Leo Gestel, (Stedelijk Museum- Amsterdam)

Hi everyone!

As you may know, I usually write exhibition reviews on temporary exhibitions. When I was abroad in Amsterdam last spring, I wrote an average of one post per week, usually on an exhibit that would close within a few months. I always perused the permanent collection of whatever space I was in, but it never occurred to me to devote a post to any assortment of permanently-owned works.

My thesis research brought me to Amsterdam again this past January. I was on the hunt for works by the Dutch Cobra artists (you can read about my trip here). 1/3 of my trip entailed viewing works by these artists in the modern art wing of the Stedelijk Museum. As I walked through the chronological galleries, I was fascinated by the way Dutch painters encapsulated the progression of European modern art. And so, today I am going to take a closer look at one of these painters in particular: Leo Gestel.

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Leo Gestel was one of the leaders of the Dutch modernist movement. His painting style ranged over the years, though he was especially influenced by cubism and post-impressionism. Take a look at the following painting entitled Reclining Nude (1910).

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This painting was made in 1910. Some of the most famous post-impressionists- Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, and Paul Cézanne- died in 1890, 1891, and 1906, respectively. Yet their influence is unmistakable. Note the geometric treatment of each brushstroke:

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One of the defining characteristics of post-impressionism was the mathematical attention paid to the brushstroke. Seurat was famous for ordering his brushstrokes so that certain patterns of closely painted colors would trick the eye into mixing the colors together, and perceiving a different shade entirely. Such was the magnificence of a work like A Sunday on la Grande Jatte (1984). Note how different the colors of the figure’s hair look in the zoomed-in image vs. the whole painting. Up close we can see blue, green, orange, yellow and red bits of color sitting next to each other within the confines of her hair. From far away, the eye doesn’t completely blend the colors as it does with a Seurat, but there is a fair degree of optical mixing. I feel a sense of blue, green, and brown when I look at the figure’s hair from far away, which supports the notion that Gestel was interested in scientific, painterly tricks.

But if he was interested in optics, why not devote his attention entirely to this process, as Seurat had, and Gestel’s contemporary- Paul Signac- was doing? Perhaps there was something to accomplish in failing slightly. In other words, there can be great significance in the act of failure to represent, or to fall short of representation. Paul Cézanne’s landscapes often oscillate between two and three dimensionality. His Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Bibemus Quarry (1897) illustrates this phenomenon. Notice the flattening effect of the rectangular brushstrokes. Try to make sense of the orange space in the middle ground; are these cliffs dividing a lower and a higher plane? They seem to be collapsing in space, allowing these two planes to fold in on each other.

I believe that the partial optical mixing that Gestel employs was inspired by a Cézanne-esque failure to fully represent a scene. The genius of Cézanne (and Gestel, in my humble opinion), is the ambiguity of space that this failure creates. Both artists’ paintings leave questions for the viewer about the significance of this ambiguity.

In Reclining Nude, Gestel places colors tightly together, but fails to mix them completely. The background is a vibrant splash of pink, green, and blue. The bedding is composed of rich gold and yellow with bits of pink and green. These colors hint at sumptuous fabrics and gaudy wallpaper. Are we supposed to infer that she is a courtesan, because she exists within a sumptuous and gaudy world? Or do these ambiguous spaces reflect her beauty? Are we meant to envision this woman as existing within an Eden of lovely colors and patterns that reflect the color of her spirit? These are the questions that ambiguity leave behind.

Also note how Gestel uses color to draw attention to her gender:

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Like the hair on her head, the hair on this figure’s body is painted with ‘unnaturalistic’ colors- purple, yellow, and green. It is already marvelous that a work in 1910 featured a woman with pubic hair. Doing so contradicted the Hellenistic ideals of beauty that characterized female nudes for thousands of years. On this figure, her gender and its natural accouterments are viewed as vibrant and colorful- just like the rest of her body.

