Monday, April 30, 2007

My Friend Misha

I just had to whip out the camera
when I saw Misha lurking in the shadows of our club's studio
cold-staring at his figures,
(he's working on both simultaneously from the same model)
as he queries the Almighty:

"What needs to be fixed? "

Misha labors under the same burden as myself,
being the son of a more talented (but still obscure) father-artist

And, like myself, he is a mass of contradictions:

He's not religious -- but he's a member of two temples.
He fled USSR 25 years ago - but he thinks "Buuuush" is even worse.
He's an obsessive artist,
but seems to be even more obsessive about fixing old beaters
or programming his computer.

He's a humbug
through and through
("what is humbug?" I can hear him ask in his thick Russian/Hebrew accent)

and with my dancing Nordic eyes,
I'll just smile back at him.

"We're all humbugs",
he will finally conclude,
and I will have to nod in agreement.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Artopolis 2007: Outsider and Folk Art

In my fourth hour of wandering through the 5 shows
of the first Chicago Artopolis event,
I came across this figure
by a barely known carver from Ranger, Texas
named W. L.Bourdeau.

There are many, different reasons for liking something,
and maybe exhaustion had something to do
with why I found this piece so attractive.

It's such a contrast
to the overwhelming theme
of the the 10,000 pieces I'd already passed that day,
each trying to be stranger and more disturbing than the next

While I do get the feeling that old W.L.
was just trying to please himself
with the things he liked to contemplate,
like the bodies of young women

or the eternal dramas of family life.

These thing were dated 1955-1960,
but the gallery offered no other information
about the artist -- his anonymity
qualifying him as a genuine folk artist.

(although, in a reality check, there's only 2500 souls in Ranger, Texas,
a rural town on the dusty road from Fort Worth to Abilene,
people named Bourdeau still live there,
and I'm sure Lori drives through there every month. )

W.L. was well within the dominant trend of
American sculpture of the 30's and 40's,
so even if he didn't go to art school (and maybe he did),
he had to have some connection to the artworld of his time.

Maybe that's why his work really isn't selling for very much.
(at $2800 retail for a 17" carving,
he still wouldn't be able to live off his sculpture,
even in Ranger Texas)

And unlike the really famous outsider artists
(like our very own Henry Darger ), he doesn't seem to have been a borderline psychotic.

Here's the only other piece I enjoyed from the
Intuit Show of Folk and Outsider Art

This quilt attributed to
African-Americans in southern Alabama in the 1920's

I found it to be a very enjoyable, almost musicial pattern,
that seems to be spinning off into infinite variability.

This was a designer who seemed to be enjoying herself,
rather than suffering under the crushing weight of modernity.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

More Inuit sculpture

Peter Inukshuk (1896-1975), 1969

Giving up on the internet as a source for Inuit sculpture (too tourist-trap commercial),
I went to the art library today -- and browsed 10 books on the subject.


It didn't get much better -- it just got more clumsy
(or more authentically primitive ?)

To my surprise,
nothing I saw was older than 1950,
and I read that it was only in 1948
that concerned parties began to market Eskimo art
as in income opportunity for these cash-starved arctic villages.

(note: this coincides with the artworld's discovery of Haitian painting,
from another desperately poor (but warmer) corner of the world)

The ones I'm showing here are the ones I liked.

Isa Aqiattusuk Smiler (1921-1986), 1954

There seems to be a kind of magical moment,
when the carver forgets about cutting stone,
and the inner momentum of the shapes takes over.

Josiah Nuilaalik, 1963

99 out of a 100 never get there,
but when someone does,
he or she is just as good
as any sculptor
from the great civilizations
to the south

George Tataniq. 1963

It's that inner life that determines
when to keep a line unbroken,
and where to break a plane

George Tataniq, 1963

Aisapik Quma Igauja (1915-1979), 1961

Some sculptors need to keep things simple,
to keep them under control,
so they're almost like potters.

Can't you hear this bird singing?

Allie Appaqaq (1915-1976), 1960

Very few can elegantly handle a full human figure,
but it's sure sweet when they do.

(actually, this is two figures - if you count the intrepid seal)

Miriam Qiyuk (1933- ), 1987

Miriam Qiyuk (1933- ), 1975

This woman is one of the better known contemporaries.
She's found in many galleries, museum exhibitions, and even the NY Times,
and seems to come up with scenes
that are both beautiful and endearing.

Toona Iqulik (1935- ), 1978

She certainly is watching her volumes and silhouettes, isn't she ?

