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Art


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Art


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Pop ’Til You Drop


The enduring appeal of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein is on full display in England

Pop ’Til You Drop


The enduring appeal of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein is on full display in England

Culture > Art


 

Pop ’Til You Drop

June 30, 2017 / by China Daily Lifestyle Premium

Image above: Wall Explosion II (1965) by Roy Lichtenstein

Modern Art II (1996) by Roy Lichtenstein

Modern Art II (1996) by Roy Lichtenstein

“Pow!” “Whaam!” “Varoom!” In addition to the large onomatopoeic graphics on a background of explosive signage, Roy Lichtenstein is also recognised for his 1950s-style comic strip paintings, particularly those picturing the blonde woman and her polished man, who looks like he just stepped off the set of Mad Men.

The American artist commands astounding auction prices and remains highly influential, generally mentioned alongside Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist and Tom Wesselmann as the leading figures of the pop art movement. Born to an upper-middle-class Jewish family on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Lichtenstein skyrocketed to prominence in the early 1960s; in 1962, the entire collection from his first pop art solo exhibition at the famed Castelli Gallery sold out in one deal before the show had even started.

Lichtenstein’s instantly recognisable tongue-in-cheek parodies of comic strips and advertisement imagery, involving frequent use of stencils, makes a statement about the influence of American mass media and popular culture. His most famous works are clearly commercial in focus, drawing a major point of differentiation from the abstract expressionism that dominated the post-war period.

 

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In the Car (1963) by Roy Lichtenstein

In the Car (1963) by Roy Lichtenstein

This September, the Tate Liverpool is holding a free, nine-month exhibition dedicated to Roy Lichtenstein, showcasing more than 20 paintings by the artist. The artworks will include loans from the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, as well as pieces from the museum’s own collection such as Reflections: Art (1988) and the artist’s large-scale screen prints from the 1990s. Wow!

Artist Rooms: 
Roy Lichtenstein in Focus
September 22, 2017 to June 10, 2018; Tate Liverpool, England
(tate.org.uk)

Images: © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein (Wall Explosion II 1965), Tate. Purchased 1980; © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2017. Photo: Antonia Reeve(In the Car 1963), Collection: National Galleries of Scotland, purchased 1980; © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2017 (Modern Art II 1996, Reflections on Girl 1990), Artist Rooms, Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Collection 2015

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Reflections on Girl (1990) by Roy Lichtenstein

Reflections on Girl (1990) by Roy Lichtenstein

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For the Love of Sweets


Clearly, sprinkles make the world a better place

For the Love of Sweets


Clearly, sprinkles make the world a better place

Culture > Art


 

For the Love of Sweets 

June 30, 2017 / by China Daily Lifestyle Premium

Could there be any better escape from the summer heat than a visit to an ice cream-themed museum? Following its 2016 launch in New York City, the Museum of Ice Cream opened in Los Angeles from April 22 until the end of May, enabling visitors to take photos with giant popsicle sculptures, enjoy sample scoops from artisanal California creameries such as McConnell’s and Coolhaus, and immerse themselves in a plastic sprinkle pool. 

The brainchild of 25-year-old Maryellis Bunn, the Museum of Ice Cream opened as a 45-day pop-up last summer in Manhattan; all 30,000 tickets were sold out in three days, leaving 200,000 people on the sweet-tooth waiting list. The LA pop-up followed a similar course, with tickets selling out after just a couple of days, as celebrities including Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian brought their children to the highly Instagrammable show.

Future pop-up museums are planned for Miami and San Francisco before the end of the year, according to Bunn – but you’d better get in line. Two ice creams are included with each admission, so you can give yourself and the kids a sweet treat if you’re lucky enough to get one of those golden tickets. (museumoficecream.com)

Images: Museum of Ice Cream (photography by Katie Gibbs)

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Dream of Dimensions


Turkish photography artist Aydın Büyüktaş bends time and space for his surrealistic visuals

Dream of Dimensions


Turkish photography artist Aydın Büyüktaş bends time and space for his surrealistic visuals

Culture > Art


 

Dream of Dimensions

June 30, 2017 / by China Daily Lifestyle Premium

image above: Bridge, Flatland II

BNSF Yard, Flatland II

BNSF Yard, Flatland II

Istanbul-based photographer and digital artist Aydın Büyüktaş has been a keen science fan – and a dreamer – since childhood. He enjoyed reading science-fiction books by popular writers such as Isaac Asimov and HG Wells, and constantly had dreams about the unrealistic ships and fantasy cities he saw from illustrations in the Ringworld series. “In my dreams, which I still have now, I’m often in dangerous settings,” explains Büyüktaş. “I see pictures from different levels – one at eye level and one at bird’s-eye level. Sometimes there are even more dimensional views.”

Combining two such views in one picture was his vision for his 2015 photography project Flatland. The dizzying series featured 16 surreal 3D-effect photos taken from iconic structures in Istanbul and other cities in Turkey, and brought the international spotlight on the artist’s body of work. 

In October 2016, Büyüktaş set out on a second journey for Flatland II, a one-month, 10,000-mile solo trip across four American states – Arizona, Texas, California and New Mexico. From more than 1,000 photos taken, he selected 18 to 20 from different angles for each site or landscape, and achieved the 3D “bending” effect in Photoshop by overlaying the pictures. The post-production process took him two months. 

His initial inspirations for the project began with a book – Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott, published in 1884 – that had been mentioned in another book, Hyperspace by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. “While I was reading Hyperspace, I was obsessed by the question: if a black hole occurred in the place we live, how would it bend the space, time and place?”

“Dreamy” is the word Büyüktaş chooses to describe Flatland II. From the final 19 photos he presents in the series, viewers are encouraged to dive into the artist’s multi-dimensional dreamworld. Exploring the possibilities of creating additional dimensions – and how to add them into his art – will be Büyüktaş’ next endeavour on his never-ending journey to explore the unknown.

Images: Aydın Büyüktaş

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Rising Star


Léonore Baulac is the new principal dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet, one of the most selective ballet companies in the world alongside Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet and London’s Royal Ballet. At just 26 years old, she’s achieved the highest rank – here, she shares her rise to the top and her lifetime of dance, both on and off the stage

Rising Star


Léonore Baulac is the new principal dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet, one of the most selective ballet companies in the world alongside Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet and London’s Royal Ballet. At just 26 years old, she’s achieved the highest rank – here, she shares her rise to the top and her lifetime of dance, both on and off the stage

Culture > Art


 

Rising Star

March 31, 2017 / by Marine Orlova

Above image: the white swan on stage

Was it your dream of a lifetime to become a principal dancer?

Indeed! I started dancing when I was four years old. At 11, I took part in a competition with my favourite dancer, José Martinez, as a member of the jury – I even had a poster of him in my bedroom at the time. I received the gold medal and since that day I dreamt of becoming a danseuse étoile [principal dancer] so that I could dance with him. 

The world of dance is known as an extremely tough environment. Is it? 

Well, when you’re so committed to ballet, you don’t have the same adolescence as others – I wasn’t a party girl. But it wasn’t a sacrifice; it was my choice. As for the cliché about the bad atmosphere at dance school, think of this: what happens when dozens of young girls are gathered in the same room? At that age, whether you dance or not, you’re not the sweetest creature on earth. 

Let’s talk about the big day – how did you feel when Aurélie Dupont [the Paris Opera’s new dance director] and Stéphane Lissner [the Paris Opera’s director] made the announcement?

It was crazy! Of course, there were favourable circumstances, as it was the first time I danced Odile/Odette in Swan Lake, a leading role with Germain Louvet [who was appointed principal dancer a few days before Baulac] on New Year’s Eve. But I was actually 100% focused on my interpretation in order to do the best possible show – and not thinking about a promotion. It’s not good to dance while thinking, “If I don’t dance well tonight, I won’t be promoted.” One, you never know what will happen and two, you prefer to think it won’t happen anyway in order to keep the stress away. 

So when I saw them climbing on stage at the end of the ballet, I thought, “Okay, they’re here for me. Enjoy it, this is your moment – it only happens once in a lifetime.” You know, it’s very strange to be alone in front of 3,000 people – I bowed at least 12 times! In the past, whenever I looked at my watch and it was 11:11 or 22:22, I used to wish I would become a danseuse étoile. Now that it’s done, I wish for peace in the world! [laughs]

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What repertoire would you like to explore in the next few years? 

I love to tell stories, to play characters and to move my audience to a different universe. I would love to dance in Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring. It must be a very different experience. The first time I saw it, I had an aesthetic shock. The dancers are barefoot, wild and covered with dust – the audience can even hear them breathing. This ballet gives a very special collective effect that I’d love to experience. As for the more classical repertoire, I love dramatic love stories. I really enjoyed dancing Juliet in Romeo and Juliet; the costumes were amazing. I would also like to dance in Onegin, Manon and Giselle. There’s this amazing scene in Giselle when she turns mad; I’m sure it’s a real thrill to dance. 

What changes when you become a soloist? 

A few years ago, when I was working on The Nutcracker with Germain Louvet, and it was my first great role, I remember that Aurélie Dupond prophetically told us, “You two will be soloists one day, I’m sure. You should prepare yourselves. Whether you want it or not, it will come and it’s not an easy thing to deal with.” 

And she was right – being a soloist is very challenging. When people come to see an étoile, they expect something extraordinary and you have to give it to them, even if you’re having a bad day. There’s nobody you can hide behind. And there are a lot of things you have to think about as a soloist. I remember one night I danced Clara in The Nutcracker and the neck of the doll was broken. So I spent half of the ballet keeping the head on the bust in order to maintain that fairytale mood and not let it turn into a horror show. These are the kinds of things one cannot imagine from the outside. 

From the pirouette to the arabesque, you’ve mastered all the ballet steps. If you were one of them, which one would you be?

A jump! 

One needs energy to jump – where do you get yours from? 

Music. It has always made me dance. When I was a little girl, I used to dance in the living room, listening to my favourite tunes for hours: Brahms’ Hungarian Dances and Chopin’s Nocturnes. Today, my favourite ballets are those whose music inspires me the most, like The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky – and Pina Bausch’s choreography really reflects what I hear in this music. I also like to listen to jazz, Charleston and swing. 

Tell us your ballerina secrets – what’s your feel-good ritual backstage?

I love massages. It’s a professional care that I indulge myself with. 

What would we see in your private dressing room? 

A lot of snacks: cereal bars and almonds everywhere! We don’t always have the time to eat a proper lunch, so it’s very important to keep energy sources at hand. I pay a lot of attention to what I eat. Not to restrain myself, as many people think dancers do, but on the contrary – to eat enough of everything. Diets without protein, carbohydrates or fat are a catastrophe when you have to dance eight hours a day. I would like to tell young dancers that if they want to have a long and beautiful career, they need to eat well – otherwise they run the risk of injuries. Anorexia is a real plague in the world of dance and it’s such a pity to see young dancers broken because of it.

A dancer’s way of moving is truly fascinating for non-dancers. How do you define this elegance?

On stage, elegance is the art of finding the right balance between expressivity and technique. It’s quite the same in everyday life – elegance is a matter of balance. I think the most important thing is to be beautiful for oneself; as soon as one overplays something, it’s doomed to fail. And I’d say politeness is also part of being elegant. 

Any expert tips to look like a dancer when walking down the street? 

Just the basics: keep your back straight, relax your shoulders and stretch your neck.

Before we let you get back to the Garnier, which ballet would you advise us to see?

If you come to Paris next year, don’t miss Don Quichotte. It’s a very pleasant and lively ballet – and not at all elitist. 

And what kind of flowers should we throw on stage at the end of your next performance?

That’s a nice question to ask; you’re so sweet! Spring flowers are my favourite, like freesias and peonies. 

