MOVEMENT STUDY: MERCE CUNNINGHAM - FILMDANCE, COLLABORATION + COMMON TIME
MerceC_525_525.jpg

It took me three years to write this article, and now that LACMA in Los Angeles is doing an exhibition on Merce Cunningham, I feel compelled to finish it. The reason I’ve taken so long is because Merce Cunningham’s body of work is immense and I just couldn’t figure out how to reign this article in. Plus, I mostly used books for this research so it took me forever. But rather than write a 500 page essay, I decided to focus on my favorite aspects of his work, and split this article into mini chapters, so apologies in advance for the fragmented essay, I just really want to get this thing out already!

A pioneer in choreography, Merce Cunningham pushed the envelope with modern dance, giving birth to new dance forms that moved away from traditional ballet (though his technique is still very rooted in the structure ballet requires).

Having first caught Martha Graham’s eye in the late 1930s while in college at the Cornish School in Seattle, WA, he was invited to join the Martha Graham Dance Company in New York City in 1939 where he danced for six years. As early as the 1940s, Cunningham was creating avant garde dance in collaboration with his life partner, John Cage. The two explored how dance and music could exist independently of one another rather than create dance movements dictated by the rhythm of its music.

In 1953, Merce Cunningham started his own dance company, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, creating what is now known as the Cunningham Technique during his time teaching at Black Mountain College outside of Asheville North Carolina (if you read these articles you know I’m obsessed with everything that came out of there).

Film Dance

My favorite aspect of Merce Cunningham’s work is known as filmdance. Because Cunningham wasn't happy with the way his choreography had been portrayed through film when television first started broadcasting dance performances, he created filmdance, which was dance performed with the screen in mind. It seems filmdance was also extremely important to Cunningham himself, as I found in a piece he wrote called Four Events That Have Led to Large Discoveries, in which he lists as the third "event" as the beginning of his work with video and film in the 1970s. (Common Time, Fionn Meade)

mitchell_tv-rerun1.jpg

Around the time television started dominating the way in which people consumed dance, Cunningham opened his Westbeth New York studio in 1971, where the filmdance was born. His first filmdance was self-titled Westbeth, and was filmed over weekends in the Fall of 1974. (During this time, site-specific performance was just starting, and naming his first piece Westbeth was no coincidence). The amazing thing about the Westbeth studio was that it had been made for television filming, which is one of the reasons Cunningham was drawn to the space. In New York, many large rooms have columns obstructing the open space, but this studio was originally Bell Telephone Labs in the West Village, which happened to be the studio where the first television transmission had taken place sometime in the early 1930s.

During my studies on the Westbeth performance, I ACTUALLY FOUND THE FIRST RECORDING of its performance!

Below is a 30 minute video and at the time I found it, it had 40 views. If you have the patience, try watching the whole thing, and if you don't still watch some of it because HELLO this is the first recording of Merce Cunningham's film dances. OMG

The early filmdances weren’t yet perfected, so it wasn't until his third filmdance, Locale (1979-1980) that film was shot continuously with no cuts. Being the collaborator that he was, Merce Cunningham hired filmmaker Charles Atlas to join his technical staff when he opened the Westbeth studio, and it was Atlas who played a large role in honing in on how to best film these filmdances.

In addition to the studio being perfect for filmdance, Westbeth had an office whose windows looked out onto the city streets. Many of the movements Cunningham used during this time were based on the movements of pedestrians he saw moving about New York City from his office windows. This is why though some gestures in Cunningham’s work seem odd for dance, they are still somewhat familiar.

Merce Cunningham + John Cage

  From press images of Root of an Unfocus, 1944. Barbara Morgan

From press images of Root of an Unfocus, 1944. Barbara Morgan

Now, to go back to the beginning since Cunningham’s story is long and super interesting, I’d like to discuss some of the dance events that led Cunningham to his film dances. While dancing with The Martha Graham Dance company, Cunningham held his first solo performance, which was in collaboration with his partner, John Cage. Experimental in nature, the performance Root of an Unfocus in 1944 was Cunningham’s first public performance where dance and music worked independently of each other. The dance was created after Cunningham realized, “Music and dance could be separate entities independent and interdependent, sharing a common time.” Regarding this performance, Cunningham later stated, "The main thing about it–and the thing everybody missed–was that its structure was based on time in the same sense that a radio show is. It was divided into time units, and the dance and music would come together at the beginning and the end of each unit, but in between they would be independent of each other. This was the beginning of the idea that music and dance could be dissociated, and from this point on the dissociation in our work just got wider and wider" (Common Time, Meade).

  Merce Cunningham and John Cage

Merce Cunningham and John Cage

Cage & Cunningham met in Seattle in 1938 where Cunningham was studying dance at Cornish School. Cage was the new dance accompanist and composer there. (Cage had just moved from Carmel, CA with his then-wife). Cage was exploring the "simultaneousness of music" and would break down time in terms of ‘divides of time and space,’ drawing on the floor to demonstrate his guidelines. Cunningham saw Cage’s approach as a strict way to guide movement in ways that the traditional relationship between dance and music had not before.

Cage was a very interesting man himself. At the age of 19, Cage dropped out of college and went to Bauhaus school in Dessau during 1930-31. Being exposed to Bauhaus' interdisciplinary approach to art, Cage returned home to create music from unconventional instruments such as anvils and car parts in the late 1930s. By the 1940s, Cage had created new sounds with what he called a "prepared piano," lodging screws or rubber between piano strings to affect tonal changes. The avant garde approach John Cage took with his music was a perfect fit for the way Merce Cunningham wanted to explore dance, and so the two became collaborators, eventually leading to their relationship as life-partners.

  John Cage’s “Prepared Piano”

John Cage’s “Prepared Piano”

Following Cage's first use of “chance in music” in 1950, Merce Cunningham tossed a coin to determine the outline for a sequence of isolated movements through the use of chance, and then pieced them together for "unexpected results." Through the use of chance, Cunningham was able to achieve movements that he had thought couldn't be done. The impact of John Cage’s perspective can be seen throughout the arc of Cunningham’s creative life. Complimenting one another so well, the result of their more than 500 collaborations is impressive.

Black Mountain College

After leaving the Martha Graham Dance Company, Merce Cunningham spent three "formative summers" at Black Mountain College in 1948, 1952 and 1953. To me, Black Mountain College is like the Bauhaus School of the United States. So many important artists came out of Black Mountain College. Also due to WWII, some artists of the Bauhaus School ended up in the US, eventually teaching at Black Mountain College as well, and with them, they brought their interdisciplinary approach.

One such Bauhaus artist, Josef Albers, worked at Black Mountain College from 1933 - 1949. (I love him, read this article I wrote on Albers a while back if you care to). In 1948, the same year that Cunningham and Cage first visited the school, Albers invited them back as teachers and performers in the school’s Summer Sessions. That year’s summer session is now considered legendary, as heavy hitters of the American art world all convened there before many of them earned the fame they have today. (For a good article about this summer session, go here).

Robert Rauschenberg

During their time participating at Black Mountain College, Cunningham and Cage were still based in New York, where Cage was teaching at the New School. And as I mentioned, in 1953, Cunningham formed his company, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Being the collaborator that Merce Cunningham was, he hired the company’s first art director, Robert Rauschenberg in 1954 after working together at Black Mountain College. Cunningham asked Rauschenberg to make something for 'dance area' something "he could move through, around, and with” and from there, Rauschenberg created amazing sets and costumes for Cunningham dances for several years.

  ROBERT RAUCHENBERG FOR MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY

ROBERT RAUCHENBERG FOR MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY

merce.gif

(I ran a piece on Rauschenberg’s role with the Cunningham Dance Theatre a while back. If you’d like to read that, go here).

COMME DES GARCONS

After forming the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Merce collaborated with many others, including Rei Kawakubo, the designer for Comme Des Garcons.

  COMME DES GARCONS FOR MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY

COMME DES GARCONS FOR MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY

COMME DES GARCONS FOR MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY

FILMDANCES

Here are some of my favorite videos I’ve found on the internet of Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s FilmDances

Merce Cunningham lived until 2009 and I will say that not attending one of his workshops before his death is one of my few regrets in life but at least his work is memorialized in Cunningham Technique courses all over the world.


Courtney Cady, ©2018


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Merce Cunningham Trust

Merce Cunningham: Co:mm:on Ti:me, 2017. Walker Art Center

Changes: Notes on Choreography, 1968. Merce Cunningham

Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art, 2013. The MIT Press

Black Mountain Studies Journal (blackmountainstudiesjournal.org)

Arts Summary: Merce Cunningham Common Time at Walker Art Center, 2017


READ THE ENTIRE BLOG

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PERIODICAL


PERFORMANCE STUDY: NELLY AGASSI'S MANY FACES
  Bedroom, 2005

Bedroom, 2005

I don’t usually write about contemporary artists in this Periodical, mostly because I feel like I have a lot of catch up with learning about art history, but today I want us all to get to know Nelly Agassi. Since I have so many pictures of her work I am planning on posting on Instagram, I thought it necessary to give her a moment here.

When I first came across Nelly Agassi, I actually thought she was a historical figure because her work isn’t trendy or very marketing-driven the way most well known young artists work tends to be today. (At least those in my immediate orbit, I’m sure there are other great artists I don’t know about because I’m in fashion and not the art world).

Agassi was born in Israel and currently lives and works between Tel Aviv and Chicago. The majority of her work is performance based, though she does create installations as well. Working with a variety of materials, her own body, and performance, Agassi stands in a genre of her own. She is at once a site-specific performance artist and a performance for video artist, as well as an installation artist who works with body art and mixed media. Because of her dynamism, she’s one of my favorite living female artists.

Below is a roundup of my favorites I’ve found of hers so far:

  Wall Dress, 2002

Wall Dress, 2002

  Still from Video, “Tear Meter,” 2009

Still from Video, “Tear Meter,” 2009

  Remains, 2002

Remains, 2002

  Innermost, 2008

Innermost, 2008

  Borrowed Scenery, 2004

Borrowed Scenery, 2004

  Still from Untitled Video, 1999

Still from Untitled Video, 1999

  Whispers, 2004

Whispers, 2004

I don’t have much to say about her since I don’t want to be a creep and investigate a living person’s life without conducting a proper interview, but I hope you enjoyed these <3


COURTNEY CADY, © 2018



READ THE ENTIRE BLOG

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PERIODICAL


PERFORMANCE STUDY: YVES KLEIN'S BROKEN BOUNDARIES WITH ANTHROPOMETRY
  YVES KLEIN, UNTITLED ANTHROPOMETRY (ANT, 106), 1960

YVES KLEIN, UNTITLED ANTHROPOMETRY (ANT, 106), 1960

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard from me since spring, it’s because a lot has been going on with Bagtazo. But today I’m finally back to tell you about Yves Klein.

While scrolling through my Instagram feed recently, I came across a post in which someone had basically recreated Yves Klein’s Anthropometry paintings, albeit in the form of a cell phone video performance. A young woman, naked save for a trench coat and boots, held a bucket of blue paint near a cinderblock wall painted solid white. The footage goes on to show the woman dipping a large paint brush into a bucket of paint, covering the front of her body with it, and then pressing herself against the white wall. The post was published without so much as a nod to Klein, leading users—the majority of which I assume to have been unaware of the content’s historical link to Klein—to comment by the dozens with things like,  “COOL,” “YOU NEVER FAIL TO AMAZE ME,” “OMG, I LOVE YOUR WORK,” “Blue heart emoji…”  

I of course, was outraged, and commented, “So very Yves Klein #citeyoursources” and proceeded to put my phone away and begin researching Klein for the periodical. (LOL)

  Suaire de Mondo Cane, 1961

Suaire de Mondo Cane, 1961

One of the coolest details of Yves Klein’s work is that he created his own shade of blue, an ultramarine pigment known as International Klein Blue, which he patented in 1961.

