2012 is doubtlessly the year of Yayoi Kusama. It started with a retrospective of the 83-year old Japanese artist that opened in Madrid’s Reina Sofia, travelled to the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Tate Modern in London, and which will make its next stop at New York’s Whitney Museum from July 11th. Next up is a monograph dedicated to Kusama’s long career in the art world.
But the highlight in this Year of Kusama that will make your fashion heart sing is a collaboration with Louis Vuitton designer Marc Jacobs on a Ready-to-wear and accessories collection, to be launched in July. The pieces in the collection interpret Kusama’s art, known for her use of organic shapes and so-called ‘infinity nets’, monochrome fields of one and the same shape repeated over undulating surfaces, and transfers them onto garments, leather goods, shoes and even jewellery.
The same play of shapes and colour will also adorn the windows of Louis Vuitton stores worldwide when the collection becomes available this summer. Get deliciously lost in the “Self-Obliterating” pieces.
The Louvre has invited Wim Delvoye to intervene at various locations within the museum and nearby: under the Pyramid, in the Napoleon III apartments, in the Gothic galleries of the Department of Decorative Arts, and in the Tuileries gardens.
Wim Delvoye’s work is full of subversive irony, and compelling provocations. The Belgian artist creates connections between objects, contradictory ideas and techniques. His pieces conjure up an imaginary world in which anything is possible, with works that are rooted in the subversive and ironic re-interpretation of older styles, mainly Gothic and Baroque. His sculpture for the famous spot under the pyramid is a huge Gothic corkscrew-shaped tower made of stainless steel, titled “Suppo”.
Mercedes-Benz is the main sponsor of the annually alternating exhibitions of contemporary sculpture beneath the Louvre’s world-famous glass pyramid. Wim Delvoye is the second artist, after Tony Cragg in 2011, to create a new, monumental sculpture to be installed at the central column supporting the Pyramid’s entry platform. “Suppo” will be on view until December 2012. Another imposing Corten steel sculpture will take up residence in the Tuileries in July and remain at this venue through the autumn, when it will be joined by other works featured in FIAC’s outdoor sculpture exhibition.
Until June 16, Galerie Perrotin hosts “Rorschach”, a solo show by Wim Delvoye, featuring other new works echoing some of the same preoccupations as those addressed in the “Au Louvre” exhibition.
New York artist Alex Bag became the medium she loves and loathes –TV. In her high-grain, lo-def video critiques, art-school grads, gallerists, punks, PRs and vacuous presenters are all subverted with savage wit, and she also turns the camera back on herself. “Autobiography: it’s this malignant, festering, oozing thing that will not die no matter how many times you burn or stab it,” she tells Francesca Gavin.
Never mind the internet: back in the day, the medium that brainwashed humanity more powerfully than any other was television, and one of the most interesting artists to critique and take over the medium is Alex Bag.
Bag is the ultimate TV viewer – squeezing, absorbing, loving, hating and regurgitating TV to art audiences in a refreshing, inventive and thought-provoking way. “Hell yes I watch TV,” she says. “Not as much as I would like, which would not be humanly possible. I love how it’s so reliable. So dependable. Always there. Always giving… Selfless. It’s Ouroboros right there in the living room. Just eating itself contentedly,” she notes.
Bag was born in New York in 1969, and without her there would probably not be Ryan Trecartin’s confessional hyper-Americana or Kalup Lindsay’s soap opera switch-up. In Alex Bag’s work, identity is constantly fluid, the representation of femininity is perpetually in flux. “All gender roles are role play,” she says. She was also an early pioneer for TV glitch art, before the waves of YouTube make-and-do flooded the collective virtual psyches
The work that made Bag’s name was “Fall ’95”, from the same year. The DIY confessional film depicts Bag as an art student recording the growing pains of the art school experience directly into a VHS camera. Interspersed with the student protagonist’s development and thoughts, Bag added small segments like scenes glimpsed from a changing remote control. They ranged from a lo-fi toy soap opera about bunny murder to fake chatline sex ads, to a comedic take on dated video art.
