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?' â€“ 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


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INSTALLATION STUDY: CLAES OLDENBURG'S CONSUMER GOODS
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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 became 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.

 
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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). 

 
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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.

 
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Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2017


BIBLIOGRAPHY
 

Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store Claes Oldenburg: Mouse Museum/Ray Gun WingTHE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, 2013

Revisiting 'The Store' by Claes Oldenberg. Makiko Wholey, Inside/Out (Moma PS/1), JUNE 26, 2013

The Sanitizing of a Junk-Art Genius. Jed Perl, New Republic, August 25, 2013

When Bigger Is Better: Claes Oldenburg has spent the past 35 years blowing up and redefining everyday objects, all in the name of getting art off its pedestalKristine McKenna, Los Angeles Times, July 2, 1995.

Video: Upside Down City (1962) by Claes OldenburgWalker Art Center, February 2010.


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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.

 


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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



DESIGN STUDY: CONCEPTUAL ARCHITECTURE, 'SUPERSTUDIO' & UTOPIA

Superstudio - "Happy Island," 1971

I've been studying architects quite a bit lately. I'm especially interested in their relationship with Utopia. It's as if each rendering is an insight into the architect's notion of perfection. People are depicted using a design... sitting on a bench having a sandwich, walking up stairs, etc. These drawings portray ideals of society as much as they portray the utility and applications design.

While I mostly design things of absolutely no utility, like an architect, I am nevertheless considering the function of everything I make as well. If one did not have to wear the things I make, my rings would be outrageous, I'm sure. And I would have produced a few of the necklaces I designed early on that require directions in order to be worn correctly. 

But what if I didn't have to consider reality or application in my designs?  

In the mid 1960s through the 1970s architects began exploring the notion of conceptual architecture by asking a similar question. By the 1960s almost everything in architecture was 'modernist' cement and steel blocks, and as a reaction to this homogeneity, some architects began rejecting the wholesale acceptance of futurity and modernism in general. 

Perhaps the first to do so, (and my favorite) is a group from Florence, Italy who called themselves Superstudio.

Superstudio formed in 1966 and began their work by creating fairly useless things made of wood, glass, steel, brick or plastic. But this work quickly was followed by a few useful objects such as tables and chairs. Despite their utility however, these objects were not intended for use as much as they were intended to be used as a means to critique consumerism and society's, "continuous drive for novelty." Blandly designed, these objects served as a rather politically charged message from Superstudio that western decadence must be put to an end.

In 1968, architecture & design magazine Domus published some of Superstudio's work (above) where people were depicted 'using' architecture in unorthodox, and perhaps even impossible ways. Considering conceptual architecture had not been formally introduced to society at the time of publication, Superstudio was asked to publish a theoretical article in Domus as a follow up that same year. The combination of the two publications is one of the finest examples of early postmodernist thought, in my opinion, and perhaps the first example of conceptual architecture.

In Superstudio's follow up article, a sort of manifesto was created where their theories were explained. Citing prior movements in architecture in three main stages known as: architecture of the monument, architecture of the image, and technomorphic architecture, Superstudio's manifesto titled, "Superstudio: Projects and Thoughts," simultaneously rejected futurism and historical revival, arguing for an all-together new approach to architecture they called, architecture of reason.

Just read this amazingly postmodern excerpt:

The increase in the speed of reading (transport as a factor in spatial velocity, consumerism as a factor in temporal velocity), and the increase in social mobility, call for architecture that can take stock of the situation moment by moment... To bear witness becomes working in history, with history and for history. 
Today we are all "intellectuals" or cultivated. Everything seems charged with reference and recall. The primitives of modern architecture – the Bauhaus, the 1920s – are the first models for the operation, initiators of the key cultural position that we are interested in continuing. Not "revival" but "survival" – permanence, that is, of vital reason. 
We begin anew from the art of building, from the economy of materials, from the reasons for construction and from the meanings of a building. Reason has reaffirmed its place, accounting for itself. 

I'm such a nerd, I get super excited reading that. Perhaps because what they are saying is still valid today. Everyone is not only cultured now, but they're also photographers, filmmakers, critics and everything else outside of science and medicine that was once preserved for specialists. And consumerism is likely worse now than it was in the 1970s. With webstores at anyone's fingertips, people can both create and patron a sales platform without much capital. Plus we've all accepted personal advertising through social media, and originality in idea or design is pretty hard to come by. So yes, Superstudio, yes! Let's PLEASE design from reason rather than novelty. (I'm looking at you 14k emoji face earring studs)...

