Tracey Emin and William Blake in Focus (Tate Liverpool- Liverpool)

Hi everyone,

Today I’d like to talk about a particularly interesting exhibit I visited in Liverpool several weeks ago. Tracey Emin and William Blake in Focus sees the work of two brilliant artists exhibited together in the same space. The two artists in question are not usually associated with one another.

Tracey Emin was born in 1963 and rose to prominence as a member of the Young British Artists, alongside contemporaries Damien Hirst and Angela Bulloch. On her website it is written that “Emin’s work has an immediacy and often sexually provocative attitude that firmly locates her oeuvre within the tradition of feminist discourse.” I have been reading a book about the Young British Artists called Artrage!: The Story of the BritArt Revolution. In it, Emin’s works have stood out to me for their broad range of mediums and brutal– at times repelling– emotional honesty.

On the other hand, William Blake was born in 1757. His relief etchings and paintings, influenced by his peculiar views on the supernatural and sexuality, were largely criticized during his lifetime. The post-humous publication of his biography in the mid 19th century propelled his legacy into the foreground of artistic and philosophical thought. Today Blake is considered one of the most important artists in Britain’s history.

So why has the Tate Liverpool chosen to exhibit the works of these artists together? On its website, the museum cites “a shared concern with birth, death, and spirituality” as the reason for comparing the two artists side-by-side. It also touches on Blake’s categorization as a Romanticist. The Romanticism movement witnessed a creative shift towards the individual, his emotions, and his place in the natural world (alongside God, as well as plants and animals). According to the Tate Liverpool, the exhibit “affirms Blake’s romantic idea of artistic truth through existential pain and the possibility of spiritual rebirth through art.”

In this post, I will explore how Blake’s journey for artistic truth mirrors and enhances the emotional gravity of Emin’s famous work, My Bed (1998).

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First, take a look at Emin’s installation:

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Note the array of items strewn across the carpet– condoms, a bottle of alcohol, slippers, a newspaper, a razor, a cigarette box, dirty tissues, a belt, dirty underwear, and a stuffed animal, to name a few. Note also how the mattress has not been sanitarily fitted with a sheet, but haphazardly covered with a thin layer of sweat-drenched bedding.

Emin created My Bed after spending a weekend in her bed– this bed– guzzling alcohol after a sour break-up. She woke up one morning to the scene that us visitors now have the privilege to see as objective outsiders. She looked down upon the mess of bottles, tampons, and cigarette butts and realized that this bed, and all of the items around it, were the purest expression of her emotional state. Any other attempt to express herself at this specific moment in time wouldn’t hold a candle to the stark reality of her bedroom. And so, she exhibited the bed and all its accouterments at the Tate Gallery in 1999.

My Bed was met with a variety of responses, all of them impassioned. After all, how could one have a lukewarm impression of such a bold, shocking work? Some found it to be genius, a moving snapshot of the artist at a breaking point. Others ridiculed it, stating that a collection of objects– which anyone could piece together– could never be art. This was a perspective put forward by a visitor to the Tate Liverpool during a lecture I attended. The basis of the woman’s argument was that each individual aspect of the work, such as a single sock, was not art, so therefore the entire work could not be. The lecturer responded brilliantly. First he said, “You believe that you could have done this. And yet, think of the darkest time of your entire life. Everything you felt, deep inside. Now imagine sharing that with the entire world. Would you do that? Most people wouldn’t. But Tracey did. That is why it is so special.”

Secondly, he listed an idea and skill as the two concepts that can be utilized to make art. He pointed out that Emin undoubtedly has technical skill– it is evident in many of her other works. But an idea, too, can be art. And her idea was an emotional, painful, never-before-seen idea that causes visitors to stop and feel something. I personally really like My Bed. When I first saw it, I felt a pang inside my chest. While I have never gone on a three-day-long alcohol binge without eating, I have experienced loneliness– we all have. One’s bedroom ought to be a place of solace, but during dark times it can morph into a cave of isolation. Since it is no one’s space but your own, it is easy to retreat into it, and never expect anyone to come looking.

Here is a photograph of My Bed in the context of the room, and one of me beside it:

 

 

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With everything I’ve said about Emin in mind, let’s switch gears and take a look at a series of works by William Blake.

This first painting is a work entitled Pity (1795).

