“To every time its Art. To Art its Freedom.” These are the words that adorn the Secession Building in Vienna Austria. Built in 1898 by Architect Joseph Olbrich, this gallery was to become one of the very first ‘White Cubes’. What we now see as commonplace was a radical idea at the time. Strip the room bare of all other distractions and let the Art take center stage. The building was to act as the main exhibition space for the newly formed Secessionist group led by Gustav Klimt. The Secessionists were rejecting the art establishment of the time and wanted to forge new paths that bridged many of the different arts together to create an artistic synergy. Influenced by the Jungendstil and Art Nouveau movements along with Japanese art that was proliferating Europe at the end of the 19th century, the Secession movement wanted to combine fine and decorative arts and work with architects and practitioners of other disciplines.
A perfect example of this was in 1902 the Secessionists held an exhibition to celebrate the life and work of Beethoven. The show was centered around a sculpture of the composer by Max Klinger and was to act as a unification of the Arts showcasing sculpture, painting, architecture and music. The exhibition was to be ‘a total piece of Art’ or also known as Gesamtkunstwerk.
The totality of it’s intention is no longer intact but the highlight of the exhibition: Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze remains. Moved from it’s original place to the basement it’s a miracle it’s still around. The painting was originally meant to be temporary, only supposedly lasting as long as the original exhibition, along with the building being stripped bare during WWII make it’s presence so special.
I got to tic another box off my art to-do list this summer. It was my second time in Vienna and it was just as wonderful as I remembered. The Belvedere Museum may have the Kiss (another must see) but The Secession Building and its splendid basement also deserves your attention and affection.
When it comes to public art you would be hard pressed to beat Bernini’s masterpiece The Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome’s Piazza Navona…….well maybe the Trevi Fountain in the same city. Public art or art in public spaces is freed from the confines of the gallery and adorns our cities like jewels in a crown or at the very least gigantic garden gnomes decorating our financial and cultural institutions. As I am in the middle of planning our next escape I was going through some old photos and came up with a theme. Here are a few examples taken from some our travels over the years.
Washington Brushstroke Roy Lichtenstein
If you ever find yourself in Washington and are looking for a place to eat, I highly recommend the food-court at the National Museum of the American Indian (unfortunate name but really good food).
Between the architecture and all the public art in Chicago you don’t even have to step foot inside an art gallery to see some of the biggest names in Art History. I would say, right up there with Bernini’s fountain would have to be Anish Kapoor’s Cloudgate referred to as ‘the Bean’ by locals. I’ve never seen an artwork have such universal appeal. Both young and old are drawn to it. The minute you see it you automatically start walking towards it. It is like a magnet.
Not all public art has it easy. Cleveland’s Thinker had a bomb placed under it. Read more here Slashed, Smashed and Blowed up: Blowed up Real Good. There’s tons more I didn’t include, but I recommend the next time you’re out and about take a look around you might be surprised what you encounter.
This hot hazy summer brought us a spoil of riches. We were treated to two superb pop culture phenomenons that tweaked our childhood nostalgia.(warning spoilers) I don’t want to give too much away, but in order to compare these two seemingly unrelated media artifacts I will have to explore a few details. In both offerings the adults take a back seat and the kids fuel the adventure, but talk about your cursed children! (Oh Barb, we barely new you.)
Both The Cursed Child and Stranger Things play heavily into our collective consciousness. We associate these things with mostly fond memories of our youth. Reading the many reviews of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child I began to see a pattern. People were just as excited to write about the ritual and anticipation of waiting and acquiring a new J.K. Rowling offering than talking about the play itself. With myself I found the expectation to be both very high and low at the same time. I really wanted to be back in that world again, because when you’re there, it is totally immersive. I also went into it with the knowledge that this wasn’t a complete novel but a snapshot (co-written by J.K.) in the form of a play and that ultimately the best way to experience the story would be to see it performed live. Like most of the readers who picked up the play, it didn’t take long to reach the end. So how did it fare?