(Maybe I’m partial to this detail because I have been gradually working on a piece about pigment, though due to the research being so intense, I have yet to finish. If you’re interested in reading a wonderful article on the history of color, check out this piece from the September 2018 issue of the New Yorker).

To me, color is the foundation of visual arts and is inextricably connected to historical eras. Sepia photographs belong to a specific period, as do the chalky primary colors of the surrealists and suprematists; the bold colors of Bauhaus, the muted, chemical shades of early Kodachrome prints, the neons of the 1980s, millennial pink, and so on…

And so naturally, when I saw Anthropometry being put on via the wrong shade of blue, not to mention sans citation, I cringed. I’m not always such a purist, however given that in the video there were two parts completely poached from Klein’s Anthropometry: color, and the use of the female body as a “living brush,” I just couldn’t let this one go. It’s so frustrating that in this so-called information generation, citation and accuracy are no longer relevant. *Shudder*

Yves Klein was born in Niece, France in 1928. He lived briefly in Japan, where he studied judo, though upon returning to Paris, decided to focus solely on painting. And while his output is impressive in both quality and quantity, Klein himself only lived to the age of 34.

Working in a style that would later be dubbed Nouveau Réalisme, Klein was a pioneer, blurring the lines between conceptual art, sculpture, painting, and performance. His groundbreaking work paved the way for Minimalism and, in the years following his death, Pop Art. Though short-lived, Klein’s contribution to the art world paved the way for New York’s Happenings, performance art, Land and Body Art, and even some aspects of Conceptual Art throughout the 1950’s, when conformity, tradition, and repression were all but the standard of everyday life.

A good amount of Klein’s works are comprised of monochrome paintings, which focused on “the void.” of these works, his signature blue paintings became most well-known. Klein CITES THAT THE ORIGINS OF HIS COMBINING “THE void” and the color blue CAME from literary critic and philosopher Gaston Bachelard who wrote: “First there is nothing, then there is a deep nothing, then there is a blue depth.”

Fixated on finding the perfect blue hue, Klein developed his signature ultramarine with a chemical company to create a polymer binder that could fix the pigment to maintain its color intensity over time. (Many manufacturers and artists struggled with the limitations of pigment technology in the past, as a main issue with certain colors was fading over time).

After success in creating the polymer, which Klein called International Klein Blue (or IKB), he began utilizing the color to begin creating objects of various forms: textured painted canvases, sculptures of sea sponges soaked in the pigment, and field-like floor coverings composed entirely of the powdery blue substance.

 
d7hftxdivxxvm.cloudfront.jpg
 

Through his work, Klein’s interest in “the void” lead to an attraction to the “immaterial,” which he cites as the reason he began making solid colored paintings with curved edges, which were meant to meld into the background and his blue fields.

During his blue phase, Klein gained recognition from his work via his “living brushes,” creating artwork he called Anthropometry. After clearing out his studio (another focus on the void), Klein utilized models traditionally employed for figure painting as actual “brushes” for his works with IKB pigment. The body impressions were an adaptation of the marks bodies leave on dojo mats that he witnessed during his martial arts practice in Japan. Klein was interested in distancing himself from the artwork, so using another’s body as a medium between himself and traditional art media became the cornerstone of his conceptual artwork. Soon after he created studio works of this nature, Klein took to having the models paint themselves (under his direction) as performance as well.

d7hftxdivxxvm.cloudfront-2.jpg

I found an explanation for his concept in an excerpt from Chelsea Hotel Manifesto, 1961:

Whatever directed me towards anthropometry? 
The answer can be found in my work during the years 1956 to 1957, when I was taking part in the adventure of creating the pictorial immaterial sensitivity. I had just removed from my studio all my former works. The result – an empty studio. My only physical action was to remain in my empty studio, and the creation of my pictorial immaterial states proceeded marvelously. However, little by little, I became mistrustful of myself: but never of the immaterial. I therefore hired models, as other painters do. But unlike the others, I merely wanted to work in their company rather than have them pose for me. I had been spending too much time alone in the empty studio; I no longer wanted to remain alone with the marvelous blue void that was budding. (...) 

Today, the academicized easel-painters have reached the point of shutting themselves in their studios, confronting the terrifying mirrors of their canvases. Now the reason for my use of nude models becomes quite evident: it was a way of preventing the danger of secluding myself in the overly spiritual spheres of creation, thus rupturing with the most basic common sense, repeatedly affirmed by our incarnate condition. The shape of the body, its lines, its strange colors hovering between life and death, hold no interest for me. Only the essential, pure affective climate of the flesh is valid.


Here is a quick video of Klein’s first performance, Monotone-Silence Symphony in 1960, “a performance in which an orchestra plays a single note for 20 minutes, followed by a 20-minute period of silence, to a large audience. Remarkably, despite the resonance with John Cage’s 4’33” (1952), there is little evidence to show the two artists were aware of each other.” (Artsy).

Some feminists later criticized Klein’s Anthropometry works, claiming that by instructing nude female models, Klein maintained control over his subjects, a factor which would in-turn degrade the female body to the state of a mere object intended solely for the male gaze, flexing and further strengthening patriarchal values. I’m not sure I’m that kind of a feminist, because I agree with art critic and close friend, Pierre Restany, who praised Yves Klein’s artistic philosophy and process that denounced “traditional, conservative, classic French art” OF THE TIME. Since it is difficult to separate the female body from the male gaze, as men perpetually utilize the body as a subject, in hindsight, I can understand this feminist read of the work. But I do not think the use of the body form necessitates the objectification of the female form. Plus at the time, I doubt women would be allowed to do this type of body art and be taken seriously, and I feel the work itself extremely important.

As writer Tess Thackara states, “The performances can arguably be read not as action paintings in which women become passive instruments, but as performances in which creator (in this case Klein’s female performers), artwork, and audience become one.”

sylviepuiroux_nice.jpg

Anyway, Yves Klein did a lot more than Anthropometry, and has amazing website that’s maintained by his estate where you can see his works.

I admit I didn’t look too depply into the cause of Klein’s premature death, though I did learn he died of a heart attack at age 34. I’m currently 34, and so when I read this, I wondered whether I’d be satisfied with my body of work were I to die right now, and I have to say, I’m glad I have more time because I have so much more I want to do. That said, I’m thoroughly impressed with how much Klein was able to do in 8 years and am hopeful that in another 4 (Bagtazo was established in 2014), maybe I could die happily…

Not sure if it’s a myth (a lot of what I’ve read about Yves Klein seems like hyperbole (possibly self-made), but if it’s true, Klein’s focus on the void and immaterialism was even embraced before his death where he’s quoted as saying, "I am going to go into the biggest studio in the world, and I will only do immaterial works." 

YVES KLEIN - THE VOID

COURTNEY CADY, © 2018


BIBLIOGRAPHY

YVESKLEIN .COM

YVES KLEIN, ARTSY.NET

YVES KLEIN LEGACY IS MUCH MORE THAN BLUE, Tess Thackara. ARSTY. Jan 9, 2017

FEMINISM AND YVES KLEIN’S ANTHROPOMETRIES, Kirstin Russell. WALKER ART CENTER, Jan 19, 2011

Schrin Gallery

“Overcoming the problematics of Art -The writings of Yves Klein”, Spring Publications, 2007


READ THE ENTIRE BLOG

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PERIODICAL


FEMALE STUDY: JUDY CHICAGO'S MENSTRUATION BATHROOM
slide_womanhouse.jpg

I had known of Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party piece before I moved to Brooklyn, where the installation is now housed permanently at the Brooklyn Museum. But in a classic information age fashion, I had seen The Dinner Party at The Geffen Contemporary at The MOMA in Los Angeles during the WACK! exhibition in 2008 (an exhibition that in many ways influences this periodical regularly) and had read about how important The Dinner Party was, and had learned how flawed first wave feminists were college, so I decided Judy Chicago's work passé. I admit this is a bad habit, even if I can point to it being a combined result of too much information and progress within the feminist "movement."

For those who are unfamiliar, The Dinner Party is an homage to feminist pioneers in the form of a dinner table, shaped as an equilateral triangle to (symbolize equality). Each place setting has a motif that nods to the work of the female being honored with a placemat bearing their names. No two settings are alike, but each one is very intricate.

But the other night I found an installation by Judy Chicago that I had not seen before, and given that women are just starting to talk about their periods in everyday conversation, I thought I'd discuss Judy Chicago's Menstruation Bathroom.

Chicago (born Judith Cohen in 1939) created the first feminist art collective called Feminist Arts Program, or FAP, at Fresno State (CA) in 1971. A year later, they brought the program to the California Institute of Art outside of Los Angeles.

FAP's first piece was a collaborative installation, Womanhouse, was made by various female artists. The installation was a multi-media/performance art piece where each room in an abandoned mansion on Mariposa Street in Hollywood represented different living conditions of home-makers (which lest we forget, was still very much an occupation for women in 1971). Within Womanhouse, The dilapidated house was transformed by 23 women using construction tools for the first time in their lives. As the manifesto for the installation put it, Womanhouse became "the age-old female activity of homemaking... taken to fantasy proportions."

In Womanhouse Chicago created an otherwise sterile bathroom scene with the trashcan overflowing with bloody menstruation pads and a few bloody tampons, blood stains on the tile floor, blood-drenched pads neatly hanging from a clothesline, a heating pad hanging near the toilet, and the shelves covered with sanitary products for mensuration.

Menstruation_Bathroom_1995_reinstallation_1.jpg

Considering how little we discuss periods today, in 1971 this was a subject that was not discussed in public whatsoever, so the shock value, as well as the statement made by this work was immense. 

During the 1970s and through the 80s, women claimed blood as an artistic symbol of femininity and feminism but until this point no one had so overtly and visually discussed menstruation. And given the bloody nature of our cycles, I think a visual representation says a lot more than words can.

Today I can look on Instagram and see thousands of visual representations of menstrual blood, as well as nipples, pubic hair, vaginas, etc. But the timeliness and straightforwardness of Chicago's Menstruation Bathroom has a much greater impact. I'm trying to imagine what society's reaction might have been like in 1972 if photographs of this installation had the ability to be distributed at the rate in which photographs are today while maintaining the shock value of this being the first time something like this hit the public eye.

Now living in "fourth-wave feminism," (oh god, they say it's hashtag feminism) sometimes I look back at first wave feminists and think them silly, but it's because it's easy for a woman my age to forget how fucking oppressed my people were just 40 years ago. I think the use of blood as a symbol of femininity is still powerful because women are depicted as delicate and sweet, but it seemed so easy to me to use the female experience in one's work. I guess it feels naive, but that's because the first feminists were just working out the ideas that I now take for granted.

In the original essay that accompanied Womanhouse, I am struck by one key point:

[At the inception of Feminist Arts Program]...the women students had spent a lot of time talking about their problems as women before they began to do any work. We wondered if those same problems could be dealt with while working on a project.

Female art students often approach artmaking with a personality structure conditioned by an unwillingness to push themselves beyond their limits; a lack of familiarity with tools and artmaking processes; an inability to see themselves as working people; and a general lack of assertiveness and ambition. The aim of the Feminist Art Program is to help women restructure their personalities to be more consistent with their desires to be artists and to help them build their artmaking out of their experiences as women. Womanhouse seemed to offer the perfect context for this educational process.

What this excerpt suggests is that in general, women in 1971 didn't see themselves in the work field, let alone the art world. I have the hindsight to know celebrated figures like Anni Albers Georgia O'Keeffe, and Eva Hesse, but beyond them, it's hard for me to name off female artists who worked before the 1960s, and yet I'm still shocked to learn this perspective of women in the 70s. 

