Cindy Sherman, Feminist Artist?

We have been taught to look at Cindy Sherman in art history classes and textbooks as a Feminist Artist, but I was curious to look into this deeper. I spent a day last week researching articles and interviews with/about her and found intriguing information that has lead me to believe she is not a Feminist artist. I wanted to share this with the class, so that they could tell me their opinions and thoughts, and continue to think critically about her.

Let us look at the Untitled Film Stills that granted Sherman her initial fame and title as a ‘feminist artist.’ First off, all of the women are the objects of some unseen person’s gaze.  As viewers, we take part in looking at her in this same way. We do not identify with her, but take part in the act that men have done for hundreds of years, and we participate in this gaze. We have learned in introductory courses about the male gaze in art. According to Ways of Seeing, by John Berger:

One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object- and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.

In the Untitled Film Stills, we are judging the women, looking at them as sexual objects, or vulnerable to the presence of the man, and it is Cindy Sherman that invites us to do so.

Next, I think it is important to look at whether Cindy Sherman is inviting us to share in this gaze in a means to critique gender performance, postmodern subjectivity, and theories about the male gaze, or something else. Looking at interviews with her, there are an abundance of interviews and quotations to be found of Sherman denying that there was any feminist statement behind the Untitled Film Stills. When asked the question, “Critics like to discuss the male gaze and the objectification of women in relation to your work. Did you think about that stuff?“ Sherman responded, “I was totally unaware of that” (“How I Made it.” By Mark Stevens in NY Magazine on April 18 2008). On another occasion she said, “I wonder if maybe it’s all a lot of crap. Maybe the work doesn’t mean anything. When they’re writing about it, they’re just finding whatever to attach their theories to. I just happen to illustrate some theories” (“Cindy Sherman: From Dream Girl to Nightmare” by Glenn Hefland). Furthermore, “Sherman herself insists that, while her work is drawn upon her particular experience of womanhood, she is not a feminist and has no political agenda” (“A Woman of Parts: Interview with Cindy Sherman.” By Noriko Fuku in Art in America). If Sherman is not presenting her characters in a way in which we are supposed to critique the objectification of women in media and images, then she is contributing to the problem.

Since the feminist art movement of the 1970s, many artists have used their own bodies as a way to explore objectifications of women in art and mass media. However, we now know that Sherman is not doing this intentionally, so this should change our opinion of the way we understand her artwork. Does it not make more sense that her artwork is reinforcing the fantasy of the insecure vulnerable woman, and playing into the hands of the male-dominated art institution? What makes her art different than any image in a magazine or painting? Isn’t Cindy Sherman’s art doing exactly what feminists are so eagerly protesting, and contributing to the pile of objectified women imagery?

Another point made in The Standpoint of Art/Criticism is that “One wonders if Sherman is so often celebrated as a feminist artist because she is a woman who presumes to act and make art like a privileged man!” In some ways, the fact that Sherman is able to partake in activities that only men could do previously is a way to celebrate how far women have come. The fact that her work is selling for millions of dollars makes Sherman an example of the place that women artists are now able to get to. However, I believe that at the same time this adds to the problem.

If a woman is successful because she is acting like a man then this only shows that feminists are supporting artwork that looks just like the art made by men for centuries. Her art has made it to the top, because it is subjecting women to the same ways that men have done. Other women such as Barbara Kruger have made art that specifically is addressing the issues that feminist critics attribute to Sherman’s work, but it is not as successful. Does this show that art can only be successful if it subjects women to stereotypes? To be clearer, to be feminist because you make art like privileged men do then you are approving those qualities that make the men’s art the issue in the first place.


Yang Yong

Longing for Paradise, Negotiating with the Real: Looking at the Chinese Art Scene Today by Hou Hanru.. Yang Yong was mentioned in this reading, and I thought I would do a little research about him. The reading taught us about a city called Shenzhen, which was literally created in the past two decades. The artist obsessively photographs the residents. The article teaches us that many cities are being re-planned due to economic and population booming. Taking this further, I found this information about him and Chinese culture:

I learned that Yang Yong is a photographer, but also a curator. Born in what was considered an ‘awkward generation,’ he has access to a ‘vast kaleidoscope of global information, yet remains subservient to traditional patterns of dominance.’ Apparently this awkward generation in China was born in the 70s, which lack the strict beliefs of their parents generation, the rebelliousness of older siblings, and carefree privilege of younger 80s generation. Yang Yong makes photography, paintings, and installations.

He recently did an exhibition called Lightscape, which included 200 hanging lamps, which are supposed to reflect today’s obsession with global media. Yang Yong painted each lamp with images of models, icons, scandals, current events, and natural disasters. By putting these images on simple practical objects, he is speaking to ‘just how mainstream media sensationalism has become.’ For his generation, they grew up with easy access to media information all over Internet, etc. So, he is speaking about how commonplace this information is.

Missing Attendance Points for 4/24- Francis Alys and the Beetle

Interesting Article:

“The location, in the violent border town of Tijuana, suggests that the piece is a bittersweet metaphor for Mexico’s chronic inability to solve its economic, social and political problems. The band that can’t seem to finish the song and the car that can’t reach the summit symbolise the paralysis that poisons a country where change is always promised, but never happens.”

Important here is that Tijuana is being judged by an outsider, and changes the way that we look at performance. Most might say, who are you to judge a country that isn’t your own? Perhaps if I were from Tijuana, I would be offended, and it would seem as though a westerner from a first world country was pointing out how we were not as successful. So typical in the history of Latin America for the ‘white privileged man’ to come in and point out the flaws, to create a comparison, and/or to show that he know’s better. (On a side note, Tijuana is actually the industrial and financial center of Mexico, and is one of the fastest growing cities in Mexico.)

