March 9, 2014
March 9, 1906
Sculptor David Smith is born. He often said, “I belong with the painters”. It’s true: he built his sculptures the way you’d make a painting, or a collage–welding pieces together on the floor, first one shape then the next–rather than more traditional sculpting techniques like casting or carving.
He changed what sculpture is capable of, for example, sculpting a page of writing (The Letter), landscapes (Hudson River Landscape) and still lives (Head as Still Life), proving his point that the sculptor’s “conception is as free as a that of the painter. His wealth of response is as great as his draftsmanship.”
Summer jobs at a car factory provided him with the industrial skills, like welding and burnishing, he’d later use in his sculptural collages. In fact, the factory environment also dictated his working technique, once he had the financial means to realize it: he stocked large quantities of materials, saying that it freed his creativity. His work also got accordingly bigger.
I found this really interesting: although many of his later works are numbered (Zig IV, Steel Circles I, II, and III), he didn’t actually work in series. He simultaneously worked on all sorts of projects and grouped and titled them afterwards. The impressive exception to this working method is the Voltri series, 26 sculptures made in 30 days (!) in Italy during June 1962, when Smith was invited to make work for a festival in Spoleto.
He made 300 – 400 drawings a year in addition to his 3D work. He was well-respected while he was alive, especially by other artists like the Abstract Expressionists and a younger generation of painters, like Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler, though he sold very few works during his lifetime.
365 Days of Art: March 8 – Little Mermaid Is Vandalized in Connection with International Women’s Day
March 8, 2014
March 8, 2006
The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen is vandalized (not for the first time): a dildo is attached to the statue’s hand, green paint is dumped over it, and the words March 8 are written on it.
It is suspected that this vandalism is connected with International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on March 8. This incident, the latest in a long string of attacks on the statue, lead government officials to announce that the statue may be moved farther out in the harbor, to avoid further vandalism.
March 7, 2014
March 7, 1992
With funding for the arts under direct attack by conservative politicians, a coalition of arts groups met to strategize on how to proceed.
Lest you think this is 2010 (Hide/Seek, anyone?) let’s put this in context.
Trouble had been brewing ever since an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs, called The Perfect Moment, debuted four years earlier. The exhibition was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Outrage over the homoerotic content (and, I think fear of AIDS and generalized homophobia) led to cancellation of some venues for the show, an obscenity lawsuit, and lots of hand-wringing on both sides of the issue. And lots of press. The controversy expanded to include other artists, and continued to grow as it was fed by rhetoric from presidential candidates in the election year coverage.
The month before this symposium, in February 1992, NEA chairman John E. Frohnmayer was forced to resign. The week before, presidential candidate Pat Buchanan announced that, if elected, “I’ll go down to the [NEA], shut it down, padlock it and fumigate it.”
These attacks on the arts in the mainstream, as well as pending legislation (in Massachusetts of all places!) forbidding the fictional representation of religious figures (this, just three years after the fatwa issued against author Salman Rushdie was widely criticized by Americans) struck fear into the hearts of artists. Especially since Buchanan had some traction in the primary elections, there was real concern that his extreme view might be adopted by other candidates.
I’m not sure the artists helped their cause by burning a cross in between conference sessions. But it’s an important discussion to have, and one we’re still having today.
March 6, 2014
March 6, 1945
The exhibition Arshile Gorky opens at the Julien Levy Gallery, featuring paintings created during the previous year, including How My Mother’s Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life. André Breton, who helped Gorky title the paintings, writes a glowing foreword for the catalogue.
Here’s the kicker: because Levy had forgotten to mail out the announcements on time, almost no one attends the opening! This kind of thing is every artist’s nightmare. And, trouble always finds Arshile Gorky: remember the flight from genocide in his home country, the studio fire, the colostomy, and the plane crash.
March 5, 2014
There are two events today worth writing about. The first gives an inside look at the Impressionists, who are often thought of as a unit, rather than individuals with competing agendas. The second…I just feel bad for Arshile Gorky. He had a hard time.
March 5, 1886
Camille Pissarro writes a passionate, desperate letter to Edouard Manet which reveals the underbelly of the Impressionists, especially their differing agendas and economic circumstances:
The exhibition [Eighth Impressionist] is completely blocked…We shall try to get Degas to agree to showing in April, if not we will show without him. If we do not settle the whole thing in the next four or five days, it will be dropped altogether. Degas doesn’t care, he doesn’t have to sell, he will always have Miss Cassatt and not a few exhibitors outside our group, artists like Lepic [a wealthy count]. If they have some success he will be satisfied. But what we [meaning himself and other impoverished, bohemian artists] need is money, otherwise we could organize an exhibition ourselves. I shall find out what Madame Manet [Berthe Morisot, Manet's sister-in-law] thinks but I am afraid she will not want to appear with us if Degas does not. In that case the whole thing will be off–there won’t be any exhibition, for to spend money exhibiting at the same time as the official Salon is to run the risk of selling nothing. Miss Cassatt and Degas say this is no objection, but it’s easy to talk when you don’t have to wonder where your next meal will come from!
