I first visited Havana in November 2016, a few days after Fidel Castro died, and just under a year before Hurricane Irma hit Cuba in September 2017. Since then, much has changed, including the hand-painted signs that punctuate the journey from the airport to the city centre, which today do not celebrate the revolution so much as the 'Unidad y...
The exhibition Beyond Boundaries at Somerset House in London (12 March–2 April 2019) marked the historic contributions of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA) and the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, on the occasion of their 100th and 150th anniversaries, respectively. Spread across several rooms of Somerset House's...
The National 2019: New Australian Art features work by 70 contemporary Australia-based artists split across three venues: the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Carriageworks, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) (29 March–21 July 2019), as curated by Isobel Parker Philip, curator of photographs at AGNSW; Daniel Mudie Cunningham,...
A tousled blonde temptress gyrates her hips, her gaze fixed on your face. The masked, bruised body moves suggestively in front of a mirror, grinding her body to a Lady Gaga track. The nightmarish dancer turns even more menacing, uttering: “My mother is dead. My father is dead. I’m gay. I’d like to be a poet. This is my house.” But the scantily clad creation is not real. “Female Figure” (2014) is an animatronic sculpture conceived by the Los Angeles-based artist Jordan Wolfson.
The work features in 14 Rooms, a “live art” exhibition that will run alongside Art Basel, the modern and contemporary art fair, in hall three of the Messe Basel site. Billed as a “series of immersive and intimate experiences” by the organisers, the exhibition includes works by 16 artists such as Marina Abramovic, Damien Hirst, Santiago Sierra, John Baldessari and Yoko Ono. Paintings and sculpture are largely banished, and replaced by a “material” that is welcoming and repellent in equal measure: human beings.
John Baldessari is an artist's artist. He is celebrated as one of the most influential living artists today, both as a pioneer in conceptual art and as a teacher for more than three decades. In addition to his language-based paintings and performances of the late 1960s and 1970s, now considered milestones in conceptual art, Baldessari is also known for his use of colourful dot-shaped adhesives to conceal faces in photographs. As an artist who has often expanded his repertoire through painting, printmaking, sculpture, photomontage, video, film and books, Baldessari's work is characterised by humour, wit and an air of insouciance towards tradition.
Baldessari began his career as a painter, working with oils in the abstract expressionist manner that was dominant in America at the time. Many of his early paintings, however, have not survived, because in 1970 he burned the artworks made between 1953 and 1966 in a crematorium. Baldessari conceived the incineration as an artwork in itself, documenting and titling it Cremation Project. After the burning, the artist commemorated the destroyed paintings by having their birth and death dates inscribed on bronze plaques, and baking cookies with their ashes. Cremation Project signalled both his break with abstract expressionism and his increasing experimentation with conceptual art.
Throughout his career, Baldessari has questioned the role of the artist and the meaning of authorship by diminishing authorship and challenging traditional boundaries in art-making. In the late 1960s, he occasionally hired professional sign painters to paint for him, notably Pure Beauty (1966–8), a simple white canvas with its title written across it in black capital letters. Such sign paintings not only emphasise the importance of concept over the artist's touch, but also disconcert the definition of a painting as composed of images by creating paintings composed of signs. In another iconic work, I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971), Baldessari asked students at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Canada, to write the sentence 'I will not make any more boring art' on the gallery walls of his exhibition. The well-known performance emerged from his lack of finances to travel to Nova Scotia, where the artist had been asked to exhibit. Baldessari, who had been deeply dissatisfied with the limitations of traditional painting, conceived to cover the space that conventionally hangs paintings with sentences in a repeated manner that resembles a punishment. At the same time, however, the artist intended the punishment-performance to be instructive for young students, encouraging them to rebel against tradition.
