How Should We Then Live – Episode 8 – The Age of Fragmentation
I featured the artwork of Ellsworth Kelly on my blog both on November 23, 2015 and December 17, 2015. Also I mailed him a letter on November 23, 2015, but I never heard back from him. Unfortunately he died on December 27, 2015 at the age of 92.
According to WWW.THEARTSTORY.ORG:
Real-life observations are the backbone of Kelly’s abstraction works, which are replications of the shapes, shadows, and other visual sensations he experiences in the world around him. As did the early twentieth century Dadaists, Kelly delights in the spontaneous, the casual, and the ephemeral means of finding such “readymade” subjects.
Therefore, today I have followed some artwork by Kelly with a story about the Dadaists and Duchamp followed by a feature on the artist Sherrie Levine and her take on Duchamp.
Interview with Visual Artist Ellsworth Kelly at Art Basel
http://www.vernissage.tv | In honor of Ellsworth Kelly’s 85th birthday, Matthew Marks Gallery presents a one-person exhibition by the artist at Art 39 Basel. On display at the gallery’s booth at Art Basel are 20 works by Ellsworth Kelly made over the course of his nearly 60 year career. VernissageTV correspondent Sabine Trieloff met Ellsworth Kelly on the occasion of his exhibition. In this conversation, Ellsworth Kelly talks about his work and present and future projects. Ellsworth Kelly is also featured in the Fernand Léger exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel (on view through September 7, 2008). Basel, June 3, 2008.
American Abstraction Since Ellsworth Kelly
American Painter and Sculptor
Born: May 31, 1923 – Newburgh, New York
“I have worked to free shape from its ground, and then to work the shape so that it has a definite relationship to the space around it; so that it has a clarity and a measure within itself of its parts (angles, curves, edges and mass); and so that, with color and tonality, the shape finds its own space and always demands its freedom and separateness.”
Ellsworth Kelly has been a widely influential force in the post-war art world. He first rose to critical acclaim in the 1950s with his bright, multi-paneled and largely monochromatic canvases. Maintaining a persistent focus on the dynamic relationships between shape, form and color, Kelly was one of the first artists to create irregularly shaped canvases. His subsequent layered reliefs, flat sculptures, and line drawings further challenged viewers’ conceptions of space. While not adhering to any one artistic movement, Kelly vitally influenced the development of Minimalism, Hard-edge painting, Color Field, and Pop art.
Most Important Art
Red Blue Green (1963)
Kelly put great emphasis on the tensions between the ‘figure’ and the ‘ground’ in his paintings, aiming to establish dynamism within otherwise flat surfaces. In Red Blue Green, part of his crucial series exploring this motif, Kelly’s sharply delineated, bold red and blue shapes both contrast and resonate with the solid green background, taking natural forms as inspiration. The relationship between the two balanced forms and the surrounding color anticipates the powerful depth that defined Kelly’s later relief paintings. Therefore, these works serve an important bridge connecting his flat, multi-panel paintings to his sculptural, layered works.
Oil on canvas. Dimensions: 83 5/8 x 135 7/8 inches. Photo courtesy of the artist. ©Estate of Ellsworth Kelly – The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Jack M. Farris
Born in Newburgh, New York in 1923, Ellsworth Kelly was the second of three boys. He grew up in northern New Jersey, where he spent much of his time alone, often watching birds and insects. These observations of nature would later inform his unique way of creating and looking at art. After graduating from high school, he studied technical art and design at the Pratt Institute from 1941-1942. His parents, an insurance company executive and a teacher, were practical and supported his art career only if he pursued this technical training. In 1943, Kelly enlisted in the army and joined the camouflage unit called “the Ghost Army,” which had among its members many artists and designers. The unit’s task was to misdirect enemy soldiers with inflatable tanks. While in the army, Kelly served in France, England and Germany, including a brief stay in Paris. His visual experiences with camouflage and shadows, as well as his short time in Paris strongly impacted Kelly’s aesthetic and future career path.