It doesn't take a scrutinizing genius to infer that Chicago's Menstruation Bathroom came out of frustration, (I just read that the average woman undergoes menstruation over 400 times in her lifetime, and while some females are somehow lucky and experience little issue in their cycles, not even a trans woman, when she experiences the ways in which women are treated as lesser or an object, can ever know the frustrations that female born women go through with their periods), but I can only imagine what kind of frustration women must have felt during this era where we were largely still asked to stay home. Rosy the Riveter got to work during WWII but she quietly went back to childrearing and homemaking "when the boys came home."

The early feminists commonly believed that a woman's body, specifically her vagina, was her source of greatness, which later feminists brushed off as erroneous biological or genetic essentialism. But I am seeing an uptick in modern gender essentialism with the hashtag feminists. Vagina cupcakes for international women's day! Free the nipple... (but then slut shame the shivering club girl in her tube dress, fake eyelashes and cheap stilettos). Today we are all about body positivity and the desexualization of the female body. In some ways, first wave feminists were trying to do the same things, but society hadn't been primed for the discussion. The first wavers hadn't cultivated the dialogue yet, so their ideas seem rudimentary. But out of all the "feminist" artwork I see out there on social media, I can't think of anyone who's rivaled the 'in-your-face-ness' of Judy Chicago's Menstruation Bathroom.

11431-842.jpg

Also, PS Judy Chicago made a piece called Red Flag as a parody of the Red Scare (of which her father was a victim of) in 1971 that was even more in your face.

 
chicago-red-flag-1971-photo-litho.jpg
 

Courtney Cady, © 2018



READ THE ENTIRE BLOG

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PERIODICAL


PERFORMANCE STUDY: PINA BAUSCH'S 'WALZER'
 
  STILL FROM WALZER, 1982

STILL FROM WALZER, 1982

 

For several years, I've tried to write about Pina Bausch, but her work is so complex that I haven't figured out how to do it properly. Plus, there's not a lot about her online in English, and going to the library to check out books is more than I have time for these days. 

So, I've decided to bite off what I can chew, and start writing about her individual performances instead; beginning by focusing on Walzer, a 1982 piece first performed in Amsterdam.

Bausch began working in a time when West Germany was still a thing. A classically trained ballerina, Bausch helped forge modern dance, eventually forming her own dance theatre called Tanztheater Wuppertal. (Tanztheater is a combination of dance and theatre, as the name suggests, which was created by Bausch's teacher, Kurt Jooss).

After completing grade school, Pina received a scholarship to go to Juilliard in New York in 1960. Two years later, Bausch returned to Germany.

So now, after many years of much ado, check out the few clips I could find from Walzer

 
 
 
 
 
 

Out of all the performances Pina Bausch has choreographed, Walzer is of the more difficult ones to find in video online. And there are very few reviews in English. But since I'm a nerd and have a sign-in to an academic journal catalogue, I was able to find a review of the original 1982 performance written by Helen M Whall in the Theater Journal Review:

Walzer takes place in a ballroom located on board a transatlantic oceanliner docked in the harbor at Homburg [sic]. No doubt a party is about to begin, a send-off gala, perhaps, or an evening of organized fun on shipboard. The guests, women in long strapless gowns and men in dark suits, begin to arrive...

When not dancing or chasing each other, they lie about the large stage, empty but for a grand piano far left and a few potted trees and some chairs along the edges... building human pyramids and changing their patterns whenever they please, or drawing foot steps and following the "leader." Other ships may come and go – "Welcome to the Prince Hamlet" and "Homburg wishes you a good voyage," we hear the loudspeaker system announce – but this one seems a pleasure cruise suspended in mid-voyage, holding the promise of "La Vie en Rose" forever, as Edith Piaf's song, played on a taped recording, suggests.

By creating a type of dance-theatre Bausch conveys emotions more severely than dance alone can. Her signature gowns on female performers gives a vintage air to her aesthetic, as does the story taking place on a ship; but the absurdities going on in Walzer forces the audience to look at the performance through a post-modern lens. 

Since I only have three partial clips of Walzer to look at, it's pretty difficult to analyze the piece as a whole, but I'll just do like historians and archeologists did with the Greek fragments and just work with what I've got.

It's hard to say what bausch 'meant' in putting this performance together, but I know from translated interviews that she was more interested in how emotion can make one move, rather than how movement can evoke emotion. And we can infer from the title, Walzer (German for waltz), that the piece is centered around people waltzing.  Maybe the piece was an absurdist nod to the "vie en rose" as described in the review above that was taking place all over the world in the 1980s and continues today with the "Peter Pan" culture the boomers accuse my generation and younger of living.

Throughout the performance, it seems that there is one fairly hysterical woman. First seen screaming at the sight of another party goer's acrobatic dives, later having a full-on fit, and lastly begrudgingly dancing along to a choreographed waltz with her fellow ship mates.

In the second clip, it is clear that Bausch uses the hysterical woman to comment on the objectification of women, as well as the dying standards of what it means to be a "lady." She is also very much pointing out that a dancer who knows ballet has the free will to do otherwise with her body. Because Bausch was a classically trained ballerina, and could not have pushed the envelope without mastering the classical framework, I think the portion of the second clip where the young woman walks about with a "ballet turnout," talking about what she can do as opposed to what she wants to do, is very important for Pina Bausch's work.

I wish there was more to see so that we could piece together what Walzer 'does' because I think that Pina Bausch certainly conveyed some good messages with this performance, but since the rest is left to speculation, I will stay in wonder for now. I see that I can purchase a dvd (lol) but it only has clips of this performance. So maybe we will never be able to see the piece in its entirety, but I'm glad that I got this draft (that has been sitting here since August 2017) completed. My first attempt at covering Pina Bausch took me forever and it's not even a whole piece. Haha.

Now that I've shown myself that covering her work piece by piece is feasible I hope to study her work more soon. Keep posted.

xoxo


COURTNEY CADY © BAGTAZO, 2018


BIBLIOGRAPHY

REVIEWED WORKS: WALZER ; NELKEN BY PINA BAUSCH, PHILIPPA WHELE & HELEN M WHALL. THEATER REVIEW JOURNAL, VOL 36, NO 2, THE MARGINS OF PERFORMANCE, (MAY, 1984), PP 240-243

FEELING PINA: HOW THE CHOREOGRAPHER MOVED PEOPLE, VELLEDA C CECCOLI. PSYCHOLOGY TOMORROW MAGAZINE. NOV 5, 2012


READ THE ENTIRE BLOG

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PERIODICAL


FEMALE STUDY: RUTH ASAWA - RACISM AND THE FEMALE DOMAIN
 
  Shot on my iphone at the David Zwerner Gallery

Shot on my iphone at the David Zwerner Gallery

 

I recently caught Ruth Asawa's first solo exhibition at the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea. In the spirit of my current negative sentiment toward the lives we lead on the internet, I was happy to see artwork in real life, as opposed to my usual 1:00 am internet tours of artists' works.

I first discovered Ruth Asawa in 2015, while conducting research for a post on Eva Hesse. Asawa's most recognizable work incorporated wire. Considering she began in the 1950s, her use of such an "ordinary" medium put Asawa ahead of the curve, as it wasn't until the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s that artists in the United States and Europe were using ordinary objects to make art in what is now referred to as the post-minimalism period.

 
  Portrait by Imogen Cunningham.    Ruth and Imogen were good friends. I ❤️ Imogen Cunningham

Portrait by Imogen Cunningham.
Ruth and Imogen were good friends. I ❤️ Imogen Cunningham

 

Ruth Asawa was born in 1926, in Norwalk, California, roughly 10 miles inland from where I grew up, at a time when Southern California was mostly rural farmland. Asawa's parents immigrated to the US from Japan, and upon arrival in America, her father took work as a farmer. In 1942, during the Second World War, sentiments toward Japanese immigrants had plummeted due to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, so Asawa's 60 year old father was detained by the FBI and taken to New Mexico for nearly two years. At age 16, Asawa, her mother, and five other siblings were forced to live in a converted horse stall at the Santa Anita Racetrack-cum-temporary Japanese Internment Camp, north east of Downtown Los Angeles. The location was usurped by the federal government and subsequently labeled an "assembly center" for eight months while more permanent residences were constructed. Throughout their six-month stay at the Racetrack, the Asawa family did not know where their father was, or if he was even alive.

Being a Los Angeles history buff, I'm shocked I had never known that the Santa Anita Racetrack served as an assembly center. I knew of Manzanar off the 5 freeway in the Southern Central Valley, but I was completely unaware that such a thing happened in my own [albeit historical] backyard. 

Once permanent housing was built for the Japanese throughout the country, Asawa's family was sent to the Rohwer War Relocation Center in a rural part of Arkansas, where nearly 5,000 displaced Japanese-Americans from California were forced to live. During this time, much like Trump's muslim ban, any Japanese American abroad was denied entry to the US. Ruth's eldest sister had been visiting family in Japan at the time of their internment, so she had to stay in Japan through the remainder of the war.

In her youth, Ruth Asawa had previously been put to work on her family's farm, but once she was interned, she started to draw. According to Asawa's biography, she was motivated by Disney animators also interned at Santa Anita Racetrack who taught art in the grandstands to anyone interested. (Disney studios then, were about 5 miles from the racetrack).

At Rohwer, Asawa continued to draw, and despite the inhumane conditions, she was able to continue her high school education and graduated after living interned for 18 months.

After graduating high school, Asawa was granted a scholarship in 1943 through the Japanese American Student Relocation Council, which was founded by a Quaker group in the Midwest. The scholarship allowed Ruth to leave Rohwer to attend college in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Asawa's family was not as fortunate, and continued to live at Rohwer until 1945. The whole family was not reunited again until 1948.

 
  Asawa's ID that allowed her to leave Rohwer. This ID is now part of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery collection.    Link to Source

Asawa's ID that allowed her to leave Rohwer. This ID is now part of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery collection. Link to Source

 

Continuing her education, Asawa attended Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina from 1946-1949. Because of the instability in Germany caused by WWII, the Bauhaus School in Dessau closed, and many of their teachers joined the diaspora of Europeans displaced from the war. Josef Albers, (one of my favorites; you can read an article I wrote about him here), sought refuge at Black Mountain College. So now we get this insane recipe: several talented artists working in the mostly conservative South, brought together by war; and not surprisingly, lots of magic happens. (One day I will do a lengthy article about Black Mountain College because it rules).

At Black Mountain College Asawa studied under Albers in his design courses, where she says she learned, "the importance of relationships and the relativity of perception."

 
 

Ruth Asawa's work made under Josef Albers

But here's where it gets really cool: There is a current exhibition at the Guggenheim that shows Albers' photos from his frequent trips to Mexico. The exhibition correlates these trips to his work and how his experiences of the country influenced Albers during this period. On one of these trips, Asawa accompanied Albers to Toluca, Mexico where she saw women weaving baskets out of galvanized metal and took interest in their technique. Having shown curiosity, she was taught to loop weave by one of Albers' colleagues during her stay. Asawa retuned home, and after graduating, started creating wire sculptures using the loop-weaving technique she learned in Toluca. 

Side Note - This is when I especially love living in New York. I've been reading about Josef Albers for over a decade, I then learn about Ruth Asawa completely independently of Albers, and somehow it all comes together in exhibitions that I can actually see in real life. Yes to living in the real world.

At Black Mountain College, Asawa also studied under Buckley Fuller, a mathematician-turned sculptor who used ordinary objects like bobby pins, and various readily available household items to build geodesic domes, and other three dimensional sculptures.

