Art review: "Leon Golub Raw Nerve”
“Leon Golub Raw Nerve” at the Met Breuer in New York City is a selective survey of the work of the 20th century American artist Leon Golub.
Born in Chicago in 1922, Golub studied art history at the University of Chicago, graduating in 1942. After the Second World War, he studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. There he met his wife, the artist Nancy Spero, to whom he was married for nearly 50 years.
The two arists lived in Europe for periods during the 1950s and 1960s. While there, Golub developed his interest in 19th century historical painting and artists such as Jacques Louis David and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. He was also interested in ancient Greek and Roman art. As a result, at a time when the art establishment was only interested in abstraction, Golub was creating art in which recognizable human figures were central.
Golub, however, was not a conventional artist. While the influences of ancient and traditional art can be seen in his works, he also incorporated much of the force of the abstract expressionist painters. His images were often done with free broad strokes. He added layers of paint and then scraped them away. He left sections of the canvas in its raw state. This technique did not make for pretty pictures but it did make them emotionally powerful.
When Golub and Spero returned to the United States in the 1960s, opposition to the Vietnam War was growing as that conflict escalated. Golub became involved in the anti-war movement and violence and cruelty became themes in his art. Other social and political issues such as racial inequality, torture, oppression and political corruption would also draw Golub's attention throughout the rest of his career.
An artist seeking to convey a political or social message with a work of art has to be careful to avoid making the work dependent upon the viewer's knowledge of the underlying political or social issue. A scene or a symbol that everyone today would recognize as having a certain meaning may not mean anything to a viewer 20 years from now. Thus, a work that is too heavily dependent upon today's headlines may have no meaning in the future.
Golub's works transcend the headlines. For example, “Gigantomachy II' is a monumental painting of a group of muscular male figures fighting, which was done during the Vietnam War. The title refers to a battle between the Olympian gods and a race of giants and the painting recalls an ancient Greek frieze. However, it is not a glorious depiction of battle but rather conveys a sense of cruelty and pain. Thus, it is not just about ending the Vietnam War but is a condemnation of war that continues to have meaning.
Along the same lines, in “Two Black Women and a White Man,” Golub presents two black women sitting on a bench with a white man leaning against a wall behind them. Perhaps, it is a group waiting for a bus. However, the positioning of the figures and the way they are avoiding any interaction, underscores the separation and isolation of the races. The scene could be in the United States during the Civil Rights Movement or in South Africa during Apartheid, it could be now. The message of the picture still comes through.
“Provocations: Anslem Kiefer at the Met Breuer” is a large exhibition drawn from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of works by the contemporary German artist.
Anslem Kiefer was born in Germany two months before the end of the Second World War in Europe. Kiefer planned from childhood to be an artist. However, when he entered the University of Freiberg, he began as a pre-law and language student. However, he soon switched to the study of art and went on to studying art at academies in Karlsruhe and Dusseldorf. He studied informally with the artist Joseph Beuys. Now a well-established artist, he lives in the South of France.
Keifer's work has been primarily concerned with relating German history and culture to the present day. In particular, he has sought to confront the Nazi era.
Following the end of the Second World War, the symbols of the Nazi era were outlawed in Germany. The victorious Allies were concerned that the Nazi movement could be revived if these symbols were allowed to be displayed. For many of the vanquished German people the ban made it easier to forget the horrors that had been committed in their name. However, by the 1960s, German intellectuals were arguing that the Germany had to come to terms with its past.
In 1969, Kiefer came to public attention with a series of photographs that he had taken of himself in his father's Wermacht uniform giving the Nazi salute. The photos were taken with a background of historic monuments around Europe and by the seaside. Audiences wondered whether the photos were meant to be ironic or as praise for the Nazis. Kiefer's objective was to cause people to confront rather than bury the past.
Kiefer has over the years expanded the scope of his work to include a broad range of German history and culture. However, since the Nazi propaganda machine conscripted much of German music, myth, legend and history, the specter of the Nazi era is never far away.
Described as a Neo-expressionist, Kiefer has used a variety of mediums in his work. In addition to traditional painting and photography, his works have incorporated such things as earth, lead, straw and broken glass. He is also known for works on a monumental scale.
