Archive for March 2012
Ok, I know I’ve taken the piss out of the ArtScience Museum on the pages of this blog before, but the travelling Warhol retrospective which opened there over the weekend, 15 Minutes Eternal, is a coherent, well-put together effort. (The gallery design got a bit cheesy in bits though …)
Generally I find ASM “exhibitions” to be dismal affairs – too many damned replicas – but this one’s worth the 15 bucks for the price of admission. Or 13, if you’re a Singapore resident.
No photography allowed though, boo, so here’s a little-known bit of Warholalia: a letter from the Campbell Soup Company to the artist (above), gushing about how much they admire his work and offering him a couple of cases of his favourite tomato flavour.
Here’s a lesson for all aspiring artists: start painting Volvos, or luxurious condominium developments, or De Beers diamonds – and keep yer fingers crossed.
Image of the day: Carl Van Vechten’s 1935 portrait of Mai-mai Sze (above), the subject poised against a backdrop of concentric squares, the wavy, undulating shapes seeming to emanate in a dance of geometric distortion from her head …
Sze, or 施美美, as her Chinese name goes, was the daughter of one of Republican China’s most important political dynasties. She was born to Alfred S.K. Sze, who represented the fledgling republic at the League of Nations and the Court of St. James; he later became the country’s first ambassador to the U.S.A. (According to his Wiki entry, he was also the first Chinese student to graduate from Cornell.) Mai-mai’s maternal uncle was Tang Shaoyi, the first Prime Minister – albeit briefly – of post-Qing China.
Sze was a woman of many talents, it seems. Painter, writer, activist, sometime Broadway actress. However, to me, at least, the name is recognizable primarily for her translation of the famous Mustard Seed Garden Painting Manual, or 芥子園畫傳 – still the version most commonly used today. Art lovers may also be interested in this little factoid: her grand-niece is American artist Sarah Sze, who has a solo show on right now at the Asia Society in New York, Infinite Line.
Ms. Mai-mai was a little-known pioneer in one other respect: long before the era of the equality movement and identity politics, she was a gay woman of colour. (Born in Peking, she was educated at Wellesley, and lived out her life in the U.S.) Her longtime companion was costume designer and 5-time Oscar recipient, Irene Sharaff, who was honoured for her work on cinematic classics such as The King and I, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and West Side Story. Late in life, the couple donated money towards the building of the Music and Meditation Pavilion of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge University, on the grounds of which they are buried today.
Daughter, niece, aunt, lover – and seldom the star of her own life. Yet it’s clear that Mai-mai Sze was an individual possessed of intellect and creativity, a fact which Van Vechten’s image of her alludes to in wittily elegant fashion.
The photograph is in the collection of Yale’s Beinecke Library.
Below is another striking portrait of Sze, this one by George Platt Lynes. Dressed in a slender, streamlined sliver of silken fabric from Fortuny, balanced between a blank expanse of wall and an abstract object, she resembles nothing so much as a Brancusi sculpture.
The site of Spanish collective Boa Mistura‘s (that’s Portuguese for “good mixture”) latest project: the narrow back alleys of Brasilandia, a favela to the north of Sao Paolo.
These self-proclaimed ‘graffiti rockers’ frame their public works in the language of interventionist and participatory aesthetics: visual transfiguration as agent of social change. Or, as they put it, “ The intervention focuses on “vecos” and “vielas”: winding streets that are the true articulators of the internal life of the community. Sharing with the inhabitants the transformation of their environment.” Luz nas Vielas (“Light in the Side Streets”) engaged the residents of Brasilandia in painting over selected areas of their neighbourhood in screaming, neon-bright hues, and inscribing trompe-l’oeil graffiti on the walls – larger-than-life articulations of concepts like “doçura” (“sweetness” or “honey”), “amor” (“love”), “firmeza” (“steadfastness”) and “beleza” (“beauty”).
I love this.
Here’s the problem, though: the specific viewing position that anamorphic visuals like these demand of its audience. Shift even slightly from that spot, and the unitary illusion is shattered. Not unlike what Martin Jay as referred to as “the perspectivalist scopic regime that was so often identified with vision itself after the Quattrocento.” (See his essay, “Photo-unrealism”, in Vision and Textuality.) What he was referring to, of course, is the one-point perspective perfected by Renaissance painters, which – as some art historians maintain – was later imbricated with claims of so-called evidentiary realism by photographic technology. The sort of anamorphism employed by works like Boa Mistura’s simply re-imports the representation of the perceptual world, with its illusionistic rules and aesthetics, back into experiential reality itself. It’s certainly eye-catching, but for a project that’s explicitly demotic and democratic in nature, the imposition of linear, one-point perspective seems well, self-contradictory – as if the messiness of reality, and the optical perception of such, can be reduced to the conceit of a faux mimesis.
Luz nas Vielas was sponsored in part by our very own Singapore Airlines.
More pictures below; enjoy.
March 8 is International Women’s Day.
Happy IWD to all my friends of the gynaecological persuasion.
And apologies to my readers: I realize that this site hasn’t seen an update in a while now, but I’ve been busy trying to meet a deadline. Hang in there.
In the meantime – as always – here’s some topical art: American feminist-lesbian artist Tee Corinne‘s Cunt Coloring Book. (Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.) Corinne is also remembered these days for her print, Untitled (Woman in wheelchair with able bodied lover), which made it onto the cover of Britpop band Suede’s debut album – albeit as a mirror image.
I don’t own a copy of the CCB – though Amazon has a few for sale at fairly reasonable prices – so below are a smattering of images culled from the interwebs.
Untitled (Woman in wheelchair with able bodied lover),(1979), Tee Corinne. Image from the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.
Images from Tee Corinne’s Cunt Coloring Book. All images from the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.