Erased de Kooning Drawing, A Potential Piece of Yellowism, and Rindy Sam’s alteration of Twombly’s Phædrus all address issues of ownership in conjunction with destruction. After all, not many would react to or care about these incidents if they were purely private acts. In utilizing pieces of art in the public sphere, which people feel invested in and take ownership of, they illicit a different response than they would otherwise. By doing so, the artists challenge the nature of ownership.
Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953) was probably the first time this discussion was seriously held in the fine arts world. Appropriation and repurposing of materials had been debated in the cases of Picasso and Braque’s Cubist collages and had been discussed to the point of exhaustion in the case of the Dadaists. In Rauschenberg’s case, however, a well-known artist’s work was involved. In fact, it had to be involved. Said Rauschenberg later:
I was making drawings myself and erasing them and that just looked like an erased Rauschenberg, and it was nothing. I figured out it had to begin as art, and Bill de Kooning was the best-known acceptable American artist that could be indisputably considered art. (Richmond)
On October 8th, 2012, Vladimir Umanets tagged Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black on Maroon) at the Tate Modern in Londonin dripping black oil paint, later declaring the act the creation of A Potential Piece of Yellowism. Umanets is a member of a movement he calls Yellowism. The Yellowist philosophy draws no distinction between art, anti-art, or even non-art objects. Umanets claims the act was something akin to appropriation; that by signing an artwork not made by him he was making it into a more valuable object. However, the value attributed to A Potential Piece of Yellowism seems to be entirely monetary. “I believe that if someone restores the [Rothko] piece and removes my signature the value of the piece would be lower but after a few years the value will go higher because of what I did,” Umanets said (Quinn).
His tag is not a comment on or an interpretation of Untitled (Black on Maroon). Unlike other works that have employed mark making on or appropriation of an earlier work by another artist, like Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing, the work does not say anything about art or about the work being altered. Additionally, the destruction does not comment on the act of destruction itself, a primary tenet set forth at DIAS. The act is completely self-referential and almost entirely devoid of concept.
When the circumstances are altered even slightly, how do our feelings change toward actions toeing the line between vandalism and destruction art? The case of the arrest of French-Cambodian artist Rindy Sam in 2007 at first sounds similar to that of Umanets, and it would be easy to write it off as crime, as the French police did. Upon further inspection, the incident is more complicated. In July of 2007, Rindy Sam planted a kiss on a white part of one of three canvases comprising Cy Twombly’s Phædrus at an exhibition of his works in Avignon. The kiss left a lipstick print on the canvas, for which Sam was fined for property damage. ”I just gave it a kiss… It was an act of love; when I kissed it, I wasn’t thinking. I thought the artist would understand.” (“A Kiss Is Just a Kiss.”)
Destruction has been recognized as an accepted element of fine art since the 1950s, in part thanks to the international Destructivist art movement in the 1950s and early 1960s, and the Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS) in 1966. The movement aimed “to focus attention on the element of destruction in Happenings and other art forms, and to relate this destruction in society” (July 1966 DIAS press release) in reaction to the overwhelming violence of the twentieth century, in particularly the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II. Artists commented on violence and destruction through destructive performances (such as Raphael Montañez Ortiz demolishing a piano at the symposium itself) and using destructive means on canvas within the context of painting.
The female nude has been a staple subject in art for millennia. From the Woman of Willendorf to Edouard Manet’s Olympia, and through the present day, the female nude has been used to portray beauty ideals, social and political ideologies, and has been an object on which the male gaze can rest. In art, however, the focus has historically been on white women, and, with the possible exception of work from the Harlem Renaissance, nude women of color are represented as sexual exotic others. This approach to the black nude reflects the image of black women perpetuated by art and the media throughout recent history, an image that still lingers today. Through the twentieth century, and today, artists, especially women artists like Renée Cox, are dismantling this perception through their work, challenging history and reinterpreting the black female nude.
The following is a review from 2012 of Pasadena to Santa Barbara: A Selected History of Art in Southern California, 1951 – 1969 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. It has been unaltered since written in 2012, and may contain views no longer held by the author.
Pasadena to Santa Barbara presents a selected history of Southern Californian art from 1951-1969. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art and Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) set a precedent by exhibiting contemporary local artists alongside more influential and internationally-known Modern and contemporary artists. This exhibition brings together works shown in these institutions during the 1950s and 1960s, resulting in an array of swirling color and rigid geometry reminiscent of the landscape of mid-century Southern California. Continue reading Review: “Pasadena to Santa Barbara”
Note: This essay was originally a collaboration between Desiree Quintero, Jessica Valdez, and myself. It has since been extensively edited and revised.
Dada was an anti-art movement that started at the close of the First World War and continued through the mid-1930s. Dada used nonsensical absurdity to comment and oppose the “rational” thinking that led to the Great War and the brutality of the Modern world. Dada visual artists utilized many unconventional methods to facilitate the absurd. The most well-known of these works are Marcel Duchamp’s “Readymades”. To create his Readymades, Duchamp pieced together and recontextualized mass-manufactured everyday objects. The method of Dadaism most relevant to composition is the use and facilitation of chance. The later Surrealist artists are known for utilizing chance through automatism to tap the unconscious. In contrast, Dada artists were more concerned with utilizing chance as fitting into their playful, iconoclastic spirit. The use of chance was also an anti-art stance, as it was considered to be a lesser form of composition.