This has been an almost overwhelming tour of late 20th century early 21st century art which, riding on the back of reading Heartney’s ‘Art and Today’ and Whitham’s lecture on the ‘Neo-Avant Garde’, is almost overwhelming. I dont think any of the ideas were totally new to me but I feel the number of names and dates and possible further reading as a heavy weight. I therefore think it is going to be useful to reread my notes and try to pull out what is useful.
Gerald Deslandes is a Gallery Director, Curator and OCA tutor. His curating experience has brought him into direct contact with many of the artists he was discussing. It also makes him very much a part of the art world.
FEMINISM AND MULTICULTURALISM 5th January – This lecture was the one I listened to in a bar in Andalucia during the ‘Reyes’ procession and therefore I believe my notes might be slightly less reliable. It was also, as Angela Rogers suggested, rather uncomfortable having a white male present this lecture. I question this combination of feminism and multiculturalism as almost an established genre: justified by the both women and other cultures are the ‘other’ in western art. He did say from the outset that the main focus would be feminism.
Deslandes took us back to the founding of the Royal Academy in 1768 and Zoffany’s painting of 1772 in which the only two women academicians Mary Moser and Angelica Kaufmann are not physically present – they are represented by their portraits on the right-hand wall.
Traditionally women had been seen fit only to paint genres such as flower painting and landscapes. Angelica Kaufmann however was best known for history painting, under the direction of Sir Joshua Reynolds the RA promoted History painting to the British who had less of a taste for it than was common in much of Europe.
Women were largely confined to the suburbs:
What I long for is the freedom of going out alone, of sitting on a bench in the Tuileries….of looking at the artistic shops….of entering the churches and museums….the freedom without which one can’t become a real artist – Marie Bashkirtseff
Bashkirtseff complained how even in the last half of the 19th century women were not allowed into churches or galleries to see art.
This quote really struck me. It is true that lower classes did not get opportunities either, but even rich women were confined by society.
As illustrated by Berthe Morisot the impressionist 1872
We looked at a variety of examples of work by women in which they looked at themselves and their lives as subjects. We also looked at how women were represented by male artists mainly for the male gaze. In the case of Oskar Kokoshka violently. Frida Kahlo’s work was used as an example of how she made herself the subject most interestingly in the examples of ‘My Dress Hangs there’ and the ‘Two Fridas’. In ‘My Dress Hangs There’ we see her dress ‘inserted’ into signs of domesticity and historical monuments of her native Mexico and the United States. Deslandes juxtaposed the ‘Two Fridas’ with Gilbert and George from the 1970s. Gilbert and George representing otherness through their identities as gay men.
The early 20th Century
The surrealists presented female sexuality in an uncomfortable way for many. Dora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning and Leonora Fini were given examples. This work is worth investigating further. Ithell Colquhoun and Georgia O’keefe at the same time played with ambiguous images of nature to represent sexuality.
Claude Cahun and Lacan Using photography Claude Cahun makes herself the subject of the images in her self portrait of c1936 it is argued she is alluding to Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage, in which establishes the ego as dependent on others. These are strong images and lead really well onto Cindy Sherman and her ‘untitled film stills’. Here Deslandes applied Laura Mulvey’s ideas that women were objects and not subjects of the gaze:
‘(woman’s) visual presence tends to work against the development of a story line, to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation..the bearer of meaning not the maker of meaning ‘ – Laura Mulvey 1973
1970s and 80s This period coincides with the women’s movement or second wave feminism and sees feminist artists as activists using contemporary means such as performance to protest and raise awareness. It all looks rather dated today to me, although I was alive for most of this I wasn’t really so aware of it until the 80s. I do think this was a more optimistic era and that this movement was necessary as is the third wave today. Nevertheless much of the work doesn’t speak to me perhaps it doesn’t need to as I don’t need convincing. The most interesting for me were ‘The Hackney Flashers’ and the homeworkers, The grass roots engagement seems more meaningful. We also looked quickly at feminist classics like the Guerilla Girls, Judy Chicago, Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger. From a more multi cultural perspective the African American Faith Ringold whose quilts are inspirational and British artist Sonia Boyce. The others I found most interesting are Kara Walker and Maud Sulter both of whom I have come across before.
I found this work really intriguing. The paintings are based on work by women artists from history repainted and reconceived. The frames are falling apart and could be seen as contesting the limits imposed. This is an artist I need to look into.
ARTIST’S NOTES In the centre of the exhibition, suddenly I had this realisation that I had never experienced this situation before – of being totally surrounded by brush marks by women artists that stretched right back through history. I felt part of a continuum for the first time. And there was anger, rage that for so many years there had been this absence that I couldn’t even identify until now.
