Jan 18 2012

Let Your Voice Be Heard

The Gallery Diva

Today SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) appears to have been shelved for the time being after President Barak Obama refused to support it and significant anti-SOPA public sentiment.  There is however another similar bill PIPA (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) that is scheduled to go before the Senate next week.

Both bills are an attempt to combat online piracy of movies, music, art, trademarks and other copyrighted material.  Supported heavily by Hollywood, the Entertainment Software Association and GoDaddy.com, an internet domain company, the bills would enable the US Department of Justice, individuals and companies as copyright holders “to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling of facilitating copyright infringement.”  According to Wikipedia, “depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. “  It would attempt to prevent American search engines like Google and Yahoo from directing users to sites which distribute stolen content.

Although the primary goal of combating online piracy is valid and of huge concern to us in the art world, the approach is in direct violation of the first amendment that allows for free speech and press.  It is a censorship of the internet.

The bill shows an embarrassing lack of understanding of the internet and how it operates.   The technical issues that would arise from this bill would have a significant impact on internet integrity, security as well as the privacy of resulting in technically less savvy users being monitored and major league internet criminals avoiding detection and easily remaining one step ahead of the law especially outside of the United States.

Another problem is that the bill is very vague and loose in its language of the boundaries of the proposed laws.  It could easily affect a network site like the original Monkdogz Network which was linked to over 3000 websites – making Monkdogz responsible for policing all the linked sites for copyright infringement.  For a small organization such as ours, it would be physically and economically unviable.  In effect it could give powers which would be like closing a whole school down for the transgression of one student instead of disciplining the student alone.   On top of all this, websites could be shut down without a lawsuit or trial, but just from one complaint.

Purely from my point of view it looks very much like a bill that has been driven by the movie and music industry lobbying Congress for extended powers to protect their own interests with little regard for the world of the internet which is likely to become a bigger and bigger part of their audience.  It’s likely to be a bit of a cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

However the power of the internet has certainly been felt today with the coverage that the bill has received in the media and the impact of black outs by sites such as Wikipedia and WordPress and support from sites such as Craigslist encouraging Americans to lobby their Congressmen.  Even my teenage son is talking about the bills with his favorite online gaming site Minecraft being affected and YouTube flooded with many anti-SOPA videos.  With this sort of public outcry many senators are starting to have second thoughts about supporting PIPA.

What do you think?  If you are a United States Citizen contact your elected officials  here.

Jun 17 2011

“Calvet” World Premier

The Gallery Diva

Today “Calvet” opens at the Edinburgh Film Festival which is celebrating its 65th year.  One of the oldest continually running film festivals to be created, it was originally started to try and bring documentary films to a wider audience.  It has since gone on to include fictional films, experimental films, animations and music videos. The festival hosts world premieres, retrospectives and many networking and educational workshops, exhibitions and events as well.  It is the perfect venue to introduce the feature documentary film “Calvet” to a wider international audience.

“The dazzling, disturbing and utterly compelling story of one man’s extraordinary life, and how he was saved by the redemptive power of art”.

“Jean Marc Calvet, a one-time drug addict, rent boy and thief who is now a successful painter, recounts his astonishing tale with remarkable candor and courage, and takes director Dominic Allan with him on his search for his son, abandoned as a child and about to turn eighteen.  A brave, moving and unforgettable film.” (EIFF 2011 Brochure)

I however was lucky enough to be at the world premier of the movie last week at the Sheffield Doc/Fest which is partnering the Edinburgh Film Festival for the first time this year to offer “double-impact premieres”.

Sheffield Doc Fest is one of the premier international documentary film festivals in the world.  Started in 1994 it is an annual event to not only showcase and celebrate films but allow discussion, education and networking, particularly allowing one-on-one meetings between film makers and buyers.  It is a serious industry event.

Sheffield is in the heart of England, home to the world famous Sheffield steel in its industrial heyday but today is also known for its cultural role in nurturing music, film and as well as home to two universities and two colleges.  Yet it is still home to the world only remaining independent steel works and it maintains its expertise in metallurgy and steel making.  It is now an interesting mix of the modern and the old, industrial and cultural, business and education.

So to be honest I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’d never been to movie premier before.  I met up with Dominic Allan and Jean Marc Calvet at our hotel lobby and walked the short distance to the Central Library Theatre, catching up on the latest news since we’d last emailed.  We were allowed to enter the theatre a little early so that Dominic could make some last minute checks to ensure that the film was ready to show.  Jean Marc and I went to get a quick drink to steady the nerves……he had not seen the completed film yet.  This would be the first time he saw himself on the big screen.  We joked that you usually only got to see your life flash before your eyes before the end, but we decided that it would be the end of only the past and the start to what’s yet to come.  He smiled but I think he was already back in the story that was his past.