The combination of Albers and Fuller's teaching is very apparent in Asawa's work, yet what makes her work unique is that she applied a folk technique to the theories and methods she was taught, which was taken directly from her personal experience. (SO COOL).

 
  Portrait by Imogen Cunningham

Portrait by Imogen Cunningham

 

Asawa's wire weaving received national attention almost immediately following her graduation from Black Mountain College, but given that it was the 1950s, critics demeaned her work, calling it "domestic." Idk, I guess people think supended baskets that don't actually hold things are just women's work? And not helping her credibility even further, Asawa got married in 1960 and had 6 children, so critics continued to discredit her, calling her a "homemaker." 

From here it looks like Asawa moved to San Francisco, where she began arts programs for children. During her early years in San Francisco, she installed her first public sculpture in Ghirardelli Square, a bronze cast Mermaid nursing a baby mermaid. Of course, because of the 'feminine content,' critics again discredited it, calling the sculpture a "suburban lawn ornament."

Maybe this is why Ruth Asawa's first solo exhibition happened just last month. It's about fucking time, she's only been working for SIXTY YEARS. So infuriating. I know right now we talk a lot about intersectionality, but I just want to take a moment here to recognize something: Unlike LGBTQ people, women as a gender have had a 'place in society' since the beginning of modern humanity, yet even now, a woman who has been working for over 60 years is getting her first solo exhibition in New York. Sure, a piece here and there at the Whitney or SFMOMA is an achievement, but I've studied plenty of men from this era who had solo exhibitions right after they became well-known. (I just wrote an article about Claes Oldenberg, an artist who fucking sewed stuff for crying out loud... how is that not considered 'domestic?' – oh right, he's a man... never mind he often had the help of his ex-wife in sewing the sculptures.) RARRR, makes me so mad. 

But I digress, at least her work is being shown. Below are pictures I took on my iphone from the exhibition. Finally, Ruth Asawa is getting the recognition she deserves.

 
 

COURTNEY CADY, © BAGTAZO 2017


BIBLIOGRAPHY

RUTH ASAWA (HOMEPAGE), 2017

DAVID ZWIRNER (HOMEPAGE): RUTH ASAWA, 2017

THE LIVES THEY LIVED: RUTH ASAWA. ROBERT SULLIVAN, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 2013


READ THE ENTIRE BLOG

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PERIODICAL


INSTALLATION STUDY: CLAES OLDENBURG'S CONSUMER GOODS
1947a6b00a5ddbc74d33fd81cbc16d2c.jpg

In elementary school I had the same art teacher from Kindergarden through the 5th grade. One year, she taught us about pop art. She told us to think of ordinary objects that we could make out of clay, so I made a glass 7 up bottle with a crack in it. (I decided since pop art was a movement from the 60s, I should do a vintage ordinary object. Plus my dad had a cool 7 up wooden crate and I wanted him to like my work, so it seemed linear at the time). The broken bottle was my favorite sculpture I ever made, but I was as terrible at glazing then as I am now, so it came out 'statue of liberty green,' leaving me slightly disappointed. This was one of my first lessons in how difficult it is to get something you see so vividly out of your head correctly.

Looking back at pop art is not always easy for me because a lot of what popularized it is really terrible in my opinion. And some of what pop artists did later in their careers (during the 90s especially) is unforgivable. But, growing up in Southern California, I've always had a thing for fake food displays, which were found at fast food restaurants like Foster's Freeze's. These little displays always seemed like accidental pop art to me.

 
o-1.jpg
 

In the vein of Foster's fake food displays, while poking around on pinterest recently, a friend of mine (Dorothy Hoover) posted a picture of Claes Oldenburg's The Store. I had never heard of Claes Oldenburg, but his work caught my eye, so naturally, I began researching.

  The Store, 1961-1962 First Claes Oldenburg work to catch my eye

The Store, 1961-1962
First Claes Oldenburg work to catch my eye

Claes Oldenburg was born on January 28, 1929 in Stockholm. Son of a Swedish diplomat, Oldenburg spent his early years in New York until 1936, when his family moved to Chicago. In early adulthood, Oldenburg studied literature and art history at Yale between 1946 to 1950, and continued his education back home at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1956, Oldenburg moved to New York where he worked in the library of the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration. After three years of working in this enviroment, Oldenburg started to make figures, signs and sculptural objects out of papier-mâché, and everyday materials. This work led to his first exhibition, The Street in 1960-1.

 
 

The Street exhibited at the Judson Gallery (at the Judson Memorial Church, my favorite location for art in NY during the 60s and 70s). The exhibition showcased ordinary objects and everyday consumer goods made from cardboard, burlap, and newspaper that recreated scenes from street life in New York City.

Abstract Expressionists are credited for having introduced ordinary objects in their artwork beginning in the 1940s, but it wasn't until pop art hit New York that these ordinary objects were not only depicted, but they were also used as medium. During this time, Oldenburg fueled a movement that influenced other artists through the 1970s, opening up a variety of media as fair game.

  The Store - First Gallery Exhibition at Green Gallery

The Store - First Gallery Exhibition at Green Gallery

In 1962, Oldenburg created my favorite exhibition, The Store, which was a comedic display of a somewhat distopic throwback to New York's Five and Dime stores where everything from mops and men's shirts, to canned foods and seasonal decor could be purchased. In a rented store front in the East Village, Oldenburg again used materials from everyday objects. 

Years after the exhibition, a compilation of Oldenberg's writings were published as Writing on the Side, including a 1961 diary entry where he discusses his concept behind The Store:

The Store, or My Store, or the Ray Gun Mfg. Co., located at 107 East 2nd St., NYC, is eighty feet long and is about ten feet wide. In the front half, it is my intention to create the environment of a store by painting and placing (hanging, projecting, lying) objects after the spirit and in the form of popular objects of merchandise, such as may be seen in store windows of the city, especially in the area where The Store is (Clinton St., for example, Delancey St., 14th St.).

This store will be constantly supplied with new objects, which I will create out of plaster and other materials in the rear half of the place. The objects will be for sale in The Store.

From the entries published in Writing on the Side, we learn that leading up to his creating The Store, he meticulously catalogued every sandwich, can of beer, box of cigarettes and brand of soap he purchased, as well as every cafe and restaurant he visited as a reference for his body of work. 

From here, Oldenberg continued to create and work with ordinary objects, making an ongoing series known as Soft Sculptures. These are some of the funniest pieces in my opinion, because with the help of his first wife, he sewed oversized everyday objects such as cake (which he hilariously calls Floor Cake), toilets, and household appliances. Considering the early 60’s was still feeling the affects of the 1950’s futuristic, perfect, automated, domestic ideologies, Oldenberg's almost grotesque, and very hand-made portrayal of these objects was a jab at the American Status Quo, and perhaps at the same time, an homage to what seemed like a dwindling way of American Life.

Around the same time that Oldenberg started making sculptures, he also participated in performance art at the Judson & then later at The Store. These performances made by pop artists were known as Happenings, and Oldenberg's particular theatre was called Ray Gun Theatre. The main idea behind pop art was to take art out of the 'white walled gallery' and 'off its pedestal;' an idea that had not yet become palatable to the everyday art lover. By turning the audience into "just another object" the performances were meant to express the frustrations artists had with the status of the art world at the time.

From the attention received between The Street, The Store, and Soft Sculptures, as well as his time working at the Judson, Oldenberg is now credited with helping create the Pop Art movement, which began in New York. But shortly after his first exhibitions, Oldenberg moved to Los Angeles in 1963, "because it was the most opposite thing to New York [he] could think of." (Funny because I left LA for NY for the exact same reason). 

 
image6-142FDDE28103F55A9CD.jpg
 

Once in LA, Oldenburg created a performance called AUT OBO DYS, a quintessentially Los Angeles performance done in a parking lot. After this work, Oldenburg shifted his focus to sketching and idealizing large-scale sculptural monuments in public spaces. In 1967 his first sculpture was afforded by New York city cultural adviser Sam Green. This was Oldenburg's first outdoor public monument known as Placid Civic Monument, which was a performance made behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a crew of gravediggers digging a 6'x 3' rectangular hole in the ground.

Oldenburg was met first with criticism and opposition, because his works he wanted to create were gigantic public sculptures of ordinary objects. But today, most of Oldenburg's recognizable work comes from this period and is displayed in public spaces throughout the United States.

To be honest, I appreciate his progression, but I LOOOOVE the 60’s work and just don't appreciate his later work as much. For this reason, I'm not posting any pictures here but you can find them very easily on the internet.

However, fast forward more than 50 years and Oldenburg's Store is showing up as a major influencer for in recent exhibitions, including a fake Bodega in NY's meatpacking district and at the Volta Fair in NY where clay/plaster mops, bottles of Tide detergent and an overturned studio stool covered in chewing gum directly recreate objects using Oldenburg's concepts behind The Store.

 
thirdrail_spring2014_07_coldenburg_akitnick-5.jpg
 

Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2017



READ THE ENTIRE BLOG

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PERIODICAL


PERFORMANCE STUDY: THIERRY MUGLER HAUTE COUTURE 1999

YOU MIGHT NOT ALWAYS CONSIDER RUNWAY A PERFORMANCE, BUT THAT'S BECAUSE YOU DON'T ALWAYS GET A SHOW LIKE THIERRY MUGLER PUT ON IN 1999.

THIS IS MY FAVORITE RUNWAY SHOW.

I WAS A FRESHMAN IN HIGH SCHOOL WHEN THIS SHOW TOOK PLACE. I MOSTLY GRIMACE AT THE MEMORY OF WHAT WE WERE WEARING IN 1999, BUT ONE THING I LOVE IS THE EARLY 2000S NOD AT 1960S MOD VIBES. BUT THERE WAS THIS ELEMENT OF SPACE-AGED FUTURISM THAT I THINK LINGERED FROM THE 90S THAT WAS VERY UNLIKE THE RETRO-FUTURISM OF THE 1950S AND 60S.

YOU ALSO SEE SOME (HIGH FASHION) BURNING MAN LOOKS BEFORE THEY WERE BURNING MAN LOOKS.

I DIE.



PERFORMANCE STUDY: THE DRAG QUEEN BALL - PARIS IS BURNING
 
 

Living in New York City, one of the things I miss the most is the grit of the underground that I had access to on the west coast. That's not to say there isn't any here, but being new and not knowing many people (and also being in my 30s, married, and content living a quiet life), I haven't spent much time in the underground club & warehouse party scenes here. Plus, I think things have changed in the last 10 years. 

Today it seems that almost everything is commercial. Citibank sponsors pride parade floats, and pop music and fashion are capitalizing on feminism. This started in the 90s and is in full force right now. I believe that as a result, normcore was born (do people even say that term anymore?), and the 'xennials' have taken back marriage - including gays. Since everything is 'normal,' we've embraced normative behavior and recreated it to our liking. And not to seem too nostalgic, but with all this progress, I believe we have certainly compromised the grit. Sure there is still queer nightlife, but dissenters have it easy today in comparison to our forefathers/mothers. 'Underground' implies hiding. We no longer have much to hide. The goal is acceptance, so we should have an easier time, but with this soft life I often look back on the angst of my generation's youth and wonder if it just felt harder because I was in the trenches fighting.* 

*I play by saying 'soft life' but that is not to say there aren't struggles today. Equality is far away in terms of race, gender, and class. There is still a lot to fight for. I'm just looking back at all my closeted friends, and the gay bashing & racism I experienced like it was nothing and seeing how far we've come.

Nowadays, sometimes I go to the fancy drag parties in NY where beautiful people like Amanda Lapore and Susanne Bartsche grace us with their presence. But the drinks are always almost $30.00 and if I do end up knowing anyone, they either got on the list, or somehow snuck in because entry is very exclusive, and the fee is, shall we say... cost prohibitive. The costumes are amazing, and the illicit sexuality is uninhibited. The legends who attend helped build an empire, but today's parties they throw don't have much 'street.' Still, we could never have had these rather commercial parties without the work they did in the 70s and 80s.

