Black Swan and Rodarte

At first I was surprised to learn that Rodarte had designed the costumes and hairpieces for Black Swan, but after finding out how the sisters got their start in fashion, it makes perfect sense. I read an interview given by Natalie Portman where the two sisters talked about how after college they scrapped the biology and art history degrees they had just earned and moved back home to live with their parents. They spent that entire year watching horror film after horror film in order to develop their taste and vision for Rodarte. The costumes in Black Swan are phenomenal, but my favorite creation is the Black Swan headpiece (shown above) made out of metal daggers, thorns, spikes, and don't forget the Swarovski crystals!

Click here to read the entire, super-entertaining interview with the designers.


Overrated Design

The Bouroullec's Ovale Collection for Alessi
Lately I’ve been reading a lot about Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec’s new tableware line for Alessi.  It’s being touted on many blogs and in magazines for its clean lines and simple design and I think all the hype is a little ridiculous.  To me, the “collection” looks nice, but ultimately pretty ordinary.  I don’t mean to pick on the Bouroullec brothers— it’s a trend happening to many designers today who are getting too many accolades for standard work.  Don’t get me wrong, I would rather have everyone jazzed about the latest fork on the market than for good design to go unrecognized, but think perhaps the pendulum has swung too far. I remember not too long ago when most of us bought our toasters from Kmart and didn’t know or care about the designer.  I’m glad there is an awareness of industrial design today, but also don’t think every single thing created deserves the level of worship that has become expected today. Is Jasper Morrison’s spoon really better than the no-name spoon I currently have in my drawer?  Believe me, I appreciate good design and the small details that separate good from bad, but I’m going to revolt if I read one more profile about the hot new chair that looks just like the new hot chair from 30 years ago and countless subsequent chairs!  I want to hear about actual innovation.  Where do you stand on this issue?
Jasper Morrison tableware


Coming back around to Monet

Claude Monet is a good example of what I refer to as a 360-degree artist. Future art historians first go into the field loving his work, then start to lose enthusiasm upon discovering many other great (less commercial) artists, before coming full circle to appreciating his contribution to art history. I reached that last step when I discovered more about his practice of endlessly reproducing the same image in order to “get it right,” which in Monet’s case meant perfectly capturing the light and atmospheric effects of a particular scene.  He worked in this obsessive compulsive way throughout his career and you can see it in his multiple series, such as the 15 paintings of haystacks he made between 1890-91, the 31 paintings of the Rouen Cathedral between 1892-94 and the numerous Water Lily paintings created throughout his lifetime.  These are works we’ve all seen endlessly reproduced on mouse pads, key chains and mugs so it’s easy to brush them off simply as pretty pictures.  It’s more interesting to think of these works as they really were—exercises for Monet to hone his craft. Understanding more the attention, tenacity, rigor and discipline that went into his work makes me appreciate him on a deeper level.  Many artists work in series, but for them it often means creating a diverse body of work united by the same theme.  For Monet it meant recreating virtually the same image over and over again. This couldn’t have been fun or exciting in the traditional sense, but I get the sense that for Monet art was more about work than play. Realizing that made me see his lighthearted subject matter in a new way and ultimately come back around to liking Monet again.


Nancy Drew and the 1988 Seoul Games

Elena Shushunova
Daniela Silivas
I was enthusiastic about many things when I was a kid—Kraft singles, fruit roll ups, Wrinkles dolls, Sweet Valley High—but two things particularly fascinated me:
 1.  A VHS tape of the women’s gymnastics competition at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea that I watched at least a hundred times with my sister
 2.  A Nancy Drew book titled Captive Witness about Nancy’s quest to save refugee children from an iron curtain country (while she was studying abroad!)
They actually have something in common— they provided a scary and fascinating glimpse into Cold War politics to an otherwise sheltered girl living in the middle of nowhere Michigan. 
No history book could make the effects of the Cold War as real to me (at that time, of course) as the sport of gymnastics.  By 1988 the Soviets had a long legacy of dominating in the sport and it continued that year with Elena Shushunova’s victory over Daniela Silivas of Romania, as well as the Soviet Union's win in the team event over Romania.  I didn’t realize it at the time but Seoul was the last Olympics before the dissolution of the Soviet Union into many separate counties.  When the Barcelona games came around in 1992, things were different.  The best gymnasts of the Soviet Union were now competing for as many as 15 different countries.  Although that paved the way for the Americans to make a name for themselves, I really felt sad for the former Soviets who sacrificed so much for their sport and were under an insane amount of pressure from the government and their families to not just medal, but get the GOLD.
Around the same time I read Captive Witness and while I don’t remember the story much at all, the book cover has stayed in my head over 20 years later!  I remember it almost verbatim except I swore she was wearing a swim cap to match her black wetsuit in my childhood version.  There’s something about that image of Nancy at night, in the water, while a guard keeps watch, that really creeped me out and gave me additional context (as ridiculous as that sounds) for the bleak life of the Soviet gymnasts at that time. 


