Author Archives: Catherine Boardman

Jeff Koons & The Chicago Imagists


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Catherine Boardman

Abstract

In my final paper, I examine Jeff Koons by peering into his work titled Gazing Balls. I will share my contextual discoveries from his interviews about how his oeuvre can be an interface to our current system of values. Through investigating Koons’ networks of influence via interviews and artistic comparisons, I will unpack Koons as he presents himself as an artist and the institution that mediates his work – The Museum. All art is polyphronic – coming from many voices, incorporating many styles, perspectives, references and assumptions. Often people question the validity of Koons’ work as art because its subject matter and meaning seems superficial; however, I argue that his artworks can be an interface to the systems of meaning that make what we see possible. The “context is not just intrinsic to the artwork’s meaning, it is the provider of its meaning” (Pledger, 2014, p. 1). Starting with a brief history of Koons’ life, I will show how Koons interacted with a lesser known group of artists – the Chicago Imagists – and how their influence was a catalyst for making him one of the most famous artists in the world. Much is known about the life of Jeff Koons due to his willingness to be in the public eye and intentional self-branding; however, as Picasso once said, “It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words! The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them” (Rowlandson, 2007, p. 115).

As the Whitney’s Donna De Salvo said, “If Jeff Koons didn’t exist, we would have to invent him” (Brooks, 2014, p. 1).

Introduction

Artworks are “interfaces to the systems of meaning transmitted in institutions and in the cultural capital of groups and classes with knowledge of the Cultural Encyclopedia” (Irvine, 2018). As Oscar Wilde wrote, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life” and no artist better represents the current rapidly growing desire to brand ourselves using social media than Jeff Koons (Yefremov, 2014).On greater scale not only of art, but also of showmanship, the work of Koons can be seen as an interface to the cultural values of our social system. Although his enterprising and masterful approach to self-promoting is unprecedented, art’s relationship with branding is not entirely a new concept. From the Roman Empire, to Napoleon, to Hitler, art collections were used to demonstrate a nation’s power, intelligence, skill and civilized society (Alexander & Alexander, 2007). As collections grew, democracy spread, and public access granted, the museum became a place where all could engage and share a nation’s cultural capital. As a place where cultures intersect, the curator holds much power in his choice of what and what not to display (McClellan, 2008). Museums have adapted over time and to this day they remain like “a cultural coral reef, always growing and changing” (Alexander & Alexander, 2007, p. 38). However, with globalization and growing commodification of the Artworld, becoming a successful artist today requires a wider skillset than just mastery of the craft. Koons stresses “connecting” with people, engaging the public in a dialogue, all while simultaneously promoting his “brand” (Miller, 2015), most likely because connecting emotionally to the public is a key branding technique.

Jeff Koons

Dressed like he still works on Wall Street, speaking like a politician, and self-promoting like an Instagram star, Jeff Koons is a ball of contradictions (Brooks, 2017).  His spectrum of art goes from risqué subject matter like pornography to as childish as mounds of Play-Doh; household objects like vacuum cleaners to “exact” replicas of Old Masters; covering all aspects of our mediated experiences. Coming from a humble beginning in Pennsylvania, he is now one of the world’s richest artists turning cheap objects into expensive cultural artifacts.

He claims his time in Pennsylvania was the inspiration for the Gazing Balls series, but I believe the layers of context go much deeper. As Baudrillard believed, we cannot know our own reality because what we experience is impacted and filtered by language and culture. Traditionally, artists create art as a form of expression, but Koons is an anomaly. As the face and spokesperson of his “brand” he has infiltrated the art world, popular culture, the music industry, and the fashion industry forming a culture of “Koonsurmerism.” His hands-on approach to his brand contradicts the fact that he rarely creates his art himself. In order to understand Koons and his Gazing Balls, contextual history is essential to elucidate how we give his art meaning and attach our own personal experiences and cultural encyclopedia of knowledge.

As the artistic personification of the American Dream, Jeff Koons rose from a middle-class town in Pennsylvania to becoming one of the most successful living artists today. Born to the owner of a home decoration store, Koons began his habit of appropriating art at the age of seven by creating replicas of Old Masters work signed with his signature: Jeffrey Koons. It seems that throughout his entire life, Koons has always been creating art and selling something simultaneously. He attended art school at the Maryland Institute College of Art and School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he furthered his knowledge of art history and soon thereafter he moved to New York City. Beginning his love affair with the Artworld, Koons began working for the Museum of Modern Art selling memberships. According to MoMA’s website, “Koons had a habit of wearing somewhat outlandish accessories–such as inflatable flowers and paper vests–while at the membership desk” (Harvey, 2010). To support his art, Koons began selling stocks on Wall Street. Although merely speculation, I believe Koons not only entered the realm of Wall Street to make money and learn the ins and outs of the market, but also to gain entrance into the network of the wealthy in New York City.

Beginning his career in a generation of postmodern artists in the 1980s, Koons’ first studio was very Warhol-esque with mirrors lining the floors and inflatable objects strewn about. Later, he moved to a bigger space in Chelsea so he could accommodate numerous assistants to create his work (similar to Andy Warhol) and for producing works of art within series or in themes. Like Warhol, “Making the touch of the artist irrelevant to the authenticity of the painting is one significant element in the conceptual revolutions that made the art of the twentieth century so different from the art of all earlier centuries” (Galenson, 2009, p.198). Classified as “Neo-Pop,” Koons avoids hidden meaning in his work; he wants his art to be whatever the viewer wants it to be. His claim that he“tries to reach a widest possible audience by using familiar objects with sentimental value… [and that it is] his mission to make the viewer confident of his own judgment and taste” (Koons as cited in Wikipedia) contradicts accounts of his meticulous way of creating art. Considering Jeff Koons is a ball of contradictions, how are we supposed to believe what he says?

Gazing Balls 

Upon first glance and without prior knowledge of Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, one may have mistaken Gazing Ball (Manet Luncheon on the Grass) by Jeff Koons to be the original. However, Koons walks the line between overt copyright and homage to art history intentionally in order to implement one of his many artistic tricks. Koon’s Gazing Balls references influential artists of the past, such as, Leonardo Da Vinci, Rubens, Manet, and 32 others, by recreating their works on a larger scale. Koons elaborates that everyone was referencing each other. Rubens was referencing Leonardo da Vinci, Manet was referencing Titian, Picasso was referencing Manet and Titian; “everybody’s in this dialogue of connecting with each other” (as cited in Miller, 2015, p. 2).

Starting from the beginning, Koons’ foundation of his artistic career began with replicating Old Master’s work. Therefore, it is unsurprising he would circle back to this idea because “the more you make things, the more your voice will become a collection of those influences and start to feel unique” (Riley, 2017, p. 1). The layers of influence appear to be simple with a chain of thought that follows along the lines of: “all artists are influenced by their predecessors, one of Koons’ predecessors and influences was Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp who also appropriated art by adding his own twist, Koons typically works with metal and the metal here resembles his Balloon Dogs. However, it is not just that simple. The Artworld and appropriation has an interesting dichotomy and although it only recently became acceptable, artists are always influenced by the continuum of interpretations (Irvine, 2018). Once you change an artwork, it loses its “aura” of authenticity (Benjamin, 1935).