But I digress... Having established a cannon of ideas, Superstudio began exploring what they called, "negative utopias," eventually publishing a series of works in 1969 known as Il Monumento Continuo (or Continuous Monument). 

This series, (above) was a direct attack on the dull nature of modern architecture in the 1960s. As steel and concrete boxes began to overrun cities, erasing historic culture, Superstudio saw a need to make fun of the possible outcomes of an unchecked modernist society. And while these warnings were clearly humorous, they were equally effective in making their point. 

Continuing in this vein, Superstudio moved on to form an "anti-design" campaign in 1970, beginning with their series, Quaderna (above). Designed using severe, geometric forms made of plastic laminate normally found in provincial Italian towns, Quaderna was a comment on the excesses of pop design of the time. Applying similar aesthetics as Continuous Monument, both works served as a critique of global modern design, suggesting that the outcome of sparse, functional spaces results in sterile environments, "free of local color and individual expression." In both works, Superstudio is essentially suggesting that, "everything could be replaced by the continuous, global grid."

But of course this is simply satire, because though much of their work appears utopic and rather surreal; and while most of the objects present in their collages are actually modern and beautiful, there is a bleak undertone of sterility that suggests modern, man-made objects have the ability to take over nature and humanity in adverse ways. 

Excerpts from "12 Ideal Cities," 1971

Disillusioned with modern society, global culture and consumerism, Superstudio continued their work in the 1970s mostly with collage. Partly due to the economic decline and scarcity of resources in post-war Italy, but more importantly as a result of their critique of society, Superstudio created a corpus of work without creating objects. 

In 1972, a series of collages were made with a grid motif. In the collages there is a theme between nature and humanity, which are juxtaposed with man-made elements such as modern architecture and consumer goods. The grid motif, used again by Superstudio, this time is meant to represent not only man's need to organize and categorize, but it is also used as symbol of 'democracy,' as all points of the grid are considered equal. In this series, the grid is known as the 'superstructure,' furthering the discussion started with Continuous Monument.

Much of these collages were put into a film, Supersurface - An alternative model for life on the Earth, in 1972. In the film, Superstudio's theories are reiterated, but the film furthers their discussion by proposing life "without three dimensional structures as a basis." Again, this is satirical, but the message serves as a warning against hyper-modernity and homogeneity.

This film was the first of five films in a series, Fundamental Acts. In Fundamental Acts, each piece was dedicated to what they called "primary acts in human life," namely: Life, Education, Ceremony, Love, and Death. Supersurface was made to correspond with the first act: life.

The five stories in Fundamental Acts were used as, "philosophical and anthropological reconstruction of architecture" and first appeared as text, images and storyboard in Casabella magazine between 1972 and 1973. The purpose of creating these films for Superstudio was to "explore a propaganda of ideas, beyond the typical channels of the discipline of architecture."

Currently, only two pieces of the five films are available to the public, both of which I find poignant and hilarious. (The second is my favorite of the two).

Click on thumbnail below to open a new tab for 'Supersurface.' PLEASE watch it in its entirety... Also the article below the video is worth reading. (After you're done reading this, of course).

Click on thumbnail below to open a new tab for 'Cerimonia.' Trust me, it's really good.

 

 

After their films, it is unclear what exactly Superstudio was up to, because there's not much else about their work post-1973. I do know that the group dismembered in 1978, though each member continued their work as architects (or architecture theorists, at least) afterwards.

Since Superstudio's work was politically charged, and like most maturing adults, the radical politics of our youth tend to appear extreme, unnecessary and maybe even completely incorrect later in life, it is understandable that the group could not continue working together under such circumstances forever. (Abandoning their political views is cited as a major reason for their dismembering, btw). Regardless, Superstudio's contribution to conceptual architecture and conceptual art in general was massive. I likewise think that their critique on society was needed then, and could stand to be heard again today.