Image: James Bort(the black and white portrait);Svetlana Loboff (the white swan/on stage one)

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Eau Naturel


Hiroshi Senju’s sublime, large-scale paintings of waterfalls and cliffs are renowned for combining the techniques of abstract expressionism with Japan’s centuries-old nihonga style of painting. Senju was the first Asian artist to receive an Honourable Mention Award at the Venice Biennale, his monumental Shrine of the Water God was recently added to the permanent collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and his oeuvre is showcased in the dedicated Hiroshi Senju Museum in Karuizawa, Japan. In this exclusive interview, Senju explains how nature has inspired his work

Eau Naturel


Hiroshi Senju’s sublime, large-scale paintings of waterfalls and cliffs are renowned for combining the techniques of abstract expressionism with Japan’s centuries-old nihonga style of painting. Senju was the first Asian artist to receive an Honourable Mention Award at the Venice Biennale, his monumental Shrine of the Water God was recently added to the permanent collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and his oeuvre is showcased in the dedicated Hiroshi Senju Museum in Karuizawa, Japan. In this exclusive interview, Senju explains how nature has inspired his work

Culture > Art


 

 

Eau Naturel

Above image: “Water Shrine”International Terminal at Haneda Airport, Tokyo, Japan

March 31, 2017 / by Joel Fischer

Why do you have such a fascination with waterfalls?

When I look at waterfalls, I see amazing, impossible scenery. The constant movement of the water attracts not only human beings, but also any animals that are nearby. I’m interested in the reaction between the water and gravity, and when I paint I pour the pigments from the top of the panels and create a waterfall on the surface of the paper. 

Nature seems to play such a dominant role in your art…

Since the ice age, the primitive era, humans have always tried to capture nature and to communicate with nature. So when you look at cave paintings there are bison or deer painted on the walls of a cave and that shows the curiosity of ice-age people – where did this animal come from and where is it going? 

Looking back at the history of art and particularly depictions of nature, who do you most admire and what most influenced you?

I’d probably start 50,000 years ago when the first human made art – painted the animal on the wall, in a cave. And I love Renoir, Monet, Hokusai, Hiroshige… the Italian Renaissance, too. In American art, Gerhard Richter. American contemporary artists successfully expressed things that you cannot see. Abstract painting has successfully given a form to something that is invisible. 

You’ve said you’re not a Japanese artist or an Asian artist. Can you explain how you position yourself in a world context? 

In the present day, there is so much separation or alienation by race, whether it’s Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, American or European. I think it’s very important now to talk as a human being, as a common denominator. 

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Tell us about the museum dedicated to your work in Karuizawa. 

The architect was Ryue Nishizawa. It’s constructed mainly with glass and is in the forest – so in a way, it’s invisible. There is no artificial light. It’s almost like you’re walking in nature and you happen to come across my paintings. 

And your New York studio is in an old power station?

I used to have a big studio in Tribeca in downtown Manhattan. But my paintings got bigger and bigger, and I could no longer carry them out through the elevator. My wife looked for a new location and found an old power plant in Westchester that I renovated. [The purpose of] a power plant is to generate electricity and bring light to people, so that place is an inspiration to me. 

You’re currently working on your Cliff series – 18 new pieces that will debut at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in New York in November, and which will possibly be brought to Hong Kong next year. Can you describe your creative process for those works?

[Senju holds up a piece of paper and scrunches it up to demonstrate.]
I crunch up huge pieces of paper so they are damaged – but looking carefully at them, I can see cliffs. I pour pigment on top of those crushed papers and it falls because of gravity. It’s collaboration with a natural phenomenon. In art history, I don’t think anybody has used pigment on top of crushed paper. The reason I can do it is because I use Japanese mulberry paper, which is very strong. 

Your work has been exhibited in Hong Kong before. What do you like to do when you visit the city?

When I’m in Hong Kong, I go shopping for antiques, especially for old Chinese works of art that surprise and inspire me. An 11th-century Chinese painting is almost like calligraphy – the scenery or the landscape is not brushed, but rather written. It’s not just a painting; it shows thoughts and ideas. 

Image: Kazuya Yamaguchi; Nacasa & Partners Inc.

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Au Naturel


Artist Vicki Rawlins uses a variety of unique ingredients from the great outdoors to create her three-dimensional artwork

Au Naturel


Artist Vicki Rawlins uses a variety of unique ingredients from the great outdoors to create her three-dimensional artwork

Culture > Art


 

Au Naturel

February 3, 2017 / by Emily Zhang

In today’s art world, the use of materials is only limited by the imagination. Chicago-based artist Vicki Rawlins makes eye-catching artworks using items straight from Mother Nature and sells them on Sister Golden, an online boutique she runs with her daughter, Brooke. “I had seen some foliage art on Instagram and thought it would be fun,” explains Rawlins. “I have been an artist my whole life and portrait work has been a love of mine, so doing foliage faces was what I wanted to try.”

Rawlins worked on showcase homes and for commercial businesses for many years before getting back into her studio with paint and flowers. Her goal is to create artwork that is colourful and fresh, and will help define people’s spaces. To achieve this, Rawlins spends a lot of time foraging in her neighbourhood, collecting natural materials. Then she assembles portraits in her studio with what she finds outdoors, turning a fallen leaf into an eyebrow, rose petals into a perfect pair of lips and twigs into a face. “I make up the women I’m doing out of my imagination,” explains Rawlins. “I really try to create a feeling or story around each one. Most of the time, the flowers I have to work with will take me into a certain direction. Frida Kahlo is my muse – and a subject I just feel like I need to do.”

Most strikingly, the materials are delicately balanced on each other – so she has to be extremely careful with the creation, as no glue, tape or other adhesives are used to stick the foliage to her work. The pieces take Rawlins anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days, and the final step is to document her art; the resulting prints are sold on Sister Golden. “After I finish the piece, I document it with a photograph, being very careful not to bump the table and Mother Nature’s house of cards,” explains Rawlins, who professes the whole act is therapeutic. “When I’m finished with a piece, I gather up all the flowers and put them in my compost pile or send them off into the lake my studio is on.”

For Rawlins, art is “creating something from your heart and soul and bringing it to life.” Searching your surroundings for fallen bits or doing some weeding in the garden – perhaps it could lead you to create your own masterpiece. 

Images: Vicki Rawlins, Sister Golden

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The Art of Going Global


Since opening his first space 16 years ago, renowned New York gallerist Sundaram Tagore sees a major shift happening in the art world today

The Art of Going Global


Since opening his first space 16 years ago, renowned New York gallerist Sundaram Tagore sees a major shift happening in the art world today

Culture > Art


 

The Art of Going Global

December 9, 2016 / by Chris Campbell

If you want to be a successful art dealer in 2016, forget sitting in your gallery waiting for customersto come in – and instead embrace a global, connected strategy. That’s the key message from entrepreneur Sundaram Tagore, whose galleries in New York, Singapore and Hong Kong showcase contemporary art from around the world.

For Tagore, a global strategy means following art fairs from continent to continent, riding the rising wave of online sales, offering an increasingly eclectic range of international art and artists, staging pop-up exhibitions in major capitals and turning the traditional gallery visit into a lifestyle experience. With the critical art fair season going into full swing, he’s about to embark on a frenetic travel schedule that will take him to Miami, Singapore, Palm Beach, New York, Dubai and finally Hong Kong for the 2017 Art Basel fair, to be held from March 23 to 25.

New York has been home for Tagore since he completed his art studies and joined the bohemian art scene in the city’s Soho district of the 1980s, befriending leading post-war art figures including Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg. Tagore opened his first Soho gallery in 2000 – Rauschenberg threw a party to celebrate – and he already looks back on it as a distant era. “The art world back then was located in a physical space,” he recalls. “If you had an art gallery, as a gallerist you sat in the gallery and waited for a client to come in.” 

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So how has the art market changed? “As the world has flattened – especially in the context of how the art market functions – people from New York travel to Hong Kong during auction and art fair season, and vice versa. Mainland Chinese collectors will end up in Miami and at European art fairs,” explains Tagore. “The easiest way to consume art is through art fairs or online, so the old school brick-and-mortar type of gallery can’t be your only point of access. The internet has become a very important dissemination and consumption channel. You have to have an understanding of how people view and buy art, which these days includes phones and tablets.” 

It’s a view backed up by the numbers. Art sales totalled US$63.8 billion globally in 2015, down 7 per cent from 2014, according to a report published earlier this year by The European Fine Art Foundation. However, online sales bucked the trend and rose by 7 per cent,
reaching almost US$5 billion.

Technology is also set to impact how people view and buy art. “If we mount an exhibition in New York, thanks to virtual reality a collector will be able to walk through the gallery anywhere else in the world,” says Tagore. “It will allow collectors to make a much better judgment in buying a particular piece because they will be able to ‘walk’ around it and look at it from all angles.” 

Tagore also says the old days of monocultural offerings are over. “You are no longer showing artists from just one country – but from 18, 20, 30 different countries if you are a big enough gallery.” He also believes that galleries today must offer a full lifestyle experience, including conferences, lectures, visits to working artists’ studios and art tours to different parts of the world. “Galleries must take on a multifaceted role – as the bricks-and-mortar role changes and dissolves, they must take up a new position.” 

Increasing globalisation has also revealed marked differences in how artists work. “A lot of artists in the West, for instance, are very interested in producing paintings. But in Asia and some of the emerging markets, or with developing artists, they tend to produce installations and other forms of art that require manufacturing,” he says. “Collectors’ tastes have evolved – we get a new set of eyes every 20 years – and art has lost its definition as something you put on the wall.”

However the market adapts to changing tastes and technologies, Tagore says there is one fundamental principle that shouldn’t be forgotten. “It is of paramount importance that we can come face to face with a work of art and have that chemical, primal reaction. That way, we can directly experience what the artist intended.”

Image: Sundaram Tagore Gallery (painting by Nathan Slate Joseph)

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It Just Clicks


Famed American photographer Steve McCurry discusses his first impressions of Asia, shooting images on his phone and his travel wish list. Some of his most celebrated images from the region are on display in the Picturing Asia: Double Take exhibition at the Asia Society in Hong Kong until January 7, 2017

It Just Clicks


Famed American photographer Steve McCurry discusses his first impressions of Asia, shooting images on his phone and his travel wish list. Some of his most celebrated images from the region are on display in the Picturing Asia: Double Take exhibition at the Asia Society in Hong Kong until January 7, 2017

Culture > Art


It Just Clicks

October 28, 2016 / by China Daily

You initially studied filmmaking in university, but ultimately became a photographer. Did anyone nurture or shape your photographic talent at the start of your career? 

I think my professors were influential in my career. They sort of set me on the course.

Where did you get your first camera? What did you shoot?

It was a birthday gift – a Kodak Brownie. I was shooting stuff like my travels, friends and family. 

You quit your job at the age of 27 and became a freelance photographer. What was it like to be a photographer in the 1970s?

It was great. I was striking out on my own, doing my own thing and not having to do assignments – I was just free. But it was very competitive.

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You created many celebrated works and had a lot of inspiration in Asia. When you first came to this part of the world, what do you recall about your first impressions? 

It was in India – I remember there were a lot of people on the street, and there was kind of pungent odour of curry or something. It was very crowded and a bit of shock. It was a new experience, a new world and a new adventure.

How about your experiences in China? 

The first time I went there, I was going to shoot a monsoon. I went back again four years later to do a story on Shanghai for Life magazine, I think in 1989. Now, it’s like no other place in the world – it has just exploded. Most people rode their bicycles then; there weren’t so many cars. Everything was very simple. But it changed so fast. The change was so unbelievable and astonishing. It has transformed overnight. It’s just amazing – and maybe it’s just the beginning. I wish I had worked more there, because it was so fascinating. It’s so different from the way it is now.

Travel plays a very important part in your life. You’ve been to many places and have taken countless calculated risks. But unexpected situations do arise – all the time. Have you ever been especially nervous about any of your trips?

Mostly in places like Afghanistan… some parts of India and Iraq. But the main one I always worried about was Afghanistan. Every day there were some problems – security problems. People were being kidnapped, killed. It was a constant worry. 

Have you ever considered going back?

I was there in March. I’m doing a book about Afghanistan: culture, landscapes, portraits – my impressions of Afghanistan. So I might go back there and add some more pictures.

I heard that in Kuwait, you almost lost your life. 

Actually, I think the time I was most scared was in Slovenia. I was doing aerial photography in a plane and the pilot crashed into the lake – he made a mistake and flew the plane too close to the water. I survived, but it was scary being upside down, underwater. I was pretty lucky. 

Where do you most want to travel these days?