Museums have traditionally been the context we associate with consuming art; they “are the frame and effective support upon which the work is inscribed/composed.” (Buren, 1985, p. 189). We trust in museums as an institution to present us with authentic work, which affords us the ability to examine Old Master’s ability to transcend the viewer. “The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history it has experienced” (Benjamin, 1935, p. 4).

Standing in front of an original involves a transcending experience of time-traveling back to the presence of the painter himself. Koons’ hand-painted reproductions that he claims are exact except for the size (Miller, 2015) may have some merit because “reproductions claim to teach us simply what an object looks like” (Beil, 2013, p. 22). In a way Koons is democratizing great works of art by giving them new attention; however, our attention and gaze is blocked by a gazing ball. Similar to Samuel Morse’s Gallery at the Louvre, the viewer is pushed to reflect on not only Koons’ talent, but the talent of great artists of the past who have impacted the trajectory of art history and our socialization within the Artworld. The only way masterpieces like Manet’s “Luncheon on the Grass” can go away is if we as a human race stop valuing what it stands for as a cultural artifact. Koons reminds us of this by placing us face-to-face with our reflection in his glass ball. Creating his works using the same medium as the originals, Koons increases the size of the oil on canvas and he (and his assistants) places a shelf adorned with a Gazing Ball.


Gazing Ball (Manet Olympia)
oil on canvas, glass, and aluminum
55 1/4 x 81 1/8 x 14 3/4 inches
140.3 x 206 x 37.5 cm
© Jeff Koons
2014-2015

Édouard Manet
Luncheon on the Grass (Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe), 1863
Oil on canvas
82 × 104 in
208.3 × 264.2 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Source: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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There is hidden meaning in these Gazing Balls.The “blue glass bauble popularized by King Ludwig II of Bavaria and now more often used as garden ornaments […] were specially hand-blown in Pennsylvania” and each one is unique. (Needham, 2015, p. 1). Without the viewer’s actual presence, Koons’ reflecting balls have no effect. Being in the museum allows for viewers to walk around the art and engage with the gallery. Placing balls on shelves like painting on walls, Gazing Balls makes a commentary on the Artworld itself.  As the Artworld’s “puer aeternus”says, the gazing ball references “everything” and is the “apex of the objective readymade dialogue” (Frank, 2015, p. 2). The controversy with Koons’ appropriation is that he can make millions as an artist without picking up his paintbrush or creating his own work. This reflects the socio-economic dilemma he was brought up in and the one we are in today. He references “great artists” when he himself is a “great artist” making the whole discovery as cyclical as a spherical gazing ball. When examining Koons’ oeuvre, Roberta Smith (2014) highlights that despite Koons’ irregularity in medium, he often circles back to themes to expand on ideas. Maybe Gazing Balls is just him returning to his childlike days of copying art.

Koons combines high art and the old master’s ability to transcend us into another world with our desire to find ourselves in the art by reflecting our image through the glass ball. Maybe Koons’ implementation of gazing balls symbolizes how he wants to be remembered through history, that he is un-reproducible because anyone who sees his works of art will see something different within the gazing ball. Maybe he is commenting about how these works are received differently now. Maybe he is commenting on time travel and the durability of art thanks to the museum, which is reflected in the gazing ball. By looking into the gazing ball, one can imagine what the future of these great works looks like. Koons however, offers this explanation:

I love the concept of the gaze. People put gazing balls in their yard. It’s such a generous thing to do! It’s informing you, it’s bright, it’s informing you of where you are. It’s a GPS system. Because it reflects almost 360 degrees and it tells you everything it can about where you are in the universe. Your brain is always secreting chemicals because it wants to know where you are in the universe – Jeff Koons (as cited in Miller, 2015, p. 1).

Avoiding the obvious references, one would make such as, to “Gazing Museums,” fortune teller crystal balls at carnivals, time travel and seeing your future; instead he compares it to a GPS system. What is he trying to say?

To him, the balls remind him of his neighbor’s lawns on his hometown of York, Pennsylvania. However, Koons is a somewhat deceiving here, which leads one to think that everything he says cannot be trusted as the full truth. For example, his son who is named Ludwig – like the King of Bavaria (which is present day Germany) – was born in Munich because Koons and his mother were living there at the time. Furthermore, glass balls like this somewhat resemble the crystal balls you would encounter visiting a psychic. With this realization of correlating facts, is the intention truly to reflect the viewer, or is Koons reflecting himself? No matter the answer, by reflecting our image with the Artworld we become a part of his appropriated art.  As Freud observed, human intentions are unconscious and I believe the self-promoting genius in him cannot hide all of his unconscious intentions. Koons wants to be an old master and he believes he is changed by experiencing these works:

“I’m a different human being since I saw Manet’s paintings,” Koons said. “My genes have changed. And it’s a fact that through ideas you can morph your genes. Now they don’t know how long you can do that, but Eric Kandel, the Nobel Prize–winner neuroscientist, told me that they domorph, they change.” Kandel won the Nobel in 2000 for his work in “the molecular biology of memory storage.” “Now whether you can pass that on,” Koons continued, referring back—I think—to a person’s morphed genes, “that’s another story. I believe you can. I think that you can. I think that you become a completely different human being and that’s what this is about—that through ideas you can become who you would like to be. You can connect in a dialogue with history, and penetratehistory, and realize the depth and meaning of humanity through ideas and that you can also change your future, and put your foot intothe future through your ideas. And this type of connecting parallels, kind of, the reality that we’re in” – Jeff Koons (as cited in Miller, 2015).

By replicating works as a child to now, he attempts to associate his name with theirs, weaving it into the collective consciousness of the public.

Chicago Imagists 

For an artist who is not shy about sharing his influences, Koons neglects to mention his experience working in the Chicago art scene. After seeing Jim Nutt’s show at the Whitney in 1974, Koons decided to spend his senior year away from the Maryland Institute College of Art and transferred to School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Lopez, 2008). Influenced by popular culture like advertising painted on window shops, childlike phenomenon like comics and pinball machines, and artists like Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, Jim Nutt would introduce Koons to a new way of thinking and a new group of artists. The Chicago Imagists under the curator Don Baum, distinguished from the New York art scene at the time, originated as a collection of 5 artists with nothing in common visually about their artistic style, but a lot in common idealistically (Buchbinder, 2015). Baum encouraged the artists to do what they pleased, creating a low risk environment for their artwork. Koons clearly noted this in an interview with Chicago Magazine:

I loved Ed Paschke’s work. After I saw Jim’s show, I became aware of the Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists. On the first night in Chicago, I went to the Ink Well Bar that was across from the old MCA, and this guy came in, this tall man, and I thought, “That has got to be Ed Paschke.” I ended up becoming his assistant and I would stretch his canvases and help him in the studio. That’s what I remember and that I loved so much about Chicago, those moments in the studio, just talking to him. – Jeff Koons (as cited in Lopez, 2008).

