfections,  is just an amazing, endlessly fascinating work of nature.

Here are a few of the awesome ways  artists perceive and interpret the human body.

Gustav Klimt

I love how fabulously flamboyant he is. His figures are soft and pale and ethereal, which make a startling contrast against the rivers of fiery red hair, the reflective flash of gold leaf, and/or the funky graphic patterns.

“Danae”, Gustav Klimt, 1907

"Judith I", Gustav Klimt

Enchanted Zaftig

Sitting in the Dark With Red Hair ~ by Juan Alcantara

I regularly receive updates from their Facebook page to remind myself to appreciate my very own zaftig-ness, and how art-worthy it is.

Fernando Botero

A Dama e o Cavalo by Fernando Botero. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Nude By Bencab. Via O Emma Top.

Matteo Pugliese

"La Promessa" by Matteo Pugliese. From the artist's website.

I saw this yesterday on Facebook, and it’s already one of my favorites.

Nu Project

I recently discovered photographer Matt Blum and I admire his passion for the real, and I admire even more the many women who have put themselves out there and showed the world their beautiful uniqueness.

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Culture Shock 1913: The Modernist Metamorphosis

Via Studio 360

January is definitely a time for reviewing the past year in order to look forward to the year ahead. It helps to review the past in order to move forward. During this beginning of year we take time to look back at the last 12 months, but have you ever wondered what happened a hundred years ago?

A recent radio documentary does just that – looking back at the monumental year that was 1913. In this year, modernism took flight, and its arrival sent shockwaves through the world of arts and culture at the time.

The documentary explores the monumental events that shook the arts and culture world in the early 20th century. Two of these the birth of the Armory Show in New York, and the debut of the ballet The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky and Nijinsky.

The original armory show. Image from the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Armory was the antithesis of the artistic exhibitions of the time, and the perhaps the birthplace of the contemporary gallery setting that we are familiar with today. It presented new paintings that were experimental, propelling the art world into a new world of interpretation, non-traditional aesthetics, and a changed perspective on the culture of painting. The most famous painting shown at the first Armory show is perhaps Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp.

Image via University of Virginia American Studies Program.

Nude Descending a Staircase No 2 by Marcel DuChamp. Via Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Rite of Spring broke cultural ground in the music world of 1913, and is infamous for having sparked a riot during its first performance in Paris. The ideal of ballet at the time was lyrical and fluid, much like what we expect it to be today. The Rite of Spring was pretty much the opposite – flat feet, bent knees, and pulsating, rhythmic music.

Performers of The Rite of Spring. Image via Houses and Books.

Not to give too much else away, but the documentary discusses not only visual arts and music, but also makes connections between the modernist movement in arts and culture to other significant breakthroughs in science and psychology. Indeed this was an era where everything was becoming connected, and yet it resounded with dissonance at the same time.

Contemporary performance of The Rite of Spring, choreographed by Pina Bausch image from Intuitive Clutch.

Perhaps the most important point of the documentary is that it posits an undermining question. If 1913 was so monumental, then could we also be on the verge of something in this century? What is happening to us as we become more connected, but at the same time more distant in a hyper-real, digital world? We may find that out soon enough.

Listen to the full program online here.

Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged ,

Design Resolutions for 2013

Image from betype.com

Happy New Year everyone! 2013 is finally here, and with each new year begins the tradition for most of us known as resolution-making. I don’t usually make a serious list, but I thought I’d take the time this year to think about a few things I want to accomplish in my design life.

Read More Books

Image from blog.jennibick.com

Books gave me my first subconscious experience of design, in the form of illustrations and book cover designs. I still have a great affinity for traditional paper books, even as e-books have gained popularity in the last few years. The physical book to me is a sensory, intimate experience, and reading more of them can be enriching mentally and visually as well.

Image from fontsinuse.com

Read more about the best book covers of 2012 as compiled by the New York Times here.

Enter a Design Competition

Image from homemadedessert.com

Graduating from graduate school and moving into the workforce was a smooth transition for me, but I sometimes miss the flexibility and ability to conceptualize design ideas with an “unlimited” budget. Entering a competition will give me this opportunity, as well as allow me to be exposed to other designers’ ideas.

Work on a personal design project

Image from For Print Only

I’ve always admired designers who have clever personal logos and interesting portfolios. Most of the time I’ve designed my personal materials such as my portfolio, resume, and logo on the fly, and never really took the time to sit down and conceptualize a solid visual identity for myself.

Attend more design events

Image from Howdesignlive.com

As is typical with most professions today, developing a good professional network is important for any designer to keep up with contemporary culture in design today. Although I don’t really fear talking to total strangers, I still get a little intimidated when I attend networking events. While I don’t plan on attending a design conference every month, I think aiming to attend one design-related event every other month might be good for professional development.

I suppose I could make an infinite number of plans I can attempt to accomplish this year, but I think for now this seems like an achievable list. Have you all thought about creative resolutions for the new year?

Whatever your plans are for the next twelve months, here’s hoping your new year is filled with lots of creative energy!

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Ai Wei Wei at the Hirshhorn

Contemporary art as social commentary is certainly not a new concept, but Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei seems to elevate this particular niche of contemporary art into a different level. Ai has been critically acclaimed worldwide for his work, but in recent years has become a force unto himself – making him a phenomenal figure in the art world, and a mover and shaker of social issues, particularly in his native China.

Some consider him to be one of the most famous living artists today, particularly due to his visiblity in the media. This is part of stand on social issues in his homeland, particularly in regards to one’s freedom of creative expression. Much of his work has been defied by the Chinese government, leading to an imprisonment in 2011. He was also detained in China right before the exhibition opening and was not able to attend. He has become the voice of a new generation of Chinese creatives yearning for the right to express themselves.

The show currently on view at the Hirshhorn museum and sculpture garden in Washington, DC, is the first American exhibition showcasing Ai’s work, which includes multiple installation pieces, a photographic survey of his artistic journey thus far, as well as new work commisioned by the museum for the show and an installation in the museum’s courtyard.

The beauty of Ai’s work lies not in their aesthetics but in the stories they tell, yet they grab you from the beginning with their intense visual impact and impressive scale. The vastness of the scope of his work, coupled with the underlying stories, create a unique balance between content and form, while continuing to ask questions about the role of art in contemporary society (partcularly China).

Throuh his art and work, Ai Wei Wei brings to life realities that might slip us by, perhaps because we are removed from the situation in China and the other side of the world. In a way he is admirable because regardless of his constant criticism of his homeland and its government, there is a hint of patriotism  and  love of culture present in everything he does. Perhaps one day, others in China will finally grasp the importance of his message, and maybe we can also take something from him – and be able to make the most of our creativity and passion as he continues to do.

All images original

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