However, regardless of being from the country or not, an understanding of the economy and the business in Tijuana can still be understood and criticized. According to the article, Alys does extensive research before making his art: “the act of making a work of art requires careful preparation, compositional rigour, deep thought and continuous revision.” Alys is not making a statement on how they should be doing things better, he is just pointing out that it isn’t working, which can be understood if being from or not from Mexico.

Dr. Stephen Campbell on Mantegna’s Painted Chamber

Professor Stephen Campbell, Department Chair at history of art at Johns Hopkins Univeristy. He has received his MA from the University of South Carolina and his PhD at Johns Hopkins University. He has been the recipient of many awards and fellowships such as National Gallery at Washington. He is an author of multiple books, such as Art in Italy 1400-1600, co-authored with Michael Cole (Fall 2011). He has published many articles, and is a leading figure in the study of the Renaissance. This is a review of the lecture that took place at CU on April 10th entitled Andrea Mantegna: Force and the Frame.

Continue reading

Cindy Sherman currently at Metro Pictures Gallery NYC

Cindy Sherman Large-Scale Works at Metro Pictures Gallery in New York.

Opening reception is tonight, April 28, 5:30 – 7:30 PM

Cindy Sherman, well known photographer and film director working with conceptual portraits, whom we have studied in this class. Inviting the viewer to think about the role of women in society, gender acts, and the meaning of identity. Working alone in her studio, she directs, styles, models, and photographs herself. Although she does not consider herself to be a feminist, her work does bring attention to the stereotyping of women in films and magazines.

There is currently a Sherman restrospective of the past 35 years at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but her new large-scale pieces can be seen at Metro Pictures Gallery. These new works “depict outsized enigmatic female figures standing in striking isolation before ominous landscapes.” Wearing entirely 1920s haute couture Chanel outfits, she intensely stares out to the viewer. Some of the characters seem as though they do not belong in the background evironment, while others seem to be in a protective stance of their lands.

To do this, she photographed herself in her studio with a green screen and inserted the landscapes later with photoshop. The landscapes, which she also photographed herself, were manipulated to look as though they were actually painted. The landscapes are of Iceland during a 2010 volcanic eruption, and of the isle of Capri. These photographs are all based on work that she did for Dasha Zhukova’s magazine.

Information attained from

Motoi Yamamoto

Contemporary artist Motoi Yamamoto is currently exhibiting at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington (until May 27, 2012) in a show called Making Mends, which focuses “not on brokenness, but on the sense of hope and perseverance, they come to terms with traumatic experiences through the act of creation. What is produced in response is honest, compelling, sometimes humorous, and a departure point to investigate what it is that drives the human spirit and our own path to healing.”

Yamamoto makes extremely intricate floor patterns made of salt. This might remind many people of the Tibetan Mandalas that are made of colorful sand that can take weeks to make, only to be tossed away in the wind. Yamamoto’s work really speaks to the pure dedication and meditative state that he must get into to so carefully and painstakingly create these beautiful designs. Like the mandalas, some of his pieces can take weeks to complete, and thousands of pounds of salt are used. His patience eventually creates incredibly beautiful installations.

His use of salt is closely related to Japanese culture. Yamamoto explains, “Salt seems to possess a close relation with human life beyond time and space, moreover, especially in Japan, it is indispensable in the death culture.” Interestingly enough, people leaving funerals are often sprinkled with salt to ward of evil. in 1994, when his sister passed away at the young age of 24, he began making this type of art as a way to deal with the grief. He told Japan Times, “I draw with a wish that, through each line, I am led to a memory of my sister. That is always at the bottom of my work. Each cell-like part, to me, is a memory of her that I call up, like a tiff I had with her over a pudding cake she took from the fridge. My wish is to put such tiny episodes together.”

The art is supposed to convey eternity, which is surprising due to its impermanence. However, when the exhibition has ended, the artist requests that the salt be returned to the sea, which continues its eternal existance while changing from one form to the next. At one point the salt could have began in an ocean somewhere, only to be returned and serving new a different purposes. The artist hopes that the salt may have at one point helped the existance of a creature. “I believe that salt enfolds the memory of lives.” Tibetan Mandalas speak to the impermanence of things, and how not to hold on to material things. By letting the mandalas blow away in the wind, they speak to the same mindset as Yamamoto, and allow the sand to take new forms and have new meaning.

Yayoi Kusama; Retrospective at the Tate Modern- Extra Credit Exhibition Essay

During my spring break in London, I made my way to the Tate modern where I saw a fascinating exhibit that was a retrospective on perhaps Japan’s best–known living artist, Yayoi Kusama. This Japanese artist began in the 1940s and has been creating work in a span of time of over 60 years. Kusama’s extensive amount of work includes but is not limited to painting, sculpture, drawing, and collage, however she is best known for her installation work. During the 60s and 70s she was a very influential figure in the New York avant-garde, not only associating with key developments in pop, minimalism, and performance, but coming into contact with artists such as Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, Joseph Cornell and Claes Oldenburg. Due to the fact that her work is far too extensive to cover in just this essay. I will focus on a few moments or key features of her artistic journey, to show what she is best known for and to give an understanding of how her art progressed throughout the years (as highlighted by the Tate Modern).

