Friday, February 19, 2010

Kiefer's Untitled

Anselm Kiefer's, Untitled, was one of the pieces I found intriging at the Art Center last week. It was a hard piece to miss, as it covered almost an entire wall, but beyond the size, the elements he chose to use in this piece was what I found most interesting.

At first this piece seems to be a big mess of dark colors and heavy texture, but then I noticed the pointe shoes hanging in the middle. Then I noticed the ladder image and in the background, and there seemed to be multiple train tracks going in different directions, and for me this piece started to become about aspiration. Aspiration itself probably isn't considered an 'emotion,' but I think what comes with aspiration is definately emotional.

In a dancer's mind, the only way you can go is up, meaning you can only get better. You're constantly competeting not only against the other dancers, but more importantly, against yourself. But this mentality goes beyond dance - I think it's how any athlete or even academic feels when they're striving to be the best - something I think the artist understood and knew that almost everyone could relate to. For me this piece forced me to almost reminisce about my own life and different directions I took, ones I could have but didn't, and what else lies ahead, and I think it would force everyone to do the same. Of course everyone's stories are different, which makes it so interesting - every person would bring a different story to the piece.

I think this piece could be used as an example for the "implications" idea discussed by Lucaites and Hariman. This piece is only successful if people can see themselves in the 'image' shown, and if it evokes an aspirational emotion, the "state action" would be people trying to better themselves. It's not a piece that could be easily replicated by any means - especially because I think the physical size and weight are a large part of the impact - but once stood in front of, it definately does have a strong emotional response. As far as Sontag, I think it's interesting that this piece is untitled, or maybe un-labeled. If the artist had named it "aspiration" then the viewer would begin looking at it with that label in mind, instead of coming to it by themselves. Or possibly aspiration wasn't the artists intent at all - and if it had been titled what the intent was, I probably wouldn't had seen aspiration.

-Emma B.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hopper vs. Sherman

Cindy Sherman "Untitled Film Still #3" 1977

Edward Hopper "Automat" 1927

When we visited the Des Moines Art Center last Friday I was thrilled to see an exhibition on one of my favorite American artists, Edward Hopper. Being a museum person and so-called "art snob", a trip to an art museum is never just a casual visit. I often find myself scrutenizing the design of the museum galleries (why was this painting placed next to this sculpture, etc) and more importantly the exhibitions. But the exhibition "Edward Hopper: Images & Influence", although small, was very relevant and inclusive. When works of art are juxtaposed in an exhibition, more often than not, the relationships will not make sense to the viewer. The curator of this exhibition, however, took works by Hopper that were both familiar and unfamiliar and placed them in a shared space with other artists who also presented common images of American life.

Of these other artists, the photographs by Cindy Sherman, I believe, had the most interesting relationship to Hopper. Both artists depicted women by examining issues of identity and stereotype. For Hopper, the placement of his figures in their environments was key. Using light and shadow to create mood, Hopper depicted emotional themes of solitude, loneliness, regret and boredom within his figures. The painting "Automat" depicts a lone woman staring into her cup of coffee in a restaurant at night. The empty restaurant and no signs of activity on the street outside adds to this sense of loneliness. Similar to Hopper's famous painting "Nighthawks", where figures are sitting at a diner late at night, the scene could be a still from a movie where the characters have been captured just before or just after the climax of a scene.

Similarly, some of Cindy Sherman's photographs are actually black and white film stills. Sherman uses herself as subject matter transforming photography into performance art. She uses make-up, costumes, wigs and the like to take on a variety of roles from archetypal housewife to prostitute. Although she is the actress, Sherman does not consider these images to be self-portraits. Rather each image is "Untitled" with a number which depersonalizes it, making Sherman revealed but yet still hidden. Like the women in Hopper's paintings, she is named by her role but yet nameless and alone.

With art, or any photograph for that matter in this day and age, the viewer should always keep in mind that the image they are viewing may have been created using artistic liberties. I think it was said at the first class when we discussed Sontag that "A picture never lies." The correct phrase should be "Don't believe everything you see." As we know, Hopper used light and shadow to create mood and suspense in his environments. Sherman became a chameleon in her photographs by transforming into different characters using a variety of different disguises. Through my study of art history, I know that the artist almost always has a message or interpretation they want to get across to viewers in thier work and they will use whatever means necessary to achieve it. So the next time you are looking at a work of art, rather than just commenting on the style and stating that anybody can do that or turning up your nose, remember to ask yourself the question "What is the artist trying to say here?" (sorry just a little pet peeve I have...)

By Carolyn Larson