I knew Jean Marc’s dramatic life story, but I was totally unprepared for the emotional impact of this sprawling epic of a film presented on the large screen.  It is narrated solely by Jean Marc and he takes you on the hazardous journey of his past life full of violence, abuse, addiction, crime, pain and unbearable sadness.  He is very matter of fact about his experience neither asking for condemnation or pity.  However his honesty and his strong desire to confess his memories and emotions makes it a dangerous experience for anyone watching it.  It is a story that is harrowing and disturbing.

If there is any scrap in your own past of guilt, anger, fear, sadness, humiliation, disappointment, abandonment, remorse, isolation and despair that hasn’t been bolted down and dealt with Jean Marc grabs you by the throat and drags you with him into his own personal hell.  Your own emotions get caught up and intensified as you relive his past with him and it becomes your own story too.

Part way through the film Jean Marc leaves the house which was his living hell saying that he will never return there.  Watching the movie sat next to him though, I realized that he had once again stepped within the walls of his former personal prison.

The story is more than about Jean Marc’s personal experiences, but about the relationship between father and son.  It it’s about the ultimate crime of a man abandoning his six year old son and having to live with the repercussions of that decision.

However there is redemption to this story and with him you find salvation not only for him but from your own demons and your own past.  Jean Marc promises you that if you “never believe that you have played the last hand”, then you will find the answers and a peace with your past.  The key to his return to sanity was art, a life-saver that he grabbed with both hands and has never let go.

As the lights came up at the end of the film I realized that many in the audience had been crying; a large number of them men.  Standing by the door as the people filed out, many came up to talk to Jean Marc.  They thanked him for telling his story, for being so brutally honest and letting them know that it was never too late.

I realized that I had been privy to a very special story and a magical moment in time.

Apr 7 2011

The Loneliness of the Modern Age?

The Gallery Diva

I was listening tonight to the Virtual Choir.  An online performance of Eric Whitacre’s  “Sleep”  was released today which is a synchronization of 2052 videos from 50 plus countries of individual people singing.

Marcia Adair of the LA Times having watched last year’s project commented that “The point of the Virtual Choir is to bring people together, but for some, watching nearly 200 people sitting alone in their homes singing in the first Virtual choir video seemed to accentuate the loneliness of modern life.”

This loneliness of the internet age is something that increasingly resonates with me.  We can all be comforted by the number of Facebook friends we have and the increasing time we spend on typed dialogue.  However how often is the message misinterpreted because of a missed nuance that didn’t come across in the typing?  Are we really having a conversation or are we just talking to each other?

I have sung on several occasions at the Royal Albert Hall in London.  Singing with several thousand people in choirs from all over England is one of my treasured memories.  The power of that much volume as well as the positive human energy and camaraderie from singing Handel’s Messiah or Hayden’s Creation  in such a historic venue can never be experienced listening or singing on your own in front of a computer.

Similarly there is no substitute for seeing fine art up close, seeing the real colors and textures, or watching epic movies on the big screen elbow to elbow, or plays and dance on the stage.

However for those who are unlikely to have such these “real” experiences, what a wonderful opportunity these virtual replacements provide.   The Virtual Choir Facebook page provided the vehicle with which participants could support each other leaving tips and encouragement.  The internet also provided a real connection for the mayor of Minamisoma in Japan who last week sent a desperate plea for help on the internet, to save the people of his city who were still trying to recover from the earthquake and tsunami but were now facing starvation because they were trapped in their homes because of the radiation leaks which were also preventing shipments of food from arriving.

The internet is a wonderful new tool, providing ever new experiences and a chance to connect with people far away.  It’s also worth reminding ourselves that the traditional venues for arts are worth preserving and further developing, because despite all the new technology we are still a social animal.  We need to spend face to face time with family, friends and new acquaintances.  Even without talking, I felt a camaraderie with a fellow visitor who sat next to me at MOMA in front of Monet’s 40 foot “Water Lilies”.

My new motto is “Do something good with somebody today”.

Apr 5 2011

Who’s in Trouble?