Just like an older contemporary from Vienna,
did in the following drawing:

(I just had to show this fine drawing by
Gustinus Ambrosi
that probably should have gone
into the last post)

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Use and Abuse of Anatomy

This is really a post about Gustinus Ambrosi (1893-1975)
whom I just re-discovered (above) last week in an auction house catalog.

I say "rediscovered" -- because, to my own surprise,
he was already on my own website -- his portrait of Gerhard Hauptmann being just one of many that the famous author commissioned on his own behalf.

But it also begs comparison
with other sculpture of this period that worked so
diligently with the details of human anatomy --

and given my ornery nature, I picked the above piece
(by Rudolph Tegners (1873-1950))
from my English friend, Robert Mileham's website

When I first saw this piece,
at the head of his post called "Art's best kept secret",
I thought he was being facetious -- I thought it was a gag --

because the piece seems so
broken - overwrought -- and utterly miserable to me.
Full of pinched, unhappy body shapes,
completely divorced from the surrounding base,
perhaps serving as a fine example of
melodramatic desperation
(has the poor thing been tied to the train tracks ?)

I've been wanting to talk about that Tegners piece ever since,
and I suppose the most successful contrast
would be with Auguste Rodin
(but he's so famous, everyone already knows that
they need to bow and scrape before him)

But who's ever heard of Gustinus Ambrosi from Vienna ?
Actually, he was quite a famous sculptor in his day,
and there's still a museum for him in his home town.

He completed about 2,500 sculptures including 600 portrait busts !
(and although his handicap is possibly irrelevant to sculpture,
he became deaf at the age of seven)

Maybe you could call his work
"fanciful naturalism" ---
since there's certainly a plethora of muscles and tendons,
but I don't think he's too concerned about
putting them into realistic places.

(like --- what happened to that poor man's neck ?
For me, it makes for a good sculpture,
but I doubt he'll ever stand up straight again!)

And what about this poor guy ?
His face has shriveled like a prune --
but still I'm enjoying him

Oh those Viennese !
A cross-pollination between Egon Schiele
and Rodin's "Hand of God"

And what happened to that man's torso ?
It's the energy bubbling up from the composition
and it sort of looks like human flesh,
---- sort of.

That's what I'd call a proper "Use of anatomy" --
even if it's an abuse of reality
(which gets highly overrated)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ashevek Tunnillie

The Finnish sculpture got me thinking about
arctic peoples closer to home
(although Baffin Island isn't all that close)

So I've been browsing the web for Inuit sculpture
... and, so far, Ashevek Tunnillie is the one who gives me pleasure

As you may guessed by now -- he specializes in bears.

I don't know whether polar bears still visit Cape Dorset,
quite possibly one can get much closer to them at my local zoo
( they're one of my favorite animals to see there--
since the Lincoln Park Zoo offers an underwater viewing window)

They're so sleek and powerful --
just like these little sculptures.

And as you see with these multiple views --
Ashevek is composing these pieces all-the-way-around

..and he does pretty well with human figures as well --
compelling characterization --
and delicious design---
what more could we want ?

Here he is (born 1956) -- in his native habitat
(or maybe not -- his pieces are in galleries around the world --
he could probably afford to live anywhere he wanted --
and if I were him -- I'd spend at least part of the year

Whether anthropologists would consider his pieces authentic -- I don't care

As the internet shows,
the market for Eskimo sculpture is a large one...
even the best pieces sell for under $8,000,
and most of it is unredeemable drek,
clumsy, awful things that look far worse than
the original chunks of stone from which they were cut.

But I'd say that Ashevek is a great sculptor.

Here's a good piece by his cousin, Oviloo (what a name!),
and it looks like several generations of Tunnillies were
carving stone in the 20th C.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Nathan Rapoport

I'd never heard of Nathan Rapoport until last week,
but I first saw his sculpture about 25 years ago,
since the Park Avenue Synagogue is located between my grandmother's apartment
on 88th at Lexington
-- and the Metropolitan Museum on Fifth Ave at 82nd.

This facade dedicated to Janusz Korczak, ''The King of Children'', was
something of an anomaly when it was made in 1980,
since figure sculpture had been banished from architecture for
at least 30 years by that time
(and it had been banished from Jewish temples forever)

It had design -- it had drama,
it had a kind of sweet dreaminess.

It was doing its job.