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016



FEMALE STUDY: REBECCA HORN'S COMMON THREAD

Still from: Unicorn (1970/72)

The reason I like The Cure is partly because no matter what song is playing, you can tell that it's them just by their sound. This is the kind of continuity I value in my own aesthetics as well. Underlying concepts create themes, which I build upon each time I make a new collection. But no matter what I make, it is similar to every other Bagtazo piece.

Artist Rebecca Horn has worked similarly throughout her life. Creating various works with the same logic, Horn develops her current work from the preceding. Elements may be readdressed, yet appear in totally different contexts. And somehow though none is quite like the other, you can see the common thread throughout her work.

White Body Fan, 1972

Rebecca Horn, born in Germany, lived much of her life in (the former West) Berlin. Starting her career in the 1970s with performances such as Body Extensions, Horn worked within the confines of femininity in order to push the boundaries of visual art. 

Her Body Extensions work included many performances for film, that were re-performed at times. Building costumes that allowed for objects to protrude from her body, she moved about wearing these objects in attempt to "explore the equilibrium between body and space."

Still from: Touching the Walls with Both Hands Simultaneously (1974/75)

Often interested in simultaneity, Horn's common thread in the 1970s can be seen above in, Touching the Walls with Both Hands Simultaneously and below in one of my favorite performances for film, Cutting one's Hair with Two Scissors Simultaneously (1974). While the two performances are visually dissimilar, Horn is exploring the simultaneous use of both hands in unconventional ways.

Playing with scissors, Horn uses an ordinary object to explore her notions of 'body extension' and simultaneity. I really love this piece because of the subversive rebellion against femininity that is expressed by a woman cutting off her long hair. At times I don't believe Horn's scissors are sharp enough to even cut hair. And at the end of this piece, I get nervous she's going to miss and cut her eyelash. But when it's through we're left with her ambiguous expression covered with the two scissors. (The youtube comments on this video are hilarious also, fyi).

As the 70s pressed forward, Horn continued to explore costume and began incorporating her interest in wings and feathers, which is a theme she carried on from White Body Fan in the early 1970s through today. 

"Feather Prison" costume still from Der Eintänzer (The Gigolo), 1978

Also playing with the ballet motif, Horn worked with ballerinas to create simultaneous movements while confined in the costumes she made to further explore simultaneity.

Der Eintänzer (1978)

From her work with simultaneity, Horn began exploring what she called 'kinetic sculptures' in the 1980s and 90s. This work applied the same concepts she used in Body Extensions, only where in Body Extensions the human body was the source of energy moving the objects she created, now the energy source was electronic kinetic movement. Much of this work was site-specific, and the artist chose culturally significant venues for their exhibitions whenever possible.

Also in 1991, Horn created High Moon (bottom left), which applied similar concepts as one of her Body Extensions sculptures, Overflowing Blood Machine, 1970 (bottom right). Since the 70s, Horn began making mechanical sculptures to bring motion to inanimate objects. The idea was to put human desire or movements that belong to the living into ordinary objects. At the time Overflowing Blood Machine was exhibited, Horn had a naked male wearing the suit, and the base of the 'machine' was filled with actual blood that flowed through the tubes. With High Moon, blood flows through tubes, into a reservoir before slowly dripping out of two rifles. In both pieces, the viewer is left to interoperate the significance of the blood.

Working in an era where the female artist laid claim to blood, the above two images are my two favorite comparisons of Horn's work. 20 years of building on the same concepts can lead to similar but different results. The common thread throughout Horn's work are her ideas. Motifs and the use of the same materials are what visually tie everything together, but without her core concepts, the common thread would not be the same.


Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2016


PHOTOGRAPHY STUDY: PAUL OUTERBRIDGE & MINIMALIST COMPOSITION

Ide Collar, 1921

I'm constantly resisting Instagram for Bagtazo because I feel like the way brands use it resembles advertising a bit too much for my taste. But considering this is the way of the world, I decided to try to find a way to keep up that suits me. So maybe I hate flat lays, but I can appreciate a good still life photo, so I thought, "Well who does the best still life?" Paul Outerbridge, of course.

