OBEY presents:”Covert to Overt” (Melkweg Expo- Amsterdam)

Hey everyone,

I’m pretty stoked to show you some photographs I took at the opening of OBEY presents: “Cover to Overt” at Melkweg Expo in Amsterdam. It was really exciting for several reasons.

Firstly, I’m a big fan of Shepard Fairey, the artist whose works are photographed in this exhibition. If you don’t recognize his name, you’ll probably recognize his immensely popular clothing line, OBEY, characterized by a rectangle of solid color with the word “OBEY” printed on top. This idea originated in 1989, when Fairey was studying art at RISD. He began a street art campaign called “Andre the Giant Has a Posse,” in which images of the famous wrestler and his dimensions were printed on stickers, then distributed by the skater community all over the country. The phrase caught on, and was appropriated into mainstream culture through these stickers, as well as in everyday speech. It spurred the creation of several documentaries as well . As a result of the image’s popularity, Fairey faced a lawsuit for using the name of a trademarked athlete. And so Fairey brilliantly turned his idea on its head: he simplified the face of Andre the Giant, and changed the catchphrase to “OBEY,” mocking the very system that created its existence. This new motif became Fairey’s trope- he modified it and enlarged it and transformed it for different surfaces all over the United States. He then branched into graphic design, and from there, skate ramps and high school hallways were  blessed with the iconic OBEY flat-brimmed hats and t-shirts. Today he continues to design clothing and create artwork, both on the street and in galleries. It is very exciting to see an exhibit that reflects Fairey’s journey from covert college student printing ironic stickers and getting arrested for destruction of property, to a celebrated artist and clothing designer who is famous for the famous “Hope” poster of Obama from the 2008 election.

I am also very excited to talk about “Covert to Overt” because I really like exhibits that view an artist’s work through a different (pun intended) lens. Last year, Fairey showed a series of paintings at the Jacob Lewis Gallery in NYC, and at the Art Center in Pasadena, his street art was displayed alongside other outdoor installations in “OutsideIn.” “Covert to Overt” explores Fairey’s street art through a photographic lens; that of photographer Jon Furlong.  Furlong has accompanied Fairey for the last ten years, snapping photos of the artist and his work as both have developed and transformed. It is fascinating to see how photography adds even more meaning to Fairey’s work. Furlong’s use of framing and light makes these photographs works of art in their own right.

Here are some of my favorite works from this exhibit. As you look, pay attention to the color scheme and motifs Fairey uses. Also note how big or small the art is in relation to the rest of the photograph. Look at what here is Fairey’s art, and what is Furlong’s. How do the two play off each other?

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“Obey. Never trust. Your own eyes believe what you are told.” This eye, filled with tiny whirring particles, seems to look blankly into the soul of the viewer. Its lack of a central pupil lends it a hypnotized appearance. Fairey seems to be suggesting that we are hypnotized as well, brainwashed by some unspeakable “they” who controls what we see. Perhaps this “they” is the government, or the media.

Beside this poster lies a black and white city. Juxtaposed with this sign, the city looks barren and and cold. There is no one on the street and the sky is a wash of overcast whiteness. The elevated position of the viewer above the city also suggests an all-knowing presence. If we can look down upon this city and see everything, does that mean we are always being watched as well?

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“This has been called to your attention so you will know that it has not been overlooked: PEACE.” A giant red arrow draws the eye leftward, to where these words are printed beside a trippy-looking image of Andre the Giant, enclosed in a patterned circle. The artwork itself seemed to me to be a scathing commentary on how difficult it is to get the world- especially the first-world- to focus on peace-making. It quite literally takes a red arrow on the highway to grab people’s attention.

