08 January 2006


Impart Art - Daily hasn't exactly been daily ever since the end of November. Sorry and all that, but since that isn't likely to change any time soon, and I have a thesis to complete before the first of April, and a host of other things, you'll have to make due with the archives for now.


07 January 2006

Sugar Art

Vic Muniz is an artist that I hadn’t heard of until recently, but I am very glad I did hear of him. That’s why I’m passing on some information about him. His art is in the category that I’ll define as “really neat”. His work explores different mediums and plays on issues of positive and negative space. Here’s a great example.

You are looking at an image of a youngster Muniz and his wife met on vacation in St. Kitts. He took pictures of the kids he met there, children whose parents worked on sugar plantations. This girls was among them. Back in New York, Muniz started thinking about the kids and the sugar plantation that was their most likely future. As a tribute to the kids, the back-breaking work their parents had to do to survive, and I suppose, as an acknowledgement of the future that these kids could expect, Muniz made portraits of them. It seems to me that any and each of these reasons are correct readings of these images.

To make the image Muniz put white sugar on black paper and pushed the grains around until the faces of the children he met on vacation emerged. I think the process is inventive. Displaying it was a problem though. Gravity and all that. So, he photographed his sugar-on-paper arrangements. I like that photography allowed him to make these fragile compositions permanent and presentable.

06 January 2006

Art in my Neighborhood

Knowing about art and not much else really makes the world look like a different place. Take this picture as an example. It's what I see outside my living room windows.

For those of you with nice views of greenery, seaside, forest, mountainous landscape, or other beauteous vistas, you'll probably think this is downright ugly, cityish, crowded, etc. Maybe some of you will think, "Wow. Satellite TV in Beirut". Others of you will wonder if I live in a dangerous part of town what with all the bars on the windows. Still others might be interested in the apparent bullet holes in the building on the left, or the general boringness of the very rectilinear architecture.

Want to know what I see when I look out the window?

I see modern sculpture.

Maybe if an architect or someone with greater understanding of construction technology looked at this they would know what it was for. I, without that specialization, look at it and am pretty sure it is 'useless'. Decorative. Embellishment. Art.

It actually reminds me of this, a sculpture from the mid-1960s by Donald Judd. He did loads of these in lots of different sizes and colors. I like the repetition of them, the uniformity of the pieces. That a unified whole is made of very separable parts.

Much as I like Judd's sculptures, I find his art theory stifling and aggravating. He was one of those Modern purists, all about forms becoming increasingly streamlined as though that was the true, eternal, uncompromisable destiny of art.

So, although I disagree with why Judd made sculptures like this one, I never the less like the outcome. I like it the way I like certain clothes or junk TV. It looks nice. It looks right. I rather like seeing a "homage to Donald Judd" right outside my window. There are lots of other artists who made art to represent the way they thought art should be made, and sometimes I like their art too. But usually, I don't like their art theory.

05 January 2006

My take: Art and Celebrity

This is the cover of John A. Walker’s Art and Celebrity, which I really expected to be a worthwhile book. Amazon’s description of the book includes the following:

The uneasy crossover between art and celebrity has been much discussed in recent years. Artists as celebrities is hardly a new phenomenon, but the growing cult of celebrity in contemporary culture is throwing up paradoxical ideas about the contradictions between "high" art and mass appeal and blurring the already unstable boundaries between art, commodity and popular culture.

This is a lively and accessible study of . . . the glitzy world where art and celebrity meet -- informed by a fundamentally serious look at what happens when the "serious" world of art collides with celebrity.

Even as I reread the description, I am struck with the desire to read what they have described, but Walker’s book isn’t that. Instead of a study of the phenomenon and its various incarnations and its problematic implications for artists, art, and the rest of us, Walker’s book is the precursor to such a study. The book contains an introduction, five chapters and a conclusion. Each chapter has a brief setting-of-the-stage and then artists, celebrities, and others are given their own little sub-heading followed by a description of what they did to merit inclusion in Walker’s book. In other words, the book is a series of loosely connected case studies. It lacks cohesive analysis and depth.

