The other day, a friend tagged me in a link to a Hi-Fructose article about a mural by Norwegian artist Henrik Aa. Uldalen. She thought it would be of interest to me in light of my recent series on destruction in art. The mural was beautiful and the image of the wall being demolished was striking, but as I read the article, another issue struck me: wow, that machine sure is beating the shit out of that naked, unconscious woman’s body.Continue reading Art Rant: Henrik Aa. Uldalen’s Mural Demolition
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.
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.”)
Note: The following rant was originally written in 2012. It has since been edited slightly to reflect the time passed.
In 2012, a man walked into the Tate Modern andscribbled on “Black On Maroon II”, a 1958 painting by Mark Rothko. “Vladimir Umanets” was hastily scrawled in the lower right corner, a nearly illegible dripping mess. I was outraged. How had this happened? I have since read of many more incidents of people defacing art in museums: not long ago a man punched a hole in a Monet. The Rothko incident remains frustratingly different from these acts of passion.
One of the most common themes in Brücke woodcuts is that of Man in Nature. The group’s collective resentment and generally negative outlook industrialization and modernity resulted in the belief (popularized by the likes of Paul Gauguin) that to get back to nature and to a more “primitive” and “pure” way of living was to get to the heart of the meaning of life, and of art. (MOMA, Die Brücke: Retreat) To the young artists of Die Brücke, the wilderness and countryside of Europe was “unspoilt” by the evils of modern life. From 1909 through 1919 members of Die Brücke went on retreats to paint and carve blocks of the landscape of the Moritzburg Lakes near Dresden. They depicted the trees, mountains, the monumentality of nature, sometimes barely differentiating between the forms of nature and that of man. Man becomes another rock, cabins another mountain.
Connected to the movement in the early twentieth century to “return to nature” was the representation of nudes by the German Expressionists. At the turn of the century, Germany erupted with nudist colonies, emerging “from a desire to reunite the nude with nature”. Though the nude had long been a popular subject in art, Die Brücke treated the subject without any of the delicacy and softness previously applied. Without the Classical or biblical imagery traditionally associated with nudes in art, the painting and prints of Die Brücke took on sexual or erotic undertones.
Die Brücke artists spent their free time in the cabarets and music halls of Germany. Artists have gravitated toward these kinds of venues since the late nineteenth century. The new music, the movement, and the bright colors of the dancers became inspiration for some of the world’s most well-known works. The motion of performance creates dynamic compositions and elicits an authentic reaction and participation from the audience. Contemporary prints also have a strong connection to music, sometimes even being used as posters and advertisements for performances and bands.
The prints above epitomize the flamboyance and soul of a musical performance, showing also the cult following of many musicians (in this case of John Coltrane). The power of these images lies in the expression of forms and in the bursts of color emanating from and enveloping the ﬁgures like music itself. The religious aspects of these pieces hearken back to traditional medieval German prints and to Die Brücke’s interest in religious imagery. Yet they are completely of their time. The prints uphold the transgressive properties of music and the spiritual aspect of melody and performance outside of the realm of religion.
The graphic and reproductive natures of relief prints also lend themselves perfectly to posters for rock and roll performances, further linking the interdependence of these two art forms.