This image, already eye-catching and powerful in its message, is even more impactful when seen in the context of this photograph. The sky captured by Furlong is immense, highly detailed and deeply saturated. The clouds seem to reach back into the sky for miles into an infinite horizon. This framing of the sky reminds the viewer of the space he or she is present in. Space is more than just the several meters from one’s car to Fairey’s sign. Space extends for miles beyond where we can see. With this photograph, Furlong reminds us that peace is not really peace unless everyone under every sky can feel it. “Attention” calls the viewer out on being materialistic and selfish, while Furlong’s photograph forces the viewer to empathize with people who exist in different spaces.

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This is a beautiful shot of Fairey at work on a mural. I like how the mural’s asymmetry contrasts with the symmetry of the two black poles in the foreground. I also like how Fairey’s clothing emphasizes his trademark red, white, grey, and black color scheme. The sharp lines of the ladder and the poles create a visual dialogue with the swirling mural.

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I also really like this personality shot of Fairey with what looks like a black eye. He stares at the viewer with an unreadable expression. I cannot tell if he is confronting the viewer or attempting to model in some fashion. I am not surprised that Fairey would pose in such an ambiguous way. His art is about challenging societal norms and questioning why things are the way they are. Why should a self-portrait be any different? Why should he reveal himself to the viewer in a truthful way, when so much of the world is masked by media and coded with false meaning?

Furlong cuts off the side of Fairey’s arm. This framing draws attention to Fairey’s face and his black eye, which gives the artist an aura of toughness. He looks like the ultimate “cool guy,” which I find funny because Fairey’s art is about the misrepresentation of people and things in the media. Perhaps Fairey and Furlong were using Fairey’s person as a canvas to make a statement about image and identity.

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This mural depicts the corner of a women’s face and a tear rolling down her cheek. The tear contains a dollar sign. The phrase “OBEY” can also be found on her forehead, climbing down her eyebrow. I like how this image was placed on the side of a building closer down to the ground. It means that the average passerby can see this image, and question its intention. The allusion to money and sadness suggests a commentary on consumerism and capitalism, or perhaps materialism. Is this woman crying because she doesn’t have enough money? If so, is this because she is greedy or because she is in need, because of “the system” or because of her own material tendencies? We are not given enough information to make an informed conclusion, but Fairey raises a multitude of questions worth pondering with this work. Perhaps my biggest takeaway is: our society forces us to view money in a particular way. The cost of living in most places is so high that, if we do not obey the economic system outlined by society, we find ourselves left behind.

I like how Furlong narrows in on this mural rather than stepping back to see it in its context. This way, focus remains on the message of the mural. One could say that the message becomes even more glaringly obvious, and its effect even more intense, due to the framing of the image.

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I like this simpler work that uses spray paint as a material and a brick wall as a surface.  The depiction looks hastily painted, as if Fairey was being chased. Given the laws surrounding painting on public property, that isn’t totally unfeasible. But it is also possible that Fairey intentionally painted “Hello Obey” in a haphazard manner  1.to cover a large amount of ground with his work in a short period of time 2.to allude to the time pressure reinforced by a  capitalist society 3. because he wanted to and overanalyzing is counter-productive. These are all possible interpretations. Do you have any other ideas?

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Here’s a snapshot of Fairey in the middle of painting a mural. His stance and facial expression are playful. I like seeing something light-hearted after a series of slightly paranoid responses to authoritarian society. Even the scaffolding he uses to reach high surfaces is red. The car in the background is red. I am beginning to wonder if Fairey is physically capable of seeing colors other than black, white, and red.

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Lastly, this was my favorite photograph in the entire exhibit. It made it onto my Instagram (shameless plug: chloelikescrumpets. Follow me!) and it’s become the go-to image I show people when i tell them I went to “Covert to Overt.”

This image reads: “Giant cured all my obedience problems!” Giant refers to Andre the Giant, the wrestling figure i referred to in the beginning who inspired the OBEY motif. Now, I’ll be honest. I’m not entirely sure what Fairey is trying to say here- and I think that’s ok. As Fairey said in an interview with Loud Paper, ” When people don’t know what something is, they feel threatened by it.” So, I’m not going to shy away from talking about my favorite work just because I cannot fit it neatly into an analytical box.