Femme Noir by Ed Paschke, 1987. https://michiganavemag.com/how-the-ed-paschke-art-center-honors-the-late-artist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For their first few shows at Hyde Park Center, the group created comics for their catalogue of the artworks. Koons would most likely have seen every one of these catalogues while at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and working in Paschke’s studio. Their comics as a form of self-promotion could have me the impetus for Koons’ self-promoting success. On The Jeff Koons Show, Mary Boone, gallery owner and director, said “the way in which Andy [Warhol] predicted celebrity, Jeff [Koons] predicted branding” (as cited in Chernick, 2004). For a man who is seemingly extroverted, he is seldom transparent about where his ideas truly come from or his desire to be a famous, influential artist.

During the Chicago Imagists’ short-lived popularity, the East coast began to notice. Although not all reviews were positive, one can make links between their oeuvre that influenced Koons. In the documentary Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists(2014),Peter Fuller from Aspects is quoted describing the group’s work as “Art of degradation, banality, perversion, and formless despair” (Buchbinder, 2015). Koons’ series, following a formless fashion, are titled Luxury and Degradation, Banality, Easyfun, Celebration, Made in Heaven, and Inflatables and all incorporate some perversion. Even with the direct correlations, this tension of influences within the artist is seen in his interview with Chicago Reader. Returning years later to Chicago for an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago, Koons gives us a glance into this internal dilemma when he says:

I really had no interest in the New York scene, dominated by art critics like Clement Greenberg, who seemed too concerned with rules. Inspired by surrealism and Dada, I was interested in dealing with intuitive thought. But I did want to be part of my generation of artists” – Jeff Koons (Elliot, 2015).

The postmodern generation Koons is referencing is one that assumed the conversation of Greenberg, making Greenberg’s argument contextually important for understanding the artwork that followed. In “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” Greenberg (1961) writes, “To fill the demand of the new market, a new commodity was devised: ersatz culture, kitsch, destined for those who, insensible to the values of genuine culture, are hungry nevertheless for the diversion that only culture of some sort can provide” (p. 10). In reaction to Greenberg’s writings, postmodern artists reacted by embracing all that popular. Koons’ grasped onto their idea, following the likes of using humor and irony like Claes Oldenburg and cultural icons like Andy Warhol (Jenkins, 2018). However, without exposure to the rebellious Chicago group and their distaste for the New York art scene, Koons may never have found his style. Koons’ recipe is one of a paradox: on one hand he wants to be remembered throughout history as an artist worthy of ‘Greenbergian’ critique and on the other hand, Koons hides his experience with a less famous group of artists who exposed him to certain ideas in the first place.

Cotton Mouth, 1968, acrylic on Plexiglas with aluminum, cotton, and enamel on wood frame, 39.5 in. x 27 in.
Photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Regardless, Koons carried his experience with Paschke in Chicago with him to New York and Paschke’s inventive use of media images and popular culture would impact his art forever. Demonstrating his ability to multitask the many roles in the Artworld, Koons curated a show of Paschke’s work at the Gagosian in 2010.

Central to my work is what I refer to as the law of opposites; I believe that there are polarities between things […] Positive/negative, the idea of pacing a painting in terms of complexity and simplicity, the idea of public versus private, are elements that have always interested me and that I’ve always tried in some way to build into the character of the paintings. —Ed Paschke (as cited in Gagosian, 2010)

Paschke was provoking. He took photographs of fat women, carnivals, anything nearby and his attention to detail must have influenced Koons. Although the group had temporary success, surrealism became untrendy and the group was too entrenched in the art scene in Chicago that they were ignored by New Yorkers (Chernick, 2004). This could explain why Koons left Chicago for New York. Sensing their demise whether consciously or not, Koons did not take any chances being forgotten, he wanted to be a modern old master; therefore, he went straight to the source, the Museum of Modern Art, and asked for a job. His art trended towards the New York art scene as he desperately tried to maintain selling something (memberships, stocks, etc) while creating art. Although his artwork has little visual traces of the Chicago Imagists, the most essential parts of what makes Jeff Koons the prototype of branding artists has its influences in his experiences with Paschke.

Like any modern artist, the weight of art history is immense as a result of the affordances of mechanical reproduction. What Michael Baxandall called “the period eye” or culturally learned ways of interpreting visual data can vary from person to person according to our prior experience (as cited in Beil, 2013, p. 22). In his art classes as a child and at the college level, Koons must have encountered numerous genres, types, and styles of painting in art catalogues and art history textbooks which is an affordance of mechanical reproductions. “Technologies need to be mobilized for democratic principles, and used with an awareness of the dangers and misrepresentations when artefacts are reduced to reproductions” (Irvine, 2018, p. 3). As Benjamin and Malraux argued, experiencing art in technologically mediated form does not have the same effect. Photographic reproductions diminish the size, flatten the texture, and decontextualizes the work, resulting a loss of the “aura of authenticity” (Benjamin, 1935). Although Koons’ art history knowledge is vast thanks to photographic reproductions, the experiences of encountering art first-hand while working with Ed Paschke and at MoMA must have had more an influence than he chooses to admit.

Vincent van Gogh
Wheatfield with Crows, 1890
Oil on canvas
19 9/10 × 40 3/5 in
50.5 × 103 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Gazing Ball (van Gogh Wheatfield with Crows)
oil on canvas, glass, and aluminum
46 x 96 1/8 x 14 3/4 inches
116.8 x 244.2 x 37.5 cm
© Jeff Koons
2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Koons’ essence is one of reproduction. He reproduces objects from popular culture by changes the scale. We often can see ourselves in his art, which mirrors the current issue within the Artworld today that is the fear of mechanical reproduction lessening the museum’s importance within society. In her Ted Talk,“Art in the Age of Instagram,” Jia Jia Fei explains that although museums have fought against the selfie-generation and the distractions of mobile phones, photographic reproduction has made the Artworld more approachable thus, spreading public participation and engagement with art. Experiencing art mediated through Instagram has the power to sparks one’s interest, encouraging them to have the authentic experience for themselves. This is one of the Artworld’s most interesting paradox: the authority of the Artworld fights against mechanical reproduction even though it is (and has been since the camera obscura) an essential way of thinking and seeing that affects the artistic process. For a photographic to stand out today it must be impressionable and the majority of Koons’ work is Instagram-worthy. However, the Gazing Balls series is less eye catching because the original works have been photographed over and over again. Is this one of Koons’ many tricks?Just as the Chicago Imagists transformed themselves over and over again (Chernick, 2004), Koons this work by Koons is unlike any other.

By referencing ‘prototype’ artists, Koons executes his goal of “connecting with humanity” (Miller, 2015), whereas referencing the niche group of Chicago Imagists would strike a less impactful chord. He claims he wants to connect with humanity, but maybe he just wants to connect with the Artworld so profoundly that they cannot write him out of the texbooks. The Chicago Imagists copied who they loved – and there is nothing wrong about that by current Artworld norms. Koons also copies from who he loves, but leaves out the Chicago Imagists from his list of inspiration for a number of reasons. Whether an unintentional or conscious attempt to secure his name alongside a historically significant artist, or fear out of admitting that some of his genius was inspired by the rouge group of artists whose impact is largely forgotten, Koons’ choice is a product of his socially constructed reality. He is the GPS of his own life; he is the one gazing into the ball trying to predict his future.

