31 August 2009


Art & Language is a group of conceptual artists formed in the 1960s aimed to challenge artistic purpose and intent. The group uses language as a tool to alter the way the viewer perceives a work of art. The mere visual aspect of the art serves only partial to the complete experience; only with language can the viewer understand the piece. Art & Language is "determined by a sense of the need, critically and contingently, to address the culture of Modernism, and the agency which that culture is, and reflects, and misrepresents ... "

In other words, Art & Language served originally to prove (or disprove) the legitimacy of conceptual artists and their work. They encourage dissent and criticism of popular work, promoting that "Modern" art must first prove itself noteworthy and should not just be blindly accepted. Often labeled as "radical," this group really pushes concept to its furthest reaches.

I was not able to find a great database of information on this group, so much of the biographical content is sourced from the Tate. But to summarize, the group started off in 1968 as four British artists: Terry Atkinson, David Bainbridge, Harold Hurrell, and Michael Baldwin. Their focus was to shift art into theory and concept, so that art pieces (namely paintings and drawings) could no longer just stand alone as an image. The group quickly integrated new members, so that by the early 80s more than fifty artists were associated with Art & Language. As the Tate notes:

[Art & Language] identified three main phases of the group – the early years, up to 1972, which chiefly found public expression in the publication Art Language; a middle period divided between New York and England and linked to the publication of the journal The Fox (discontinued in 1976); [and] the period since 1977, during which paintings have been produced.

The group is now primarily known by two artists (Michael Baldwin, Mel Ramsden) and one critic (Charles Harrison). They are still producing work, and remain a controversial element of the contemporary art world.

"Portrait of V. I. Lenin with Cap in the Style of Jackson Pollock"

"Picasso's Guernica in the Style of Jackson Pollock"

The Artbook brings to light one of a series of pieces by Art & Language "in the style of Jackson Pollock." After reading reviews and criticsm of and by the group, it is my understanding that the intent of this piece is to call forth the coming trend of "expressiveness." In their words: "by replicating the style of Pollock, the artists were calling attention to the issue of ‘expression and expressiveness.' Harrison has suggested that Pollock's work of 1947-50 had ‘exhausted the potential for an expressive, unselfconscious art, ... Expression somehow became culture, became cultured and emasculated. That emasculation was a part of what Art & Language was trying to represent as a determining condition. The fixing of an expressive content needed to be taken away from the ‘authoritative aesthetic spokesman, ... what a painting expresses or means must be a function of what it is made of and from, culturally, socially, technically, historically, psychologically and morally, independently of the mind of the spectator ...' " 
I do not believe they are necessarily debasing Pollock's work, but instead challenge the progression of ideas immediately following in which uninhibited expression was filtered into an accepted practice of modern art. That is to say that this type of expression in painting was normalized to the extent that it lost it's original intention, and that the mutation of expression into a style, "expressiveness," caused the importance of Pollock's work to dwindle rapidly. In this piece, Art & Language brings back the idea of purpose and meaning behind abstraction. Also, they are in a way dethroning Pollock from his authoritative role as creator, and returning the piece to the hands of a greater, superior force. Not the viewer, as Harrison notes, but instead, time. To be simultaneously of its time and ahead of its time, that is the true mission of a great piece of art.

Below exhibits the diversity of work of the artists involved in Art & Language. 
"Homes from Homes II"

The following piece was a part of a collaboration done with the band Red Crayola.

"Hard to Say When"

"A Rose Has No Teeth," a play on a Wittgenstein passage

Conceptually, Art & Language can be quite difficult to grasp. Also working on limited resources (internet searches as well as library searches did not provide for much), I feel that I've fallen short somewhat of the true conquest of Art & Language. In the future as I uncover more resources, I hope to flesh out this entry a bit more and provide a clear view of what the group is trying to do, as well as more images. If you're interested in a more detailed biography, check out the Tate full text review on Art & Language. You might run into the same issues in that entry as in this- lack of clarification. I think it is safe to say that with the extent of conceptualization drafted by these artists, few reviews are black and white. The Frieze Magazine also had a pretty good article on Art & Language, though after reading it I still retained a certain level of incoherence of the altogether message and point. 