I want to go to China again – it hangs on my list of places I’d like to travel. I also want to travel around the US, because I haven’t done as much of that. Those are two things on my list. There are a lot of interesting places in China. But it changes a lot – a lot of charm is going to be lost. The architecture used to be very unique, but they tear the buildings down and put up something new, usually not that great-looking. But this happens everywhere else – New York is the same. Practically nothing is left the way it was 100 years ago.

What’s your typical kit these days?

I use a 24-70 f2.8 – that’s my main lens. When I wander down the street, I just have the camera and bag I’m travelling with. When I’m working, I just have the camera – no extra lenses. I like to keep it very minimal. But I have other cameras; I have my digital Hasselblad and my phone. 

Do you take a lot of photos with your mobile phone?

Yes, all the time. Sometimes, if the quality is okay, I publish them. But they’re not big – just eight-by-tens or something. 

What subjects interest you? How do you make them comfortable?

You decide the subjects based on how you respond to people. Some of them have interesting faces. You have to recognise something that’s really special. I use a bit of humour to help them defuse the awkwardness and self-consciousness. I think humour can be a great ally in a photo shoot. 

What if people say no when you want to take their photo? 

That happens. If they say no, you just move on. You only have a 90% success rate, if you’re lucky. 

To get a great picture, sometimes you have to wait a long time. How do you know that perfect moment? 

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It depends on a lot of factors. It’s about experience and you have to wait to find the right moment. You improve yourself as you practice – practice is everything. 

What’s the worst part about your job?

Airport security isn’t fun – the whole airport experience isn’t fun. It’s the worst aspect of travel. 

The world is undergoing tremendous changes now. What impressed people in the past might become passé today. Do you worry that people might get bored of Steve McCurry’s way of interpreting the world?

No – I think I have a good sense of observation. I’m curious. I know a good picture when I see one. If I find something extraordinary, other people will feel the same way. I’m not too concerned about fashion and style.

When I joined the media tour of your Asia Society exhibition and we were introduced to your photo Golden Rock, the guide made a remark about the “reality of the photograph”. Some people argue that there’s no such thing as reality in photography. What do you think?

I think if you’re shooting for newspaper or something, then there are certain rules. If you’re making art, it’s a different thing. It depends on what you’re doing. 

After all these years, what’s your main goal as a photographer today?

I try to do worthwhile things and create some interesting work, and be involved in places where I can learn things and explore. I have a rewarding, rich and fulfilling life. Life is short – so we need to make the most out of it and live in the best possible way. For me, that’s my work: exploring the park across the street from my apartment or exploring another country. That’s my true pleasure – to photograph and observe things.

Images: Steve McCurry; Asia Society

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Trunk Show


Pioneering contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing on his collaboration with Louis Vuitton, New English calligraphy and his experiences in the New York art scene

Trunk Show


Pioneering contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing on his collaboration with Louis Vuitton, New English calligraphy and his experiences in the New York art scene

Culture > Art


 

Trunk Show

August 26, 2016 / by Emily Zhang

You’ve teamed up with Louis Vuitton on a trunk featuring your signature New English calligraphy [an English writing system that looks like Chinese characters]. How did this collaboration come about?

One of Louis Vuitton’s agents came to me and told me about this project. They said Louis Vuitton would open a big centre in Beijing; the trunk would be shown at the opening and then up for auction, with proceeds to fund a public good. They wanted me to use the “four treasures of the study” [the brush, ink, paper and inkstone used in East Asian calligraphic traditions] with the brand’s classic trunk. I thought the combination was very interesting and could bring me into a new arena in creation. 

For this project, you spent two years working on the calligraphy, inspired by contemporary Chinese poet Zhai Yongming’s In Antiquity. Why choose this piece?

I think this piece is very special among all Zhai’s poems; many people love this one. It talks about “distance” – the distance between the past and now. This poem also echoes Louis Vuitton’s concept of travel. In fact, this poem was written to me by Zhai when we were in love – she didn’t mention it in the poem, but we both know about it.

You moved to New York in 1993 at the age of 35, which must have been a challenge, as many Chinese during that period were told to settle down in their 30s. What made you decide to go to the US?

Though I was 35 years old, I didn’t think I should settle down like the middle-aged. I was very interested in contemporary art, but there wasn’t much information about it in China in the ’90s and the cultural atmosphere wasn’t good, either. I was thirsty for more knowledge about contemporary art, so when the opportunity arose, I went.

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Did you try to integrate into the New York art circle? 

At the beginning, I was just like other artists coming from all over the world, trying my best to get into the mainstream contemporary art system. But now, it appears to be the wrong approach, because getting into a system also means you have to make your uniqueness disappear and become like everyone else. New York isn’t a place for that. Later, when my work was recognised and appreciated by the Western world, people asked about my past and background. I began to think about what made me recognisable and it’s the unique cultural gene I have from China – the Chinese culture and my background of growing up in a socialist environment [during the Cultural Revolution]. I didn’t like my unique gene and tried to hide it at first. But it turned out to be a great treasure, allowing me to see contemporary art from a different vision and angle.

You created New English calligraphy in the US, where the fusion of East and West caught your attention. Was it a natural progression of your art?

I think artists should create art anywhere they go. If I hadn’t gone to the US, I wouldn’t have created New English calligraphy. My early creations, such as New English calligraphy, were mostly related to cultural conflicts and misinterpretations. You can also see from my experiences that art is the response to the issues or problems artists encounter during their lives.

I heard some companies have made use of New English calligraphy as a way to test jobseekers’ Chinese and English ability. 

I think those who use my New English calligraphy in interviews don’t want to test people’s language ability. Instead, they want to test logical thinking and the ability to solve awkward situations, or even test candidates’ sense of humour. You know, the Australian education department wrote to me, requesting permission to use my New English calligraphy in their newly designed IQ-test system.

Thirty years ago, you created Book from the Sky in the style of editions from the Song and Ming dynasties, but composed entirely of meaningless glyphs that resemble traditional Chinese characters, which no one could read. But your work today can be understood by anyone from any country. How have your experiences contributed to your recent works? 

These works have evolved with my understanding of art. After all these years of doing art in the US, I noticed that there are a lot of problems in the art system I followed. There has always been a divide between contemporary art and ordinary people. I don’t like that. So in my later creations, I put in more interaction and affinity. I hope my work gets closer to people and invites them to be involved, that audiences can find inspiration from my work. That’s what I really want. I’ve gradually realised that inspiration and creativity doesn’t come from the comparison of art styles or the study of the art system. They stem from the enlightenment of society. So my work now tends to focus more on societal issues.

You don’t want to be defined as a certain type of artist. But how would you describe what you are doing with calligraphy, writing and language?

The fresh blood of art comes from outside the system. It’s a very simple principle. It’s really hard to stereotype my recent creations. I work in different domains, spaces and concepts. For example, my project Book from the Ground – it’s a piece of writing, but it’s also a calligraphy design, because I used a new form to tell a story. And also my other projects – I can’t find a proper way to describe what I’m doing. I think art is the best way to speak for me. It disturbs people’s stereotypical thinking and knowledge.

You live in Beijing and New York. What roles have the two cities played in your life?

I think Beijing and New York are the most interesting cities in the world. For me, Beijing is a better place to work, because it inspires me a lot. As for living, New York’s a comparatively more comfortable place. If I can’t find my direction or coordinates in Beijing, I’m able to find calmness in New York and think about my work. But I enjoy what I’m doing in Beijing now.

What are you working on right now?

We’re currently working on The Dragonfly Eyes [his first film, based on footage collected and compiled from thousands of surveillance videos]. It’s much harder than we thought. I find this project very interesting because it’s trying to use a new method to express art and it echoes contemporary culture. And next year in May, we’ll have a big exhibition in Rome, based on the civilisation of ancient Rome and the Chinese Jin dynasty.

Images: Xu Bing Studio; Louis Vuitton

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Court Jester


Acclaimed Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan brings his irreverent, prankish work to the windows of Galeries Lafayette in Paris. But who’s the joke’s on?

Court Jester


Acclaimed Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan brings his irreverent, prankish work to the windows of Galeries Lafayette in Paris. But who’s the joke’s on?

Culture > Art


 

Court Jester

June 24, 2016 / by Charles Oliver


“Art is what you make it, and in Cattelan’s case, that’s just about anything”


Prankish, subversive and at times the joker of the high-art world, Maurizio Cattelan always seeks out extremes as a way of offsetting the realistic depiction of well-practiced social and art-world conventions. The acclaimed self-taught artist’s work teeters into the absurd and ridiculous; often, he seems to revel in how directly the deceitfulness of his art is unmasked. From July 6, upscale department store Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann is spicing up its display windows, exhibition space and dome with Toiletpaper, a new collaboration between Cattelan and photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari.

Born in 1960 in Padua, Italy of humble origins, Cattelan started his career in the ’80s with anti-functional design objects before deciding to shift to the art world, which, in his own words, he found “much more appealing.” Since then, he has become a globally renowned artist; his work has appeared in many of the world’s top art institutions and exhibitions. Without the contradictions, provocations and differing truths that exist simultaneously, coupled with a visual power that imprints itself onto the viewer’s memory, his work wouldn’t be what it is. 

Since 1993, when Cattelan moved to New York, he has split his time between there and Milan. Not owning a studio, he works in situ, as exhibitions offer him the challenge of “finding” new works, which are subsequently fabricated by others rather than being made by the artist himself. Of course, as much of the high-art community dismisses Cattelan’s work outright, it’s also a healthy reminder of the absurdity and pretence of that world – and the artists that perpetuate it. In this respect, his art is redolent of the “spoof” school, in which a parody stops being a parody at some point, and becomes a Dadaist or surrealist artwork on its own merits.

 

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In this way, Cattelan shares something of the spirit of the Incoherents, a little-known group of Parisian artists in the 1880s whose work anticipated (by about 40 years) the avant-gardism of the 20th century. Incoherent works included bread and cheese, and a reproduction of the Mona Lisa smoking a pipe – which predated Marcel Duchamp’s moustached Mona Lisa (1919) by decades. 

What differentiated the Incoherents was their endearing humour, rather than the dogmatism and earnestness
of the more serious rebels who arrived a generation later. 

Cattelan does much the same today, so it seems a savvy move that Galeries Lafayette has invited Cattelan and Ferrari to stage the summer exhibition, named for the biannual experimental art magazine the duo set up in 2010. In a class of its own, the image-only publication features carefully constructed photographs. 

On the surface, the composition shots in Toiletpaper have a quaint, slightly retro feel to them – an artful way of drawing us in, before catching us off guard as we realise what we are actually looking at. Intriguing, comical, startling – the images are guaranteed to leave their mark. Toiletpaper’s assemblages are inspired by “found images” taken from the internet and magazines; breaking down prevailing codes of fashion, advertising and cinema is the duo’s leitmotif. 

On top of this is an eclectic mix of forms, from consumer items and food to animals of all kinds, alluding to
Cattelan’s artistic output. The main reason the duo originally opted for a magazine as a platform was to ensure
the images circulated among the widest possible audience. With more than 100,000 daily visitors from all corners of the globe visiting the store each July, Galeries Lafayette is sure to get high traffic as well. 

For the window displays, Toiletpaper presents 11 images, featured on Boulevard Haussmann. The artistic duo offers visitors a witty, food-inspired take on France’s capital, in a flourish of summery colours with hints of blue, white and red as seen on the national flag. 

In the Galerie des Galeries exhibition, the duo plays with the setting – creating a store, exhibition space and gathering place all in one, the project is a collaborative
effort with designers Seletti and Gufram; the fantastic four have produced a variety of everyday objects tinged with their characteristic surrealistic images. 

Finally, taking the duo’s trademark wit to new heights, the store’s dome will also accommodate their much-admired cactus, combining Franco Mello and Guido Drocco’s iconic 1972 coat rack with two eggs. 

Subversive? It’s trademark – and seemingly coherent – Cattelan. Get thee to Galeries Lafayette this summer, and ask yourself: is it art, retail, commerce, or all three? While you’re debating, consider Andy Warhol, who said that malls were the galleries of tomorrow. Art is what you make it, and in Cattelan’s case, that’s just about anything. 

From July 6 to September 10 at Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann.