In my teens and through my 20s I explored fashion and culture by dancing and going out at night. I never felt that I quite fit in where I grew up, so from an early age I gravitated towards the underground. Looking back, I believe that I was living through the tail end of what the 80s had created. Urban environments aren't as gritty as they once were. And most people in metropolitan areas aren't shocked by fashion, music, and lifestyle choices in the way that they could be in the 80s and 90s.

After going to a party on Fire Island recently, I will admit I was sort of saddened by how elite and extremely white it was. It was not a Suzanne Bartsche or Amanda Lapore party, where despite the cost, it seems all social classes and races attend. And though there was still a level of performance that I've come to expect from these types of parties, I couldn't help but romanticize what the underground clubs in NY must have been like in the golden era.

The reason I can even romanticize this period without having been there, is the film Paris is Burning. If you haven't seen it, you're in luck, because I have it right here:

When I went to high school I wanted desperately to fit in, but my privileged-suburban-theater nerd-dancer-dark wave-goth-punk-ska-chola-thrift store tween style was far from the norm. Also most people were white, and I was mixed with kinky, frizzy hair. So I put on a mask, straightened my hair, and bought Roxy clothes so that I could get invited to the parties and make out with boys. My approach was not unlike the 'children' of the Balls as seen in Paris is Burning. Balls were created by drag queens in the 60s, as a sort of escape, and slowly, as an adaptive measure, competitions started to become more inclusionary, allowing people to feel, "100% right being gay," no matter what their aesthetic was.

Because I didn't have an outlet like the Balls, I just told stories and made believe that I was someone else. Fortunately, despite not having an outlet, I grew out it after moving to the city where I found others like me.

In the film, the Balls took place in Harlem. In this tiny niche community, the Balls had competitions with categories where one could dress up according to the category and compete for 'realness.' The performative aspect of these competitions both helped encourage gay men (who were mostly black and minorities who didn't have a ton of money) to explore their notions of heteronormative pressures, while also gaining feelings of acceptance that they did not easily receive from everyday society.

Some of the categories for 'realness' included looking like a real woman, a real collegiate student, executive realness, town & country, high fashion evening wear, even the military - the idea was to find a more natural you. "To be able to blend, that's what realness is," to "look as much as possible like your straight counterpart." These competitions were not seen as satire - but as a "case of going back into the closet," so as not to not be questioned. And while some might say that this fantasy is repression in and of itself, the performances were like role reversals, which can be cathartic and empowering.

Many in the film argue that if given the opportunity to be a 'real' girl, or to be an executive; they could, and so they portray themselves as such as a way to prove it. As someone in the film says, "When you're a man and a woman, you can do whatever you want... But when you're gay, you monitor your everything." At a time when underground really implied hiding, these Balls and their competitions allowed one to be who they wanted without judgement.

In addition to suffering from prejudice against their sexuality, many in the Harlem night life scene were fairly poor, and/or came from troubled homes.  Balls served as an escape from the alternative, the streets. And much like gangs, 'houses' were created, where heads of the household took on much needed parental-like roles, which were gained from their status in the competitions. Over time, houses began to 'throw shade' on one another in competitions, vogueing their differences out on the dance floor. Before Madonna and Joan Rivers got a hold of vogueing, it was originally used to fight it out in competition.

One of my favorite explanations in the film is when they discuss vogueing. Someone says it's like break dancing: taken from hieroglyphics, gymnastics, perfect lines in the body, awkward positions, but where it differs are in the poses taken from magazines (hence the name) and most importantly, in throwing shade.

For a number of reasons, by the end of the 80s, the culmination of fashion, popular culture and the faster rate in which people were living, Balls became less about creating one's own outfit for the competitions, and more about owning labels and fitting with the aesthetics of the time. As the 80s was coming to an end, this underground culture was slowly hitting the mainstream.

In 1990, Madonna came out with Vogue after she saw it happening in the gay night clubs in NYC. But at this point, the era was almost over, as evidenced in Paris Is Burning. The film was made throughout the late 80s, I assume because the director saw that there was a very important, but fleeting cultural phenomenon happening. And once it hit the mainstream, people began adopting and appropriating all kinds of elements from the subculture.

Even today, more than 30 years later, we still use words like, "fierce," "throwing shade," and "24/7," and I see break dancers on the subway taking the vogueing dance moves and furthering them into crazy contortions. The balls that were created to stay off the street, went from underground, to commercial, and back to the streets again.

Anyway, I know I'm a straight woman writing about queer nightlife, but I identify with this group of people as part of my cultural lineage, so I thought I'd share my thoughts with you. And as a treat, here are a few videos of the amazing Joan Rivers interviewing some of the cast of Paris is Burning on her show. What a queen.


DISCLAIMER

This is an editorial piece reflecting on my own life in relation to Paris Is Burning, and my understanding of the subculture therein. Since I left San Francisco, I will admit I'm not as up on the current appropriate language that is expected of one who writes on this subject. Please forgive me, I'm getting old. If you have any objections or want to point out flaws, please leave a comment below.

Just no shade ✌️


COURTNEY CADY, © 2017



THEORY STUDY: GUISEPPE PENONE'S ARTE POVERA - MANIPULATED NATURE
  Image courtesy of Fendi

Image courtesy of Fendi

I went to Rome for the weekend after visiting some factories in Italy recently. Although extremely beautiful, being alone in Rome was fairly boring except my time at the Fendi HQ on the outskirts of town. Unbeknownst to me, Fendi actually plays a big role in modern Rome, having paid to restore the Trevi Fountain and taking up headquarters in a building Romans call the 'Square Coliseum.' Locals call the building this because of its classical Roman arches in an otherwise modern rectangular buildingThe building formally known as the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana was commissioned by Mussolini, and is a bit of a controversial building on its own given its fascist origins. Designed by architects Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Bruno La Padula and Mario Romano, the travertine marble building was intended to be the centerpiece of Mussolini's new Roman empire, but was abandoned after WWII. The building was essentially in disrepair until Fendi took on restoring it in 2015.

Being so bored in Rome got my wheels turning, "what else is there in this great city besides tourist attractions that I can do without knowing any locals? And then it hit me that some Arte Povera artists lived and worked in Rome! After asking around for anything Arte Povera, I was instructed to go to the Fendi HQ to both see the amazingly rehabilitated building and to see Guiseppe Penone's exhibition that is on display on the ground floor of the building.

A long cab ride into what appeared to be 'normal Rome,' ie not touristy or super-duper old, and probably where a majority of Romans live, I reached the monumental building. It seemed like it was five stories in the air, just on the ground level. I entered through the marble stairs and was greeted by one of Penone's trees.

  Image courtesy of Fendi

Image courtesy of Fendi

Having recently moved to New York, I actually thought the tree was just a sad winter tree like so many I see in my city, but upon closer inspection, I realized that there were metal pipes and sculptural elements in the 'tree.' Admittedly, my heart raced a little faster once I realized I was looking at Penone's work. There's something so exciting about experiencing something in real life that was once only experienced through the internet.

In the main foyer of the building, I entered the exhibition area where I was immediately confronted by Penone's Soffio di Foglie, or 'Breath of Leaves.' The current exhibition at Fendi is just a recreation of Penone's original, but I presumed that the impression of the human body in the pile of myrtle leaves was created by Penone. My mind went to the images I had seen of his body on the leaves in 1979. I missed that moment in time, but the pile here in 2017 excited me. (Funny how a pile of leaves can do that).

Arte Povera, the genre to which Penone's work belongs, literally means poor art. It is exclusively Italian, and a reaction to the high production and high price ticket art of the post-modern era. Using common objects (such as leaves and trees in Penone's case), Italian artists worked to both criticize contemporary art and to create a new genre. 

You can see a brief essay I wrote on Arte Povera here.

Observing Penone's work in such an environment was paradoxical to me, and after I looked at the pile of leaves for a while, I burst out in laughter (thank goodness I was the one of two others visiting at the time). Being in a Mousollini commissioned building that is now operated by luxury brand Fendi is the antithesis of 'povera.' The whole thing seemed ridiculous to me for a moment, but I suppose since arte povera's conception, a gallery setting in and of itself undermines the driving force behind the artwork. And I think that's ok because no matter what the reason it's being made, art really should be for the people, and the first step to getting it there is for it to exhibit in a gallery. Plus artists deserve to have their work exhibited in a respectable place.

Fortunately, the Fendi exhibition was free to enter, so I let my mental tangent stop there. Beyond 'Breath of Leaves' were sculptures of tree forms, holding what looks like pieces of Roman ruins. Penone often examines the tension between humanity and nature, and these pieces fit very well with my experience of Rome where ruins would literally have been engulfed by nature were it not for humans actively manicuring the growth.

  Below: Fendi

Below: Fendi

 
  Blurry image courtesy of my iphone

Blurry image courtesy of my iphone

 

There was also a black polyptich (top left) comprised of four panels painted black with with graphite haphazardly drawn all over. As I looked at it in amazement, I also recalled a time in my life where I might have thought, "I could have made this." The drawing was seemingly aimless, representing some kind of scales on an animal or maybe the surface of a water worn rock, with solid painted boards that take no real skill. But nowadays I understand that I couldn't have made it, one because I wouldn't have thought of it (most importantly), and two, I didn't make it, Penone did, and if I had used the same materials and had the same objective, my work would have resulted in something completely different.

At the time when Arte Povera was first exhibited, it is said that many critics didn't consider it art. A pile of rocks, sticks and other natural objects especially repulsed lovers of so-called high art, where there tended to be a preference for modern materials such as lucite, acrylic and plaster in sculptures, which is exactly why I look to Arte Povera so often.

Fashion is so overtly made by people of privilege, and it reinforces class structures just by virtue of its cost, and though Bagtazo may not use as common of materials as Arte Povera artists did/do, I like to think of my entire brand mission to be a big 'fuck you' to the mainstream fashion world, so thanks for reading along as I explore my heroes.

Beyond the first section of the exhibition, I found a sparse forest of pillars and a felled Penone tree. I really enjoyed this section, as it seemed to be created for the space. The wood-like glossy stone floors and the stark white gallery walls coordinated with the real wood with rich color variation, made to sit on pillars or plaster looking bases made me feel like I was in a reverse-city setting. Usually human manipulated natural materials creates at least a village-like if not urban environment, but in this case, the natural objects were manipulated to create a man-made natural environment.

  Another blurry shot from my iphone

Another blurry shot from my iphone

In the second room, one of my favorite pieces lines the wall: Penone's series of self portraits where he made the same expression but changed out reflective contact lenses in some of them. Between my love for repetition, self portraits (not to be confused with selfies), and the subtly of the contact lenses, the photos kept my attention for close to a half hour... I basically just slowly walked past each one, stepped back, look at the series as a whole, went back to inspect each individual photo, etc.

Also, I mean, look how hot he looks:

 
  Penone's self portrait (one of many in a series)

Penone's self portrait (one of many in a series)

 

Also in the center of the second room is a hollowed out tree with many broken branches. It reminded me of a canoe or for some reason, a parody of the table used in the Last Supper. 

Maybe because Penone grew up in the wooded town of Gargessio, Italy, Penone's work focuses on the connection between humanity and nature. Through this lens, he manipulates nature (much like we do as humans in general), but he keeps much of the natural integrity of his medium, which often deceives the viewer. Like when I mistakenly thought the tree outside was a sad winter tree, for example.