March 5, 1946
Following a diagnosis of rectal cancer, Arshile Gorky undergoes a colostomy at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. It was a rough couple of months; six weeks earlier, on January 26, a fire in his Connecticut studio destroyed about 20 paintings.
March 4, 2014
March 4, 1880
Halftone engraving, used to print photographic images in shades of gray, was used for the first time when the Daily Graphic was published in New York City. An editorial ran at the same time, stating:
“This process has not yet been fully developed. We are still experimenting with it. We feel confident that our experiments will, in the long run, result in success and that pictures will eventually be regularly printed…”
Prior to this point, images were limited to black and white line drawings.
Comments (0) | Tags: 365 Days of Art, photography, Places
March 3, 2014
March 3, 2011
Ten years and one day after the Taliban initiated their destruction, UNESCO convened a conference to discuss possible restoration of two 6th century Buddha statues.
One result of the conference was a list of 39 recommendations for the site in Bamiyan, Afghanistan where two large niches in the side of the cliff have stood empty since the artwork they housed was dynamited away. The recommendations included leaving the larger niche empty as a testament to the destruction of the Buddhas, a study into rebuilding the smaller Buddha, and the construction of one or more museums on or near the site.
Work has since begun on restoring the Buddhas using the process of anastylosis, where pieces from the original sculpture are combined with modern material. Bert Praxenthaler, a German art historian and sculptor involved in the restoration, has estimated that it’s possible to reconstruct about half of the Buddha from its rubble. This is no small project: the Buddhas were about 100 and 175 feet tall, respectively, and some rubble is the size of tennis balls.
The project, organized by UNESCO and the International Council on Monuments and Sites, seeks to train and employ local Afghans as stone carvers, and eventually in other capacities as tourism is drawn to the area. The project has been criticized for different reasons. There are some who believe that the empty niches are historic in their own right and should be left as examples of the destruction caused by the Taliban, while others believe that money should go to housing and electricity in the region instead.
March 2, 2014
March 2, 2001
The Buddhas of Bamiyan, two 6th century statues of Buddha carved into a cliff in Afghanistan, were dynamited by the Taliban. The total demolition was effected in stages, and took several weeks to complete.
I remember the awful anticipation of the clock ticking down on this one. I, and all my friends in the art world, kept hoping that someone would step in, or that they would call it off at the last minute. I remember being at my desk at work and reading online that the demolition had begun; there was a sad little pit in my stomach.
I was at that same desk six months later when the Taliban brought down the World Trade Center.
The main bodies were cut directly from the sandstone cliffs, but sculptors constructed armatures from wood, and added details like the faces and robes were modeled in mud mixed with straw, coated with stucco and painted. It’s believed that the faces may have been masks. Unlike the stone, the more fragile materials couldn’t stand up to the elements and have been lost to time.
Bamiyan lies on the Silk Road, a caravan route linking the markets of China with those of the Western world. It was the site of several Buddhist monasteries, and a thriving center for religion, philosophy, and art. Monks at the monasteries lived as hermits in small caves carved into the side of the Bamiyan cliffs. Most of these monks embellished their caves with religious statuary and elaborate, brightly colored frescoes. Until it was completely conquered by the Muslim Saffarids in the 9th century, Bamiyan shared the culture of Gandhara.
Before being blown up, they were the largest examples of standing Buddha carvings in the world. They are believed to have been built by the Kushans, with the guidance of local Buddhist monks, at the heyday of their empire. They were perhaps the most famous cultural landmarks of the region, and the site was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site along with the surrounding cultural landscape and archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley.
Some interesting history: In 1996, a Taliban commander operating in the area announced his plans to blow up the Buddhas and went so far as to drill holes in the Buddhas’ heads in order to plant explosives. Mullah Omar specifically ordered him to stop and in 1999, Mullah Mohammed Omar publicly came out in favor of preserving the Buddhas. He stated: “The government considers the Bamiyan statues as an example of a potential major source of income for Afghanistan from international visitors. The Taliban states that Bamiyan shall not be destroyed but protected.” In early 2000, local Taliban authorities asked for UN assistance to rebuild drainage ditches around tops of the alcoves where the Buddhas were set.