After his army discharge in 1945, Kelly studied at the Boston Museum of the Fine Arts School for two years, where his work was largely figurative and classical. In 1948, with support from the G.I. Bill, he returned to Paris and began a six-year stay. Abstract Expressionism was taking shape in the U.S., but Kelly’s physical distance allowed him to develop his style away from its dominating influence. He enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, saying at that point, “I wasn’t interested in abstraction at all. I was interested in Picasso, in the Renaissance.” Romanesqueand Byzantine art appealed to him, as did the Surrealist method of automatic drawing and the concept of art dictated by chance.
While absorbing the work of these many movements and artists, Kelly has said, “I was deciding what I didn’t want in a painting, and just kept throwing things out – like marks, lines and the painted edge.” During a visit to the Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris, he paid more attention to the museum’s windows than to the art on display. Directly inspired by this observation, he created his own version of these windows. After that point, he has said, “Painting as I had known it was finished for me. Everywhere I looked, everything I saw, became something to be made, and it had to be made exactly as it was, with nothing added.” This view shaped what would become Kelly’s overarching artistic perspective throughout his career, and his way of transforming what he saw in reality into the abstracted content, form, and colors of his art.
After being well received within the Paris art world, Kelly left for New York in 1954, at the height of Abstract Expressionism. While his work markedly differed from that of his New York colleagues, he said, “By the time I got to New York I felt like I was already through with gesture. I wanted something more subdued, less conscious.. I didn’t want my personality in it. The space I was interested in was not the surface of the painting, but the space between you and the painting.” Although his work was not a reaction to Abstract Expressionism, Kelly did find inspiration in the large scale of the Abstract Expressionist works and continued creating ever-larger paintings and sculptures.
In New York City, while creating canvases with precise blocks of solid color, he lived in a community with such artists as James Rosenquist, Jack Youngerman, and Agnes Martin. The Betty Parsons Gallery gave Kelly his first solo show in 1956. In 1959, he was part of the Museum of Modern Art’s major Sixteen Americans exhibition, alongside Jasper Johns, Frank Stella and Robert Rauschenberg.
His rectangular panels gave way to unconventionally shaped canvases, painted in bold, monochromatic colors. At the same time, Kelly was making sculptures comprised of flat shapes and bright color. His sculptures were largely two-dimensional and shallow, more so than his paintings. Conversely, in the paintings he was experimenting with relief. During the 1960s, Kelly began printmaking as well. Throughout his career, frequent subjects for his lithographs and drawings have been simple, lined renditions of plants, leaves and flowers. In these works, as with his abstracted paintings, Kelly placed primary importance in form and shape.
In 1970, Kelly moved to upstate New York, where he continues to reside and work today. Over the next two decades, he made use of his bigger studio space by creating even larger multi-panel works and outdoor steel, aluminum and bronze sculptures. He also adopted more curved forms in both canvas shapes and areas of precisely painted color. In addition to creating totemic sculptures, Kelly began making publicly commissioned artwork, including a sculpture for the city of Barcelona in 1978 and an installation for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. in 1993. He continues to make new paintings, sculptures, drawings and lithographs, even re-visiting older collages and drawings and turning them into new works. The more recent creations have expanded his use of relief and layering, while continuing to utilize brightly colored, abstracted shapes. Kelly is currently represented by Matthew Marks Gallery in New York City.
When Kelly returned to the United States from Paris in 1954, he joined a new wave of American painters coming of age in the wake of Abstract Expressionism, many wishing to turn away from the New York School’s preoccupation with inner, ego-based psychological expression toward a new mode of working with broad fields of color, the empirical observation of nature, and the referencing of everyday life. Kelly was increasingly influential during the early 1960s and 1970s among his own circle, including Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, and James Rosenquist. He also provided an example of abstract, scaled-down visual reflection to evolving Minimalist sculptors such as Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Richard Serra. More recently, Donald Sultan’s schematic, abstract still lives of fruit, flowers, and other everyday subjects clearly owe a debt to Kelly’s example, as does the work of many graphic designers of the postwar period.
October 22, 2008
Well, I tried to make a joke in the heading, not that funny huh.