Now, it is impossible to ignore the positioning of the figure. She lays on the bed, naked, with her entire body visible for the viewer to consume. And yet, she hides her face in her arm. And so, she remains anonymous to us. What is the purpose of this positioning? First, it is important to look back on all of the early modern nudes that Gestel would have been well aware of. Perhaps the most famous, Manet’s Olympia (1865), challenged the traditional depictions of the courtesan as a Venus figure, averting eye contact with the viewer and allowing him to take in her idealized body. Olympia was extremely controversial at the time, as her piercing gaze confronted the viewer for his voyeurism. Her unidealized form blatantly revealed her occupation as a courtesan without shielding her behind the moral legitimacy of Greek myth. She appeared as an actual prostitute in 1865 would, and she did not pretend to enjoy the encounter.

Olympia paved the way for more honest depictions of prostitution and less idealized images of the female form. So where does Leo Gestel fit into this, and how can we understand the Netherlands within this narrative?

The Netherlands, though famous for legal prostitution today, was extremely conservative in 1910. Society was divided into distinct pillars- the Liberals, Catholics, Protestants, and Social Democrats- and people kept within their pillar. Paris was the land of courtesans, Moulin Rouge, and debauchery, not Amsterdam. Keep that in mind as we analyze the significance of this figure’s nudity.

There is celebration in the colors utilized here, and in the pleasure Gestel takes in filling in the contours of the figure’s body with paint. And yet, her hidden face is anything but celebratory. She is either extremely distressed or fast asleep.The alertness in her leg tendons suggest to me that she is awake and in a state of distress. Were she asleep, her legs would relax, and her muscles would not appear so engaged. Pre-Manet nudes depicted hollow-eyed Venuses who graciously accepted voyeurism. Manet and his contemporaries put forth confrontational nudes, in charge of their own sexuality.

It is here that I am faced with a dilemma. It seems  unlikely that Gestel, especially given his interest in post-impressionism, would turn back the clock 100 years and paint an idealized, nude, Venus. And yet, the way he blatantly positions her gender forward while hiding her face seems strikingly old-fashioned.

And yet, there is no power or confrontation in this figure’s body language to suggest her agency. She hides her breasts and burrows her head in the pillow. This is clearly not a work after Manet.

So what, then, are the implications of Reclining Nude? Is she a Venus or an Olympia? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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I hope you enjoyed this sampling of Dutch modern art. The Netherlands is a truly fascinating place, and its journey from Rembrandt to van Gogh to Gestel is absolutely fascinating. I can’t wait to share more.

Until next time!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

 

I Didn’t Ask for It (Interview with the Artists from OT301-Amsterdam)

Hey all-

I am really excited to share with you the work of Debbie Young and Katerina Sidorova, two rising artists who are studying at the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague. I had the wonderful opportunity to see their work exhibited in I Didn’t Ask For It at OT301 last week in Amsterdam. I was later able to interview them in their studios in The Hague. Read on to find out what inspires these artists to create, their thoughts on group exhibits and Dutch contemporary art, and more!

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I first meet Debbie and Katerina at OT301, the multi-media art organization located near Vondelpark. I am not immediately sure who they are, as the exhibit space is a mass of artistic types draped in woolen coats and decked out in colorful lipstick. Any of these uniquely-dressed people sipping wine and chatting could be the artists. I end up meeting the curator, Lorena, who introduces me to the them. Debbie is wearing the same red lipstick she wears in her video installation piece. I am surprised that I did not immediately recognize her from this work. It might be because her brown hair, straightened in the video, is thick and curly in person. When she speaks, a bright Scottish accent comes out. She and her friend Katerina stand at about the same height- several inches shorter than my 5’8″- but they could not be more different. Katerina has a blunt blonde bob and speaks with a slight Russian accent. They are both curious about how my friend and I ended up here. I gather that OT301 is not a spot frequented by Americans.

I chat with the two artists briefly, and learn a little bit more about their work, which is being displayed in the same, small, vibrant space. We agree to meet the next day in The Hague to chat about their work and to take a tour of their studios. In the meantime, I explore the fascinating artwork displayed by these two artists and let them mingle with the excited crowd.

I Didn’t Ask For It explores the intricacies of human nature through two specific case studies. The first is Deborah Young’s, which examines the relationship between characters in the media and their obsessive fandoms.