Anyway, my take on the book is that it is more fluff than substance, and definitely more celebrity than art.

02 January 2006

Seen in Beirut, finally

I’ve lived in Beirut for over a year, and this last week I went to two easily accessible places that I’d been meaning to get to ever since we arrived. If you’d like an alphabetized and annotated list of why I didn’t manage it I can provide it. I keep a diary. I know exactly what I was doing instead.

1. Goethe Institute. Yes, Beirut has one. No, it hasn’t been closed due to the situation. I spoke German with another German speaker for the first time in over 9 months. Makes a difference, folks. I can feel myself getting happier even though it made me a bit nervous. Because I learned German in school for so many years I still feel like I’m passing or failing with every incorrect article that escapes my lips. Anyway, they have a library, a kindergarten, a playground, and best of all, *real* Germans.

2. National Museum of Beirut. I’m not sure why a national museum is of a city. Shouldn’t it be the National Museum of Lebanon? Despite this conundrum, I had a wonderful time. Can you believe that an old art-fart lime me lived within an easy one mile walk of the place for over a year and didn’t bother to go? I really have nothing but praise for the museum. There were several helpful videos that reminded me of many a thing from my undergrad studies of ancient-through-roman art, and the layout of the exhibit successfully leads the visitor through the phases of Lebanon’s distant past. One of the most interesting things though, was that as you enter the exhibition space you see a photograph of this at the Louvre, an image of the transportation of Lebanon’s cedars. At first I though that the curator must have a chip on his/her shoulder over all the artifacts that Europeans excavated and hauled off. Then I kept reading. It originated in Iraq, not Lebanon, so surely the reproduction was not there as some sort of testimony against the plundering imperialists. Anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a museum exhibit a reproduction of something some other museum has, but the more I thought about it, the more I really liked the idea. I'd love to see an exhibit completely empty except for photos of missing pieces and those little white cards telling where the real thing is. I’d love to see Egypt do an exhibition of all their now-scattered obelisks. It could be like that. Or Greece could do an exhibit of the full Acropolis statuary even though most of the good ones are tucked away in the museums of western Europe. Forget loaning out the originals and touring exhibitions. The exhibit would necessarily take on a different tone and purpose, but I like it.

01 January 2006

When was Art?

Becuase I am an idiot, I have been trying in vain to publish this post since the 29th.

Here’s a little exercise. Think for a short, short moment about your own idea of art; what it has to be/do/not be/not do. Keep it as short as you possibly can. Not a visual artist/art historian? No problem. Think instead about your idea of what freedom or justice means. Got an idea? It will probably do.

So, now think for a moment about art history (or if you had to revert to freedom, just think about history). How far back can you go before your idea of art no longer fits? For example, most people these days are happy to acknowledge photography as valid, canonized, high art. Not so 50 years ago. Another example? Greek vases. Is it only art if it was created to be art? I am sure that when the Greeks were decorating their vases they had no more artistic feeling than do these folks making these things. But don’t tell the Louvre, or the Italians.

Two important scholars form the backbone of what I have to say today. Hans Belting who wrote about image-creating before there was a thing called art, and Arthur Danto, who wrote about the end of art, which he argues took place back in the mid-1960s. It is a bit strange to think of art having started and stopped, but really, art was more like a craft or trade before the Renaissance. I don’t know if it is true that art has ended, but Danto sure makes sense when he argues for it.

Anyway, the purpose of the foregoing exercise is to emphasize that our current notion of many things (art and freedom are merely convenient examples) has very little in common with what our grandparents would say about those subjects. That in turn has little in common with what their own grandparents would say and so on throughout time. These ever evolving definitions are one reason that I have a series devoted to the problematic nature of art history. But it isn’t just an art history or a history problem. It is a problem for all of contemporary society and contemporary art. Art (freedom too) can't be everything to everyone becuase it never has been that.