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It is worth mentioning that Blake claimed to see visions for the entirety of his life. Thus, the supernatural elements in a work like Pity take on a more series significance. This is not merely a religious depiction of an angel peering down at a sleeping woman, but a scene that Blake took to be real, to some degree.  Blake saw a very thin barrier between the living and the death, the divine and the human; a barrier that could easily be penetrated. The title of the work, “Pity” suggests that the angel above the sleeping woman is taking pity on her for some reason or another. Perhaps the figure dangling from his fingers is a man he is sending down to earth to be with the lonely woman. Or perhaps the figure has just died, and the angel is taking him up to heaven, away from the grieving woman. Either way, the fact that the angel has an opinion about the woman, and takes an active role in improving her well-being suggests that Blake viewed his own life as being influenced by supernatural beings. It reinforces Blake’s romantic interest in his own self and his place within the greater scheme of life. It also demonstrates what the Tate Liverpool describes as his desire to seek artistic truth through the depiction of his perception of the universe.

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Another work that achieves a similarly eerie effect is The Soul Hovering Over the Body Reluctantly Parting with Life (1805).

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Here, a wispy series of lines designates the outline of a soul. It peers down at the dead body below, longing to be with him. This drawing reflects Blake’s perception of life and death, and his characterization of the relationship between the soul and the human body. Perhaps it was his own fear of death that propelled him to make such a work; it reinforced the notion that there is some sort of existence after the body has expired. Or perhaps Blake witnessed such an occurrence in one of his visions. Either way, the drawing is another example of the artist’s exploration of his own place in a multi-dimensional world.

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I was quite fond of Blake’s 1826 painting, The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve for its emotional depiction of each member of the family.

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In this scene, Blake’s religious upbringing is evident. He depicts Eve bending over the body of her dead son Abel in sorrow, her arms contorting out of their sockets above her head. Behind her, Adam looks towards Cain with an expression of confusion and sadness. His hands are flexed upwards in a manner that today seems effeminate, but likely were composed with the intention of appearing shocked; the angle and straightness of the fingers can only be maintained with great tension and effort. Lastly, Cain flees the scene in a manner that manages to be both graceful and deeply distressed. Note his pointed right foot and the straightness of his right leg. He looks as if he is in the middle of a ballet. Blake maintained a high level of craftsmanship while simultaneously breaking traditional molds to show these biblical figures with real, human emotions. Take a look at Cain’s face below:

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Cain’s eyes dip to one direction, staring into nothingness as he panics about what he has done, rather than seeing what is directly in front of him. The sense of distress is reinforced by his furrowed eyebrows, carved from several upward brushstrokes and mirrored by upturned eyelids. An open expression of fear is frozen on his mouth. Though we cannot see Cain physically tearing his hair out, the tension in his arms– specifically a bulging vein in his left forearm– indicate the strength with which he is pulling at his hair.

The intensity of Cain’s expression, as well as those of Adam and Eve, serve to humanize a religious tale, placing it closer to the realm of reality. This signifies Blake’s own relationship with religion, or at least with the morals religion teaches. His conflation of the supernatural/divine with the real suggest that there is not such a strong boundary between the two. Furthermore, it reveals Blake’s own journey for truth through an exploration of morality.

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I have now delved deeply into My Bed and a series of Blake’s works. Before I wrote that this post would elucidate how similar the two artists are, and how their work reinforces the emotional weight of the other. Can you infer before reading further how this is so?

First and foremost, the two artists broke traditional expectations of what art is supposed to be. Emin created an installation that pushed the boundaries of modern art. She created a concept, withholding her technical skill, to showcase a moment of her life more truly and deeply than she believed a painting ever could. Furthermore, its autobiographical nature, unshielded by a frame or allegory, tested many people’s limits. Blake created religious images that challenged the norms of religious paintings by humanizing characters from the bible. He also confronted societal perceptions of life, death, the divine, and the supernatural by depicting interactions between these supposedly separate entities.

Secondly, the two artists used their own methods to explore the possibility of spiritual and artistic rebirth. Emin, though the display of My Bed, was able to look objectively at a moment in her life and realize its emotional power. In sharing this dark part of her soul, she accepted its place in her life and could potentially move past it. In doing so, she broke the rules about art and moved into a new creative headspace. Blake, with the aid of his visions and unique philosophical views, explored his place in the world through paintings that conflated seemingly disparate entities. This process legitimized his perception of the world while simultaneously shifting the paradigm of religious art.