The most prominent element of her work is a video installation projected onto a blank, white wall. Here are several stills from this work:

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In this video, Young creates a character that is obsessed with Justin Bieber. She performs a youtube tutorial in which she describes how to make Justin Bieber her boyfriend, through a variety of steps that include makeup, confidence, and flirting “techniques.” It is wildly comedic at times, such as when Young steps off her chair to illustrate the importance of flexibility in wooing Justin. Yet it is also alarming to see this character’s dissolution into utter insanity.

A bedspread, shown below, with Justin’s likeness and the likeness of Young’s character, is absurd and yet also unnerving.

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Stores do sell Bieber bedspreads (I actually looked and you can buy one here). Yet depicting herself next to Justin on this spread underlines the strangeness of this practice. It demonstrates the lengths that obsession can go in a humorous, light-hearted tone.

The third part of Young’s installation is the following altarpiece:

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In this work, sketches of Bieber are framed and surrounded by creepy, deformed, three-dimensional figures. My first instinct is that these little figures are meant to represent the fans who have lost their own identities in their obsession with Bieber.

In the same space, Katerina’s work is displayed. There is only a few feet of space between the two. Katerina’s installation piece is inspired by the the journey of the hero in mythology, and how people buy into mythology as a means of grappling with their own mortality. Envision the previous images, in the same space as the following:

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At first, I am not entirely sure what Sidorova’s work was meant to represent, but I recognize symbols of strength and power. The pitchforks stretch from the floor to the ceiling, but are constructed from many separate pieces of wood tied together. The emphasis on construction is clear. The white sheet also undergoes a transformation throughout the trajectory of the work. In the corner, where the light is dim, it is grubby and muddy. The grime disappears closer to the center of the room. The swatch of sheet draped over the pitchforks is completely clean. I look forward to talking with Sidorova to gain more insight into the meaning of this multifaceted work.

The next day I meet Debbie and Katerina at the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague. They show me their studios and I am instantly jealous that I don’t go to art school. Everywhere we go we pass friends they say hello to, and art I want to steal. Only in art school do you find a guitar, ten empty cookie boxes, and a human body made of plaster all in the same room. I put my bag on the ground and cloud of white dust splashed across it. They apologize simultaneously, but I say it gives my bag “character.”

Chloe: So guys, tell me about your early experiences with art and how you knew you wanted to be artists!

Debbie: I’ve always been good naturally, it was one of the first things that I really enjoyed doing, and it was mostly drawing cartoons and just drawing all the time. And actually I ended up going to study psychology first because, in Scotland, there is a very realistic way of thinking… [it is] self-deprecating, sort of pretentious, to be seen as an artist, or to see yourself as an artist. Then when I was 21 I decided I wanted to move away from Glasgow [and be an artist]. I just moved to the Hague really on a whim because I got in here.

Katerina: I was growing up under the guidance of my Grandma. She was an engineer but she always wanted to be an artist. She would introduce me to the world of drawing, painting, and just some modeling from clay. It kind of embedded in my brain the fact that you can become an artist but not in Russia. I started to catch up on drawing first by myself, then in my at teens I was really into street art. I was just running around with brushes in my hometown painting- what was it back then? Words and naked ladies I think haha. Trying to be a rebel. Then I started to take it actually serious and I thought that it can be a full time occupation. It is rather recent the realization that I can do this, this is what I am going to do with my life.

Chloe: I want to hear about the work that you two showed at OT301 and what you were trying to convey to viewers. Debbie, tell me about yours.

Debbie: It all started with the idea of the persona, and the hero aspect, the idolizing of a human being. I thought was a really strange concept because we are all humans. But we forget that these are people too just because they have a large skillset and the will to accomplish the goals we all want [to achieve.] So then I was thinking, what’s the contemporary hero? The contemporary hero seems to be celebrities because people aspire to project themselves onto celebrities. They also judge them quite harshly. They rise and fall quite hard. So I was interested in that concept of the E News world, the Kardashians who are superficial, shallow, the mindset of the whole thing. It’s an illusion, the whole world. Even the people who have a lot of skills and make it to the top are turned into this character and therefore are mythologized into this godlike presence. I was really interested in the fandom as well, with Justin Bieber especially, who is the contemporary idol of all the teenage girls. I was thinking he was the best example currently of how to illustrate these crazy fan groups, and how disconcerting this is in a way.