Images: © Toiletpaper

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“Art is Not Aesthetics”


Renowned Beijing-based multimedia and video artist Cao Fei discusses her recent New York exhibition and her involvement in the second #GucciGram project, in which global artists have created works featuring the Gucci Tian motif

“Art is Not Aesthetics”


Renowned Beijing-based multimedia and video artist Cao Fei discusses her recent New York exhibition and her involvement in the second #GucciGram project, in which global artists have created works featuring the Gucci Tian motif

Culture > Art


“Art is Not Aesthetics”

June 24, 2016 / by Yi-jie

Your first solo exhibition in New York recently launched. What do you aim to bring US audiences?

In past years, I participated in exhibitions or projects held by a variety of museums and organisations, so I believe that US audiences might be familiar with some of my work. For this, MoMa PS1 presents all my previous artworks as a whole and makes them connected for the first time.

You collaborated with Asian hip-hop parody group Notorious MSG, performing Straight out of Times dressed as a dim-sum girl. How did that come about?

As I prepared for my [2006 video project] Hip-Hop Performance at the Lombard Freid Projects in New York City, I found a music video called Straight out of Canton on the internet. The video was by New York-based hip-hop group Notorious MSG. The three core members of the band were Chinese-Americans working at a restaurant in New York’s Chinatown. I invited them to perform in Hip-Hop Performance and we became
friends after. I collaborated with Notorious MSG again because they represent the rebellious images of the Chinese, including Asian immigrants,
in the US. When Notorious MSG perform on the stage, their dream to become stars confronts the identity of immigrants and kitchen workers.

Why use video and various digital techniques to study the social lives of Chinese people?

I’m interested in the relationships between social development and human beings, including the impact of lifestyle, social revolution, technological innovation and media reality. That’s why the medium of digital technology became one of my interests. Today, we are living in an all-round digitalised world, where living environments, communications and consuming patterns are all digital. As an artist, I feel very encouraged about contributing to such a medium that’s associated with contemporary development. On the other hand, it makes us consider all the questions the medium brings. 

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Your artwork has evolved from video art to the broader visual spectrum. What experiences have most influenced your art?

I participated in the Zone of Urgency exhibition, curated by Hou Hanru at the Venice Biennale in 2003. I read Hou’s On the Mid-Ground and was also influenced by architect Rem Koolhaas’ research on the Pearl River Delta region. Urban Chinese magazine, edited by Jiang Jun, and the local independent film organisation U-thèque, founded by Ou Ning, have also influenced my art a lot in terms of globalisation and urbanisation.

When you became a mother, did that additional identity influence your artwork? 

Having kids expanded my expression of the connection between daily life and art. Family gives me peace. 

You lived in Guangzhou, then Beijing. What’s the difference between the two cities in terms of the ecosystem for art?

In Starbucks in Guangzhou, girls are weaving and boys are discussing kitchen equipment. In Starbucks in Beijing, girls are reading, while others are talking about art investment, business incubators and expropriation. The two cities are different, but they are both very real.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, you said,“I am quite independent and not really involved in the art circle in Beijing.” How does this independence affect your creations?

I haven’t meant to be independent; I came from the southern part of China. On the one hand, I am willing to accept new things. On the other, I preserve my traditions – for example, I speak Cantonese, eat yue [Cantonese] cuisine and love plants. No one can define Beijing’s art circle, so there’s no way to talk about being in the circle or out of it. It’s not important anyway.

Art is not only about aesthetics, but also function. Which one is more important? 

Art is not aesthetics; it helps to break the unconscious boundaries. Art is not formulaic and there’s no pattern for it. Sometimes it even has nothing to do with aesthetics or function.

In recent years, your art has gained a lot of international attention. Have you considered moving abroad? 

Not yet. The world is flat, so it’s easy to get in touch. 

What are your plans for the coming years?

I’m doing the BMW Art Car series and there will be a solo exhibition in Hong Kong at the end of this year. In 2017, I will hold a solo exhibition in Beijing.

How do you see Gucci’s contribution in relation to the art/fashion debate with the #GucciGram project?

I have seen the innovation in this brand. Alessandro Michele [Gucci’s creative director] has led it in a new spiritual direction. If you can work in the garment business, all the while considering contemporary society and having a deep soul, the world could be more colourful. 

Do you anticipate more in the way of Gucci projects?

From the aspect of design, Alessandro redefines the traditional brand image, taking a bold step forward. Alessandro and his team love contemporary art, and the #GucciGram project makes the most of social media, so maybe it’s a good sign.

Images: Courtesy of Cao Fei and Vitamin Creative Space

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Water World


Site-specific underwater sculptor and marine conservationist Jason deCaires Taylor discusses his unique approach to art in unexplored aquatic terrains

Water World


Site-specific underwater sculptor and marine conservationist Jason deCaires Taylor discusses his unique approach to art in unexplored aquatic terrains

Culture > Art


Water World

May 27, 2016 / by Emily Zhang

You’re currently working on the Lanzarote project in Spain. Which phase of the process are you in now?

The project, Museo Atlantico, will be completed in January next year. We’re doing all the construction at the moment. The museum is going to have 350 sculptures: ten different kinds of installations. At the moment, we have only installed the first four, so we still have a lot of work to do this year to finish on time.

In the underwater sculpture field, you’ve completed numerous projects in the Bahamas, Mexico, the Antilles and many other places. By doing this, are you seeking a new way to perceive the arts?

Yes, of course it’s a new way to experience art – a new way to look at the continent on which we live. But it’s also exploring a new space. You know, two-thirds of the planet is covered with water and we don’t know a great deal about it. So the idea of the work is actually encouraging more people to go underwater to see what an incredible world there is – and hopefully that will lead to more people try to protect it. I’m not worried what they think about the artwork so much; I care about whether they care about the environment.

Tell us about the obstacles you face.

I have many obstacles. At the moment, I’m building a sculpture that uses around 300 figures. I have to fix them all together in my studio – they weigh around 80 tonnes. I have to move them all from the studio and reassemble them underwater. It’s very difficult. Also, the weather is very volatile. I have to really affix the sculptures to the sea floor so they don’t move, and so they can’t be changed by the current or waves.

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Where do you find the models for your unique sculptures?

It depends on the sculpture and what the piece is about. Quite often, it’s just people I research or find in the street. Sometimes I use social media or advertise. I have a waiting list of people who want to be models. At this moment, I’m actually looking for a Chinese model. I might advertise – I think it might be easier.

You have a very deep relationship with the ocean. What specifically captures your imagination?

To integrate my art into the ocean, it’s really about the conservation; making art isn’t just about aesthetics. It’s about function as well. In terms of what inspires me, it depends. Sometimes my anger inspires me.

What does that mean?

I get angry when I witness how we destroy our planet. That inspires me to create more pieces. But also, I’m inspired by the inherent beauty of the underwater world. It’s incredible to witness just by being an observer, by going underwater, by seeing how coral colonises rocks, how it has incredibly detailed formation. It’s amazing. I feel like if we can combine the human hand with that sort of thing, we can get incredible results.

You’ve said that once you put your art into the ocean, it belongs to the ocean. Before that, how do you ensure the aesthetics stay constant?

Obviously I expect them to change, but I always try to predict how that will change. Sometimes I plant corals on them, sometimes I make the scale larger. So I always try to adjust how it will be read under the water.

After the installation, do you make plans to maintain or preserve your sculptures?

No – the idea is that they get completely consumed by nature. But they shouldn’t get damaged in hurricanes. They were made to be very heavy – some of them weigh like 20 tonnes. They’re all fixed to the sea floor, so the idea is that they don’t get damaged but will be changed by the environment.

Which artists inspire you?

I very much love the work of Tara Donovan, Roxy Paine and many others. One of my favourites is a Chinese artist, Cai Guoqiang. He is brilliant, using fireworks to do the paintings. He is really fantastic.

If you could place one of your sculptures anywhere in the world, where would your ideal location be?

I’m not sure. I would like to find a location where I could make a glass tunnel under the water, so that people could get close without having to dive or to get into the water. That would be really interesting for me.

Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?

Yes, I’m looking for new opportunities in the Mediterranean. I want to do more work in Asia in the Pacific Ocean. It’s one of the most diverse and incredible ecosystems in the world. It would be wonderful to do a project in Asia.

Images: artist and photographer Jason deCAires Taylor (www.underwatersculpture.com)

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Shining a Light: The Rolling Stones’ Exhibitionism


The Rolling Stones bring Exhibitionism to London’s Saatchi Gallery. Satisfaction guaranteed

Shining a Light: The Rolling Stones’ Exhibitionism


The Rolling Stones bring Exhibitionism to London’s Saatchi Gallery. Satisfaction guaranteed

Culture > Art


Shining a Light

April 1, 2016 / by Charles Oliver

“We’ve been thinking about this for quite a long time, but we wanted it to be just right and on a large scale,” says rock legend and frontman of The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger. “The process has been like planning our touring concert productions and I think that right now it’s an interesting time to do it.” 

The ‘it’ Jagger’s referring to is quickly becoming the UK’s must-see event of the year. Running from April 5 to September 4, the Stones are staging their inaugural international exhibition at London’s much-heralded Saatchi Gallery on King’s Road in London. Called Exhibitionism, the £4 million mega-show will be the most comprehensive and immersive insight into a group described by many critics as “the greatest rock ’n’ roll band”, taking over nine themed galleries that spread across two floors (comprising 19,000 square feet) at the prestigious Chelsea-based gallery. 

Says Charlie Watts, drummer: “It’s hard to believe that it’s more than 50 years since we began, and it is wonderful to look back to the start of our careers and bring everything up to date at this exhibition.”

And at the Saatchi Gallery, no less. Founded in 1985, its owner, Charles Saatchi, has forged a reputation for bringing contemporary art to as wide an audience as possible. Over the last five years, the gallery has hosted 17 out of the top 20 most visited exhibitions in London; it is also one of the world’s top five most liked galleries on Facebook and Twitter. 

Ronnie Wood, guitarist, says of the venue: “The scene was great down the King’s Road in the 1960s. That was where you went to hang out to watch the fashions go by. So it is appropriate that our show will be housed in the same vicinity at the wonderful Saatchi Gallery.” 

Exhibitionism starts with an introductory film that gives visitors a retrospective gaze at the high points of the band’s career with a high-octane soundtrack, before continuing with more than 500 important and unseen artefacts from the band’s personal archives. The rest takes the public through the band’s fascinating 50-year history, embracing all aspects of art, design, video, fashion, performance and rare sound archives. 

 

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At the heart of the event is of course the Stones’ musical heritage, which took the group from a hard-working, drug-and-drink-induced London blues band in the early 1960s (parents were advised to “lock up your daughters” when they came to town) to their transformation into inspirational cultural icons adored by millions. 

The epic undertaking of Exhibitionism has taken three years of meticulous planning and offers a comprehensive insight into the band in a way that has never before been attempted. An interactive tour through the band’s vast artistic oeuvre includes original stage designs, dressing room and backstage paraphernalia and iconic costumes. Featured are Mick Jagger’s stage clothes and Keith Richards’ 1957 Les Paul guitar, rare audio tracks and unseen video clips, personal diaries and correspondence, lyrics written in notebooks, original poster and album cover artwork, and unique cinematic presentations. Jagger wants visitors to feel “as if every room they walk into is one we’ve just left that second – or maybe that we’re still there”. 

That density of detail elevates the show into something more tactile for audiences, thinks guitarist Keith Richards. “While this is about The Rolling Stones, it’s not necessarily only just about the members of the band. It’s also about all the paraphernalia and technology associated with a group like us. And it’s this, as well as the instruments that have passed through our hands over the years, that should make the exhibition really interesting.” 

It’s hard not to be impressed by the show’s scope and scale, particularly given the collaborations and work by the vast array of artists, designers, musicians and writers included in the exhibition – from Andy Warhol, Shepard Fairey, Alexander McQueen and Ossie Clark to playwright Tom Stoppard and film director Martin Scorsese. For his part, Warhol designed two album covers for the Stones: Sticky Fingers and Love You Live

It’s a stirring statement as to how groundbreaking and innovative the Stones’ career has been, as well as a reminder of how the band has ultimately changed the way we experience rock ’n’ roll.

Speaking of the past and his early memories of sharing a dingy bedsit with Richards in Chelsea in the 1960s, Jagger has said, “It’s not limos and Learjets; it’s shillings in a meter.” Despite his 72 years, he’s not bathing in the nostalgia of it all – in fact, quite the opposite: “Yes, it’s about the past. But it’s about the present and it’s about what we’re doing next. We’re not stopping; we’re still on the road. It’s about a sense of The Rolling Stones. It’s something we want people to go away talking about.” 