One such monumental work displayed in the exhibition is “Bohemia Lies by the Sea” (1996). The painting has some of the force of an abstract expressionist work. However, it is actually a scene of a rutted country road extending through a field of poppies. The title is taken from an Austrian poem in which the poet longs for utopia but recognizes that it is unreachable just as landlocked Bohemia can never be by the sea. The connection to the Nazi era is that Bohemia is in the Sudetenland annexed by the Nazis just before the war. Furthermore, poppies are a symbol for lives lost in war.
While Kiefer is known for his large works, I found myself drawn more to some of the smaller works in the exhibition. For example, in “Herzeleide” (Suffering heart), Keifer based his watercolor on the image in a Nazi era book of a mother looking at a document informing her that her son has been killed. Nazi propaganda exalted such sacrifices. In his painting, Kiefer has replaced the document with an artist's palette.
“My Father Pledged Me A Sword” is based upon Wagner's Ring Cycle operas. In the operas, Woton, king of the gods, thrust a sword into in an ash tree. Later, his son Sigmund is in need of the sword and cries out for it. However, Kiefer has painted the sword not in a tree but in a rock atop a high cliff overlooking a fjord - - much more difficult to retrieve.
Even assuming aguendo that the viewer knew nothing about German history or culture, Kiefer's art still works. The works are well composed. Sometimes bleak and sometimes harsh, they are always emotionally powerful and thought-provoking.
the art of norwegian breakaway
The centerpiece of Norwegian Breakaway's art collection is not hard to find. It is a work by Peter Max which covers 40,000 square feet of the ship's hull. "The artwork is a composite of New York City and cosmic imagery - -the Statue of Liberty, the Manhattan skyline, a giant sunburst, planets, stars, and musical notes. That's my New York! And now Norwegian Breakaway is my New York cruise ship 'canvas.'" Mr. Max has explained.
Although several of the Norwegian Cruise Line ships that preceded Breakaway had colorful murals painted on their hulls, Breakaway was the first ship to have a mural by a well-known established artist on her hull. Mr. Max rose to prominence in the 1960s with his pop art images that captured the spirit of the psychedelic 60s. From that base, he continued to develop a distinctive colorful style through series involving images of the Statue of Liberty and the American flag as well as celebrity portraits. He has also found commercial success being designated Official Artist of five Super Bowls, six Grammy Awards, World Cup USA, The World Series, the United Nations Earth Summit, and numerous other events. His work has also been reproduced on the cover of the Yellow Pages and on a U.S. Postage stamp.
The Breakaway project was not Mr. Max's first large scale work. Prior to undertaking the project for Norwegian, he had painted a 777 airliner for Continental Airlines and had designed a 600 foot stage for the Woodstock Music Festival.
Of course, Mr. Max did not take a sable-hair brush down to the Manhattan piers and paint the sides of the ship. Rather, he created the design for the work which was then reproduced on the hull of the ship when it was under construction at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Germany.
Being outdoors, subject to ocean waves and the blasting of salt spray, Mr. Max's mural is in a hostile environment. In order to maintain the work, Breakaway's crew regularly sprays the hull with fresh water to remove the accumulated salt. When the ship is in port, standing on rafts and using long handled rollers, they also re-touch the paint. This work is done by the sailors of Breakaway's deck department.
Mr. Max did not confine his vision to off-the-shelf colors of marine paint. Therefore, Breakaway carries a supply of unique colors needed to maintain the mural.
You also see images by Mr. Max inside the ship. Breakaway devotes a considerable amount of its public space to Park West Galleries, which sells works by Mr. Max as well as works by other artists. Naturally, given the ship's connection to Mr. Max, his works are often featured and on display. However, these works belong to the concessionaire rather than to the ship.
Finding works that belong to the ship is more difficult, The staircases and elevator lobbies where cruise ships often display their art collections are decorated with mirrors and photographic images of travel destinations on Breakaway. There are reproductions and photographs in the various specialty restaurants and bars. However, these are part of the décor of those venues rather than a serious art collection.
But there is an art collection. There is a giant modern chandelier in the atrium that pulses and changes colors in a variety of combinations creating different images and atmospheres. Forward on one of the public decks is an installation with (paper?) butterflies in a cornucopia shape. Also, in the Taste and Savor restaurants are a number of contemporary paintings that appear to be originals. I liked a series of paintings in Taste that look like monochromatic abstractions at first glance but on further study are scenes looking up at the surface of the sea from below. Unfortunately, there is no signage by these works crediting the artists or discussing the works.