Bag is the queen of pop metamorphosis, a mantle she may steal from Cindy Sherman. Like Sherman, she has used herself as a medium, twisting the process of performance to suit her sense of satire. In her films she personifies a cast of over-the-top characters, advertising clichés and Hollywood divas. The whole of audio-visual archive culture is hers to be reused and reworked. She highlights the ideological mechanisms that we suck up unawares. Her work is an ode to trash TV and its melting, ever-changing sense of meaning and identity. “Shapeshifting is a hobby that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone with a fractured psyche,” Bag says. “It’s a relatively healthy outlet to drain perpetual pain, disappointment and yearning into.”
Apart from Bag’s deft performances and transformations, what makes “Fall ’95” so enjoyable to watch is how it highlights the stupidity, hypocrisy and motivations of the art world itself. It’s a vein that has run throughout her practice. Art is a source of humour in “Fancy Pantz” (1997), depicting a terrible art dance troupe, and 2001’s “The Van”. In the latter, three artists (all played by Bag herself) are filmed in the back of a van, talking about their work on the way to an art fair. Each describe their work, all perfect contemporary artwork clichés. The gallerist “Leroy Laloup” is equally as risible, exclaiming, “I’m the best, my gallery is the best and you girls, you’re the best! You’re like the coolest, sexiest, hippest pieces of art known to man.”
What’s interesting about examining the structures in the art world itself? “What’s that tattoo on Angelina Jolie’s stomach?” Bag wonders. “‘Destroy what you love’ or ‘Eat what you love’ or ‘Eat what you destroy’? Whatever it says, that’s my answer.” (In fact, it’s “Quod me nutrit me destruit”; “What nourishes me, also destroys me.”)
There is a sense of disillusionment or disintegration in much of Bag’s work. Her characters are often moaning about their lot, their creative failure, their disappointments with life. She reveals the flipside of the superficial character of TV culture and the upbeat, positivist rhetoric of America, and her work illuminates the darker side of contemporary capitalism. The character in “Fall ’95” moves from youthful teenage rebellion to utter disappointment for a creative future. “‘Failure is an option!’ My high school football coach used to scream that at us before every game and I guess it sort of stuck.”
“Untitled (Project for the Whitney Museum)” is another perfect case of the disillusionment of TV culture and the inner life. The film was commissioned in 2009 for the Whitney Museum’s foyer. Bag is the clinically depressed star of a Seventies-style variety children’s TV programme, talking to her puppet dragon sidekick while apocalyptic psychedelic visuals play on the screen behind her. In the 1970s Bag’s mother hosted children’s shows including The Patchwork family and The Carol Corbett Show; the artist even featured as a child on screen.
Not surprisingly, there are autobiographical references in her work, though it could appear she hides herself behind the cast of characters in her films. “You can run, but you can’t hide from autobiography. It’s this malignant, festering, oozing thing that will not die no matter how many times you burn or stab it. Obviously some people I’ve been are closer to ‘me’ or my demographic equivalent, but I’ve also tried to move far, far away, to leave my troubles behind as it were. No matter where you go, there you are. Most clichés are true, especially when you’re hallucinating.”
Bag is an incredibly entertaining comic writer – something innately part of her approach. As she points out, “when depression and anxiety have been clinically diagnosed, throw away those psych-meds, slap on a clown nose and smile smile smile.” Her typewritten stream-of-consciousness texts are spread throughout the monograph published last year by JRP Ringier to accompany her retrospective at the Migros Museum. Bag describes the process in typically poetic terms: “My writing process usually begins with a quick trip to the Amazon, where I gather the leaves of certain plants and the bark of certain trees. I grind them into a sort of poultice, which I spread on rye toast and devour. Next I place some heavy stones on my eyes and wait. Sooner or later my ancestors and a few obscure saints come swirling into focus, ranting and raving, at which point I rush to the nearest typewriter and start translating.”
Despite the power of her performative skills, Bag largely works on her own. “I have horrible, crippling stage fright. I don’t mind performing, I can even force myself to enjoy it, it’s being watched that ruins everything. Over time I’ve devised certain ways to avoid this conundrum. Being alone is best, but I’ve found a few relatives and friends that I’m not afraid to play with.” There is a sense of intimacy that emerges between Bag and the camera, which she often addresses directly. “When the fourth wall is smashed to bits and the lady looks you right in the eye, then you know it’s TV you’re watching.” That intimacy is also revealed in the sound elements of her work. In “Untitled Fall ’95”, for example, accompanying the speech is the constant sound traffic passing in streets near by. “Before ‘reality TV’ there was something much closer to reality. Something much noisier.”