Revisiting these characters, I was a little worried that my ideal impression of them would be tarnished. How would they be portrayed? They even played with this idea by presenting different versions of each character that exist in alternative realities. I was delighted that in no matter what reality Ron and Hermione had feelings for one another, but Happily Ever After is not a real thing, even Han and Leia broke up over a problem child. J.K. embraces real life, (hog)-warts and all and the Cursed Child explores many of the pitfalls life has to offer.
Daddy issues play heavily into the Cursed Child affecting many characters especially Harry and his role as a parent. He has no compass to navigate these waters, having lost his real father as a child and then his two surrogates (Sirius and Dumbledore) in his teens. We as readers take on the parenting role in a diminished fashion; watching these characters (we see in some way as our own) behave in ways we can’t control. The Cursed Child can elude to a multiple of characters in the play, along with the expectation we place on this story. How can it not be cursed? Cursed but not without magic.
Speaking of cursed magical children, Eleven has a tough go of it, along with her own personal Daddy Issues amped up to well…. 11. Stranger Things came out of nowhere. It hit the perfect 80’s sci-fi sweet-spot we didn’t know we were craving. It wore all it’s influences on its sleeve and did it with unwavering homage and unquestionable affection. As a child of the eighties I was in heaven; from the soundtrack to the wardrobe to the details I was transported back to my youth. A time when your bike was your lifeline to the world because there was no such thing as a cellphone. Our heroes have to use walkie-talkies to communicate to one another.
The reviews are in and Stranger Things has become a bonafide hit. Word of mouth is loud and non stop. As quickly as we read The Cursed Child we binged all 8 episodes. Stranger Things had an advantage over Harry Potter and the Cursed Child being that it had no preconceived expectations or canon to be accountable to. It however firmly placed itself in some pretty big shoes. The parallels between early Steven Spielberg and early Stephen King are unmissable. To bring a tale of two Stevens and do it well is a rare occurrence.
Both the Cursed Child and Stranger Things use nostalgia as their hook but it’s the characters and the story that distinguish them as great. I was initially worried about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child but was left with a sense of satisfaction and closure. Now the big thing that worries me: can Stranger Things season 2 deliver on our new high expectations?
Walking through the Chihuly exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum I was filled with mixed emotions. I wanted to be filled with awe and wonder, I wanted to get lost in the world of an internationally known glass artist who has shown at the Met, around the globe and now the ROM, but in the end I was completely underwhelmed. I concede this is an extremely unpopular opinion and that the majority of people who encounter this exhibition will leave transported, I’m just not one of them. This is on me. The last thing I want to do is dissuade anyone from going to see it, in fact I do the opposite – please go and see for your yourself. I compel you to go and describe what you witness. I think the best way to approach this experience is trying to find the right words to describe it. This is a challenge for all the writers out there, whether you love it or you hate it please put it into words. I’ll start (extreme snark version).
Chihuly’s work is unabashedly decorative, it’s aesthetic hyperbole run amuck. It’s the gift shop in a casino. It’s Christmas ornaments on steroids. Not that olde (old with an e) timey Bavarian market Christmas, but the hell bent for tinsel aluminium tree 70’s Christmas minus your fun drunk uncle in a turtleneck. It reminded me of over-sized versions of potpourri you’d likely find in Donald Trump’s guest bathroom. Ok, ok I went too far.
Dale Chihuly is batting for the fences and you have to applaud him for that. He is trying to create a unique vision with no other intent but to dazzle the eye. He succeeds time and time again but the end result for me becomes too bombastic. The more time I spent with the work the less engaged I became, most people I’m sure will have the opposite effect.