It is disappointing that Breakaway does not have any ocean liner art like there is on Norwegian's Jewel class ships. Having owned the SS Norway (formerly SS France) and the SS United States, Norwegian has a strong connection to ocean liner history. But on Breakaway, Norwegian essentially cedes this subject matter to Cunard. Along the same lines, although the line uses the slogan “cruise like a Norwegian,” there is no Norwegian art or design on Breakaway, essentially ceding this area to Viking Cruises. With such a rich heritage, it seems like these are missed opportunities.
Above left: Sailors maintaining the Peter Max mural on Norwegian Breakaway.
Above right: Breakaway's atrium chandelier changes color.
Below left: The butterfly installation.
Below right: A painting in the Taste restaurant.
The art of anthem of the seas
Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas has a sophisticated contemporary décor. In fact, it is often said that the ship's decor looks more like a ship from Royal's premium affiliate Celebrity Cruises than the Las Vegas style décor of some of Royal's earlier ships. Accordingly, the art collection on Anthem is less aimed at eliciting a “wow” and more aimed at contributing to the ship's upmarket atmosphere.
Anthem's art collection was assembled in partnership with International Corporate Art. It includes some 3,000 works of art. Almost all are contemporary works.
The theme of the collection is “What Makes Life Worth Living.” According to the booklet about the collection, this theme encompasses “people, leisure, fashion, art &literature, food, adventure, entertainment & nature.” This scope is perhaps too broad as it is difficult to discern the theme just by walking around the ship and viewing the various works. However, knowing the theme is not vital to enjoying the art.
Several large installations are included in the collection. At the center of ship's public areas is a grand chandelier created by Rafael Lorenzo Hemmer called “Pulse Signal.” It consists of some 200 light bulbs suspended from cords and arranged into a pleasing contemporary shape. The lights blink on and off in various arrangements thus changing the shape of the piece and the atmosphere of the area. It is a visually interesting piece.
Guests can control the blinking of the lights by putting their hands on a pad that is located beneath the chandelier. The blinking is then synchronized with the guest's pulse. This does allow for viewer involvement with the art but I find it somewhat gimmicky and unnecessary.
Just aft of the chandelier, ascending up the atrium is the prettiest piece in the collection, Ran Hwang's “Healing Garden.” Dark tree branches with bright blossoms are set against a gold background. The work recalls traditional East Asian cherry tree paintings. However, the artist has included non-traditional materials such as crystals, buttons and pins, which give the work a glamorous look.
Going further aft, you come to a monumental sculpture by Richard Hudson. It is a swurling mass of highly polished metal. Although entitled “Eve”, it has become widely known as “The Tuba” because of its twisted horn-like shape. Despite this unfortunate nickname, it is an important piece consistent with the upscale shops, the cosmoploitan wine bar and the specialty restaurant that surround the plaza in which it is the centerpiece.
You can find works that contribute to Anthem's sophisticated atmosphere throughout the public areas and on the staircases. However, there is also whimsy in the collection.
For example, in each of the elevators there is a giant image of an animal. Deming Harriman has manipualted these images so that the various animals are wearing items of human clothing. By adding these items, the artist gives the animals human personalities, making the images both amusing and a commentary on human foilbles.
Atop the ship is a larger than life sculpture of a giraffe wearing a swimming costume and an inner tube. Known as “Gigi” this lovable character by Jean Francois Fourtou marks the ship's amusement park area.
There is also art along the corridors leading to the passenger cabins. These include contemporary photos staged so as to look like advertisements or scenes from 1950s America. There are also posters with inspirational slogans like the ones that the youth culture used to decorate college dormitories in the 1960s.
Overall, the Anthem collection is successful. The theme is perhaps too broad to present a coherent message. However, the pieces are visually pleasing and often thought provoking, Also together, they serve to support the overall atmosphere of the ship.
Above: Richard Hudson's Eve provides a centerpiece for one of the ship's plazas.
Below left: Ran Hwang's “Healing Garden” in the ship's atrium.
Below right: "Pulse Signal" by Rafael Lorenzo Hemmer is in the center of Atrium's public area.
