Topic: Art

Luminous vaporware: Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde’s indoor clouds

Berndnaut Smilde - Nimbus D'Aspremont,

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus D’Aspremont, 2012. Digital C-type Print, 75×110 / 125×184 cm, Kasteel D’Aspremont-Lynden, Rekem, BE. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk

Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde creates strikingly beautiful, fluffy clouds indoors. These luminous, ephemeral ghosts of vapor float through interior spaces for a few fleeting moments before literally vanishing into “thin” air. Smilde has received a lot of press for these works, but he has an extensive body of very interesting work beyond the “cloud projects,” which you can see on his website, which is linked below, along with a number of articles about the cloud works.

Here is a nice video where Smilde discusses his clouds and you can see them in motion:

For more on Smilde and the cloud projects, see:

The cinema and visual poetry of the Lettrists of Lettrism (AKA Lettrisme or Letterism)

Littrist cinema

Stills from Maurice Lemaitre’s Le Film Est Deja Commencé? (1951). Image from Vertigo (see below).

Lettrism (or Lettrisme or Letterism) is a French film and visual poetry movement that enjoyed a brief heyday as the avant-garde du jour in 1950s Paris, and is often associated with the French Revolutionary Student Movement of 1968. Founded by Elvis lookalike  Isidore Isou (born Ioan-Isidor Goldstein, 1925-2007), Lettrism influenced other forms of art and poetry in Europe and Latin America up to the present and likely into the future, even as most Viners and Snapchatters remain unaware of this strange fold in the space-time continuum of art.

From the Wikipedia article on Lettrism:

Lettrism is a French avant-garde movement, established in Paris in the mid-1940s by Romanian immigrant Isidore Isou. In a body of work totaling hundreds of volumes, Isou and the Lettrists have applied their theories to all areas of art and culture, most notably in poetry, film, painting and political theory. The movement has its theoretical roots in Dada and Surrealism. Isou viewed his fellow countryman, Tristan Tzara, as the greatest creator and rightful leader of the Dada movement, and dismissed most of the others as plagiarists and falsifiers. Among the Surrealists, André Breton was a significant influence, but Isou was dissatisfied by what he saw as the stagnation and theoretical bankruptcy of the movement as it stood in the 1940s.

In French, the movement is called Lettrisme, from the French word for letter, arising from the fact that many of their early works centred around letters and other visual or spoken symbols. The Lettristes themselves prefer the spelling ‘Letterism’ for the Anglicised term, and this is the form that is used on those rare occasions when they produce or supervise English translations of their writings: however, ‘Lettrism’ is at least as common in English usage. The term, having been the original name that was first given to the group, has lingered as a blanket term to cover all of their activities, even as many of these have moved away from any connection to letters. But other names have also been introduced, either for the group as a whole or for its activities in specific domains, such as ‘the Isouian movement’, ‘youth uprising’, ‘hypergraphics’, ‘creatics’, ‘infinitesimal art’ and ‘excoördism’.

Vertigo Magazine has an excellent article about Lettrism, The Negation of Cinema: Some Brief Notes on Letterist Cinema 1950 – 1952, by Louis Benassi; here are some excerpts to further elucidate the story of Lettrism: »»»

Today might “only” and always be October 31, 1978

Kawara_On_Oct_31_1978As I stood marveling at this On Kawara painting at the Art Institute of Chicago over the holiday, a young boy and his mother approached the piece. The boy turned quickly to her and said, “it’s only a day,” and I was reminded of an NPR interview with art critic Jerry Saltz that I recently heard. Saltz said in regard to Jackson Pollock’s work, “I just think those paintings put off more energy than went into making them, and that’s one of the definitions of art.” A work that emits more energy than went into making it. I think that’s a wonderful description of what I experienced with the On Kawara painting.

Here is the Wikipedia description of On Kawara’s “Today Series” of date paintings:

Since January 4, 1966, [Kawara] has made a long series of “Date paintings” (the Today series), which consist entirely of the date on which the painting was executed in simple white lettering set against a solid background. The date is always documented in the language and grammatical conventions of the country in which the painting is executed (i.e., “26. ÁG. 1995,” from Reykjavik, Iceland, or “13 JUIN 2006,” from Monte Carlo); Esperanto is used when the first language of a given country does not use the Roman alphabet). The paintings, executed in liquitex [acrylic paint] on canvas, conform to one of eight standard sizes, ranging from 8×10 inches to 61×89 inches, all horizontal in orientation. The dates on the paintings, hand-painted with calculated precision, are always centered on the canvas and painted white, whereas the background colors vary; the paintings from the early years tend to have bold colors, and the more recent ones tend to be darker in tone. For example, Kawara briefly used red for several months in 1967 and then returned to darker hues until 1977. Four coats of paint are carefully applied for the ground and each allowed enough time to dry before being rubbed down in preparation for subsequent coats. Eschewing stencils in favor of hand-drawn characters, Kawara skillfully renders the script, initially a sans-serif, elongated version of Gill Sans, later a quintessentially modernist Futura. Each work is carefully executed by hand. Some days he makes more than one. If Kawara is unable to complete the painting on the day it was started he immediately destroys it. When a Date Painting is not exhibited, it is placed in a cardboard box custom-made for the painting, which is lined with a clipping from a local newspaper from the city in which the artist made the painting. Although the boxes are part of the work, they are rarely exhibited. Each year between 63 and 241 paintings are made.

Each Date Painting is registered in a journal and marked on a One Hundred Years Calendar. When Kawara finishes a painting, he applies a swatch of the paint mixture he used to a small rectangle that is then glued onto a chart in the journal. Under each colour is a number showing the painting’s sequence in that year and a letter indicating its size. The journal therefore records the details of the painting’s size, color and newspaper headline, while the calendar uses colored dots to indicate the days in which a painting was made, and to record the number of days since the artist’s birth. Kawara has now created date paintings in more than 112 cities worldwide in a project that is planned to end only with his death.

See also:

Happy New Year!

Tim Jenison’s Vermeer Machine

Tim Jenison

NPR aired a wonderful feature on Teller’s new documentary of inventor Tim Jenison’s attempt to paint in the manner of 17th century Flemish master Johannes Vermeer. You can hear the entire interview at NPR; here is an excerpt of the interview, Teller Breaks His Silence To Talk ‘Tim’s Vermeer’:

Jenison was inspired by Vermeer’s paintings and by the book Secret Knowledge, in which the contemporary English artist David Hockney theorized that Renaissance painters might have achieved photographic accuracy by employing tools that anticipated photography.

He proposed they may have used the camera obscura, a darkened room with a small aperture that a painter would have sat in as if he were inside a giant pinhole camera — along with lenses, possibly, or more likely concave mirrors.

Jenison brought an inventor’s mind to the task of putting these theories to the test, and Tim’s Vermeer, which explains the project and documents the results, is narrated by Jenison’s friend Penn Gillette, of the magic act Penn and Teller, and directed by the other half of that duo.

Though Penn and Teller’s act usually involves the latter working strictly in silence, Teller took himself off mute to speak with NPR’s Robert Siegel about the film and the method he believes Vermeer used.

“In the 1600s in Holland and that area of Europe, lenses and mirrors were quite popular as things for science hobbyists,” he says.” The telescope had just been invented, so the chances that Vermeer had very good access to all sorts of lenses and mirrors is very high.” »»»

Kilian Jornet: the art of running into the sky

Kilian Jornet - jumping mountain

Kilian Jornet is my new hero. The 25 year old long distance runner, skier, skyrunner, and all around ultra-athlete has been winning the longest races and setting new speed records running up and down mountains all over the world. He’s also a very good writer. I just finished reading his book Run or Die, which has a beautiful comparison of what he does on mountains to art:

A great athlete is one who takes advantage of the ability that genetics have brought him in order to secure great achievements, but an exceptional athlete is one who can swim in the waters of complexity and chaos, making what seems difficult easy, creating order from chaos. Creative individuals search for chaos in order to explore all the places they can imagine beyond the frontiers of consciousness, following the irrational forces that come from within themselves and from their environment.

Perhaps I run because I need to feel creative. I need to know what is inside me and then see it realized somewhere outside me. We can explore our inner selves and know what we are capable of, but perhaps we also need to externalize that and separate it out from our bodies in order to view it as spectators, in order to evaluate it and see the defects so that we can do it again, better. It is a pleasure intrinsic to the creation of beauty.

A race is like a work of art; it is a creation that requires not only technique and work but also inspiration to reach a satisfactory outcome. But also, it is ephemeral, because like a Buddhist mandala, the enjoyment comes in the creating of it; at the moment of climax, at the point when it has reached its perfection, it disappears and will be impossible to create exactly ever again. There can be no repeats; we can relive similar emotions and experience familiar sensations, but they will never take the same shape, because inspiration leads us to explore different forms. (Run or Die, p. 177-178)

Killian Jornet is truly a running artist. Not an artist who runs, but a runner whose very act of running is the work of art. People focus on the endurance feats and the speed records, but reading his book you can tell that he is mostly concerned about living each moment of a run as an adventure unto itself.