Holiday Gifts: Idea #1

Unfortunately, I'm in holiday shopping mode.  Despite the grueling nature of attempting to locate the most perfect, thoughtful gift ever, there are times when you find a cool new product out there and shopping actually becomes kind of fun.  One such discovery are the Harry Allen beeswax bulb candles above.  At only $24 for a set of two, they make a great gift for someone who is otherwise impossible to satisfy.


Adaptation #2: Martha Rosler

Richard Hamilton, Just What Is It that Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?, 1956
Rosler, Vacuuming Pop Art, 1966-1972
I like Rosler’s subtle adaptation of Richard Hamilton's famous collage because by utilizing a few key elements from his work, she conveys larger meaning about the role of women in art and society.  Until fairly recently women have been snubbed from art history as cultural producers and instead have been celebrated only for their worth as eye candy subject matter for the male artist.  When we think of Pop Art we often envision Warhol’s Marilyn, Lichtenstein’s damsels in distress and Wesselmann’s lipsticked ladies.  Notice how no women artists come to mind?  Exactly.  It’s not that they weren’t making art at that time, the canon has simply excluded them from public record. Not only does Rosler remind us not to forget the contributions of women, the idea of “vacuuming Pop Art” sends a strong and humorous message regarding her view of the male dominated movement.


Adaptation: Jeff Wall

Ever since the exhibition Adaptation has been on view at Philbrook I've been seeing various adaptations everywhere.  It’s like when you get a new car and suddenly you notice how many other people in the world also have Toyota Scions.  The show at Philbrook features four contemporary artists who have adapted various source materials—book, film, ballet, painting— into new work.  But the show could have easily included a hundred other contemporary artists who also utilize the practice of adaptation to create art.  Just today I was reading a book that featured an adaptation by contemporary photographer Jeff Wall.  See how you think the original compares to Wall’s version.
Hokusai, Caught by the Ejiri Wind, 1831-3.
Wall, A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai), 1993.


Choreographer Hofesh Shechter

Yesterday I caught a performance of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet at the Joyce. As always with this company, the program was well-executed and thoughtful, but the standout piece was Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter's "The Fools." This ballet was a New York premier - expanded and tweaked from the original commission set on Bern Ballet in 2008. "The Fools" opens with eight dancers (the Shadows) dressed in gray, military-like garb and violently thrashing their bodies up and down to percussive music. This scene repeats throughout the piece abruptly beginning and ending with black-outs and lights. From that point on, you're in for an unsettling 15 minutes. Seven other dancers appear (presumably the Fools) and their movements are hunched and pained. Their stiff bodies and other-worldly claw-like arms and legs convulse as if being electrocuted.
If it sounds crazy, you got it.  I've never seen anything quite this raw, grotesque and powerful. I wasn't able to find a video online of "The Fools," but to get an idea of Shechter's unique voice and vocabulary, check out this video HERE of another ballet "Uprising."


Eerie Art: Cattelan's HIM

In honor of Halloween, I thought I would write about the scariest artwork I've seen -- Maurizio Cattelan's HIM.  I first encountered the sculpture at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and it was a jarring experience.  The work is meant to be approached from behind so when I first peeked into the gallery I thought it was a perfectly innocuous sculpture of a sweet, innocent boy.  But upon entering further and turning around to look closer at the boy, I was surprised to see the adult face of Hitler.  It's not clear whether he is praying, begging for forgiveness, contrite or steely-eyed.  Cattelan's combination of man/boy qualities in this sculpture too make me wonder whether nature or nurture is more to blame for evil.  It's a powerful experience that raises a lot of questions for me.  What do you think?  What's the scariest artwork you've seen?