Bag has exhibited a large number of mediums alongside her films – drawings, sculptures, collages, photographs, and small TV-based video snippets made from found bootleg footage. Yet this ephemera seems to support and become overpowered by her film pieces. In her films the mechanisms of capitalism are stripped bare. “The funniest part is when all the recent art school graduates become disillusioned and bitter and rush en masse to the nearest advertising agency recruitment center to sign up. It’s hilarious when they use all their art school knowhow to sell crap to their generation. It’s so clever when they re-invent clever,” she notes, tongue firmly in cheek. In the film 2004 “Coven Services for Consumer Mesmerism, Product Sorcery, and the Necromantic Reimagination of Consumption” Bag created fictional adverts for brands such as Chase Bank, Monsanto and AOL Time Warner by her gothic witchy agency. A critique of the mesmeric nature of the global PR machine is implicit in the title alone.
This month Team Gallery in New York is bringing together Alex Bag’s first artworks – a public broadcast TV series she created in collaboration with Art Club 2000 member Patterson Beckwith between 1994 and 1997. “Cash from Chaos/Unicorns and Rainbows” was a weekly 30-minute TV show the duo created in the days when public TV channels would enable general audiences to broadcast their 15 minutes of fame. It established the approaches in her work – Bag’s absorption by the medium she comments on. “Actually hijacking a regular time slot on a real TV gave us the greatest sense of joy and accomplishment. Being in our early twenties didn’t hurt either,” she recalls.
Although the materials she was using at the start of her career were contemporary, they have quickly become retro and historic: lo-fi grain of VHS, the DIY framing and texture. “Is VHS retro? I’m so old I remember when it was new. That ‘grain’ is the voice of the disenfranchised, or used to be before everything went hi-def and dumb.” Her work exploits and highlights ideas around the audience’s short attention span – something that started with TV and is only increasing in the post-internet era. “The faster time marches forward, the more compelled I am to retreat backward. I have this anxiety about history. I keep feeling like I’m forgetting something or I didn’t know it to begin with.” Here retro imagery and approach is a very sordid security blanket in the wave of so-called progress.
The Helmut Newton Foundation, Berlin, is holding a new exhibition dedicated to Newton’s first three legendary publications: White Women (1976) Sleepless Nights (1978) and Big Nudes (1981). These photographs, oscillating between fashion and nude photography, were never displayed together. Explored side-by-side, these photographs mark three milestones in Helmut Newton’s career and trace its unmistakeable effect on the worlds of fashion and photography.
His first book, White Women, was published when Newton was already 56 years old, in 1976. The book received the Kodak Photobook Award shortly thereafter and was reprinted numerous times since. In this collection, Newton used nudity within the visual world of fashion – an unusual take that both astonished and provoked the fashion world but, above all, revolutionized fashion photography. Newton’s photographs both reflect and comment on the transformation of the role of women in western society at the time. But most characteristically, Newton turns the viewers into voyeurs.
The book Sleepless Nights brought together photographs previously published in various magazines. Here, for the first time, Newton started working with a visual language that would later become iconic to him: female models in orthopaedic body braces or wearing leather saddles by Hermès, and the so-called “dummies” – mannequins shown in amorous situations with a person. Indeed, fashion often seemed to serve as an excuse for Newton to realise something different and very individual.
But it was with his third publication Big Nudes that Newton had secured his status in the world of photography. Soon after their creation the monumental pictures were shown in various museums; with his Big Nudes and the subsequent life-sized images from his Naked and Dressed series, Newton had opened up a new dimension of the photographic human image.
Believe it or not, Ellsworth Kelly’s current show at Galerie Marian Goodman is the first show in Paris in twenty years. The last one, held in 1992 at the Musée du Jeu de Paume, was devised as a retrospective of the American artist’s years spent in the city between 1948 and 1954. In a more suggestive manner, the current exhibition also pays homage to Kelly’s Parisian days; it highlights the life-altering revelations and experiments he faced during that period, which marked the birth of his lifelong, multifaceted career.