…I think I run simply because I like doing it; I enjoy every minute and don’t wonder why. I know that when I am running and skiing, my body and mind are in harmony and allow me to feel that I am free, can fly, and can express myself through all my talents. The mountain is a blank canvas, and I’m the paintbrush that refuses to obey a paint-by-number pattern. Running provides my imagination with the means to express itself and delve into my inner self. (Run or Die, p. 176)

That’s a perfect description of why we create art, whether a painting, a song or a mountain leap: providing the imagination with the means to express itself. A few months ago The New York Times Magazine published a great profile piece on Jornet, Becoming the All-Terrain Human, by Christopher Solomon. It is a good introduction to Jornet’s world and all that he has accomplished. And remember, he’s still only twenty-five.

Brion Gysin’s Cut-Ups: A Project for Disastrous Success

1966_Antony Balch

“Language is an abominable misunderstanding which makes up a part of matter. The painters and the physicists have treated matter pretty well. The poets have hardly touched it. In March 1958, when I was living at the Beat Hotel, I proposed to Burroughs to at least make available to literature the means that painters have been using for fifty years. Cut words into pieces and scramble them. You’ll hear someone draw a bow-string. Who runs may read, To read better, practice your running. Speed is entirely up to us, since machines have delivered us from the horse. Henceforth the question is to deliver us from that other so-called superior animal, man. It’s not worth it to chase out the merchants: their temple is dedicated to the unsuitable lie of the value of the Unique. The crime of separation gave birth to the idea of the Unique which would not be separate. In painting, matter has seen everything: from sand to stuffed goats. Disfigured more and more, the image has been geometrically multiplied to a dizzying degree. A snow of advertising could fall from the sky, and only collector babies and the chimpanzees who make abstract paintings would bother to pick one up.”

~Brion Gysin, “Cut-Ups: A Project for Disastrous Success.”

Here is a link to a short film from 1966 titled The Cut-Ups by Antony Balch which is archived on the Gysin website. The screenplay was written by William S. Burroughs and the film features both Burroughs and Gysin.

The art of Tom Waits: Saved and “Named” Seeds (Heirloom Tomato)

Tom Waits -- Saved and Named Seeds (Heirloom Tomato)

Tom Waits, Saved and Named Seeds (Heirloom Tomato). From the book WAITS/CORBIJN ’77-’11, 2013.

WAITS/CORBIJN ’77-’11 is a new book of photographs by singer/ songwriter/ actor/ poet/ artist Tom Waits and photographer/ director Anton Corbijn taken over the course of a 35-year friendship and collaboration. Notes the publisher’s blurb:

Waits’ vibrant persona helped Corbijn define his narrative, cinematic style of still photography: images that felt as if you were coming in on the middle of some unfolding drama. In turn, Corbijn helped Waits evolve his visual style into a new theatrical self that synced beautifully with the experimental music he was making with Brennan. And lead him to his own photography, collected here for the first time under the title “Curiosities,” a visual handle to the artistic intelligence millions of fans know only through his music. Photographs of Tom Waits by Anton Corbijn, photographs by Tom Waits of the vivid quotidian, stretching down through the years, and presented for the first time in a beautiful clothbound book; side by side, these 226 images record one of the longest and most fruitful collaborations in the careers of both artists.

I love this artwork above, where Waits identifies the “seeds” of his artistic self with the literal seeds of a smashed tomato, that traditional symbol of fan revolt against artists, making this both a homage and an insurgency. You can see more of Waits’ visual work, replete with stains, poem fragments, desperados, shadows, jackrabbits and the detritus of abandoned dreams, in the photos section of his website.

For good measure, I’ve identified all of Waits’ Named Seeds: »»»

The Ancients Stole All Our Great Ideas (Part 2)

Ed Ruscha, Blue Collar Trade School, 1989, Acrylic on canvas, 54 H x 120 W (inches)

Ed Ruscha, Blue Collar Trade School, 1989, Acrylic on canvas, 54 H x 120 W (inches)

The Ancients Stole All Our Great Ideas (Part 1)

Ed Ruscha, 150 Miles, 1989. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 40 inches (61 x 101.6 cm). Collection of Richard Edwards, Aspen.

