31 December 2009


Sculptor, performer, and video artist Matthew Barney was born in San Francisco in 1967. He received his B.A. at Yale University, and his early works focused on the interconnectedness of physical athleticism and erotic sexuality. He has since gained acclaim quickly, participating in a number of Venice Biennales and receiving numerous awards, including prizes from the Guggenheim and the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Likened by MoMA to Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci and Chris Burden, Barney's work is intellectually provocative, sensually stimulating, and delightfully risque.

One of his early works, 1995, is a piece called OTTOshaft. The Tate has a really wonderful review of it here.

clip from OTTOshaft

Drawing Restraint is a piece of his that I recently saw at the Whitney's exhibit of Biennial purchases. I saw it in sculpture form, but I find his exhibit of the piece on the internet equally as compelling.

He's done the same interesting display of his work in his Cremasters series. Barney provides written abstracts and trailers of this series of five films. Here's an idea of what you experience when you visit the site:

The Home Page of The Cremaster Cycle

Cremaster 1

Cremaster 2 Synposis

Cremaster 3 Characters

Cremaster 4

Cremaster 5

Here's a clip from Cremaster 3. It features Richard Serra throwing molten Vaseline against the wall, Aimee Mann walking in glass prostheses, a mosh pit, and Matthew Barney swinging around on a wire throughout the levels of the Guggenheim. What's not to love?

31 October 2009


Ernst Barlach (1870-1938) is a German printmaker and sculptor. He began studying at the School of Arts and Crafts in Hamburg, and later spent a year at the Academie Julian in France. He is known well for his sophisticated expressionist bronze sculptures, as well as his pacifist position in Nazi Germany. Barlach's work turned so conspicuously anti-War that much of it was termed "degenerate art" and was confiscated. He was not the only recognized artist to be banned during the time period; along with him, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky and Georg Grosz, to name a few, were also condemned. As well as being a notable artist, Barlach wrote a series of expressionist dramas and novels, one of which he won the Kleist prize for. Barlach died in 1938, essentially banned from the artistic and literary communities of Germany by the government. His work did not resurface and gain due acclaim until after the war and after his death.

Russian Beggarwoman II, 1907

Seated Girl, 1908

The Avenger, 1914
"The 1933 Nazi manifesto on artistic and cultural policy demanded that ‘sculptures that are offensive to the national sensibility and yet still desecrate public squares and parks should disappear as quickly as possible, regardless of whether these works were created by ‘geniuses’ like Lehmbruck or Barlach.’ Several of Barlach’s war memorials were removed from churches in 1937. The Avenger had been made at the beginning of the First World War, when Barlach was a nationalist, and represents the unstoppable force of the German army. A later wooden version was confiscated by the Nazis." (Tate)

Desperate Discussion, 1916

Grave of the Child, 1919

The Singing Man, 1928

Reading Monks III, 1932

The Forsaken, 1930-34

Old Woman Laughing, 1937

27 October 2009


Balthus (1908-2001) was a Polish-French modern artist. Though he wasn't formally trained, he grew up in a very artistic climate. Both of his parents were artists, and for some time his mother was illustrating Rainer Marie Rilke's poems, putting Balthus in close contact with this renowned poet, as well as Andre Gide and painter Pierre Bonnard. As he reached maturity, he spent some time in Berlin and Tuscany, and finally settled in Paris, where he produced his first early paintings of Parisian street scenes largely inspired by Old Masters. In 1934 Balthus exhibited a series of erotic paintings, which were reviewed by the Surrealists (specifically Antonin Artaud), establishing a superficial connection to the movement. He established a friendship with Artaud, who got him into stage design. Balthus did not adhere to Surrealism, however. He continued to produce sexually charged paintings, as well as portraits of the burgeoning artists such as Joan Miro and Andre Derain. Shortly thereafter, Balthus returned to landscape painting. In 1961, he was appointed the Director of the Academie de France in the Villa Medici. He took up a strong interest in history, theater, and Japanese art, and in this realm he remained for the rest of his life.

The Street, 1933

Guitar Lesson, 1934

"Part of the work's tension comes from the diversity in the traditions it fuses. Its receding architectural perspective emulates Renaissance geometry, for Balthus much admired Quattrocento artists, particularly Piero della Francesca."

Woman with Violin, 1936

Andre Derain, 1936

Joan Miro and his Daughter Dolores, 1937-38

The Mountain, 1937

"In the mid-1930s Balthus returned to his earlier interest in landscape, notably in The Mountain (Summer) (1937; New York, Met.), his largest work to date. Conceived in homage to Poussin, and especially Courbet, this represents memories of the mountainous terrain near Berne in which he had lived as a child and to which he was to return in 1977."

