31 July 2009


Christiaan Karel Appel, born 1921 in Amsterdam, was a founding member of the aforementioned group CoBrA. Appel took a liking to painting around the age of 15, and has since produced works found in most major museums throughout the world.  Appel's style is thick, colorful brushtrokes, exhibiting vibrant and emotional qualities. His paintings are a bridge between abstraction and figurative work, with themes of intuition versus reason, child-like freedom and unrepressed expression. The Artbook notes that Appel created works "demonstrating that energy and spontaneity were more important than rationality and design."

"Hip Hip Hoorah," 1949, is located at the Tate Gallery in London. This was the piece chosen by the Artbook and is quite representative of the type of work that the CoBrA group was looking to do. On the Tate's website, they quote Appel as having described his piece in these terms: "...the more human figures as male (far left) and female (centre). The creature with two heads (top right) displays both human and bird attributes and the fourth figure (bottom right) is ‘inbetween a woman with a breast and an animal’. For Appel the black background signified ‘the black of night’ and the creatures were ‘people of the night’. "

I found this piece quite interesting, as well. Entitled "Energy," this piece was completed in 1950 and is held at the Hirshhorn. I found the medium really intriguing- "gouache and paper and plastic collage on paper mounted to canvas." The multimedia elements and incorporation of words into this piece make it quite experimental and unusual for the time. Out of all that I've seen, I think this piece looks ahead the most. A very avant-garde approach for Appel.

The pieces below are all from MoMA, and I chose to include them because I think there's a strong connection in each to the work that Alechinsky was producing. Here a connection can be drawn in terms of the influence of style and approach the CoBrA members had one one another.

"Front cover from Appel, Frie Kunstnere Volume 3"
"Toi at Moi," 1963

"With Two Brushes (A Deux Pinceaux)," 1978

Appel died in 2006, but is still quite present in the art world. The Karel Appel Foundation, established before his death, works still to preserve his artwork and purpose. 

30 July 2009


Carl Andre was born in 1935 in Massachusetts. Artist, writer, and activist, Andre lived an exceptional life in New York City. Andre attended the Phillips Academy, where he met Frank Stella. Along with Brancusi, Stella was a great influence on Andre's early sculptures. Andre's sculptures are considered "Minimalist" works, a branch of art concerned with "simple, massive forms." 

In 1965, Andre began working for a railway company. This blue collar working experience had a large impact on his sculptures, especially in terms of subject and medium. Andre interworked his experiences with hard labor and man-made simple structures into his art. ‘The railway completely tore me away from the pretensions of art, even my own, and I was back on the horizontal lines of steel and rust and great masses of coal and material, timber, with all kinds of hides and glue and the burdens and weights of the cars themselves’

Andre's sculptures have received quite a bit of criticism. The Equivalent VIII (above) has been particularly a subject of controversy. This piece is part of a series of eight sculptures made out of 120 "equivalent" bricks; though overall composition may be different, they are all derived from the same earthly material, each individual component has the same shape and weight, and there are the same amount of bricks in each piece. The Tate acquired this piece in 1972, which sparked the age-old, circuitous argument concerning the essence of art, what can be considered art and what can't. The taxpayers found this sculpture too simple, too common to be art. I think therein lies Andre's genius, however. In this piece, the line between art and life is blurred, where the physical reality is art, with underlying components of hard labor, human struggle, and simple, straightforward production of work. 

Below are some other images of his work. Tree Bones, 1974, was chosen by the Artbook.

"144 Graphite Silence," 2005

"Tree Bones"

"Black White Carbon Tin," 2004

Andre also produced a number of poems from 1960-65, gathered together in a book called 12 Dialogues. This book is rare, and very expensive. 

(apparently he is the one in the center with the giant beard)

Carl Andre, as mentioned earlier, was also an activist and helped to found the Art Workers' Coalition (AWC). Some of his greatest accomplishments with the AWC revolved around museum work- getting the museums to hold more liberal shows, catering more to the public and to the struggling artists as opposed to the wealthy sector. Andre even helped to establish the once a week free museum nights, still held at MoMA and other museums in New York.

Andre is now living and working in New York, and is represented by the Paula Cooper Gallery.