Photo of the Artist

Yayoi Kusama was born in 1929 in Matsumoto City, Japan to a middle-class family. As a young girl, she would sketch the flowers, seeds, and plants that grew on the family’s land. In 1948 she started studying Nihonga painting, which is a distinctly Japanese style, but quickly realized that she was more fascinated with American and European avant-garde rather than traditional artwork. This was during the period when Japan was dealing with the aftermath of the war, and this is clearly influenced her personal style at this time. In the early 1950s she created hundreds of works on paper with ink, watercolor, tempera, pastels, etc. and continues to examine organic forms such as eggs, trees, flowers, and seeds, but on a microscopic scale. Although she was beginning to receive much critical acclaim in both Matsumoto and Japan, she was ready to venture to New York. A quote from her autobiography on why she made this choice:

“For art like mine-art that does battle at the border of life and death, questioning what we are and what it means to live and die – [Japan] was too small, too servile, too feudalistic and too scornful of women. My art needed a more unlimited freedom, and a wider world.”

In 1958, Kusama makes it to New York and begins studying at the Art Students League, and begins working on what is called ‘Infinity Net’ paintings, which are large-scale canvases with repeated, scalloped brushstrokes. Most describe this work as both obsessive and meditative, similar to the work of other abstract-expressionists at the time. The process of producing these are using white paint over a black surface, and then bleaching the whole surface. After a while, she began to integrate some color.

Infinity Net Paintings

In the 60s, Kusama started working on sculptures that she will beceome even more well known for, her ‘Accumulation’ sculptures. She took everyday items such as clothing and furniture, and covered it with a abundance of stuffed fabric phallic forms. I learned in the interview (at bottom), that she has never had sex, and a focus on phallic objects was a form of sexual therapy for her. She showed work alongside Andy Warhol, George Segal, and James Rosenquist at the Green Gallery in 1962, which was one of the first exhibitions of the American pop art movement. Also at this time, Donald Judd became an important supporter, and sometimes assistant to her. There are two sides to her obsessive decorations of everyday objects; her Sex Obsession series features phallic objects and her Food Obsession series features dry macaroni. Sex Obsession centers on anxieties around sex in the 60s, and Food Obsession centers a disgust with American food over-abundance in which she was completely disgusted by.

Sex Obsession and Food Obsession

In ’63, she has an exhibition at the Gertrude Stein Gallery in NYC, called ‘Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show.’  This installation was the first instance in which she uses an entire gallery space, which is something she will do again and again. The boat was covered with her infamous phallic objects and surrounding it were repeated photographs of the same boat. This repeated motif, which would be seen abundantly in the pop art movement, was first seen with her nearly three years before Andy Warhol uses it with his Cow Wallpaper. During this time, she also begins to start what will be a long-term relationship with mirrors and flashing colored lights.

In 1967 Kusama starts being greatly influenced by the American hippie culture at the time, which challenged social norms, and had a very open attitude towards sex and drugs. She started working with performance experiments in her Body Festivals, where viewers and artists would paint polka dots on each other with fluorescent paint in a room with black light. Polka dots would greatly be used in her art from this point on. I learned in the interview (at bottom), that since childhood she has always wanted to draw dots. She liked to cover her fashion and notebooks with them. They are a symbol of the cosmos; the sun, moon, and people are all dots. Filmmaker Jud Yalkut recorded some of these events for her film, Kusama’s Self Obliteration. In this film, she puts polka dots on different things, and there is footage of orgy parties that take place in her installation spaces. Kusama won many awards for this film, such as the Fourth International Experimental Film Competition in Belgium and the second prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Something that is to be especially noted with her artwork is her own strong presence, in which she likes to be photographed and visually documented within her work. This established a focus on the artist in the role of the author and controller of the environment, where she truly becomes the center to her personally created world.

The 1970s were tough for the artist. The very conservative Tokyo audience did not respond as well to her artwork as the open American crowd did, and so she begins working as an art dealer. In 1977, she experienced both a physical and psychological break, partially due to the death of her partner Joseph Cornell, and admitted herself to a hospital, where she has lived ever since. In this psychiatric institution, she was able to continue making artwork, but remain within the security and calmness of the confinement. Within Seiwa Hospital, she published a book of poems and artwork named ‘7.’ She also wrote an essay named ‘The struggle and wanderings of my soul’ published in Geijutsu Seikatsu (Art Life), and continues to delve deep into concepts of Life and Death. She also writes numerous novels and an autobiography. Her novel ‘The Hustlers Grotto of Christopher Street’ won the Tenth Literary Award for New Writers.

The Seiwa Hospital was supportive in her art production and allows her to set up a studio within the building, where she returns to sculpture. She makes Leftover Snow in the Dream and Prisoner’s Door, where she extends the phallic shapes of her Accumulation sculptures that become snake-like and dense, as if jungle-like foliage. Although her main residence was the hospital, she still travelled and held exhibitions all over the world.

Kusama returns to painting in the 1990s with a new style not quite yet seen by her, in which she uses acrylic in all-over compositions in a rich palette of extremely bright colors. Often using multi-panel works, there seems to be an all-encompassing visual field, and she uses up to 12 canvases. She returns to some of the themes explored in her early paintings, with microscopic organic forms, that look like cell structures and/or sperm-like shapes.

Along with painting, she begins working with open-air pieces in the 90s. To list only a few, she had pieces at the Fukuoka Kenko Center, the Fukuoka Municipal Museum of Art, the Bunka-mura on Benesse Island of Naoshima, and the Kirishima Open-Air Museum and Matsumoto City Museum of Art.