The Gallery Diva

We’ve had a few run-ins with the Facebook police who have been unhappy with some of the artwork that we’ve shown on the Monkdogz page over the last six months.  We have been reprimanded:  “You uploaded an image that violates our Terms of Use, and this image has been removed.”  They have threatened to stop us uploading images for increasing lengths of time.  We’ve muttered about censorship, about Rubens and Michelangelo being excluded if they had had a Facebook account and repeated the story in the New York Times blog of the New York Academy of Art which also experienced similar censorship.

However this is nothing compared to the Chinese government who have detained China’s most famous artist Ai Weiwei as he was boarding a flight to Hong Kong on Sunday.   Not only that they are working to erase all trace of him from the internet.  His two assistants have been arrested while their microblog and the artist’s feed have been blocked.  The government also seem to be trying to block any discussion about the arrests online.

Ai Weiwei is probably best known for his role as artistic consultant on the design of the Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  He currently has an exhibition “Sunflower Seeds” which carpets the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern until May 2nd with one hundred million individually made porcelain seeds.

One of the most outspoken critics of the Chinese government he highlights and aids the exposure of government corruption and cover-ups, including the alleged corruption scandal in the construction of Sichuan schools of which 7000 collapsed during the 2008 earthquake.

At least Facebook only wags their proverbial finger at us, they don’t arrest us…..yet.

Mar 25 2011

An Earlier Rothko

The Gallery Diva

I’ve always been a fan of Mark Rothko, but like many I have usually been enthralled by the dramatic multiform paintings which became his signature work in his later life.  I have stood mesmerized in front of many of his expression of basic human emotions in swathes of colors on large canvases, overwhelmed by own emotions.  These works were created from the late 1940s until his death in 1970.

Walking around MOMA yesterday though, I was reminded that Rothko had been painting for over 20 years before he found what critics labeled his “multiform” paintings.  I came across a very elegant and ethereal painting titled “Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea” which was painted in 1944 only about two years before he moved to his more abstract colorist works.  It is a charming piece and a wonderful example of his “mythical” stage.  I was further intrigued to read a text describing the work by Rothko’s son Christopher Rothko:

Slow Swirl by the Edge of the Sea is really the first painting I remember. It was hanging over the couch in the living room of the family brownstone in New York City. But it’s also a very important piece in the family because my father painted it for my mother shortly after meeting her in 1944–45. It’s subtitled, Mel Ecstatic, my mother’s nickname was Mel and the painting shows two figures, presumably my father and my mother, at a surrealistically styled seaside. But they’re twisted and distorted in the way that our mind does so in dreams and in the imagination.

He was in New York at that point and he was still living in very, very modest means. He and his first wife had recently divorced and not too long after that he had met my mother and I think this was actually a very joyful period for him because they had a very romantic courtship and married shortly thereafter. But he’s really just barely, barely on anyone’s radar in terms of being a known artist. He is really struggling to get his voice heard.

It’s a little different from the MOMA text that reads:

Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea shows two sinuous biomorphic creatures that seem to float between sea and sky, surrounded by arabesques, spirals, and stripes that can be read as musical symbols.

This experience reinforces my strong belief that looking at art is not enough, although it can be pleasant in its own right.  It is so much more rewarding to understand the artist, their thoughts, emotions, motivations and their historic context in both a personal and more general manner.  It tends to make so much more sense and allows the dialogue between the artist and viewer so much more meaningful.

Mar 24 2011

Who Goes to MOMA?

The Gallery Diva

We dropped into to the Modern Museum of Art today in midtown Manhattan.  The place was heaving with visitors; it was a mass of humanity.  We were there to refresh our artistic souls and gain some inspiration, but why were these other people there?  It was a cold day in the city despite some sun peaking through – was it a just a warm place to visit on a winter’s day?  Were they all artists or art related people?  Is it just a well promoted tourist destination in a city?  I wanted to know.

So we started by playing one of my favorite games…..people watching and trying to make up stories about the people we saw.  The two men in sharp suits, walking around without looking at anything, but talking quite intensely were obviously into some shady deal probably insider trading.  The three middle aged ladies sitting on a sofa and chatting, with one taking off her shoes and massaging her feet, were obviously three best friends on a trip of a lifetime to NYC knocking off another item on their bucket list.  You get the drift of the game.

Suddenly a little girl skipped past me, catching my eye and then to my amazement I heard her say to her grandparents “I want to show you a painting…..I saw it in a book”.   I followed them as she led us to the famous Jackson Pollock’s “One: Number 31, 1950”.  The girl who is 7 (but about to turn 8 in two weeks) was on her first visit to New York from Seattle.  She’d been to the National History Museum the day before and really enjoyed the butterfly collection.  The amazing thing was she’d seen a book on the art and life of Jackson Pollock and learnt enough that in her rush to see the Pollock painting she was also able to point out a Lee Krasner painting which she correctly identified as Pollock’s wife.  She was taking notes to transcribe into her journal.  She doesn’t want to become an artist but likes art.  With youngsters like her, our future is looking brighter!

