Archive for the ‘International’ Category

The Evolution of Art

August 25, 2012

Although it is fundamental that new art builds upon that of the past, it is not often that we have a clear and obvious example of this with near-immediate worldwide effect. Fortuitously, a new artwork, la Nueva version de Ecce Homo de Borja (AKA Furry Jesus) demonstrates that process quite literally.  The new work was physically constructed upon the old.

Both the new and old Ecce Homo are located in the Santuario de la Misericordia in Borja, Spain.  Although the city of Borja has apparently initiated plans to attempt a “restoration” of the foundational version of Ecce Homo by Elias Garcia Martinez, an online petition (several actually) have arisen in an effort to stop the hasty removal of the nueva Ecce Homo by Cecilia Gimenez.  One petition author suggests that the new work represents a subtle criticism of the church’s theology, creationism particularly.    The work can also be interpreted as a comment upon modern copyright law.  As a conceptual piece, (nueva) Ecce Homo is not only a physical work; the act of creating the work itself is fundamental aspect of its meaning.


In Artifactum’s view, we should not rush to erase la nueva [version de] Ecce Homo.  The place of this new work in the history of art and its value to world culture should be preserved.  Please consider signing the petition:

Additional coverage:

Huffington Post

New York Times

The Colbert Report

The Teriyaki Sauce of Art in America

April 17, 2011

Exoticism of the other is still alive and well in the American art scene.  A recent article by New York Times art critic Holland Cotter somewhat inadvertently exposes the persistent bias against non-western/non-European culture in American art, at least in the area of art critique.  Until a decade or two ago the face of art in this country was Caucasian and male – not exclusively, but the dominance was a substantial one – and many of the “art stars” today are still white males.  As the Times’ article illustrates, we’ve some way to go yet before the arts are free of discriminatory bias.

The article at issue consists, in part, of a criticism of a (perceived) lessening focus upon traditional (old) ethnic art and a trend in contemporary art that prefers (non-traditional) non-western artists over  artwork that focuses upon identifiable traditional cultural visuals.  “Another thing. A lot of new non-Western acquisitions by museums are of contemporary art. Classical African sculptures still turn up. But they’re outnumbered by dynamic, straight-from-the-studio work…”  That view was apparently not posited as progress, but as criticism.

A discussion of objects that are sometimes (rightly or wrongly) designated as cultural or patrimonial objects versus “fine” art might be useful…but, oddly, Cotter’s argument seems to get this all mixed up.  In essence, his complaint seems to be that, e.g., contemporary Chinese art isn’t Chinese enough.  Or, rather, that the best contemporary Chinese art is that which looks “Chinese” somehow.  The message seeming to be that non-western artists are worthwhile so long as they produce art that is consistent with our (American) vision of their native cultures.  And darn it, the Chinese government keeps taking their own cultural patrimony away from us (loosely paraphrasing Cotter).

Of the art that Mr. Cotter references, including a piece by Ai Weiwei, which he designates as good examples of contemporary art, he says, “These artists combine old and new in ways that look like nothing seen before.”  This view of those works is a simplistic one and tends to misread the artists’ intentions and even the progress of the history of art.  From a limited viewpoint, a shadow of the western attachment to the exotic can be found in those works, not because that was necessarily the artists’ intents, but  rather it is because the artworks reference traditional culture and history.  It is [a] viewer’s reading, and it occurs in many cases without substantial direct cultural experience.  If a work of art contains no references to that which some westerners value in non-western art, the exotic, would it have the same appeal?  If the article answers this, then the result implied by Cotter suggests that non-western artwork has less value if it is not sufficiently exotic (comprehensible) for western tastes.

In contrast, a view exposing that contemporary American artists should produce art that is primarily concerned with traditional American history and culture (whatever that may be) at the exclusion of other subject matter would sound pathetic.  This is not to say that (non-western) artists who happen to work with cultural issues or visuals are not valid; the contrary.  However, there should be a caution as to over-reading Western values into these works if that is not what the artist intended.  The fact is that bias against contemporary non-western art still exists is evident in the persistence of exoticism and other such preconceptions.  The American art world is not an egalitarian paradise, nor are many of those in it necessarily well informed about the (global) cultural world.

Mr. Cotter also offers subtle criticisms for future curators and their (according to him) over-focus on contemporary.  “That said, the reasons people pursue careers in newer art are understandable. Money is one.”  Maybe.  But also, importantly, because the dialogue of contemporary art is a living and changing thing.  Cotter’s perspective on embryo curators suggest that art of the past has value over all else, but this is a misperception of the history of art.  The criticism should not be on students who designate contemporary as their major field, but rather, the focus should be on ensuring that they have a solid basis in history as well.  Really, do we need many more Italian Renaissance historians?  It is a fair certainty that a substantial share of that history has been written already many times over.

Rather than seeing a movement towards contemporary as a kind of progress, Mr. Cotter remains entrenched.  “Young scholars of African art began focusing on present-day urban material culture rather than on an object-intensive study of rural traditions.”  Maybe this is progress, but Cotter does not seem to see it that way.  Yet, when some of these students move on to curatorial positions, perhaps African artists can be viewed without the art market’s fetishization of traditional and old objects, and preconceived ideas about African life and culture.