Paul Outerbridge was a New York born photographer who studied at Columbia University at the turn of the 20th century. Within one year of his studies, his work was published in Vanity Fair and Vogue, launching his career as a photographer for advertising. Outerbridge's unique ability to arrange ordinary objects made his work iconic, vaguely echoing his surrealist predecessors, while creating an all-together new kind of image. Being an artist whose work was commercially viable put Outerbridge at an advantage, because he was able to make a living from his advertisements, while continuing his fine art career, exhibiting at galleries in Europe and the US.

In 1921 when Outerbridge's Ide Collar image was published, he received critical acclaim. The simplicity of the image and the composition gained the attention of artists such as Duchamp and Man Ray. More fame followed when he created Saltine Box in 1922 (pictured above, top left image). Showing a mastery of minimalist composition, Outerbridge made a name for himself amongst the American and European avant-garde.

By the 1930s, Outerbridge was the highest paid photographer in New York, due in part to his evolving work that began to focus on brightly colored photographs. Somewhat pioneering the "Tri-Color Carbo" process again put Outerbridge at an advantage.  Since not many people were able to process color film manually in those days, as controlling temperature is vital to the success of a color print, Outerbridge's mastery of the nine-hour-per-print process kept him on the map. Again his commercial work, such as the Toilet Paper advertisement (below, first left, 1938), funded his studio, where he was able to experiment with avant-garde nudes.

But with the advent of Kodachrome and Kodacolor film in the early 1940s, color photography became more accessible, and the tri-color carbo print process went obsolete. For the first time in his career, Outerbridge found himself at a disadvantage. Out of work, in 1943 Outerbridge moved to Hollywood in search of work with Technicolor film to no avail. So he moved to Laguna Beach and opened a portrait studio where he worked until his death in 1958.

Living in a generation where 'no one wants to live through a time where we miss the next Van Gogh,' it pains me to think that the master of avant-garde still life and color photography died in obscurity, helping his second wife with her sportswear clothing brand, rather than as a celebrated tastemaker. But I suppose many artists and writers lives end this way. It wasn't until the mid-1970s that Outerbridge was 're-discovered' after a collector bought what remained of Outerbridge's collection from his widow, eventually bringing the work to auction. At a time when Pop Art came into vogue, the works that they referenced were getting a second chance in the art market.


Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2016


DESIGN STUDY: WALTER ALBINI

I'm working on shooting the lookbook for my new collection and I keep coming back to the work of Walter Albini. Walter Albini was an obscure Italian designer until about 2010, when a book called, Walter Albini and His Times: All Power to the Imagination by Maria Luisa Frisa was published. I was given this book as a Christmas gift in 2010 and continue to reference the it for my own work today.

Being credited for pioneering Italian Prêt-à-Porter, Albini was among the first to create ready-made clothing in Europe. Prior to Coco Chanel, most women's clothing was made to measure through the early 20th century. But Albini, was said to be "the designer who came out de l'atelier to enter the factory." (For anyone who knows me personally, perhaps this is why I connect with him so much, given that I'm always in the trenches at the factories).

In his teens, Albini was the only male student to enroll at the Institute of Art, Design and Fashion in Turin, Italy, and by the mid 1960s, he was working as an illustrator in Paris. From here, Albini met Coco Chanelle, and worked alongside a number of designers including Mariuccia Mandelli, the designer of Krizia, and Karl Lagerfeld, who also worked with Krizia at the time. During this period, Albini studied the industrial methods of knitting and textile milling, and he worked to standardize sizing, cutting and sewing for ready to wear garments made in a factory setting.

After a successful and ambitious runway show that featured over 100 models (and 100 looks) in Italy in 1969, and working simultaneously with five major fashion houses in the early 1970s where he debuted the first-ever loose fitting men's shirt and bare breasts on the runway, Albini began his own line, Walter Albini (produced by then Italian 'it-brand' Misterfox) where he reimagined women in blazers, wearing trousers and shirt-dresses. Much like Coco Chanel's adaptation of menswear in women's fashion, Albini pushed the limits of modern women's dress, working to create a 'total look' with his designs, from head to toe, designing everything from buttons and fabrics, to clothing, hats, accessories, belts and shoes to complete the package.

During this time, Albini also designed several interiors to serve as spaces for showrooms and runway presentation venues where he showcased his work with other lines and his own to press and the fashion milieu, often setting tables just to be shot for Casa Vogue where he created tableware, flatware and other home goods using prints he designed for fabrics as details.