Pierre Alechinsky born in 1927 in Brussels, is one of the leading European artists in abstract expressionism. Alechinsky attended art school and went on to form the Cobra group along with Karel Appel, Christian Dotremont, Asger Jorn, and others. Cobra, an acronym derived from the first letters of the member's home cities (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam), was short-lived but a had a huge impact on the art world. The group focused their efforts on reverting to child-like abstraction, with "strong, almost violent brushstrokes" and a bright color palette. The group disbanded in 1952 upon the departure of Dotremont to the US. Alechinsky continued to make work in this style, and collaborated with members of the group for years on after. Most of Alechinsky's pieces are in oil or acrylic paint or prints; he was highly influenced by Japanese calligraphy and has a good amount of work done in Indian ink. Alechinksy's media are quite reminiscent of Pollock. His works are abstract, though they appear to be a bit more illustrative than the average abstract expressionist.

(I apologize for this terrible reproduction, will upload a better one soon)

"The Large Transparent Things," chosen by the Artbook, seems to be possibly an obscure choice, as it was impossible to find online and is held in a private collection. Even so, this is an excellent portrayal of the type of abstraction that was going on in the 50s. Akin to many of the pieces of the era, "The Large Transparent Things" is an uninhibited expression of the subconscious. As the Artbook says, this piece seeks "freedom from the constraints of reason," and is a great example of what Cobra was striving for.

Below are also a few paintings and prints I found that I really like. Though they all could be grouped under "abstract expressionism," these pieces  show the variety of subject and style in his work. Alechinsky also created a film, "Calligraphie Japonaise," which I unfortunately could not find online. 


"Plate II"


"Bag of Lines"

28 July 2009


I am proud to present today's artist, Josef Albers, one of the most influential and accomplished artists of the 20th century. Albers, born in Germany in 1888, immigrated to the United States when the Nazi regime closed down the Bauhaus. He taught at a number of universities, with students who later shaped modern art (Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenburg, Eva Hesse). Albers' was a painter and printer, and most of his paintings involve blocks of color that interplay with one another, creating illusionary effects to the mind's eye. He studied color theory quite thoroughly, eventually publishing a book entitled Interaction of Color. His theory is now widely accepted and taught throughout the world. Albers died in 1976, at the age of 88. 

Interaction of Color

Yale University Press: "[Interaction of Color] presents a significantly expanded selection of more than thirty color studies alongside Albers’s original unabridged text, demonstrating such principles as color relativity, intensity, and temperature; vibrating and vanishing boundaries; and the illusions of transparency and reversed grounds."

Homage to the Square
Albers' "Homage to the Square" series consists of three overlapping squares of different colors aimed to play with the viewer's visual perception. The Artbook chose to list one of his studies for this series. I found the video below, which I think beautifully explains what Albers' is striving to achieve- the vibrating effect of the squares' edges, the appearance of interaction between the squares, and the variation in effect that each color produces. 

Josef Albers was a visionary, to say the least. His extensive impact on the art world is immeasurable. 

27 July 2009


Craigie Aitchison was born in 1926 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He original planned to follow his father's footsteps in a law career, attending school at Edinburgh University. However, in 1952 he switched into art and completed school at the Slade School of Art. Aitchison became part of a group of artists, known as The School of London, who focused their work primarily on figurative painting, maintaining elements of modern technique but distancing from "the radical tendencies of contemporary art," as the Artbook puts it. Aitchison's painted incredibly simplified figures, and devoted a large portion of his subject matter to the Crucifixion of Christ. 

"Portrait of Naaotwa Swayne," chosen by the Artbook, is a 20" x 24" portrait of a young woman completed in 1988. Aitchison chose to use mostly African and West Indian sitters because he preferred the warm flesh tones, which he has painted very well in this piece. The simplified figure seems to glow against the green/black background, and though incorporating ideas of abstraction, Aitchison still retains figurative aspects and a strong sense of personality in the piece. The most fascinating part of this piece for me is the style applied to the oil paint- it appears almost chalky, like pastel or conte. Certainly he must have only applied thin coats of paint, as the luminosity from the canvas shines through in the skin tone. 