All I can really do is take what I do know about Fairey’s inspirations and social concerns and try and relate them to this image. In several other works I showed here, Fairey made commentary on the brainwashing of the media and the watchfulness of the government. The issues seem huge and out of any individual’s control. And so, referring to Fairey’s concerns as “obedience problems” could be a humorous understatement. Stating that “Andre,” which seems synonymous to me with the OBEY brand, could have solved those problems simply by existing, is even funnier. What I take from this poster, then, is that Fairey is being self-deprecating about the importance of his brand. The work underlines the need for action on many fronts: wearing an OBEY flat-brimmed hat is great, but taking political action would be better.

Again, let me know if you gathered something different from this work, or have heard Fairey discuss this particular motif. I am really curious about what Fairey intended it to mean.

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“Cover to Overt” is an incredible exhibit. I am so happy I was able to see it here in Amsterdam. Melkweg Expo did a great job at the opening- the DJ played relaxing but upbeat tunes while visitors sipped free beer and perused the photographs. Signed copies of “Covert to Overt,” the exhibition book, were sold in the corner for sixty euro. Were I not a twenty year old college student who compares bread prices, I would have immediately bought one. I did get a chance to read the preface and the introduction, and it looks like a very thoughtfully-written book. I am really interested in reading more about Fairey and his political/social beliefs.

Here’s a snapshot of the event:

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And here’s a great shot of my friend looking at a display of photographs.

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And here are three more pictures, if you’d like to try and extract meaning from them, and fit them into Fairey’s narrative:

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As always, thanks for reading! It makes me so happy every day to see that people all over the world are checking out CanvasAndCrumpets, and searching for ways to make their lives a little more artistic, and a whole lot more beautiful.

Until next time!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

 

 

!Women Art Revolution (Film Huis Cavia-Amsterdam)

Last night I went to a screening of !Women Art Revolution at Film Huis Cavia in Amsterdam. It was easily the best movie I have seen all year. It was so good that my friends and I spent the next three hours talking about how the legacy of the feminist art revolution lives on today. The documentary was made in 2010 by Lynn Hershman Leeson, but it has been an ongoing project of Leeson’s for the past forty years.  !Women Art Revolution details the rise of the feminist art revolution in the 1960s and its development throughout the rest of the 20th century. It is an oral history, as well as a series of interviews featuring female artists, curators, and art historians. These interviews have been conducted over the past forty years- it was a unique and special experience to hear these women, some of whom have since passed away, speak about their experiences. Throughout the hour and a half of this incredible film, I was exposed to fifty years of history I had embarrassingly been devoid of in my artistic education. 

How awful is it, that I had only ever heard of TWO of these artists? I had studied Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” in AP Art History in high school, and bought Miranda July’s book,”No One Belongs Here More Than You,” from the Strand Bookstore. But the names Howardena Pindell, Faith Ringold, Miriam Schapiro, Barbara Kruger, and many, MANY more, were completely new to me. I hadn’t even heard of the Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous group of female artists who protested discrimination and sexism in the art world while wearing gorilla costumes. Their humorous posters and literal guerrilla tactics raised awareness about these issues and put political pressure on artistic institutions to be inclusive of women and artists of color. When the Whitney put on a show featuring exclusively male artists, the Guerrilla Girls created a fake press release on Whitney stationary, exclaiming how proud the institution was to be presenting the first exhibition in New York City including 50% female artists. I could not believe I had never heard of this group of activists. I also could not believe I had never heard the tragedy of Ana Mendieta, a Cuban feminist artist who fell to her death from the window of her 34th floor apartment in 1985. It was widely believed that her husband, famous MALE contemporary artist Carl Andre, was responsible for her murder. As !Women Art Revolution points out, Andre’s contemporaries refused to speak against him. He was eventually acquitted, leading to a series of protests in Mendieta’s honor, in which posters of Mendieta’s face and the words, “Where is Ana? Ask Carl!” were scattered all over Andre’s work at the Guggenheim. 