Chloe: How did that influence the fact that you chose to do a video, and that you had the bed sheet? The altar? How did you choose those specific mediums?

Debbie: Video is really fast and you can edit [yourself into] it. This can be superficial, yourself creating this character that is just this YouTube celebrity- which is a new type of celebrity. It’s so accessible and anyone can do it, so people seek to put on this character [to stand out]. That is a really interesting aspect as well. I just did loads of research on YouTube on people who have become famous on YouTube for the makeup tutorials and all these different types of characters. The bed sheet was a teen fan-girl thing but I wanted to make it a renaissance painting with a godlike Justin.

Chloe: Well I like that you put your image onto the bed sheet as well. I thought that was interesting. Can you say more about that?

Debbie: Yeah, well I did that to go with the video mainly because that is the creation of the character. [The character] is almost psychopathic by the end of it and you see a gradual demise of her sanity. So I thought that it would be a funny addition to the video to have the bedsheets. And also just I’ve always been into portraiture and I thought it would be witty.

Chloe: It definitely added even more humor to an already self-consciously funny work. I really enjoyed it! Now Katarina, can you tell me about the work you displayed at OT301?

Katerina: I work with narratives and for this I decided to make it year-long. Each of the works presented would be a step in a story .The whole bigger project is about “The Feat,” and the reflection on the logics of mythology. So the structure [includes] the hero being born, realizing that there was some sin performed in his early life/birth, the necessity to make up for this sin with the Feat, the preparation for The Feat by the family, the wandering, and The Feat itself. Then, the consequences of [The Feat]. So in OT301 I concentrated on the wandering, on when the hero is just becoming this active figure. I was trying to show this first step: leaving the place to try and fight for something, not knowing why, having some weapons that are rather limited and not so much skill  or experience yet. But having the drive to do something, and [the hero] doesn’t know what yet. This logic I’m applying to a very simple human thing: how do we deal with the knowledge of our mortality? For me it is about creating this logical construction of narratives, whether it is religion or science or art per say or mythology in the case with this work.

Chloe: So how did you apply this concept of myth as a means of dealing with human mortality, to the materials you used and the form that you created?

Katerina: What I’m trying to do is transform materials that I used in the first steps throughout the whole project. So it all started when the hero realized he’s mortal and that death is really disgusting, with chamber pots made of clay next to a dirty bed of a dead person. The cloth from that bed was washed, ironed, and prepared, sewn together into that big peace of fabric that you saw [at OT301]. The big spades or pitchforks that were holding it used to be legs of a bedframe. So [the materials are] transforming throughout the whole project and they will be reused again in a different form. So the whole journey of the hero is becoming more a journey of materials.

Chloe: That’s such an interesting idea to use the same materials throughout the different acts in the myth. What is the next step in the journey?

Katerina: In the beginning I made quite a strict structure for myself, but it was made in order to break free later on, which is what is happening. So the next thing on the list is, of course, that the hero performs The Feat. He performs the labor. This for me will be the erection of a church or a chapel-like structure. I don’t know yet how it’s going to look. I don’t know if it’s going to stay or fall and what’s going to happen with that.

Chloe: Well I look forward to seeing the next step in hero’s journey, and how you use the same materials to represent that! Now guys, why OT301? What drew you two to the space?

Debbie: We actually got the opportunity through a girl we know, Lorena. She did an open call and Katarina is the one who noticed it, and she asked me [to apply with her].

Katerina: We just had a school show that was quite an exhausting experience, but I had the strong urge to keep on going on our own. As an art student it is very easy to get carried away within this education, and you attempt to forget that this is not your real world. You are in a very safe greenhouse bubble. It is necessary to make first steps outside school already because, if you don’t take initiative, nobody will. When I heard about the opportunity to exhibit at OT301 I didn’t think twice. I figured I’ll just apply, I’ll put Debbie’s name on it, we will figure it out later.

Debbie: So we decided to collaborate because we always sort of end up having quite similar thoughts.

Chloe: How do you guys think the element of having someone else’s work in the same space, influences the way your work is perceived?