Art exhibition review: "David Hockney"
“David Hockney” is a retrospective exhibit of the works of David Hockney. It has previously been at the Tate Britain in London and the Pompidou Center in Paris. We saw it at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Britain's best known living artist, David Hockney was born in Yorkshire in England in 1937. After studying art in Bradford, he moved to London in 1959 to study at the Royal College of Art where he achieved a reputation as a superstar. A trip to Southern California in 1964 resulted in a lifelong fascination with California where he has lived on and off for 50 years. Now 80, Hockney continues to produce art each day.
The exhibition presents 60 canvases, 21 portrait drawings and a number of other examples of his work arranged in eight galleries. They are grouped roughly in chronologist order.
A retrospective exhibition allows the viewer to survey the artist's body of work and learn something about the artist that you cannot learn by just viewing an individual work.
For example, although Hockney achieved success at an early age, he did not just stick with that winning formula. Rather, the exhibition shows a willingness to experiment with different ideas.
But this does not mean that he abandoned everything when he moved from one idea to another. To illustrate, Hockney's early work was abstract. Abstraction was the style that the art establishment endorsed in the early 1960s and so it is not surprising that a young artist of that era would do that type of work. On the surface, Hockney would seem to have abandoned abstraction in favor of a more figurative style when he progressed to his California swimming pool works (probably his most famous works). But, his use of geometric shapes (i.e. rectangles) in those pictures recalls Modernist thinking. Still later, his landscapes have the flavor of artists such as Picasso and Matisse, not only in the choice of colors but in the use of shapes.
We also see Hockney's predominant form of work move from abstraction to realistic genre scenes, to portraits to landscapes. With regard to portraits, the exhibit presents both examples of his famous double portraits and examples of portrait drawings. The double portraits are on a monumental scale and the figures seem to be isolated with invisible defensive walls separating them from each other. The portrait drawings are smaller and more revealing of the sitters' personalities. The walls are down.
Yet another characteristic that comes through in the exhibit is Hockney's willingness to experiment with different media. He is best known as a painter, first using oils but then becoming one of the foremost users of acrylics. However, he has also experimented with watercolor, etchings, photography, photocopiers, fax machines and more recently digital art. In fact, the exhibit has three examples of works that he did on iPads.
The Art of Celebrity Reflection
This week, we take a look at the art collection on the cruise ship Celebrity Reflection.
Celebrity Cruises has been collecting art and displaying art on its ships since its founding. Credit for beginning the Celebrity Art Collection in the 1990s is usually give to Christina Chandris, wife of John Chrandis then the owner of Celebrity Cruises.
The line has since been purchased by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. but the tradition of having an art collection aboard the ships continues. Responsibility for assembling the art collection on Celebrity Reflection, which entered service in 2012, was given to a firm called International Corporate Art.
As when Ms. Chandris began the collection, the works on Celebrity Reflection are contemporary. They are primarily conceptual with much use of photographic images and non-traditional materials. There is almost no use of traditional techniques such as drawing or painting.
The collection is prominently displayed. Indeed, there are several large installations that occupy considerable space. The works on the forward and aft stair towers are beautifully lit and dominate the landings. Clearly, the art collection was not an after thought.
Since the name of the ship is Reflection, the theme of the collection is “the seductiveness of reflection.” The term “reflection” is meant both in the literal sense of surfaces that reflect light and in the metaphysical sense of thinking (reflecting) on a topic. If you look for this theme in the works, you can find it but it is not really vital to appreciating these works.
Next to each work is a plaque discussing the work. These tend to be somewhat enthusiastic, using strings of adjectives and phrases which meld together to become rather meaningless. They obscure rather than clarify but that is often the case with the art establishment. Good art does not require verbose explanations.
Each of Celebrity's Solstice class ships has a living tree suspended in the central atrium. On Reflection, this centerpiece was designed by Bert Rodriguez. The tree grows upward out of a shiny metallic basin. On the bottom of the basin is an aluminum tree pointing downwards. In other words, the aluminum tree is like a reelection of the living tree. However, unlike the living tree, the man-made tree is without leaves, only colorless electric lights adorn its branches.
Another major installation is located by the specialty restaurants. On either side of the corridor are large photographic images from a forest. However, each of the trees has been perforated with reflective materials in each of the holes. Thus, you can glimpse your image moving through the forest as you pass by. It is visually impressive. The artist was Albano Afonso.
