Author Archives: Abigail Bisbee

Commercialism and International Art World: Takashi Murakami and the Rise of the New International Artist

By Abigail Bisbee

Introduction

When Andy Warhol began to release his artwork in the 1950s, the art society was astonished, and in some cases, enraged by the manner in which Warhol presented depictions of everyday commercial objects as fine art. Warhol ignored the critics and continued to break down the barriers between high and low art forms, thriving on the process of print making in his “Factory” in New York. By the 1960s, however, Warhol had progressed from a misunderstood creative mind to one of the most profound artists in the second half of the twentieth century in the western world. It was through his process and the collaboration with different forms of art, such as film and fashion, that Warhol almost single-handedly destroyed the barriers between popular and high art forms that led the art market into a new era.

While Warhol was very influential in the initial creation of the post-modern artist, it was not until the mid-1990s that a new artist was able to fill his shoes and once again recreate the way that art is both created and received. Takashi Murakami, a contemporary Japanese artist, emerged onto the international art scene with his anime inspired paintings and sculpture. Well received, Murakami then used the momentum from his early success to become more than just a studio artist. Over the course of the next decade and a half, Murakami would spearhead the re-establishment of the artist’s factory and the merging of commercial enterprise and art in a manner that took Warhol’s vision to a new level. The following essay will examine how Murakami was able to rise to prominence in the 1990s and early 2000s become the embodiment of the dynamic international contemporary artist and his incorporation of commerce into his artistic product. This exploration of Murakami’s career and the effect it has upon other contemporary artists will demonstrate how international dialogism and the globalization of the 1990s have changed the way that not only the artist creates and disperses his artwork, but the way that the art is received by audiences around the world.

Takashi Murakami – Artist Background

Takashi Murakami grew up in Tokyo in the age of post-WWII Japan. Born in a nation uncertain in its identity and not quite far enough removed from the terror of the nuclear destruction, Murakami came of age in a culture that was increasingly turning to cartoons and animation and away from the artistic tradition that had defined pre-war Japan. Murakami was fascinated by okatu culture, “the subculture of “geeks” or “pop culture fanatics”– a fantasy world where apocalyptic imagery, fetishistic commerce, and artistic vanguards meet” (Little Boy), but found that he did not have the talent to succeed in anime illustration (Lubow, 51).  Choosing another direction, Murakami went on to attain his PhD in nihonga, “the refined hybrid of European and traditional Japanese painting that was invented in the late nineteenth century.” While he would later leave this traditional art form, it would strongly influence his production for the rest of his career. After achieving his PhD, Murakami began to venture down the path of other contemporary artists of the late 1980s and early 1990s, creating artwork that was global in character. After a trip in 1994 to New York, however, Murakami decided to rediscover his Japanese identity and since then his artwork has been founded in Japanese culture and history (Lubow).  Still strongly interested in okatu in the mid-1990s, Takashi turned toward the fabrication of his own oversized anime character designs including his famous Miss. Ko2. 

Takashi Murakami's Miss Ko2 on display at Versailles

Takashi Murakami’s Miss Ko2 on display at Versailles

After working with several of the fiberglass character statues, Murakami shifted gears and returned to the exploration painting. It was at the beginning of his painting career that he developed the theory of “Superflat.” This theory was based on linking the flat picture planes of traditional Japanese paintings to the lack of any distinction between high and low culture (Lubow). Traditional Japanese painting, like nihonga, was founded in a two-dimensional aesthetic that easily transferred over into the pop anime culture that Murakami was inspired by. These paintings that he produced were a kind of remix, a hybrid of traditional and contemporary art forms in Japan. In his Semiotics for Beginners, David Chandler notes that,

“…the semiotic notion of intertextuality introduced by Julia Kristeva is associated primarily with poststructuralist theorists. Kristeva referred to texts in terms of two axes: a horizontal axis connecting the author and reader of a text, and a vertical axis, which connects the text to other text…Uniting these two axis are shared codes: every text and every reading depends on prior codes.”

This understanding of codes and intertextuality applies to Murakami’s artwork. By combining the two genres of painting through a corresponding theme, Murakami was able to connect with various nodes within Japanese society including the anime- obsessed generation and the elder population who had experienced Japanese culture prior to the war. In addition to formal qualities, his “Superflat” technique was often enhanced, particularly in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, by an underlying theme of nuclear warfare and its emotional toll on Japanese society. In this sense, he was merging both internal (Japanese) and external (Western) views of how the modern Japanese society was functioning, particularly as an ahistorical state (Lubow, 52).

Takashi Murakami's "Tranquility of the Heart, Torment of the Flesh" at the Gagosian Gallery, New York in 2007 (copyright Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times)

Takashi Murakami’s “Tranquility of the Heart, Torment of the Flesh” at the Gagosian Gallery, New York in 2007 (copyright Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times)

The Rise of the Multi-Faceted Artist in the International Contemporary Art World

One of the ways that Murakami has built upon Warhol’s legacy is that he has not only blurred the lines of high and low art, but the artist has also redefined what it is to be a post-modern international artist. According to Arthur Lubow in his 2003 piece on Murakami in the New Yorker Magazine, the artist has “moved frictionlessly among his multiple roles as an artist, curator, theorist, product designer, businessman, and celebrity” (50). In this statement, Lubow is referring to the many hats that Murakami appears to wear but the crucial element from that excerpt is not the individual role that he plays, but rather how “frictionlessly” he shifts between them. For Murakami he is an artist, but that title encompasses all of the titles formerly noted. Thus the new contemporary global artist is not only creating hybrid artwork through merging genres and various international identities into his final product, but he is exercising these dynamic qualities in addition to his artwork in an effort to capture the new commercially driven art market.

Murakami’s involvement in art is not only based on his direct involvement with the artwork that he creates, but also that of other artists. In 2005 Murakami served as the curator for the “Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture” at the Japan Society (Japan Society). For the exhibition he drew inspiration from Japanese otaku culture that had defined his adolescent years. Murakami curated the exhibition to elaborate upon his theory of “Superflat,” the show serving as the final piece of a trilogy of exhibitions curated by Murakami. The manner in which Murakami addressed the show according to scholarly theory reveals how the artist has moved beyond the structured role of artist to represent the academic character of the new contemporary artist as well. The other key element in this discussion is that the trilogy of exhibitions were presented outside of his native Japan across two continents, demonstrating the effects of globalization in the shaping of today’s artists. In his introduction to Globalization and Contemporary Art (2011), Jonathan Harris states that “awareness of global context and conditions has come to shape how artists conceive, realize, manifest, and attempt to sell and many other ways propagate their works…” (Harris, 8). While Murakami presents artwork that is distinctly Japanese, there are elements of his artwork that can be understood in an international context because “he is reacting to a hyper-stimulated and decontextualized Japan” that appears similar to western cultures, particular American society (Lubow, 77). In the globalized art market, the national borders that previously existed for contemporary artists have been transcended, and with Murakami, he is recognized in Europe, North America, and Japan for his work.

