THE INkSPIRED NOW

 

Traditional and contemporary do not necessarily exclude each other. This is what INK ART is proving.

On first sight, the pieces on view seem te be very recognizable Chinese inspired works. The mainly black and whites, the unmistakable bold brushstrokes, the use of paper, the calligraphy and the paper scroll format can all be associated with the ancient and very traditional forms of Chinese arts. You know that you are still in the ancient Chinese art section of the Met!

But then, on closer inspection, it dawns on you that this is not an exhibition of traditional art.  This is tradition translated into contemporary language.

Maybe there are only three forms of approaching art:

1. you copy the past

2. you break completely with the past

3. you embrace the past and lead it to the future

Tradition is often looked upon as an inert concept with both feet firmly in the past. It’s supposed to withstand time, in this way making it timeless. But tradition is inevitably influenced by the present times too. So changes are inherent to tradition.

If tradition is to survive, it has to keep an eye towards the future. It has to live in our time also, not only dwell on the past.

I think the artists in this show have sublimely understood this. Cutting with one’s roots is nearly impossible and not even recommendable. Instead of trying to translate their artistic talents into estranged images of unrecognizable creatures, as there are so many in the contemporary (Chinese) art scene, the featured artists are using their cultural baggage to bring new messages in modern concepts, formats and materials.

Apparently traditional brush painted landscapes with rocks, waves and trees turn out to be photographic compositions of high-rise buildings and towers of electric power lines.

What seem to be traditional Chinese characters are in fact English words, demystifying Chinese script for the western viewer.

Repeated writing on a face, gradually covering up the entire skin, is a reference to body paint and, again, traditional tattoo art. But it’s also the visualization of the slow loss of identity in a world of mechanization.

The meaningful strokes of traditional brushes are reduced to complete abstraction.

The classical block characters on endless scrolls are supposed to tell a story. But in this case it’s a story of nothing. The otherwise so recognizable characters have no meaning at all and are inventions of a non-existing language.

Photographic prints of landscapes are painted over, leaving nothing but a subtle and hazy impression of what was there.

INK ART holds a very smart balance between traditional art and contemporary conceptualism. No matter where your preference goes out to, this exhibition is sure to have you fascinated.

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, through April 6, 2014

 

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SCOPE : THE ART RUSH

 

At this time of year, New York is all about art. With exhibitions and fairs all over town, it’s impossible to see it all. It’s not even recommendable to try. Moderation is the only gravy that makes anything digestible.

SCOPE can be considered one of the smaller art fairs. But even on opening night, where it’s press and vips only, the place was packed. Add the fact that many participating galleries tend to overload their booth with as much art work as possible, it is still a very over-sensory experience.

The fair is held in a part of the otherwise empty old post office. There must be reasons, unknown to me, why they don’t use more of the empty space available in that huge building. And when all of the visitors are queuing at the same time to get a drink, it becomes impossible to circulate and do what you came here for: see some art.

Anyway, pushing my way through thirsty crowds, I have tried to pick out some works that I found to stand out for the simple reason that they almost disappeared between overly loud pieces that were screaming for attention.

 

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THE ICE AGE IN TECHNICOLOR

Like meteorites fallen from the sky, in a random fashion, amongst the trees, with nobody harmed, luckily. Whatever their origin, they come from a very colorful constellation.

Katharina Grosse, German artist, is transforming the MetroTech Commons Plaza in Brooklyn in a quite dramatic way. A cluster of fiberglass sculptures seems to have appeared from somewhere…or nowhere. Their positioning between the rigid rows of trees on the plaza, makes one wonder how on earth they got there. They seem to embrace the little forest. Or is it vice versa? Is it the trees that are springing up amidst the sculptures?

Rigid in material, they are organic and floating in form. Like huge chunks that have broken off from the glacier, drifting, slowly melting. But then again, from a very color rich planet.

JUST TWO OF US, MetroTech Commons, Brooklyn, through September 14

 

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IN ONE STROKE

For its opening on Thursday the Friedman Benda Gallery has been turned into a place of worship. Or so it seems.