Kusama continues to develop these into the 2000s, and further brings in motifs used in her early paintings such as flowers and eyes, but incorporates her famous polka dots and nets. These would seem to be ever-encompassing paintings that hark back to and collaborate with all of the themes and symbols used in her career, but used and portrayed in a different way. These are often very complex, and sometimes include animals and doll-like girls.

Still continuing to thrive after 60 years of art production, we still await what is yet to come from the complicated mind of Yayoi Kusama. Recently she just won the 2006 National Lifetime Achievement Awards, the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Losette and The Praemium Imperiale –Painting-. Looking back at what she has achieved is immense, and highly influential. In many ways she was dealing with being an ‘ousider’ in many different contexts throughout her artistic journey. Whether she was a female artist in a male-dominated world, or a Japanese native in the American art world, or as a victim to the troubles of her own neurotic, damaged, and obsessive psyche. Perhaps what was working against her, was actually working for her. As a viewer, we are able to experience a similar psychological trauma, as her work encapsulates us into her obsessive compulsion. Both intriguing and terrifying, her work stimulates you, and you feel as though you have entered another dimension or state of mind. Her ability to bring you into her own world is what makes her work so fascinating. Kusama has been and still remains one of the most prominent contemporary artists of the time.


Cartoon Flying ‘Up’ House Made in Real Life

Although this could also be considered just a scientific experiment, it ended up being quite a beautiful art piece. Originating from an art form as a movie, put in to reality is possibly more artistic. When I saw the Pixel movie, Up, I thought of how wonderful it would be (and scary) if it was possible, but I never thought anyone would attempt to try it! Working with a bunch of scientists, engineers and two world-class balloon pilots, National Geographic was successful in the flight of the home. It took 300 weather balloons to carry the 100,000 ton home. Could this be the architecture of the future?? Seeing a home that is normally on the ground in another environment is fascinating to look at, and it inspires creativity. The final design is beautiful.

Link to Movie:



Viviane Le Courtois: Edible?

Viviane Le Courtois: Edible?

The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art opened an interesting exhibit on February 23, 2012, named Edible?, in which the French artist Viviane Le Courtois works entirely with food-related medium. Mainly a retrospective of her 22-year career so far, there is also an installation, The Garden of Earthy Delights, which was created specifically for this Boulder location. The reason for focusing on food is because she was a vegan and was very interested in her own relationship with food. Le Courtois grew up on a potato and artichoke farm, which greatly got her interested in food. Her main goal for this exhibit is to get people thinking about their own relationships with food: i.e. how we see our food, if we want to grow our own food, if we want to collaborate with friends and people when dealing with food, and to examine our own diets. Edible? wants to promote the creation of art, as we examine consumption, repetition in food preparation, ceremonial food offerings, and social aspects involved with eating.

Viviane Le Courtois

Beginning in 1989, Viviane Le Courtois has been making process-based and conceptual installations, but has been specifically working with food since 1990. She has worked with sculpture, performance, photographs, prints, videos, and interactive installations that connect to everyday life, such as eating, walking, the environment, and health issues. Born in France in 1969, she currently resides in Denver, but has travelled in more than 40 countries in the past 19 years. With a very impressive educational background, such as an MA in Art History and Masters of Fine Arts, she has been able to both curate and teach, when not working on her own art. In fact, much of her experiences with teaching young children have influenced her art, especially with Edible?, in which we will examine more closely later.


Starting from the earliest work in this retrospective, dated 1991, there is a piece that has stuck with me since I left. This is of a dress that the artist wore every day for one year in France. Originally white, it is now a darker colored cream, due to the fact that every day she would dye it with the rinds of the remainder of the fruit that she consumed. First off, this speaks to process that is valuable to much of her work. Secondly, I learned that this is a great tactic for people entering the desert for periods of time, because they can gnaw on the clothing and receive nutrients when there is a lack of plants to eat from. This was not a part of her reasoning, but is an interesting point that I learned from one of the employees.  Personally, I was so amazed that after a whole year that the dress was as clean as it looked! This piece shows how food is such a huge part of her whole existence that she even incorporated it into her clothing.

Offerings to Homeless on lower left
Cheetovore hanging in back

The second piece that I want to examine is that of the offerings to homeless people, which was created 10 years after the dress. On a journey she took to India, she learned about parts of that culture’s relations with food.  It is often that you will see offerings to the homeless made of rice, lentil, and curry that is placed in a banana leaf plate. When finished eating, the homeless will throw the ‘plates’ on the ground for the cows to eat, because they are so revered there. I thought it was so fascinating how she, who is someone that is interested in recycled material, was moved by this offering in India, because none of the materials used get wasted. Furthermore, it reminded me of how in India, clay tea pots get thrown out of train windows when finished drinking and ‘return to the land,’ which is echoed in this piece of hers and in The Garden of Earthy Delights, which we will examine later.


The next room had three large pieces, a clay-motion video, and jars of food and other objects. All of these were created in the span of 2002- 2006. The jars are interesting because they speak to another part of food culture, which is the act of preservation, and the process of jarring and canning foods. For the inspiration, her mother had a weird hoarding thing in which she saved every jar of pickles she ever purchased and kept them with the leftover pickle juice inside. As a means of remembering her mother and childhood, she continued to work with jarring to create this art. She jarred and bottled foods and children’s toys, ranging from odd sorts such as donuts to Barbie’s to M&Ms to Alien figurines. Le Courtois did this by adding the material, then water, food coloring, and wax on top to seal it. When looking at these, they are kind of gross and disturbing looking, and not appetizing at all. They remind me of something you’d see in a mad scientist’s lab versus a pantry. Perhaps she inherited some of her own food obsession from her mother’s own food obsession, because I learned from an employee that these are important to her because they remind her of her mother.