That’s going to be one long conversation, given the show’s trajectory. Following the Saatchi stint, Exhibitionism travels to 11 cities around the world over a four-year period. For fervent Stones fans, it’s the supreme and ultimate satisfaction. (stonesexhibitionism.com)

Images: Rolling Stones Archive

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Good Angel, Bad Angel: Michaël Borremans


Belgian painter Michaël Borremans brings his inimitable dislocation of the old and new worlds to Art Basel in Hong Kong

Good Angel, Bad Angel: Michaël Borremans


Belgian painter Michaël Borremans brings his inimitable dislocation of the old and new worlds to Art Basel in Hong Kong

Culture > Art


Good Angel, Bad Angel

February 26, 2016 / by Xavier Zhou

Michaël Borremans is one of the most celebrated contemporary painters in the world; he’s also an oddity. His technical command of the medium recalls classical painting – the rich tactility and special glow of his painted surfaces evoke the old masters, as well as Francisco Goya’s technique, Édouard Manet’s staged settings, Diego Velázquez’s brushwork and Antoine Watteau’s drawings. However, the compositions of Borremans elude traditional interpretative strategies. 

The tension between the real and the imaginary permeates Borremans’ work. A solemn yet playful mood feels inexplicably topical and of the moment, but also timeless. The lack of context or detail should provide a neutral atmosphere – but in much of his work, it’s psychologically charged, as if his canvases inhabit a twilight zone of experience and dream. Subtle elements within the pictorial structure defy expectations and make clear-cut attempts at decoding their narratives next to impossible.

The Belgian-born Borremans lives and works in Ghent. He has been represented by influential New York dealer David Zwirner since 2001 and has held numerous exhibitions across the globe. Most recently, Borremans celebrated his work from the past two decades with As Sweet as it Gets, an exhibition that debuted in 2014 at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and travelled to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art before arriving at the Dallas Museum of Art in Texas. 

The intriguing title hints at the duality of Borremans’ work – it isn’t warm or obviously sweet, and the more one gazes, the more unease creeps out of the clinical images. His figures never look at us; they’re disturbingly absent and hint at unseen horrors or trauma. The artist explains, “The direct gaze is pointless. The painting would then become a portrait.” Borremans doesn’t paint to reflect reality, but to capture a broader narrative. “I always paint culture. Even if I depict a human figure, it’s already the representation of a human figure that I want to represent. In my opinion, painting from nature is very, very old-fashioned.” 

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Also an engraver, photographer, filmmaker, etcher, sculptor and draughtsman, Borremans’ paintings have a cinematic quality to them, not unlike Alfred Hitchcock’s knack for creating suspense. He’s an artful stager of action, where the power of suggestion and a deliberate haze override clear depiction. Seemingly banal works can transport you to another realm – and almost every time the viewer sees one of his canvases, it seems they’ve arrived too late to understand the context of what’s exactly going on in the image. His pictures are never gruesome, as such, but there’s a persistent feeling of danger, a radiant pain.

Confidence and maturity have been at the heart of Borremans’ output since he took up painting in the mid-1990s at the relatively late age of 33, when his unique mix of the oddly familiar and the slightly illogical became immediately evident. Four years after picking up the brush, Borremans held his first exhibition in Ghent.

From the beginning, Borremans has sought to “create an atmosphere outside of time – a space where time has been cancelled.” Combined with this pervading sense of dread is a blend of drama, wit and the occasional spot of anarchy.

It’s possible to look at the subjects in Borremans’ work like absent actors, or like living objects that have no conscious grip on their circumstances. They’re soulless vessels who exist in a parallel dimension that’s completely outside of their control – a state not unlike the bewildered protagonists in Samuel Beckett’s absurdist masterpiece Waiting for Godot. Borremans’ subjects don’t think or decide for themselves; they wait or proceed through actions that define their futility, controlled by an unseen puppetmaster who’s pulling the strings. Intriguingly, we feel a sense of love and affection for these unnamed characters, hovering in the distance. 

Renowned film director David Lynch once said of the artist, “Somewhere in the world of Rembrandt and Hopper, I feel this is where Michaël Borremans’ paintings are conjured. Such a skilled painter he is who creates paintings which are far more than the sum of their parts. There is in his work the magic to make us dream.” Prepare to enter a surreal dream indeed.

Images: David Zwirner; New York/London and Zeno X Gallery; Antwerp

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The Thrill of the Hunt: Xu Songbo


The magnificent oil paintings of Chinese contemporary artist Xu Songbo display an intriguing perspective on Tang Dynasty horsemanship and the hunt

The Thrill of the Hunt: Xu Songbo


The magnificent oil paintings of Chinese contemporary artist Xu Songbo display an intriguing perspective on Tang Dynasty horsemanship and the hunt

Culture > Art



The Thrill of the Hunt

December 22, 2015 / by Valeria Lynn

Violent clashes of warfare fade into the serenity of the flowing pigments in the oil paintings of Xu Songbo’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, Tang Style. The masterful murals frame the landscape of the idyllic poetic life of ancient China, where hunting was a grand ritual of noble traditions. Portraits of horses give surreal side views, while men on horseback ride with leisurely ease. 

Tensions between the structures of the paintings emerge in the dynamics of the detailed depiction of each of the objects, from majestic-looking hunters to commanding shikras, and even to the delicately engraved leather saddles. 

A keen equestrian and bowhunting enthusiast, Xu’s interest in Chinese history – especially that of the Tang Dynasty, a period of openness and innovation credited with fostering some of the finest art and poetry in the history of civilisation – led to him becoming an accomplished horseman and archer. 

Of his reverential approach to this historical period in his works, Xu enigmatically explains, “I pursue thickness through thinness.” The artist begins with precise sketches, then adds thin layers of mixed transparent and opaque oil colours to build texture. 

Xu employs an intriguing blend of skills in his visually captivating art. Take a work such as Hunting in Autumn (2015, top right) and you’ll see myriad influences. “I learned to use both Eastern and Western materials, tools, techniques and language, and this combination has had a powerful impact on my painting style today,” he explains. 

Born in Nanyang, Henan Province in 1971, Xu studied fine arts at Henan University before earning his master’s degree at China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts; he is now a professor at the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts. Xu was also commissioned to paint murals in the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan, for which he received a gold medal at the China National Art Exhibition.

As Xu continues to garner acclaim and his prices keep rising at auction, this is certainly one contemporary Chinese artist to keep your eye on. Tang Style runs at Fabrik Contemporary Art Gallery until January 29.

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Artcurial: Isabelle Bresset


The inaugural Artcurial auction in Hong Kong raised an impressive HK$63 million over two days, with a rare Tintin drawing by Hergé selling for 1.1 million euros. Isabelle Bresset of Artcurial shares the French auction house’s vision in the region

Artcurial: Isabelle Bresset


The inaugural Artcurial auction in Hong Kong raised an impressive HK$63 million over two days, with a rare Tintin drawing by Hergé selling for 1.1 million euros. Isabelle Bresset of Artcurial shares the French auction house’s vision in the region

Culture > Art


Artcurial

November 20, 2015 / by Selena Li

The inaugural Artcurial auction in Hong Kong raised an impressive HK$63 million over two days, with a rare Tintin drawing by Hergé selling for 1.1 million euros. Isabelle Bresset of Artcurial shares the French auction house’s vision in the region.

Which lots surprised you the most during the two-day inaugural sale in Hong Kong?

European works of art and comics did extremely well, in many cases surpassing the estimates. Just to take one example, all the works by Bernard Buffet, one of the most famous and prolific French painters of the mid-20th century, realised very strong prices. The sale brought in more than €7 million, which is exactly what we expected.

You mentioned in a previous interview that “every auction is an adventure”. Can you tell us about the excitement and the risk you face in today’s auction market?

To bring European works of art to Hong Kong was a parti pris – a conscious decision, as I wanted to recreate the atmosphere of a Parisian interior that mixes works of art, furniture and paintings. Of course, it was risky, as collectors in Hong Kong are not used to this type of sale. 

Most auctions in Hong Kong include Chinese ceramics and porcelain, Asian contemporary art, contemporary ink, jewellery, watches and wine. So we were different. And of course, a first sale is always exciting – but also very scary.

What were the criteria of the selection? Was there special consideration for Asian collectors?

The sale was a tailor-made selection. It’s exactly like when you prepare a meal for your friends. You try to figure out what kind of food they like, but you also try to surprise them with special dishes with new flavours you hope they will enjoy.

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Bernard Buffet (1928–1999); Le Cri (1970); Oil on canvas; signed and dated lower right

Bernard Buffet (1928–1999); Le Cri (1970); Oil on canvas; signed and dated lower right

The 18th-century gold boxes and the jewel-like agate and gold clock by James Cox included in the sale were created by the most renowned craftsmen of that time. Since Asian collectors are very active in Paris for these kinds of works, we felt it was important to bring this rare and exquisite collection here to Hong Kong. Artcurial has been a pioneer in developing comics as an art field. Last year, we sold an original ink by Hergé for the record price of €2.5 million to an Asian collector. 

How many auctions has Artcurial held in 2015 and what percentage have been dedicated to Asian clients?

From January up to now, Artcurial have organised 46 auctions; we have another 50 planned before the end of the year – more than two sales a week in 2015! Our auctions are open to the public and there are no specific auctions organised for Asian, European or American collectors. Nevertheless, we hold Asian art sales twice a year, in which bidders from Asia account for more than 80% of the buyers.

Hergé (Georges Remi) (1907–1983); The Blue Lotus (1936); India ink and white gouache on paper

Hergé (Georges Remi) (1907–1983); The Blue Lotus (1936); India ink and white gouache on paper

Hong Kong has long been the gateway for international auction houses to access China. Li Jiayi has joined Artcurial as your Beijing representative. What will the dynamics be between the two cities – and their roles in Artcurial’s China strategy?

Li Jiayi joined Artcurial to facilitate the access to Artcurial for some Asian clients. With this first Hong Kong auction, we’re now raising our profile in the region. Artcurial has opened several representative offices abroad – Milan, Brussels, Vienna, Munich, Tel Aviv – but our auctions are only held in Paris, Monaco and Hong Kong. We don't plan to organise sales in Beijing and Hong Kong will remain our regional hub.

What can you tell us about Hong Kong’s secondary market today? 

The Hong Kong art market is more mature now. Since 2011, when sales reached a peak, the market has become more predictable. It’s reflecting the general trends worldwide, even if demand is more focused on Asian art than anywhere else. 

As a French auction house, what’s the Parisian spirit of Artcurial?

Artcurial is selling in traditional art fields such as paintings by the old masters, 18th-century furniture, impressionist and modern art, and contemporary art. It also has been successful in lifestyle sectors: wine, vintage motorcars, jewellery, Hermès bags. The Parisian twist comes from our imposing mansion – located on the Champs-Élysées – and the spirit of our team.

Hergé, Le Lotus Bleu, courtesy Artcurial©Hergé  Moulinsart 2015/ all other images: ©Artcurial

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Citizen of the World: Justin Charles Hoover


US-based artist and curator Justin Charles Hoover works in the unique medium of time-based art. His cultural heritage – Russian, Chinese and self-described “American Anglo-Saxon mutt” – provides the canvas for videos, installations and curatorial artworks dealing with multiculturalism. Speaking at the sidelines of Fields of Abstraction, which he curated at Galerie du Monde in Hong Kong, the artist discusses his cultural roots

Citizen of the World: Justin Charles Hoover


US-based artist and curator Justin Charles Hoover works in the unique medium of time-based art. His cultural heritage – Russian, Chinese and self-described “American Anglo-Saxon mutt” – provides the canvas for videos, installations and curatorial artworks dealing with multiculturalism. Speaking at the sidelines of Fields of Abstraction, which he curated at Galerie du Monde in Hong Kong, the artist discusses his cultural roots

Culture > Art



Citizen of the World

November 20, 2015 / by Valeria Lynn / Photo: Roy Liu

US-based artist and curator Justin Charles Hoover works in the unique medium of time-based art. His cultural heritage – Russian, Chinese and self-described “American Anglo-Saxon mutt” – provides the canvas for videos, installations and curatorial artworks dealing with multiculturalism. Speaking at the sidelines of Fields of Abstraction, which he curated at Galerie du Monde in Hong Kong, the artist discusses his cultural roots.

