Thursday, 31 October 2013

Arthur C. Danto, 1924 - 2013

Andy Warhol, Brillo Box, 1964
Arthur C. Danto, philosopher and art critic, died on 25 October 2013. 
It is the role of artistic theories, these days as always, to make the artworld, and art, possible. Arthur Danto (1964) ‘The Artworld’ in Ross, S.D. ed. (1994) Art and Its Significance, Albany: State University of New York, p479  
Danto's epiphany as a philosopher of art occured in the Stable Gallery in 1964 when he was confronted by Andy Warhol's Brillo Box. Presented as a sculpture, this plywood, painted and silkscreened object was 'visually indiscernible' from the manufacturer's carton. For Danto this puzzle crystallised the problem of art, and in particular the problem of determining what distinguished a work of art from a 'mere real thing': Why is ‘Brillo Box’ art when the Brillo cartons in the warehouses are merely soap-pad containers? Danto, Arthur C. (1993) ‘Andy Warhol: Brillo Box’, Artforum, September, p129. What followed was an essay, The Artworld, first published in the 'Journal of Philosophy' in 1964, in which  he proposed that, 
To see something as art requires something the eye cannot descry – an atmosphere of artistic theory, a knowledge of the history of art: an artworld. Arthur Danto (1964) ‘The Artworld’ in Ross, S.D. ed. (1994) Art and Its Significance, Albany: State University of New York, p477
His ideas were further elaborated in The Transfiguration of the Commonplace (1981) in which he invited the reader to imagine an exhibition comprising a series of visually identical red panels: he then proceeds to demonstrate how although visually indiscernible the individual panels may have very different meanings.
Other books followed, including After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History (1997), The Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetics and the Concept ofArt as well as regular art criticism and many exhibition catalogue essays.
Read his Letter to Posterity.
Read obituaries in The Guardian and The New York Times.
Steve Pyke, Arthur Danto, From 'Philosophers' Oxford University Press, 2011

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Sir Anthony Caro, 1924 - 2013

Sir Anthony Caro, Early One Morning, 1962
Sir Anthony Caro died on 23 October 2013.
The passing of Sir Anthony Caro feels like the end of a chapter in British art that looks back to the early 1960s. The prolific and ever developing sculptor was a major figure and a sculptural revolutionary. His brightly painted, welded, abstract sculptures of the 1960s were a spectacular and radical turning away from the organic carved sculpture of Henry Moore for whom Caro worked as an assistant in the 1950s. The shift came about following a visit to the United States in 1959 where he met Clement Greenberg - the influential critic who articulated the then dominant ethos of Modernism and abstraction - the painters Helen Frankenthaler and Kenneth Noland and the sculptor David Smith. On his return to the UK he swapped his chisels for a welding kit and never looked back.
Caro was an influential teacher at St Martins School of Art (1952-79) inspiring not only a generation of abstract sculptors ('The New Generation' - William Tucker, Phillip King, Tim Scott et al) but also a generation of anti-'heavy metal' conceptual artists (Richard Long, Barry Flanagan, Gilbert & George, Bruce McLean et al) - I imagine Caro was amongst those lampooned by McLean:
The St. Martin’s sculpture forum would avoid every broader issue, discussing for hours the position of one piece of metal in relation to another. Twelve adult men with pipes would walk for hours around sculpture and mumble. Bruce McLean quoted from an interview with Nena Dimitrijevic, 1978-79 in Dimitrijevic, Nena (1981) Bruce McLean, London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, p7
Read obituaries by Norbert Lynton and William Grimes, an appreciation by Alastair Sooke and a tribute from Nicholas Serota.
Sir Anthony Caro, Sculpture Seven, 1961
Anthony Caro, Midday, 1960
Sir Anthony Caro, The Window, 1966-7
Sir Anthony Caro, Sunfeast, 1969/70
Sir Anthony Caro, Blazon, 1987-90
Sir Anthony Caro, Goodwood Steps, 1994-5, installed at Chatsworth House

Sir Anthony Caro, installation commissioned for Le Choeur de Lumière (Chapel of Light), Eglise de Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Bourbourg, France, inaugurated 2008

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Basil Beattie: Promises, Promises - Jerwood Gallery

Basil Beattie, Ascent, 2012
Basil Beattie: Promises, Promises is at the Jerwood Gallery until 8 January 2014.
Basil Beattie is one of the UK's great abstract painters; although his work is in the Tate collection he is not as well known as he deserves. His large, muscular paintings typically feature motifs suggestive of stairs, ziggurats and tunnels rendered in earthy colours. Beattie belongs to the generation of British artists who were directly influenced by the first major London shows of Abstract Expressionism - notably The New American Painting (Tate Gallery, 1959), Mark Rothko (Whitechapel Gallery, 1961) and Philip Guston (Whitechapel, 1963); coinciding with, and complementing, Beattie's show at the Jerwood is a display of work by Guston.
Read a review by John Bunker at Abstract Critical, and watch Beattie in conversation with critic Mel Gooding.
Basil Beattie, Days Begin and End Here, 2013
Basil Beattie, Step Up On, 2013
Basil Beattie, Top Up, 2013
Basil Beattie, That Irresistible Climb II, 2013
Basil Beattie, Above and Below.
Basil Beattie (right) with Mel Gooding hanging the exhibition in the Jerwood Gallery
Philip Guston, Pile Up, 1981

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 - The National Gallery

Isidore Kaufmann, Young Rabbi, c1910
Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 is at The National Gallery until 12 January 2014.  
Turn of the century Vienna was an extraordinary place: the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a cosmopolitan centre notable for the richness of its Jewish culture (to be all but wiped out by the rise of Nazism in the 1930s), avant-garde experiments in art, architecture and music, and the invention of psychoanalysis. It was the city of Sigmund Freud, painters Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, architect Adolf Loos, composer Arnold Schönberg, critic Karl Krauss amongst others.
This exhibition purports to explore the evolution of modern identity and individualism through the portraits painted in that city. Reviews suggest that the story it tells lacks some clarity and focus but that it includes  some very remarkable drawings and paintings. Laura Cumming, for example draws attention to Klimt's portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl - he died of a stroke before finishing it - and, 
most poignant of all is Schiele's sketch of his young wife (see below), six months pregnant, dying of Spanish flu in October 1918. The pencil carries the febrile trace of death inch by inch across her beautiful face; as the pulse slows, the features sink and the eyes lose their brilliant vitality. The terrible swiftness of this contagion is apparent from the few strands of loose hair caught on her moist brow: the rest is still just as she must have pinned it up so neatly only hours before. Schiele himself would be dead in three days.
Read reviews by Laura Cumming, Adrian Searle, RichardDorment and Brian Sewell; listen to a discussion about the exhibition on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Review (12.10.13)
Egon Schiele, Portrait of Albert Paris von Gütersloh, 1918
Richard Gerstl, Nude Self Portrait with Palette, 1908
Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl, 1917-18
Oskar Kokoschka, Portrait of Hans and Erica Tietze-Conrat, 1909
Egon Schiele, Self Portrait with Raised Bare Shoulder, 1912
Egon Schiele, The Family (Self Portrait), 1918
Egon Schiele, portrait sketch of his wife, 1918