Koons’ wide range and contradicting choices of subject matter, such as, “kitsch and high culture, religion and eroticism, weightlessness and mass,” opens his art to connect with people across a wide spectrum of values and beliefs. Gazing Balls can be appreciated by conservative fans of the Old Masters, his Banality series could decorate a children’s room, and his “Made in Heaven” series can appeal to the mavericks of society. Just about anyone can relate and find different meaning in his Balloon Dogs and that is the point. With his themes and series titles aligning with the Chicago Imagists, his tendency to play tricks with his art, and his heightened sense of self-promotion, Koons’ ambiguous statements about his influences may not be as accurate as I once believed.

NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 24: People look at the art work of Jeff Koons during a media preview of his retrospective at The Whitney Museum of American Art on June 24, 2014 in New York City. Nearly the entire museum will be filled with four decades of Koons’ work; it opens to the public June 27th. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Koons’ actual self-congruence between the art he makes and the art he sells reflects his mastery of showing his ideal self – an eternally famous artist – mixed with his actual self – a product of the American Dream myth – resonates with the viewer. According to Malär, Krohmer, Hoyer, & Nyffenegger (2011), those who practice actual self-congruence will have the greatest impact on emotional brand attachment (p. 35). That is what makes Koons’ decision to cast himself as a populist so brilliant. He spoke to the audiences who were sick of art world elitism, but also rose to become one of the highest paid artists. As Ruth Epstein (2018) writes, “Somewhat paradoxically, his embrace of bad taste has won over the most discerning and ostensibly elitist audiences. By collecting Koons, collectors and museums show that they can take a joke” (p. 1). Contradiction is not only visible in his artwork, but also the joke is a part of his brand. People go to see Koons to be shocked, and to marvel at the brilliance of his self-promoting, whether they realize it or not. I first saw a Jeff Koons work in Bilbao at the Guggenheim. Although the shiny, balloon looking, larger than life-sized tulips did not have the same emotional impact as seeing a Velazquez in real life would, I did remember the tulips. And that’s what Jeff Koons wants: to be remembered.

Jeff Koons
Tulips, 1995–2004
High chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating
203 x 460 x 520 cm
Version 4/5
Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

However, history tells us that society tends to rediscover artists who were largely irrelevant during their lifetime. Maybe in the future the Chicago Imagists will be rediscovered just as Van Gogh was and they will re-enter into the collective memory. When filming the documentary Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists, Pentimenti Productions and Loudmouth developed their interactive archive “to provide a freely-accessible resource for students, teachers, artists, researchers, and art enthusiasts who want to learn more about Chicago Imagism” (www.chicagoimagists.com).This interface and archive is a great example of how to incorporate curating style and selection, archival records, and interactive design to lead to discoveries. With such an extraordinary interface already in place, the possibility of the group of artists being rediscovered is much higher.

Chicago Imagists Interface
www.chicagoimagists.com

Works Cited

Alexander, E. P. & Alexander, M. (2007). Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums. Mountain Creek, CA; London, UK: Altamira Press.

Beil, K. (2013). Seeing Syntax: Google Art Project and the Twenty-First-Century Period Eye. Afterimage, 40(4). Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/u/2/d/0Bxfe3nz80i2GdTZodVdXQ3ZUX2c/view?usp=drive_web&usp=embed_facebook

Benjamin, W. (1936). The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility. (From the new edition of Benjamin’s writings, Harvard Univ. Press, 2003, with the revised title.) Focus on sections: Pref., I-VI, X-XII, XV.

Brooks, K. (2014, June 28). Jeff Koons: An Artist, Wrapped In A Mystery, Inside Shiny Stainless

Steel. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/27/jeff-koons-a-retrospective_n_5538103.html

Buchbinder, L. (2015). Hairy Who & the Chicago Imagists. Pentimenti Productions NFP.

Buren, D. (1982). Function of the Museum. Theories of Contemporary Art, 189–92. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Chernick, A. (2004). The Jeff Koons Show. Rainbow Media. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Koons-Show/dp/B004LQLK80/ref=sr_1_1?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1525167134&sr=1-1&keywords=jeff+koons

Elliot, A. (2015). A Conversation with Jeff Koons: “For me art has never been about money.” The Chicago Reader. Retrieved from https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/jeff-koons-interview-balloon-dog-modern-art/Content?oid=19251663

Epstein, R., & The Art Story Contributors. (2018). Jeff Koons Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works. The Art Story. Retrieved from http://www.theartstory.org/artist-koons-jeff.htm

Frank, P. (2015). Today In Art, Jeff Koons Is Placing Blue Balls In Front Of Famous Paintings. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jeff-koons-gazing-balls-paintings_us_5643b3d8e4b045bf3deda32b

Fei, J. J. (2016). Art in the Age of Instagram. TEDx Martha’s Vineyard, TEDx Talks. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DLNFDQt8Pc

Gagosian. (2010). Ed Paschke Curated by: Jeff Koons. Retrieved from https://www.gagosian.com/exhibitions/march-18-2010–ed-paschke

Galenson, D. (2009). Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art. National Bureau od Economic Research, 20.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Greenberg, C. (1961). Avant-Garde and Kitsch. Art and culture: critical essays. Boston: Beacon Press.

Harvey, M. (2010). “ART WORK”: Famous Former Staff. Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved from https://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2010/07/01/art-work-famous-former-staff/

Irvine, M. (2018).  Student’s Guide to Mikhail Bakhtin: Dialogue, Dialogism, and Intertextuality.

Irvine, M. (2018). André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art

Jeff Koons. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jeff_Koons&oldid=834279900

Jenkins, S. (2018). Postmodern Art Definition, Overview and Analysis. The Art Story. Retrieved from http://www.theartstory.org/definition-postmodernism.htm

Lopez, R. (2008). Conversation: Jeff Koons. Retrieved May 1, 2018, from http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/June-2008/Conversation-Jeff-Koons/

Malär, L., Krohmer, H., Hoyer, W. D., & Nyffenegger, B. (2013, May 29). Emotional Brand Attachment and Brand Personality: The Relative Importance of the Actual and the Ideal Self. Journal of Marketing: 75(4). 35-52. https://doi.org/10.1509/jmkg.75.4.35

McClellan, A. (2008). The Art Museum from Boullée to Bilbao. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA.

Miller, M. H. (2015). ‘These Are Works That I Enjoy’: Jeff Koons on His Amazing Blue Balls. Gagosian Gallery Art News. Retrieved from http://www.artnews.com/2015/11/09/these-are-works-that-i-enjoy-jeff-koons-on-his-amazing-blue-balls/

Needham, A. (2015, November 9). Jeff Koons on his Gazing Ball Paintings: “It’s not about copying.” The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/nov/09/jeff-koons-gazing-ball-paintings-its-not-about-copying

Pledger, D. (2014). Circles of context: giving a work of art its meaning. The Conversation. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/circles-of-context-giving-a-work-of-art-its-meaning-29401

Riley, M. (2017). The Paradox of Originality in Art. ART + Marketing. Retrieved from https://artplusmarketing.com/the-paradox-of-originality-in-art-454793056b31

Rowlandson, W. (2007). Reading Lezama’s Paradiso. p. 115. Retrieved from https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Pablo_Picasso

Smith, R. (2014). ‘Jeff Koons: A Retrospective’ Opens at the Whitney. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/27/arts/design/jeff-koons-a-retrospective-opens-at-the-whitney.html

Yefremov, I. (2014). Art in the Age of Instagram. Mind This Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.mindthismagazine.com/art-age-instagram/

Works Consulted

Berger, P. L. & Luckmann, T. (1991). The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. London: Penguin Books. Chapter 2 – Society as Objective Reality.