My next choice is one of his Crucifixions. "Crucifixion 9," (1987, above) is a truly original depiction of the archetype and can be seen at the Tate Museum. Aitchison chose to shift the focus from subject to style; instead of drawing meaning from the action of the painting, the viewer looks to shape and color to set the mood. Also- in simplification of his subject, Aitchison chose not to include Christ's arms, for which his reasoning was "everybody knows who he is. He doesn't need arms." This goes further to show the arbitrariness of the actual figure of Christ; usually the most important aspect of a biblical painting, Aitchison's Christ doesn't even need arms in his painting to achieve its purpose. Also, the dog is a really interesting choice in this. No followers of Christ are displayed, neither are his crucifiers, yet there is a dog, possibly symbolizing compassion and loyalty. He used this somewhat iconic image of the dog in a lot of his other pieces, as well.

"Model Standing on a Blue Wall," shown above, is an earlier painting of Aitchison's (1962) that also hangs at the Tate. I really liked this painting's composition- very simple, yet very effective in drawing the viewer in and giving a true to form impression of the subject. The flatness and depth of this painting gives evidence of his modern artistic training, and the overall depiction and composition are reminiscent of some of Picasso's portraits. I really love the large, simplistic blocks of color in the background, and the delicate treatment of the subject itself. Beautiful painting. 

Aitchison now spends most of his time living in a London estate that he's owned for over 35 years. His works hang at the Tate, though he has had some retrospective traveling exhibits recently. Some of his newer pieces are shown below.

Nandi Bull in front of Temple I, 2000

Crucifixion with Mountain, Montecastelli, 2002

26 July 2009


(this is a fantastic photograph I found of her)

Eileen Agar, born in 1899 in Buenos-Aires, is one of the few women associated with the Surrealist movement. She spent most of her time in London, though she did live in Paris for a short while. She married in 1927, but soon developed an affair with writer Joseph Bard, whom she eventually married in 1940. Bard was highly influential to her and is very apparent in her work. He was quite often the subject of her pieces and posed for her on numerous occasions. Agar's work mostly consists of painting, but ranges from sculpture, collage, and other mixed media as well. She continued making work until her death in 1991. 

The above piece is the one highlighted in the Artbook. Entitled, "The Angel of Mercy," Agar created this in 1934 using collage and watercolor on plaster. "The Angel of Mercy" seems to epitomize her efforts in Surrealism; though clearly sculpted to portray the head of a man (Bard, to be exact), this sculpture further references mythology in its oddly painted swirls of color, stars on the chin and upper lip, and Classics-style hair. This work is also hinting at the surge of the Abstract movement that was soon to come in this time period.

I also choose to include below some of her paintings and collages. I found her use of mixed media particularly interesting, since it seems a bit out of the norm for the time period. One painting I'd like to mention is "The Lovers" (1933, above). With stylistic similarities to Matisse and Cezanne, "The Lovers" is a beautiful example of Fauvist color and technical theory. Moreso, I was really drawn to its thematic elements. The title alludes to two people, lovers, and was painted around the time of her affair with Bard. However, in the piece, only the woman is portrayed, with an oblong shape close to her head, giving the impression of another, mysterious figure. Where even the details of the woman's dress are shown, Agar doesn't give facial features to the other figure. The dark shadow of the other lover's body is almost an element of the background, yielding elusiveness akin to a secret affair. I think this is a beautiful representation of the relationship she was having with Bard at the time. 

"Tropical Study"

"Demeter," 1949


25 July 2009


Bas Jan Ader was a Dutch artist (nee 1942) who spent the majority of his lifetime producing work in LA. Much like Acconci, Ader focused his career on film, photography, performance, and installation. Ader was most prolific during the 1970s, and is grouped with the conceptual artists of the time period. A lot of his pieces strongly depend on the strange dynamic created amongst audience and performer. Ader also explored ideas of emotional vulnerability on display; in particular, themes of searching, falling, and embarking on journeys prevailed in his pieces. As many artists do, Bas Jan Ader chose an art of self-depiction, psychological portrayals, and introspection of the human condition. 