Korean artist Byung Hoon Choi shows his most monumental work till date. His basalt sculptures look like signs or symbols, rather than…benches. The already thin line between practical design and pure art of his earlier work (art furniture) seems to have been erased completely, in one stroke.

Choi achieves a delicate balance between opposites. The rough and the polished melt together. The sculptures’ sinuous forms could definitely refer to the basalt’s liquid form as lava thousands and thousands of years ago.

The benches are graphical, as if written by hand, in one brushstroke. It is not clear if the accompanying brush paintings are preliminary studies for the sculptures, but they clearly show the (calli)graphic intention of the sculptor.

Some sculptures are dark and primitive, while others are light and modern. The way the exhibition is lit up only enhances this duality: one room is a white box with overall bright light, two other rooms are kept darker and focus more on the sculptures with spotlights.

Throughout the rooms there’s a feeling of tension between minimal lightness and a more dramatic sense of boldness.

Already because of their unconventional shape, it must be fun to sit on these benches. But I think I’d rather sit on the grass and watch how these sculptures write their presence against the landscape.

 

IN ONE STROKE / Byung Hoon Choi – Friedman Benda Gallery, Chelsea New York City

OPENING Thursday February 27 – through March 29, 2014

 

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LET’S PAINT THIS CITY

If you want to see graffiti, you’d normally go and roam the streets. This time you’d better go to the Museum of the City of New York. It brings the exceptional collection of Martin Wong.

Wong was an American artist who lived in San Francisco and New York. His visionary realism renders the legendary street scene of the Lower East Side in the seventies and eighties. But his interests went beyond his own artistic activity. He had a degree in ceramics and was an expert in Asian art and antiques.

But what the art world is particularly grateful for is Martin Wong’s outstanding collection of graffiti. Legendary graffiti artists, like Lady Pink and Keith Haring, were his friends. He received their work as gifts or he sometimes traded with his own paintings. The result is an extraordinary document of graffiti. But also a time document of New York.

Per definition graffiti is the ephemeral art that pops up overnight on urban walls. It’s not associated, not at all back in those days, with art that can be collected. Because of its temporary character for one. But also because of the fact that it’s simply not very practical to collect walls of public buildings or subway stations. We should neither forget the illegal aspect of graffiti!

Hence, Martin Wong’s collection consists of work on paper and canvas and photo (or any other support that is not a wall, for example a fridge door). And maybe this is why this collection is such an important document. Most of the sketches in the scrap books are preparatory studies for larger “on the wall” pieces. Very often we think (or thought) that spray painters were just a bunch of kids hanging out on the streets and who happened to have a can or two on them and inevitably started spraying the walls.

The exhibition shows how graffiti shifted from vandalism to the socially accepted art form that has earned its place in galleries and museums. Where one day it was frowned upon as offensive ventilating of adolescent frustration, it has now become an art form in its own right.

Still, even today, some find graffiti unacceptable and an eyesore. They should see how it was back then in those decades in New York City! The streets of (mostly Lower) Manhattan were literally covered in spray paint. There was hardly any inch left uncovered in the subway, that is in the stations, but also inside the trains. It almost made the word gritty synonymous to NYC. Compared to those times, New York has become a ‘clean and safe’ place. And some would say a ‘gray, dull and boring’ place.

 

CITY AS CANVAS – Museum of the City of New York – through August 24, 2014

 

 

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WOOLWORTH IT

 

New York bulges with iconic buildings. The Woolworth Building is one of them.

When it was completed in 1913 it proudly carried the title of tallest in the world. Now it’s not even the tallest of New York anymore. But still, it figures in every guide book and people still look up to its terracotta façade.

For decades the doors of the Woolworth remained closed to the public. Now it can be visited.

Although the tour is limited to the hall, it offers a spectacle of gold-leafed mosaics, vaulted ceilings and Tiffany elevator doors.

The neo-Gothic style and the cruciform floor plan has earned the Woolworth the name of Cathedral of Commerce. This denomination has not always been appreciated because the building has nothing to do with religion.

Because of the quality materials and the expert craftsmanship, the lobby has been extremely well preserved over the years.