Klosterman, C. (2016). But What If We’re Wrong? New York, NY: Penguin Random House LLC.

Latour, B. (2011). Networks, Societies, Spheres: Reflections of an Actor-Network Theorist. International Journal of Communication(5). 796–810.

Layers of Context


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Many philosophers have argued that we are born with a tabula rasa, a blank state; however, I tend to believe we are born into a world full of social constructions formed by those who came before us. Most of our knowledge has been mediated in some form, whether it be through experiences, books, art, our parents, teachers, friends, etc. To “read” a work of art you need a certain arsenal of knowledge and tools, making the discovery process of interpreting art fraught with social constructions. Baudrillard argued that we cannot know our own reality because our experiences are seen through the lenses of language and culture. Art is trying to depict something “real” – whether it be Andreas Gursky’s hyperreal photograph of Montparnasse or the dreams of Salvador Dali – to transmit meaning. To “read” a work of art you need a certain arsenal of knowledge and tools because “meaning is what is interpretable in a system of relations” (Irvine, 2018, p. 19). Our past experiences and knowledge create the ability to interpret, but everyone has different knowledge, depending on many variables, especially the culture you come from.

Salvador Dalí | Inventions of the Monsters (1937) | Artsy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.artsy.net/artwork/salvador-dali-inventions-of-the-monsters

Andreas Gursky | Paris, Montparnasse (1993) | Artsy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.artsy.net/artwork/andreas-gursky-paris-montparnasse

Jeff Koons Artwork: Balloon Dog. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.jeffkoons.com/artwork/celebration/balloon-dog-0

All works of art arguably have no meaning outside of its cultural context. Without the layers of historical, cultural, and political knowledge built the Artworld, seeing an artwork with a “tabula rasa” would be meaningless. If we dropped one Jeff Koon’s Balloon Dog into a society with no connection to the outside world, it would be like a “The Gods Must Be Crazy” scenario. Lister (2013) writes that “an image does not receive its meaning from its indexicality nor from its iconicity, but from the network of relations around it” (Lister, 36). The web of people involved in the construction of that network is vast. While there are some human experiences that one could intuitively recognize, the symbols, signs, and meaning are all socially constructed. Taking artworks out of the museum and onto a digital platform makes us question whether artworks have meaning in and of themselves, or if they need their context to convey their message.

Critiquing the Google Arts and Culture Project, the debate between the real (original) and the reproduction is a socially constructed debate. Like any new technology, certain social groups will always feel threatened by its presence. The genius of Benjamin and Malraux was that they embraced the new technology for a multitude of reasons, but they also saw its limitations. If we were to move past the argument that technology negatively impacts art, then we would be better off.

How is art’s presence in art history books different from the Google Art Project? If being in a museum can give art meaning, then it would make sense that a reproduction of art would could at least offer insight. “As didactic objects, reproductions claim to teach us simply what an art object looks like, but in emphasizing some elements and obfuscating others, they also provide instruction in how to look at the work in question” (Beil, 3013, p. 22). Following Beil’s argument, we should not look at the Google Art Project as a means to replace museums, but instead as a way to democratize the discovery process.

Andreas Gursky | Paris, Montparnasse (1993) | Artsy. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2018, from https://www.artsy.net/artwork/andreas-gursky-paris-montparnasse

Beil, K. (2013). Seeing Syntax: Google Art Project and the Twenty-First-Century Period Eye. Afterimage, 40(4). Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/u/2/d/0Bxfe3nz80i2GdTZodVdXQ3ZUX2c/view?usp=drive_web&usp=embed_facebook

Benjamin, W. (1936). The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility. (From the new edition of Benjamin’s writings, Harvard Univ. Press, 2003, with the revised title.) Focus on sections: Pref., I-VI, X-XII, XV.

Irvine, M. (2018). From Studying Interfaces to Making Interfaces. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zN6lu12p2OIIB_67i4nCOgZjWoqnJ73v/view

Jeff Koons Artwork: Balloon Dog. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2018, from http://www.jeffkoons.com/artwork/celebration/balloon-dog-0

Lister, M. (2013). The Photographic Image in Digital Culture. 2nd ed. London; New York: Routledge.

Salvador Dalí | Inventions of the Monsters (1937) | Artsy. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2018, from https://www.artsy.net/artwork/salvador-dali-inventions-of-the-monsters

 

Brand New or Appropriated From The Reality of American/Art History?


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Walking into the Hirshhorn, I was quite a bit skeptical to the kinds of artworks I would encounter. I prefer the National Gallery’s Vermeer paintings to post-post (post?) modern works housed in the hollowed cylindrical gallery. Yet I left amazing and surprised at how moving the pieces of artworks I saw were- they either took up the entire floor like Bradford’s Murals, or just one wall like Barbara Kruger’s “I Shop Therefore I Am.” Taking a closer look at Bradford’s Murals reveals the socio-political drive behind Hirshhorn’s exhibitions. Bradford is a Los Angeles–based artist whose work combines socio-political issues such as race, class, and gender, with art history. One such work is Pickett’s Charge, an eight-piece mural that wraps around the entire third floor of the museum. The abstract murals are his response to to the political and cultural climate during the civil war, where the resulting work “weaves past and present, illusion and abstraction, inviting visitors to reconsider how narratives about American history are shaped and contested.” (Hirshhorn Musem) Indeed I started to reconsider how Americans responded to socio-political turmoil, and such a question reminded me of Aaron Douglas’ From Slavery Through Reconstructionduring the Harlem Renaissance (1934). He used a combination of silhouettes and circular light to reveal a mural with graphically incisive motifs and the dynamic incorporation of such influences as African sculpture, jazz music, dance, and abstract geometric forms. I believe both murals embody what David Hockey accomplishes in Irvine’s From Studying Interfaces to Making Interfaces; their now “meta-museum” visualization on a “great wall”. They are all taking aspects of political and social culture and visualizing it through different mediums with a large view in a human-scaled room, providing “a different kind of interface to relationships and developments in historical periods that can be taken in through one view” (Irvine, p. 11). I felt like I was living in the middle of Pickett’s Charge, with the mere grandeur of the murals overwhelming the entirety of the floor- you feel as if there is no separation between you and the mural, you are one entity. The gap between painting and person has closed where there isn’t even room for an interface- the person standing in front of the painting is the interface.

Aaron Douglas: From Slavery Through Reconstruction during the Harlem Renaissance (1934)

Douglas Crimp notices that in the contemporary era, “the criterion for determining the order of aesthetic objects in the museum throughout the era of modernism—the ‘self-evident’ quality of masterpieces—has been broken, and as a result ‘anything goes.’” (50). Crimp describes how our ways to understand the museum are changed as contemporary artworks claim their spaces in museums. In the era of modernism, whether an artwork could enter into the exhibition hall of a museum depends on its quality, or its masterfulness. In the contemporary world of art, however, the situation totally changes. The “‘self-evident’ quality of masterpieces” is no longer the only criterion for determining whether an artwork could be put into a museum. Painters not only focus on the content of the paintings, but also revolutionize with the medium and other aspects of the form of the paintings. Moreover, contemporary art expands beyond traditional forms of art such as paintings and sculptures to other forms of arts, including articles of everyday use, furniture, craftwork, etc.  Interestingly, all of these changes are reflected by museums that exhibit modern and contemporary art.