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I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it! If you’d like to read more about Tracey Emin I suggest you take a look at ArtRage! And if you’re interested in William Blake as I am, well, accompany me to the library because we both have quite a lot of reading to do. In my background research I also found several sources that touched upon his liberal sexual politics– apparently Blake also disagreed with marriage as an institution. How does that knowledge influence your reading of his works? I’m interested to hear.

And if you have the luck to be in Liverpool before early September, swing by the Tate. You won’t regret it.

Until next time!

xoxo,

Chloe ❤

 

Post-Grad Updates

Hi everyone!

It’s been a while since I last posted, but I am happy to say that my hiatus from Canvas And Crumpets has come to an end. This year was a busy one academically and artistically (those two things go hand in hand for me…) I taught an art history course to freshman, wrote a senior thesis on Dutch Cobra art, played Roxie in the Tufts production of “Chicago,” and took both my math and science requirements in my senior spring. I ended up falling in love with my math course, an exploration of the math behind M. C. Escher’s symmetrical tessellations.

All my hard work paid off! I am happy to say that I won both the Art History Prize for my graduating class and the Madeline Caviness Prize for my senior honors thesis. Additionally, I won highest honors for my thesis and graduated summa cum laude. I celebrated these achievements with copious amounts of pizza from my favorite pizza place in Davis Square, Oath. (Try yours with ricotta…mmmmmm)

So what’s next for me? Next Friday I leave for a three week Euro Trip. First I’m visiting my family in Northern England. They live in a suburb between Manchester and Liverpool. During my stay, I hope to visit as many museums in both cities as possible, and also take a ride to the beach in Wales. Next, I’m flying to Amsterdam to see my abroad friends and travel around my favorite city with my best friend, Lara. It’s the 100th anniversary of De Stijl in the Netherlands, so I’m sure our trip will include some Mondrian! On my list for art spaces to see in Amsterdam are the Stedelijk (of course), the Rijksmuseum, the Witteveen Visual Art Center, and Foam. Lastly, Lara and I are traveling to Berlin for the first time! We hope to see as much art and history as physically possible. Luckily for us, the art fair Documenta is open in Kassel during our stay in Germany. Documenta only arrives every five years to this small German town. We plan to take a day trip or overnight trip to Kassel to experience this politically-charged exhibition.

When I get back from Europe, I plan to spend a good five weeks relaxing in New York City. I’ll likely hit up a July 4th Barbecue and see a bunch of Broadway Shows. You can expect lots of posts about my Euro Trip and the exhibitions I visited, as well as reviews of exhibitions here in NYC.

And after that? I’ll be starting GRE prep and German classes in August. During my gap year between undergrad and my art history masters, I need to learn as much German as humanly possible! Translating art history texts is an important part of the art history masters curriculum. So I’ll be in New York City for the next year, learning German and hitting up all my favorite museums, galleries, and brunch spots. Hit me up if you’d like to join me!

xoxo,

Chloe ❤

grad

Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design (The Jewish Museum- NYC)

Hi everyone! I hope you all had delicious Thanksgiving weekends. I ate a full plate of stuffing at 3 o’clock this morning so that’s where I’m currently at. But I’ve also had a really fun weekend of museum-hopping. It’s been a very busy semester (thesis! teaching a class! curating collective!) so I haven’t been able to go to many museums this fall. Having a couple days off gave me time to re-immerse myself in the art world. One of my favorite exhibits that I saw was the Pierre Chareau exhibit at the Jewish Museum.

Pierre Chareau was a prominent French interior and furniture designer in the years between the world wars. His elite and influential patrons commissioned him to design their homes because they were drawn to his innovative designs. He mixed high-end and low-end materials to create striking spaces. His approach to space was marked by an attention to openness; he was forever searching for ways in which material could, paradoxically, make a room feel lighter and wider.

Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design is fabulous not just for its fascinating subject. The curation of the exhibit embodies Chareau’s principles of design, and allows the viewer to experience interior design, rather than stare at it. Esther da Costa Meyer, professor of architectural history at Princeton University, worked closely with architects Diller Scofidio and Renfro to curate this exhibit. Chareau’s innovative designs set the bar high for curators to display his work, and this curatorial team rises to the occasion.

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The first category that the exhibit encounters is furniture. Several different tableaus feature innovative pieces. This one in particular stood out to me. The table can be swung back underneath the semicircular shelf when it is not in use. I found this to be very efficient. However, the form here does more than follow function. The sleek blend of the bookshelf mirrors the slight curve to the bench, and the roundness of the table. Curving lines make the efficiency of this arrangement feel incidental- I noticed the rich wood and sleek design before I processed its innovativeness.

