Art vandalism as art

In a high culture that no longer believes in beauty or meaning, art becomes reduced to interesting gestures.  Consider this “work,” as described by art critic Blake Gopnik:

On Saturday evening, in the back room at Postmasters Gallery in Chelsea, veteran dealer Magdalena Sawon gave me an early glimpse of a work called “Stolen Pieces,” which she said has never been exhibited. Made by a young Italian couple, Eva and Franco Mattes, but kept secret since the mid-90s, it consists of a display case full of tiny chips from significant works of art, snatched or snapped off by the duo over a two-year crime spree. The artists did the deeds between July 28, 1995, and July 29, 1997, in museums all around the world.

The loot includes a manufacturer’s label peeled from the aquarium in which Jeff Koons floated his famous basketballs in 1985. There’s a short length of shoelace from a Claes Oldenburg soft sculpture. There’s a little blob of lead from an installation by Joseph Beuys, and a couple of threads from an Andy Warhol. Perhaps most significantly, there’s a tiny chip of porcelain from the urinal “Fountain” of Marcel Duchamp, taken from an unspecified exhibition.

The artists also claim to have lifted bits from works by Kandinsky and Rauschenberg. Sawon says the piece is being unveiled now because the statute of limitations has run out on its thefts.

Now the works that were damaged were arguably negligible themselves, though they are very valuable and belong to somebody.  But I’m thinking that what makes this sort of thing “art”  is its ability to provoke serious commentary from  art critics:

“Stolen Pieces” may not look that great, but like so much of the work made in the 20th century — like so much art, ever — “Stolen Pieces” gets its force from the questions it raises.

— Did these artists’ tiny thefts much affect the works they stole from? Does it really matter that one of Kienholz’s big junk piles is minus one bottle cap? How many of these museums’ visitors would have ever noticed or been touched by the alterations?

— Does “Stolen Pieces” finally deflate the old cliche that a true masterpiece is something “from which nothing can be taken and to which nothing can be added without harm”? There’s hardly a single work by an Old Master that doesn’t look substantially different than it did when it was fresh, and yet we still find plenty to admire in them. (In fact, people objected like crazy when Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling was returned to some semblance of its original bright colors.)

— Originally, weren’t most of the targeted works themselves all about attacking old-fashioned notions of the precious work of art whose every detail deserves to be worshipped? Before he became famous, Oldenburg let his viewers touch and take away his ultra-sloppy works of art. I can’t imagine that César could have seen the speedometers on his crushed cars as equivalent to so many brushstrokes by Titian, to be preserved at any cost. Did Beuys really treasure every blob of metal scattered during one of his anti-object performances?

— By making almost imperceptible alterations to other works of art, Eva and Franco Mattes have created a significant new one. Does that leave the world of art a richer place or a poorer one? (So long as no other vandals follow in these artists’ footsteps, that is. But once the Matteses’ move has been made, there’s no reason for anyone else to repeat it.)

via Blake Gopnik – Couple stole more than other artists’ ideas.

Significant new art?

Iraqi Christians erect statue of Jesus

How about this for a defiant, death-defying public confession of faith?

The Christians of northern Iraq have chosen to defy mounting attacks by extremists by erecting a statue of Jesus modelled on the giant Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.

The sculpture is only a tenth of the size of the 40-metre (130-foot) iconic statue that towers over the Brazilian city, but it has become a popular site for visitors in Hamdaniya, the north’s largest Christian town.

“The idea of the statue is not to say Christians were here in case we leave,” said Bashar Jarjees Habash, the city’s coordinator of Christian affairs. “But the idea of building the statue of Jesus opening his arms is to send a message of peace to everyone to say that we want to live in peace with all,” said the 48-year-old. “The people of this area have always tried to live in peace with everyone, even those who fight and threaten them.”

In February, Human Rights Watch called on Iraq’s government to do more to bolster security and protect Christians after a string of deadly attacks on the community ahead of last month’s elections.

“The statue might be small if we compare it with what Christians did for Iraq over hundreds of years. The statue is stone and can be removed at any time, but the history of Christians cannot be abolished,” said Habash. “We have a great history, we are very loyal to Iraq,” added the official charged by the church with preserving religious monuments.

The brick and plaster structure is in the middle of Hamdaniya, a city populated by 45,000 mostly Syriac Christians as well as a Kurdish Muslim community that makes up about 10 percent of the inhabitants.

Its construction was initiated and carried out by two local security guards who also have artistic skills. Using their bare hands, it was a labour of love. “With the help of 20 volunteers, we built the statue in less than a month and we spent about 150,000 dinars (128 dollars),” said one of them, Alaa Naser Matti. . . .

“We have chosen to make a Jesus with open arms because it means that the city has been placed under his protection and he wants to spread peace in Iraq,” said the 41-year-old.

via <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jwOrnvOa-jzNyIWYTOzeVtrlu7ag">AFP: Iraq Christians defy threats to erect Rio-like Jesus statue.

Click the link to see the picture, which I couldn’t copy for some reason.

Beauty & physics, liberal arts & liturgy

Catholic artist and educator David Clayton makes connections between science, aesthetics, classical education, and then, for good measure, liturgy:

In excellent his book, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, describing the consistency between the Faith and the discoveries of science, Stephen M Barr describes the scientific investigation of a grouping of sub-atomic particles which he refers to as a ‘multiplet’ of ‘hadronic particles’. He describes how when different properties, called ‘flavours’ of ‘SU(3) symmetry’, of nine of these particles were plotted mathematically, then they produced a patterned arrangement that looked like a triangle with the tip missing.

‘Without knowing anything about SU(3) symmetry, one could guess just from the shape of the multiplet diagram that there should be a tenth kind of particle with properties that allow it to be placed down at the bottom to complete the triangle pattern. This is not just a matter of aesthetics, the SU(3) symmetries require it. It can be shown from the SU(3) that the multiplets can only come in certain sizes….On the basis of SU(3) symmetry Murray Gell-Man predicted in 1962 that there must exist a particle with the right properties to fill out this decuplet. Shortly thereafter, the new particle, called the Ωˉ was indeed discovered.’

This result would have been of no surprise to anyone who had undergone an education in beauty based upon the quadrivium, – the ‘four ways’ – the higher part of the education of the seven liberal arts of education in the middle-ages[1]. The shape that Murray Gell-Man’s work completed was the triangular arrangement of 10 points known as the tectractys. As described in my previous articles for the New Liturgical Movement, this is the triangular arrangement of the number 10 in a series of 1:2:3:4. 1, 2, 3 and 4 are the first four numbers that symbolize the creation of the cosmos in three dimensions generated from the unity of God; and notes produced by plucking strings of these relative lengths we can construct the three fundamental harmonies of the musical scale. . . .

‘The traditional quadrivium is essentially the study of pattern, harmony, symmetry and order in nature and mathematics, viewed as a reflection of the Divine Order. When we perceive something that reflects this order, we call it beautiful. For the Christian this is the source, along with Tradition, that provides the model upon which the rhythms and cycles of the liturgy are based. Christian culture, like classical culture before it, was also patterned after this cosmic order; this order which provides the unifying principle that runs through every traditional discipline.  Literature, art, music, architecture, philosophy –all of creation and potentially all human activity- are bound together by this common harmony and receive their fullest meaning in the liturgy…

When we apprehend beauty we do so intuitively. So an education that improves our ability to apprehend beauty develops also our intuition. All creativity is at source an intuitive process. This means that professionals in anyfield including business and science would benefit from an education in beauty because it would develop their creativity. Furthermore, the creativity that an education in beauty stimulates will generate not just more ideas, but better ideas. Better because they are more in harmony with the natural order. The recognition of beauty moves us to love what we see. So such an education would tend to develop also, therefore, our capacity to love and leave us more inclined to the serve God and our fellow man. The end result for the individual who follows this path is joy.’

When the person is habitually ordering his life liturgically, he will tap into this creative force, for he will be inspired by the Creator. Meanwhile all those multiplets of hadronic particles in the cosmos will be giving praise to the Lord.

via The Way of Beauty.

HT: Cathy Sneidman

Caravaggio’s “Doubting Thomas”

From a sermon by Rev. William Gleason:

Like many biblical stories, there are many pictures, icons and statues depicting Doubting Thomas; but the one I find most remarkable is the one painted by the 16th century artist Caravaggio. In it, Thomas is portrayed in a most animated, almost humorous, pose of skepticism: he is bent over so he can peer closely into the side of Jesus, his left hand perched doggedly on his hip, and his eyes are opened wide in order to scrutinize every bit of this wound. His right wrist is held by Christ, as He draws Thomas’s hand, his index finger extended, right into the hole that is in Jesus’ flesh. Two other disciples stand watching, mouths gaping open, as if they are more astonished by a shameless act of touching, than by the miraculous appearance of the crucified Christ.

But here is where Caravaggio has captured most vividly an essential element of this scene. Unlike many other pictures where Thomas is barely touching the body of Christ, this artist has Thomas’s finger stuck right into the side of Jesus, so much so that the Savior’s skin is pushed up by Thomas’s knuckle. Seeing this graphic illustration, I, too, find myself scandalized by this impetuous invasion of Jesus’ body. But that’s it! It’s Jesus’ body—His real, flesh and blood, living body. I can empathize with those men and women who simply could not believe what they were seeing. Or, perhaps, to put it more accurately, could only believe what they could see. . . .

Through the testimony of His Apostles, Christ continues to proclaim His victory over the world. When He showed Himself to them, He breathed on them His Holy Spirit and gave them the office and the authority that sets people free from the darkness of death: the Ministry of the forgiveness of sins. It is in forgiving sins that Christ imparts life and salvation. That forgiveness He dispenses by His Word and Spirit, by the preaching of His Gospel and Sacraments. The voice of Christ’s minister absolving sins is the voice of Christ absolving sins. The proclamation of the Gospel in the Church is the breath of the Spirit blowing through our land. The baptismal Font and the holy Chalice is where we find the flood of cleansing water and blood pouring forth from the side of Christ. And in the blessed Host the very body that Thomas once put his hand into, is now put into your hand and mouth so that you may believe and confess Christ as Lord and God. And when we sing after every Lord’s Supper, “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,” we are making the bold confession of all those who behold by faith the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

via Weedon’s Blog: Pastor Gleason’s Homily.

Caravaggio

The Statue of Responsibility

There is a foundation trying to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to build a Statue of Responsibility. It would be on the West Coast to balance out the Statue of Liberty, with the two being the same height of 300 feet. It would portray one arm coming out of the ground grasping an arm coming down from the sky and would look like this:

Statue of Responsibility

Here is the website of the foundation. I mean, I know what they are saying, that liberty + responsibility = freedom, and they tie into Victor Frankl and man’s search for meaning and all that. But you can’t just create an allegory out of nothing. And though maybe it should be, “responsibility” just doesn’t have the inspirational pizzazz or the patriotic fervor or the tourist appeal of “liberty.”

What are some other monuments that we should have, and what should they look like?

Abstract art and Nature

Here is another way to look at abstract or non-representational art. . . .Most of us appreciate the beauty of nature. Most of us appreciate art that makes us aware. perhaps in a heightened way, the beauty of nature, as the best realistic landscape art does. But why is NATURE beautiful? Well, among other things, it has to do with the colors and textures and forms and details and all the little details coming together into a majestic whole. Look at a tree, even a bare tree in winter. Look at the tracery of the limbs, like lacework.

Non-representational artists are trying to achieve a similar effect, working with fields of color, shapes, and designs. They don’t represent anything, anymore than tree branches represent anything. But the result, if done well, can still be beautiful and even sometimes awe-inspiring.

God, if we may say so, is an abstract artist. He created pure aesthetic forms when He designed the universe. He wasn’t representing anything other than His creative will.

This, however, is also the reason representational art is beautiful. In that book I did, Painters of Faith on the Hudson River school artists, I show how those highly-realistic and mostly devoutly Christian landscape painters justified their own approach by saying that they wanted to imitate God’s art.

So there is a sense in which abstract art, in the sense of pure design, is prior to representational art, and the same aesthetic principle justifies them both.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X