I then chatted to two girls who were long time friends.  One girl is going to NYU for Museum Studies.  She frequently comes to MOMA as part of her course.  Her friend from California works for a museum in the education department.  She loves art – it resonates with her.  They were having fun looking at art whilst catching up with each other.

We then accosted a couple.  I saw the husband first.  He looked bemused and told me he thought that a lot of the work looked “weird” and wondered if it really could be called art.  I was impressed that he would voice thoughts that I know that many people think and feel but would be too embarrassed to express.  I think that in Michigan they say it like they see it.  His wife then came up.  She was obviously enjoying herself having taken an art appreciation class; seeing the works in the flesh so to speak.  They’d bought a combination ticket when they’d gone to the Top of the Rock.  A clever marketing play by MOMA and the Rockefeller Center.    I wonder if they still would have come if they hadn’t bought a package deal.  He looked like a husband who’d indulge his wife.

And then finally as we were walking out, I saw a very well dressed man pulling a small carry-on bag and briefcase.  I called out and he stopped by the revolving doors.  We started to talk about art in general, what types of art gets into museums, the blurred edges between the arts and science (had he read my post on the subject?), the New Museum and his views on the quality or lack of it in their exhibitions, his artist friend a true starving artist who is able to devote his whole focus and soul to his art, something he is envious of in his unfulfilled desires to be an artist.  We could have talked for hours.  He’s a businessman who travels and whenever time allows he does two things; he looks at art, trying to see at least one new thing each time and visits a microbrewery.  I like his style.

The reality was more interesting than my game where I made up the stories.  I was quite impressed at our small sample of people visiting the museum.  Culture is not only big business; it attracts an interesting group of people.  It’s a good reason to keep supporting the arts.

Feb 22 2011

What does it represent?

The Gallery Diva

Oscar Wilde held that, “All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.” A quote courtesy of Bill Bush of Artweek LA in the Huffington Post.

I think it’s a truth that all artists need to be very cognizant of when presenting their artwork to the viewer.  We all come with our experiences, memories and histories, our emotions, values, fears and insecurities, prejudices and predispositions to things we like.  It’s no wonder we all see the same thing differently.

We all talk about art being a form of communication but in reality it’s rarely a heart to heart between the artist and the viewer. It’s more like that children’s game Chinese Whispers where a phrase gets passed from one child to the next until you find that the original phrase is nothing like the final version.

Many artists like to say that “the art speaks for itself.”  It does but it’s interpreted by others, filtered through their own unique lens and often things can get lost in the translation.

But maybe that’s ok too.  An artist should be expressing themselves not worrying about how others perceive them or their work.  Bob likes to remind me that we are all responsible for the effort and not for the result; the result in this instance being how people interpret the work.

However anybody who’s listened to me for a while will know my views on titling work; providing artist’s statements and some background to the work.  It’s like meeting someone for the first time.  You know nothing about them and they know nothing about you.  We all make some assumptions and snap judgments.  Then to try and get passed that, we swap names and then start down the interesting path of getting to know each other and building a relationship.

So both the artist and the viewer have a responsibility to try and understand the other.  Otherwise it’s a bit like talking to yourself and what’s the fun in that?  And we all obviously know that, that is the first sign of madness.  So maybe that’s why there are so many crazy people in this world? I don’t know….hello is there anybody out there?  Can anybody hear me?……or am I just talking to myself?

Feb 21 2011

Did you see it?

The Gallery Diva

Just in case you didn’t get to see it before it was taken down by the billboard company, I wanted to give you the opportunity to see Banksy’s latest works in LA.  This one was above Sunset Strip and opposite the headquarters of the Directors Guild of America.

It’s an ingenious self promotion technique as the deadline for the votes for the Academy Awards fast approaches.  Banksy’s movie “Exit Through The Gift Shop” has been nominated for best documentary amidst significant questioning from many quarters as to whether it really deserved to be nominated and whether it really is a documentary in the first place.   Most of the other nominated movies launch extensive and expensive publicity campaigns to promote their own movies.

There doesn’t seem to be any comment from Disney for the misappropriation of their trademarked images………I wonder if they believe in the old adage that  “all publicity is good publicity.”  Personally I don’t know how I’d explain that to a 5 year old…..