Ed Ruscha, 150 Miles, 1989. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 40 inches (61 x 101.6 cm)

“The Ancients Stole All Our Great Ideas” is a line from Mark Twain’s autobiography and the title of an exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna that Ed Ruscha curated last year. In response to Clavin Tomkins’ wonderful July 1st New Yorker profile of Ruscha, titled “An artist in the right place,” I have pulled together 10 of my favorite works by the artist. First up is this incredibly blunt piece from 1989, simply titled “150 Miles.”

Garry Winogrand at SFMOMA through June 02, 2013

Garry Winogrand, Untitled Sailor on Street, 1950; At SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

Garry Winogrand, Untitled Sailor on Street, 1950; At SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Widely acknowledged as one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) captured moments of everyday American life in the postwar era, producing an expansive picture of a nation rich with possibility yet threatening to spin out of control. He did much of his best-known work in New York in the 1960s, becoming a major voice of that tumultuous decade. But he also roamed widely around the United States, from California and Texas to Miami and Chicago. He photographed the rich and powerful and everyday strangers on the street; antiwar protesters and politicians; airports and zoos. In many of these pictures, humor and visual energy are the flip sides of an anxious instability. As photographer and guest curator Leo Rubinfien says, “The hope and buoyancy of middle-class life in postwar America is half of the emotional heart of Winogrand’s work. The other half is a sense of undoing.”

When he died suddenly at age 56, Winogrand left behind thousands of rolls of exposed but undeveloped film and unedited contact sheets — some 250,000 frames in total. Nearly 100 of these pictures have been printed for the first time for this long-awaited retrospective of his work. By presenting such archival discoveries alongside celebrated pictures, Garry Winogrand reframes a career that was, like the artist’s America, both epic and unresolved. This exhibition has been jointly organized by SFMOMA and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and will travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Jeu de Paume in Paris, and Fundación MAPFRE in Madrid.

Wind on a willow: from Primrose to Primrose Hill

Frank Auerbach - Primrose Hill

Frank Auerbach, “Primrose Hill,” oil paint on board, 1967-8. Collection: Tate, London.

Though they likely never met, British painter Frank Auerbach (b.1931)  and American poet William Carlos Williams (1883–1963)  are seen here walking the primrose path together up and around Primrose Hill.

By William Carlos Williams

Yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow!
It is not a color.
It is summer!
It is the wind on a willow,
the lap of waves, the shadow
under a bush, a bird, a bluebird,
three herons, a dead hawk
rotting on a pole–
Clear yellow!
It is a piece of blue paper
in the grass or a threecluster of
green walnuts swaying, children
playing croquet or one boy
fishing, a man
swinging his pink fists
as he walks–
It is ladysthumb, forget-me-nots
in the ditch, moss under
the flange of the carrail, the
wavy lines in split rock, a
great oaktree–
It is a disinclination to be
five red petals or a rose, it is
a cluster of birdsbreast flowers
on a red stem six feet high,
four open yellow petals
above sepals curled
backward into reverse spikes–
Tufts of purple grass spot the
green meadow and clouds the sky.

Rome (1971) by Philip Guston

Philip Guston, “Rome,” 1971. Oil on paper, framed 56.5 x 72.1 x 3.8 cm. Image courtesy of Carlson Gallery, London.

Dec.17,1979 by On Kawara

“Monday, Dec. 17, 1979,” On Kawara (Japanese, born 1933), 1979. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 18 1/4 x 24 3/8″ (46.2 x 61.7 cm). Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Fund. © 2012 On Kawara 62.1981. Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, NYC.

Fort Worth, Texas, circa 1975 by Garry Winogrand

Image from “Stock Photographs: The Fort Worth Fat Stock Show and Rodeo,” by Garry Winogrand. Published June 1st 1980 by University of Texas Press.

Lost His Horse, circa 1960 by Weegee (Arthur Fellig)

A cowboy asleep on a bench in a bus station in Denver, Colorado. Photo by Weegee (Arthur Fellig). International Center of Photography / Getty Images.

Los Angeles, 1964 by Garry Winogrand


“Most of Winogrand’s best pictures-let us say all of his best pictures-involve luck of a different order than that kind of minimal, survivor’s luck on which any human achievement depends.”
~John Szarkowski / Winogrand: Figments from the Real World

© Garry Winogrand / Fraenkel Gallery