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White screens separate the tableaus from one another. Projected on these white screens are moving silhouettes of people living and working in Chareau’s spaces. They sit on his chairs and rise from them, hanging their coats on his coat racks and bending over his desks. Here are some stills from these projections:

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And here is a contextual view of my father admiring a tableau of furniture with the shadows of moving bodies projected on nearby screens. (Note the yellowish triangular formation on top of the stacking desk- that’s made from alabaster)

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What I really appreciate about these projections is that they allow the viewer to imagine the furniture in use. While paintings (after the medieval period) serve mainly as decoration, furniture exists to be used. Sometimes I have difficulty enjoying a furniture exhibit if the works are simply placed on a platform and admired. I want to get a sense of what it felt like for someone to sit in a chair- did it make them sit up straight? Did they recline? How did the upholstery feel under their arms? The artist takes all these sensations into consideration in his design, and if we don’t consider them, then how can we truly understand their art? Of course, we can’t sit down on Louis XIV’s bed, but we can sit on a  replica. We can watch the human body relax or stiffen in a digital recreation. Here, we watch shadows of real people interact with the furniture in front of us. It allows us to transitively absorb the sensations of interacting with this furniture, and experience it more fully.

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The second section of the exhibit I’d like to examine is Chareau’s personal art collection. I think that looking at an artist’s inspirations can really inform one’s understanding of the artist’s work. After all, the images that I choose to surround myself with inevitably find their way into my thoughts, my art, and my writing. Chareau had quite the art collection- here are some standouts!

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Many of these works feature a strong emphasis on line. The Mondrian in the top left corner plays with color blocking and straight lines. The works beside it introduce bent and curving lines, and the relationship between the two. The work on the far right seems to be composed almost entirely of lines- all of differing widths and lengths.

I particularly like this work, Max Ernst’s The Interior of Sight (1922). It isn’t hard to imagine this uncanny still life inside one of Chareau’s interiors. Its self-conscious perspective is both a celebration and mockery of traditional means of representing space.

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I really enjoyed how the Jewish Museum embodied Chareau’s notion of expanding space through materiality. In the following picture, you can see how a glass display of Chareau’s collaborations with other artists and designers extends through two gallery rooms. The wall separating the two rooms abruptly ends about six inches above the display table. Look closely- you can see through to the other room, where a person in red and two people in black are looking at the display case from the other room. The cut-out in the wall creates a dynamic flow between the spaces, and creates a feeling of airiness.

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I’ll now turn to the section of Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design that is devoted to interior design. The first thing the viewer sees when he walks into this area is a large white cube within the gallery space. The cube has cut-outs a few inches below eye-level in which photographs of Chareau’s interiors are displayed.

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One circumnavigates the giant cube, following the trail of photographs. This was one of my favorites:

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The interior is the dining room of the Grand Hôtel de Tours in 1927. Notice how the ceiling is never flush with the walls. There are multiple platforms extending from the ceiling, connecting to pillars and making contact with each other. I enjoy how this treatment of wall and ceiling adds visual interest to the space without making it feel cramped. Perhaps the cut-out in the wall on the viewer’s right compensates for the thick pillar and busy ceiling design. 

After walking around the large cube, one walks through a slight opening on one of its sides into a virtual reality wonderland. There are four stools and four virtual reality glasses situated at the four cardinal points. When you sit down and puts on these glasses, you are immediately transported to one of Chareau’s interiors. Here I am immersed in one of these rooms.

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I explored every single one, tilting my head up to see the ceiling, and down to see the chair that I was sitting on. All around me, steel and wood mixed to create a visually arresting space. In one of my favorite interiors, a steel bookcase took up the entirety of a two-story wall. A diagonal steel ladder allowed its inhabitants to reach all of the shelves while perching precariously in mid-air. The ground floor was wooden, and featured innovative furniture like the table and bookshelf set examined in the first section. The incorporation of virtual reality into this exhibition allowed me to imagine myself moving through one of Chareau’s spaces, while the photographs showed me real snapshots of what these spaces looked like almost a hundred years ago. The exhibit works so well because it includes both forms of representation.

