Posts Tagged ‘new york art’

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.

Picasso Settlement to Remain Confidential

March 31, 2009

In a precedent setting decision by a New York district court (S.D.N.Y), the terms of a settlement agreement between two New York City art museums and the possible heirs to two paintings by Pablo Picasso will remain confidential, reports the New York Law Journal.

In 2007 the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum filed suit against Julius Schoeps to quiet title to two paintings by Pablo Picasso that were once owned by a relative of Mr. Schoeps.  The paintings at issue are Boy Leading a Horse and Le Moulin de la Galette.  Mr. Schoeps had claimed that he was the rightful owner of the artworks as heir to the estate of his great uncle, who was apparently forced to relinquish the paintings under duress instituted by the Nazi regime. The museums disputed this position.

The case was to go to trial in February, but the settlement agreement was made shortly before.  At that time, Reuters reported that an attorney for the museums told the court that “There will be complete peace between the museums and the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and other heirs,” the settlement’s “dollar amount” would remain confidential, and that “[t]he paintings will remain in the museums.” U.S. District Judge Rakoff urged that the terms of the settlement be made public, citing the “weight of history” and inferred a public interest in access to the truth of the matter.  The Judge then gave the parties 30 days to address the issue and explain the necessity for confidentiality.

Had it progressed to trial, the case may have presented interesting points on New York’s 3-year demand and refusal rule, replevin and the factual issues of a laches defense.

New York Law Journal (subscription required) 

N.Y. Museums Settle in Claim of Nazi-Looted Picassos (Reuters )

Art Claims in the United States: 10 Years Aftr the Washington Conference


Images:  Above right, Boy Leading a Horse, 1905-1906, Museum of Modern Art, New York.  Above left, Le Moulin de la Galette, circa 1900, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

So long, Chelsea?

February 17, 2009

 The obituaries have begun rolling in, a bit prematurely.  The art business, including New York’s Chelsea district art galleries, wouldn’t be the first industry to take a critical stumble after engaging in widespread speculation.  Considering the economic conditions, there’s bound to be a substantial reduction in the number of galleries, but the process it is likely to be more of a gradual shedding or retreat than a forest fire. 

 Despite the economy, the problems in the art market also have a significant basis in the nature of industry’s past decade practices.  The growing price tags and auction receipts had been making the evening news for years, but that is mainly involving the somewhat established artists and artworks.  Notable to more than a few interested observers there has, arguably, been an change in the quality of artwork exhibited in a number of contemporary galleries and other exhibition spaces.  This is attributable to several factors, including the emphasis on trend and fashion over content, by both buyers and sellers, coupled with an expectation of an inevitable increase in valuation.

 The fashion world seems to have become particularly melded into the art world to a much greater degree.  However, what is good for fashion is not necessarily good for art.  The associated media attention does not necessary advance the progress of art as cultural communication, but rather art as an event.  Trend (a.k.a. celebrity) and lasting cultural value are often opposing characteristics.  The trend focus in the art business has come to encompass a package containing more than just the artwork, or perhaps the artwork is simply the least of it.  Within the last 7 or 8 years, particularly, there has been a inclination towards promoting the artist as personality, as a basis for valuating the artwork.  Naturally people want to see the young, fashionable, trendy and attractive–and artists that fulfill those qualifications have had some success on this angle.  But, one may question whether this position creates a sustainable art market.

 The first result of this perspective is that artwork is not evaluated based upon its actual worth but on a transient element that exists outside the boundaries of the actual work.  Sometimes this can be a historically significant event that ultimately adds a lasting cultural dimension to the work.  However, when this transient quality is the based upon the fleeting presence of a personality, this characteristic rarely remains attached to the artwork.  Once a personality fades from view, or reaches the media expiration date, a certain depreciation of the artwork may occur as well.  Or, perhaps, it simply fails to increase in value.  Artwork sold on the basis of the future value of an artist’s personality and celebrity potential is speculative and subject to the same risk as other gambling—so long as there is no other more lasting quality to the artwork.  Once the personality/trend bubble has passed, interest in the artwork and artist fades, along with its revenue potential.

 Secondly, this trend based focus tends to circumvent the natural development of an artist.  In recent years there has been an infatuation with artists straight out of–or still in–graduate school.  However, a very very few artists come out of graduate school with a fully developed conceptual perspective and working method.  Graduate school–which now seems to be a requirement rather than the exception–is a place where ideas are coddled and where, ideally, a fermentation process begins.  An individual artist’s ability to continuing developing, artistically and intellectually, depends upon completing a cycle.  Without this, subsequent work product can sometimes just result in a rehashing of earlier works without the development of new ideas.  In essence, a sustained  focus on graduate students as a product pool short circuits both the individual and collective development of visual art.

 It will be interesting to see where the current economic landslide leads the galleries, whether they will continue in pursuit of artwork in the same vein, or begin to market more works with a perceived higher likelihood of value retention.   Whichever direction it all goes will likely determine the future of the art market and the career potentials for artists.  Regardless, there seem to be changes soon to come–some in the form of bankruptcies, but also in the form of art business’ that quietly close the Chelsea shop, slip off to Brooklyn, and show artwork “by appointment only.”  Regardless, it seems inevitable that the economic downturn will irretrievably alter the art market, and in the best outcome, allow for more diverse and hardy varieties of grass to grow in the resulting space.


Part I of many; to be continued.