The reality is that museums need contemporary artists–of all kinds.  All art builds upon the past, and through contemporary art, contemporary audiences are engaged within the visual language of their own times.  There has, notably, been a trend, especially in European museums to incorporate exhibitions of contemporary art along with the older works, and Mr. Cotter briefly mentions this.  It brings in the viewers and refreshes, in a way, the old collections.  It is one way for museums with even primarily old collections to keep bringing in the visitors.  In the bigger picture these types of exhibitions can serve to illustrate the complexity of global contemporary culture.  However, if contemporary artwork is displayed because it conforms to what we already think is valuable–according to preconceived notions of what is important, exotic, about other cultures, then the true dialogue of art is lost.

Why Teriyaki sauce?  To Americans it is an iconic Japanese flavor.  It’s on the menu in virtually every “Japanese” restaurant in America, but is nearly never on a menu in Japan.

Marion True Trial Over; Judge Rules Statute of Limitations Expired

October 13, 2010

The trial of former Getty curator Marion True is apparently over.  The Los Angeles Times reported today that Italian judges halted True’s trial on Wednesday, ruling that the statute of limitations had expired on the criminal charges.  True was charged in 2005 with conspiring to loot Italian antiquities.

Co-defendants in the case have not (yet) had a similar result.  Giacomo Medici was convicted and the limitations on Robert Hecht’s charges do not expire for several months.

True’s trial was apparently discontinued prior to any conclusive finding of fact by the judges.  However, the profile of the charges and the trial brought greater attention to Italy’s determination to halt the illegal looting and trafficking of its antiquities. In consideration of today’s decision, there is a question about how this type of result might affect future prosecutions.

[Rome:  Charges against Marion True are dismissed by the court]

Italy Initiates Investigation of Illegally Exported Antiquities; American Museum Collections Implicated Again

June 7, 2010

Italy appears to be extending recovery efforts for illegally exported antiquities.  The New York Times reports that Princeton University curator Michael Padgett is the focus of a new criminal investigation in Rome.  The charges involve allegations of illegally exporting numerous looted antiquities from Italy, including portions of a calyx krater attributed to Euphronios.

A New York based antiquities dealer, Edoardo Almagià is also apparently named in the charges.

Because of Mr. Padgett and Mr. Almagià’s involvement in certain transactions involving antiquities originating from Italy, a number of high profile American museums may also be implicated in the case including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Dallas Museum of Art; and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Additional Resources:

Princeton University Museum of Art, Ancient and Islamic Art Collection

Image of Euphronios krater fragment in the Princeton collection.

Euphronios works at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Above, detail of a Euphronios work from the Louvre collection.

Exhibition: Art of the Samurai

October 20, 2009

Art of the Samurai:  Japanese Art and Armor, 1156-1868, opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Wednesday has been described as the most significant exhibition of Samurai objects in the world. It includes Samurai swords, armor, elaborate saddles, textiles and a range of other related items drawn from both museum and private collections across Japan.  The opening of this exhibition represents the culmination of 10 years of work by the exhibition’s primary curator.

Art of the Samurai can be viewed in two ways.  First, in the context of a historic cultural tradition of Japan, to reveal the meaning of Samurai, and to appreciate the aesthetic qualities of the objects.  On the other hand, as a whole, the exhibition might also be viewed in terms of the influence that the stories and objects of the Samurai have had upon American culture, to consider whether these ideas are consistent with the original perspective, and to consider what this adoption may signify to Americans.

That said, for many visitors, the focus will likely be upon the armor, and especially, the variety of headpieces.  Upon viewing some of the elaborate kabuto, or helmets, in the exhibition, it is not difficult to see how these objects have influenced American media and pop culture, from the well-known inspiration for the Darth Vader character, to the recent proliferation of Samurai theme cartoon programs.  (Not to mention the media imported from Japan itself). The most elaborate of the kabuto are fascinating for their meticulous crafting, and aesthetic expression, as well as their underlying concept.  In form they range from the huge crescent shaped horns of a black lacquer “vader” style helmet, to those adorned with enormous metal insects.  Considering a clamshell-eared helmet one viewer surmised that it was “the original batman.”  Maybe.  In any case, for many American viewers, the kabuto are likely to be the stars of the show.

Not to be overlooked, however, are the blades.  Most are displayed as a pure aesthetic form, floating on plexi-glass supports and unattached to any mountings.  To the untutored, as a group they seem at first to be somewhat indistinguishable, austere objects.  However, their distinct characteristics and the fine aspects of the sword maker’s art can be appreciated with a little effort. By following the storyline of the exhibition layout, an evolution of form is revealed–details such as the variations of a curve and subtle wave patterns on the edge of a blade become points of interest.  Each blade reveals a distinct personality.

Aside from the kabuto and blades, the central galleries contain several full suits of Samurai armor.  The detailed construction of the pieces are quite interesting, and I encourage visitors to look at the back as well as the front.  There on the reverse side one can examine the elaborate knots and fastenings that held the armor onto the body, as well as the delicate metal hardware elements.

Most of the objects in the exhibition are denoted as significant cultural properties or national treasures and have never been seen together as a group, even in Japan.  As such, the opportunity to see this art of the Samurai should not be missed.  Also, note that some of the more fragile pieces will be rotated out and replaced with alternate objects in early December.

Art of the Samurai:  Japanese Art and Armor, 1156-1868

October 21 – January 10, 2010

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Update:  Since the exhibition rotation occurred, it appears that none of the objects pictured above remain at the Met.  Quite a few others have also been replaced with alternatives, including the crescent-horned kabuto mentioned above.