One of the best examples to illustrate the museum’s change is the “BRAND NEW: Art & Commodity in the 1980s” exhibition in the Hirshhorn Museum. This is an exhibition of artworks, but those exhibits are simultaneously the objects that we would see and might use in our everyday life.

   

The left-hand exhibit exemplifies how contemporary art annuls the boundary of high art and daily life. The cleanser that we use in our daily life is made into an object of art and is put into the museum on display. Likewise, the second picture shows how the artist recognizes the wooden tool as an object of art. Both objects manifest how the definition of art and artwork is democratized: the ordinary objects could become art as well. As a result, museums that display contemporary become a place where “anything goes.” By including objects such as sofa, telephone, radio, the “BRAND NEW” exhibition showcase how anything could become art. The broken boundary between high art and popular culture is manifest in the museum’s exhibition of contemporary art. This also shows how the museum is changed in its interface with contemporary art.

Continuing in the pop art tradition of appropriating and referencing the commercial reality of the time, a group of Canadian artists called General Idea “created works that both critiqued consumerism and mimicked painting” (Hirshhorn Wall Text). Having a background knowledge of Andy Warhol’s art was not enough to interpret meanings, values and the dialogue associated with this group. I recognize pasta – the elbow-shaped kind – and I recognized the Marlboro package colors and shapes, but the “meanings, values and ideas are not observable in the artworks themselves” (Irvine, 2018, p.1). The longer wall text provides further explanation: “In a series called Pasta Paintings, the group appropriated famous logos of multinational companies and freed them from all written information, turning them into abstract geometric compositions. The surfaces were adorned with pasta giving the canvases a sculptural quality. Sans titre (Marlboro) is a play on the iconic Marlboro cigarette box” (Hirshhorn Wall Text).

General Idea
Artist collective, active 1967-1994
Sans titre (Marlboro), from the series Pasta Paintings
1986-1987
Acrylic Paint and dried pasta on canvas

This painting stood out to me the most throughout our visit to Hirshhorn. However, their website lacks information on this particular piece, promoting me to search elsewhere. (It may have been there, but I could not find it via search, which could be a constraint of their site). I went to the museum listed on the wall text, Mudam Luxembourg’s website for more information and it read: 

“The very slight display of conditioning through abstract publicity signs evoking concrete allusions in us, the viewers, even without words and in an automatic way, while simultaneously denigrating the pure beauty of emblems we see every day without noticing – is difficult to take seriously. Because, instead of dabs of pointillist colour applied to the surface of the painting, we find noodles. Little round noodles of hard buckwheat. And with that, all the experimental attempts to breathe life back into the picture plane, be it the Cubist’s sand, Anselm Kiefer’s straw or Julian Schnabel’s china cups, are drowned in hilarity. (…) By removing the writing from the emblems of brands, the brands themselves disappear. G.I. thus continue their appropriation strategy: by monopolizing the found object, they remove its content and give it new meaning. (…) The ‘empty’ emblems remain Untitled, while filled to the brim with the history of painting.” Stephan Trescher 

Mudam Luxembourg’s site provided clarity, context, dialogic information, and ideas to further research, but who was Stephan Trescher? Without a link or any further referencing information to him, I searched to find out he is an art history scholar. Museum website creators must struggle with wanting to provide enough information to be credible, authentic, and reputable sources on the artworks, while also encouraging visitors to visit the museum in person.

Layers of context are not visible in the artworks themselves even though we “feel” something much different when we see the artwork in person versus seeing its digital representation. Seeing the art in person, you do have the advantage of seeing size, medium used, and reading the text associated with the artwork; however, the same can be seen online if the interface has taken each of these into account. So why do we consider the Museum the only “real” place we can interpret meaning from artwork? Because we have been socialized to believe that art exists inside of the walls of a museum, but also because technology has not been used to create a visualization that emulates the experience in the museum.

Meaning relations that allow for a work to be intelligible and interpretable are already in place, waiting to be discovered, they are not in us or in the artworks themselves (Irvine, 2018). The task at hand is to make an interface that helps its user discover these meanings. In my opinion, the problem with looking at the works online is that the learning process is lacking desirable difficulty. The information is right in front of you online and the power of searching for information is overwhelming. To truly learn, the process needs to require more time to make make meaning.

Crimp, Douglas. “On the Museum’s Ruins.” October, vol. 13, 1980, pp. 41–57.

https://hirshhorn.si.edu/exhibitions/mark-bradford-picketts-charge/http://exhibitions.nypl.org/treasures/items/show/170

Irvine, Martin. From Studying Interfaces to Making Interfaces. 

http://www.mudam.lu/en/le-musee/la-collection/details/artist/general-idea/

Adriana Sensenbrenner, Yinghan Guo, and Catherine Boardman

Are We Taking or Making a Photograph?


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Our linguistic tendency to say we are “taking a photograph” indicates that we are simply making a “quotation from reality” as Irvine states (p. 3). However, any (pre-digital) photograph “is a product of a chemical process that captured and fixed the light reflected off an object into an image of that object” (Peres & Osterman, 2007, p. 180). In the image below, Tato’s work falls into the genre of Fantasy and Surrealism as he wanted to show the “state of mind” of an individual. According to the Guggenheim, Tato’s photograph dealt with the “Futurist concept of simultaneity through the transparency of objects and the transfiguration of the real. He said he sought to achieve “a new reality which has nothing in common with reality” (Guggenheim). In this photo, Tato depicted his friend who as a aviation enthusiast by using multiple negatives and photograms to make the propeller show movement.

Tato (Guglielmo Sansoni), 1934. Photomontage, gelatin silver print, 24 x 18 cm.

“A photogram is a kind of photograph, although made without a CAMERA or LENS. An object (or objects) is placed on top of a piece of paper or FILM coated with LIGHT-SENSITIVE materials and then the paper or film is EXPOSED to light” (Balwin & Jurgens, 2009, p. 39).

With Tato’s photodynamism, the distinction Ansel Adams made between “taking a photograph” and “making a photograph” is clear. One could not go out into the world and capture this image; it was constructed with the iconic code of the face and the indexical code of the propeller indicating movement. Within the process itself lies the symbolism of multiple layers of the “state of mind” of the subject.

Although this photograph is not a depiction of reality, it shows how creative minds were experimenting with this ‘new’ medium. Tato “declared photography to be a powerful tool in the Futurist effort to eliminate barriers between art and life. With the camera, they could explore both “pure” art and art’s social function” (Guggenheim).