I'm not totally sure what he 'means' by creating any of these things, as I haven't read any interviews or know if he has ever explained his work in terms of meaning to anyone, but I do enjoy considering how keeping the integrity of the natural materials he works with makes me think and feel.

So anyway, if you're in Rome soon, I highly recommend visiting Fendi HQ.


COURTNEY CADY, © BAGTAZO 2017


BIBLIOGRAPHY

All images not credited, or clearly the artist's original work, were taken on my phone.

How to Spend it, Fendi Salutes Giuseppe Penone in a New Exhibition.

Yaetzer, Natural Affinities: Fendi Hosts First Contemporary Art Show in Rome Showcasing Works by Giuseppe Penone.

 


READ THE ENTIRE BLOG

SUBSCRIBE


FEMALE STUDY: RENATE BERTLMANN'S PORNOGRAPHIC JOKES

Washing Day, 1976

Hi! It's been about 6 months since I wrote. I moved to New York and life got busy. But I'm fine now so let's see if we can pick things up.

I recently reacquainted myself with the artwork of Renate Bertlmann. What kept my attention this time around is the humor I see behind Bertlmann's work, and the simple messages that can be abstracted.

Bertlmann is a feminist avant-garde artist whose career began in the early 1970s. Born in 1943 in Vienna, Austria, Bertlmann studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Upon graduating in 1970, she lectured at the academy through the early 1980s. Throughout this time, she built a corpus of work using various media including drawing, painting, object art, installation, photography, film, and performance.

Touching mainly on the binary opposition of male and female roles, Bertlmann worked with phallic and breastlike shapes, using humor and hyperbole as a platform for discussion on a topic that is otherwise generally a sore subject for any thinking female.

As was en vogue in the post-minimalist time she began her work, Bertlmann often used ordinary objects. But in her case, this was to her advantage, as she worked with familiar household objects, a place where things are almost strictly divided between male and female genders. This by default made her a "feminist" artist, even without publishing a manifesto or saying anything about it outright.

Caress (Washing Day), 1976

The undisguised sexual nature of Bertlmann's work bends gender norms as much as it overtly acknowledges the dichotomy between the two. Her ability to blur the lines is well demonstrated in her close-range photographs of inflated condoms touching each other. Male gendered objects become reminiscent of the female body and hermaphroditic inuendos.

  Tender Touches , 1976

Tender Touches, 1976

Likewise, hanging inflated condoms alongside flaccid condoms on a laundry line in her Washing Day series, Bertlmann juxtaposes the male and female figure using a traditionally male gendered object.

Washing Day, 1976

In a recent interview with the Tate Modern (2015), Bertlmann explains her subversive humor:

Pornographic jokes have always been a male domain, made at the exclusive expense of women. I consider my series of objects an accomplished example of an obscene female joke. This joke has hit home; it targets the deadly serious, male sexual arrogance. My works could be created only because I was obviously able, despite my anxieties, to discuss sexuality and sexual repression simultaneously through desire and ironic distance.

Especially at the time of her work, Bertlmann's pervasive use of 'private' parts of the human body were, and are widely still considered vulgar for women to discuss, let alone exhibit. I feel like her ability to avoid erotic notions while still using these symbols is a huge feat, and actually adds fuel to the outrage fire, as one might be able to accept an erotic "vulgar" female, the way society does with Anais Nin, but for Bertlmann's work, replacing eroticism with overt symbols of obscenity, the message is no longer palatable to social conformists.

Urvagina, 1978

Renate Bertlmann has explained that she identifies with "physically handicapped wheelchair-bound outcasts," which is partly influenced by their role in Thomas Bernhard’s play A Party for Boris (1968). This explains the presence of wheelchairs in her work since she started in the early 70s.  (A very "unfeminine" ordinary object, don't you think)? A wheelchair might seem incongruent with the rest of her work at first glance, but Bertlmann explains that she likes to use wheelchairs "to emphasize the tension between inertness, mobility, and bodily contact," which combined with gender norms, actually makes a lot of sense.

In her performance Pregnant Bride in Wheelchair (1976) (below), Bertlmann implies the handicapping outcome of a woman who is both pregnant and a bride. I can't find any interviews with her in English about this particular performance, but it seems like she assumes the persona of a pregnant woman who is made to marry due to social pressures of the time.

The pregnant bride is not only in a wheelchair, but her fingertips also appear to be nipples, exaggerating the exhausting and giving nature of the female body. Her face is also ghostly, perhaps alluding to the death of the young woman's freedom, or maybe done in effort to depict a grotesque figure in a situation where women are typically expected to look pure and beautiful.

After she finished lecutring in 1980, Bertlmann soley focused on her studio work and what she calls "freelance" work. I've never heard a working artist call themselves freelance but maybe she also did work for hire that is outside of her personal aesthetic.

Below, Bertlmann's installation 1984 piece, Breast Incubator has holes for hands to enter within the clear case, offering a means to fondle the breasts within. The nipples, however, have exacto knife blades sticking out of them, which to me symbolically expresses the instances where being groped is an unwanted experience.

Breast Incubator, 1984

Through today, Bertlmann continues to create work that sheds light on the objectification of the female body and using her humor to emasculate male gendered objects. 

Untitled, 2016

By hanging condoms that are used as bud vases on a towel rack with ribbon, I see Bertlmann making a multi-layered joke here. And hello, still at it in 2016! She was born in 1946. She is not faking this joke. She lives this thing and she is nailing it. Flowers and ribbons—so "girly." A towel rack—a domestic object, maybe gender neutral (though I think one could argue that almost all domestic objects are associated with females). Yes Ranate. Yes.


COURTNEY CADY, © BAGTAZO 2017




FEMALE STUDY: SENGA NENGUDI'S FLESH & GENDER IDENTITY
 
 

I’ve made it a point to highlight underrepresented women in western art history, and I have written about Latin Americans and Eastern Europeans, and yet still no black artists. But I mean, how many black artists are mentioned in the same breath as Max Bill? Why are there still entire books dedicated to black artists, rather than integrating them with their contemporaries? Why is it so hard to even find black artists in history?

I'm half Filipino and half Irish. Growing up I never realized I was racially different from anyone, as my corner of California was racially diverse. However, as I've gotten older, racial identity has become very important to me. The Filipino family name, Bagtazo, was chosen in homage to this.

For black artists in America, racial identity seems inextricably related to their work. It's as if one cannot be a black artist without discussing being black. And with good reason, as I think there is no racial identity as inescapable in the US. When I decided to write about a black artist, I will admit I didn't know where to begin. But then I found American artist, Senga Nengundi.

Senga Nengudi, was born in Chicago in 1943, but grew up in Los Angeles. Originally named Sue Irons, Nengudi took her working name early in her career when a friend from the former Zaire started calling her by that name.

Senga Nengudi was part of the avant-garde black art scenes in New York City and Los Angeles during the 1960s and 1970s. Some of my favorite of her works involve panty hose. Panty hose are one of the few things that have catered to the varying shades of skin tones since before the civil rights movement, and so I think it’s super cool that Nengudi used them in her work. (Because duh, all women are candidates for shaming and social decency norms).

 
 

In 1977, Nengudi worked with Hassinger for a performance piece in the same vein as RSVP, improvising movement entangled in a web of pantyhose at Just Above Midtown Gallery in NYC. According to Nengudi, the performance was made to symbolize how women are restricted by societal gender norms. These performances were captured on film in stills, where Nengudi appeared as an androgynous figure, in attempt to defy gender definitions.

Since moving to to New York, I’ve really missed the gender neutral values of the west coast. Black boys in Oakland wear earrings with vintage turbans that one may have seen their grandmothers wearing in the 60s. Young boys in LA wear skirts and paint their nails. To think that Nengundi was doing this in New York in the 70s blows my mind because it was not only advanced, but it must have been viewed as extremely radical.

In 1979, Nengudi performed Ceremony for Freeway Fets under a freeway overpass on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. The performance was made with her collaborators, Hammons and Hassinger from Studio Z Collective. Nengudi crafted costumes and headdresses from pantyhose for the performers.  Hammons and Hassinger played the roles of male and female spirits, while Nengudi's character represented a spirit that united the genders. Both the performance and music were improvised.

I was able to find a slideshow with the original music, and an audio interview of Nengudi, which can be viewed below:

 

In 2007, during her residency at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, she created a video installation entitled "Warp Trance.". The film was made to communicate the experiences of textile workers. (As some of you know, I have been working in manufacturing for over a decade, and so I'm really into this, even though I think the aesthetic is v 2007 video art).

 

From 1970 through the present day, Nengudi has performed nearly thirty original pieces, and has exhibited in sixty-five group and solo shows combined. Nengudi is a prolific artist whose focus on racial and ethnic identity has remained strong throughout her work. She also explored gender politics and identity from the beginning of her career in the 1970s, a topic that society has just began to discuss publicly in the last few years.

I actually saw Senga Nengudi's work in Los Angeles at WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution exhibition at the MOCA in Los Angeles in 2007 without realizing it. The show in its entirety had young me in tears, but I remember looking at her pantyhose piece and thinking how great it was. The installation looked like boobs and balls all at once. And I was all about the nipple back then, so that piece really got me.

 
 

Nengudi continues to work today from her Colorado Springs studio. Since 2007, she has re-performed many of her early works, as well as exhibited a number of retrospectives.



Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016


READ THE ENTIRE BLOG

SUBSCRIBE


DESIGN STUDY: TOMÁS MALDONADO'S ANALOGICAL COMPUTER DESIGN & PRE-DIGITAL ART
 

Desde un Sector, 1953

 

In my recent studies I stumbled upon Tomás Maldonado, an artist whose work I was not familiar with before. But it's like I found a design ancestor, because I totally use similar shapes as him and I have even applied his theories unknowingly.

Maldonado was born in Buenos Aires in 1922, but he studied and produced much of his influential work in Europe during the 1950s and 60s. Before moving to Europe, he attended the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, where he studied design.

After his education, he began working with other Argentine artists such as Jorge Brito, Alfredo Hlito, and Claudio Girola in the 1940s. With this group, a manifesto was published, rejecting the status quo of the then-institutional views of El Salón Nacional in Argentina, quoting Italian artist Carlo Carrà's statement, "the suppression of imbeciles in art is essential" in their treatise. (Oh how I love a good artist manifesto). In doing so, the group effectively founded a movement known as Arte Concreto-Invención (Concrete-Invention Art), which was dedicated to 'pure geometric abstraction.'

Trayectoria de una Anécdota (Path of a Story), 1949

And like most art movements of the era, their work was fed by politics, only where the United States and European movements were a reaction to society and government (with the exception of Russia and Eastern parts of Europe), Arte Concreto-Invención, was at once a reaction to social values in regards to art, but also confined by the ideals of Argentina's Marxist leader, Edelmiro Julián Farrell, a predecessor to Juan Perón. As a result, Arte Concreto-Invención was less experimental than other similar movements of the era, but like artists in Russia, working within the confines of their country's political climate, Arte Concreto-Invención was still able to push the boundaries of art. Such feats are far and few between, as most artists and writers who play by the political rules aren't usually able to contribute anything beyond romance and fantasy.

Desarollo del Triángulo (Destruction of the Triangle), 1951

In 1954, Maldonado moved to Germany to teach at the newly founded school, Hochschule für Gestaltung of Ulm (Ulm School of Design), which was started in part by former Bauhaus student and instructor, Max Bill (one of my favs). Ulm School of Design for sure deserves its own post one day, but for now just know that the school was extra cool. (I mean, the internet says it's only second to Bauhaus, which is like really saying it's first because Bauhaus is just so amazing that it's like in outer space, so). 

