Artist Review: Frank Stella, “Eskimo Curlew” (1976)

“I like real art. It’s difficult to define ‘real’ but it is the best word for describing what I like to get out of art and what the best art has. It has the ability to convince you that it’s present – that it’s there. You could say it’s authentic… but real is actually a better word, broad as it may be.” — Frank Stella

Frank Stella was born in Malden, MA in 1936 and attended high school at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA.  He went onto to study history at Princeton University, then moved to New York in 1958, where he could focus on his work as an artist.  He is a painter, sculptor and printmaker, whose work has been featured in various exhibitions in the United States and Worldwide, including those held at Haunch of Venison in London, England; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY; Gagosian Gallery in New York, NY; The Phillips Collection and National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Guggenheim in New York and Online; and Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland. He has also received numerous awards including a National Medal of Arts presented by President Obama and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center.

Before Stella turned 25, he had gained notoriety for his series of Black Paintings, consisting of precise parallel black stripes, produced by smoothly applied house paint. The striped pattern, in Stella’s words, forced “illusionistic space out of the painting at a constant rate.”  In other words, it emphasized the flatness of the canvas, rather than giving into the notion that paintings had to recreate the illusion of being three-dimensional.  Stella’s paintings celebrated the two-dimensionality of the canvas. His work was a catalyst for the Minimalist art of the 1960s.

During the 1970s, Stella introduced relief into his art, which he called “maximalist” painting for its sculptural qualities.  He completely shifted focus from eliminating depth to extending the depth of his work outward from the canvas.  He introduced wood, aluminum and other mixed media to his ever more elaborate and exuberant pieces.  By the 1990s, Stella began making freestanding sculpture and then, in 2001, he introduced a monmumental sculpture outside the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

“Eskimo Curlew” (1976) is introductory piece of his Exotic Birds series (1976-1981).  The series was Stella’s first experimentation with his complete deviation from a recognizable system or order to his work. Influenced by Abstract Expressionism, he utilized curves and linear forms derived from draftsman’s tools. The Eskimo Curlew is solidly anchored within the rectangle, which contrasts with the exuberant handling of paint and glittery crushed glass on the sweeping, curving surfaces of the aluminum.

The piece was acquired by the Portland Art Museum and now sits in their Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art.  It is quite massive, sitting 98 3/4 in H x 127 in W x 18 in D and takes up most of the wall space in its new home.  Upon entering the 2nd Floor room, where the piece is located, you are drawn into the work by it’s expansive French Curves and spontaneous etchings in the aluminum.  Unlike Stella’s earlier work, “Eskimo Curlew” has a strong sense of freedom.  Counter to his Minimalism influence, the mood of this work is much more joyful and confident.  It gives the viewer a reason to stand in awe for nearly 20-minutes or more, pondering the inner workings of the piece, whereas Minimalist pieces tell no story and ask nothing more of a viewer than a quick glance as a passerby on the way to something more interesting, more real.

Sites Referenced

Artist Review: Dance Theatre of Harlem

Founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, Dance Theatre of Harlem was considered “one of ballet’s most exciting undertakings” (The New York Times, 1971). Shortly after the assassination of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mitchell was inspired to start a school that would offer children — especially those in Harlem, the community in which he was born — the opportunity to learn about dance and the allied arts. Now in its fourth decade, Dance Theatre of Harlem has grown into a multi-cultural dance institution with an extraordinary legacy of providing opportunities for creative expression and artistic excellence that continues to set standards in the performing arts. 

AND!!! After a 30 year hiatus, they returned to Portland for a two-night show, ending last night with an overwhelming welcome back to the city. Rounds and rounds of ovations, applause and moments of quiet as we absorbed the sheer brilliance of their performance on stage. This, my friends, is what I am thankful for today – S and I had the opportunity to see this wonderful dance ensemble perform last night, at the beautiful Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall – just THREE blocks from our house!

Beauty is all around us, you just have to look.


Artist Review: Edouard Manet’s “Olympia,” 1863

Artist Review: Edouard Manet

In art, the terms content, subject matter and form are ways of describing a how piece of artwork takes a viewer from the gross to the more subtle details of the piece.  Content is defined as “the viewer’s interpretation of the subject matter or what a work of art is about”, it is the overall experience a viewer has to a work of art.  Subject matter gives the viewer more specific details to describe “the objects or events depicted”.  And finally, form refers to the technical quality of the work.  While a viewer may not relate to the content or subject matter of a particular painting, the details of the form can be admired, as it is use of all of the elements of art that allow the artist to arrive at the final piece of work.

In 1863, Manet sparked quite an uproar with the Parisian bourgeoisie when his painting debuted, at the Paris Salon, not because of the content of the work, or even necessarily because of the form he chose to use to create the work, but rather it was the subject matter that created the biggest upset.  While many critics said his broad strokes used to apply the paint were childish, they were most inflamed over the fact that Manet had chosen a common courtesan named Victorine Meurent.  The viewers were appalled at the notion that Manet would paint a “prostitute with a courtly, wealthy, or upper-class clientele” who used her body as a commodity (defined in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary).  Depicting a common woman, rather than an “ideal woman” who is presumably receiving a gift of flowers from a lover was not portrayed and the bourgeoisie wanted the painting removed.

