It’s Halloween season, and campy macabre aesthetic surrounds us, making the general public a little more open to the darker parts of our existence. Reflecting back on the origin of this holiday, All Hallow’s Eve and Samhain, the pagan celebration, it’s clear that death and the unseen world is the foundation. Our ancestors believed that the veil to the other side became thin or disappeared completely on this night, allowing the spirit world to comingle with the physical and living world. There are many people and cultures that still hold this belief and practice today.
In light of the season I began searching through aesthetically significant contemporary art that finds its foundations in death and dying. This is Part 1 of 2 of the scope of art about death, ranging widely in medium and other interwoven themes. Damien Hirst, Angelo Filomeno, Joel Peter Witkin, Konrad Smolenski and Doris Salcedo all embrace the subject of death and dying in a widely varied manner. As well, all are highly revered in their own right for their individual continuums of art produced over the years.
Damien Hirst is no stranger to controversy as an artist. He always delivers shock value well and does not shy away from creating work that makes viewers squirm. Materials he used to create the pieces featured here range from dead flies, to animal carcasses, formaldehyde and maggots. Hirst’s works don’t just discuss the business of birth, death and dying- they display it in action right before your eyes, in a way that some of the work nearly becomes about life itself.
This weekend on Beautiful Decay we want to welcome you over to the dark side, where a vast amount of artists are churning out contemporary art fueled by the fire of Metal. A multitude of artists these days are making art inspired by the crushing sounds and dark spirit of Heavy Metal, Death Metal and Doom music, all of which weave in and out of several other genres.
I’ve been a huge fan for a while now of the work made by artists Skinner, Ben Venom and Martin Durazo, which are strongly informed by Heavy Metal. This past week after chatting with artist and Beautiful Decay owner, Amir H. Fallah and artist Skinner and reaching out on Facebook to learn more about artists tied into this music scene, I was turned onto a breadth of incredible artists. A lot of artists working with metal as inspiration have strong crossover into design and illustration, album art, posters (especially for the band Mastadon), band merch and murals. There’s also a strong genre of work that explores dark spiritual matter, mythology and death that is absolutely captivating. You can expect upcoming coverage of these sub-genres in coming weeks.
Text art seems to be popping up everywhere these days in a multitude of diverse forms, although the use of text in art is inarguably not a new movement. However, when it comes to using words in visual art, several artists of different ages and sub-genres have found ways to burn their words into our brains. The pieces featured here have real stay-power. Whether the artist employs a blinking pattern between words, such as Bruce Nauman does, or draws rawly from their cultural background and related personal experience, such as Glenn Ligon and Patrick Martinez, these works deliver a very contemporary message. With simple language, and a sometimes poetic-sometimes brash- sense of honesty, these neon text-based works transcend many other works of text based art made today. Artists featured here include: Bruce Nauman, Patrick Martinez, Tracey Emin, Jill Magid, Glenn Ligon, Robert Montgomery and Jung Lee. The works speak for themselves- yet we encourage you to read between the lines.
The house is a shape everyone has some form of relationship with. Whether it symbolizes comfort, global financial crises in housing market, cookie cutter mediocrity or family, the house as a mundane symbol or object has been elevated to captivating experimental art and high art on several occasions. This weekend we share with you a selection of significant works that adapt houses into art objects.
Urs Fischer‘s Untitled (Bread House), constructed of bread, bread crumbs, wood, polyurethane foam, silicone, acrylic paint, screws, tape and rugs leaves every ingredient exposed. Stepping inside this large sculptural work recently at MOCA had the effect of walking inside a decaying fairytale, as the work is naturally allowed to crumble and decompose in exhibition. Stepping over piles of crusts of cinnamon raisin bread amidst dirty rugs and peering up at the bubbled polyeurythane foam that seeps between boards and rows of old bread, the viewer may feel any combination of wonder, amusement and fear- much like Grimms Brothers Fairytales.
An Te Liu‘s Title Deed evolved from the Leona Drive Project in Toronto where a number of vacant tract houses were offered to artists to be reinvented as artistic installations. As this project took place in 2009 in the height of the housing market crash, the artist observed that the simple shape of the existing house represented the 20th century iconic Monopoly board game house pieces. The simple, yet flawless execution of Title Deed situated within a functioning suburban neighborhood carries comical yet heavy implications.