Incorporation of Commercialization into Murakami’s Artistic Production

A lifelong admirer of Warhol’s, Murakami sought in his early career to draw inspiration from Warhol’s process while incorporating his approach within pre-existing Japanese traditions. Murakami founded his own factory, KaiKai KiKi, which is a fusion of Andy Warhol’s “Factory” and the Kano Schools of sixteenth century Japan (Lubow). KaiKai Kiki serves as more than a location of production for Murakami’s art, it is run as a true business. Murakami has over sixty employees between his Tokyo and New York City locations with computerized time cards and training manuals for new hires (Lubow, 51). While Murakami used to produced his own art, he now leaves the physical production to his studio assistants who follow exact instructions written by their master. KaiKai KiKi represents a distinct shift in the production of the modern artwork, where the artist’s hand no longer determines the financial value of the item, but rather the symbolic value that produced through subject matter, execution, and the artist’s association. For Murakami, he has no inhibitions with the commercial nature of his enterprise, an element derived from his upbringing in Japanese society where high art was displayed in department stores and merchandise was given the same symbolic value as high art as a function of habitus (Bourdieu). KaiKai KiKi also serves as a home for seven artists whom Murakami sponsors and mentors. Murakami often travels with his students to international art fairs, an institution that has grown in recognition and prestige over the last two decades.

In 2003 the artist expanded upon his commercial empire with the collaboration with Louis Vuitton to reinvent the traditional Louis Vuitton monogram. His “brightly colored hued logos as well as the artist’s own signature ‘jellyfish eyes’ and smiling cherry blossoms and fruit” covered the Louis Vuitton handbags. The collaboration between the artist and the fashion brand brought in over 300 million dollars in profits for Louis Vuitton. While many highly educated art collectors and critics scoffed at Murakami’s collaboration with low art, for the artist it was one of his “deeply held tenets that demarcations between fine art and popular merchandise are now completely un-Japanese” (Lubow, 50). When the merchandise went to market, so too did Murakami, displaying his flawless paintings of the LV monogram in the Louis Vuitton store rather than in gallery demonstrating how the art has become a hybrid of both a commercial and artistic product.

Takashi Murakami, Eye Love "Superflat", 2003. Screenprint in colors.

Takashi Murakami, Eye Love “Superflat”, 2003. Screenprint in colors.

©Murakami: How the Murakami Integrated Remix Culture into Contemporary Exhibitions

When he collaborates with museums and galleries for solo exhibitions, Murakami makes an effort to display the work in a dynamic manner that enhances the experience. In 2008, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles worked with Murakami to put together a retrospective of over ninety works of art covering Murakami’s entire career. In “©Murakami”, Murakami was “intent on exploring how mass-produced entertainment and consumerism are part of art” and in addition to his works sold Louis Vuitton merchandise in a separate pop up store he specially created for the exhibition, that also sold prints of his works. Beyond the sale of Murakami merchandise, the artist also included multi-media in his exhibition, including a short animation film (another art-form he had started to pursue in 2008). While the animation film was not running, Murakami played an “MTV-style video” Kanye West’s 2008 hit, “Good Morning,”(Vogel) further explaining how the contemporary international artist is not only responsible for the production of his own work, but for the collaboration with his contemporaries in other fields.

Kanye West Music Video of “Good Morning” (2008)

Murakami proves that the global artist is no longer only obligated to create of art in multiple forms, whether it is sculpture, painting, film etc., but that artist is also responsible for combining popular culture into high art production. The combinatoriality that exists in his paintings that merge Japanese tradition with Japanese present is also a key element in his exhibitions and his artwork. According to the head curator of the show, Paul Schimmel, Murakami was able to reach new audiences through “various kinds of cross branding” because of names like Louis Vuitton, Kanye West and eBay (Vogel, “Watch out,Warhol”). In a world generation that is increasingly more connected to popular culture through the use of social media, this dynamic approach to the display of his artwork opens up high art to a new section of society. We are seeing the collision of art and popular culture in extreme that we had not seen prior to Murakami’s emergence in the Western art market.

The Murakami Effect: Commerce and Art in Society Today

In a review in 2003, Todd Zaun stated that “Japan needs more creative types like him who are able to find ways to export Japanese culture all over the world” and it appears that ten years later his request has been answered. While one could argue that Murakami’s presence in both the art scene and popular culture is an anomaly, recent campaigns in the consumer goods market have been modeled off of Murakami’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton in 2003. This can be seen in the Yayoi Kusama collaboration with Louis Vuitton in 2012 utilizing her iconic polka dots for handbags and an assortment of other products. The marketing campaign came simultaneously to the retrospective of her works at the Whitney in the summer of that year. While her show is no longer on view, her collaboration with fashion has continued and displayed on the front cover of W magazine. For the front cover of the December 2013 “Art Issue”, Kusama collaborated with Giorgio Armani to create the clothing for the photo shoot staring international heart-throb and well-respected actor, George Clooney (Lee). This year another major cross-collaboration came to fruition between Dom Pérignon and artist Jeff Koons, who created “hot pink chrome limited editions of his Balloon Venus sculpture, inspired by a paleolithic fertility figurine” (Kolesnikov-Jessop). The pink figure holds a bottle of 2003 Dom Pérignon Rosé that is being sold for about 15,000 euros. The rise of the cross-collaboration between artist and luxury branding was established not only as a means of profit by Murakami when he first worked with Louis Vuitton in 2003, but his collaboration broke down barriers so that it was not only artists who could recreate commerce, but that commerce could re-create art.

 

Conclusion

Takashi Murakami led the charge for the integration of remix culture into art in the 1990s and the 2000s. His art, distinctly Japanese in theme, was able to transcend the walls of the Japanese society. The cultural encyclopedia that Murakami uses in reference to his artwork is one that is distinctly Japanese, but his exposure to other cultures through the power of globalization in the late twentieth century and the early twenty-first permitted him to use his remix techniques (combining art-forms, cultures, identities, technologies) so that his artwork could be understood across international symbolic systems and codes. Murakami has illustrated to artists around the world the power (both symbolically and financially) of combining artistic and consumer genres. Prior to the artist’s rise to fame, the dialog between the art and consumer culture was a one way street (art discussing consumer culture), but with new barriers broken, one decade into the twenty-first century Murakami’s method of combinatoriality is not only accepted by both the art world and popular culture, but it is expected.