The three large sculptures in this room start with Cheetovore (pictured earlier), which is a large red, hanging sculpture of what looks to be a tamale or slab of meat. From the inside, there is a sound recording of a child chewing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. This piece was made in the same year in which these Cheetos came out on the market, and within the group of children that she was teaching at the time, was a hugely popular food item. What is special about the recording is that she asked one of the children to let her record him eating them, and he ate freely as if he would eat when alone. This is because adults, when told they are being recorded, act differently, but children will carry on as they normally would. It is especially fun to hear the young boy expressively belch once every 6 minutes! The sounds of the chewing add to the overall experience of this exhibit, because it can be heard in the background at all times.

Venus of Consumption


The Venus of Consumption and Shane are the second and third large pieces in the third room. The Venus of Consumption is laying in the Venus pose, similar to that in the Venus of Urbino by Titian, but her body shape is more reminiscent of the Venus of Willendorf if she were lying on her side. Her body is made of yarn, and not of anything edible, and is covered in silicone and stuffed. All of the children she worked with in Denver inspired this because many of them were really fat. The third piece, Shane the Marshmallow Puff Kid, is of a young fat boy, and is made of tiny colored marshmallows. Continuing to focus on young fat children, she created a series called the Fat Kid Army (image at end) and is reminiscent of the Terra Cotta Warriors in China, for they all line up as if going to battle. They are made of melted down candy, such as suckers, or starburst, poured into the same mold, then rolled in powdered sugar. We see with these three works that there is a focus not only on the material being made of food, but also the effect on our bodies from over-consumption, as if the fat children in reality were made of the candy themselves.

After working with candy for about 10 years, Le Courtois decided that she had enough, and decided to return to her roots- no pun intended! She starts working with potatoes and artichokes, inspired by her childhood days on the family’s artichoke and potato farm. An exhibit she had in 2010 called How to Eat an Artichoke, which was at the RedLine gallery in Denver. She sat people dow and taught them how to eat artichokes correctly. After they were finished, shed collect the yucca bowls in which she asked the guests to put their leftovers, and would put them into hanging yucca baskets. It is very important to Viviane Le Courtois to be involved with the people when working on this piece. It made me think that since she was carrying out the serving part of the meal with the guests, that she was relating and expressing another big part of the food world, i.e. being served at restaurants and home dinners.

Potato Film

Next, she makes an hour-long film of her peeling potatoes and in front of it there was a years worth of potato peels! It is fascinating to watch, because it is so methodical. I found myself going into a trance with the same repetitive images being shown to me as she grabbed the potato, peeled it, and then moved it to the side. I could only assume that she was in the same state of Zen mindset while performing the act. You can see the peel pile getting slightly higher as her hands start to become out of focus, due to the camera being still and placed just a few inches above her workstation. You can also see the effects on the body of preparing food for so long as her hands started to get swollen and dirty from the excess dirt and peels that collected on them. I have since learned that the artist hosted potato-peeling parties, in which friends and guests would sit around talking and continuously peel potatoes. I asked an employee what they did with the potatoes when they were done, and he told me that she threw them away! I must admit I was quite shocked, because I would assume she wouldn’t want to waste anything, being so interested in recyclables as she is. However, the point of the parties and the video is to focus on the repetition and the process, and to see it as a social activity when people work on them together.

Garden of Earthy Delights

The most recent part of the Edible? Exhibit is that of The Garden of Earthy Delights, which is the largest room that is the first entered by viewers.  This is a living interactive installation that was created specifically for the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Do not confuse the title with the famous painting Garden of Earthly Delights by Early Netherlandish master Hieronymus Bosch, for one ‘L’ can make a huge difference! It was important in her vision in this installation that people relax, interact with one another, and think about food. The lighting is quite low in this room, as it is placed just above the plants which are low to the ground. Viewers are invited by the employees to take a small tea pot, which was a low fire kiln pinch pot, and to hold it in your hands to warm it up. Next, you are taught how to pick and collect herbs to make our own tea. There are herbs such as mint, verbene, thyme, lemongrass, and rosemary in these small gardens. There are little stations on the ground that the guests can sit down and drink the tea. She made a rug out of recycled tee shirts and a small table made of concrete and beeswax that looks like a mushroom. The enjoyment of these personally created teas is important to this installation, especially while socially interacting with friends and strangers. I mentioned these small pinch pots earlier in this essay in relation to the offerings to homeless people artwork, where these pots are thrown out of the windows of trains. As part of the installation, we are also invited to throw the clay pots at a designated wall and see it crumble and collect on the ground. Not only are we referencing the ancient process of growing, collecting, and consuming these herbs when we make our own teas, but then we discard our cups in the same way in which the natives of India do. Speaking to her love of serving, she comes to this exhibit every Saturday between 1 and 3 pm to tend the plants, serve tea, and offer foods grown from her home garden.

The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art made such an interesting exhibit that even though it is in such a small space, one could spend hours inside thinking about the artwork that Viviane Le Courtois has dedicated the past 22 years to.  This essay only focuses on a few works that are exhibited, but there are many more that have not been mentioned that grabbed my attention for a long time. I think that this is definitely an exhibit that I will return to, due to the fact that it is so supportive of social interactions, that I can bring new people each time and have a different experience. I really think that her goal to have the guests and viewers be inspired to examine their own relationships with food was definitely reached, for I started remembering my childhood food patterns and the ways in which I cook and eat my food. I even immediately bought potatoes upon leaving the exhibit, due to the fact that I watched her peel potatoes for so long! She definitely engages all of the senses. We can hear the boy chewing in the background, we can smell and taste the herbs, we can see the different foods, and we can feel the clay pots. Edible? will be remembered not just by our minds, but our senses and tummies, too!