The threat to the Woolworth has rather come from outside. During the 9/11 attacks, the building was damaged by scattered debris from the Twin Towers, only a few blocks away. Windows were shattered and one turret crumbled.

Protected as a National Historic Landmark since 1966, the Woolworth’ s upper floors are now being remodeled. The main body of the building remains office space. The higher floors are being converted in luxury residences. And everybody will be dying to know who is going to occupy the five-level penthouse. And how much the rent will be!

To illustrate how innovative and important the Woolworth Building was at its opening in 1913: instead of a common ribbon-cutting, President Wilson pushed a button in the White House (yes, in DC) that switched on all the interior and exterior lights of the building (yes, in NY).

 

—tours only by appointment through http://www.woolworthtours.com—

 

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UNITED NATIONS LOUNGE : LET’S MAKE A DEAL

 

Many a deal is made over a good glass of wine. So every office should have a bar. Or a lounge, like at the United Nations in New York. And the North Delegates’ Lounge has been renovated to make it an even more pleasant place to hang out. And to close that important deal!

The renovation was commissioned to a Dutch team of ringing names: Hella jongerius, Rem Koolhaas and Irma Boom.

The simple rectangular space has been divided in three sections. The first is a group of low sofas and lounge chairs. The second section is situated at the far end of the hall and is composed of a bar and vivid green tables and white chairs. The last section is a row of work stations against a metal wall.

Hella Jongerius has introduced her already iconic Polder sofas, inspired by the topography of her home country Holland. She has especially designed the UN Chair for the occasion. She also signs for the window covering made of hundreds of clay beads and the “bubble desk” work stations. But Jongerius has also, much to her credit, included design pieces that bear other names, like a chair by Rietveld and the Wegner Peacock Chair.

Irma Boom created the shade on the inclined north window. It’s a grid-like curtain that refers to the window lines on New York’s modern skyscrapers.

Rem Koolhaas’ intervention is limited to the elimination of a mezzanine and the introduction of a white resin information desk at the entrance.

For any client, this team of stellar designers is a dream combination. Then why does this new Delegates’ Lounge not provoke a reaction of delighted surprise?

There’s a slightly uncomfortable imbalance between cosiness and emptiness. On entering the hall, that’s exactly what you see: a big hall. There’s nothing wrong with a big hall. But the confusion starts when you don’t know if it’s empty or cluttered.

It’s clear that Hella Jongerius has tried to overcome the sensation of cold emptiness. After all, a lounge should offer some welcoming cosiness. Therefore the designer has used her very laid-back Polder sofas. Therefore she has broken up the space in different areas. Therefore she has used different types of seating. A variety of furniture and furnishings are to break the feel of an overly rectangular and empty room.

But still the room looks as flat as Holland. And even Jongerius must have felt this too. In her original design she also planned on having the Jurgen Bey Ear Chair. It’s a chair that has a high head rest and wide “ears”, enveloping the person that uses it. It offers some acoustic and visual seclusion from the environment, ideal for some welcome cocooning in an otherwise open hall. But for security reasons – this is the UN, remember – the chair was scratched from the design scheme: it was too high and blocked the overall view of the lounge…

Even Rem Koolhaas must have detected the same problem with the openness of this huge room. At the far end of the lounge, he tore down a mezzanine in order to open up the view towards the East River. A great move. At the same time he wanted to add a mezzanine at the entrance of the lounge, in this way lowering the entrance way and separating the lounge a little bit more from the hallways. It surely would have defined and confined the lounge a lot more. But the budget has decided otherwise.

Koolhaas also wanted to hang the oversized artwork (UN gifts) from protruding slabs. This would have broken up the box-like room a little bit more. His plan did not see the light, for the same reason mentioned above.

At one point, even the most striking feature of the whole design was threatened. The clay beads of the knotted curtain were described as possible hazardous projectiles in case of a (bomb) explosion. Fortunately the beads slipped through the restrictive net and could stay.

It’s obvious that an institution like the United Nations has to impose strict regulations and safety considerations on itself. But it’s also sad that good design has to suffer from it. As the evening was unfurling, the Lounge got packed with people enjoying an after-work drink. At least they don’t seem to be bothered by the restrictions. Nor the plastic wine cups.

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