Concurrently, radical clerics began a campaign against “un-Islamic” segments of Afghan society. The Taliban soon banned all forms of imagery, music and sports, and television, in accordance with their strict interpretation of Sharia law. 400 religious clerics from across Afghanistan then declared the Buddhist statues against the tenets of Islam. Mullah Omar changed course and ordered their destruction, supposedly on direct orders from Osama bin Laden.
Initially, the statues were fired at for several days using anti-aircraft guns and artillery. This caused severe damage, but did not obliterate them. During the destruction, Taliban Information Minister Qudratullah Jamal lamented that, “this work of destruction is not as simple as people might think. You can’t knock down the statues by shelling as both are carved into a cliff; they are firmly attached to the mountain.” Later, the Taliban placed anti-tank mines at the bottom of the niches, so that when fragments of rock broke off from artillery fire, the statues would receive additional destruction from particles that set off the mines. The Taliban also lowered men down the cliff face and placed explosives into holes in the Buddhas. After one of the explosions failed to completely obliterate the face of one of the Buddhas, a rocket was launched at the head.
A Taliban ambassador has said that the destruction of the statues was carried out in response to an offer from Sweden to restore the statues’ heads. The ambassador reportedly said: “When the Afghan head council asked them to provide the money to feed the children instead of fixing the statues, they refused and said, ‘No, the money is just for the statues, not for the children’. He did not comment on the claim that a foreign museum offered to buy the Buddhist statues, the money from which could have been used to feed children.
Despite the fact that most Afghans are now Muslim, they too had embraced their past and many were appalled by the destruction. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both of whom recognized the Taliban government, condemned the destruction as “savage”. Japan and Switzerland, among others, have pledged support for the rebuilding of the statues.
Swiss filmmaker Christian Frei made a 95-minute documentary titled The Giant Buddhas on the statues and reactions to their destruction.
March 1, 2014
March 1, 1962
American Airlines Flight 1 crashes in Jamaica Bay, Queens about two minutes after takeoff. Ninety five people and fifteen abstract works by Arshile Gorky are aboard, all en route to Los Angeles. All crew and passengers are killed. The artwork, on its way to an exhibition is LA, is destroyed.
This is the plane crash that killed Pete Campbell’s father in Mad Men. When I saw the episode, I felt like it was a little over the top, too soap opera-esque, but several prominent people actually were killed in the real-life crash, including a close friend of President Eisenhower’s, a gold medal winner, and the mother of Linda Eastman, who would go on to marry Paul McCartney.
And poor Gorky. Although the crash happened long after his death, misfortune and tragedy had a way of finding him. This wasn’t even the first time his work was accidentally destroyed: on January 26, 1946, a fire in his Connecticut studio ruined about 20 paintings.
Time traveling back to 1914, March 1 is also the day that a teenaged Gorky and his sister arrive in Watertown, Massachusetts to settle with relatives. They are refugees, fleeing the genocide of ethnic Armenians in their native Turkey.
Gorky tragedies will show up more than once this year.
February 28, 2014
February 29, 1892
Augusta Savage (born as Augusta Fells) was born, as she said, “at the dark of the moon”.
She was an African-American sculptor associated with the Harlem Renaissance. She was influential as a sculptor, teacher, and advocate for equal rights, though, to her great disappointment, her political activism came to overshadow her artistic career.
Augusta made clay figures as a child, but her father would beat her when he found her sculptures. Persevering and winning over her dad, she became a star student and prize winner, even winning a scholarship for room and board at Cooper Union in NYC (tuition was already free for all students).
In 1923 Savage applied for a summer art program sponsored by the French government, but was rejected due to her race. This incident received international attention (and will be featured in this blog later in the year). It set the tone for seeing her as a political advocate first, and an artist second, though she continued to make work.
Savage worked in Manhattan steam laundries to support herself and her family, while sculpting, including a commission for a bust of W. E. B. Du Bois for the Harlem Library.
She continued to win awards, and in 1934 was the first African-American artist to be elected to the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. She opened her Harlem studio as a community classroom for the arts; her students included the future nationally known artists Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, and Gwendolyn Knight. Her school evolved into the Harlem Community Art Center, and 1500 people participated in her workshops. Unfortunately, Savage struggled with WPA (Works Progress Administration) officials who objected to her having a leadership role in this publicly-funded school. Whether that was due to her gender or her race, I don’t know.
Savage received a commission from the 1939 New York World’s Fair, creating a 16-foot tall plaster sculpture that was the fair’s most popular and most-photographed work. Small metal souvenir copies as well as postcard reproductions were sold. Unfortunately, Savage couldn’t afford to cast it in bronze, or to move and store it, so it was destroyed at the close of the fair along with the other temporary installations.