Dada is the artistic movement that delights in and focuses on the absurd. Samuel Beckett, Arthur Adamov, Eugene Ionesco, Franz Kafka, and Jean Genet are part of the Theatre of the Absurd. We spoke in class about Beckett’s play ‘Breath’. Incidentally, a nihilistic Beckett play is being put on at the Melbourne Arts Festival this year.
This artwork is strongly linked to nihilism. In making art absurd, they are portraying the meaninglessness of life. Nihilistic thought begins with rejecting the possibility of knowledge, after that it rejects universal ethics, this is what Nietzsche called ‘cosmic amorality’. This contributes to a total loss, or denial of meaning. Hence, life becomes meaningless, indeed absurd. Monty Python pick up on these ideas in much of their work. They reduce philosophical concepts down to absurdity, as does Douglas Adams in his ‘Hitchhikers guide’ series.
Schoenberg was friends with Kandinsky and Marc, both have nihilistic overtones in their work. There is a connection between the rise of nihilism’s amorality, anti-knowledge and anti-meaning and Schoenbergs atonality.
Can Art really be nihilistic? Consider what James Sire says of this:
“Modern Art galleries are full of its (nihilism’s) products-if one can speak of something (art objects) coming from nothing (artists who, if they exist, deny the ultimate value of their existence). As we shall see later, no art is ultimately nihilistic, but some does attempt to embody many of nihilism’s characteristics.”
“Art is nothing if not formal, that is, endowed with structure by the artist. But structure implies meaning. So to the extent that an artwork has structure, it has meaning.”
This obviously makes it impossible to say that Schoenbergs work is nihilistic, as the tone row is the apex of structure indeed the summit of modernity. One aspect, that is the denial of functional harmony, is the link between the influence of nihilistic thought and Schoenberg’s music.
Francis Schaeffer says in his book, ‘How should we then live: The rise and decline of Western thought and culture’, “The philosophers first formulated intellectually what the artists later depicted artistically.” you can see this in the artwork below:
Marcel Duchamp: Nude descending the Staircase
Marcel Duchamp: Bicycle Wheel.
Schaeffer goes on to talk about Schoenberg, his rejection of tonality, embracing the 12 tone row, and perpetual variation with no resolution. He quotes from Grout ‘A History of Western Music’ saying that his music is “…isolated, helpless in the grip of forces he does not understand, prey to inner conflict, tension, anxiety and fear.”
Here is an example of Dada, or nihilistic thought influencing literature. ee cummings (He did not capitalise his name) with his poem “!blac”.
John Cage took it the next step with complete aleatoric music, random chance sound, really just noise. Interestingly Cage was an expert in mycology, the science of mushrooms, he himself said that “… I became aware that if I approached mushrooms in the spirit of my chance operation, I would die shortly.” Gotta pick your mushrooms carefully! Schaeffer says that “His theory of the universe does not fit the universe that exists.”
I hope that the influence of nihilistic thought upon art has become clearer now.
Featured artist today is Sherrie Levine
Sherrie Levine – Fountain (Buddha), 1996
More information available on The Broad’s website: http://www.thebroad.org/art/sherrie-l…
Reductivist abstraction and pixelated photo-appropriation? If only it could involve a short film, an Ikea table, or a White House stage set, I could wrap this whole blog up with a bow and go home.
The twelve-color woodblock prints in the portfolio Meltdown have been created by Sherrie Levine by entering images, after Duchamp, Monet, Kirchner, and Mondrian into a computer scanner that spatially quantizes and transforms these images into the minimum number of pixels, thus determining each of the colors in the four prints.
after Duchamp et al, means these are pixelated prints based on Levine’s own photographic reproductions of photoreproductions of [clockwise from upper left], a Monet’s Rouen Cathedral, Kirchner’s Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, Mondrian’s Composition No. II, and Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q..
I’d started tracking down links to the “original” works, Levine’s source paintings, before realizing that kind of missed the point. In fact, as with her earlier rephotographic series, Levine’s source images are reproductions in books. In 1987 she showed 40 photos, all 1982, of reproductions of works by Monet, Kirchner, and Mondrian at the Wadsworth Athenaeum. [pdf of the exhibition brochure].