Still Life with Figure, 1940

The Living Room, 1942

Sleeping Girl, 1943
"The private worlds of day-time reverie and sleep had been the preferred themes of Balthus's work since the mid-1930s... the awkward position of her arm suggests that her sleep might be feigned, and reminds us that the scene as a whole has been contrived by the artist. The woman's dress front appears casually undone, but its erotic appeal seems, again, quite calculated."

The Golden Days, 1944-46

The Room, 1952

Study of a Nude, 1964

The Turkish Room, 1966


"All things move, all things run, all things are rapidly changing"

Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) was an Italian Futurist painter born in Turin, Italy. Balla grew up studying music and turned to art upon the death of his father. Primarily self-taught, Balla's early works consist of landscape, portraits, and caricatures. He worked in Rome, where he became strongly influenced by modern industrialism, as well as the work of Marinetti. Around this time he became involved with the Futurists and helped them to write their Manifesto in 1910. He officially joined them stylistically around 1912, exploring topics of motion, machinery, and scientific advancements. Balla's style resided in this realm until 1930, when he shifted to an Impressionist approach and incorporated figurative subjects. Balla had a great impact on his contemporaries and those to follow, acquiring talented students such as Boccioni and Severini.

Abstract Speed- The Car Has Passed, 1913

Balla's Abstract Speed- The Car Has Passed is held in the Tate's collection and is a prime example of Futurism, "a movement which aimed to convey a sense of speed through art, seeing it as typifying the spirit of the modern age." The work was originally part of a triptych that sought to convey motion of the landscape as seen from the view of a car's passenger. The Futurists proclaimed: "The gesture which we would reproduce on canvas shall no longer be a fixed moment in universal dynamism. It shall simply be the dynamic sensation itself."

Streetlight 1910

Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, 1912

Hand of the Violinst, 1912

Speeding Automobile, 1912

Futurist Manifesto: We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.

Abstract Speed and Sound, 1913

Lines of Speed and Forms of Noise, 1913-1914

Swifts: Paths of Movement and Dynamic Sequences, 1913

The painting above was inspired by photographic images of animal locomotion that surfaced around this time. Balla portray's the bird's trajectory in space.

Study of Materiality of Lights and Speed, 1913

Mercury Passing in Front of the Sun, 1914

Sculptural Construction of Noise and Speed, 1914-1915

14 October 2009


Miroslaw Balka is a Polish contemporary sculptor (b 1958). He attended the Warsaw Academy, where he made his first notable sculpture centered around the themes of rite of passage and graduation, and accompanied it with a ritualistic performance. In the 80s he matured into figurative sculptural pieces using "symbolic materials," such as ashes and wood, and in the 90s moved toward non-figurative forms that possessed anatomical qualities reflective of the human figure, (beds, coffins, etc). One example of this type of work is noted by the Artbook, below.

190 x 30 x 7, 190 x 30 x 7, 50 x 42 x 1, 1993

This piece, entitled 190 x 30 x 7, 190 x 30 x 7, 50 x 42 x 1, consists of two identical plates of steel on the wall and one square of carpet on the floor that reflect the dimensions of Balka's body in space. The steel plates are ritualistically smeared with a strong smelling soap, possibly to express a "process of washing and cleansing," as noted by the Artbook. The three pieces loom nostalgically in reminiscence of fleeting marks of human existence, while the medium speaks to an alternate industrially materialistic world, in existence within and throughout humanity. As the Tate notes, Balka's work is strongly conveyed through personal and inner experience, which he has maintained throughout his career. " The persistence of personal narrative associations could be seen as an assertion of the individual against the collectivisation of life... while the use of ordinary industrial materials suggests a protest against the influx of western consumer capitalism into Eastern Europe." The Artbook provides another take on the piece, saying that Balka evokes a "quiet sense of the sacred that can be found in even the most humble existence."

"Silent and dour, his often wretched objects take on a certain sacredness, dignity, and even grandeur, but instead of being expressions of faith, his vessels, wooden constructions, and depictions of the human body are empty relics." (MoMA)

Untitled 1985-1990

Fire Place, 1986

History 1988

Moulting, 1988

Angel of St. Adalbert, 1988

Oasis (C.D.F.), 1989, currently on display at the Tate

Installation, 1990

"250x380x0,3, 190x60x59, 190x60x59", 1994

"250x380x0,3, 190x60x59, 190x60x59", 1994

'As wretchedness and grandeur are brought together, a sense of the sacred is felt. Perhaps it is Balka's humble means that succeed in evoking reverence in the viewer.'

290 x 190 x 89, [diameter]20 x 23, [diameter]20 x 23 1995

Zeitnot, 1996

3 x (57 x 50 x 50) , 2003,

Blue Gas Eyes 2004

250 x 700 x 455, 41 x 41/Zoo/T (2007)

Balka recently had a solo show this spring at University of Massachusetts entitled Gravity, as well as works in many major group exhibitions including a retrospective in Copenhagen featuring work produced after 1959.