Of course, I have to recognize that I have not taken a course in contemporary art yet, and it is possible that these artists are textbook requirements today. All of my contemporary art knowledge has come from my personal exploration in books, articles, and museum/gallery visits. However, there is something to be said for name recognition. So many male artists of the same era have penetrated the bubble of academic art history to the point where they are recognizable to the general public. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Sol Lewitt, Frank Stella… the male artists who were creatintat the same time as Ana Mendieta and Lynn Hershman are ENGRAINED in my mind. I know all of their names, so why don’t I know these women’s names?

This is why we still need feminism. The art world has definitely become more progressive. Lisa Yuskavage, Yayoi Kusama, and Marina Abramovic are three of my favorite artists. Marcia Tucker, who is interviewed in !Women Art Revolution, founded the New Museum to exhibit the work of living artists, including many incredible female artists. But the art world- the way art is exhibited and the way art history is taught- still has a long way to go. As !Women Art Revolution pointed out, omission is dangerous for the legacy of female artists. It directly leads to eradication. In one chilling segment of the film, an unseen interviewer asked passerby outside the Whitney, “Can you name three female artists?” Embarrassed people stutter and mumbl before finally offering, “Frieda Khalo?” as their only answer. The age-old practice of omitting female artists while they are alive has led to their eradication from collective memory. The feminist artists of the 60s and 70s fought for their work to be included in galleries and institutions. !Women Art Revolution reports that exhibitions of exclusively white-male artists remained popular in the United States through the 1990s. Leeson and her contemporaries describe stories in which gallery-owners repeatedly refused to represent them . One artist described an experience in which she was forced to get on her hands and knees to present her portfolio to a male gallery director, a humiliation surely no male artist was ever forced to endure. Another recounted a time when a buyer returned a painting to her when he found out she  was female, because he said the work had no market value. Today, circumstances are different. Women are not omitted from galleries and institutions. But we cannot forget the work of the feminist artists that we stand on today. We cannot allow these artists and their works to be omitted from history, or we risk their eradication entirely. 

And so, I urge you to find this film on the internet, and donate to !WAR here. 

The only way to prevent omission and eradication is by continuing to spread the work of female artists and information about their lives. Here are some links for further reading:

I hope that you check out these links and are also inspired to do more reading on your own.  After all, I have only scratched the surface with these artists. There are so SO many more to learn from.

If you happen to be in Amsterdam, Film Huis Cavia will be playing !Women Art Revolution again tonight at 8:30 PM! Tickets are 15 euro. 

Until next time! 

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤ 

 

 

Visions of China (The Metropolitan Museum of Art- NYC): Special Event

On Monday night, the Met opened from 8-10 pm for college students to enjoy the new “Visions of China” exhibit, as well as food, drinks, and music. I think everyone between the ages of 18 and 22 in NYC was at the Met on Monday night- THAT’S how packed it was. But it was beautiful to see the Met all lit up in pink and purple. It was also fun to have an excuse to get all dressed up with friends and take pics! My girlfriends and I showed up in all black (whoever said orange/beige/slate/maroon is the new black is clearly deluded).

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All around the lobby, servers handed out steamed pork buns. Probably a highlight of the evening. We made our way past the DJ booth and into the incredible new Visions of China exhibit.

Visions of China explores Orientalism as a positive cultural response to the West’s interactions with the East. It attempts to diminish the binaries that have defined the western-eastern relationship (The west being appropriative and superior, the east being authentic and fetishizied). Visions of China does not try to erase the detrimental effects of Orientalism and the racist “otherness” that it created. It examines the relationship from a more objective perspective in order to see that aspect as only a part of a larger process through which there were positive creative results. What is left after these binaries are scraped down is a two-way conversation between two parts of the world, and the creative dialogue that ensues.