Jumping forward a half a century, I chose a photo that showed movement in a different way. Taken at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, an athlete is depicted mid-dive with picturesque shot of Barcelona in the background. After years of decay and neglect, Barcelona had been undergoing a self-reinvention and hosting the Olympics was a chance to showcase the city as modern and thriving. Recognizing the power of photography to communicate messages, city planners gave photojournalists the best seats on top of Montjuïc so that the athletes were not the only thing people were talking about. In the distance, you see the iconic Sagrada Familia giving us an “aura of authenticity” (Benjamin, 1936) and creating a reference for the viewer.

Diver with Barcelona Skyline, Simon Bruty 1992.

Photography in the genre of photojournalism functions “as a means of freezing a moment in time” and giving us a trace or testimony to “the actuality of how something, someone or somewhere once appeared” (Wells, 2015, p. 19-20). Barcelona had not been not been seen for many years as a result of Franco’s dictatorship, so showing that the city was alive and thriving was an essential step towards the Barcelona we know today.

This chemically produced photo is indexical in that the athlete had to be there for the photograph to be made, making the image a ‘trace’ which would “circulate in specific cultural contexts within which differing symbolic meanings and values may adhere” (Wells, 2013, p. 53). Photojournalism’s social function was based on the “claim to be the people’s witness, the dispassionate relayer of factual truths for the benefit of distant viewers” (Lister, 2013, p. 185). In this case, photojournalists were able to mediate the experience of the Olympics in Barcelona.

A Work of Art by Catherine Boardman

This last photo of my sister-in-law’s bouquet was my own work of art, though portrait-mode on the IPhone X really deserves the credit. If Lister (2013) were writing in 2018, I believe he would argue that Hipstimatic had a minuscule impact on professional photographers, but that innovations in IPhone cameras – like Portrait Mode – pose the biggest threat. Having been newly immersed into the wedding world but a veteran in the Instagram world, algorithms constantly present me of photos from other weddings.

Almost every collection of wedding photos I see are almost exactly interchangeable – each bride wants the same token cliché moments captured. There are the black-and-white “first look” photos, the fake candids, bridesmaids smiling, bridesmaids looking at the bride smiling, bride and groom looking at each other smiling, and of course, photos of the flowers. Does the fact that these photos begin and end as binary representations make them non-indexical?

As Wells (2015) described, “photographs can also exhaust experiences, using up the beautiful through rendering it into cliché” (Wells, 2015, p. 33). With social media, we take these snapshots on our own phones so that we can say “I was there.” Even though we had professional photographers at the wedding with both film and digital cameras, I still wanted to have my own photo, proving that photography has become a sociotechnical object. According to Wells (2015), photographs can be a “stand in for memories” (p. 20) and since my memory is below average at best, I will continue “making memories.”

Benjamin, W. (1936). “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility” Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

Irvine, I. “Introduction to Photography and the Optical Image.” 

Lister, M. (2013). The Photographic Image in Digital Culture. 2nd ed. London; New York: Routledge,.

Peres, M. R. & Osterman, M. (2007). The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4. Oxford, UK and Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

Wells, L. (2015). Photography: A Critical Introduction. 5th ed. London; New York: Routledge. 

 

Art in the Age of Reproduction


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Art has always been replicable (Benjamin, 1939, p. 252). From Morse’s Gallery at the Louvre to art history textbooks with photographic reproductions, the only change was the exactness of the reproduction. Once a work of art is copied, authenticity and originality come into question. “The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity” (Benjamin, 1935, p. 3). Indeed, technology allowed for the ability to see the original work of art in a new medium, a photograph, but Benjamin is more concerned with how the technology changed the concept of art. The way we consume music today greatly differs from the pre-Spotify era. Once we could experience music without the actual musician in front of of us, the way we experience it changed. As McLuhan says, “The medium is the message.” However, I do not think reproductions of music or art causes us to devalue the cultural capital, but technology offered affordances to experience art or music at any distance from the creator.

So how have new technologies changed the way we perceive art? On one hand, works of art are taken from their context and lose what Benjamin describes as an “aura.” Museums have traditionally been the context we associate with consuming art; they “are the frame and effective support upon which the work is inscribed/composed.” (Buren, 1985, p. 189). We trust what is in museums to be authentic work, which is why standing in front of a Vermeer involves a transcending experience of time-traveling back to the presence of the painter himself. “The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history it has experienced” (Benjamin, 1935, p. 4). We have been socialized to believe that in the presence of the original, we can connect to a different time and place. However,  as our lives become more digital, virtual, and technical, our grasp of what is considered original changes. If the museum’s function is to be mediated by technical means, the art would have to change forms.

Call Me By My Monet Mika Labrague

Technology has not only changed the form in which  we receive messages, but also how those messages are perceived. For example, there has been a certain buzz around an Instagram account called “Call Me By My Monet” – which combines scenes from the Oscar-awarded film “Call Me By My Name” and Monet’s paintings. The Guardian writes “Call Me By Monet: how Instagram hybrids turned pop into art” (Gosling, 2018). But is this art original by combining two mediums in a new way, or is this simply appropriation? Debray observed that “no new dimensions of subjectivity has formed without using new material objects (books or scrolls, hymns and emblems, insignia and monuments)” (2000, p.2). The film, Call Me By My Name was actually filmed where Monet used to paint so by combining two forms of artistic expression – the film and Monet’s paintings – Mika Labrague uses a new material to mediate her own expression. As a collective, art still exists in the safekeeping of the museum; however, like the music industry, technology could redefine how and where we perceive art.

Creative geniuses – like Warhol – combined aspects of our social world and art history to form new definitions of art. People said what Warhol was doing wasn’t “art” and now his artwork is the most coveted (according to price) in the world and his name is forever sealed into art history textbooks. Just as during Warhol’s time, we are undergoing a cultural shift. Ours is a shift from people of tangible things (books, paper, pens, faxes, etc) to people of screens. We look at screens more and more so why can art not appear on screens? Arguing that Call Me By My Monet can be considered art, we could be entering a new genre of art, with its context in the cultural phenomenon of memes, digital reproduction, and nostalgia for art of the past.  Much like we have not forgotten the importance of tangible books, seeing a musician live, or the appreciation for the authentic, a work of art will always be valued more in its original form, but maybe we are moving away from art in a museum, bound by a canvas, to art existing on our phones.

‘Call Me By Monet’ is your favourite new Insta feed

Benjamin, W. (1936). The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility. (From the new edition of Benjamin’s writings, Harvard Univ. Press, 2003, with the revised title.) Focus on sections: Pref., I-VI, X-XII, XV.

Buren, D. (1985). Function of the Museum. In Theories of Contemporary Art, edited by Richard Hertz, 2nd ed., 189–92. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1985.

Debray, R. (2000). Transmitting Culture, trans. New York: Columbia University Press. Chapter 1-2.

Gosling, S. (2018). “Call Me By Monet: how Instagram hybrids turned pop into art.” The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/mar/16/call-me-by-monet-instagram-hybrids-alexa-chung-artlexachung-harry-potter-gryffindior

Connecting the Dots of the Artworld


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Bradley Walker Tomlin, “Number 12-1949” (1949)

Paul Klee’s “Kettledrummer” (1940)

At first glance, Bradley Walker Tomlin’s Number 12-1949 (1949) and Paul Klee’s Kettledrummer (1940), contain visual patterns and similarities, such as, heavy black lines and contrasting earth tones. Both are abstract in nature, have a primitive quality, both do not depict a story, thing, or sign, and both do not follow the artistic rules of “traditional” art. Tomlin shows this ‘disobedience’ by allowing paint to drip on the canvas while Klee has a childlike quality. While the visual details are important, “the utterance is filled with dialogic overtones, and they must be taken into account to fully understand the style of the utterance” (As cited in Irvine, p. 4). In other words, recognizing and discovering the discourse behind the genre and the artist can provide deeper meaning as to what each simulacrum represents.