Our planet is a truly magical work of art; complex, multifaceted and textural. Perhaps this is why Andy Warhol, a name that is unlikely to be associated with this topic, once said, “Land really is the best art.” Viewed in this simplistic yet profound light, land, or Earth, serves almost as found object in the implementation of Earthworks. In other instances land becomes the canvas, or the sculptural negative space for installation, or even a foundation and medium to explore sociocultural patterns.
Lita Albuquerque has used the earth and its materials for decades to create ephemeral and spiritually infused work. Her incorporation of performance, photography and installation creates multiple dimensions and lenses to experience our world, our relationship to earth and the stars, as well as their rhythms and cycles. The images featured here of her project Stellar Axis document an artistic expedition into Antarctica, which was the first and largest ephemeral work created on the continent. The installation of ninety-nine spheres across the icy landscape mimics the pattern of the ninety-nine Antarctic stars above- visually linking Earth to the cosmos.
The saying “home is where the heart is” very rarely relates to contemporary art. And though the works featured here are not directly about home, they are informed to some degree by immediate family,relationships and experiences that stem from it. In a global spectrum of east meets west these five artists come from genres ranging from Chinese Avant Garde to lowbrow painting, from surrealism to contemporary portraiture, to name a few. The paintings, mixed media works and digital media stills of artists: Song Dong, Brooke Grucella, Seonna Hong, Aaron Holz and Zhang Xiaogang exemplify the diversity with which the artists’ loved ones have become not only the subject for the works, but also at times part of the process, as well as a platform to tell a story that becomes increasingly universal.
I recall visiting the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco a couple of years ago to see Song Dong’s massive solo exhibition of works made with his family members as subjects, as well as a massive installation that incorporated decades worth of of family possessions as material. His work is deeply personal, with a strong narrative thread, and truly draw you into his world with their reverence and profoundly flawless execution. Zhang Xiaogang’s works from his series Bloodlines uses other family portraits as a vehicle for conveying the experiences of his immediate family that they experienced as he came of age during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Each piece in this series has a thin red line that weaves throughout the composition, symbolizing the connection of heritage and family.
“Paper Tears,” an exhibition of all new works by artist Jaybo Monk opened recently at Soze Gallery in LA. I connected with him to discuss his new body of work, and how it relates to poetry, travel, what came before and what comes next.
K: Congratulations on a beautiful show and a really solid opening! How have you felt about the exhibit?
J: Thank you, to be honest I forget my work soon as it has been done. I consider every show like pages from a book that continuously get closer to its end , therefore I am more interested in the next page as the one I just have read.
K: This new work of yours in “Paper Tears” is quite an evolution from past works in a way I love. They are much smaller and feel more personal. Can you tell us a little about how you may have approached this series differently than works in the past?
J: Since I remember I always have drawn my ideas on paper before I even put them in words. Each morning I wake up out of a dream, I try to remember it in a visual form. What I normally do on a bigger scale is the result of more than one dream. In “Paper Tears” I show one dream at once. The medium I used is also more personal: pocket aquarelles, pencils, ink… they also have a kind of diary aspect in them, involving time between each piece.
I have to confess I am easily drawn to works of art that resemble or depict toys and other childhood objects. At face value these works are easy, as all of us have some form of relationship or pre-existing association with the referenced nostalgic icons. In other words, the works naturally engage us and draw us in. However, these works, specifically those featured here, use the familiar imagery to interject layers of conceptual content, moving far beyond catchy into heavier implications, through expert usage of scale, quantity and context.
Context is key in these pieces. Maurizio Cattelan is a conceptual master of context, as demonstrated in his piece Daddy Daddy, which features a large drowned figure of Pinocchio floating face down in a pool inside the Guggenheim. The result is ironic, tragic and flawless. As well, the practice of significantly altering scale such as Jeff Koons‘ balloon animal sculptures, Urs Fischer‘s Untitled (Lamp/Bear) and Yoram Wolberger‘s life-size sculptures of toy and trophy figurines, allows the objects to become monolithic, dwarf us and alter our sense of reality.