The show consists of four paintings, each composed of two super-imposed panels. A white rectangular canvas is topped with an elliptical, coloured one in red, yellow, blue and green (a shade which, anecdotally, Piet Mondrian hated because it reminded him of nature). Lit using natural daylight only, the white layer seems to melt into the wall, giving a pop-out, 3D effect to the tinted curve.
The white segment acts as display stand, putting emphasis on the top curve and colour; the bareness of both canvases suggests the piece is a pared-down presentation of a timeless shape rather than an intimate interpretation – this trademark choice of anonymity is enhanced by the lack of signature or personalization.
A similar technique was first seen in his ‘Red, Yellow, Blue’ (1963), where the focus was placed on the piece’s presence rather than its individual features. “The square panels present colour. It was made to exist forever in the presence and can be repeated anytime in the future.” Kelly said of the piece.
As so often in Ellsworth Kelly’s work, the current show seems to cite his first ever abstract piece, ‘Window, Museum of Art’ (1949), which was inspired by a window of Paris’ Musée d’Art Moderne. The geometrical, double-panel piece marked the end of his figurative work, and the beginning of an endless questioning of the sculptural potential of a painting, and its relation to the wall it is displayed on.
These are not the only traces of his early Paris days – his first curves too were French-born. They were first seen in his 1949 ‘Kilometer Marker’, and ‘Relief with Blue’ – the latter originated from a sketch of Theatre Marigny’s curtains when held open. Over the years these never ceased to reinterpret the shape of leaves, arches and the human body.
Today, although his work has seen a glorious career worldwide, his desire for ‘Liberté’ remains – he eludes restrictive labels, as well as restrictions in space, colour and form. This might be the most lasting effect of his Paris days.
Last week The National Portrait Gallery’s touring exhibition, The Queen: Art and Image, arrived in London. In her Diamond Jubilee year, this timely and extensive portrayal of the monarch allows visitors to opine over her in a way unlike before. Walking through the exhibition, one traverses the decades demonstrating the startling shift in public perception and values during a reign that has engaged the attention of millions. The contrast of a Warhol with an Annigoni, the proper with the conceptual (and testing), and new versus old no doubt leaves a lasting impression.
As exhibition curator, Paul Moorhouse, nicely puts it, “the exhibition is not political, and it is also neither overtly celebratory nor obviously critical. It is essentially about art and image-making.” Sleek’s Q&A with Moorhouse touches on the change of such a scrutinized public image and the things we know now that we didn’t know before.
Sleek: To celebrate the 60 years of her reign The Queen: Art and Image incorporates an extensive range of artists. In your opinion what does the work on show say about the changing perceptions of royalty over time? Paul Moorhouse: The Queen: Art and Image includes formal commissioned portraits, studio photographs and revealing press snapshots as well as unconventional works of art by contemporary artists. All the images in the exhibition form a lens through which to view radical artistic, political and social changes. The visual language of the imagery reflects these changes, moving from the deference of the 1950s, the more down-to-earth portraits of the egalitarian 1960s, and the iconoclasm of Jamie Read’s Sex Pistols portrait of the Queen in the disaffected 1970s, to recent images that present a more ‘approachable’ monarch in times that are, socially, more informal and relaxed.
The exhibition has been touring since June last year, how have the responses been so far? Have you received any feedback that you weren’t expecting? In Belfast, a taxi-driver told me that half the population would like the exhibition, the other half would not. But this is not the way it turned out. In Belfast, as in Cardiff and Edinburgh, people were fascinated and surprised. The exhibition is not political, and it is also neither overtly celebratory nor obviously critical. It is essentially about art and image-making – and that is a universal theme that cuts across different geographical areas, both within the UK and internationally.