Multiculturalism and the 1990s
We looked at mainly British artists from the 1990s: Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas and Sam Taylor Wood who made David Beckham the subject of the gaze mirroring a society ever more concerned with male objects. Irony plays a big part of the YBA generation and we looked at Jake and Dino Chapman’s ‘The Family Collection’ (2002) fake african art with titles that are wordplay on contemporary brands. Having lived in London in the 1990s I remember the hype and the RA Sensation exhibition. The discussion at the end of Deslandes’ lecture was about this media attention grabbing and how little things have changed. I wonder, although there is still plenty of inequality I feel yes we have moved on, to what extent art has helped I am not sure. The 90s work is far less serious and far more media conscious. The shock tactics feel a bit like playing a game but I doubt the generation of Emin and Lucas would be in the position they are without the early generation’s gains.
Finally it was good to revist the work of Anish Kapoor having seen his ‘symphony for a beloved Sun’ in Berlin 2 years ago and discover Rashaeed Araeen along the way.
LANGUAGE AND CONSUMERISM -12th January
This was a heavily theoretical lecture luckily based on interesting theories. I feel in a strange place with all this as I have a basic understanding of most of the ideas and feel that I should maybe look into all of them again in more depth but am not sure where to begin or which are the most relevant to my practice. I shall try to summarise the lecture in order to clarify for myself some of the main points.
Saussure and semiotics: identified the idea of individual visual signs needing context to create meaning. Eg a word on its own needs a sentence. Language consists of signifiers and these are a system of differences. eg you need a mother and a son to understand what father signifies.
Marx: That objects do not have an intrinsic value or price but the society decides what they are worth in terms of currency ie. social order prices objects.
Barthes: denotes=describes; conotes = empire or loyalty
Stuart Hall: Culture is the production and exchange of meanings; the giving or taking of meaning between society or group. (we looked at examples of these – polynesian map – aboriginal dreamtime painting)
Michel Foucault: The relationship between signifier and signified depends on social context. the ball is only a football within the game. The stone does not have the same meaning in a fight as in a museum. as in the work of Daniel Burren 1960-80 the work has to be put together and the whole takes it meaning from the relationships within the whole.
Modernism (exploring materials and processes).
Can be traced back to Monet – Impression Sunrise – investigates formal elements – colour/ form /shape /light etc Art deconstructs its formal language – ‘art for arts sake’ Clement Greenberg – modernism as a move towards self referential autonomy. According to Saussure Manet’s ‘Dejeuner sur L’herbe’ investigates the flatness of canvas. Foucault sees it within its culture, in relation to other work from the past. For Fouault each society has its regime: types of discourse (cluster of ideas) which it accepts and makes function as true. Marx would analyse this through its power structures. We also looked at how modernism looks to non western influences as in Henry Moore and at its own formal language. The photography of Rdochenko and Kertesz which is about exploring the process in the darkroom. We considered the way Kandinsky and Miró arrived at abstraction in relation to their earlier figurative work.
Foucault and the Body – a kind of surface on which society / regimes write their meaning and effects We looked at how ‘mad’ people and women in particular are judged also Velázquez’s dwarves.
Remaking something to deconstruct its meaning: Douglas Gordon making 24 hour Psycho (Hitchcock). Jasper Johns draws our attention to the US flag as a sign. Magritte representing a pipe to show us it isn’t a pipe (Cést nést pas une pipe). Simon Paterson’s Great Bear uses underground lines as different categories or Lisa Milroy groups shoes or lightbulbs. Barthes talks about the need for agreement on what constitutes meaning. Susan Hiller questions what is a hero in her ‘Monument to Heros’.
Trope = image or literary device, motif or cliché
The way in which images suggest meaning relates to codes. Here Deslandes mentions Bejamin’s ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ which I am reading at the moment.
Bar at the Follie Berger – suggests a waitress who is looking at you is actually reflected talking to someone in the mirror. A play on reflections and gazes which reminds me of Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas’. The narrative of the scene is ambiguous.
Tropes of Warhol: Deslandes suggests these are inane, empty, skin deep fabrications. Here artists relate to comercial images not only in Pop Art. There is a tension between individuality and uniformity. Damian Hirst’s pharmacy is a Foucaultian dream in the way it reveals a structure and that this is determined by the societies approach to health. This is a discourse about health. This follows the Marshall McLuhan idea of the medium is the message too.