Do you believe you’re born with your culture or is it more strongly influenced by your family upbringing?

My mother is three-quarters Chinese and a quarter Russian; I was born in Taipei and migrated to San Francisco. I grew up in a mixed culture, speaking Russian, Chinese and English, and attending Russian Orthodox Sunday school, while other days I had Chinese tutors. Many people grow up in hybrid cultures and don’t fit any culture entirely. However, I don’t feel like an outcast.

Did you ever find those cultures in conflict with each other?

No, I think they work together and allow me to move in unique ways. My mother is 100% American, but she was also brought up in Taiwan for 30 years. And because her mother was half Russian, they spoke Russian. Culture is something you grow up with. 

How fine is the line between your own artwork and that which you curate?

It depends on the show – I’ve curated many art festivals where crazy things happened, and you can’t tell who’s the artist and who’s the performer. A show called 100 Performances for the Hole, for example, which ran six times. There were 100 artists all doing their work inside a hole that I designed as the performance venue. This was a unique setting because it wasn’t like a theatre with an auditorium. We projected up here, with the stage, and you entered over here. It makes the audience confused about where the artists are coming from – for me, that’s a creative construct.

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How about your own artwork?

You get locked into a style because you can only do red instead of blue. I’m a performer and video artist; I can do whatever I want – a kung fu performance that doesn’t look like kung fu. A lot of my artwork involves transforming traditional Chinese works into an unrecognisable contemporary form. 

Littoral Drift #62 by Meghann Riepenhoff

Littoral Drift #62 by Meghann Riepenhoff

What exactly is “time-based art”? 

Paintings are frozen in a moment, a sculpture doesn’t change. But time-based art requires the artist to spend time with it as it changes over time. It’s anything that requires more than just a second to acquire.

When a viewer watches the show live and then sees the online recording of the show, do you think there are big differences between the two presentations? 

It depends. Any technique is actually a strategy. I recently did a video in my San Francisco gallery, projected on the wall; with the texture of the bricks, the images appear differently. It resulted in a beautiful Chinese calligraphy video, appearing as ripples cascading down the wall.

Do you see yourself as a tech-savvy artist?

I’m knowledgeable about technical artwork, though I don’t actually write code myself. I don’t write software applications, though I definitely curate many technically difficult exhibitions. I’m part of a generation that understands technical materials. 

What challenges confront you as a curator and as an artist? 

There are many cultural challenges if you contextualise something. What I mean is how you put something into a cultural sphere that people can understand. You can’t simply drop your artwork in the middle of nowhere. You have to build a context. 

You have to understand how to make the art meet the public. So it involves a bigger conversation. The challenge is how you develop the discussion around the question of why it’s important. A curator facilitates the conversation between the public and the artwork and artists. 

What is the essence of art?

Self-expression – it’s like saying something is meaningful to you in a way you haven’t previously experienced. I think it also depends on what the culture is, though, because art isn’t a single culture.

In China, the essence of art is more about repetition; how an artist emulates his master and creates his own work based on that. In the West, the view is that it has to be innovative, to break free from everything. However, I believe there is a middle ground where you can still use traditional structures and innovate on top of them. For me, it’s about having the mix of traditional and contemporary – and seeing where that takes you.

Bloom by Freddy Chandra

Bloom by Freddy Chandra

 

Courtesy of the artist and Galerie du Monde


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Congo Contemporary: 90 Years of African Art


A new exhibition at the Fondation Cartier in Paris puts 90 years of African art in the spotlight

Congo Contemporary: 90 Years of African Art


A new exhibition at the Fondation Cartier in Paris puts 90 years of African art in the spotlight

Culture > Art


Congo Contemporary

November 20, 2015 by Thibault Levy

Few places are as imbalanced as the Democratic Republic of Congo – its mineral reserves are the largest on the planet, yet three-quarters of its population live on less than a dollar a day. The government is increasingly cited by human rights groups for its repression of dissent. But oddly, there is a gaiety of spirit and a love of life that, even in the worst of times, leave the more fortunate moved and humbled beyond words.

This extraordinary cultural vitality is honoured in the eye-opening exhibition Beauté Congo – 1926-2015 at the Fondation Cartier until January 10, in which more than 350 works by 41 artists all but bounce off the walls with energy and wit. Such art is scarcely seen in Western museums. 

The exhibition cites the birth of modern painting in the Congo in the 1920s and examines a century of the country’s artistic production. While specifically focusing on canvas, it also includes music, sculpture (Freddy Tsimba sculpts elaborate human bodies out of bullets, spoons or bottlecaps), photographs (luscious black-and-whites of 1950s Leopoldville, now renamed Kinshasa), and comics, providing a unique opportunity to discover the region’s diverse and vibrant art scene. 

Much of this work has been rarely seen. As early as the mid-1920s, when the Congo was still a Belgian colony (colonial rule didn’t end until 1960), precursors such as husband-and-wife painters Albert and Antoinette Lubaki along with artist Djilatendo painted the first-known Congolese works on paper – watercolours, anticipating the development of modern and contemporary art. Their works represented village life, the natural world, dreams and legends with poetry and imagination. It is fantastical and real, and some were shown in museums and galleries in Europe before being lost. 

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Following World War II, French painter Pierre Romain-Desfossés moved to the Congo and founded an art workshop called the Atelier du Hangar, where artists such as Bela (who painted with fingertips rather than a brush), Mwenze Kibwanga and Pilipili Mulongoy learned to freely exercise their imagination, creating colourful, enchanting works in their own highly inventive and distinctive styles. 

In the 1950s, photographer Jean Depara captured the nightlife of Leopoldville, a vibrant medley of rumba and cocktail dresses, portrayed in rich silver gelatin prints which only enhance the sense of swing. Twenty years later, the exhibition Art Partout in Kinshasa in 1978, revealed the painters Chéri Samba, Chéri Chérin and Moké, as well as other artists still active today. 

“We wanted to show the broader public exceptional works from a continent where the television only presents dark, disastrous images of war and illness,” says show curator André Magnin. The show itself fills the exhibition space at the foundation, which resides in a glass box designed by Pritzker Prize-winning French architect Jean Nouvel. 

Several works in the show reference the infamous 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, which had a politically charged subplot. There are popular photos and paintings by Moké, who died in 2001, as well as Cassius Clay (2014) by Steve Bandoma, who describes himself as “an artist, not an African artist.” 

Today’s work is no less thrilling; witness Monsengo Shula, cousin of Moké, who describes his work as being Afro-futurist. His Sooner or Later the World Will Change (2014) depicts African astronauts in outer space, with an African statue at the centre of their satellite. The astronauts are clad in kaleidoscopic print suits of blue, green, purple, yellow and red, like the most intrepid cosmological tropical fish. 

Then there’s leading contemporary painter Chéri Samba, a former billboard illustrator and comic-strip artist, who depicts facets of daily life in the Congo using himself as the main subject of his paintings, along with speech bubbles. He’s as much social critic as political dissenter, like many of his ilk.

The freedom, variety, humour, beauty and rich colour palettes of the works on display are uplifting and educational by turns. And while the Congo still brings to mind images of war and conflict, these works conjure another image: that of innovators and trendsetters. The Congo contemporary art moment is at hand, and it’s dazzling.

Ambroise Ngaimoko, Euphorie de deux jeunes gens qui se retrouvent, 1972, Collection of the artist ©Ambroise Ngaimoko, photo ©André Morin; JP Mika, Kiese na kiese, 2014, Pas-Chaudoir Collection, Belgique ©JP Mika, photo ©Antoine de Roux; JP Mika, La SAPE, 2014, Private collection © JP Mika, photo © André Morin; Jean Depara, Untitled (Moziki), c.1955-65, CAAC – The Pigozzi Collection, Geneva ©Jean Depara, photo ©André Morin; Mode Muntu, Le Calendrier lunaire Luba, 1979, Collection Meir Levy, Bruxelles ©Mode Muntu, photo © Michael De Plaen; Moké, Untitled, (Match Ali-Foreman, Kinshasa), 1974, Private Collection, photo © André Morin; Monsengo Shula, Ata Ndele Mokili Ekobaluka (Tôt ou tard le monde changera), 2014, Private Collection ©Monsengo Shula, Photo ©Florian Kleinefen


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Ink the Deal: Shen Jingdong


Chinese artist Shen Jingdong’s cartoon soldiers revitalise a centuries-old tradition by invoking a contemporary – and playful – aesthetic

Ink the Deal: Shen Jingdong


Chinese artist Shen Jingdong’s cartoon soldiers revitalise a centuries-old tradition by invoking a contemporary – and playful – aesthetic

Culture > Art



Ink the Deal

October 30, 2015

Shen Jingdong’s new Hong Kong exhibition, Dawn of a New Age: Ink Redefined, comprises 13 pieces and presents the transformation of the artist’s work from sculpture to ink on paper.

“Chinese ink painting is the quintessential art form of Chinese civilisation; my aim is to revitalise this centuries-old tradition to give it a distinctly contemporary aesthetic,” says the artist. He has mastered the art of depicting serious-looking soldiers with a distinct cartoon-style charm. 

His collection of action-figure-sized ceramic sculptures is known as the “Hero” series.

In the new ink series, traces of Shen’s iconic style can also be found, particularly in the white space on the faces of the characters, which serves to highlight the reflection similar to that seen on a porcelain statue.

Dawn of a New Age is showing until January 21 at Art Futures Gallery, 85 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan.

All images: courtesy of Art Futures Gallery

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A Brush with Greatness: Olivier Widmaier Picasso


A photo exhibition of legendary artists at work, curated by Pablo Picasso's grandson, visits China

A Brush with Greatness: Olivier Widmaier Picasso


A photo exhibition of legendary artists at work, curated by Pablo Picasso's grandson, visits China

Culture > Art



A Brush with Greatness

September 25, 2015 / by Anthony Cohen

The photo exhibition Revealed, curated by Olivier Widmaier Picasso, grandson of Pablo Picasso, offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse of some renowned artists’ creative processes, is visiting China for the first time. Taking an intimate look at some of the world’s greatest modern artists at work, the exhibition will showcase 30 hand-selected photographs from the archives of French weekly magazine Paris Match.

Among them is a black-and-white image of Pablo Picasso eyeing a Dalmatian that is evidently longing to climb onto his lap; Salvador Dalí sitting in an animal enclosure at the Paris Zoological Park; Jeff Koons styling a BMW for the 24 Hours of Le Mans; Pierre Soulages crouching over a work in progress; Kees van Dongen painting a posing Brigitte Bardot; and other striking images depicting René Magritte, Marc Chagall, Fernando Botero, Joan Miró, Jean Cocteau, Francis Bacon and more.

The curator, Widmaier Picasso, author of Picasso, portrait intime, published in November 2013, is an audiovisual media producer and adviser, as well as a licence developer for numerous artists including his grandfather. His mother, Maya, is the daughter of Pablo Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter, with whom the artist had a relationship from 1927 to the mid-1930s.

Revealed visits Shanghai during autumn 2015, after taking in five cities in North America and another five in Europe. Future destinations include Bangkok, Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne.

Sofitel Shanghai Hyland – October 13, 2015 to November 2, 2015


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Boo Boo Bee Doo! Pin-Up Art


Long thought of as disposable eye candy, the pin-up illustrations of the 1950s and '60s are now coming to be viewed as fine art

Boo Boo Bee Doo! Pin-Up Art


Long thought of as disposable eye candy, the pin-up illustrations of the 1950s and '60s are now coming to be viewed as fine art

Culture > Art


Boo Boo Bee Doo!

September 25, 2015 / by Constance Shen

The pin-up, a term used for women considered pleasing to the eye, including a mild element of the sexually exciting, became a prominent feature of posters and calendars in the late 1950s and ’60s, and an important part of American popular culture. The term was coined during World War II when American servicemen would pin pictures, often photos or illustrations of beautiful women, to their bunks or in their aircraft.

From the wholesome-looking “girl next door” to the alluring sirens of the silver screen, fantasy women were depicted looking back over their shoulders or lying with an arched back, the illustrators' works eventually becoming little masterpieces of conception, composition, colour and technique. However, only in recent decades have these commercial illustrators also been recognised as fine artists.

