We — and possibly you, too — are a big fan of large coffee-table art books by the likes of publishers Taschen, Phaidon and Rizzoli, to name but a few. Among our favorite stack of these large tomes is a book by a lesser-known German publisher. It’s a book of photographs by the artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss titled “800 Views of Airports.” And that’s exactly what you get, literally 800 photos taken in airports by the artists over several decades of international air travel. There’s no accompanying text, no explanations, no captions. Just photographs of airports, airplanes, tarmac vehicles, control towers and views looking out of windows from air-terminal boarding lounges around the globe. The book is a mesmerizing document of the airport’s cultural landscape. For those who have traveled widely and often by air, the images in this book may feel in their own way comforting.
The answer to the question is …. art museum, obviously. Specifically the Hammer Museum of Art in Los Angeles. The logs you see pictured here not actually lumber but rather utility poles that for decades stood along the streets of Limassol on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. When changes in technology rendered these obsolete, the poles were removed. The artist Christodoulos Panayiotou’s acquired these as a kind of readymade, found objects and material for this artwork, titled “Independence Street.”
Hey, you! Yes, YOU! You, the savvy reader of this blog. In case you did not know it, you are an artist!
Well, to clarify, if you aren’t, then you can be. Instantly! Yes, INSTANTLY! What if we were to say that you can be an artist within minutes, if not seconds?
You don’t believe us. Well, let’s a try a little experimental exercise in art production. You have a pair of sneakers, yes? (If you don’t, that’s fine — for this exercise any type of footwear will suffice.) Ok, now grab those sneakers or loafers or mules or flips-flops or whatever, in fact grab a few pairs, as many as you can muster up really. Got ‘em? Great!
Now find some empty floor space, preferably bleached hardwood floor space and pick a spot near a wall, preferably a white wall. Place those pairs of shoes there, and by “place” we mean just dump the shoes on the floor and leave these as they lie when dropped.
And voila, you, savvy ready, have just created a work of art. In fact, it’s a conceptual artwork. It’s kind of like the artwork titled “Skin” by the awesome Moroccan artist Latifa Echakhch pictured in this post. (It’s was recently on view as part of the wonderful and cheeky “Stories of Almost Everyone” exhibition of conceptual art at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.)
You see, you are an artist! (To be more precise, you are conceptual artist!) Great job!
The real artistry here is in the next step: Getting somebody to pay you for this artwork, or at least to devote exhibition space to it.
Of course, you can always just call the space you dropped those shoes a “gallery” and you’re now an artist with a gallery show. Look at you! You’ve come so far in just a few short minutes.
Brentwood is a verdant, upscale neighborhood on westside of Los Angeles. It’s filled with mansions and luxury condos and shopping to match. It’s style can be summed up I. Three words: Understated, fashionable, and expensive. There is little — if any — street art in the usual sense of term, or public art for that matter. But the burb is home to one of L.A.’s most visually striking and singular murals, a massive painting of a giant tree on the side of a condo building on a slopey, fashionable but quiet stretch of Barrington Avenue. The mural shows a tree in reverse silhouette, a white stylized shape of a trees from roots to emty, wiry branches on a dark gray background. It’s simple and elegant and unmissable as you drive past it. The irony is if an area that is among the leafiest and greenest in Los Angeles — Brentwood is filled with trees — there is a mural of tree without leaves.
Capitalism and art. They’re not the best of friends. Sometimes they look at each other with roiling contempt. The fact is they need each other, albeit, to a point, and — deep down — they’re in love with one another, because each has something the other desperately wants: Money and cultural cachet. They help each other out in a symbiotic relationship that brings funding and artists together and makes culture happen on a grand scale.
Go into any major art institution and there are the plaques and signs on the walls and in the beautifully printed exhibition programs with the names of billionaire industrialists and entrepreneurs who have become art-world philanthropists, and see those names next the corporate sponsors and logos of the various companies — often Wall Street powerhouses and global Fortune 500 corporations — and the words “made possible by” or “with the generous support of.” At the major museums, at art fairs and events, that sponsorship and acknowledgement of support is par for the course.
Indeed, money makes the art world go around, though not necessarily art itself. The streets are a different matter. The very fact that street art is often illicit and seen “in the streets” is because there is no financial support or patronage or sanctioned art space for that work. Street art largely bypasses the gatekeepers, the curators, collectors, gallerists, and financial patrons. Granted, that the work of many street artists does not have a home in the galleries and museums is often because most street art is not great. Really, it’s mostly kind of lazy and sucky. From an art world perspective, it doesn’t warrant being on a gallery wall unless it is really great or there is at least the potential to co-opt it for financial gain or cultural profit in doing so. And if it is really great, it often only works in the context of the street. Once it’s on a gallery wall, most street art loses part of what made it special in the first place. It loses that context and its inherent subversiveness, aside from whatever its content or message may be. In any event, capitalism is not in a direct agreement or relationship with street art.
But sometimes artwork that is on the street is in a direct relationship with commercial patronage, for example, when it’s commissioned and given a dedicated commercial space well-suited for exhibiting the artwork. An advertising billboard is such a space, and it’s the location of the wondrous and evocative images of Taiwanese artist James Jean, whose painting “Schrodinger’s Kitten Rescue” has been rendered on a large billboard above in the Sawtelle neighborhood (a.k.a., Little Osaka) of Los Angeles. Here capitalism and art have come together to make a cultural baby, a creator’s commercial-free vision imposed on the urban landscape in what is otherwise a commercial-filled space.
We saw this cool street-artsy mural portrait of the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in Santa Barbara, California, while visiting there this past Monday. Kusama is a major international art star who has blown up the past few years as blockbuster exhibitions of her artwork and installations have popped up in art museums around the world and collaborations with brands like Louis Vuitton have made her work more visible to a broader, global audience. That said, we were a bit surprised to see her portrait in a town like Santa Barbara. Which got us wondering, in 2018 have we reached “peak” Kusama? The answer is, yes. Maybe. If not this year, then perhaps next.
This video on Vox does a great job of explaining so-called “white” paintings by artists like Robert Ryman, Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly, and so on, as examples of Minimalism and where these fit in the story of modern and contemporary art. Some of these paintings — including one that was essentially a blank white canvas — has sold for tens of millions of dollars at auction in recent years. It sparks the never-ending debate about what is and isn’t “art” and brings up the the often expressed sentiment of “I could do that” among the skeptical art-viewing public.