In his work, John Baldessari continually challenges notions of beauty and disregards conventional rules of what is “right” and “wrong” when it comes to art –his piece Wrong comes to mind, a photograph in which he purposefully defies the rules of photography and composition. His artwork urges the viewer to question these rules, for example in his series Choosing (A Game for Two Players), where he plays with personal perceptions of beauty (David Salle calls it a “faux exercise of taste”)
The game is simple: one player arranges three samples of the same vegetable in a line (eg. three green beans), the second player is asked to choose the “best” of the three, based on his/her own aesthetic criteria. That lucky bean moves on to the next round where it is placed next to two new beans, and again player two is asked to pick a favourite, and so on. Meanwhile, the exercise is recorded in a series of photographs where we can see the player’s fingertip pointing at the chosen vegetable. The absurd game just goes to show that taste is subjective and there are no universal rules for beauty, be it a turnip, a person, or a work of art, we should not conform to conventional standards.
Californian artist John Baldessari is known for his film, photography and painting since he started working in the 60’s. In the late 70’s and 80’s he began to use other peoples’ photographs in his own work and use film stills from old Hollywood films. He gathered images in abundance and used them to create photo collages, experimenting with the juxtaposition of images to explore the nature of communication and perception. Baldessari’s arbitrary juxtapositions make us question how we read images.
Concerning Diachronic/Synchronic Time: Above, On, Under (with Mermaid) 1976: The pictures stacked vertically represent events taking place simultaneously (synchronically) while those juxtaposed horizontally represent successive instants (diachronically). But only the middle pair adhere to this rule, showing a boat moving across the horizon. On the other in hand, the others are formal rhymes, in the pair at the top a plane turns into a bird and in the pair at the bottom a submarine turns into a mermaid. The middle images can be read in terms of narrative while the others must be read in terms of association.
Violent Space Series: Nine Feet (of Victim and Crowd) Arranged by Position in Scene, 1976: Everything is hidden except for the circles which reveal people’s feet. The arrangement of the feet, in conjunction with the title, suggests that this is the scene of a crime where a crowd of curious onlookers are standing around a figure lying on the ground (evidently the victim). It’s amazing how much we can read in an image with such little information.
Kiss/Panic, 1984: photographs of hands holding revolvers frame two central images, one a panicked crowd scene and the other an intimate kiss, offering two extremes of human emotion: fear and passion. All the photographs are in black and white except the one of the kiss. The menacing mood created by the pointing guns connotes a certain anxiety about intimacy while the kissing mouths suggest a warmth of human feeling in the midst of this panic and aggression.
Spaces Between (Close to Remote), 1986: collection of horizontal scenes in which the distance between two characters grows wider. Each time more imagery separates them: a bouquet of flowers, scenery, other people)
Horizontal Men, 1984: A sinister work in which images of standing men are rotated so that they appear to be lying down and stacked one on to op of the other, like a stack of bodies. Refers to the Holocaust, based on the images of bodies in concentration camps
Here are some breathtaking photographs of the sea/beaches by two highly influential photographers: Richard Misrach and Massimo Vitali. Immerse yourself in the fantastic shades of turquoise.
In his series On the Beach, Californian photographer Richard Misrach studies human interaction and isolation through aerial photographs (taken from hotel balconies) of beaches in Hawaii. Misrach says, “I always thought about it as being a god’s-eye view, looking down and seeing these amazing human interactions.”
Italian photographer Massimo Vitali has been documenting crowds since 1994, studying how and where people gather. Nature vs colonisation. These photographs are taken in Greece and Brazil. “Upon these swaths of water, sand, and sky are people parked and splayed, inactive, passive, disinterested, as neutral as grains of sand in an hourglass or the dots on a box of dominoes spilled out of their box onto a blanket… [Massimo Vitali] illuminates the apotheosis of the Herd” (What the Butler Saw)
“I have tried to avoid behaviour that is too focused on everyone doing the same thing. e.g a football stadium, where everyone is looking and reacting in the same way. I focus on groups of people, but I try to photograph them at times when they are not doing the same thing, in situations where they are free to maintain their own personality and individuality.” From an interview with Massimo Vitali
Have you ever kissed a palm tree?
I’ve found another wonderful example of clouds in art to add to the previous collection. This time the “clouds” are trapped in a resin cube:
The artist, Peter Alexander, was part of the Light and Space movement in the 60s. During this period artists in Southern California started using new materials like plastic, resin, and industrial coating to create sculptures and installations which blurred the lines between art, industry, and science. In his Cloud Box (1966), Peter Alexander made a cube with polyester resin and introduced some water vapour during the casting process.The result was the formation of white “clouds” inside the resin. A beautiful and poetic object which evokes the light and atmospheric conditions of Southern California.
There’s no one who can capture water quite like Hockney. Tantalising and hypnotic, and oh so refreshing!
La Gerbe (The Sheaf) is a large-scale ceramic mural by Henri Matisse which was commissioned in the early 1950s by Sidney and Frances Brody for their new home in California. The mural occupied a large empty wall in their sunny patio, and was the centrepiece of their home. Apart from La Gerbe, the Brodys had an extraordinary collection of modern art which included works by Picasso, Braque, Giacometti, Calder, and Moore, all of which were displayed in their elegant home designed by Quincy Jones.
Frances described the mural as having “a marvellous luminosity” and said “its simplicity of design never fails to bring warmth, gaiety, color and beauty to an area observed by all who pass through any part of the house. This is truly the heart of our home.”
LACMA has published the amusing account Frances Brody wrote on her experience commissioning the ceramic mural from Matisse. Click here to read it. The mural Apollo (pictured below) was Matisse’s initial proposal for the Brodys’ commission, they rejected it and persuaded him to make a new design. Frances wrote in the manuscript that she “disliked it intensely”, luckily she was thrilled with his next proposal. This piece is now in the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio. Personally, I think its beautiful also, but maybe not as appropriate for the setting.
In 2010, after Frances’ death, La Gerbe was relocated (a very difficult operation considering its weight of 1,000 Kg.) to LACMA, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
It doesn’t look half as magical without the tree and the warm and comfortable ambiance, but still, if it means more people can enjoy it, it’s ok with me. There’s still something wonderful and fulfilling about walking through an art museum/gallery, standing and gazing at works of art. I hope someday I’ll stand in front of this one! It makes me wonder, although Matisse is one of my all-time favourite artists, and I’m in love with this mural, if I lived with it, would it lose its magic?
Images thanks to LACMA