Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Art in the News

Dangerous Arts  - by Salman Rushdie - op-ed New York Times, April 20,2011

Governments of the free world must make sure artists, like Ai Weiwei, who courageously stand up against authoritarianism are safe.

China’s most famous and politically outspoken artist, Ai Weiwei, has filled the back half of London’s cavernous Turbine Hall with what appears, from a distance, to be a mass of small grey pebbles. In fact these are 100 million tiny sculptures of sunflower seeds, made out of porcelain and hand-painted by skilled artisans in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Rest of the review in The Independent here.


What I've discovered about modern and contemporary art installations is that there is often more to them than meets the eye.  It's easy to stroll by or read about a particular installation and write it off as junk, label it strange or just not think about it at all. This is one such case. If you happened to be in London, at The Tate's ginormous Turbine Hall and came upon a floor covered with tiny porcelain sunflowers that you could walk upon, what would you be thinking? if you had no knowledge of the artist or his motives, would you dismiss it as ridiculous? And if you were enlightened, would that change your mind about the relevance of such an installation?

I say it all the time - no matter how strange and incomprehensible, I admire an artist's drive to create. The ability to pull off something controversial or weird or unpalatable is artistic in and of itself.  When one risks persecution and censorship at the hands of one's government and yet their vision and need to create is still unbound. That is a courageous thing. 

I am in love with Ai Weiwei's sunflowers as much as I am in love with Charles Ledray's miniature garments. And for the same reason - the unstoppable need to put their work out there for us to guess at and a lot of times, to criticize. In the case of Ai Weisei, the need to create and express has turned his government against him; their most celebrated artist. Artists risk much for many things, not the least of which is the freedom to create. I for one, am grateful for this.

17 comments:

  1. Well said. I love art even though I'm not very knowledgeable about it. I've heard people say that to them anything beautiful is art. That doesn't quite hit the mark with me, or if they say it is art if it is uplifting, that never sounded quite right to me either. What you say about the very act of creating is getting closer to me of what art is.

    Thanks for a though provoking post.

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  2. Although I won't be able to travel to London's Tate to see the show I'm also very glad it's there. Art powerful enough to frighten a tyranny is best of all.

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  3. This is a great commentary on art in the larger sense, and I agree with his conclusions.

    But on a smaller scale, I find this particular installation to be very engaging; I can imagine walking across that room, the sensation of the ceramic seeds underfoot, the sound of them, the urge to get down and pick some up, the intimacy of the relationship between one hand, one face and that familiar form presented for closer inspection before consumption (or in this case, marveling at the deception and returning it to its place.)

    Prayers ascending for the release of their Creator.

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  4. Hi, Gina. Your posts are often thought provoking. Today's post and the recent one about Emily Dickinson have my mind racing in a variety of directions, most probably useless, but it is late and time is short and I am sleepy, so I will just say "hi" for now.

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  5. Imagine being a kid sitting among those little seeds! You wouldn't think anything at all about their meaning; you be enthralled with the sounds and textures and perhaps even the taste of the seeds. Oh, the wholeness of childhood!

    Did anyone read the article where it mentions that they had to stop allowing people to interact with the seeds because they gave off a dust that isn't safe to breathe? Eventually, they cordoned off the seeds and couldn't allow people to be in them. :-(

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  6. I love interactive art and this is so beautiful. It is very sad that it was ventually cordoned off.

    I must look back to your E.D. post. I have been engaged in preparations for journeying, so have not had much time to digest posts.

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  7. I enjoyed your post very much! I think that interactive art is very interesting because the viewer sometimes physically involved in the life of the art.

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  8. I am back :) It took me a while to find how to follow you :)

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  9. Hi, Olga! I'm glad you'll be coming back! :-)

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  10. one of my most favorite aspects of art is the wondering what the artist was feeling at the point of creation and what the artist wants me to see/hear/feel

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  11. I do believe that China will change ... eventually. When it does, it will be at least partly as a result of the prophetic visions of freedom promulgated by courageous artists like Ai Weiwei. But unfortunately there will have to be a lot of suffering done first ...

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  12. I marvel at those sunflower seeds. and yeah, I like to wonder about what the intent of the artist is, and what they were feeling and thinking during the creative process. the Piss Christ makes me a bit uncomfortable, but I really like Sister Wendy's take on it and I respect the artist's right and/or need to express this. thanks for enlightening me Gina. It's one of the many things I love about your blog here. have a great weekend.

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  13. China's treatment of Ai Wei Wei is an utter disgrace.

    I have visited the Tate Turbine Hall installation (I Put up some photos a while back) and I lid it very much - far more than some of the previous installations there. The two London Tates are a must visit for any art lover coming to London. I must visit the satellite galleries in Liverpool and St Ives some time.

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  14. Thank you all for your thoughful, intelligent comments. It would not be worth blogging without you!

    Jams - The Tate Modern is probably my favorite museum (of the ones I've visited), in the world. It's probably neck and neck with NY MoMA. The latter I know much better, as I've visited many times. I get depressed if I'm in NYC and I can't spend at least a little time in MoMA. I've only been to London once but hopefully will have spend a couple of days there this summer on my way to somewhere else. Similarly, I can't return to London without visiting The Tate.

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  15. It's a shame you don't have longer Sphinx. There are several other galleries that are well worth a visit including the Cortauld and the Estorick

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  16. The original installation was made with real seeds. I was in London in October and wanted to visit Tate the day it was closed because of the allergies caused by all the dust. Now he has replaced the real for fake but the effect is the same - also amazing!
    And speaking of Ai Weiwei, I think you might enjoy watching this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCc8Rs4sOVY

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  17. JM - how did I miss that the installation was originally done with real seeds??? So either way, real or man-made, the seeds caused breathing problems for people. That is so peculiar...

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