Ulm School of Design was founded in 1953 and operated until 1968, during a time where the West was transitioning from an industrial to a post-industrial society. And though the school operated very briefly during the Post War period, the Ulm school restructured social sciences to be based on a strong belief in reason, rather than opinion. Living in an era of Nazi resistance, founder Max Bill promoted the idea that in a democratic society, “good design” should be accessible to all. 

At the Ulm School of Design, Maldonado taught industrial design and visual communication (also known as semiotics, the study of signs and symbols and how they are used). Teaching with an emphasis on philosophy of science and technology for ten years, Maldonado was eventually appointed as the director of the school in 1957. Once director, Maldonado cultivated a pre-digital approach to design that translated well to the technology era of design that followed.  

 
 

It is argued that during his tenure at the Ulm School of Design, Maldonado pioneered design theory, and in particular, was among the first to apply computation to architecture and design. Though during the time of his work at the Ulm School, Maldonado did not work with computers, he is credited for theorizing "analogical computer design," which you can actually see very clearly in the first and third images in this article. (They kind of remind me of Wire's 154 album art that was released in 1979, only the analog version).

Like the Bauhaus school, Ulm's curriculum took a multidisciplinary approach, though Ulm was far more focused on science than craft. Bauhaus’s perspectives seemed to have become obsolete in the post-industrial age because they were viewed as simply artistic, rather than scientific. Though Max Bill attempted to recreate the Bauhuas curriculum, Maldonado kept pushing for more concrete theories and approaches to design. Wishing to create a closer relationship between science and technology, Ulm slowly oriented themselves towards the theoretical aspects of the Bauhaus school but expanded their approach, applying technological approaches to design. In this second phase, different subjects such as economics, sociology, mathematics, operational research, statistics, set theory, linear programming techniques, cybernetics and other subjects that deal with the history of science and the theory of machines were added to Ulm's curriculum. With the addition of these subjects, and the help of guest teachers, Maldonado made it possible for the students of Ulm to engage and participate in the scientific and theoretical philosophy of the time. 

 
 

Like the designers of Bauhaus, Maldonado proved to be very prolific, and towards the end of the Ulm school's existence, he really began applying his interests in semiotics to create a symbol system that is largely still used, and built upon for other methods of symoblic communication today. Above is a code system Maldonado built for the programmers of the Olivetti typewriter company, which was a project carried out in collaboration with the German designer Gui Bonsieppe. This symbolic language helped build the early stages of computer science. (So cool)!

Perhaps because the Ulm School was very ambitious and very ahead of its time, the school closed permanently in 1968. A year before its closure, Maldonado resigned and relocated to Milan, where he continues to live currently. After the disollution of the Ulm school, Maldonado continued working in design, where he followed Max Bill's lead, creating logos for companies. The first of such projects was with german again in collaboration with designer Gui Bonsiepe, where the two designed the corporate identity for the Italian department store La Rinascente. A corporate identity that is still in use today. 

 
 

From here, Maldonado continued to design, from furniture to medical equipment, as well as continue to paint. (The two images below are his contemporary work made between 2000 - 2010).

 
 

What's even cooler though, is that Maldonado is still alive and teaching theories in Italy as Professor at the Faculty of philosophy and arts of Bologna. Having worked with and studied under the Bauhaus school, while creating very modern theories in regards to computer science and technology, I feel like students who get to work with Maldonado are very lucky, because there are very few thinkers from this era left today. I'm so into the idea of having access to my predecessors, maybe I should email him in Spanish and see if he'd let me meet him!

Maldonado in his office in 2008

 

 



Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016



MOVEMENT STUDY: PINA BAUSCH 'RITE OF SPRING'

I'm still just being a terrible blogger. I'm so busy trying to catch up. So here's a quick video of Pina Bausch and co doing a beautiful dance to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. I'm personally doing my own rites of spring, so I thought it was appropriate.

Pina Bausch is a modern dance choreographer that I have been studying off and on for the last year. Her work is obscure and often hard to follow, but I really love her take on movement. She also incorporates a lot of dance for film and land art, which I really love. If you just do a Google image search on Pina Bausch, you can see her striking continuity throughout her various works. Her aesthetic is very strong and feminine. The costumes she uses are Grecian and with tonal shades as a common motif. She tends to work with natural elements like water and flowers a lot.

She's a genius.

I'll say more about her eventually, but for now. Here's a small taste.

 


COURTNEY CADY, 2017


READ THE ENTIRE BLOG

SUBSCRIBE


PERFORMANCE STUDY: SQUAREGAME VIDEO

I've been having a hard time adjusting (schedule-wise) to my new life in New York. I really love it here, but I'm so busy trying to settle in that a weekly post has been asking a bit too much of me during this transition process.

But here's a cool video of Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1976 moving around in ways that I think accurately expresses how I feel rn trying to jump around from here to there in order to find my stride.

I've had intentions in doing an in-depth study of Merce Cunningham on this blog, but for now here's less than a minute of footage to tide you over.

More regularity to come soon, I promise.

xx


Courtney Cady, © 2016



FEMALE STUDY: BARBARA KRUGER'S RED & BLACK
 

Barbara Kruger, 1987

 

The first time I saw the above image I was 11 years old. The postcard was pegged to a bulletin board collage at my friend Blake's house. The same friend who influenced me to think that anything "trendy" was super lame. Blake also owned a Prada purse. My mind was blown.

I didn't understand Descartes, "I think, therefore I am" at that age, but I understood the Barbara Kruger version enough to know that the artist was taking a stab at consumerism. No one told me the artist was Barbara Kruger, that was something I learned a few years later, but already, I felt like whoever this was, they were speaking on behalf of people like me.

 Barbara Kruger is more contemporary of an artist than those I usually post about, but I've noticed ad campaigns all over recently that straight rip her style without honoring the jabby undertones of what the red background with white text, or white background with black text has come to mean, so I thought I'd revisit her work a little bit to set the record straight.

1985

Barbara Kruger has most recently lived and worked in Los Angeles. Given that I lived 12 years in Los Angeles, and spent 30 years in California in general, Barbara Kruger's work is a personal subject. In my youth, I was a staunchy feminist, and a critic of consumerism who hung in the 'art scene.' Barbara Kruger wasn't as much of a god as she was like the LA sunshine to me, just something that shows up everyday.  Plus I grew up in a Stepford Wives-type suburb, where money and female oppression were the norm. I saw Barbara Kruger as my voice. I even started putting my own statements on the artwork I made as a teenager, she had influenced me that much. 

I mean, just read how funny the caption below is vvv

Barbara Kruger, 1991

Barbara Kruger is among the first to use appropriation art through pictures and text, something that has since become a widespread practice in fashion, art, and funny enough, now even in advertising. By using words and found images, Kruger subverts the common ad with social critique through postmodern conceptual art. 

For me personally, Kruger's humor and dark undertones used to discuss reproductive rights and built in female oppression (something I still think even the most evolved males: gay/straight/trans or otherwise, have yet to fully comprehend) has always stood out to me. The work is politically charged, totally in the vein of Bauhaus graphic design, and easy to understand, even for the simpleminded folks who oppose her messages.

Barbara Kruger was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1945. She attended Syracuse University in 1964 for one year before moving to New York, where she studied at Parsons School of Design. At Parsons, Kruger met artists Diane Arbus and Marvin Israel, who are said to have introduced Kruger to photography, fashion, and magazine sub-cultures. After a year at Parsons, Kruger dropped out and started working with various Condé Nast magazines as a graphic designer, where she was quickly promoted to art director and picture editor for several magazines. This career went on for a decade before Kruger moved to Berkeley, California, where she taught at UC Berkeley for four years.

By 1979, Kruger started using found images from mid-century American magazines in her art, pasting messages in Bauhaus fonts with color blocked backgrounds over the found pictures. Applying her graphic design sense, Kruger's work mimiced advertisements, but subverted the familiar with topics of gender, consumerism and equality. 

What's really cool is once Kruger saw that her work was well received, she started printing her images on gift items, so the 80s and 90s were flooded with Kruger tote bags, postcards, mugs, t shirts, posters, whathaveyou; which is a hilarious way to blur the boundaries between art and consumerism, while also expanding her reach in a similar fashion as branding does. (Hello? Genius).

Using the power of her ubiquity, Kruger became well known for her work, and was often commissioned to make political statements on behalf of groups such as reproductive rights advocates. Like me in my youth, Kruger was seen as a voice for people who had something to say.

In 1989 Kruger made the image below, (left), for the Women's March on Washington, which was a march in support of legal abortion. A year later in 1990, Kruger used this slogan in a billboard commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts. Twelve hours after the billboard went up, a pro-life group responded to Kruger's work by replacing the adjacent billboard with an image depicting an eight-week-old fetus. (Um, super metal, guys)...

1989

 

1990

Evolving with contemporary art, from the 90s through today, Kruger began creating site-specific work that is pasted on sides of buildings, buses, trains, and museum walls.

Commissioned by MOCA of Los Angeles, the image top right, is the among the first of her site-specific work. The concept originally included messages pasted over the the American Pledge of Allegiance, but after some test drives with the idea and community backlash, the work was toned down, and the flag salute was eliminated. This image was first exhibited in a group show, and then a year later pasted to the side of a warehouse in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles where it showed for two years.

I love Barbara Kruger so much I could catalog her entire work here, but in the end, it's all much of the same thing. Even if it's really good. Today, given that she is fairly well known, she continues to work on site-specific pieces through commissions all over the world. She also keeps making her paste ups, as we have seen that over the last 30 years, change is slow enough to come that her messages are as poignant today as they were at their beginnings. With the seeming timelessness of her style, Kruger is able to revisit mediums and platforms such as magazine covers and simple paste ups regarding abortion, political statements, female oppression, popular culture and consumerism.

I felt like since her work is so familiar at this point, that it was almost "too soon" to talk about her here, but I couldn't help it after seeing so many ads abusing her style. Guys, if you're going to rip her off, at least make the words say something punk.

K? Thanks.


Courtney Cady, © 2016



DESIGN STUDY: MAX BILL & CONCRETE ART
 
 

So so sorry for the radio silence. I was in over my head with market and moving from LA to NY. I think I let a month go by since I've done any sort of design research. Woops! And though I'm still super busy and not in the mood to do anything after hustling so hard, I have been looking at the work of Max Bill lately, so I figured it was time to get back to it.

Max Bill was born in Switzerland in 1908. In his home town of Winterhur, he apprenticed as a metalsmith before studying at the Bauhaus school in Dausau, Germany in 1924. Like most Bauhaus artists, Bill worked with a number of mediums and designed across genres. 

Some of his most notable work in my opinion is in his graphic work, which included typography.(Yes!) But then again I also love the architectural pieces, sculptures and industrial designs he did too, so maybe I actually just love Max Bill.

What's really cool about Bill is that he studied under Bauhuas, but he also hung out with French painters like Hans Arp and Piet Mondrian, whose work represented a movement then called, Abstraction-Création, which influenced him to form his own group known as the Allianz Group in Switzerland in 1937.

The Allianz Group focused on Concrete Art theories pioneered by Max Bill, which was similar to Constructivism, in that both were interested in abstraction, but Bill's theories made a heavier emphasis on color. (A good student of Bauahaus, I'd say)... 

A major tenant of the larger Concrete Art movement of the time, which was the probably the most distinguishing departure from Constructivism, was that Concrete Art strived to make no references to objects found in visible reality or in nature. So out went all the boring notions of cubism and in came really cool shapes.

Once Constructivism spawned in Russia around 1919, its influence on artwork made in Europe lasted through the 1930s. And while Bauhaus ended up a movement in its own right, some of the Bauhaus instructors such as Josef Albers, worked to create the Concrete Art movement. (See my previous posts on Josef Albers for more info). After studying with Bauhaus, hanging out with super cool French painters, and starting his own art group, Max Bill went on to teach at The School of Arts in Zurich in 1944, before forming his own school called the Ulm School of Design in 1953, with artist Inge Aicher-Scholl and Otl Aicher in Ulm, Germany. 