Fat Kid Army



Wu Hung- Three Gorges Dam Contemporary Art

March 20, 2012

The lecture series this week was presented by Wu Hung. This lecture focused on Contemporary Art in response to the Three Gorges Dam, which is a recent architectural development and political issue in China. The construction of the Three Gorges Dam officially began in 1994. This large-scale project has created much controversy from the beginning. On the positive side towards wanting to build the dam, it was argued the following reasons. It could develop a lot of clean energy important to the growth and stability of the country. 1/9 of the energy could be supplied to China, which is equivalent to 15 million tons of coal and 15 nuclear power plants. They argued that it would lower gas emissions and help the environment. Also, control of the river will save and prevent deaths from flood issues (300,000 citizens have died from flooding in the 20th century). On the other hand, there are negative reactions. Many people reference the severe impact on the humans, i.e. thousands of towns had to relocate. Factories could contaminate the water. Furthermore, the whole ecosystem of the entire region would be disrupted, and some people were concerned for the loss of the natural beauty, which will be changed forever. Due to the fact that there are millions of Chinese people being affected with different reactions, a strong art response was rightfully natural. In this essay, I will focus on the artwork of three of the artists mentioned by Wu Hung.

Zhuang Hui was really at the forefront of the art response. He had been following the debate for years and planned out his long-term project from the beginning. He drilled holes into the ground in three sites (corresponding to the three gorges) prior to the construction. In a way, he is “digging up the land” and altering the land like the Dam project is. Hui then photographed the holes. He waited 12 years until the construction was complete and instructed a photographer to shoot the same locations as where his holes were placed years previously. In these photographs, we see vast spaces of water, and the extreme contrast to the way it used to look. The success of his artwork and strengths rely on his dedication to duration, and how it makes a huge visual and emotional impact. Hui, in an interview with Hung, explained that the pictures made his heart ache, because something had disappeared. There is a pain within him related to what was lost with the Three Gorges Dam.

Yun-fei Ji was an artistic vision since childhood, born with immense intelligence and talent. Ji skipped high school and went directly to Art Grad School. Upon graduation, Ji moved to NYC and was quickly recognized and became successful in some major shows in the 90s. Although art critics and curators were fascinated with his work produced in America, the Three Gorges Dam had created such an emotional response within him that he moved back to China. This really speaks to the grand impact that this Dam created across the entire globe. He had originally created art works that were done in the traditional Chinese landscape aesthetic, such as the well-known Travelers amid Streams and Mountains. However, Ji’s artwork was often surreal, with mythical creatures, and spoke to the traumatic past of China. The Three Gorges Dam shifted his gaze towards the present. Ji was extremely interested in the emotional and environmental impact in the local villages.  In the artwork entitled, “Water Rising,” the artist attempts to capture that moment of the villagers having to evacuate. Wu Hung found connections to Refugees, from the 13th and 14th centuries. Both of these artworks deal with people relocating, and both express the realistic and the grotesque. Both are responding to politics.

Chen Qiuling is a female artist that brought a different perspective on the Three Gorges Dam. First of all, she is a local person from the area affected. Originally in her career she worked with graphics and installation art. Upon returning home to her village, she filmed a video in response to her horrified, upset feelings. It was entitled, “Rhapsody on Farewell.” There are sequences of demolition of buildings, and her emotion and attachment to home is clearly conveyed. Qiuling told Wu Hung, when he interviewed her, that she felt someone had taken away her memories by force and that it made her very sad and angry. It is interesting that as she continued making art videos, her feelings evolved and changed. Her videos are as follows: Rhapsody on Farewell (2002), River, River (2005), Color Lines (2006), and Garden (2007). Her emotions and pain were resolved through the video making process. Garden shows new modern high rises that re-oriented peoples eyes towards different spectacles to reorient into seeing hope and a better future. Qiuling offers a valuable insiders position and she examines her day to day changes. She experienced sacrifice and shared her dream to have a better life in the future. The significance of her videos relies not in documentation, but in their sensitive reflection of complicated internal emotions of the artist personally.

There are two major considerations to consider when reflecting on the building of the dam and the art. First is how memory and recognition of the dam resides in minds and hearts. Second is to reflect on the art and politics interaction/relationship, and the content and language of artistic representation. Here we see three very different approaches to artistically representing the response to the Three Gorges Dam. Zhuang Hui documents the before and after through his conceptual art and we focus on the environmental impact here. Yun-fei Ji uses his traditional painting to focus on the politics and the people affected. Chen Qiuling uses her videos to offer an introspective of the emotional responses of a local citizen. All three of these offers a complex view on the Three Gorges Dam and definitely on contemporary art in China.


Zhuang Hui

Before- Holes

After- Water

 Yun-fei Ji

Chen Qiuling



Missing Attendance Points for 3/15

Some thoughts after class:

I was thinking about the Monument Against Fascism, 1986, and had an afterthought. I thought that the monument would have been more effective if it moved in the opposite direction. Starting small, people would fill up the facade with their petition signatures and as it grew taller, people could be constantly reminded of their petition. Also, it would stand as a testimony to all those in opposition of fascism and the impact it made on the people. Future generations would still be able to look at it and understand. But perhaps that would be too similar to other standing monuments and the artist wanted to be different. I understand that it is like the monument is burying the issue and putting it in the past, but I think it is a shame that we cannot see it in its entirety.