In the 1980s, Baldessari began using stills from B movies or noir films to create fragmented and ambiguous narratives. For example, the collage Kiss/Panic (1984) consists of ten images of hands holding guns that frame an extreme close-up of a kiss and a scene with a gathering. The guns point away from the central images as if to protect or threaten moments of intimacy by holding them hostage. During this period, Baldessari also began to block out faces, bodies and other parts of photographs with paint, later utilising his famous dots to cover faces as a way of withholding important visual information from the viewer. Confronted with the concealed spaces, the spectator becomes an active participant, using their imagination to complete the missing parts.
Text and image remain central to Baldessari's practice, in which unrelated components are paired to stimulate the viewer's participation in the construction of meaning. OFFICE BUILDING—DAY MAYO Is there a Courbet for sale here? (2017), for instance, depicts the emoji of a green gecko, multiplied in size and printed on canvas, above the question in its title. By juxtaposing elements with no apparent relationship, Baldessari encourages the viewer to search for possible links between them—making associations and speculations, actively constructing meaning in the process. His 'Movie Scripts / Art' series (2014), which pairs excerpts from film scripts with details of art historical images, achieve a similar effect.
Baldessari studied art and literature at San Diego State University, where he received his MA in art history in 1957, and completed further post-graduate work at Otis Art Institute, Chouinard Art Institute and the University of California, Berkeley. Since first teaching art in his native National City in 1959, he taught for more than three decades at junior colleges, community colleges and universities. Between 1970 and 1988 he held his celebrated Post-Studio Art classes at CalArts, which encouraged young artists to experiment outside traditional painting and sculpture. Among his first students were Barbara Bloom, Troy Brauntuch, Matt Mullican, David Salle and James Welling, who are now some of the most prominent artists of their generation. Baldessari returned to teaching in 1996 at the University of California, Los Angeles and continued to teach until 2007, further contributing to contemporary art by influencing a younger generation of artists.
Baldessari's work has been exhibited extensively in the US and Europe; the artist's biography on his website reveals that he has held more than 200 solo exhibitions and over 1000 group exhibitions. Recent solo exhibitions include Learning to Read with John Baldessari at Museo Jumex, Mexico City (2017); John Baldessari, the inaugural show of Sprüth Magers in Los Angeles (2016); and John Baldessari: Pure Beauty (2009), a major retrospective organised by Tate Modern that travelled to Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2010. In 2009 Baldessari was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 53rd Venice Biennale. The artist lives and works in California.
Damien Hirst is an internationally renowned contemporary artist. Hirst studied at Goldsmiths College, London and first gained recognition after curating the seminal show Freeze in 1988; the inaugural exhibition of the group of artists now known as the Young British Artists or YBAs. The exhibition established Hirst and his fellow students as among the most prominent artists of their generation.
Hirst works in a variety of media including installation, sculpture, painting, and drawing. Many of his works revolve around the central theme of death. Among his most notable works are The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a shark suspended in formaldehyde in a vitrine, and For the Love of God, a human skull completely encrusted in diamonds. Viewers of Hirst’s work are forced to confront their own fears surrounding mortality. His other enduring themes of religion, love, art, and science are also embodied in works equally challenging for which he has created his own motifs and vocabulary. Works range from cabinets of pills, spin paintings and works that use dead butterflies.
Damien Hirst was born in England where he continues to live and work. In 1995, he was the recipient of the Turner Prize. The first retrospective of Hirst’s work, The Agony and the Ecstasy, took place at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, in 2004. A later retrospective at the Tate Modern in 2012 recognized Hirst’s contributions to British art over the last three decades.
Hirst is also recognised as a disruptive player in the art world. This has involved consigning his own works to an auction house for a one vendor sale, to selling his own editions and multiples through a retail outlet called Other Criteria. Recently Hirst opened his own art gallery in London.
Hirst has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Tate Modern, London (2012); Musei di Palazzo Vecchio, Florence (2010); Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (2008); and Astrup Fearnley Museet fur Moderne Kunst, Oslo (2005). His work is held in major public and private collections around the world.
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