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In the last room, there is a screen that moves forward and backwards, projecting a changing image. Maison de Verre (The Glass House), is the subject of this projection. The house was designed by Chareau in 1932 and built in Paris. It is wedged between other buildings and actually cannot be seen from the street. It is an architectural marvel. Made from glass, steel, and glass brick, Maison de Verre makes no effort to cover up its structural elements; they are an essential part of the decorative scheme. As the viewer watches the screen move, the projection drifts through the house, from the outside to the inside, following the steel beams as they protrude through different rooms and stretch down to different levels. Here are some stills of the projection in motion:

Every once in a while the screen and the projection pause. A section of the building is colored in red. Then, a separate projection shows up on the side of the room, showing a close-up view of someone interacting with that highlighted part of the building.

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The exhibit is constantly contextualizing itself, allowing the visitor to feel every single space that is introduced, either by becoming a body within the space, or watching another body move within it.

That was my main takeaway from Pierre Chareua: Modern Architecture and Design. I was utterly fascinated by Chareau’s shifting, open spaces, and his juxtaposition of steel, wood, and more precious materials. Yet the way the exhibit was designed truly took my breath away. I just finished reading “Eleven Museums, Eleven Museum Directors,” by Michael Shapiro, and one of the major themes discussed in the book is the role of the museum. Many of these American directors agree that their main concern is serving the public. How can they make the museum accessible to people? How does the museum fit within the fabric of the city? The Jewish Museum is constantly asking these questions, and coming up with new and exciting answers. Here, the curatorial team took a selection of photographs and a collection of furniture that visitors are obviously not allowed to sit on, but managed to make the exhibit extremely immersive.  I came away with a much deeper appreciation for and understanding of Pierre Chareau’s work.

The Jewish Museum is at the forefront of innovative and thrilling exhibition design. Please make your way over to the Jewish Museum to see this incredible show. You have until March 26th!

Until next time-

xoxo,

Chloe ❤

 

 

Updates from Yours Truly

Hi everyone! Contrary to popular belief, I have not disappeared off the face of the planet. This past summer I was interning at Sotheby’s in the 19th Century Paintings Department. I was so busy there that I had no time during the week to explore museums and galleries. On the weekends, I spent a lot of time doing research for my senior thesis and preparing for the class I am teaching freshmen this fall. It was an air-tight schedule, supplemented by lots of trips to the Met Library but very little sunlight…

But I am so SO happy to be back at Tufts. This is going to be my most art-filled semester yet. Take a look at this beautiful schedule:

  • Seminar: Art & the Nazis
  • I’m writing a senior thesis about the Dutch CoBrA artists
  • Intro to World Art (slightly embarrassing that I am a senior taking this class while writing a thesis but c’est la vie)
  • Studio Art: Printmaking Without a Press
  • My friend Rachel and I are co-teaching a class for freshmen called “A World At War: Art and Conflict of the World Wars, 1900-1950”
  • International Social Dance
  • Singing lessons

Typing that actually gave me visceral joy.

The other good news is that I’ll be much more free this semester to post on Canvas and Crumpets. After averaging one post a week in Amsterdam, I was very sad about my writing hiatus this summer. I intend to make up for lost time asap! Keep your eye out for a review of “Making Modern” at the Boston MFA, coming very soon…

 

Until next time!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

Link to my review on the Greenbox Museum’s Website!

Hi everyone!

It’s been quite a busy day. After posting about Mediamatic I explored Amsterdam Noord. In fact, I just got back from the Eye Film Museum and Cinema. What an incredible place!

Just wanted to share some quick and exciting news. In April I wrote a piece on the Greenbox Museum of Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia. I was happy to see my review listed on their website under ‘press.’ Take a look. And while you’re at it, explore the Greenbox website. It’s a fantastic resource if you’re interested in Saudi Arabian art, and aren’t sure where to begin.

Many thanks to the Greenbox Museum of Contemporary Art from Saudia Arabia!

xoxo, Chloe ❤

Link to my review on the Public House of Art’s Website

Hey everyone! Hope you’re having a sunny Wednesday.

It’s been a very exciting week for me. I just found out that I am going to be interning at Sotheby’s this summer in New York City! I will be very sad to leave Amsterdam (temporarily!!) but very happy to start a new artistic chapter in my life. More to come on that later 🙂

My review of the “The Awesome” at the Public House of Art here in Amsterdam was also published on their website. You can check it out here. Many thanks to the Public House of Art for featuring me!

I’m looking forward to the next Thursday’s launch of new artwork at the Public House of Art. Check out the event here. 

Until next time!

xoxo, Chloe ❤