And now I've learned that the sculptor's career
goes back to this piece dedicated in 1948
to the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

I can't find a bio for Rapoport on the web -- so all I've got is an the introductory essay written by a journalist, Richard Yaffe. We're told about his grandfathers (both Chassidim - a cantor and butcher) but what about his parents ? We're told he went to the Warsaw Academy of Art -- but how long was he there ? He was 28 when Poland was invaded, and the story is told that he set out on foot to find and join the Polish army, but for some curious reason, he took a portofolio of his work with him -- which he showed to Soviet authorities, some of whom, from the Minsk Art Commission, invited him to Minsk -- where he must have joined the Artist's Union because
he worked on a monument to Stalin (who else ?) with Abram Brazer (1892-1942)

There, he attracted the attention of a miltary official, Kulagin (first name ?), who protected and patronized him throughout the war years. His first great monument was this tribute to the Warsaw Ghetto - begun in 1943, and eventually erected after the war in 1945
using "splendid Labrador granite, ordered cut originally by Arno Breker, for a monument to commemorate Hitler's victory"

Then he went to Israel, beginning with a monument to a Anilewicz, a hero of the Warsaw Ghetto - to commemorate a Kibbutz destroyed in the Egyptian war, Yad Mordechai. He went on to make other monuments in Isreal as well as Philadelphia, New York, and Toronto.

But whatever happened to his career as a Soviet sculptor ? Did he defect ? Did he become an Israeli citizen ? And whatever happened to General Kulagin ? I wish someone in his family would put up a website to answer all these questions !

Here's some details from the Warsaw monument
(which, incidentally, was reproduced in Yad Vashem, Israel)

There's that same kind of passionate idealism I found here in the 19the C. Jewish sculptor from Baltimore (whom I'm sure Rapoport had never seen), and that sorrowful intensity of the early 20th C. sculptor Glicenstein as well.

It's not cool Classical -- it's not detached.

But it also feels -- well -- small and broken

a little like the puffery of a cartoon character

But it does have its moments -
like this doomed hero -- and how it compares
with Arno Breker's doomed Nazi hero shown here

This is the monument to Anilewicz, another one of Rapoport's doomed heroes.

And isn't that best kind ?
( failure being proof of the challenge undertaken)

I look at this -- and hear the theme song from "Exodus"
swelling up in the background.

I guess you could call this "movie sculpture"

This is quite a monument, isn't it ?
It's really become part of a landscape

My friend from Iowa recognizes these as silos
(but even a half-jew like myself can see that they're giant torah scrolls!)

Look at the size of these things!

They're not boring -- but I'm not sure they will have the after-life
that ancient Assyrian reliefs, for example, have in art museums.

(in contrast to these dramatic reliefs by another 20th C. sculptor, Emilio Greco.)

Or compare the above version of Job -- to this one by Milton Horn.

For me the comparison is hardly fair -- since I've only seen the Horn in person --
but via photograph, Rapoport's version does seem more compelling.

Here's a detail of the relief that accompanies the Warsaw Ghetto memorial,
which kind of reminds me of this parade by Lorado Taft

..except, of course, this march is a grim one

Here's "Jacob and the Angel" made for Toronto.

Horn did this theme very differently -- on a much smaller scale
-- and much less successfully (but I don't have a picture)

I especially like the figure of Jacob (it reminds me of my brother Eric)
but the angel is a disappointment --
Angels must be beautiful !
And other-worldly !

(here's Rembrandt's version. )


Overall -- the thing about Nathan Rapoport
is that I'm fascinated by what he does
even as I wish he did some things better.

..And I'm glad I finally discovered him,
and blogged about him today,
that just happens to be the annual Yom Hashoah
( Holocaust Remembrance Day)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Japanese Non-conformists

Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754–1799)

Here's more from the current exhibit in the Ando Gallery
at the Art Institute of Chicago.

"The Japanese Eccentrics"

I haven't seen enough 18th C. painting to feel
just how eccentric they were

--- but there is a certain powerful, cold elegance here.

So -- for example -- if an action movie hero were kidnapped,
and the above character hung on the door
into which he was being led ....

You know he'd be in very, very bad trouble

.. and isn't this what you'd imagine
as an aesthetisized
version of the Klingon alphabet

(maybe I've become too Sinicized,
but there is something so cruel and aloof about it)

Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-1799)

... not to mention sexy

I'm not showing the entire pieces here,
because I don't like the pictures I took of them --
or maybe I don't even like the pieces themselves

--but I'm certainly enthusiastic for these
large areas of detail

Why does this feel so much more Japanese than Chinese ?

Soga Shohaku (1730–1781)

What's curious here is that the fish are the same size, in foreground or background

--but the style of depiction becomes looser with distance

All that's left of that last fish..
is two or three strokes.

These letters are just a small detail of a much larger screen,

but it's the part I liked the most.

And if those characters were women at a party,
they'd be wearing too much make-up and perfume.