  Similarities between paintings show a possible dialogue between artists, but for meaning to be discovered, we need to know the “historically contingent” background for each. Discovering the connection requires a combination of both visual and background information. Just as recognizing the visual influence of Japonisme can deepen the interpretation in Degas’ “The Tub” and Cassatt’s “The Bath,” the historical account of their relationship leads to deeper discovery. Kleiner (2016) writes “Cassatt’s style in this work owed much to the compositional devices of Degas and of Japanese prints, but the painting’s design has an originality and strength all its own” (p. 697). In this case, Cassatt’s work can been seen as in interface to the work of Degas, offering a new perspective by combining his work with her own. “Remix” in art is a fact, not a problem (Irvine, 2014, p. 31). Therefore, the importance of excavating the network of influence in the art world is essential to finding meaning.

Edgar Degas, The Tub, 1886.

Mary Cassatt, The Bath, ca. 1892.

In addition to who and why these artist were talking to, what historically contingent, cognitive information regarding Tomlin is needed to deepen the meaning in his work? Could Tomlin be seen as an interface to Klee’s work?

When The Armory Show in the US expanded a discourse to include Americans (Arsanon & Manefield, 2012), how did the conversation change?

Since semiosis is not a one-way interpretation, according to Crow (2010), and culture impacts the interpretations of signs, can we see patterns among the American artists work that reveal any collective interpretations? Or are the American paintings evidence of inter-individual responses to Klee’s work?

Because color can produce different interpretations and signs depending on your culture and since abstract art emphasizes color, what can we gather from Klee in comparison with the ten American artists? Furthermore, how can we use contextual knowledge of Klee’s cultural experience to discover symbolism in his context? Can this provide insight into what meaning the American artists interpreted from Klee’s art? Are there any commonalities?  What network of meaning was Tomlin a part of that allowed him to be impacted by Klee in the first place?  Knowing that Klee never traveled to the US, how does such an abstract subjective painting impact an entire community of artists?

 

Sources

Crow, David. Visible Signs: An Introduction to Semiotics in the Visual Arts. Lausanne; London: AVA Academia; Thames & Hudson, 2010.

Kleiner, Fred S..  Gardner’s Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective, Volume II. 14th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2016.

H. Arnason and Elizabeth C. Mansfield. History of Modern Art. 7th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2012.

Irvine, “Student’s Guide to Mikhail Bakhtin: Dialogue, Dialogism, and Intertextuality.

Irvine, Martin. “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality.”
In The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, ed. Eduardo Navas, et al. (New York: Routledge, 2014), 15-42.

Phillips Collection website for Paul Klee and Ten Americans, After Paul Klee

 

The Ever-Changing Roles of Museums


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      Since the inception of the institution, museums have mediated the story of humanity by offering society to connect to the past, present, and future. The Artworld delegates to museums the task of creating a place where society can make interpretations and meaning from the Art. While the functions of any museum – to collect, conserve, and research – have remained resolute for many years, the roles that the institutions play have varied from forums, gatekeepers, amusement, escape and education to “platforms for international dialogue and oases of beauty” (Alexander & Alexander; McClellan, 10). These ever-changing roles reflect the ever changing society in which museums inhabit. Just like pulling a tensor in Tomas Sacareno’s installation, the interconnected tensors of museums, society and politics react to one another (Latour, 10).

       Throughout history museums have been tied to authority and politics. Burren alludes to this authority when he describes the museum as a “privileged place” (189). From the Romans, the Medici family, Napoleon, to Hitler, art collections symbolized power and civilized society (Alexander & Alexander). As collections grew, democracy spread, and public access granted, the museum became a place where all could engage and share a nation’s cultural capital. Public participation was encouraged through the placement of museums, for example, the National Gallery located in the easily accessible Trafalgar Square, and museum-going became a shared cultural experience (Alexander & Alexander). It became an escape for the hardships of poverty and war, a place to transcend, to learn, and to connect to a national sense of pride.

        But what happens when the tensor connecting the museum and the nation’s political system is yanked? With the political activism of the 60s, the Civil Rights movement, and massive globalization, power and injustice become face-to-face with museums. Hans Haacke’s MoMA-Poll directly linked the museum with a political campaign with actual ballots to be cast for or against a candidate. How does the museum’s role change when the subject of the art actually is political? Do the museums actually hold the power? Regardless, museums continue to collect, preserve and research, but as society changes new challenges face museums and the messages they chose to mediate to the public. Museums are a place where cultures intersect and one can find similarities and differences with the world around them (McClellan).  They must adapt with time and remain like “a cultural coral reef, always growing and changing” (Alexander & Alexander, 38).

Andrew McClellan, The Art Museum from Boullée to Bilbao. Berkeley, CA: University of California

          Press, 2008.

Bruno Latour, “Networks, Societies, Spheres: Reflections of an Actor-Network Theorist,”

          International Journal of Communication 5 (2011), 796–810.

Daniel Buren, “Function of the Museum.” In Theories of Contemporary Art, edited by Richard

          Hertz, 2nd ed., 189–92. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1985.

Edward P. Alexander and Mary Alexander, Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and

          Functions of Museums, Second Edition (Mountain Creek, CA; London, UK: Altamira Press,

           2007).

Vermeer and Networks of Influence


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The roped-off line leading up to the Vermeer exhibit reinforced the importance and hard work of curating an exhibit. Similar to the pushing crowds in front of the Mona Lisa, clusters of people formed around the Vermeer works, often impeding my view. However, when I did get the chance to experience his works up close, I was amazed at the vibrant colors, use of light streaming through the windows, and the meticulous brush strokes that were almost invisible. The digitized images I saw prior did not do these artists justice and although the paintings were smaller than I imagined, the attention to detail was immense.

Visitors of an exhibit often come with preconceived notions, which is evident from the clustering of people around Vermeer’s artwork. While the use of space and light make Vermeer’s work stands out, it seems the curator was trying to provoke the viewer to question the originality by comparing the same thematic representation of other Dutch artists. The exhibit allows the works of many other Dutch artists to be showcased alongside Vermeer, whom is recognizable by our national culture. It made me wonder if the curators intentionally were commenting on American culture in how we tend to focus on the “masters” – CEOs, celebrities, and outliers – while often denying credit to those who may have influenced them in the first place.

The network of influence transcends the viewer into 15th century Dutch culture, questioning the relationship between these artists. Were they in competition to be the ‘Rembrandt’ of their genre? Were they in unison commenting on aspects of Dutch life? How, where, and when did they communicate? Or were they just products of a larger culture that provoked them to start seeing everyday Dutch life as important enough to document? My last observation is that so many people had their iPhones out taking pictures of the art, themselves, and themselves with the art. Here is a Ted Talk that discusses the same phenomenon: