February, 2010

Portraiture’s Victorious Fight in the Modern Age

ingres38.JPGWhen most people think of portraiture, images of aristocracy adorned in their finest medieval robes atop a crackling grand fireplace in some remote European castle probably come to mind.  When I mention that I focused on 18th-19th Century portraiture in college, people look as if they’re about to fall asleep before I can finish the sentence.  But this past Saturday, I attended a lecture at Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum presented by John Klein, Associate Professor from Washington University in St. Louis, that reminded me of the magnetism and presence of portraits. In his lecture, “Matisse, Picasso and Beyond: How Portraiture Survived Modernism,” he examined the means by which the art of human representation prevailed through an era defined by its antipathy to historical convention.  Through the study of modernist masters like Picasso, Matisse and Giacometti, Klein arrives at a universal truth: human beings will always and forever be obsessed with themselves, others, and how others perceive them.

“Damn Portraits!” began Professor Klein, quoting Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres—an abrupt and honest exclamation that served as a perfect prelude to the difficult battle that portraiture was doomed to fight once the modern age descended on a timeless artistic tradition.  Ingres, like many artists of his time, despised portraiture.

He often complained that the overwhelming number of commissions from high society kept him from focusing on “more important” subject matter.  In the 19th Century, it seemed as if the only demographic that had an affinity for portraiture was the social elite.  When the 20th Century began, many creative figures decried the art form’s declining relevance.  Portraiture posed a series of difficult questions for the artist: How does one capture the complexity of human identity? How can an inner quality be expressed outwardly?  How can a still representation do justice to a personality trait that is defined by its movement? Modernism, says Klein, provided the platform that was so desperately needed: a movement that joined portraiture with the abstraction of the avant-garde.

grn_eyesThrough an array of examples, Klein revealed how artists like Picasso and Matisse were uninterested with the centrality of the sitter, which historically would have been fundamental.  In works like Girl with Green Eyes (1908), Matisse blended his sitters into a decorative pattern where no single component of the painting could dominate.  Picasso’s Gertrude Stein (1906), on the other hand, showcases both the artist and the sitter, serving as a visual statement of the height and legitimacy of both Stein’s and Picasso’s careers. Klein taught the audience that through the execution of her face, as was common with many of Picasso’s portraits, the artist imposed a mask-like quality that hardly resembled Stein’s genuine appearance. The primitivization of her face is a symbolic and telling mark of the beginning of an important aesthetic shift.

After the First World War, artists became increasingly cynical of humanistic values, and rapid advances in photographic technology threatened representational portraiture.  Expressive abstraction began to take hold, providing the artist with infinite ways to communicate power, status and legitimacy—and the line between art and vulgarity became harder to define.  Marcus Harvey’s Myra (1995) is an example of how modern portraiture could become a PR dream come true. Harvey’s portrait of Myra Hindley, a woman convicted of murdering multiple innocent child victims, is comprised of tiny flesh colored hands, hands meant to represent those of the children that she murdered.

180px-marcus-harvey-myraPortraiture’s many levels of expression, as in Myra, have the potential for endless symbolism and emotion.  I could feel the tension in the lecture hall when Myra came on screen, and I could see that the man next to me was trying to conceal his goose bumps.

Professor Klein’s lecture was most certainly a personal highlight of my many years of studying and appreciating portraiture. Regardless of one’s knowledge of art, he was able to communicate his subject with admirable passion and vigor.  Professor Klein carried the double-barreled theme of portraiture and its modernist survival from the turn of the 20th Century through the fall of Saddam Hussein. It was quite frankly one of the most fun Saturdays I’ve had in a while, and I don’t think I was alone.  The jam-packed lecture hall’s enthusiastic applause was proof enough that nobody was falling asleep before Klein could finish his sentences.

-By Brittany Krasner

The Norton Simon’s calendar of educational lectures will certainly expand your art related intellectual repertoire.  For more information on upcoming lectures, please visit their website.

Posted in Art, Contemporary Art, Exhibitions, High Brow, Museums, Old School, Painting, Pasadena, Personalities, Photography No Comments »

A New Kind of Street Art

billboard_kerri_tribeThere is something about our daily commute these days that is visibly different.  Actually, now that we think of it, the streets of Los Angeles have changed, and we are thinking this change is for the better.

The MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House has decided to turn Los Angeles into a gallery space.  Instead of hanging paintings, they commissioned artists to create 21 billboard-sized artworks that will replace normal advertising spots.  So you can get a daily dose of public art without ever leaving the comfort of your car’s leather seats.

The exhibition How Many Billboards? Art In Stead — much like Clockshop’s Billboard Series, which also transformed Los Angeles’ landscape with artist designed billboards — is spread across the city, but is concentrated in West Hollywood and the Pico/Fairfax area.

We are hoping these artist billboards are a habit Los Angeles will keep.

The opening reception is this Saturday, February 27, 1-6pm at the Schindler House.  On Sunday, there will be panel discussions with participating artists from 1-5pm.  Also, make sure to check out their calendar for other programming accompanying the show.  Click here for more information.

Image: Artist Kerri Tribe’s billboard on La Brea Ave., north of Venice Blvd., on the east side of the street, facing north; photo: Gerard Smulevich

Posted in Art, Beverly Hills, Koreatown, West Hollywood, West LA No Comments »

Don’t Call Them The Fashion Police…

Kimberly Brooks had a great idea recently.  The local, Venice-based painter decided to look into the art that plays a role in our everyday lives and the people holding the cards behind it.  She looked beyond museum shows, beyond advertisements, and into the world of fashion that is so often considered less of an art form and more of a necessity.  The men and women working behind the scenes to make our world a touch more glamorous are artists who recognize that the necessity of fashion can be one of the more creative enterprises in our lives and it can be one that makes (or doesn’t make) the right impression.

In her latest series of paintings, called “The Stylist Project”, Kimberly Brooks scoured the world of stylists, costume designers, and Creative Directors to delve deeper into the minds of who exactly is dressing our most photographed celebrities and our most watched characters in TV and film.  She painted Vogue’s Creative Director Grace Coddington and Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant in their most comfortable settings (albeit in their most fabulous clothes).  She painted Elizabeth Stewart, a stylist for the New York Times Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar, with a gorgeous and colorful palette and she captured the nervy and frazzled essence that is Rachel Zoe.

We got a chance to sit down with Brooks to discuss just what went into “The Stylist Project” and the upcoming show at Taylor de Cordoba gallery in Culver City.  We learned very quickly that stylist is a pretty loose term to us amateurs, but in the business, a stylist can be anyone who fashions a photo shoot (often-times called a Creative Director) to someone who styles a celebrity for a red carpet event.  Brooks’ colors and masterful way with a paintbrush allows us into this inner sanctum of fashion via the world of art – it’s almost as if we know them just by looking at these paintings.

Check out our video interview and go say hi to your new friends (the stylists, of course) at the opening reception at Taylor de Cordoba gallery on Saturday evening (February 27).  The show runs through April 3, 2010.  For more information, please click here or call (310) 559-9156.

Posted in Art, Bring Your Flask, Culver City, Exhibitions, Fashion, Galleries, Painting, Personalities, The Social Scene No Comments »

Robo-Fusion: Artificial Intelligence Takes the Stage at SCREAM Fest

KarmetikI may be living in the “age of technology” here in 2010, with the smart phones and the talking GPS devices and the iTunes auto-DJ always at my disposal.  We’ve all become pretty accustomed to—and spoiled by—this kind of “smart” technology that’s taking over at such a rapid rate. But, to this day, when I hear “robot technology” or “artificial intelligence,” I still think of Rosie—the sweet, lovable, wheel-legged house-bot from The Jetsons. And that’s just what I was expecting when I attended the SCREAM Festival at the REDCAT this Wednesday night, where the KarmetiK Machine Orchestra performed a unique symposium of electronic North Indian music.

The Karmetik Music Orchestra is the creation of music director Ajay Kapur, production director Michael Darling, and a whole team of musicians and designers both within and without the CalArts sphere. Ajay Kapur is the Director of Music Technology at CalArts and the creator of KarmetiK, a body of artists and engineers working to redraw the line between music and technology. KarmetiK uses artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction technologies to create new digital works of art. This is more than just reinventing the sitar, though. This is a whole new man behind the sitar. I’m talking about robots, here. The researchers and engineers at KarmetiK have pushed the technological barrier so far as to create custom-built robotic instruments that can improvise with a human musician, fusing musical tradition and modern engineering.