She participated in other fairs, but often her work wasn’t returned to her. It’s thought this resulted from a combination of her lack of funds–not having the money for bronze, she chose less sturdy materials which didn’t ship well; and she often couldn’t afford to pay for return shipping at all, meaning some works were abandoned–as well as a lack of care on the part of the organizers.
Savage opened a Harlem gallery which quickly closed due to finances. Deeply depressed by her financial and political struggles, Augusta moved to a rural farm in upstate New York, which has since been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Augusta Savage House and Studio. She worked on a farm, and made little or no effort to talk about or create art for the rest of her life.
One of her works, a bust titled Gamin, is on permanent display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.
Fun Fact: Another of Augusta’s students was Kenneth B. Clark, whose later sociological research contributed to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that ruled school segregation unconstitutional.
February 28, 2014
February 28, 1974
Tony Shafrazi spray-painted Picasso’s painting Guernica, which hung in the Museum of Modern Art, with the words “KILL LIES ALL”. Luckily, the paint was easily removed due to heavy varnish on the painting’s surface.
Shafrazi was protesting the announcement, the day before, of the release on bail of U.S. Lieutenant William Calley, who was convicted in 1971 for his part in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. Calley had initially been sentenced to life imprisonment, then house arrest, and received a limited pardon from Richard Nixon.
Shafrazi was a member of the Art Workers’ Coalition, which in 1970 had staged a protest at MoMA by unfurling a My Lai protest poster in front of Guernica. Picasso’s work was painted in response to the bombing of the village of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War and is about the suffering of innocent civilians–a perfect choice, really, to protest the massacre in Vietnam.
Shafrazi was sentenced to just six months probation. MoMA initially wanted to keep the vandalism secret so as not to encourage future acts of vandalism, but given the public nature of the act, as well as the presence of visitors such as a high school field trip from Scarsdale, that was wishful thinking.
Shafrazi gave the following statement to Art in America in 1980:
I wanted to bring the art absolutely up to date, to retrieve it from art history and give it life. Maybe that’s why the Guernica action remains so difficult to deal with…I wanted to… encourage the individual viewer to challenge it…see it in its dynamic raw state…not as a piece of history.
Picasso once painted over a Modigliani, and I wonder where he’d stand on this (he had recently died by the time his painting was vandalized). But, he did say:
Ultimately, what is important about a picture is the legend it has created, not whether it is preserved or not.
Everything I have done has been for the present, in the hope that it will forever remain in the present.
I’d never approve of vandalizing art, but Picasso and Shafrazi actually don’t sound too far apart on this, theoretically speaking.
By the way, Shafrazi went on to become an art dealer to the rich and famous (go figure). His client list began with the Shah of Iran and he currently represents high-end artists like Francis Bacon. An opening reception recently included a cake that was frosted as a replica of Guernica with icing “defacing” it. Hm. I could almost begin to buy the idea (not the act) as a political statement, but turning it into a gimmick for rich folks’ entertainment doesn’t work for me.
February 27, 2014
February 27, 1964
The government of Italy requested aid in preventing the Tower of Pisa from falling over, as the slant of the famously leaning tower had continued to grow over the years. It was considered important to stop subsequent leaning while retaining the current tilt; it wouldn’t do for this tourist attraction to suddenly stand straight up and down.
Comments (0) | Tags: 365 Days of Art, architecture, Places
February 26, 2014
February 26, 1963
Joseph Cornell, a birdwatcher and well-known lover of nature, writes a letter to his dealer Robert Schoelkopf in which he details some of his activities on this winter day:
Some extra peanuts were thrown to the bluejays–a more generous scattering of sunflower seeds for the squirrels, a coagulated hunk of dark brown sugar for the starlings…
Comments (0) | Tags: 365 Days of Art, artists, life of an artist, weather
February 25, 2014
February 25, 2011
The Globe and Mail (Toronto) reported the donation of a collection of lithographs by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The collection was one of the largest in the world that was privately held, and belonged to a New Yorker by the name of Ross Scott. He’d died two years previously, willing the collection of 35 lithos, as well as 20 pieces of “ephemera” (such as cover designs and illustrations for books, magazines, theater programs, and menus) to the Art Gallery of Ontario upon his death from cancer.
Scott singled out the AGO because he and his life partner, Don Muller, “really liked the feel of Toronto,” finding it “a very friendly place … welcoming to gay couples”. Another point in Toronto’s favor was that, unlike New York, none of its museums and galleries had substantial Lautrec holdings; the AGO owned only one faded print prior to Scott’s donation.
Comments (0) | Tags: 365 Days of Art, art museums, donations of artwork, gay, Places
February 24, 2014
February 24, 1923
The Seventh Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists opens at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. The exhibition is billed as “no jury, no prizes”. Stuart Davis and John Sloan are among those who participate.