For one contemporary reviewer, Levine’s use of a computer, her deployment of algorithmic color averaging, and the whole “pixel” concept gave Meltdown the whiff of suspicious techno-novelty. I obviously think it’s a fresh and worthy approach, which now makes me wonder a bit. I’m also kind of fascinated by her use of woodblock, which was either a 4- or 12-color process. Either way, it seems an important, digital-to-analog color translation step is being largely ignored.
What’s also remarkable is that Phillips ran the After Mondrian image on the cover of the catalogue for it editions auction last fall, even though the suite for sale was an unsigned, undeclared set outside the edition [35 + 10AP], which was marked simply “WKSHP 1/2.” It still sold for $12,500.
Levine made at least one other pixelated print series. Equivalents: After Stieglitz 1- 18are greyscale inkjet prints from 2006, and were shown at the last Whitney Biennial.
The Whitney Museum of American Art’s survey of paintings, sculptures and photographs by the appropriation artist Sherrie Levine has a provocative subtitle, “Mayhem.” That’s strong language but not out of place.
For more than 30 years Ms. Levine has been slyly lifting images and forms from works by well-known Modernist artists and photographers, using them, her admirers maintain, in ways that undermine conventional notions of originality, artistic mastery and authorship. Her goal has apparently been to expose evils like the commodification or fetishization of the unique art object and to chip away at the myths of individual creativity that have historically served male artists and their markets.
But nothing close to mayhem occurs in this exhibition. Over all it is disappointingly sedate, resembling a tastefully appointed art boutique full of fastidious, expensive-looking objects lightly dusted with irony. I’d like to think that Ms. Levine is a better artist than this, but I’m not sure. Whatever life her art has mustered in the past seems to have been mostly left at the door.
Ms. Levine emerged around 1980, taunting the art world by photographing photographs by Modernist masters like Edward Weston and Walker Evans that were indistinguishable from the originals, before adding painting and then sculpture to her repertory. She was a founding member of the Pictures Generation, and her fellow travelers, where rephotography was concerned, included Richard Prince and Barbara Kruger.
Twenty-one of the Evans images — rephotographs of his Depression-era pictures of Southern sharecroppers, humble cabins and weather-worn churches titled “After Walker Evans” — start off the Whitney show. They still represent ’80s appropriation art at its most seamlessly provocative: a mental if not a visual affront, well-enough executed to read also as a tribute. But it is the clarity and passion of Evans’s images that hold us more than Ms. Levine’s subversive gesture.
Sherrie Levine (b. 1947), Lead Knot: 7, 1988. Metallic paint on plywood, 50 × 40 in. (127 × 101.6 cm). Paula Cooper Gallery, New York and Simon Lee Gallery, London. © Sherrie Levine; image courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
|Born||April 17, 1947
|Education||University of Wisconsin in Madison|
|Known for||Photographer, painter, and conceptual artist|
Much of Levine’s work is explicitly appropriated from recognizable modernist artworks by artists such as Walker Evans, Edgar Degas, and Constantin Brancusi. Appropriation art became popular in the late 1970s although it can be traced to early modernist works, specifically those using collage. Other appropriation artists such as Louise Lawler, Vikky Alexander, Barbara Kruger, and Mike Bidlo all came into prominence in New York’s East Village in the 1980s. The importance of appropriation art in contemporary culture lies in its ability to fuse broad cultural images as a whole and direct them towards narrower contexts of interpretation.
In 1977, Levine participated in the exhibition Pictures at Artists Space in New York, curated by Douglas Crimp. Other artists in the exhibition included Robert Longo, Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, and Philip Smith. Crimp’s term, “Pictures Generation,” was later used to describe the generation of artists in the late 1970s and early 1980s who were moving away from minimalism and towards picture-making.