Feb 20 2011

Presidential Award for Jasper Johns

The Gallery Diva

This week President Obama awarded 15 Presidential Medals of Honor.  Included amongst them was artist and sculptor Jasper Johns.

This honor was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 (actually a re-establishment of the Medal of Freedom which President Truman had set up to reward civilian service in World War II) as the highest civilian honor in the United States alongside the Congressional Gold Medal.  In awarding the medals, President Obama said “these outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they’ve excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary live that have inspired us, enriched our culture and made our country and our world a better place.”

In his speech President Obama said “It has been noted that Jasper Johns’ work, playing off familiar images, have transfixed people around the world.  Historians will tell you that he helped usher in the artistic movements that would define the latter half of the 20th century.  Many would say he is one of the greatest artists of our time.  And yet, of his own efforts he has simply said, “I’m just trying to find a way to make pictures.”  Just trying to find a way to make pictures.

Like great artists before him, Jasper Johns pushed the boundaries of what art could be and challenged others to test their own assumptions.  He didn’t do it for fame, he didn’t do it for success — although he earned both.  As he said, “I assumed that everything would lead to complete failure, but I decided that it didn’t matter — that would be my life.”  We are richer as a society because it was.  And Jasper, you’ve turned out fine. “

The President also suggested that who the country honors reveals the values of the country itself and by honoring Jasper Johns; it says that the country values “the original and imaginative.”

The award describes the artist as:

“Bold and iconic, the work of Jasper Johns has left lasting impressions on countless Americans. With nontraditional materials and methods, he has explored themes of identity, perception, and patriotism. By asking us to reexamine the familiar, his work has sparked the minds of creative thinkers around the world. Jasper Johns’ innovative creations helped shape the pop, minimal and conceptual art movements, and the United States honors him for his profound influence on generations of artists.”

The last time visual artists were honored was back in 1977 when President Gerald Ford bestowed the honor on Georgia O’Keeffe and Norman Rockwell at the end of his presidency.  He also tried to honor Alexander Calder posthumously, but the family boycotted the ceremony to show their support of amnesty for Vietnam War Draft resisters.  Prior to that President Lyndon Johnson honored Andrew Wyeth in 1963 shortly after President Kennedy’s assassination and in 1964 honored Willem de Kooning.

Other honorees this year included investor and philanthropist Warren Buffet, civil rights activist Dr. Maya Angelou and violinist Yo Yo Ma amongst others.

(“Flag” courtesy of Museum of Modern Art)

Feb 14 2011

So you want to know the secret?

The Gallery Diva

I watched a little of the Grammy’s last night – the music industry celebration of its professionals.  It was an exciting evening with many unexpected winners. Newcomers pitted against popular choices, or experienced performers making a comeback and independent labels giving a strong showing.  The biggest winner was by the country and western trio Lady Antebellum who bagged five Grammys, coming from a genre that doesn’t usually bag the popular vote.  Similarly jazz musician Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist – coming from a field that rarely gets acknowledged by outsiders.   In the fickle music business, the current crop of superstars were all there in LA, including a British band, Mumford and Sons who despite not winning in either category that they were nominated for, went on to achieve significant digital sales after performing live at the award ceremony.

Success is hard to categorically define and quantify overall especially in the subjective art world and then there are also so many types of success, critical, financial, popular, industry.  How do you know when you’ve got there?  Is it like pornography; you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it?  And perhaps more importantly how do you get there?

It’s a question that I’m hearing a lot from high school seniors who are looking to graduate from school soon and going on to universities, colleges, other schools or straight into industry.  Included in these are ballet and modern dancers who are looking to attend dance schools, colleges or go straight into their professions.  I also receive requests from artists on a daily basis wanting gallery representation or at the very least reviews of portfolios and guidance on what to do next on the road to success.

How much of a reality check and constructive criticism can you provide whilst still providing encouragement and motivation to keep going?  How do we know whether we are providing the right advice, when success doesn’t seem to follow any set plans or rigid templates?

So I find myself saying to anybody who asks:

1)      Believe in yourself – if you don’t, nobody else will.

2)      Work hard – harder than anybody else, harder than you think you can work.

3)      Find a passion within you for what you are doing and share it with others.

Work on these key elements and it gets you through the tough times, the rejections, the criticism, the fear and prepares you to take advantages for those often sudden and unexpected moments when opportunity presents itself.  Mavis Staples, the queen of soul from Chicago had to wait until she was 71 to get her first Grammy for Americana album with “You Are Not Alone.”

So my final advice is: don’t give up just before the miracle happens!

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