Originally basing their teachings of the Bauhaus school, Ulm School of Design developed a new education approach that integrated art and science. This unorthodox design education even included semiotics in its curriculum, which caused a bit of stir amongst the art and design snobs of the day. And maybe Bill and his friends were actually too ambitious with their education theories, because the school only lasted for 13 years before it closed.

After this foray, Bill started working heavily in architectural and industrial design. He also kept painting and doing graphic design, but his more commercial work in the 1950s might be what he is best known for today.

Max Bill's Ulmer Stool, (pictured above) was made in the 1950s, and is meant to be used either as an modular object that sits on the ground or as shelves mounted on the wall. So pretty! He also worked with Junghans, a Swiss timekeeping company, where he designed watches, clocks and scales, which are still available on the market. v v v (I die).

Being that Max Bill was so prolific much like his predecessors of the Bauhaus school, he worked and exhibited up until his death in 1988.

Towards the end of his life, architects and public planners in Germany and Switzerland began commissioning Bill to make large sculptures to be displayed in public spaces. Nearly all are still on view and are protected by a conservation trust started post-mortem by Max Bill's son.

I could go on forever about this guy but I need to go to bed. If you haven't familiarized yourself with his work, check it out. There's so much... the guy lived for 80 years and worked for almost 60 of them. Soooo coool.


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016



FEMALE STUDY: LIUBOV POPOVA'S UTILITARIAN ART

Painterly Archietetonic, 1917

You might have noticed I've been into Russian art this season. This week I looked at the work of yet another Russian artist, Liubov Popova, a founding member, and one of the only female constructivists of the early 20th century. I'm pretty impressed with Popova because of her range of work, and the amount of theory she applied to her work. From line drawings, linoprints, water color and oil paintings, to graphic and textile design, most of which was politically charged, Popova had a prolific though short career as an artist. 

Active from 1912-1929, Popova worked in a few styles before helping create the Russian Constructivist movement in the early 1920s. Starting with cubo-futurism, a popular style of the time, Popova employed the use of lines, color and shapes to create her pieces. (I could care less about cubism or cubo-futurism so I'm not posting any of her work from that era. Sorry not sorry). 

Shortly after the start of her career, Popova employed the Supermatist style that was developing around 1917 in Russia. It is from this point on that Popova really starts to innovate. Unlike most of her male counterparts, she was more willing to work with curved shapes beyond just a circle. She used rounded lines, and even dared to use color as shading, rather than simply creating geometrical shapes with it. (And fine, maybe she adopted that from cubo-futurism).

In 1921, Popova was one of five artists who participated in a show called, 5x5=25 in Moscow, a show that some critics claimed was "the end of art." (She was the only female in the exhibition). Showing minimal paintings with exposed canvas, viewers were left confused and accused Popova of 'fleeing painting.' On the contrary, Popova wrote, "all pieces presented here should be regarded as merely preparations for concrete construction," which was basically one of the first steps towards constructivism in history. In a highly political exhibition, Popova and the other four participating artists rejected expressionist work that was common before WWI. Their goal was to create an entirely new culture where the proletariat was the focus. (This was known as proletkult in Russia).

From her work in Supermatism, Popova began exploring the reductivist use of shape, line and color, inadvertently helping create the constructivist movement. Working in Communist Russia, constructivists of the early 20th century rejected what they thought was frivolity in traditional art, instead creating art for social purposes. Constructivists sought to combine faktura, the particular material properties of an object, and tektonika, its spatial presence, in attempt to participate in the construction of the then-new Communist spirit, by using artistic skills to design everyday objects for mass production.

So this is where I start to get super into Popova. I've been working in production for over a decade for a few of the same reasons. For me, fashion is the most commercial of my creative endeavors and since I need to make a living, it's where I chose to focus my energy since my early 20s. Plus I'm really into the laborer, which I actually got from the Communists, but more about that another time... And where Liubov Popova and I intersect, is our interest in making things that have a purpose. Yes, most fashion is beyond necessity, but compare a necklace to conceptual architecture, and you can see what I mean about function at least. (Queue the useless wall hanging textiles that are everywhere right now... hello, that's not what rugs are for).

To back herself up, Popova said in an untitled manuscript written in 1921:

The era that humanity has entered is an era of industrial development and therefore the organization of artistic elements must be applied to the design of the material elements of everyday life, i.e. to industry or to so-called production.

The new industrial production, in which artistic creativity must participate, will differ radically from the traditional aesthetic approach to the object, in that primarily attention will be focused not on the artistic decoration of the object (applied art), but on the artistic organization of the object in accordance with the principles of creating the most utilitarian object…

If any of the different types of fine art (i.e., easel painting, drawing, engraving, sculpture, etc.) can still retain some purpose, they will do so only: 1. While they remain as the laboratory phase in our search for essential new forms. 2. Insofar as they serve as supportive projects and schemes for constructions and utilitarian and industrially manufactured objects that have yet to be realized.

 
 

Applying this philosophy to her work hereafter, Popova and her colleagues created in effort to support the Bolshevik revolution. During this time, there was civil war going on, and many of the artists in Russia were Communist, so their work reflected their political and theoretical views. Working with architect Aleksandr Vesnin and the avant-garde theatrical director Vsevolod Meierkhold, Popova work on the sets for a ‘theatrical military parade’, which was called ‘The End of Capital’ and was to take place in Moscow that summer to celebrate the meeting of the Congress of the Third Communist International, a communist gathering that was held in 1921. This performance was proposed as a mass theatrical event, employing a cast of thousands of people, but was ended up getting cancelled.

Popova then began working with playwrite, Meierkhold where she designed the set and costumes for his production of The Magnanimous Cuckold, which opened in 1922. The following year she also produced the designs for the play The Earth in Turmoil. Throughout this period, Popova was teaching color theory at the Moscow Vkhutemas as well.

During her tenure at Vkhutemas, Popova was invited to work in the reviving textile industry in Russia as a textile designer at the Tsindel (the First State Textile Factory) outside of Moscow, where she worked with a later female constructivist designer, Varavara Stepanova.

You can see the influence Popova's work in textile design had on Bauhaus, especially among the female artists, as well as the theoretical influence constructivism had on the school in general. I really love Popova's later work in textile design, both from an aesthetic standpoint and a theoretical one. While it's not necessary for art to serve a purpose beyond 'art for art's sake,' I do really appreciate the political drive behind Popova's work. To use one's creativity as a means to reject social norms and question the status quo is never a bad thing (even when it's communist), and honestly these days, having a voice and actually saying something is so difficult to do, especially in fashion where commercial ads disguise themselves as sociopolitical statements, so I kind of envy a time when artists could do this effectively and noticeably.

Anyway, Liubov Popova's career was sadly cut short in 1924 when she died of scarlet fever at the age of 35. I feel like maybe she would have moved to Germany if she had lived longer, or maybe she would have started a Russian equivalence to Bauhaus, given the trajectory of her work, but we'll never know. Either way, considering her career started at the age of 23, and she only worked for thirteen years, her effect on art history is massive. And to be a woman working in the early 1900s with recognition was no easy feat either.

New hero right here vvv

 
 

Shout out to: 

Christina Lodder, 'Liubov Popova: From Painting to Textile Design', Tate Papers, no.14, Autumn 2010.

I've decided I need to start citing the academic pieces I reference in my blog posts. My apologies for not doing it until now. Blogs are the new frontier...


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016



FILM STUDY: FERNAND LEGER'S BALLET MÉCANIQUE

I'm super, extra, very busy right now but I don't like it when I skip a post so here's a short film, Ballet Mécanique by Fernand Leger made in 1924. The music sounds exactly how I feel right now.

Ballet Mécanique is an early Dadaist (or what some call post-Cubist) film that was written and co-directed by artist Fernand Léger and filmmaker Dudley Murphy. Man Ray (my fav) also gave cinematic input (whatever that means), and he even included one of his recurring subjects, a now iconic 1920s female face. The film premiered in Vienna as a silent film, but a score was made by American composer George Antheil shortly thereafter.

This is one of the earliest examples of experimental film, and was made in part as a mockery of Charlie Chaplin. (Because good artists have always hated the main stream, duh).

I'm really into the use of mirrors and kaleidoscopic effects. This technique set a standard for early experimental film and can be seen as a main motif through the 1950s.

It's 16 minutes of stimulation without dialogue, but you can make it even though it's 2016, I promise.

Enjoy.


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016



DESIGN STUDY: WASILLY KANDINSKY & MINIMIZING SUBJECT MATTER

This season, to consider abstraction of form in my designs, I took a look at Wassily Kandinsky.

Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian-born artist who lived in Germany during the 1920s where he taught with the Bauhaus school. Kandinsky is primarily famous for being one of the first 'purely' abstract painters, departing from impressionism to pioneer abstract expressionism in the early 1900s; though I think his most notable work was made during his tenure with Bauhaus. 

At Bauhaus, Kandinsky developed theories on color, lines, points and shapes. Analyzing various art forms, he reduced each to their simplest form in effort reveal their structures. In 1926, mid-way through the lifespan of Bauhaus, Kandinsky published two works concerning his theories on form: Dance Curves and Point and Line to Plane.

Dance Curves is an essay accompanied by abstract drawings referencing four images of German performer, Gret Palucca, who was an early pioneer of modern dance. All four images referenced were by photographed by Charlotte Rudolph, a prominent German dance photographer during that time.

Being an inter-disciplinary school, Bauhaus often collaborated with, and studied modern dancers. In Dance Curves, Kandinsky wrote that his drawings illustrate the "simplicity of the whole form" in Palucca's movements as well as the "construction of the large form” where the structure of Palucca's movements are based on the simplistic forms in his reductive drawings.

Concerned with minimizing subject matter, Bauhaus emphasized compositions of pure lines, blocks of color, and geometric shapes. Kandinsky's personal application of this approach explored shape, form, and structure. From this school of thought, Kandinsky also developed his own color theory, which tied in to his elemental theories of design.

In Point and Line to Plane, Kandinsky analyzed the geometrical elements that make up all art forms, which he argues are points, lines and planes. In a comprehensive examination, Kandinsky reduces music, architecture, movement, and painting to demonstrate his theories. 

In perfect Bauhaus fashion, Kandinsky's work is nearly exhaustive, covering an impressive range of subjects across the above mentioned art forms.

Check the Index in the back of the embedded copy of 'Point and Line to Plane" below to see just how much he covered. I also highly recommend a good look at the diagrams and the appendix now, and then clicking on the link to read through this book in full-screen later. It's so good!

Aside from breaking down drawing and painting to their more intuitive geometric elements, and creating the simplistic forms from the body structure of dance movement, Kandinsky applied his graphic symbolism to music in a way that I've become obsessed with. In Point and Line to Plane, Kandinsky wrote that, "the graphic musical representation in common use today–musical notation–is nothing other than various combinations of point and line." 

I don't fully understand how to apply his theories to my own drawings yet, but I do know that in order to create his renderings of music, he used color to correspond with angles and shapes, as well as points whose sizes varied according to the pitch and volume of a given sound in terms of intensity or duration. 

The result is stunning:

A student's graphic analysis of music according to Kandinsky’s theories on graphic representation of music made during coursework at the Bauhaus. Bauhaus Archive, Berlin, 1930

As a result of WWII, Bauhaus disassembled in 1933. Kandinsky eventually relocated to Paris, where he lived the rest of his life. Applying his theories on form and color, Kandinsky created his own color pallets that appear as dissonant as unusual time signatures sound in music; but because they are governed by a theoretical foundation in both color and form, somehow they work.


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016