Tag Archives: abstract



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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gutai and guggenheim


With great expectations I went to see the Gutai Exhibition at the Guggenheim. And a lot can go wrong when expectations are high.

Gutai was a Japanese avant-garde movement that was formed in 1954 and lasted till 1972. At the exhibition the term GUTAI is translated as CONCRETENESS, although some sources also speak of EMBODIMENT, and could refer to the way the body can be used as a tool.

The members of the Gutai group saw beauty in decay and had a predilection for raw materials. Very often they created with their feet or their entire body. Works were made by dancing or sliding on paint laden canvas. Or rolling and turning in a pool of mud.

In many cases, the action of art making was more important than the result itself. Some works at the exhibition go accompanied by the video. Later this art would be called Happenings, Performance, Installation and in a broader sense, Conceptual Art.

The central piece of the exhibition is WORK: WATER, by Motonaga Sadamasa. The installation of plastic tubes partially filled with colored water spans the entire rotunda of the Guggenheim. Undoubtedly the biggest eye-catcher of the exhibition, it’s maybe not the most representative piece of the Gutai movement.

As for my expectations, I can say that the Gutai exhibition is a must-see for any lover of abstract or Japanese modern art.

But here it comes: but!

I always seem to have a problem with the Guggenheim building. Let me get this straight: it’s a fascinating building. But I think that it’s not the ideal structure for showing art. The inclined spiral ramp always gives the impression that the canvases are crooked. And there is nothing more annoying than a square painting that’s not hanging straight!

The spectacular and monumental skylight allows, it must be said, some dramatic natural light to flow through the atrium. But it is never enough to duly illuminate the works that are presented on the walls along the spiral ramp. And the artificial lighting is not helping there neither!

The inside spiral and the intricate pattern of the skylight are strong architectural features that tend to avert one’s attention away from the art they embrace. At the same time, it’s these very features that allow the visitor to walk up and around the central work WATER, to view it from an infinite number of view points.

But don’t listen to me. Go and see for yourself.


GUTAI : A Splendid Playground – Guggenheim, NYC – through May 8

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a remedy for visual overdose


After a week of art shows, New York is breaking up countless exhibitions.

I visited SCOPE on the last day. I expected a stampede. Especially when I noticed that I didn’t have to show my pass and that the fair was open to the general public free of charge.

When talking to some exhibitors, I learned that the big crowds had stayed away the whole week. Are things going slow in the art business? Even when it’s said that now is the time to invest in art, people are still reluctant to spend their money.

Maybe the biggest event, The Armory Show, attracted the biggest part of the people who braved the cold and snowy weather this past week. The Armory is The Armory. But treasures can also be found at lesser known fairs as SCOPE.

Although this fair is of a much smaller scale, walking through its aisles can be an exercise in how much you can take. Too often, that’s the problem with any kind of fair: it becomes overwhelming and soon enough one starts to show signs of visual overdose.

So I set myself a mission. Or rather two missions. At first.

One of the first images I saw on entering the hall at the former Post Office building, was a photograph of a fat, young and naked woman. Not her most flattering picture. I won’t question the artistic value, but I was afraid I was going to see yet another show where ugliness is sublimated in the name of art. I thought for a moment this could be my focus: how ugliness, freakiness, deformity, exaggeration and violence could be lifted to the level of artfulness. But all too soon I had enough of it. I just didn’t want to burn that kind of images on my retina.

So I had to shift my attention. Backing away from violent, flashy or screaming colours, I set off to look for the subdued palette. Something to rest the eye on, instead of being dazzled by competing bold paint values. Far away from the blow-up-in-your-face provocation of religiously or sexually explicit content. I just didn’t feel like it. Not at that moment.

The moment, surely. But of course personal taste has got to do with it too.

With two eyes and one camera, I began my stroll. Shutting out the rest of the world, I let my gaze wander from one booth to another, with that very mission in mind: to give my eyes the rest they wanted. And this is the result.


Featured artists : Sinead Breathnack-Cashell, Francesco Sena, Monica Serra, Jean-Sébastien Denis, Miyako Suzuki, Amy M. Ho, Norman Mooney, Etsuko Ichikawa, Wendy Wolf, Matt Mignanelli, SIT

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