Lacan: deconstructs our identity according to opposites and we see again the mirror stage already discussed with Claude Cahun. Here Douglas Gordon uses Robert De Niro talking to the mirror in taxi Driver to show him stuck in that phase.
We look at artists working outside the gallery system such as Richard Long and Joseph Beuys. and Michael Kelly working with trashy dolls to underline the arbitrary nature of value (Marx). Finally I should mention the work of British artists Martin Parr (New Brighton and Ascot) and Grayson Perry (Vanity of small Differences) which speak of social class relationships which are very specific to their own culture.
‘Claude Levi-Strauss studied the customs, rituals, totemic objects, designs, myths and folk-tales of….the Amazon..not by analysing how they were produced and used in everyday life but in terms of what they were trying to say.’ – Stuart Hall,
POSTMODERNISM AND GLOBALISM 19TH JANUARY
Deslandes suggested that the beginning of postmodernism could be related back to Robert Rauchenberg in the 1950s, there is also an argument that the ideas can trace back to Duchamp. Most of the work we looked at was from the 90s onwards but I think the ideas and the context are the most important part of the presentation. According to Deslandes in the late 1980s the art world becomes cool and many people become more mobile – more foreign travel, education and art tourism. Artists also become more fashionable and less aloof and distant.
Baudrillard: talks about the saturation of signs and their disconnection from the signified. The signs are connected to a simulation as we have lost the connection to reality.
Debord: Détournement which is using images from other people – pastiche , irony eg. Yasuma Morimura who photographed himself as Frida Kahlo or Manet’s Olympia.
ludic imagery: images which relate to pop culture and fantasy and do not take themselves seriously.
We cannot understand the world – images of Andreas Gursky which deal with the digitalisation and overload of images. They become flat and overwhelming and incomprehensible.
End of manufacturing in the West: Our identity was about what we did within a community. We no longer have that connection. We tend to have more than one partner and move around, often working in different places. Some artists make things from no longer funcional manufactured objects (Bill Woodrow). Nostagia can also be seen in the work of Bernt and Hilda Becher (ex industrial buildings). This reminded me of Stuart Geddes. Artists also look at the end of other narratives such as the cold war. Industrial techniques used for artwork (very different function) for example Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North.
Changes in the role of the Artist Sherie Levine after Walker Evans – rephotograph an existing image by a photographer. Her point being the artist is not making, this seems like a direct descendant to Duchamp and very interesting to look at in the light of the Luc Tyman’s plagiarism case this week.
Eugenio Dittborn: makes airmail paintings which are folded up and posted around the world. I love this idea. The work is also very interesting he juxtaposes photographic images of the disappeared, childrens’ drawings
EUGENIO DITTBORN CHRISTIAN BOLTANSKI
and paintings. Christian Boltanski also combines faces of concentration camp victims, their guards and random unknown folk to show how little we understand.
THE MARCUS COATES DEBATE
Marcus Coates is an artist who dresses up as a reindeer for example and professes to have shamanistic powers. The question was whether he is purely sending up Joseph Beuys’s performance or if he genuinely believes he is making an authentic intervention. In general the postmodernism is very skeptical and tongue in cheek. Gerald Deslandes is convinced this is Coates, tongue firmly in cheek whilst Angela Rogers suggests that he is authentic. I have only looked up one article so far and am really intrigued to know more
MAGICIANS OF THE EARTH (MAGICIENS DE LA TIERRE) 1989 PARIS
This exhibition marks a turning point in the globalisation of the art world. It included 50 western and 50 3rd world artists. It was an attempt to correct the post colonial bias and credit the non western artists treating them equally.
We looked relatively quickly at some nonwestern artists the most interesting:
Yang Chie Chan 100 layers of ink – this work stuck me as contemporary art with a strong root in tradition. As with Ai Wei Wei’s sunflower seeds there is a mixture of simplicity, strength and labour.
Santiago Sierra previously mentioned in this blog here 6 unemployed men and an 8 foot line (tatooed on their backs). He is credited as Mexico on the slide I wonder if his living there makes him non western.
who is also a Shaman but started using acrylics after Musiciens de la Terre.
Beautiful work using recycled metals – could see on original slide so I looked them up as I remembered seing some of his work before.
At the end of the 3 lectures we debated a little about where we are now. A lot of this was quite negative, that times are difficult. Grayson Perry’s quotation that being sincere is radical and the current climate insincerity reigns. We questioned whether it is possible to have an authentic voice. In the past being yourself and achieving your identity was a realistic objective but society has changed this we are all many things. There was a lot of talk about living in a decentered fragmented world where we live in a kind of flow. I refuse to be negative about it; many people are still making work which is meaningful.