Deborah: I think it definitely makes a big difference. We got a lot of comments last night about how it was really surprising that our work was so different, but it seemed to work. We both used sound, so we had to swap [alternate using sound]. Even when Katarina’s sound went over my muted video, it worked. Her music went with it even though it was completely different.

Katerina: Yeah, I think for viewers it worked quite successfully, and that’s what I experienced as well. The main difference between our works is the approach, I guess. In this project I attempt to make things over-serious, over-dramatic, rather dry, and she went for the humorous side. Showing them together exaggerated our original intentions. I think the works were screaming more than if they were just by themselves, and I quite like that.

Chloe: I definitely felt similarly. When my friend and I first saw the Justin Bieber altar we thought it was part of your exhibit Katarina! The white color and the melting shapes… the works really interacted in such an interesting way.

Debbie: They did! We were like, “this is really crazy!”

Chloe: So exciting when things come together like that. What else is exciting you guys right now about the art world in general?

Debbie: Well, it’s really open. You can do anything. You can do installation, which I really like to do.  I like the playfulness in today’s art. But mostly I am inspired by old art and other things that aren’t in the art world per say like film and seeing something beautiful in the street.

Chloe: I saw the influence of the old art. The way you portrayed Bieber reminded me of the “Heroic Nude” in history paintings.

Debbie: It was definitely deliberately an academic painting because I wanted it to seem like someone, like a fan, took a lot of time to paint him.

Chloe: Definitely. And Katarina, what’s exciting for you?

Katerina: I think this part is the exciting part for me. [I like] the idea of being able to put up a show yourself and to invite the crowd you want to address your works to. That artist initiative is something that really keeps me going because I know I have the drive to make things happen. Sometimes just making artworks is not enough. Its more about creating somewhat of a platform for discussion around it and putting people who are sincerely interested in your work around you, rather than people who appreciate your work on a purely shallow level.

Chloe: And it must also be exciting for you guys to be experiencing contemporary Dutch art when both of you come from different places. Have you noticed anything specific that stands out about the Dutch contemporary art scene? Are there vibrant Scottish and Russian contemporary art scenes?

Katerina: There is a Russian contemporary art scene, still dealing much with Post-Soviet heritage, which I don’t like. But it’s still emerging now so that’s interesting to look at. With the Dutch art scene I do have more problems. Because these artists have been spoiled with funds for a while, they have gotten little lazy and I never appreciated laziness in thought or in deed. But there are quite some talented people around as well.

Debbie: I don’t think I would make the same art at all if I was in Scotland. It would probably be very Scottish.Scotland has got quite a good art scene. There’s also this tendency to use painting a lot which has rubbed off on me quite a lot. It’s always kind of colorful, always got a lot of humor, kind of more playful than textual. There’s  a lot to do with the body and subtleties, whereas in the Netherlands it’s more conceptual. It’s more, maybe minimal?  For instance, I was always really disappointed when I first came to the Netherlands because I couldn’t really associate with the art and I was always feeling like it was a bit empty. But there’s certain artists I really like in the Netherlands. Materials are really important [here] in a really tangible way. Art is also quite expressive.

Chloe: Do you think you guys will continue making art here after your graduate?

Debbie: Katarina and I are actually going to go back to Glasgow when we graduate. We’re going to start an artist-run space and show our own work and invite people we’ve met who we really respect art-wise to come and show there as well.

Katerina: We have a quite similar working attitude. We like to work, yeah, simple as that. Debbie’s from Glasgow and she knows the art scene there and she knows there is now energy in the air that is quite receptive for young artists with initiative. We share very similar thoughts on what a true artist is and what that person is ready to do for his work.  We want to start our own little space and see how it goes from there!

Chloe: Wow that sounds like a really exciting prospect. I can’t wait to hear about how that goes! I just have one last question for you two. If you could show your work at any gallery or institution in the world, where would it be?

Debbie: Obviously the MoMA in the New York.

Chloe: Oh my God can I curate that exhibit?

Debbie: That’s the dream haha! I do also really love the Guggenheim in Bilbao. It’s such an amazing building, it’s such a cool space.  In Hamburg there’s also some really cool places. In Glasgow I would like to exhibit in the Tramway.