I was thinking about the Black Garden, 1994, by Jenny Holzer. I thought that it was so interesting that she used life to represent those who died. It is as if the flowers live on for those that died in the war. The flowers continue to live, while they could not. Furthermore, if we are going to view it as the flowers are standing in for the souls that passed, then it is a shame that people often find it uncomfortable to sit on the benches. Physical interaction with the flowers and plants should be encouraged otherwise they become a garden of shame, something that wants to interact, but cannot. That makes it very sad, indeed. On the other hand, I think that the black color of the flowers is a perfect representation of the lives lost. It is like their memory is living through the plants, but the blackness stands in for the blacking out of their futures.

October Cycle- History Painting after photography?

Is History painting dead? Perhaps, there are ways in which it can be allowed effectively after the birth of the camera. Gerhard Richter makes a fascinating, and controversial cycle of 15 history paintings. The title of the series, October 18, 1977, refers to the date on which Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader and Jan-Carl Raspe were found dead in their cells in Stuttgart-Stammheim prison. Richter paints photographic images that were taken of the members of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group; both press photographs and pictures taken by the police. Of these pictures, the members are both alive and dead. Choosing to paint these past events invokes a conversation about the existence of history painting after it is supposedly dead. Benjamin Buchloh would say that he violated “the prohibition against representing historical subjects in modern painting” I believe that The October Cycle creates a legitimate form of history painting through the renewed connection to history with the appropriation of photographic images. Continue reading

Upcoming Art Event

Upcoming Art Event!

Lafayette’s Art Night IN

             When: 17.Feb –

Old Town Lafayette celebrates “Art Night IN” along the 400 block of South Public Road in Old Town on the third Friday of each month from 6-9pm. Merchants and galleries share beautiful wares, music, and tasty morsels, and art demonstrations.

Erika Doss Lecture Series Extra Credit

Erika Doss presented a lecture on “Cultural Vandalism and Public Memory: Anger, Citizenship, and Memorials in Contemporary America.” It was very interesting to learn about the different meanings of memorials, and also the deep responses in the people that view them. For some people, it can touch a deeply personal nerve, sometimes good and sometimes bad. In the good cases, it can bring peace to a death of a loved one that died in a tragedy or war; it can honor great men/women who changed our country for the better. In situations that create iconoclasm, are instances of memorials bringing up painful memories; i.e. the raping or murder of a culture; or the social injustices brought to a race of people. These can be grandeur large statues or makeshift arts/crafts memorials (i.e. scene of a tragic death with flowers, photographs, personal items). Regardless of the form, there is a lot to learn about instances of vandalism and anger towards these memorials.

Doss speaks about how anger is deeply rooted into our current politics and how as a culture it is both respected and normal to be angry and speak loudly about our political feelings. Doss speaks, “anger is key to ‘Memorial Mania’ [term she references to this topic and social acts towards memorials]. Memorials themselves are not angry, but disputed narratives of identity, belonging, control fires up people.” When anger induces an act of vandalism, the people are reconfiguring the history on their own terms. I think that this idea is incredibly interesting, because we can ask ourselves what marks an act of vandalism. Some argue that the vandalism should stay there, because it shows the meaning in its true light, and reveals its true nature/knowledge. It is the nature of memorials to change or come and go. For example she explains, “like a human body, it might live for only a time, being created and destroyed. They can be altered or changed with the onset of new politics.” If a country’s politics or social identity has changed, they might want to remove old memorials that are not relative to their present beliefs.

I think it is fascinating how understanding peoples’ reactions to memorials as art figures, really allows us to examine our emotional relationship to history itself. The monument is asking the question, “How do you feel about what I represent?” The responses really just allow us to see how people view the past events, tragedies, and victories. It is not about the art of the monument or the memorial itself at all, and we can see into the hearts of the people as the opinions and feelings change over time.

Clyfford Still Paper- Alexandra Engelhardt

clyfford still-alexandra engelhardt = word document

The Style Progression of the Great Clyfford Still

If you haven’t heard of Clyfford Still before going to the Clyfford Still Museum, the experience is one to amaze you as you view the progression of his work. The journey of his life took him and his art off the farm and into fascinating directions, making a slow shift into awe-inspiring Abstract Expressionist art. The design of the museum suits the display of his artwork perfectly. As one ascends the stairs to the second floor gallery, a large, exquisitely realistic, self-portrait of Still makes its way into your view as if he is personally greeting each guest. A museum truly devoted to the great artist; not only does it show his artwork, but its existence honors the dying wishes of the late Still. He specified in his will that his large estate must be wholly donated to an American city that will create an everlasting museum devoted only to him. The museum holds around 2400 pieces that take the visitor on a 60 year journey from 1920 to 1980 (the year of his death). In his time, he changed Modern Art as a whole.

Clyfford Still’s artistic journey began as a small child on a wheat farm in Spokane, Washington. This was an extremely difficult environment to grow up in and at an early age he was introduced to the pain of a hardworking life. In order to escape the stresses of his life, he would teach himself philosophy, classical music and most importantly, how to paint. Still said that he felt like he had travelled the world already, just from reading about European artists in magazines and journals in his barn. He was inspired by the readings and the famous paintings he saw, and practiced sketching and drawing scenes of rural life and the people he knew. From this, an amazing talent developed with representational painting. His ability to paint people with such realism is remarkable as a self-taught artist.