Levine is best known for her series of photographs, After Walker Evans, which was shown at her 1981 solo exhibition at Metro Pictures Gallery in New York. The works consist of famous Walker Evans photographs, rephotographed by Levine from an Evans exhibition catalogue and then presented as Levine’s own artwork without manipulation of the images. The Evans photographs—made famous by his book project Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, with writings by James Agee—are widely considered to be the quintessential photographic record of rural American poor during the Great Depression. The Estate of Walker Evans saw the series as a copyright infringement, and acquired Levine’s works to prohibit their sale. Levine later donated the whole series to the estate. All of it is now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Levine’s appropriation of Evans’s images has since become a hallmark of the postmodern movement.
Levine has rephotographed a number of works by other artists, including Eliot Porter and Edward Weston. Additional examples of Levine’s works include photographs of Van Gogh paintings from a book of his work; watercolor paintings based directly on work by Fernand Léger; pieces of plywood with their knotholes painted bright solid colors; and her 1991 sculptureFountain, a bronze urinal modeled after Marcel Duchamp‘s 1917 work Fountain.
In 1993, Levine created cast glass copies of sculptures by Constantin Brancusi, held in the permanent collection of thePhiladelphia Museum of Art, for an exhibition titled Museum Studies. In 2009, the Metropolitan Museum of Art held an exhibition titled The Pictures Generation, which featured Levine’s works. In November 2011, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York mounted a survey exhibition of Levine’s career titled Mayhem. Sherrie Levine: Mayhem, mounted at the Whitney Museum of Art from November 2011 through January 2012, was a meticulously organized installation, ranging from Levine’s best-known photographs to works including her more recent Crystal Skull series (2010). During the winter of 2016, Levine exhibited new work of monochrome paintings paired with refrigerators at David Zwirner Gallery. This was her first show with the Zwirner Gallery after being represented for seventeen years by the Paula Cooper Gallery.
Levine showed with Baskerville & Watson Gallery, New York, in the early 1980s and worked with Mary Boone Gallery in New York between 1987 and 2015. She is currently represented by David Zwirner in New York, Simon Lee Gallery in London, and Jablonka Galerie in Cologne.
- Sherrie Levine, David Zwirner, New York (2016)
- African Masks, Jablonka Maruani Mercier Gallery, Brussels (2015)
- African Masks After Walker Evans, Simon Lee Gallery, London (2015)
- Sherrie Levine – Man Ray: A Dialogue Through Objects, Images & Ideas, Jablonka Maruani Mercier Gallery, Knokke, Belgium [two-person exhibition] (2015)
- Red Yellow Blue, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (2014)
- Sherrie Levine, Portland Art Museum, Oregon (2013)
- Sherrie Levine: Newborn, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Portikus, Frankfurt, Germany; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York; The Menil Collection, Houston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1993-1995)
- Sherrie Levine: La Fortune (After Man Ray), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1991)
- Sherrie Levine, Metro Pictures (1981)
- The Campaign for Art: Contemporary, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2016)
- MashUp: The Birth of Modern Culture, Vancouver Art Gallery (2016)
- Ordinary Pictures, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota (2016)
- Physical: Sex and the Body in the 1980s, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2016)
- America Is Hard To See, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2015)
- The Inaugural Installation, The Broad, Los Angeles (2015)
- Open This End: Contemporary Art from the Collection of Blake Byrne, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina (2015) (traveled to The Ohio State University Urban Arts Space, Columbus, Ohio; Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, New York; and Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art, Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon)
- 2014 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2014)
- No Problem: Cologne/New York 1984-1989, David Zwirner, New York (2014) 
- Transforming the Known: Works from the Bert Kreuk Collection, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague, The Netherlands (2013)
- The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2009)
Levine’s works can be seen in a number of public institutions, including:
- Art Institute of Chicago
- Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
- Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art
- Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark
- The Menil Collection, Houston
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
- Museum of Modern Art
- The National Museum of Art, Osaka
- Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Sammlung Goetz, Munich
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
- Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
- Tate Gallery, London
- Whitney Museum of American Art
- Juan Martín Prada, La Apropiación Posmoderna, Fundamentos, Madrid, 2001, ISBN 978-84-245-0881-4 (Spanish)