Katerina: I have a dream to show my work in my hometown. We just have a contemporary art museum that opened a couple of months ago. It looks horrible. But I dream of the day when it would be quite a vivid institution and I would like to show work there. Apart from that, I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter, just as long as it can reach some people who could respond to it, I’m happy.

After saying goodbye to Debbie and Katarina, I begin the journey back to Amsterdam, images of Justin Bieber and pitchforks swirling in my mind. It is so exciting to see the artists of tomorrow in the beginning phases of their careers. I am sure you will be seeing more from Deborah Young and Katarina Sidorova very soon. Keep an eye out for these talented artists!

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 ❤ 

 

 

The Awesome (The Public House of Art- Amsterdam)

After being here in Amsterdam for almost two weeks, I finally visited an art gallery (a whole bunch of art galleries, actually). I’ve spent two weeks getting fully oriented by not one, not two, but three orientation programs here in the Netherlands. I won’t bore you with the details, but the fact of the matter is I am DONE with scavenger hunts, DONE with awkward ice-breakers and DONE with hostel bathrooms. I am free to do what I will with my days.

Which means: I am about to be eating a lot more brunch and seeing a lot more art!

One of the galleries places I visited yesterday is called The Public House of Art. It is very adamant about its identity as NOT a gallery, but rather, a house in which affordable art is sold to everyone who is passionate about it. At the Public House of Art, there are four price brackets for buyers: 100 euro, 350 euro, 750 euro, and 1500 euro. I look forward to treating myself to a painting in the first price point by the end of my trip. Check out this video from the Public House of Art’s website, comedically explaining how they are different from typical art galleries.

The playful vibe of the House (I will be referring to it as a house from now on, so as to remind you all that it is not, not, not a gallery!) is emphasized by cheeky posters framed all over the space. Near the entrance is a sign that reads:

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I will be looking out for openings at the Public House of Art…

On the wall next to a row of photographs is a sign that looks like this:

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I enjoy these signs because they match the non-pretentious vibe of the House. They make the visitor- who might feel uncomfortable in a traditional gallery- feel welcomed.

This particular exhibit, “The Awesome,” is a collection of works by different artists reflecting on the phrase, “totally awesome.” In the catalogue book about the exhibit, the curators write, “the awesome became cheap, you can buy them online, subscribe to them, download them, refresh them.” They ask, “can an image still confound us, amaze us, leave us in awe?”

The answer, it seems, is yes. And the artists of the Public House of Art have responded to this question with images that reveal the awesome, despite their ability to be photographed, reproduced, and reloaded. There may be thirty limited edition copies produced of every work of art, but that does not make the content of these works any less awesome.

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Here is one of my favorite works in the House, entitled “Yuddith, 9:15 AM,” by Henri Senders.

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This print celebrates the female form and the female spirit. Yuddith’s skin glows in the ethereal light. Patches of sunlight highlight the curves of her hip and her breasts, as well as the tip of her nose and forehead. Her magenta hair brings out the pink undertones of her skin, and contrasts deeply with the barren gray wasteland behind her. Yuddith looks up and away from the viewer, allowing the viewer to consume her without feeling guilty or ashamed. Yuddith’s hands are positioned oddly in the air. There is too much tension in her fingers for her hands to be floating. Rather, they appear to be pressing against an invisible wall- perhaps a glass one. If so, she is trapped, naked in the wilderness. And yet she is remarkably calm. Her raised chin and closed eyes are the picture of sensual freedom. The image is a fantasy for the projected heterosexual male viewer. There is a beautiful, naked, otherworldly woman prancing about in the woods, unable to come any closer to the viewer due to some invisible barrier. Though the viewer desires her, she is untouchable. We look in awe upon her, and thus we carry out Henri Senders’ intention: that the female body and spirit be seen as awesome, despite the fact that images of the female nude are commonplace in society. “Yiddish, 9:15 AM” reveals more about a woman’s sensuality than a Playboy cut-out or a pornographic scene. It uses tiny details to form a string of associations in the mind of the viewer. Pink hair, pink skin, blurry exposure, an invisible glass wall- are all more titillating and awe-inspiring than any Victoria’s Secret advertisement.

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I am also quite fond of this work, a mixed-media piece by Lola Cervant called “Harlequin.”