Most of their names are lost to us – the original artwork they did for publishers was often discarded once prints had been made – but others are still well known. Gil Elvgren was among the leading pin-up artists of the 1950s, while other major figures included Earl Moran, who worked in pastels, oils and regularly painted Marilyn Monroe; Alberto Vargas, who favoured watercolours; and Rolf Armstrong, who used pastels.

In his book The Great American Pin-Up, co-authored with Charles Martignette, Louis K Meisel says Elvgren alone was prolific and important enough to support a major book; he produced more than 500 pin-up paintings between the mid ’30s and the early ’70s. 

Meisel notes that virtually all Elvgren’s paintings were fully developed works of art in oil on canvas.

His images bring another era vividly to life, while the enduring appeal of his art and that of others like him shows how elements of a culture thought of as disposable at the time can go on to become sought-after treasures of the future.

His images bring another era vividly to life, while the enduring appeal of his art and that of others like him shows how elements of a culture thought of as disposable at the time can go on to become sought-after treasures of the future.

©Corbis

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Street Poet of the Pixel: Michael Kistler


Michael Kistler is a Hong Kong-based photographer specialising in fine-art urban photography. He speaks about his work, the electronic easel of contemporary photography, and the effects of Instagram

Street Poet of the Pixel: Michael Kistler


Michael Kistler is a Hong Kong-based photographer specialising in fine-art urban photography. He speaks about his work, the electronic easel of contemporary photography, and the effects of Instagram

Culture > Art



Street Poet of the Pixel

September 25, 2015 / Photo: Edmond Tang

Michael Kistler is a Hong Kong-based photographer specialising in fine-art urban photography. He speaks about his work, the electronic easel of contemporary photography, and the effects of Instagram.

Tell us about your new venture with Mandarin Oriental.

I will be working with the Mandarin Oriental to provide customised urban-photography excursions to their guests. The idea is to introduce people to a more creative and artistic way of seeing Hong Kong while at the same time exposing them to various photo techniques and striving to improve their understanding of urban composition.

Who are your favourite photographers and why? 

There are a lot of photographers I like, and I am an avid collector of photography books. My favourites include Daidō Moriyama, Saul Leiter and 

Ho Fan. I like the way Moriyama smashed convention. He has a unique style of shooting and I also love his penchant for odd angles and heavy contrast. Leiter's work is highly artistic and he was doing things with colour at a time when no one else was. There is a painterly quality to his work that I love. Ho is a more recent discovery for me. His creativity and eye for composition are unparalleled, and in particular I like how he uses light and shadow. 

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How would you describe your work and your photographic style? 

I am a street photographer, but it's the definition of street photography that I struggle with. I am much less interested in documenting so-called street life than I am with creating something compelling or artistic out of a fleeting moment. Movement and motion have always been principal elements of my style and since I've lived in Hong Kong I am incorporating more architecture and geometry into what I shoot. Again, I am more concerned with creating art than I am with documenting daily life.

Is iPhone photography stressful – the feeling that you're missing so many shots each second?

I'm not sure I'd use the word stressful but there is something compulsive about shooting on an iPhone that feels different from when I am using my Canon. There is that sense that you have to capture everything, which of course is nonsensical because there is always another moment, especially in a city like Hong Kong. No doubt, though, that I shoot very differently depending on which camera I'm using. Shooting on the iPhone is a lot more free-flowing, lending itself to images that I think can often be more raw or real. There are a lot of photographers who will discount the virtues of mobile photography, but in many ways I think it is a very pure and unadulterated way to shoot. In the end photography is really quite simple: light, composition and the moment. 

What are the most common mistakes amateur photographers make? 

Worrying too much about technical details. Of course it's important to know how to use your camera, especially if you are using a DSLR, but understanding all of your settings at the expense of being able to compose a photo is a huge mistake. That and not shooting enough. Like anything else, improvement takes practice, and practice is repetition. 

Do speed and a rapid eye make for the best iPhone photography? 

It depends on what you're shooting. In urban situations quick recognition and reaction time are essential. I would say there's almost an element of sport in it, where you start to develop the ability to see things a few steps ahead as they are unfolding. For me it's the fast-paced aspect of street photography that I love the most: that challenge of reacting fast enough. And, of course, the momentary heartbreak when you don't.

Have amateur photographers got above their station with smartphones? 

The short answer: yes. If I'm being fair, I think it's more good than bad. You have a lot of people expressing themselves artistically where they might not have had a creative outlet in the past. That can't be a bad thing. I think the danger is in confusing a poorly composed but heavily filtered photo on Instagram with good photography. There is a still a lot of good photography out there but it will be increasingly hard to find.

Can you predict which shots you post on Instagram will get most hits or likes, and does that affect how or what you shoot?

Absolutely. And I think when you see the Instagrammers with the biggest followings, this is exactly what is being done; they are cultivating a photo gallery for the consumption of their followers. I try not to let it affect my shooting, but it certainly impacts my posting of images from time to time. Some of it makes sense: followers are accustomed to a certain style and expect to see variations on a theme. This is an interesting area because we are seeing the influence of social media on art and expression; it somehow smacks of being both democratic and undemocratic at the same time.

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The Birth of Colour: Autochrome


Auguste and Louis Lumière revolutionised image-making with Autochrome, the first efficient way of producing colour photographs

The Birth of Colour: Autochrome


Auguste and Louis Lumière revolutionised image-making with Autochrome, the first efficient way of producing colour photographs

Culture > Art



The Birth of Colour

September 25, 2015 / by Selena Li

Auguste and Louis Lumière never imagined in the early 1900s, when they started trying to solve a problem that had bedevilled photographers of the black-and-white era for more than 70 years, that potatoes would be part of the solution. It would also be equally surprising to the French brothers that 108 years after they launched their game-changing invention, the Autochrome process, in a quest for natural-looking colour in photographs, it would still be one of the most popular filters on Instagram, designed to evoke nostalgia by giving photos a vintage feel.

Colour imaging process Autochrome represented a revolution in photography. Technical limitations had previously made colour photography extraordinarily complex and time-comsuming; the Lumière brothers, already producers of black-and-white camera-ready plates, overcame that problem using ground potato starch, which they dyed orange-red, green and blue-violet. They then spread the particles over a glass plate which they coated with a sticky varnish, following up with black carbon powder to fill any gaps between the grains. After applying pressure with a roller and then a second coat of varnish, the resulting plate was a three-coloured filter screen, coated with about four million transparent starch grains per square inch. The brothers then applied a final panchromatic emulsion to the plate.

In doing so they made colour images a whole lot easier to capture. Before the camera-ready Autochrome plate, photographers had needed to set up three cameras, record separate images and superimpose them one over the other to form a single picture. The commercial viability of the Lumière Autochrome process hastened its adoption across Europe.

The way the technique renders colour is similar to a pointillist painting, but it creates a gentler tone with a softer, warmer feel; images created using Autochrome resemble newly discovered relics from the past. They represent a stark contrast to the often bright, exaggerated colours of later colour photographic methods, which tended to produce garish, unnatural tones.

Thanks to digitised photo-editing tools such as Photoshop and Lightroom, today any image can instantly be made to look like it has been produced using Autochrome, without the need to use vegetable starches or light filtering. According to many Autochrome aficionados, however, Lightroom doesn't allow accurate reproduction of the full range of Autochrome effects.

©Getty Images

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The Wheel Thing: Renaud Marion


French artist Renaud Marion turns vintage cars into futuristic flying machines in his mind-warping Air Drive series of photographs

The Wheel Thing: Renaud Marion


French artist Renaud Marion turns vintage cars into futuristic flying machines in his mind-warping Air Drive series of photographs

Culture > Art




The Wheel Thing

September 25, 2015 / by Valeria Lynn

Cars are an everyday totem of our industrialised reality, while the idea of them being able to defy the laws of gravity is a science-fiction staple.

Paris-based artist Renaud Marion, whose Air Drive series features images of cars doing exactly that, didn't expect his work to receive much exposure, until it went viral on social media. The photographer had zero social media presence himself, and had to set up a Facebook account as a result. Traffic to his website increased 50-fold in a month.

His images are a throwback blend of retro style and futuristic imagination. Iconic cars from the glory days of automobile production are transformed into airborne vehicles, suspended close to the ground against a range of backdrops that vary from walls to buildings to stretches of countryside.

He produced the first of the images at the end of 2012 in Geneva, photographing vehicles including a Chevrolet El Camino, a Mercedes 300 SL Roadster and a Jaguar XK120. New-found recognition allowed Marion access to car collectors, many of whom lent their prized possessions to the photographer for a follow-up Air Drive shoot in Paris, including Paul O’Shea's Mercedes 300SL, a Jaguar E-Type, a Mercedes 190SL and an Aston Martin DB5.

 “I looked for places that are not common,” says Marion. “I wanted to create a world apart to give a bit of mystery.”

As well as the right location, the photos also required perfect weather to provide the right lighting. It took Marion a year to complete the first eight images in the series.

“For images with Photoshop retouching, it has to look as if it were real – as if it existed. I like this ambiguity: it looks real but it's not,” says Marion.

Marion thinks he takes cues from his childhood imagination. “As a child, I imagined the new millennium with flying cars, spaceships, parallel worlds, extra-terrestrials living with us on earth and time travel.”

He says he has also been heavily influenced by filmmakers, in particular the symmetry of Wes Anderson’s films and the framing and use of light in Terrence Mallick's The Thin Red Line.

“In my series I'll dream of driving a Mercedes or a Jaguar. We'll see if they are still around when flying vehicles are invented,” says Marion.

Born in the French Alps, Marion has moved on from levitating machines to a “strange story” that takes place in those mountains. “It's always difficult to shoot the place or city where you live,” he says, adding that he wants to “take a new look at my home region”.

Born in the French Alps, Marion has moved on from levitating machines to a “strange story” that takes place in those mountains. “It's always difficult to shoot the place or city where you live,” he says, adding that he wants to “take a new look at my home region”.

All images ©Renaud Marion

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Total Recall: Kim Jung Gi


Korean artist Kim Jung Gi conjures hyper-detailed scenes out of thin air

Total Recall: Kim Jung Gi


Korean artist Kim Jung Gi conjures hyper-detailed scenes out of thin air

Culture > Art


Total Recall

September 25, 2015 / by Timothy Chui

Kim Jung Gi’s freehand sketching skills could be seen as a gift from above. The South Korean illustrator and educator possesses an artistic talent so magical, it seems barely possible for a mere mortal.

His indescribably detailed, breathtakingly vivid sketch tableaux take in a profusion of people, animals and machines, depicted with artfully distorted perspective and an eerie hyper-realism, all of it achieved without the use of grids or visual prompts.

Exhibiting the technical prowess one might expect of a former special-forces operative, he wields the tools of his craft deftly, without hesitation, but with perfect precision and finesse.

Far from the stereotype of the underfed artist, the stoutly built, shaven-headed Kim makes his work appear anything but painstaking. Constantly smiling, he laughs and trades barbs with anyone who understands Korean while he works his magic undeterred by the crush of onlookers and the flashes of cameras. Starting with a line drawing of something he finds inspirational, he meticulously fills out his drawings, bringing his scenes of unimaginable variety and vitality to life.

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The soaring popularity of his work has made his books increasingly expensive and sought after. The lucky few who bought his first two sketchbooks before he attained celebrity status got them for HK$300; one of them, Omphalos, Latin for navel, bound in leather that eerily resembles human skin, now retails for more than HK$880.

Already a big name in his home country, Kim can be spotted at pop-up art shows in the US and is about to embark on a tour of Europe that will take him through Belgium, Portugal, Germany, France and Italy before the end of October.

Kim knows that his ability to draw without reference sets him apart from other artists. It started in his childhood, when he produced fantastic images he half imagined, half remembered from television cartoons. He says, in his usual understated style, that his "recall is very good”.

This illustrator adds that he doesn't find his work laborious; instead he sees it as a way to relax. He is, however, worried about his work stagnating, and is always keen to push his work in new directions, such as in his recent collaboration with legendary Japanese illustrator Katsuya Terada.