It is my hope that as I continue as an artist and art historian that I will too discover and understand the pioneering of Art & Language, for art is an ongoing dialogue between self and surrounding, surrounding and self, and in order to truly produce relevant, groundbreaking art, one must constantly be concerned with this process of reflection and re-reflection. 

"The original commitment of Art & Language to the view that visual art is conceptually dependent on language had entailed the pursuit of a long critical and analytical project." To be continued...

18 August 2009


Hans "Jean" Arp, born in Strasbourg in 1886, was a sculptor, painter, poet, and founding member of Dada. He grew up in the Alsace-Lorraine territory, and was forced to change his name into a Francophone version of Hans upon the end of the Franco-Prussian War. Arp spent time in Paris, then moved to Switzerland to avoid the draft. He remained a radical activist through both writing and art. Arp's simplistic organic sculptural forms are very telling of their time period- a strong gravitation towards deeper meaning through direct, simple portrayals. Dada, a radical group of artists aiming to create turbulence in the art world, was most prominent in the early 1900s. Most of the work that was produced, including Arp's, was abstract and incredibly unconventional.

"Dada is the groundwork to abstract art and sound poetry, a starting point for performance art, a prelude to postmodernism, an influence on pop art, a celebration of antiart to be later embraced for anarcho-political uses in the 1960s and the movement that lay the foundation for Surrealism."

"Metamorphosis (Shell-Swan-Balance-You)" 1935, Private Collection

Arp was one of many during his time who dealt with automatism, which the Artbook describes as "experimental activities, such as nonsense poetry and spontaneous drawing." Another definition: "the performance of actions without conscious thought or decision." This style of producing art, especially circa 1920, is often considered in opposition to the meaning of "art" itself. Creation with intention falls at the centerfold of artistic purpose for many, yet for Dada "artistic purpose" was exactly what they wanted to get away from. The automatism style is highly prevalent in Arp's work. Just from the title- Metamorphosis (Shell-Swan-Balance-You)- a level of spontaneity and disorder can be detected. The piece itself seems to be in a state of transition, birthing a spherical form from within its angular infrastructure. The bronze is smoothed to a fine, sensuous finish. In my opinion, many interpretations can be drawn here, but overall the meaning seems to be irrelevant, almost arbitrary to the aesthetic achievement of the piece. A true Dada work.

I found a lot of Arp's painting, printmaking, and collage really fascinating. Creating art without purpose, drawing or producing while removing ego and filter, has a level of difficulty unmatched. Arp triumphed with original, groundbreaking pieces for his era. I really like the way MoMA chooses to describe the role he played for avant-garde art- "...it was through his investigation of biomorphism and of chance and accident that he proved especially influential on later 20th century art in liberating unconscious creative forces."

"Untitled (Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance)" 1916-17, MoMA

"Automatic Drawing" 1917-18, MoMA

"Enak's Tears (Terrestrial Forms)" 1917, MoMA

"Evocation of a Form, Human, Lunar, Spectral" 1950, Hirshhorn

Arp continued to create work until his death at the age of 80 in 1966. The latter portion of his life he devoted to writing and poetry, though produced some works, like a commissioned relief sculpture at Harvard in 1954. He is still very well recognized as a momentous creator of the 20th century.

15 August 2009


"I did not find accumulation, accumulation found me"

Armand Pierre Fernandez was born in Nice in 1928. With an artistic father, Fernandez was directed towards painting at an early age. He attended the Ecole Nationale d'Art Decoratif in Nice, as well as the Ecole de Louvre in Paris. Inspired by Van Gogh's signature of "Vincent" on his paintings, Fernandez began going by Armand, but soon changed his name to "Arman" following a printing error in 1958. Arman became a US citizen in 1972 after years of spending time in New York, and lives and works there today. He has worked closely with Yves Klein, a friend he met at a Judo school in Nice, as well as Andy Warhol. Joined by Klein and a number of other nameable artists, Arman is part of the Nouveau Realisme group formed in Paris whose work is concerned mostly with implications of industrial expansion and consumerist society.

"Boom Boom" 1966

Arman started his artistic career developing abstract image-making and carried this out into the late 50s. However, this is not what most know him for. Toward the end of this decade, Arman began to take a strong lean towards Dadaist techniques influenced by Duchamp's work. This is when he began exhibiting his Accumulations, art pieces dedicated to the collection and exhibition of replicated objects.