Not far away is another installation, the Celestial Garden by Carlos Betancourt in collaboration with Alberto Latorre.. Colorful flowers contrast cover the walls, ceiling and floor, set against dark, nearly black backgrounds. Quite pretty. A shiny, abstract-shaped bench provides the reflective element.
Of the works in the stairtowers, I found the photographic images by Miranda Lictenstein the most appealing. She manipulates the images so that they become essentially unrecognizable forming abstract designs. Her choice of pastel, natural colors in these images, however, makes them attractive.
I was also impressed by the life-size silhouette at the top of this same tower, a photographic image by Yuki Onodera. The sparkling lights on the woman's dress are actually fragments of other photographic images.
I did not find everything in the Celebrity Reflection collection appealing. However, I did find the collection thought provoking. I could not dismiss any of the works out of hand. Rather, I had to think about why I did not like a particular work. Causing viewers to think is a hallmark of a good collection.
Above left: "Untitled #2", "Untitled #4" and Untitled #7" by Miranda Lichtenstein in the aft stair tower.
Above right: An installation by Albano Afonso.
The art of freedom of the seas
When I go on a cruise, I look for places to see art in the various ports of call. However, sometimes you can see art without ever leaving the ship. This is because some cruise lines have invested in quality art collections on their ships.
Here, I am not talking about the art that is sold on board through a concessionaire. Nor am I talking about travel photos placed in the hallways for decoration. Rather, I am talking about art collections that typically cost the cruise lines millions of dollars.
Cruise ships with significant art collections are not limited to the luxury or premium cruise lines. For example, Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas is a popular cruise ship targeted primarily at mass market consumers. Yet, it has an art collection that cost millions and which took considerable effort to develop.
Freedom is a big, brightly decorated ship geared toward an active and energetic cruise experience. Accordingly, its art collection features contemporary works, often with pop art influences. The art works are located in the ship's public spaces, the stair towers and in the corridors leading to the staterooms.
The collection was put together in consultation with International Corporate Art. It was developed around a theme - - “the four basic elements that comprise the universe: Earth, Fire, Water & Air.” The theme is not always readily apparent in the works but it is not really essential to appreciating the collection.
The heart of the ship is the Royal Promenade, a multi-story passage running 445 feet and linking two atriums. With shops, bars and eateries along either side, it resembles a city street or a Las Vegas style mall.
Suspended from the ceiling midway down the Royal Promenade is the ship's most prominent art installation - - “Down Under,” a giant sculpture of a young woman who has just dove into the sea. Since you are looking up, you see her from the perspective of someone standing on the sea floor. British sculptor David Mach used fiberglass and steel to create this colorful piece.
In the forward atrium is another installation consisting of models of three fighter jets soaring upwards. They are in formation, about to peel off in different directions as in an air show. While spectacular while viewed from the base of the atrium, when you view the work from the upper decks, you see that the airplanes are decorated with fragments of images taken from frescoes by 18th century Venetian artist Giambattista Tiepolo. These images, taken from churches and placed on instruments of war, turn “Komba Tiepolo 30, 31 and 32” by Antonio Riello into a provocative statement.
At the other end of the Royal Promenade is a bridge with two lighted columns at each end. Atop each of the pillars is a copy of the Vittoria Alata (Winged Victory) statue in the Vittorio Emanuele Monument in Rome. In this work by Larry Kirkland, each of the pillars is meant to represent one of the four elements, the theme of the collection.
In the atrium just beyond the bridge is another installation – two large bronzed traffic lights. This is “Stop and Go” by Harald Vlugt.
Not all of the works on Freedom are monumental. Each landing in the stair towers contains works on a smaller scale. Most often these are photographs but these also include sculptures made with a variety of different materials.
To me, perhaps the most interesting works are in the corridors by the staterooms. Here, you can find works done in more traditional ways including prints and drawings. Unfortunately, the signage here is not as good as in the main public areas and so it is difficult to identify some of these works and the artists.
Since Freedom came into service in 2006, there have been a number of changes to her public areas. As a result, some of the works that were originally on the ship have been removed. However, it still is interesting to explore the art of Freedom of the Seas.
Above left: David Mach's "Down Under" dominates the Royal Promenade on Freedom of the Seas.
Above right: Suspended in the aft atrium is Harald Vlugt's "Stop and Go." Seen in the background below the aforementioned installation is Larry Kirkland's "The Four Elements".
Rich Wagner is a writer, photographer and artist.