Clyfford Still developed his own recognizable style of painting of farm-life scenes in the 1930s. These regionalist paintings had men and women, often in the nude, with long, tired faces in scenes around the farm. We see that he was greatly influenced by surrealist art. The characters have sunken eyes, sunken cheeks, and a face that looks like it hasn’t rested in months. The bodies are often emaciated looking, with sagging breasts, exposed bones, and long skinny limbs. This painting, for example, shows the strain on the body from working in the farm.

The long arms are extended, looking like they are stretching to the point of breaking and the backs look permanently hunched. The enlarged hands draw attention to their importance in the fields. The viewer can feel the pain just by viewing the artwork. Another remarkable feature is the sense of motion that he is able to capture. The viewer is able to see the people if they are alive and moving, because he paints them in such a dynamic way. The characters are almost painful to look at, because we see their sad emotions in the beautifully expressed tired, warped faces. Most of the characters look like they are cerebral, contemplating figures, because they are almost never engaging in conversation. This could be the influence of his father, whom sometimes would not speak for weeks-probably due to the stresses he faced. His early paintings make a deep impact on the viewer, and this is just the beginning.

We see the next step towards his abstract expressionist work, when the human figure turns into more of a design than a body. The physical shape is still recognizable, but it is less representative of true anatomy.  This semi-abstract painting, below, is a key piece during the transition between his figuration paintings and his mature style.

We still are able to see his recognizable long limbed, tired body, but it is juxtaposed next to an abstract black and white field. With color and shape, he both contrasts the left to the right field, while painting the bodylines in a way that compliments the black and white geometry. On other works in the same time, we see the human figure that has been broken down to its counterparts. We see bones, fleshy spots, and umbilical-cord wiggly shapes vertically twisting through the canvas. The ominous, depressing farm emotions are still apparent through dark colored background; lots of dark earth tones with small spots of bright color. We can also see shapes that look reminiscent of grasses and vegetation.

In the late 1940s, his paintings turn towards radical abstraction, devoid of the figure and farm. This painting, below, is my favorite. A famous quote by Clyfford Still helps the viewer understand what they are seeing: “These are not paintings in the usual sense. They are life and death merging in a fearful union…they kindle a fire; through them I breathe again, hold a golden cord, find my own revelation.” I did not fully understand what this meant until I read and listened to the information at the Clyfford Still Museum. “Verticality expresses a life force” in the same way a plant grows upward, and “when we die, we are horizontal.” With this piece I have inserted as an example, we see many vertical lines and one instance of a horizontal one. These lines are called lifelines. We see the balance, or conflict/battle of the lifelines. This painting is truly representative of “life and death merging.”

Also in this painting we have characteristics that are representative of his abstract expressionist work. We have an overwhelming sense of scale, with the large mural sized canvases influenced by Mexican Murals (true to many of the major artists of this same style i.e. Pollock). We also can see the amazing texture of the paint on the canvas, which he has applied in his own way. On an informational video at the museum I learned about his Tools, Technique, and Process. Still paints with “spontaneity, with an intense touch, and gesture,” using a palette knife. There is an evident “barbaric, scaly texture.”

The experience of looking at the large scale is overwhelming, as it is intended. Still said once, “If you look at my paintings with unfettered yes, you may find forces inside that you didn’t know you had.” He has been related to a shaman by many who understand his skills, for his ability to connect with and paint energies. Still once said, “I never wanted color to be color. I never wanted texture to be texture, or images to become shapes. I wanted them all to fuse together into a living spirit.” This is an expression of the subconscious. The large scale is supposed to suck you in to become an environment in which you can reside in temporarily. The composition is not limited to the frame of the canvas, and Still once said, “It’s intolerable to be stopped by a frame’s edge.” I found that if I viewed the art from my emotions, versus my mind, I was able to feel them versus analyze them. This allowed a better connection to the meaning of the work. I let the colors, shapes and movement of the line give me feeling and I did not over analyze it or I would lose the connection. This art is able to take you to another place than transcends the mental, physical dimension. The art breathes life, energy, and emotion in his famous patches of unpainted canvas, dynamic, flittering lifelines, powerful colors, and scaly texture.

This isn’t art that has been made for fame, this art belongs to the spiritual connection it brings Still alone. Still was a believer in art for pure art sake, and said, “The one thing that matters to the artist is art itself.” Still supported these words with a major move from Art-Mecca New York City to Westminster, Maryland in 1961. Where he turned an old barn into his large studio. From this point on he made nearly two decades of work, most of which has not been seen until the opening of the Museum in Denver. Clyfford Still continued to master his abstract expressionist work until his death in 1980.

Most noticeable in Clyfford Still is his wide range of skill. I spoke with a group of elderly women at the Museum and explained my knowledge of him so that they could experience the art as I did. The first thing that the women said was, “I do not get this.” After I explained the information written above, they had a whole new respect for the meaning behind the work. It is through understanding the artists point of view that allows the viewer to make the same connection. One thing that we all came to an agreement on is best seen in this quote of one of the ladies: “If I had seen his abstract work alone, I would have though that he painted in this way because he did not have the skill to paint the human figure or anything realistic. It is when I see the progression, and see that he evolved from such representational ability to this, that I understand that there must be more to it than I originally see.” I believe that this is true, because this art is not about just seeing the paint, but truly feeling the paint, which makes Clyfford Still one of the greatest American Painters of the century.




Alexandra Engelhardt Profile

1. I started at University of Colorado @ Boulder as an Architecture Student. After two years, I transferred my major to Humanities concentrating on Art History and Architecture. I have taken painting classes since early childhood, and still paint when I find the time. Continue reading