Thanks to the exhibition’s extensive display of work, what unique insight do we get of the Queen and her character that is unlike previous exhibitions? The formal and the unofficial are interwoven in this exhibition. As a result, the tension between the public face and the private person is implied. I began thinking about the selection three years ago. At the outset, there was some expectation that I would assemble a fairly conventional group of royal portraits – of which there are many in existence – but I felt strongly that such an approach was neither truthful nor desirable. In addition to formal portraiture, the idea we have of the Queen has been shaped by images that have occurred without formal approval.
In your opinion, how do perceptions of the Queen differ between today’s generations, young and old? Consequently, when visiting the exhibition what do you think these different audiences will take away with them from their visit? The exhibition is not a straightforward celebration. It approaches its subject critically, exploring the way the Queen’s image has evolved and what it means. As such, it speaks to supporters of monarchy, but also has something to offer those who are more interested in contemporary art and the nature of representation. Sustaining that balance for different audiences young and older has been a big challenge but has also been very exciting.
The short movie “A Therapy” by Roman Polanski premiered at the 2012 Cannes International Film Festival in the Official Selection – Classics Section, with a surprise screening. The screening was Polanski’s idea together with Festival Director Thierry Fremont, and was shown right before the scheduled projection of the restored movie “Tess”.
Regarding the collaboration with Prada, Polanski said he was initially concerned about maintaining artistic freedom – a concern that soon proved unjustified. “When I was asked to shoot a short movie for Prada, I did not think that I could really be myself, but the reality is that in the total freedom I was given, I had the opportunity to reunite my favorite group of people on set and just have fun.”
He also clearly enjoyed exploring the realm of high-end fashion and the stereotypes that go along with it. “The chance to dwell on what the fashion world represents nowadays and the fact that it is accompanied by so many stereotypes is fascinating and at the same time a bit upsetting, but you definitely can not ignore it. It’s very refreshing to know that there are still places open to irony and wit and, for sure, Prada is one of them.”
Larry Clark is a photographer/film maker who has fine-tuned the ability to influence an entire generation of young photographers, while at the same time pissing off a whole lot of other people in the photographic/film community.
Focusing on the youth in subcultures (mainly skateboarding, surfing and punk), drug use, adolescent sex and violence, Clark adopts the tactic of completely submerging himself in the culture and friendship groups he is capturing, rather than taking the voyeur’s approach and looking in from a safe distance.
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1943, Clark would use his hometown, along with his own drug addiction and his amphetamine addicted, promiscuous subjects to produce one of the most talked about and shocking photographic books of all time, Tulsa, 1971. The book gained worldwide acclaim and would light the way for Clark’s photographic career surrounding the representation of youth, with Clark’s cinematic debut, Kids, 1995, thrusting Clark once again into the spotlight of controversy.
From May 26th to August 12, 2012, C/O Berlin will present, for the first time in Germany, approximately 200 works of Clark’s, including the series “Teenage Lust“ and “Los Angeles“, along with additional videos and unpublished collages.
Ball gowns: British Glamour since 1950, the first exhibition held in the V&A’s newly renovated fashion galleries, demonstrates the influence of British Couture on such sumptuous dress, and documents the garment’s evolution over time. Designs made for debutante balls to royal state occasions are displayed downstairs thanks to 30 pieces from the museum’s permanent collection while the mezzanine level features dresses fresh from the catwalk shows of Alexander McQueen, Giles, Erdem and more. As one make their way from through such a lavish display of Haute Couture, suffice to say the V&A’s latest endeavor leaves visitors feeling like the Belle (or Beau) of the ball. Sleek spoke with Sonnet Stanfill, the museum’s curator of 20th century and contemporary fashion, to find out more.
Sleek: Why was this particular exhibition chosen as the first to be shown in the V&A’s newly renovated fashion galleries? Stanfill: It comes back to the Olympic year and the Queen’s jubilee. At the V&A it’s been all about British design. We’ve got the British Design show on at the moment celebrating a variety of objects and materials and so we thought it would compliment that show very nicely to have an exhibition about tour de force evening wear designed by British designers.