In all of these rooms, ancient Chinese statues and tools are placed next to clothing that has been, in some way, inspired by Chinese culture. Some are high-end designer pieces, and others are dresses from movie sets. Some were designed by Chinese designers, and others are not. The juxtaposition of old and new is at times very beautiful, when the source of a design is very clear. At other times it seems like an anachronism of time and space, especially when hoards of girls in heels pose in front of Chanel gowns, but not ancient Bodhisattvas. At times like these, the sources seem to fade into the background. I would like to come back on another day when the crowds are smaller to take some time and really look at the ancient works, picking apart the details that have been woven into silk dresses.

Here are some highlights from the exhibit:

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A british designer, Craig Green, put together this look that is displayed between glass impressions of bamboo. Lit from within, the glass shines brightly white, contrasting strongly with this dark ensemble. The white bamboo forest take over much of the first room.

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Behind the bamboo forest stands this Bodhisattva from the Shanxi Province. It was created between the years 550 and 600. The jewels cascading from the Bodhisattva’s neck foreshadow the incredible jewelry in the rest of the exhibition, and demonstrate a source for its inspiration. It’s  massive size serves as a foil for the technologically impressive bamboo forest several feet away. It is impossible not to look back and forth between the two, mentally searching for a connection.

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A gown by Guo Pei, a Chinese designer.

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The petals on this dress echo the sweeping curves of the fabric adorning the surrounding statues. The rich color and ornate pattern of the fabric echo the surface of these statues as well. Even the pedestal of this particular statue bears the circular motif woven into the surface of Pei’s gown. Both the gown and the statue exhibit a tight bodice in addition to the flowing fabric that covers the rest of the body.

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Here is a headpiece designed by Alexander McQueen. It is inspired by a Chinese garden. It does not even seem as much an inspiration as a direct translation of a scene that McQueen saw in person or in a book, and carefully reproduced. The fancifulness of the scene is at home as a whimsical headpiece, physically encircling the realm of the imagination.

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There is an entire room dedicated to the Chinese actress Anna May Wong, whose career bounced between playing the Lotus character and the Dragon Lady. Such limited roles did not diminish her star power. She went back to Europe after exhausting Hollywood and became a muse for more avant grade artists. Some of her gowns are shown, though they were very difficult to photograph (all the more reason for you to go!). Here is a terrible picture of a gorgeous costume:

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The exhibit places a photograph of Anna wearing this exact dress right above it, as if she is looking down on her legacy from up above. Photographs near the ceiling also create another dimension in this exhibit, emphasizing the circular nature of the western-eastern relationship.

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This is my FAVORITE dress in the entire exhibit. It is Chanel, which makes sense when you see the classic lines, tiny pleating, and (obviously) the use of black and white. The surrounding walls are lined with ancient Chinese writing. The dress mimics these scrolls and panels with inky black characters screen-printed onto silk fabric. Of all the non-Chinese designers, I thought that Chanel paid the best homage to the source. The small pleats echo the lines of Chinese dresses (we are shown these through videos playing throughout the exhibit). The characters are not arranged in lines, but the structure of the dress recalls the linearity of the source material. Aside from all that, it is a beautiful dress, and I want it.

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This is only a small preview of a MASSIVE exhibit. I couldn’t photograph everything, partially because I was really enjoying seeing everything and kept forgetting to take pictures, and also because we were packed in there like sardines. In fact, five minutes before closing, I was buying a postcard when the cashier asked me how I liked the Anna Wintour section of the exhibit. I had no idea what she was talking about. Apparently, the show isn’t JUST on the second floor. There’s a whole other part in the Anna Wintour Costume wing downstairs. Oh well, guess I’ll just have to go back! And hopefully on a Wednesday at 10 AM this time… I like being alone when I look at art!

Just a leetle claustrophobic,

xoxo, Chloe ❤