 

References:

Bydler, Charlotte. The Global Art World, Inc.: On the globalization of contemporary art. Diss. Uppsala University, 2004.

Chandler, David. “Semiotics for Beginners: Intertextuality.” Users.aber.ac.uk, 2013. Web. 14 Dec 2013. <http://users.aber.ac.uk/dgc/Documents/S4B/sem09.html>.

Darling, Michael. “Plumbing the depths of superflatness.” Art Journal, 60. 3 (2001): 77–89. Print.

Elkins, James, Zhivka Valiavicharska and Alice Kim. Art and globalization. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010. Print.

Harris, Jonathan. Globalization and Contemporary Art. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Print.

Higa, Karin. “Some Thoughts on National and Cultural Identity: Art by Contemporary Japanese and Japanese American Artists.” Art Journal, 55. 3 (1996): 6–13. Print

Kolesnikov-Jessop, Sonia. “Reinvigorating Champagne with Art and Rituals.” The New York Times. 18 Nov. 2013. Web. 14 Dec 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/19/fashion/reinvigorating-champagne-with-art-and-rituals.html?_r=0>.

Lee, Elaine YJ. “George Clooney Dons Custom Giorgio Armani by Yayoi Kusama for W.” Selectism.com, 2013. Web. 14 Dec 2013. <http://www.selectism.com/2013/12/03/george-clooney-dons-custom-giorgio-armani-suit-by-yayoi-kusama-for-w/>.

“Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture.” Japan Society, 2005. Web. 22 Oct 2013. <http://www.japansociety.org/little_boy_the_arts_of_japans_exploding_subculture>.

Murakami, Takashi, Paul Schimmel and Dick Hebdige. © Murakami. Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007. Print.

Vogel, Carol. “The Warhol of Japan Pours Ritual Tea in a Zen Moment.” The New York Times, 7 May. 2007: Print.

Vogel, Carol. “Watch Out, Warhol, Here’s Japanese Shock Pop.” The New York Times, April 2. 2008: Print.

Werner, Paul. Museum, Inc.. Chicago, Ill.: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2005. Print.

Zaun, Todd. “The Andy Warhol of Japan.” Far Eastern Economic Review, 166. 39 (2003): 35. ProQuest. Print.

 

 

Cinema and Post-Human Representation

by Abby Bisbee

As technology has improved moving into the twenty-first century, the question of our humanity has become even more prevalent.  The exponential growth of our technological capabilities has allowed humans to mediate technology as an extension of their bodies. Representations of this combination of the machine and the organic human body, otherwise known as cyborgs, have become increasingly more abundant through the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries. In blockbuster cinema the cyborg has captured the minds of the western audience, perhaps due to a subconscious recognition that our culture appears to be entering a post-human world (Hayles). This is partially because of a recognition that the machine is becoming so advanced that soon it may surpass the abilities of its human creator.

While considering the presence of cyborgs in contemporary cinema, I found it interesting that both the representations of machines and technologically enhanced organic organisms stress their superiority in every factor to human beings, but most cyborg representations but it is their human characteristics that the viewer to which the viewer connects. This plays into an inferiority complex perhaps of the human mind, concerned that we may be left behind our post-human counterparts. This is present in both James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) and Bicentenial Man (1999) staring Robin Williams.

Bicentennial_Man_(1999)

In Bicentential Man, Robin Williams plays a robot who has human characteristics such as emotions. Recognizing his own potential beyond his mechanically programed skill, he sets off on an adventure to become as human as he possibly can. This movie was released in year before Y2K, a year that carried many anxieties both about the loss of our technological gains as well as a fear of our technology overpowering our human existence. As a family movie, Bicentenial Man reinforces that technology is still our friend and that humanity is still superior to technology. The character of Robin Williams, however, does propose that a combination of machine and human, or a cyborg, can be better than a robot or a human individually.

avatar-poster

The second film I wish to discuss, Avatar, is film about a bounty of anxieties that confront the human race in the twenty-first century. Some of these basic anxieties include those of first world domination (and the resulting 3rd world destruction), the loss of ethically sound morals in a capitalist-driven world, bigotry, and, of course, environmental issues such as global warming. One of the greatest anxieties captured in Cameron’s film, however, has to do with the inferiority of the human race in relation to the physically superior Na’vi. The only way that the humans can out perform the native Na’vi is by engineering a technology that transfers the soul/mind of a human into a genetically enhanced and engineered organism, in this case a body of the Na’vi. Living in the body of another organism, or an Avatar, Jake Sully is able to destroy the technology and machinery that is run by mankind on Pandora. While the technology the human military is using is powerful and destructive, the Na’vi’s superior physical stature, adaptation to the world of Pandora, and almost magical connection with the environment around them allows them to conquer the humans. In the end, Jake Sully chooses his avatar form to his human one, a decision that reinforces the concept of post-humanism. It was only through the combination of machine and man, however, that his character was able to make the decision to completely hand himself over to the Na’vi race. One of the most prevalent issues that were discussed in this weeks readings, particularly in the work of Foucault, is that of sex and sexuality. The Na’vi exude this sexuality, they are desirable because of incredible physique, part human, part animal. They do not deny their sexuality and have no inhibitions that have been socially constructed by human experience (Foucault).

In both of these films cyborgs play an elemental role not only to the plot, but to the underlying themes that the movie is addressing. Both Robin’s character and Jake Sully’s avatar are cyborgs – the former shifting from the  pure machine towards humanity and the latter shifting from humanity towards an technologically enhanced organism. This is particularly noticeable if one compares the two posters from earlier in this piece. Despite their different directions, both end up in the realm of cyborgs, as defined in Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” –

“A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.”

Trailer for Bicentennial Man: Bicentennial Man (1999)

Trailer for Avatar: Avatar (2009)

Works Referenced:

Avatar. Dir. James Cameron. Perf. Sam Worthington. Twentieth Century Fox, 2009. DVD.

Bicentennial Man. Dir. Chris Columbus. Perf. Robin Williams, Embeth Davidtz, Sam Neill, Oliver Platt. Columbia Tristar, 1999. DVD.

Foucault, Michel. The history of sexuality. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. Print.

Hayles, Katherine. How we became posthuman. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

Haraway, Donna Jeanne. Simians, cyborgs, and women. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.

