From paintings to films, controversies and interesting new mediums, we wanted to highlight some of the more notable artistic activities of the year past.
A Mystic Exhibition: Paintings for the Future by Hilma af Klint
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City exhibits the work of Swedish artist and mystic Hilma af Klint – an unknown among the pioneers of abstract art.
Years before Vasiliy, Kandinsky and Mondrian, Af Klint began composing her very private collection in the early 1900’s. It is interesting to note, her interest in abstraction came from her involvement in spiritism. Af Klint’s work can be understood in the wider context of the Modernist search for new forms in artistic, spiritual, political and scientific systems at the beginning of the 20th century.* Her style presents itself utilizing contrasting elements within a single piece. Both biomorphic and geometric forms and reductive and maximalist approach to color and composition articulate her mystic views. In fact, she imagined installing these works in a spiral temple, though this plan never came to fruition.
Af Klint stated in her will, her work be kept secret at least 20 years after her death. The entire body of work, a collection of over 1200 was donated to a foundation bearing the artist’s name in the 1970s by her nephew. Ake Fant, an art historian first introduced her work to an international audience in 1984 at a conference in Helsinki.
An Invigorating Afterthought: The White House Portrait of Former President and First Lady Obama
The first African-American and widely loved Presidential couple did not disappoint with their last impressions at the White House. True to their nature they brought out a fresh perspective to their Presidential Portraits, taking advantage of the cultural influences of their chosen artists.
Mr. Obama’s portrait was created by Kehinde Wiley, a well-known artist who has constructed a style that represents the African-American culture, from both cultural and contemporary purview. Many of his pieces portray African-American pop culture icons, figures against a scrim of intricate, colourful and detailed flora, fauna and even baroque-esqe patterns.
Amy Sherald – an American, Baltimore based painter, produced Mrs. Obama’s portrait. Though lesser known, Amy has been forward about the kind of engagement she renders through her work. “When you walk into the painting, you’re walking into their space”, she says, a gaze is not to be taken lightly. Wielding loosely the American Realist style, and painting her mostly African-American subjects in a skin tone absent of color she challenges the perceptions of black identity to – in her words – “exclude the idea of color as race”.
I personally think the Obamas have to be lauded for their apt use of platform, to bring forward art and cultural nuance which is otherwise exclusive to the respective community.
A Shred of Controversy: Girl with Balloon – Banksy
On October 5, Banksy’s spray-painted stencil – Girl With Balloon shredded itself in its frame just as it was auctioned at Sotheby’s Auction House in London. The iconic and ‘UK’s most loved artwork of 2017’ was sold for $1.4 million to an anonymous purchaser, and was said to be a ‘Viral Performance Art’– either as the artist’s retaliation to the consumerist greed that now encompasses the art world or just another Banksy prank.
Fans of the artist choose to believe that Banksy wouldn’t collude with an institution and intended for the artwork to be rendered worthless at the end of the auction to make a statement against the exorbitant price tags now attached to good art. However, this stunt may have not gone as planned, as now, the artwork is worth more than the original auction price – a statement piece now complete by the mutilation of the work. Now the question becomes: is this testament to the human materialistic greed?
Dafoe’s Gogh: Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate
The film stars Willem Dafoe, a renowned and acclaimed actor portraying Vincent van Gogh – a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter, and darling of pop culture. Gogh’s paintings, life and work have been the subject of many film and pop culture treatments, even earning a place with The Doctor (of the Doctor Who series). Yet a new, intimate perspective has been brought forward.
Van Gogh was known to have suffered from mental instability and illness, yet he was able to accomplish history-defining work through his skewed visions of reality. Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate aided by Dafoe’s gripping performance was meant to de-sensationalize the story. Against the common narrative of Van Gogh – almost always a mad, alcoholic suicidal artist– the film speaks to the passion and eloquence of the artist’s love of nature, his vision of motion on canvas and a touching relationship with his brother.
*Liam Taft – Invisible art: rediscovering the work of Hilma af Klint National Student, April 19, 2017