Apartamento Magazine

I'm dying to get my hands on an issue of Apartamento magazine. It's a relatively new, Milan-based mag that has a pretty interesting take on how a shelter mag should look and feel. Instead of featuring the mostly fussy and staged interiors of an Elle Decor-type spread, Apartamento takes informal shots of real peoples homes as they are on an everyday basis.  As the editor states, “Apartamento is there to capture the moment in life you start living in your own home and you want it to reflect your own personality." From what I can see, there is a lot of soul in these shoots, and they seem to capture what's missing in how we think about interior design today - that it's less about materialistic aspirations and more about personal expression. Apartamento is a very welcome addition to the shelter magazine line-up out now.



Erwin Wurm and the Red Hot Chili Peppers

References to Austrian artist Erwin Wurm (b. 1954) keep popping up lately.  There’s an article about his work in the latest Art News magazine and an excerpt in a book I’m reading called The Participatory Museum.  He has a delightful sense of humor and his work reminds me just how fun contemporary art can be and the capacity it has to activate an otherwise staid gallery.  I particularly enjoy his One Minute Sculptures, which consist of a variety of everyday objects on a platform (buckets, broomsticks, fake fruit, plastic bottles, even a refrigerator) along with handwritten instructions from Wurm encouraging visitors to use those materials in whatever madcap way they desire to create silly “one minute sculptures.”  The project clearly charmed the The Red Hot Chili Peppers too as they pay homage to Wurm in their video Can’t Stop. 


Gerda Taro, A Forgotten Pioneer

Photograph of female soldier by Taro
Taro with soldier on the front line

The Mexican Suitcase exhibition at the International Center for Photography features the work of three accomplished photojournalists.  Two of them you may have heard of before—Robert Capa and Chim (David Seymour).  But the third — Gerda Taro — has the most compelling story. Born in Germany in 1910, she left the country just prior to the emergence of the Nazi Party and was arrested in 1933 for distributing anti-Nazi propaganda.  Soon after she met Capa and traveled with him to Barcelona to cover the civil war. She is regarded as the first female photojournalist to cover war on the front line and she took some amazing pictures, including the first image above of a female soldier in training.  Despite her romance with Capa, she rejected his marriage proposal and remained a fearless, independent woman until her untimely death at age 27 when a tank collided into her car during battle. As one journalist eloquently put it: “In the years following her death her lover - and fellow photographer - Robert Capa would be proclaimed 'the greatest war photographer in the world'. She'd become a mere footnote in his story.”  Sadly, the exhibition doesn’t sufficiently address Taro’s background and trailblazing career.  I’m not sure if she has a large enough body of work to warrant a solo exhibition, but I think that would be a fascinating show.


Lisa Gralnick

Check out these stunning sculptures of mega talented artist Lisa Gralnick.  I’m particularly jazzed by her series, The Gold Standard, which features visually striking and conceptually loaded objects cast in 18k gold and plaster.  The amount of gold on each sculpture represents the market value of the object.  For example, in the sculpture of the face above, the amount of gold covering the nose correlates to the cost of a nose job.  Fascinating stuff.  More commentary to come when I see her work this spring in person.


Maureen Connor stickin' it to the glossies

I just learned about artist Maureen Connor and her sculpture Thinner Than You.  It's a simple work, but I think a powerful and effective statement on the pressure women feel to be a size zero.  Just another example of how contemporary art doesn't have to be obtuse to be good.


Miracle Whip and Harold Edgerton?!

Harold Edgerton photograph 

Andy Warhol would be so proud.  Art and advertising collide once again in this Miracle Whip homage to Harold Edgerton.  Eagle eye CineRobot caught the reference right away, but I don't see anybody talking about it on the interweb.  Think the reference is intentional?


Cris Brodahl and Peggy Preheim

I discovered an intriguing new artist at the Seattle Art Museum- Cris Brodahl (above).  I like the mix of both creepy and beautiful tendencies at play in the paintings of this Belgian artist, which are based off collages she creates from magazine images.  A gloomy, monochromatic palette and bizarre imagery give her work an eerie quality that evokes the Surrealists of the 1920s with a contemporary edge that reminds me a bit of Peggy Preheim (below). See what you think.