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The name of this work, Harlequin, is a response to the way the girl’s hands create a mask on her face. A Harlequin is a character from an Italian theatre style called Commedia dell’Arte, in which characters wore masks to indicate which role they were playing. The audience could identify a character purely by the mask he wore. The matte, pastel pink hue of the girl’s finger-mask contrasts with the grey pencil shading in the contours of her face.  The effect is a kind of oscillation between front and back. It is difficult to focus on both her twisting pink fingers and her eyes all at once. Her wrists appear less solid than her carefully shaded lips. One struggles to find something to grab onto here; it is as if this girl lives in a plane where different dimensions can exist simultaneously.

As I stared at this work, I became less and less certain that the model was a young girl. Her slightly parted lips and intense gaze bear a maturity and sensuality not known by the prepubescent. Perhaps the mask of her hands helps to disguise her true age, and transitively, her true identity. It is ironic, then, that her name is Harlequin, because the Harlequin’s mask serves to identify him to the audience. This Harlequin mask hides her. Identity, then, is that awesome thing Cervant wants us to consider- a set of characteristics that we set aside to put into a category. If something is missing- a face, an age- can we still make sense of the whole?

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I have always been fond of psychedelic art, and was pleased to see it well represented at the Public House of Art. Here are two works that I found especially trippy and awesome:

Eugenia Loli’s “Moonstroke (Until the End of Time) and “Sunday” can be interpreted as depictions of an acid trip. While this is undoubtedly true, Loli takes the trope of the LSD moonscape and turns into something else, that reveals both the awesomeness of a hallucinogenic trip and the awesomeness of humanity.

In “Moonstroke,” a boy caresses a female whose face and arms have been replaced with a psychedelic blue fabric. All of the tiny details make for a trippy image- the pom poms on the girl’s dress, the rocky landscape, and the suburban boy are all tropes of psychedelic art or details meant to interest the wandering mind. And yet one still feels as if he or she walked in on a young couple enraptured by each other.

“Moon stroke” is actually a lesson in tenderness. Despite the fact that we know nothing about these unidentifiable strangers, we can sense the softness with which the boy cradles the girl’s back. While we cannot see the girl’s face, the boy looks right through her blue patterned skin, as if he can see something that we cannot. They are isolated in some rocky landscape, as people often feel when they are young and in love, together. It feels as if there is no one else on the planet. Perhaps what is so awesome about young love is the way it makes people see stars, and feel as if they are walking on the moon.

“Sunday,” has just as many trippy motifs. Half the picture is created from black-and-white images, while the other half is technicolor. The sun is rimmed with red, and the blue sky becomes less and less saturated as it approaches the horizon. Whimsical hot air balloons dot the landscape. Black-and-white images of little boys are perched in the sand like cardboard cut-outs.

Beyond the psychedelic fascination with earth vs. sky, there is also a hint of nostalgia in “Sunday.” The title alone evokes a carefree day of play and trips to the beach to watch the hot air balloons fly close to the sun. Old-fashioned images carry inherent nostalgia in them, their grainy exposure recalling simpler days when it was harder to preserve a moment on camera.

The two boys in “Sunday” look up at the sky in awe. How awesome is it, for a little boy or a grown one, to understand the humans can fly so seemingly close to the sun? That two-legged creatures can board a jet or a balloon and soar into the sky? When did we stop thinking about how totally AWESOME it is that HUMANS CAN FLY??!?!?!

“Sunday” is a simple reminder of the awesomeness of humankind, and the way that children are often the ones to remind us, in all their youthful wonder, how truly awesome the world is.

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Looking back, I wonder why I did not take more photographs in the Public House of Art. I suppose I was just enjoying looking at all the artwork so much that I simply forgot to take more pictures. But I do implore you to take a look on their website and take a look at these incredible works- so many I didn’t analyze here! Marvel at awesome photographs, sculptures, digital art, and paintings without becoming extremely depressed because you’re 20 and have a part time job at school but are currently abroad without a job and you just bought yourself a new coat because it’s cold in the Netherlands and tram tickets really add up and you can’t afford to buy the art you love.

If that described you half as well as it describes me, then you should really visit the Public House of Art.

Until next time!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