The space has been designed so that the ground floor’s mise-en-scene is in preparation for a ball, while the mezzanine level is the stylized ballroom. Is there a particular reason why the V&A’s permanent collection was displayed alongside the former, while today’s contemporary designers have mainly been housed upstairs? Part of it was practical, in the sense that we tend not to put the permanent collection on open display and also in addition we really wanted to highlight the talent of young contemporary makers in a very dramatic way. The V&A has been so adept over the years in acting as a source of inspiration for designers – that was one of the founding principles of the V&A, to be a source of study and inspiration for young makers. In the exhibition, even though there are 30 dresses upstairs and 30 dresses downstairs, the upstairs represents only the last five collections while the downstairs represents about fifty years. The result illustrates just how much we want to emphasise young talent such as Christopher Kane and Gareth Pugh.
Why was the 1950s chosen as the starting point for the exhibition? Even from the 1950s to today it’s quite a long time span when you only have 60 outfits to work with, as well as the limits of space dictating that we had to have quite a focused show. It also corresponds roughly to the reign of the Queen and so in this jubilee year it was quite an obvious time span to look at.
When asked about the close affinity between Ball and Brit, David Sassoon, the man who dressed Miss Hepburn in the 50s, noted that ‘Britain has a tradition for Ball gowns simply because we have a Royal family.’ In light of such history, the latest collection of work, including the three ensembles from Sassoon himself, successfully cements the relationship between the glamorous Ball gown and British designer. No doubt the Ball gown continues to remain the ultimate fashion accessory in a woman’s wardrobe.
Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 19 May 2012 – 6 January 2013 V&A, London
When you’re John Baldessari, you can get Tom Waits to narrate your life. This film was commissioned by LACMA for their first annual “Art + Film Gala” honouring John Baldessari and another one of Sleek’s heroes, Clint Eastwood. Directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman baldessari.org
Made in Germany Zwei is a major survey of works by local and international young artists living in Germany. The ambitious exhibition takes place for the second time this year, to coincide with Kassel’s Documenta. Spread across three institutions in the city of Hannover, the show’s roster spans some 50 artists under 40, as varied in styles as, say, Klara Lidén, Alexandra Bircken and AIDS 3D, to explores the major themes that preoccupy the young art scene coming out of Germany today.
MADE IN GERMANY ZWEI May 17 until August 19, 2012 Exhibition opening May 16, 2012, 5 pm Sprengel Museum Hannover
Operating loudly and reflexively, this provocatively-named collective make statement installations, performances and interventions sourced from the dark recesses of consumer culture under the “Kimberly Clark” moniker. But who is the titular Kimberly – a porn star? A hygiene company? In fact, the name comes from when two of the collective’s three members, Dutch-born Iris van Dongen and Ellemieke Schoenmaker, were teenagers. Should they be apprehended while travelling on public transport without paying, Schoenmaker’s alias would be “Kimberly Clark” (when sleek’s portrait was taken, the latter was away in her Rotterdam hometown).
Hijacking the popular vernacular that has been a continuous theme in their attention-grabbing practice. Iris and third member Eveline van de Griend are both artists whose independent work utilises slower techniques – intricate painting and drawing – while working as Kimberly Clark they “felt it was necessary to do something opposite, or different, to keep the blood running.” So far the collective have been responsible for bombastic projects including making a three-dimensional portrait of a woman sitting on a Louis Vuitton bag and holding up her hand for small change, a frenetic and hedonistic video entitled “Crusade Rotterdam”, and a performance where they walked around a shopping arcade dressed as a beheaded woman, as if wearing a high-end Halloween costume.
Though the pieces could be read as scathing critiques on the fashion industry and frivolous consumer culture, Iris explains that they are not interested in moralising, but instead injecting humour and distance. Kimberly Clark, she adds, is more “a reflection than a criticism”. But what a reflection…
Phones with endless playlists and featherweight laptops now allow anyone to carry their entire album collection with them at all times and burst out in spontaneous dance offs, but the madness is about to get a whole lot more professional! Made in Berlin, the Pokket Mixer is an attractive little gadget that can turn amateur players into DIY DJs. Weighing only 130g, the pocket size mixer comes with inputs for two music sources, allowing you to mix, crossfade and equalize with a simple turn of the dial. Best thing is, no power source is needed. Just plug in to a laptop or MP3 player, connect to the speakers and you are ready to party. 5 lucky Sleek readers can win a Pokket Mixer by emailing email@example.com.