 

 

 

“Locked Inside”

By Abby Bisbee

 

In Janelle Monáe’s The Archandroid, the second album of her Metropolis concept trilogy, the artist has integrated several musical genres into her tracks including R&B, Funk, techno, Latin rhythms, and 1960s pop-rock. In her song “Locked Inside,” Monáe has included traces from an international cultural encyclopedia – a choice that fits in well with her futuristic themes. In “Locked Inside” the genres of of R&B, Brazilian samba, Spanish guitar, 1960s pop, and 1980s electronic pop carry significant weight in the musical composition. This is best captured by the use of the following instruments that allow for the song to transform into a hybrid track: Congo drums, electric guitar, synthesizer, keyboard, drums, R&B vocals, 1960s samba vocals, horns, and finger snapping.

ARCHANDROID_COVER

This is most evident in the manner in which the song is composed. In its opening measures, the R&B vocals of Janelle Monáe (singing solo) croon alongside a digitized guitar that serves as the foundation of underlying rhythm of the track that is carried through the verses, bridges, and choruses. This guitar remains one of the only constants through the entire song. At 0:15 the drums, piano, and snapping come in to fully capture the hybrid R&B and 1980s electronic pop sound. After the elongation of the notes and a decrease of the vocal rhythm in the bridge, the R&B inspired melody is abandoned for a Samba inspired rhythm with the breathy vocals seen in both samba and 1960s pop. The instrumental focus is rotated to the percussion to emphasize the up-tempo occurring in the song and the dramatic change of the timbre of the musical phrasing). During the chorus the focus turns from the underlying digitized guitar to the drums, bells, piano and hand percussion to note the shift. Throughout the song, particularly in the verses, there is a distinct stacking of vocals with the breathy background vocals serving, like the electric guitar, to connect the R&B and samba elements of the song. After the second chorus the song delves deeper into its roots with the addition of hand played drum, perhaps a set of bongo drums or a djembe. In addition the song also veers into both Latin and blues roots with the Santana inspired electric guitar to truly make the song an international hybrid. This section overlaps all of these musical elements while also picking up the tempo that stays with the song until 3:30 when the song returns to its R&B origins.

Locked Inside – Janelle Monáe (Live)

Works Referenced:

Janelle Monáe. “Locked Inside.” The Archandroid. Bad Boy Records, 2010. CD.

Irvine, Martin. “Popular Music as a Meaning-System: The Combinatorial Structures We Use in Understanding Music.” Communication, Culture, and Technology Department, Georgetown U, Nov. 2013. Web. 17 November 2013.

Reaching Back to the Past to Create the Future: The Archandroid and Janelle Monáe’s Hybrid Album

 

by Abby Bisbee

In May of 2010, artist Janelle Monáe released her debut studio album, The Archandroid. The album was created under the Bad Boy Records and produced by Monáe, Nate (Pocket) Wonder, and Chuck Lightening (“The Archandroid”). Monáe’s creative influence is prevalent throughout the entire two-suite album, integrating her narrative with a broad range of musical genres.  The second of her Metropolis concept albums, The Archandroid, continues the story of Cindi Mayweather, a “messianic android” who returns to the past to free the android community. The concept of Metropolis was influenced by a film from the 1920s that is reminiscent of the more recent film, the Matrix. Her hybridization of musical forms underscores the narrative of her Metropolis concept series by combining many genres of music and techniques to render a selection of songs that not only point to the future of records, but also to our past.

 

On her website, Monáe states that the making of The Archandroid pulled many of the musical themes and genre structures from music that she heard from all around the world while she was on tour (“Janelle Monáe | Biography | Info and Bio”). The tracks nod to jazz, rock, retro-pop, big band music, and even classical compositions. “Suite II” starts with an orchestra playing a classical piece that transitions from traditional to futuristic through the digital manipulation of the music, the inclusion of harp, and the distinct shift into minor cords to create a sense of unease that is associated with sci-fi themes. Each song after the opening “Suite II” addresses multiple genres of music, using hybridity (sampling, cutting, digital manipulation) to create the future of Metropolis, a blending of both past and present. Many of the songs pull from prototypical numbers from the drums of reggae, to the funk of James Brown, to Big Band brass.

 

While one can find traces of this hybridization in all of the tracks on Monáe’s second album, there are several in which it is most apparent. In the third track of the album, “Faster”, one can find influences from retro-pop from the 1960s, Spanish guitar solos inspired by Santana (who in turn was inspired by American blues), the bongo like drums of reggae, and the synthesizer so ever-present in the futuristic sounds of the 1980s. All of these generic techniques blend in with the theme of her futuristic Metropolis. “Locked Inside” takes the inspired guitar and Latin inspired beats to another level. The next song, “Sir Greendown” reaches back to songs of the early 1960s such as “Moon River” with its similar beat and use of guitar. Finally, after the album has taken a journey through the musical genres of the 20th and 21st centuries, it ends with the way that it started – with classical music. With “Say You’ll Go” Monáe incorporates samples of Debussy’s “Claire de Lune,” one of the most prolific songs of the twentieth century. As with all of her songs, even those that directly sample form pre-existing tracks, the music is redefined because of its integration with other forms of music. The layering was only possible through the manner in which the album was recorded, at Palace of the Dogs in Atlanta. A minimum of fifty-four people worked directly on the creation of the album that used instruments from the mandolin to the horn. It was only through the artist’s creative integrity and a desire to merge musical genres to create her story that the album of “The Archandroid” was able to be created.

 

Works Referenced:

Janelle Monáe. The Archandroid. Bad Boy Records, 2010. CD.

“Janelle Monae | Biography | Info & Bio”. JMonae.com. Retrieved February 23, 2011.

“The ArchAndroid.” Wikipedia, 2013. Web. 11 Nov 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Archandroid#cite_note-jmonae1-6>.

Redefining Photojournalism: From Cartier-Bresson to the Postmodern Photography of Kahn and Selesnick

by Abby Bisbee

Over the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries, photography has not only progressed in technique because of advancements in technology, but also in ideology. When the practice of photography was first created in the early version of the daguerreotype, the focus on the artist was to capture the reality that the element of light presented. The subject matter centered on either still lifes or human subjects posing for a portrait. As the quality of the technology around the camera and the lens progressed, however, so did the subject matter as the importance of various techniques shifted as well. A comparison between two photographers from extremely different historical backgrounds will help elaborate upon how both technology, technique, and relative importance of subject matter has changed since the first half of the twentieth century and the first decade of its predecessor.