As well as drawing on A4 paper, Kim also creates far larger scenes, for instance in an attempt in Malaysia in June, currently awaiting verification, to break the Guinness World Record for the longest period drawing by an individual; his fish-eye illustration took four hours each day for six consecutive days.

Covering a vast range of subject matter, from everyday scenes to bizarre sexual liaisons with animals, the artist recreates everything from the wild to the mundane in vivid detail, be it an art class, a noodle shop or a search and rescue operation, while his erotic art is made all the more visceral by his uncompromising approach to form. Kim says, of the in-your-face sensuality of some of his work, that “it’s all a part of life”.

But while some of Kim’s subjects might push the boundaries of taste, his line art is a spectacle that even the most conservative observer cannot help but watch in awe.

 

Images: courtesy of Kim Jung Gi





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Disney’s Chinese Fantasy: Tyrus Wong


If you’ve ever seen the indelible images of Walt Disney’s Bambi, you have pre-production artist Tyrus Wong to thank

Disney’s Chinese Fantasy: Tyrus Wong


If you’ve ever seen the indelible images of Walt Disney’s Bambi, you have pre-production artist Tyrus Wong to thank

Culture > Art


Disney’s Chinese Fantasy

September 25, 2015 / by Leona Galluci

Under the crystal-blue dome, beneath a cherry tree stands the lonely figure of a young deer looking into the distance. Leaving an indelible mark on the history of US animated film, it was an image created by legendary artist Tyrus Wong. 

Bidding farewell to his mother and sister at the age of nine, Wong, born in the Taoshan district of China's Guangdong Province, sailed with his father to a distant land.

The young Wong dropped out of junior high school in California to attend Otis College of Art and Design on a full scholarship. He received formal western art training while studying the art of the Song Dynasty at Los Angeles Central Library in his free time.

Wong’s Chinese roots and American upbringing allowed his work to flourish in the heartland of the world’s film industry, Hollywood, at a time when Asian faces were a rarity.

He was working as an “in-betweener” at Walt Disney Studios aged 28, filling out the movements between key drawings, when he learned that the studio was in pre-production for the feature film Bambi.

He went home and painted several pictures of a deer in a forest. These evocative sketches immediately captured the attention of Walt Disney himself — lush pastel strokes shot through with a sense of unbounded fantasy, magnificent pairs of antlers blurring into red-orange flame, flickering in the mist of green woods: illustrations that allow you to almost smell the forest.

To make a living, Wong set up a Chinatown restaurant, Dragon’s Den, where he and his fellow artists created wall-to-wall murals and hand-painted menus.

He was later hired as a production illustrator and sketch artist, painting and sketching concept art for hundreds of live-action films for Warner Brothers. During his 26 years at the firm before his retirement in 1968, he worked on productions including Rebel Without a Cause, Calamity Jane, Harper, The Wild Bunch, Sands of Iwo Jima, Auntie Mame, April in Paris and PT 109

As a bohemian artist, Wong’s creativity and drive helped shape the cultural and artistic life of Los Angeles in the 1930s and '40s. His work can currently be seen in Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York, sponsored by The Walt Disney Family Museum. The cartoonist himself, now more than 100 years old, can still regularly be seen flying kites he designs himself on the beach near his Los Angeles home.

Tyrus Wong, Readers Digest cover art January 1970; opaque watercolor on paper; 8.5 x 12 in.; courtesy of Tyrus Wong Family; Tyrus at his home in Sunland, CA 2004, photograph by Peter Brenner, courtesy of the Museum of California Art and Design (MoCAD).

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Preserving the Future: AXA Art Insurance


Global growth in art sales, driven by the mega-rich, has prompted interest in protecting the value of those works

Preserving the Future: AXA Art Insurance


Global growth in art sales, driven by the mega-rich, has prompted interest in protecting the value of those works

Culture > Art




Preserving the Future

August 28, 2015 / by Selena Li

Les Femmes d’Alger (1955), Picasso Sold for US$161 million in May, 2015 at Christie’s, which beat the previous record-holder, a Francis Bacon triptych, by US$40 million

Les Femmes d’Alger (1955), Picasso

Sold for US$161 million in May, 2015 at Christie’s, which beat the previous record-holder, a Francis Bacon triptych, by US$40 million

Image above: Rokeby Venus (1647-51), Diego Velazquez

The Rokeby Venus was severely damaged in a 1914 knife attack by a militant suffragist and later British Union of Fascists activist. Mary Richardson entered the National Gallery in London and slashed the back of the Venus seven times. Richardson was jailed for six months, while the painting required extensive restoration.

Worldwide demand for one-of-a-kind art pieces has risen as Chinese art investment has grown. Auction house Christie’s said in July that global spending among buyers from China had increased by 47% in the previous six months, while in Asia it had risen by 16% to £294.2 million (HK$3.55 billion).

As the desire among buyers for a diverse range of high-quality has risen, so have transaction prices. Influential buyers pushed the brisk sales at Art Basel in Hong Kong this March. Shanghai-based collector Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei, for example, bought a 15th-century thangka at a Christie’s auction in November for $45 million.

As a result, demand for art insurance in China has prompted global art-insurance provider AXA Art Group to set up a China office, after acquiring local insurance company Tianping, in 2012.

Since then, behind the glamour and the chatter of the major global art fairs, transactions have multiplied, driven by the surging number of mega-wealthy individuals and their predilection for art, and spurring interest in protecting the value of their collections.

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Pieta (1498-99), Michelangelo Pieta, a widely revered work, is a main attraction at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. Crazed geologist Laszlo Toth, claiming to be Christ, struck the sculpture 12 times with a hammer in 1972, severely damaging the nose, left arm and hand. Since its restoration the work has been protected by bulletproof glass.

Pieta (1498-99), Michelangelo

Pieta, a widely revered work, is a main attraction at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. Crazed geologist Laszlo Toth, claiming to be Christ, struck the sculpture 12 times with a hammer in 1972, severely damaging the nose, left arm and hand. Since its restoration the work has been protected by bulletproof glass.

“Many collectors in Asia now have a great love and passion for art and for their collections, which has resulted in increased demand for art insurance in the region,” says Li Yan, Hong Kong director of Lehmann Maupin, an international gallery that also has spaces in New York.

“More collectors see the need to buy art insurance as protection for their long-term investment, but many traditional Asian collectors still don't see the need to have their works insured,” adds Jennifer Scally, managing director of AXA Art Asia.

In 2012, according to Deloitte Luxembourg, 53% of collectors took an investment-focused view when buying art. By 2014, that figure had risen to 76%. 

“We see a real demand there for art insurance,” says Scally.

Art works are fragile things. In 2004, a cache of irreplaceable modern British art was wiped out overnight in a fire at an East London warehouse, destroying more than 50 works by British abstractionist Patrick Heron and more than 100 works from the Saatchi Collection.

When even a professional art-storage service suffered such a loss, art collectors were forced to rethink what they had previously considered as safe environments.

Of all the claims AXA Art receives, 60% derive from incidents of improper handling, packing and conditions during transit. For all their convivial atmosphere, for example, Art fairs are often hasty affairs, and the hurried pace can result in unwanted incidents. Galleries and collectors are starting to realise that they must go out of their way to ensure the safety of works they send around the world.

“Sometimes the environment can be unpredictable, and depending on the medium, transport can cause damage to works,” says Li.

In addition to traditional threats such as thieves and vandals, water and fire, there are also intangible considerations, concerning how the works are situated. They can be damaged by inappropriate temperature and humidity, light, UV and IR radiation, and even vermin and micro-organisms.

With every art work unique, it's important to spend time on proper appraisals. “Our underwriter or art experts will remind the insured to review the value or update the insured list, which is an important process to protect the collections, but is often overlooked,” says Scally.

For private collections, art insurance is normally provided on an Agreed Value basis. If a partial loss is incurred, the insurance policy will pay for the cost of restoration and depreciation of the damaged item. For a total loss, the insurer and its client will settle as per the Agreed Value defined on the policy schedule.

“Art is a form of cultural heritage, and whether the owner sees it as an investment or a collectible, we believe that there is a natural obligation to protect it from being damaged,” says Scally.

The value of works damaged but not destroyed, especially those in private collections, can be hard to define. “It is sentimental,” says Scally of the point at which a damaged work stops being classifiable as art. “As long as it is collectable, it is still art.”

images: Corbis (Pieta, Rokeby Venus); Christie’s Images Limited 2015 (Imperial Embroidered Silk Thangka Yongle Six-Character Presentation Mark); 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York (Les Femmes d’Alger)

Imperial Embroidered Silk Thangka Yongle Six-Character Presentation Mark (1402–1424)

Imperial Embroidered Silk Thangka Yongle Six-Character Presentation Mark (1402–1424)


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Old Masters, Young Players: Pierre-Adrien Sollier


Classical painting meets Playmobil in the counter-cultural work of French artist Pierre-Adrien Sollier

Old Masters, Young Players: Pierre-Adrien Sollier


Classical painting meets Playmobil in the counter-cultural work of French artist Pierre-Adrien Sollier

Culture > Art



Old Masters, Young Players

Above image: The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault

May 29, 2015 / by Natacha Riva

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

We’ve seen Damien Hirst’s sharks in formaldehyde, Jeff Koons’ inflatable dogs and Incredible Hulks, but now there’s a newcomer to the modern art scene; Playmobil toys. The globally iconic children’s figurines are the subjects of Paris-born artist and illustrator Pierre-Adrien Sollier’s old master acrylic paintings. 

“They’re like a tribute to the old masters, who gave me the passion to paint,” he says, “I’m mixing the sacred with an offbeat quality.” Or in other words, his canvases represent a classic and contemporary crossover that’s highly reflective of the zeitgeist.  Sollier’s work is striking in that he creates a relationship with a timeless toy which engenders an instant affinity in the viewer.

Sollier’s first exhibition came as recently as 2011 in Galerie des Arts Graphiques on Boulevard St Germain in Paris - it was a revelation; sixteen of his 17 canvases sold. “Incredible,” is how he describes this early reaction to his work.  His distinctive art has since been gaining fans as fast as Playmobil sells. From July his work moves to Korea where it will be exhibited in the main gallery at Seongnam Arts Centre in Seoul from the July 25 until October 11 2015.

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A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat

While still revisiting classic canvases of former times, Sollier has expanded to more contemporary themes of late. “I also want to put Playmobil in contemporary situations,” he says. “I want to expose what’s good and bad in the world through Playmobil, in the world of finance, fashion, pop culture, VIPs, and so on. 

He’s also planning a major initiative on the Flemish period of art that will revisit the movement’s history and some of its most iconic works by the likes of Jan van Eyck and Hieronymus Bosch. 

Sollier is an artist through and through.  Having studied art at the renowned L’Atelier de Sèvres in Paris, he completed his master’s degree at Central Saint Martins in London.  A love of animation saw him drawn to advertising and storyboarding.  He first started using the Playmobil figures in the storyboarding process, using them as models for mock-ups, when the idea suddenly dawned on him to start painting portraits of the figures.

His style employs the old master’s painting techniques, each canvas taking from six to eight weeks, and his works are distinguished by their artful authenticity.  He permits himself one artistic indulgence in the matter of signing his work though: look for his signature on the label of a wine bottle in his reworking of Edouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, and on the feet of The Raft of the Medusa. “This form of technique is very often used in Trompe-l’œil style,” he jokes. “It’s like a secret code.”

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

Does he do bespoke? “Yes, I do. Some clients tell me what they want, as a present for someone or a birthday.” Recently trading in his Belleville atelier for a larger space at Place de la Nation that previously belonged to a fellow artist - he relocated in May. “Now I can work on really big format, which I couldn’t do before,” he says.

Ultimately Sollier – whose first old master work was Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa (1818) – feels art must be accessible to all. “I’m more like a storyteller,” he says. “Yes I like to give a message, but I’m not a historian, or political satirist, that’s not really the point. The popular culture should be accessible to everyone.”

He finds the Playmobil aesthetic the perfect medium too. “The figures have hooks instead of hands. That creates a different narrative. They are always smiling. That never changes and also creates humour; that feeling of the offbeat, the fixed smile, the body language, can in fact tell us a lot.” 

 

The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer

The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer

Welcome to the instant likeability and newly figurative, even futuristic universe of Pierre-Adrien Sollier.

Images: © Sollier/Art-work

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