Neat! But are these robot-musicians self-aware? Maybe not, but this was nothing like what I expected. At Wednesday night’s performance, five robots shared the stage with a dozen or so musicians. Two strange looking drum sets hovered on each side of the stage, roughly seven feet from the ground, with drums, bells, cymbals, gongs, strings, and shakers splaying from the center. A rain stick spun slowly on an automated pinwheel at stage left. There was a gamelan-bot, like the Reyong used in the Balinese tradition, with upside-down metal pots suspended on a wooden frame. Tammy, a master-bot of sorts, stood high in the center. Tammy was designed by the well-known instrument sculptor Trimpin, Michael Darling, and Ajay Kapur, and built by students in the Robotic Design class at CalArts. Made up of a marimba, a self-plucking drone device, and five bells—all recycled objects found in the electronics junkyard—Tammy stands 14 feet tall and is certainly nothing like my dearly-beloved Rosie.

The program consisted of music in the North Indian style, beginning with a sparse call-and-response piece, Digital Sankirna, demonstrating the performer-robot interaction, in which the robots seemed to learn and play more as the piece progressed. Amazing was the robot’s sense of restraint—it seemed to intuitively know just when to release. Accompanied by Ajay Kapur’s ESitar and Curtis Bahn’s most beautiful EDilruba, it made for an arrestingly haunting opening. A second highlight was the appearance of the Ustad Aashish Kahn, considered one of the greatest living sarodists in the world, for a performance of the an Indian raga Shivranjani. Finally, the dance of the dalem, in the Balinese masked-dance tradition, concluded the program, complete with five gamelan players, the Reyong Bot, and the dancing white-masked king.

So maybe we haven’t yet advanced artificial intelligence to the point where robots are self-actualizing, but after watching KarmetiK, I feel that we are frighteningly close. This is more than a simple case of deus ex machina. Music is one of mankind’s most primitive forms of communication, fastening us together on the most gut level. The technology powerful enough to create a robot that can tap into the human psyche on that basic plane may be the great equalizer between man and machine, and that is a loaded possibility. Rosie is with us, certainly more than we might have known.

- By Helen Kearns

To see the full calendar of upcoming shows at REDCAT, please click here.

Posted in Bring Your Flask, Downtown, Music, Technology, World Music No Comments »

Extra! Extra! Time to Discover the Kings of the Dance


Glorya Kaufman’s contribution to dance in Los Angeles, and specifically at the Music Center, has already begun to impress.  They recently presented the Joffrey Ballet’s Cinderella and up next, on February 16 – 17, we Angelenos have a chance to see the critically acclaimed Kings of the Dance at the Ahmanson Theatre.

If you haven’t heard of Kings of the Dance, you’ve more than likely heard of its components (hint: some of the world’s most phenomenal male dancers) like Guillaume Cote, Marcelo Gomes, David Hallberg, and Denis Matvienko.  Spoiled as we are in Southern California, and now by Glorya Kaufman and her welcomed and generous contribution, the performances will also include special guest appearances by Desmond Richardson, Jose Manuel Carreno, Nikolay Tsiskaridze, and Joaquin DeLuz.  These dancers have graced the stage with some of the world’s most prestigious companies like the American Ballet Theatre, Kirov Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, and New York City Ballet.

Admittedly, when you think of ballet, the first images that come to mind are of pointe shoes, beautiful ballerinas in tutus in a perfect arabesque, or dancers with their hair pulled into tight buns and wearing enviable tiaras.  Finally recognizing the beauty and strength of male dancers, Kings of the Dance celebrates these virtuosos in some of dance’s most incredible choreography by such inspiring artists as Roland Petit, Sir Frederick Ashton, Christopher Wheeldon, and Leonid Jacobson.

Because we’re so generous (and because we want to have someone to gush over the performance with), we’ve got tickets to give away!  Enter below to win a pair of tickets to the performance on February 17 at 7:30pm and then let us know what you thought after – we’ve got a good feeling your email will be filled with exclamation points and many synonyms for amazing.

Here are some Extra! Extra! details you’ll want to keep in mind here: by entering into this giveaway, you’re also entered into our next three giveaways! All we need is your first name, last name, and email address, and voila – you’re a connoisseur of dance.  Or, at the very least, you’re on your way to watching some of ballet’s most muscular (er, talented) examples at the height of their careers.

(Click here if you feel like you need to witness what’s on stage and can’t risk the whole giveaway thing.)



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Posted in Ballet, Classical Music, Dance, Downtown, Extra! Extra!, High Brow, Music, Personalities No Comments »