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French photographer that is considered to be the founder of street photography, or the photojournalist style. He started his work in the 1930s and responsible for capturing some of the most powerful photojournalist style photographs of the twentieth century. Cartier-Bresson was one of the first photographers to venture outside of the studio to capture the exciting moments on the street, framing the pinnacle of action. His photographs are defined by his recognition of geometric shapes created by light and shadow. He was an early adopter of 35 mm format, the film gauge that is most “commonly used for chemical still photography and motion pictures” (Wikipedia). Even though the gage was accepted internationally as the standard gauge in 1909, Cartier-Bresson was one of the first to use it with a photojournalist approach. In Images à la Sauvette, Cartier-Bresson’s capture of a couples’ kiss at the train station captures what is the “Decisive Moment” of an event. What is pivotal to this approach is that Cartier-Bresson did not stage his photographs, but instead he relied upon his camera and artist’s gaze to capture the most important element of everyday events. The focus of the photographs then moves to the geometric shapes, the action of the subjects, and the contrasting and framing elements of the light.

 

From Images à la Sauvette by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

From Images à la Sauvette by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

In high contrast to Cartier-Bresson, we can examine the artwork created by the artist-duo Nicholas Khan and Richard Selesnick. These two artists capture the direction photography has taken since the mid-1990s and the first decade of the twenty-first century. The two artists use the photographs that they take to create “a series of complex narrative photo-novellas and sculptural installations” (kahnselesnick.com). Unlike Cartier-Bresson’s artwork that depends on capturing a moment scene that has come to fruition without the artist’s hand, Kahn and Selesnick returned in the late 1990s to staged photography. In a postmodern approach, the artists addressed the past and the future through staging scenes that challenged preconceptions about reality. Technologically, their photographs differd from Cartier-Bresson because instead of capturing a single frame with a 35 mm camera lens, the duo chose to create epic panoramas because they could “more faithfully create a truer, more cinematic sense of place, while…[the]…manipulation of costume, props and period color would help alter the sense of time” (kahnselesnick.com).

 

Two particular works not only demonstrate how the progression of technology between Cartier-Bresson and Kahn and Selenick was extreme, but even how technology has affected postmodern photography. In the first example from Eisbergfreistadt is ‘The Circular River, the R.E.C. Siberian Expedition of 1945-46’  (1998-1999) the Kahn and Selesnick continue a narrative from an earlier staged panorama project. The panorama project is brought  together in a seven foot wide leather bound book that included “laser-color prints on cotton but had the appearance of vintage folded panoramas, collaged together by hand, stained and inscribed with notes from the expedition” (kahnsalesnick.com). This project demonstrates how photography has taken a hybrid approach and that the capture of natural elements no longer can embody the postmodern photograph. Instead, the postmodern photograph relies on the integration of referential subject matter and also a referential and in this case also simulacral manner of production. These photographs were taken with a non-digital camera and collaged together by hand.

From Eisbergfreistadt from Richard Selesnick and Nicolas Kahn

From Eisbergfreistadt from Richard Selesnick and Nicolas Kahn

Kahn and Salesnick’s later “post-apocolyptic whisky-dark epic ‘Scotlandfuturebog’” takes the use of technology to another level. While the earlier works relied solely on staged photography that created the image through camera and lens work, the duo introduced the computer. This new technology allowed them to overlap and merge photographs from various locations such as Ireland, Isle of Skye, and Cape Cod to create the setting that they were looking to create for their photographic novella (kahnselesnick.com). In addition to the new technology to create the photographs, another element that was critical in their creation of this story was the materials used to print them. These images were originally printed as “giclee prints on translucent Gampi rice paper up to twelve feet long and two feet high” that enhanced their “future historical impossibility.”

Sumpfinselwormloch from Scottlandfuturebog by Nicolas Kahn and Richard Selesnick

Sumpfinselwormloch from Scottlandfuturebog by Nicolas Kahn and Richard Selesnick

It is decisions such as these that separate photographers from people who capture images on modern technology, whether it is a digital camera or a mobile device. The social purpose of photography has been and will continue to be an artistic one, while the act of image making rather serves to capture social rituals and interactions. Both of these artists represent different historical movements in photography, but they both strive to create the photograph that speaks to the viewer beyond the subject matter. Interestingly, both seem to take a photojournalistic approach, capturing the past, present, and future. The question that postmodern brings to the forefront, however, is the veracity of a photograph and the reality that it depicts.

 

Works Cited:

“Henri Cartier-Bresson.” Wikipedia, 2013. Web. 5 Nov 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Cartier-Bresson>.

“Kahn & Selesnick.” Kahnselesnick.com, 2013. Web. 5 Nov 2013. <http://www.kahnselesnick.com>.

Bansky: Art and Environment in Street Art

 

by Abby Bisbee

As the 1980s turned into the 1990s and the 2000s, the popular graffiti art of Keith Haring and Basquiat developed into a new artistic movement: street art. While many artists still employ spray can, street art has also come along with a new arsenal of hybrid artistic approaches such as print-making, drawing, collage, and stickers. A comparison between the environment or “canvas” of the graffiti artists from the 1970s and 1980s and the street artists of the last two decades recognizes that while both use walls of private property, the street artists have taken after their name and literally moved their art off of the walls and onto the street. Today, in NYC, one can find street artists creating their most recent works on sidewalks, commercial billboards, and motor vehicles. The artists, like Haring and SAMO, conduct their work in secrecy often in the dead of the night (Semple). Street art is one of the most hybrid forms of artistic expression in our modern world because its purpose is to draw upon what the viewers know and manipulate the physicality of the subject to make their point. The artists of the movement have “combined punk and hip-hop attitude with learned skills and knowledge of recent art movements” (Irvine). While perhaps he the artist with the most notoriety of this street art movement, Bansky has embraced all of the aesthetic and theological elements of the art and provides an excellent example of how the genre has not only spread from the walls to the streets, but how it has become a socially acceptable form of art despite its illegality.

The main goal of street art was born out of the need to “control…visibility itself” (Irvine, 3). What the artists, such as Bansky, are doing today is changing the manner in which we see “private” space – it is the anti-commercial, the anti-advertising. In this manner, it has strong similarities with pop art and the Warholian movement of the 1960s. Many street artists either present recognizable images from popular culture or distort them to make a social, political, or economic statement. For Bansky, the placement or environment in which he creates his artwork is just as important as what he creates.