"I Still Use Brushes" 1969 (I could not find Crusaders online, this is very similar and held at MoMA)

Chosen by the Artbook, Crusaders is a 48" x 48" canvas filled with glued-on paintbrushes. As assumed from the title, this army of stacked brushes takes on a mission of its own, tying in themes of mass production. "...paint brushes are attached to the canvas in almost military formation, their silver-coloured handles and black bristles forming an abstract design." Arman created many other pieces in which the tools of creation are the main feature, eliminating the dynamic of creator and creation. More pieces with this theme are shown below.

"The Big Sax" 1976

Arman also highly publicized a 20th century society of waste and destruction. He did a number of assemblages of trash, such as Full-Up (1960, MoMA) shown below. "Arman's assemblages of accumulated objects reflect our throwaway society, offering a fetishistic portrait of how we live and document our lives." Arman's work groups unexceptional objects of a consumerist culture, puts them on display, and forms an immense statement about the character of the society we live and take pride in.

"Full Up" 1960, MoMA

"Homage a Pablo" 1998

"Summer Time," 1992

It is difficult to relay the variety and amount of accumulations Arman has completed within his lifetime. If you are interested in Arman, I highly recommend you check out his website, complete with his oeuvre and a great introductory video that shows him working on one of his pieces.

Last but not least, my favorite work of his is entitled Long Term Parking and displays 60 cars stacked in concrete. It is currently held on permanent display in France at Jouy-en-Josas. Enjoy!

"Long Term Parking" 1982

11 August 2009


Avigdor Arikha, born 1929 in Romania, is a Jewish artist currently living in Paris. In the 40s, Arikha was deported to a concentration camp with his parents, where his father died. Arikha survived due to his artistic skill, and was eventually relocated to Israel. He stayed there for a while, attending school at the Bezalel School of Art. He moved to Paris in 1949 upon reception of a scholarship to the Ecole de Beaux Arts, where he stayed for the rest of his life. Not only is his background unusual, but his artistic career follows an interesting path as well. He is the first artist I have seen to embrace abstract art and later reject it. After WWII, Arikha began schooling under Bauhaus influence. However, after a short time period, he decided abstraction insufficient for his purposes, and spent eight years producing prints and drawings. According to the artbook, this was largely inspired by a Caravaggio show he saw in 1965. In 1973, he picked up painting again and continued throughout his life time. He has been commissioned to do a number of portraits, including the Queen Mother. 

Interestingly enough, the artbook chose to depict a painting entitled "Sam's Spoon." Shown above, this painting is a tribute to Arikha's friend Samuel Beckett, and the painting was done on the one year anniversary of his death. Beckett's spirit and memory seems to be captured in this individually presented spoon, laid carefully on a creased napkin. Completed in 1990, this piece is currently held in private collection.

I chose to include pieces from relatively every era of Arikha's life. It is really fascinating to watch the way his style and focus shift, especially related to the recession from abstract to representational art. 

"Haute Rouge I," 1961- still in his abstraction period

"Self-portrait with Open Mouth," 1973

"The Square in June," 1983

"Ludovic Kennedy and Moira Shearer," 1993 

"Head and Shoulders," 1999

08 August 2009


Aleksander Archipenko (1887-1964) was born in Kiev, Ukraine. He attended the Kiev Art School as well as participating in an artist's colony in Paris, and eventually established his own art school in Kiev. He came to the US in 1923, and remained there for the rest of his life. Archipenko was a sculptor, grouped under the "cubist" movement. Many of his pieces consist of multiple media, and part of what makes his sculptures so interesting is his use of negative space and concavity.

One of his most famous pieces, "Woman Combing Her Hair" (1915) resides at MoMA. This piece is one of the best examples of his concavity utilized in full effect. The woman's face only exists as negative space, carved out of her hair. One of her breasts and both thighs are sculpted inward, as well as her shins. As MoMA notes,  "protruding elements seems to recede and internal features to advance," resulting in a truly unique method of representation.

"Seated Female Nude" 1909-1911, The Hirshhorn

Archipenko began using mixed media in what eventually became known as "sculpto-painting." For the most part, he used clay and wood and then painted on top in acrylic. Below are some examples found at MoMA and The Guggenheim. 

"Madonna of the Rocks," 1912

"Carrousel Pierrot," 1913