My favourite part of the exhibit was near the end, with the inclusion of some patterned indigenous blankets from the artist’s personal collection.I would go see an entire exhibit of those in a heartbeat. In the end I’m glad I saw it, and I apologize for the snark. If an artist’s biggest crime is trying to create something uniquely beautiful than what exactly am I complaining about again? Go see Chihuly at the ROM and see for yourself.
Chihuly June 25 – Jan 2
I was unfamiliar with the work of Hurvin Anderson before I made my way up to the 5th floor of the AGO’s contemporary section. I was immediately struck by the similarities to a painter I greatly admire: Peter Doig. It then came as no surprise that Anderson was actually a student of Doig’s back in his native country of England during the 90’s.
Backdrop which was first shown at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis consists of a collection of drawings, sculptures and photographs but it was the paintings I was most excited about. Anderson’s approach combines loose flourishes with flat passages that evoke both energy and control. His subject matter ranges from the Jamaican/Trinidad countryside to residential attic barbershops to the filtering of experience through barriers, fences and pattern.
Anderson’s paintings allude to the vulnerability of the sitter in a barber chair. There is an unspoken conception of trust and renewal. His barbershop patrons floating on flat backgrounds reminded me of another British painter: Francis Bacon.
Painting is alive and well at the Art Gallery of Ontario and Hurvin Anderson makes the case loud and clear.
May 19 – August 21
Growing up with an Italian Grandmother; the idea of portion control is a completely foreign concept to me. So when the tastefully arranged modest fillet of perch on a bed of zucchini was placed in front of me I had to remind myself I wasn’t in my Nan’s kitchen anymore. We were in fact dining @ Frank: the fine dining experience located at The Art Gallery of Ontario as part of Summerlicious. But the main reason we were at the AGO, was to see The Idea of North: the Paintings of Lawren Harris .
The work of the Group of Seven and Lawren Harris is as ingrained into the Canadian fabric as road hockey or the first snow fall. It’s part of who we are, and the idea that no one outside of our little hamlet (9.985 million km2 – little) has any clue to their power and brilliance seems unfathomable. But what is so familiar to us is all shock of the new to our neighbours to the south and destinations further abroad. This is a very appealing prospect: what’s old is new again and what’s oversight is getting its due. This is at the core of this exhibition and one of the main motivators for its curator Steve Martin to get involved. He believed our national artist should be recognized internationally.
Martin is no stranger to the art world; he has been an avid collector for decades and has amassed an impressive personal collection. It was this collection that was the impetus for this exhibition. The story goes- the curator for the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles ‘discovered’ a small landscape at one of Martin’s dinner parties. She inquired who the artist was and when he proclaimed Lawren Harris, she replied “who”? A few trips to Canada later and she was hooked and the only one she wanted to helm a Harris exhibition was ‘one wild and crazy guy’. His initial response was he would have to be crazy to take on something like this, but the need to give Lawren his due quickly erased any fears.
The Idea of North is a two part exhibition that focuses on two aspects of Harris’s career: his early Ward paintings of Toronto’s immigrant housing projects from the early 20th century and his momentous northern landscapes from the twenties and thirties. (There is also a small abstract near the end that ties Harris’ work to the city of Toronto but I’m going to focus on the other two aspects.) The Ward paintings do a nice job of highlighting Harris’ mastery of paint and colour but fall short of illustrating the pathos in which I believe they were intended. The effects feel too much like an observer looking in rather than an authentic documentation of immigrant life, but as far as images go they illustrate Harris’ life long pursuit of tapping into the unseen forces of the sublime that are at work behind the paintings. It is this aspect that makes his northern landscapes so powerful. He has focused the landscape to amplify its impact and presence.
Whether you are long time admirer or first time observer The Idea of the North does a wonderful job of showcasing one of our national treasures. There are old friends to revisit and new surprises to discover. I did have to keep reminding myself that this not a retrospective (I love his mountains but his tree paintings are my favourites- saved for another time I guess) but rather a focused introduction, and just like my little perch – less is definitely more.
The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris
July 1- September 18