Often Bansky shapes his art to not only to its metaphorical canvas (wall, sidewalk, car) but also to the location in terms of social significance. As Irvine recognizes in his chapter on street art, “…street art is explicitly an engagement with a city, ofen a neighborhood…artists are adept masters of the semiotics of space and engage with the city itself as a collage or assemblage of visual environment and source material” (4). To that concept, one of Bansky’s current works in NYC is a truck that is used for caring live cargo with stuffed animals peeping out of the sides. Ironically, and in line with Irvine’s statement, the truck can be found in the Meatpacking District.

Bansky's Meat Truck in the Meatpacking District

Bansky’s Meat Truck in the Meatpacking District

Bansky will also often take pre-existing graffiti and make a social or political statement by adding to it. In the painting below, Bansky combines both hip-hop culture “Ghetto fo Life” and contrasts it with the anti-ghetto, a young well dressed boy who is being served spray paint by his butler. Along with this example, Bansky will often incorporate his figures so that they appear to be interacting with their environment, rather than just performing as a surface or 2D painting. They will be interacting with signs, or leaning on doorways, or my personal favorite, climbing over imaginary bridges. The image below calls to traditional Japanese art of the early 19th century.

Ghetto fo Life

Japanese Bridge Bansky

 

Bansky Man with Flowers 2

Bansky’s art has led the charge for the beginning of the institutionalization of this avant-garde genre. Street art’s purpose is not to be placed in a museum, but rather to use accepted and known subjects, formal qualities, and compositions to make the city dweller more aware of their social and physical surroundings. Despite this, street art has been in high demand by galleries, collectors, and the artists’ adoring fans and some scholars are even beginning to write about the movement. While the subject continuously morphs and keeps the art form fresh, the concept is beginning to become institutionalized and many street artists are even being invited to collaborate with exhibitions in museums (such as the Tate) (Semple) and even create artwork for commission. Two of Bansky’s paintings, beckoning Warhol’s repetitive prints, were recently hung with permission by the owner for a public exhibition on West 24th Street. This artwork truly embodies how street art is not only a hybrid of artistic movements but also a hybrid between the urban environment and the artistic community.

West 24th Street

Bibliography

“Better Out Than In: An artists residency on the street of New York.” 2013. Web. 29 Oct 2013. <http://www.banksy.co.uk/>.

Irvine, Martin. “The Work on the Street: Street Art and Visual Culture”. The Handbook of Visual Culture. By Heywood, Ian and Barry Sandywell. 1st ed. New York: Berg, 2012. 235-278. Print.

Semple, Kirk. “Lawbreakers, Armed With Paint and Paste.” The New York Times. 9th May. 2004. Web. 29 Oct 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/09/nyregion/09street.html?ex=1136350800&en=17d7086074ca2b5f&ei=5>.

“Street Art | Tate.” Tate, 2008. Web. 29 Oct 2013. <http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/street-art>.

Death in Pop Art: From Warhol to Murakami

By Abby Bisbee

Andy Warhol has taken his place in art history as the father of Pop art as it is consumed today. While there were earlier artists that influenced the Pop movement such as Rauschenberg, it can be argued the Warhol has been the most influential in the manner that pop art is consumed in the twenty-first century. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Warhol began to make his “Death in America” series focusing on subject matter that depicting traumatic and often gruesome photographs of death. In the series Warhol still implemented his signature “machine” methodology of printmaking; the pieces still centered on the repetition of the image. The use of repetition has been interpreted in several different ways by scholars, some arguing that it promotes the effect of the image, others stating that it dilutes the power of the subject. The largest question that has arisen through this period in Warhol’s work is whether the art is representational or simulacral (Foster); in other words, does the art merely depict an image that has been separated from its context and is only significant to the viewer in its formal quality or does the repeated subject still translate a particular meaning because one can never completely disassociate himself from context. The conclusion that both the author Hal Foster and I have come to is that it is indeed both. The representational element or the context cannot be taken away from the subject, but it is the manner in which Warhol uses repetition to create a simulacral piece of art that ends up reinforcing the power of the image.

Takashi Murakami came onto the contemporary-art scene in the 1990s with a Japanese interpretation of Pop art. Murakami’s “pop strategy for mixing references to canonical art – historical figures or subjects with consumer sources is analogous to the work of Andy Warhol” (Darling). Murakami has taken his traditional training in nihonga, a “hybrid of European and traditional Japanese painting” created in the 19th century, and merged it with images inspired by modern Japanese pop culture (Lubow). In the late 1990s, Murakami coined the technique of “Superflat” where images have a start two-dimensional quality, particularly in his paintings. This technique has been strongly influenced by traditional Japanese painting and is used to “indicate a mix of high and low art” (Vogel). Where Warhol’s art was both heavily weighted on the representational and the simulacral, Murakami’s art is blatantly representational. Over the course of his career his artwork has moved from channeling the sexual overtones of the okatu culture in Japan to the modern cute culture. The latter, surprisingly, may actually serve to bring greater awareness of death and evil in our world. In the following two paragraphs, I will examine two pieces of art by Murakami that use cute culture to draw attention to underlying social issues that he believes are prevalent in Japanese culture today.

Time-Bokan, acrylic, canvas, wood, 2001.

Time-Bokan, acrylic, canvas, wood, 2001.

Time-Bokan (2001) is an image that Murakami has integrated dozens of times. In it he has taken a popular image of a mushroom cloud, flattened the image by highly contrasting it and separating the image and the background only using two colors, pink and white. Needless to say, the mushroom cloud represents a dark hour for the people of Japan dating back to World War II when the US dropped two atomic bombs over the country. The atomic bomb is representative of death and pain as well as the loss of cultural identity and power. In Hal Foster’s piece, “Death in America,” he notes that the repetition used in Warhol’s artwork in his series of Death in America reinforces the traumatic because you are not only confronted by the image once, but several times. It is his technique rather than the subject matter that makes the work so much more powerful.

Similarly, Murakami uses his technique to draw attention to the subject matter. In Time-Bokan Murakami takes the outline of the mushroom cloud and implements his cute culture techniques to transform the cloud into a face. While the resulting image still appears to be a skeleton, thus still calling to the trauma in the painting, Murakami has used his “Superflat” technique and use of “cute” colors to draw it away from realism and to diffuse the trauma of the piece. But, as Foster similarly argues about Warhol, it is this diffusion of the trauma of the subject that forces the viewer to examine the not only the context of the piece, but the meaning behind its portrayal. Like Warhol, Murakami takes the “mass subject” to portray the “anonymous victims of history,” in this case the Japanese history (Foster). As Lubow notes, “fear and anger…[are]…adopted right on the surface.” Murakami has used cute culture to illustrate his position on contemporary Japanese society. When curating an exhibition with the Japan Society in New York in 2005, he referred to his country as an “unmoored, apolitical state” (Japan Society). By taking these powerful images of the atomic bomb and transforming them into something more easily consumed, he is referencing how current Japanese society has addressed the world since WWII from the position of child, living in a dream world. Time-Bokan is only one example of how Murakami has addressed current social and political issues within Japanese society, but its technique and use of death emphasize the power that Pop art has been able to have ever since the time of Warhol.

