Art News and Opinion: October 30, 2010

Courtesy Prada Foundation

On view at the Prada Foundation in Milan through the end of the year, Californian artist John Baldessari has produced a series of sculptures based on ‘variations’ of the work of Alberto Giacometti, as reviewed by Matilda Battersby of the Independent. He’s taken the Swiss sculptor’s trademark tall and emaciated figurative works and draped them with colorful scarves, hula-hoops and wigs. “Giacometti figures are the most emaciated and skinny sculptures that exist. Why not push that further?” Baldessari said. “There is currently a blurring of art and fashion. It is de rigueur that fashion models be extremely tall and thin.” He said his work “fuses the zeitgeists” of art and fashion, but also took inspiration from Degas ballerinas. Baldessari’s recent exhibitions in New York and Europe follow a retrospective of his work at the Tate Modern in London last year.

Jane Austen is a beloved, renowned author whose stunningly woven sentences have forever shaped our literary world. Recent research by an Oxford scholar on Austen’s manuscripts has led to the startling claim that the most elegant prose stylist in the history of the English novel in fact submitted messy, “experimental’ texts that were cleaned up and polished to their famous dazzle by her editor. Jonathan Jones of the Guardian refutes this audacious claim, pointing to the research as utterly unconvincing and impossible. Jones snorts, “It’s like being told that James Joyce actually wrote Ulysses as a conventional narrative but a series of serendipitous printing errors turned it into a modernist masterpiece.” Jones maintains that the doubtful claims are just another maddening example of our era’s refusal to accept the existence of true genius. Austen is a great artist whose work has changed the world—and that’s the end of it. Jones concludes simply, “Her voice is her own.”

YouTube has been in existence since 2005, growing in popularity each year as amateur videos become trending topics and new stars are discovered on the interwebs. It was only a matter of time before the art world caught on. Roberta Smith of the New York Times recently wrote a stellar review on the Guggenheim’s new exhibit “YouTube Play, a Biennial of Creative Video,” a juried exhibition of YouTube videos with an open-submissions policy. 23,000 submissions made their way to the panel of judges, who culled from that list 25 videos currently featured in the exhibition, which is running through the weekend. Smith reports that many of the videos on display were already quite popular on YouTube—“I Met the Walrus” among them—which is almost disappointing in a way, as amateurs and nobodies seem not very well represented among the high-polished winning group. In her article, Smith wonders at the difference between the exhibition’s YouTube videos and professional video art. Overall, the installation is a welcome addition to our digital art age—although not perfect, it summarizes the YouTube phenomenon brilliantly.

Playing into what seems to be a running trend in art right now, Daniel Larkin of Hyperallergic writes that Jim Herbert’s paintings of naked lovers, currently on view at the English Kills Art Gallery in Brooklyn, are not for the faint of heart. The large canvases offer more than simply nudity—viewing them is like knocking unexpectedly into an intimate lovemaking session. Larkin observes, “With today’s porn-soaked internet and sexually liberated gaze, nudity’s shock value is dismally low. Something else plays out in Herbert’s huge canvases. By depicting the tenderness between lovers, these images portray intimacy.” It’s an open question whether we look away from these couples out of polite modesty or to avoid the intimidating vulnerability that this intimacy creates. If Herbert’s aim is to evoke a feeling of discomfort topped with curiosity, then hats off to him.

J. Lindblad of Art Observed writes on Marina Abramović’s current exhibition at the Lisson Gallery in London, remarking that this show reveals a softer edge to the artist, especially in contrast with her recent show at the MoMA in New York. This new installation showcases videos, photographs, and sculpture, divided in half between galleries across the street from one another. Many of these new images were shot in upstate New York, where Abramović intends to open an institute for the preservation of performance art. These images are a far cry from the challenging, violent, and provocative work for which Abramović is known. Instead of pills, guns, or other tools of violence, the artist’s new companion is the lamb. As a symbol of innocence, this creature carries with it a gentler, more vulnerable air. Lindblad writes, “The new work, which reads at times like magical realism, does not betray the artist’s bold character: the shots are tight, with Abramović’s stirring expressions dominating the frame. Whether crying over a flower, carrying an armful of firewood, or quietly peeling potatoes, the artist and her emotions are very much present.”

Laura Lawson paints when writer’s block strikes and writes when painter’s block strikes. She has studied fine art at LCAD and is pursuing a degree in journalism. Recently diagnosed with the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, she strives to bring hope to those without vision through her blog. She is currently working on her first book about coping with vision loss.

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