(this is not meant to have sound)

The piece that the Artbook chose to use, and is probably his most famous, is a film still from the above performance, "I'm too sad to tell you." In a graphic display of human grief, Ader films himself up close crying in silence. No storyline. No dialogue. No explanation. I've found a number of interesting reviews on this piece; the Artbook gravitates towards a more serious and somber critique- highlighting the effects of Ader's loneliness and despair on his audience. According to the book, he created postcards of the film stills and mailed them out to his friends, informing them that this was real, raw emotion, completely genuine. He did not give a reason. Meant to be disturbing? Maybe not. Another review suggests that there is an underlying tone of irony, even dark comedy. 

There are two pieces in particular that I found alluring. The first is an installation entitled "Please don't leave me," in which these words are scrawled largely in black paint and illuminated by a central lightbulb. This piece is incredibly moving; the phrase speaks of a universal fear of emptiness and alienation. Please don't leave me, simultaneously silent and screaming, is a muted cry for companionship that falls on deaf ears. Though the audience may not want to, they inevitably must walk away, leaving the plea behind them. This interplay between what Ader is asking and what he knows will undeniably happen is an incredibly powerful example of one of the many human conditions we all must grapple with. In the end, the audience must come to terms with their own solitude and the unmovable barriers to human connection. Truly amazing piece.

The work shown directly above is the culmination of all Bas Jan Ader's work: his death. Ader set sail in 1975 from Massachusetts in a performance piece he called, "In Search Of The Miraculous." Whether planned or unplanned remains a mystery, yet Ader never returned from this trip. Two weeks into the voyage his radio cut out, and soon after his ship was found abandoned on the coast of Ireland. This mysterious end to his life could be considered yet a mere extension of his greatest accomplishments as an artist; in searching for the "miraculous," he found death. Ader never failed to incorporate his life in his art, and even in death crafted a beautiful performance, reminding his audience that life is a continual series of journeys, one leading to another, with death not being an ending but instead another commencement of exploration. 

If you find Ader's obscure death interesting, you should also check out Ray Johnson. He is not mentioned in the Artbook, but was an incredibly influential artist of the 50s and 60s. He lead an amazing life, and is worth reading up on.

Finally, there is a documentary on Ader that I will be watching today entitled Here Is Always Somewhere Else. If you like Ader's work, I recommend you watch it, too.

24 July 2009


Vito Acconci, born in the Bronx in 1940, is an architect and artist whose works crosses from performance, film, video, photography, and installation. He began his career as a writer, and made his way onto the art scene with his performance art in the late 60s/ early 70s. Acconci made over 20 films and videos involving performance and tense audience interaction within a period of six years, from 1969 to 1975, with the pinnacle of these performances being "Seedbed" (above). This performance made the cover page in the Artbook, and is probably one of Acconci's most renowned work. In "Seedbed," Acconci sits huddled underneath a landing in an empty studio, masturbating to the sounds of and thoughts towards the gallery viewers above him. He strives to create a complex web of interaction between viewer and artist. One comment of his on the performance that I found particularly interesting I found (via wikipedia) in an interview with Brian Sherwin for his blog Myartspace. He told Sherwin, "I knew what my goal had to be: I had to produce seed, the space I was in should become a bed of seed, a field of seed – in order to produce seed, I had to masturbate – in order to masturbate, I had to excite myself."
In researching Acconci, I found one of many answers to a question I had been pondering for quite some time: why are film and video classified differently? In Vito's opinion, "film is landscape, video is close-up; film is silent, video is sound; film is history, video is news; film is physical, video is mental." In his terms, film is the direct expression of world around us, in which the audience is viewing the world through the eyes of the artist, whereas video is an inner dialogue; conversely, the audience is looking in at the artist. Whether this is a widely accepted differentiation between film and video, who knows. I think it's a pretty interesting take, regardless.

There is definitely something to be said about his architecture, as well. Based in Brooklyn, Acconci heads a group of architects who have designed interior and exterior spaces throughout the world.

 I'm not sure if the actual studio is open to the public, but the address on its website is 20 Jay Street, #215. Definitely could be something to check out. 

23 July 2009


"More than any other era, the twentieth century offered us an unrivalled galaxy of styles and approaches to art."

I've created this blog to keep myself, and anyone following me, up to date on artists of the 20th century. I recently picked up a book at the Met called "The 20th Century Artbook," published by Phaidon, in which 500 nameable artists of the 20th century are listed alphabetically. Each day I plan on posting about one artist from this book, finding my favorite image by them, and anything else relevant.