Works Cited:

Darling, Michael. “Plumbing the Depths of Superflatness.” Art Journal, 60. 3 (2001): 76-89. Print.

Foster, Hal. “Death in America.” October, 75. (1996): 36-59. Print.

Arthur Lubow, “The Murakami Method,” New York Times Magazine, April 3, 2005.

“Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture.” Japan Society, 2005. Web. 22 Oct 2013. <http://www.japansociety.org/little_boy_the_arts_of_japans_exploding_subculture>.

Carol Vogel, “The Murakami Influence,” New York Times, April 6, 2005.

 

“The Sign Man”: Jasper Johns and the Use of the Familiar Image

by Abby Bisbee

Jasper Johns came onto the Pop art scene in 1954 when he had his first solo show in at the Castelli Gallery in New York City. Johns, who is considered to be one of the founding fathers of the “Pop moment” (Foster), has solidified his place in art history with his work that incorporates familiar signs. In Umberto Eco’s essay “Theory of Signs and the Role of the Reader,” he recognizes that the role of the reader of art is “an active role in textual interpretation because signs are structured according to an inferential model” (Eco). Pop art is defined by its use of signs and the inference one can gain from viewing them. In an interview with the Guardian in 2004, Johns stated that he is “concerned with a thing’s not being what it is, with it becoming something other than what it is” (Brockes). This conceptual foundation of his art is particularly noticeable in his work from the 1950s and 1960s. To best examine how the Pop moment was captured in Johns’s artwork, I will examine two of his early pieces: Map (1961) and Painted Bronze (1960).

 

When one first looks at Map, the outline of the political geography of the United States of America is the characteristic that is most noticeable. Johns used the encaustic method in addition to oil paint and collage in his creation of Map.  While the “painting” uses traditional materials such as canvas and oil paint, Johns incorporated other materials such as wax and paper to make a collage. As such, when completed, Map shows as an assembly of various materials instead of an “illusionistic picture plane” that only abides by “traditional formal laws of geometric arrangement” (Irvine). The subject matter is not of his creation, but rather an internationally recognized symbol of Western power and unity. While the image is of the United States, the strict boarder lines become blurry with the use of the oil paint, and the stenciled state names (perhaps a calling to the mechanical reproduction that was so omnipotent in Pop art) are not all correctly placed in their states. The effort, however, to use a symbol that is so widely recognized forces the viewer not to look at the subject but to “see” the painting and artistic techniques used (“The Collection”). The meaning of the symbol can be interpreted in countless ways, but the recognition of the image is widespread.

Jasper Johns, Map. Oil on Canvas, 1961. Museum of Modern Art.

Jasper Johns, Map. Oil on Canvas, 1961. Museum of Modern Art.

 

Because Map’s assembly of non-traditional materials and the placement of the stenciled state names, the painting calls into question the commodification of the America; America has turned into an object that can be consumed. It also threatens the established “traditional” oil paintings that generally represent the nation.

 

The second work of Johns’s that integrates recognizable signs is his Painted Bronze, a bronze cast that depicts two Ballatine Ale cans. The use of these beer cans is homage to the Pop culture of the 1950s and 60s that was defined by advertising (Foster). The label of the Ballatine Ale is painted with oil paint on each ‘can’. By using “canonized” (Irvine) mediums to make beer cans that would have been widely available to lower and middle income Americans, Johns calls into question the importance of high art and the prestige given to traditional art. This piece embodied the Pop art moment of the 1960s because of its hybid use of materials, its “reuse of already made images” (Irvine), and its reference to the machine made object. In Painted Bronze, there is no narrative associated with the item and no formal composition that harkens back to great “masters” paintings. The pair of cans, while they can be interpreted as more than what they seem, are also just simply a pair of beer cans. One of the most potent statements about Pop art that can apply to both of these pieces of work is that it “reveals constantly a belief in the translatability of a work of art” (Alloway).

Jasper Johns, Painted Bronze. Bronze and oil, 1960. Museum Ludwig, Cologne.

Jasper Johns, Painted Bronze. Bronze and oil, 1960. Museum Ludwig, Cologne.

 

Works Cited:

 

Alloway, Lawrence. “Popular Culture and Pop Art,” Studio International, July-August 1969: 17-21.

Brockes, Emma. “Master of few words.” The Guardian. The Guardian, 26 Jul 2004. Web. 13 Oct 2013. <http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/jul/26/art.usa>.

Eco , Umberto. “The Theory of Signs and the Role of the Reader.” Bulletin of the Midwest Modern Language Association. 14.1 (1981): 35-45. Web. 14 Oct. 2013.

Foster, Hal. “On the First Pop Age.” New Left Review. 19. (2003): 93-112. Web. 14 Oct. 2013.

Irvine, Pop and Appropriation Art and the Encyclopedia (presentation)

“The Collection.” MoMA. Museum of Modern Art , n.d. Web. 14 Oct 2013. <http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79372>.

 

The NFL and the American Spectacle

Abby Bisbee

 

There cannot be a more prevalent form of the spectacle in the United States of America than the dissemination of the sport of Football through the NFL. According to Debord, the spectacle serves as an “instrument of unification” and the NFL have used the platform of the sport to promote something greater than an athletic event. The sport of American football has come to represent the promise of the American dream. Sundays have become ritualistic days of worship beyond the church that Protestant America was founded upon in the sixteenth century. The NFL promotes and presents what is a “model of socially dominant life” in the USA. The production and consumption of the professional football game has moved beyond the basic dissemination of the sport. There is a strong connection that Americans find with fans of individual teams and the sport in general. Debord recognizes that this type of connection is strongly related to the social relationship among people as “mediated by images” in this case, through the television. Through improvements in technology, the growth of materialization, and the power of simulation the NFL has become one of the largest corporate powers in the western world.

