Sunday, March 31, 2013

"...if we were free of conventional limits": The Legacy of Lebbeus Woods

Lebbeus Woods, Quake City (1995).

Contemplating and exploring the worlds envisioned by Lebbeus Woods, whose death last October occurred while the lobster & canary were in the grips of Superstorm Sandy here in NYC, i.e., we are still processing his departure and thinking through the impact of the polymathic, iconclastic Woods on art, architecture, urban planning and design.

Woods, Zagreb Free-Zone (c. 2000?)

Woods, Berlin Free-Zone 3-2 (1990)

Very few of his architectural renderings were ever built, though he insisted that they should-- and one day would--be.  A true visionary, who defied convention and walked over boundaries.  

Not enough time or space this morning to delve more deeply, but-- if I had such for a full-length essay--I would think of Woods in terms of other multi-disciplinary, slantwise form-makers: Piranesi, Joseph Michael Gandy, Boullee (The Cenotaph for Newton broods as a possibility over so much of modern architecture), Motherwell, Bontecou, Duchamp, Ernst... Ridley Scott and Giger (Woods is credited with helping them craft the settings for Aliens 3)...

For more on Woods, click here, and here.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mourning the Loss of Chinua Achebe

We add our voice(s) to the millions of others raised to mourn the passage Friday of Chinua Achebe.

Click here for the obituary in The New York Times.  Achebe is quoted therein:  " 'In the end, I began to understand,' Mr. Achebe later wrote. 'There is such a thing as absolute power over narrative. Those who secure this privilege for themselves can arrange stories about others pretty much where, and as, they like.' ”

The Guardian (Lagos) has a good article today with many quotes from Achebe's family and friends in his hometown of Ogidi in Anambra state.  Click here

THISDAY (Lagos) devotes most of its arts section today to articles on Achebe, with many good insights.   Click here.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Savoring Seventeenth-Century Grapes (And Apples, And ...)

Juan Fernandez el Labrador, Still Life With Four Bunches of Grapes (1630; held at the Prado)

Fernandez el Labrador, Still Life With Grapes, Apples, Nuts & Terracotta Pitcher (c. 1633; Prado)

Last week the Prado mounted the first major exhibition of the relatively little-known seventeenth-century still life painter, Juan Fernandez el Labrador (click here for more on the show, and here for more on the painter).  

We have documentation for only seven years of Fernandez's activities; we can only attribute 13 paintings to him with certainty.

The Prado hails him as a (more or less) modern Zeuxis, the Greek painter of the 5th century BCE who--according to Pliny--painted grapes on a wall with such fidelity that birds were deceived and flew down to eat them  (click here for the famous story and its wide impact on art theory and theories of spatial reasoning & cognition).  

Mimetic grace continues to astound and delight us, no matter our professions of modernity and sophistication.  I feel the stirring of hunger, a trace of imagined taste on my tongue, as I contemplate the Fernandez paintings.  (I love that the most common word in Spanish for "still life" is "bodegon," things from the pantry and wine-cellar, a word whose sibling "bodega" is intimately familiar even to Anglophones).  My hands start to lift of their own accord, to pull off a grape, to feel the cool, smooth surface of the fruit contrasting with the roughness of the leaves.

For all the allure of conceptual art, performance art, the art of ideas, the endless parade of 'isms and movements and manifestos, I cannot deny the deeper, more primal attraction of paintings of fruit and other foodstuffs.  

Such older tropes never go away.  Sometimes they resurface in shows like this one, at the major museums of the world.  The rest of the time they pour out daily in advertisements and in the lush and lavish photographs in all the food magazines, the cookbooks, on the cookery shows... 

Eyes to stomach via the tongue...a formula that captures us (without struggle!) even while so much else that proclaims itself as art fades, finding no purchase...

Oh, and now it is time for Sunday brunch...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Light On The Threshold, Shifting

Canaletto, The Grand Canal and the Church of the Salute [Venice], (1730)

Vermeer, View of Delft, (c. 1660)

Daylight savings time...the clock somersaults, the light streams at a different angle, the motes float lazily in new-remembered shadows...

Everyone out this afternoon enjoying the precursor of spring...I look at the sky, recalling the vernal blue we have otherwise misplaced for half a year...I look at the sky hovering so close above the towers and spires of the city...I am linked in this way back to other springs in other places, a soul wandering back along a track observed and painted by others before me...

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Lee Bontecou: Framing The Age

Lee Bontecou, Untitled, (1980-1998), welded steel, porcelain, wire mesh, canvas, wire (at the MoMA, NYC).  Image uploaded from an article in The Brooklyn Rail online; click here.

Bontecou, Untitled (1959), welded steel, black canvas, wire (at the MoMA).

Bontecou, Untitled, (1997), graphite on paper.

[Fair use rationale:  Lee Bontecou is the copyright holder of these images and the underlying artwork; Lobster & Canary presents them here solely for educational purposes, i.e., as part of commentary on the artwork; the images are low-resolution, uploaded from Wikipedia-- click here.]

Lee Bontecou continues to inspire me, her work to draw me in like that of few other living artists.  

Architecture that floats.  Spirals and swirls that create space.   I think of da Vinci's notebooks, of Tatlin's sculptures, of Miro and Arshile Gorky.   Of Matisse and his cut-outs. 

But above all her work is Bontecovian, not really much like anyone else's.  Bontecou brings me to a world simultaneously jagged and supple that is wholly her own. 

She is now 82, and arguably producing some of her best work ever.   Nationally prominent in the '50s and '60s, she left the NYC art world in 1971, moving to a hamlet in central Pennsylvania (though she continued to teach at Brooklyn College until 1991).   She worked on her own terms for decades before returning to public attention with retrospectives in 2003-'04 in LA, Chicago and NYC and again in 2010 (at the MoMA).  

I love her fierce dedication to her own process and vision.  How many artists have the courage and tenacity to leave the big stage...and then return thirty years later?  How many continue to produce at the highest levels   so late in life (to re-define what we understand about life and its parameters)?

Bontecou is one of the dozen or so artists whose work will come to define our era. 

For more, click here