The authorities refused to remove the piece, and instead placed two armed guards in the Salon to protect it.  They also shifted the placement of the painting to be hung out of reach of any one trying to vandalize the artwork.  During this period, women were expected to be depicted as goddesses, or a biblical character from the bible, but Manet brought the reality of the common people to the upper-class by painting Meurent as a goddess in her own right.  She lies relaxed on the couch stretched out like as the goddess Venus would be.  It is interesting to note that Manet fashioned this piece of work after the Sleeping Venus by Giorgione which also caused upheaval in the art community at the time it was revealed in the Renaissance – marking a revolution in art that allowed for the depiction of nude women in paintings.  I feel then it is no coincidence then that Manet selected this work to spark a similar revolution in the Impressionist era.

Sources Cited

Artist Review: Maya Lin “The Wall”

Artist Review: Maya Lin

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund was founded by Jan Scruggs who served in Vietnam as an Infantry Corporal from 1969-70. He wanted to create a place where all those who served and sacrificed in the War could be honored and acknowledged. He lobbied Congress for the land near Constitution Gardens and raised nearly $9,000,000 in private funding for the memorial – no federal funds were needed. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund opted to host a competition for the design of the memorial with four major criteria for the design: (1) that it be reflective and contemplative in character, (2) that it harmonize with its surroundings, especially the neighboring national memorials, (3) that it contain the names of all who died or remain missing, and (4) that it make no political statement about the war.

The VVMF then selected a panel of judges that included two landscape architects, two structural architects, an expert on urban development and landscape, and three sculptors. Lin’s design was selected over more than 1,400 contestants – the largest response of its kind the nation has ever seen. Her simple design was one of the few to meet all four of the established criteria, as it displayed the names as a series of individual human sacrifices and giving each name a special place in history.

Maya Lin conceived her design as creating a park within a park — a quiet protected place unto itself, yet harmonious with the overall plan of Constitution Gardens. To achieve this effect she chose polished black granite for the walls. Its mirror-like surface reflects the images of the surrounding trees, lawns and monuments. The Memorial’s walls point to the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, thus bringing the Memorial into the historical context of our country. The names are inscribed in the chronological order of their dates of casualty, at the apex of the walls the dates 1959 and 1973 are inscribed to mark the beginning and end date of the war, closing the time span in history that created a large rift in our country. Lin’s heritage is best reflected in her desire to continually evolve how the viewer experiences the landscape. Chinese aesthetics have always been very cognizant of their surroundings and involve nature in much of their artwork. Rather than changing the landscape, Lin prefers to make her work blend into the surroundings. Yet, the memorial was very patriotic in that Lin wanted to honor all those who served and lost their lives or went missing during the war.

Thus, she designed a simple piece of work that satisfied the criteria of the design requirements, as well as kept true to her belief that the memorial could be a place people would gather to grieve their loss and find healing from the unchanged landscape of the “park within a park” as she called the memorial. In her statement presented with her competition submission, Lin wrote “The memorial’s construction involves re-contouring the area within the wall’s boundaries, so as to provide for an easily accessible descent, but as much of the site as possible should be left untouched. The area should remain as a park, for all to enjoy.” The walls descend at a gentle slope marking the dissention of both loyalty to country, as well as the feeling of heaviness that death creates in our lives. Then, the viewer heads upwards back into the world signifying the acceptance of that loss and that light has returned to our country.

My personal experience at the memorial was filled with both great sadness and profound peace. Lin was successful in evoking feelings of grief and healing from the viewers. As I descended the pathway towards the wall, there was a moment that I felt my breath almost stop because I felt as though I did not want to disrupt the quiet and stillness of the place. As I reached the apex of the wall, like so many others, I reached out to touch the names that hovered before me. It is as though, you are touching a moment in time, a moment that you wish you could change or take back. It was then that I began to cry.

I had never known any of the soldiers who served in the war, and I am grateful that my father was too young to be called to duty. But, I experienced the loss, the sacrifice, the despair that washed over the country just the same. It compelled me to write a few letters to the some of the soldiers whose names appeared on the wall, to thank them for their sacrifice and then when I left, I felt the reconciliation that Lin desired from her fellow countrymen when she submitted her design to the contest. There were several Veterans there with me and it was very awe-inspiring to observe their reaction to the memorial (some had been many times and for some it was their first time seeing it). I talked with a few of them and all said they felt the memorial honored their brothers and sisters in a way that they could not have imagined until they set foot on what they unanimously referred to as “sacred ground”.

As Lin described it – the experience is cathartic for most – because there is a sense of cleansing that comes over you as you leave the memorial site – an acceptance of the loss, a gratitude for your time there, and a knowing that you will carry the experience as a remembrance of honor in your heart when you leave. The knowing is symbolized in the “scar” like quality of the memorial in the earth, that we scarred our country, our servicemen, during that era – and that we have learned to take better care of them as they return home from service again.

Sites Referenced