 

The spectacle of the football game has taken cinematography that is used in major motion pictures today. The similarities between Angela Ndalianis’ examination of the creation of spectacle and simulation in the film The Matrix (1999) is almost identical. The filming and dissemination of the football game has destroyed the separation between the at home audience and the stadium. Through the use of framing and camera movements including the “high velocity pans, tracks, fast paced edits, and 360 degree camera summer-saults” the fan can experience almost the same event that the players experience on the field. In addition to these techniques the NFL has begun the use of slow motion rewinds, on field audio, and digital reconstruction of plays. The event is present in the “filmic space,” “production space,” and the “audience’s space” (Ndalianis). These cinematographic choices present the players as almost super human, playing in front of thousands of fans physically and millions of fans virtually, have become the spectacle itself.

 

The location of the stadium as a sacred space can be compared to Malraux’s concept of the “musée imaginaire.” The images that reproductions have captured through both televised simulacra embody the ideas that the players, the sport, and the fans represent. In the “musée imaginaire” the museum is no longer recognized a location that preserves and displays artwork, but rather is understood as the guardian of high culture and art history. The pieces of artwork that it preserves are not understood for their material creation, but for the role that they have played in the spectacle of art history. Like the role that the museum, the stadium’s meaning the “cultural encyclopedia” of western society no longer represents a physical location where a football game is played but rather the foundation of the American dream, national hope, personal drive, and an almost deified respect for the god/athlete.

 

The concept of spectacle created by simulation can be recognized in the following video clips. Note that while watching you no longer feel that you are watching a football game. The manner in which it is presented plays on the audience’s emotions. Many people forget that each game has a director – each show (or game) has an opening that sets a stage for consumption, and intermission, and a finale. Many broadcasting networks have even brought the digital use of simulacra into their daily routines using holograms and “scientific recreations”. All of these elements sets the game of American football to touch its audiences beyond the element of competition – the NFL has created a mode of consumption and production that reflects the socially accepted spectacle.

Sunday Night Football Opening Intro – 2013

 

Bibliography:

Debord, Guy.The Society and Spectacle (1967) trans. Black & Red (1977). http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/debord/society.htm

Irvine, Martin. Malraux and the musée imaginaire: Mediation, Image, and Institution in Benjamin and Malraux. Georgetown University.

Ndalianis, Angela. The Frenzy of the Visible: Spectacle and Motion in the Era of the Digital. Feature Articles, Issue 3. February 2000.

 

 

The Photo Face-Off: The Gordon v. McGinley Case and the Role of Copyright in Art

by Abby Bisbee

In 2012, a copyright infringement battle was brought to court between two contemporary photographers. Janine Gordon sued fellow photographer Ryan McGinley arguing that 150 of McGinley’s photographs are “substantially based” off of Gordon’s artwork. It is not a far cry for Gordon to think that McGinley’s work may have been influenced by her own, as their work has been shown at similar museums and galleries for over 10 years (artnet.com). Their overlapping art journey began in 2002 when both artists had their photography presented at the Whitney – Gordon for the 2002 Biennial and McGinley for his first major solo exhibition. Over the next few years both Gordon and McGinley had their work shown at several of the same galleries including Schirn Kunsthalle and Team Gallery. After almost a decade, Gordon has recently become incensed with the similiarities between the two artists’ artworks and (as a conjecture on the part of this author) the success that the younger artist has had in what she may see as her place. Ryan McGinley has been responsible for several major advertising campaigns, including one for Levi’s.

 

After reading about this case, I questioned how the it fit into our discussions on appropriation, fair use, and copyright law. According to the ArtJournal.net article written by Rachel Corbett, McGinley’s legal group has made the statement that Gordon’s accusations do not reflect copyright infringement but rather only the use of similar ideas within the young artist’s work. With that understanding, McGinley’s lawyers have argued that copyright law does not “protect ideas, principles, or explanations – only their manifestations” (ArtJournal.net). Gordon’s response is that ideas or the “idea-pattern” of a work or works of art are as “deserving of copyright protection” as the artistic and technical elements of a piece of art.

combination of Gordon McGinley Art

Gordon’s artwork (Left), McGinley’s Artwork (Right) for comparison

 

One of the main difficulties that surround this case is the question of photography in relation to copyright. The most common case of copyright infringement in connection to photography is that of appropriation. Many artists, such as Richard Prince, implement appropriated photographs and alter them to relay his artistic message. In copyright infringement cases involving appropriation, many defendants impart Fair Use, or the use of appropriated material for other purposes “such as for commentary, criticism, news reporting, or educational use” (Chilling Effects). In the case of Gordon vs. McGinley, however, McGinley’s photographs resemble Gordon’s work, but do not directly use appropriated material. But with an art form that lacks the technical elements of other genres such as sculpting or painting, how can one definitively say whether a photograph has too much in common with a copyrighted work to be illegal? With a post-modern eye, photography, just like everything else, is “already-seen” or not completely original (Harrison). How does a photographer make an individual mark for himself?

 

After reading through the elements of this case, I pose a question to the reader. Is this a case (on the surface) of copyright infringement? From examining both the artwork and both sides of the case, I believe that given the history of contact that the artists have with each other and several similarities in technique (lighting, color, composition, etc.) Gordon has a solid argument to win her case. From a theoretical point of view, however, I do not believe that copyright law should penalize artists for being inspired by other artists. In modern society, the “author” as seen in Barthes, was given power and prestige in the 18th century. The individualism that is derived from authorial prestige, however, can destroy creativity and imagination among artists who cannot gather inspiration from their environments and fellow artists in a contemporary society. I agree that certain acknowledgements should be made upon the use of another artists art – particularly in the case of appropriation – but in this case where there is no direct use of formal subject, it is McGinley’s right to draw from his experiences to portray the ideas that he believes need to be disseminated. With that argument, it is pivotal to reflect upon our artistic past and examine some of the greatest masterpieces of our time and understand that without the “already-seen” they would not exist.

Bibliography:

Chilling Effects Clearinghouse: Copyright and Fair Use, http://www.chillingeffects.org/fairuse/.

Corbett, Rachel. “Art&Copyright: Ryan McGinley Sued in Copyright Case.” Artnet.com. Artnet.com. Web. 30 Sep 2013. <http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/news/corbett/ryan-mcginley-sued-for-copyright-violation7-11-11.asp>.

Nate Harrison, “The Pictures Generation, the Copyright Act of 1976, and the Reassertion of Authorship in Postmodernity,” Art and Education Paper, June, 2012.

Zhang, Michael. “At What Point Does Inspiration Turn Into Copyright Infringement?.” PetaPixel. PetaPixel, 14 Jul 2011. Web. 30 Sep 2013. <http://petapixel.com/2011/07/14/at-what-point-does-inspiration-turn-into-copyright-infringement/>.