Ever since art became a means of expression (the dawn of time?), patrons have commissioned artists to deliver messages to the masses. In the olden days, commissions were a sign of a politician’s wealth or an empire’s strength. Large-scale architectural projects such as the Roman Coliseum were commissions that propelled urban projects into the status of propaganda. Today, commissions can still act as political propaganda, however, they have become an accesible art avenue for the greater public. In honor of grand gestures and valor, we’ve aggregated the best art commissions in the past millenium.
Rise Above the Rest
Art history can say a lot about the political landscape. Ever wonder who was in power during the Italian Renaissance? Check out art from that period for the answer. Pope Julius II had enough control to commission the great Michelangelo to paint the entire Sistine Chapel. This colossal ceiling comes in at number one on a list of grand and famous commissions.
Power in Numbers
Rembrandt walked away with 1600 guilders for this guy. As testament to Dutch power, Captain Frans Banning Cocq and his men supposedly commissioned The Night Watch or The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq. The piece was set for the banquet hall of the Kloveniersdoelen in Amsterdam. It shows that a commission can come from a group of individuals as well as one powerful man.
Speaking of one powerful man, Napoleon (although short) held a lot of military strength and political prowess. Napoleon Crossing the Alps depicts the French general crossing the Great St. Bernard Pass. This piece is a bit of commissioned idealism *cough* propaganda *cough*. It was recreated four times! This piece was propelled through the empire to glorify Napoleon’s strength and his rapprochement with Charles IV of Spain. If you want to see UGallery’s comical, un-pc rendition of this famous commission, check out Chris Elzinga’s Napoleon Bonerparte.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Prime Minister!
Not all commissions end well. Artist Graham Sutherland’s accurate portrayal of Winston Churchill was a tad bit too accurate. The painting was destroyed by Churchill’s wife, Clementine. The portrait, a commemorative gift for Churchill’s 80th birthday from both Houses of Parliament, turned out to be a flop. Churchill was a painter himself and did not like the way it depicted him. A man who faced Hitler should look strong, not peevish (the illegality of destroying this piece of art was brushed under the rug since it was an order by Lady Churchill herself).
A Modern Commission
Do you remember seeing this magazine cover on newsstands last year? Did you know that Shepard Fairey’s depiction of “The Protestor” for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year was a commission? This was not Fairey’s first political commission. His portrait of Barack Obama in 2008 became a symbol of a momentous political event in American history: the inauguration of President Barak Obama.
to be continued…
First, there is love (or lust and infatuation). Then, there is art. If Cupid had not hovered over the shoulders of these artists, the art world would be a sad (and lonely) place.
A book by Francine Prose titled “The Lives of the Muses” delves into the relationship of artist and muse. The bond between an artist and his or her inspiration is not like the love we discussed in Celebrity Art Couples. Love, in context of the muse, is much too strong a word. I was inspired to dig up dirt on artists and their muses. With some help from Francine Prose, I present to you UGallery’s Top 5 Art Muses.
ELIZABETH SIDDAL: The Muse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Poor Lizzie. If she had been loved for more than her beauty, she may not have died from a laudanum overdose. Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti used his muse, Elizabeth Siddal, in order to channel a famous female figure from the past. Siddal became a prop for his art rather than a confidante. Rossetti went as far as exhuming her body from the grave in order to recover his book of poems. He believed it would rekindle his inspiration.
Rossetti was obsessed with his namesake, Dante, and his own muse, Beatrice. For Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal and her voluminous red locks held the key to reincarnating Beatrice. The tragedy of Siddal and Rossetti lead to one good thing: Rossetti’s art. Above is Rossetti’s “Beata Beatrix.” There is no better way to depict a muse than by using your own as the model.
MISIA SERT: The Muse of Many
Misia Sert, or Maria Zofia Olga Zenajda Godebska, inspired more artists than can be counted on one hand. Muses tend to do that. Their presence is strong enough to inspire a gaggle of artists with a simple flick of their hair. Misia Sert was the model for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Misia and Renoir’s Misia Sert. Above is a lovely rendition of Misia by Renoir.
It’s no surprise that Misia Sert is on display at the Jewish Museum in NYC in its current show, EDOUARD VUILLARD: A PAINTER AND HIS MUSES, 1890-1940. Although Edouard Vuillard had many muses throughout his painting career, Misia Sert was one of the tops.
GALA DALI: The Muse of Salvador Dali
How did Salvador Dali manage to marry if he was afraid of female genitals? Easy. He found a muse. Gala Dali stood in as Salvador Dali’s model, wife, and agent. Salvador would sign his paintings with both his and her name. He stated, “It is mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures.”
He even went as far as calling Gala “the Beatrice of his life.” It seems Dante Gabrielle Rossetti was not the only artist to fantasize about finding an archetypal muse.
CHARIS WILSON: The Muse of Edward Weston
A muse is a muse with or without clothing. Charis Wilson became the center piece for Edward Weston and his photographic exploration of the human figure. Charis posed for him time and time again. One of the better known pieces, “Nude,” immortalizes Charis and marks the peak of Weston’s figurative photography. This photograph foreshadows a muse and artist relationship that would end in shame. Charis and Edward drifted apart as Edward sought inspiration from other women. In 1946, Charis filed a divorce (muse had become wife somewhere along the line) to pursue her own artistic interests.
EDIE SEDGWICK: The Muse of Warhol
Another drug induced muse, Edie Sedgwick is our final fair lady. Without even trying, Edie exudes muse. Andy Warhol wanted to make Edie “the queen of the factory.” He filmed her in multiple videos. Her notoriety and superstardom grew from there. Unfortunately, the muse affair did not last long. Edie Sedgwick left the factory only to be picked up by Bob Dylan. If there is one thing we’ve learned through our muse , it is that an artist must cherish a muse before she walks away.
So, I’ve got to ask. Who inspires you?
In honor of April Fool’s Day, the MoMA staff highlighted some classics of artistic pranksterism:
1. Marcel Duchamp. L.H.O.O.Q. Shaved. 1965 The list would have to begin with Duchamp, the Ashton Kutcher of modern art. This work derives from one of the artist’s most famous Readymades: a cheap postcard of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa that the artist defaced—mustache and beard, classic—and titled L.H.O.O.Q. The 1965 version loses the facial hair but keeps the ribald title; when spoken with French pronunciation, the letters sound like “Elle a chaud au cul,” a French phrase attesting to the Mona Lisa’s shapely derriere. Only, you know…less politely.
2. Piero Manzoni. Artist’s Shit No. 014. 1961 Go ahead and call this work shit—it’s just factually accurate. At least, if you take Manzoni’s word for it. The tin can in MoMA’s collection, one of 90 the artist created, remains sealed, and I trust I don’t have to explain why. Lest you think Manzoni’s a one-trick pony, though, observe: at times he also exhibited his breath (in a balloon) and his fingerprint (curiously, inked on a hard-boiled egg).
3. Vik Muniz. Three works from the series Personal Articles (from left, Hey If You’re So Damn Smart, Why Can’t You Ever Get a Date?, Elephant Women, and Hundreds Die by Own Hand). 2000 Muniz is an artist I can get behind—I mean, apart from being an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and a one-time guest curator at MoMA, the man paints with chocolate, and brilliantly. For this series, he created 64 fake news articles, mimicking the tone and format of contemporary newspapers so adeptly that they could almost be real. My personal fave: “Gender Dispute Flares Up Over Newest Urine-Powered Vehicle.” Newest?
4. Maurizio Cattelan. Untitled from Die/Die More/Die Better/Die Again. 2008 Cattelan is a notorious trickster: for his first solo show, he taped a note reading “Torno subito” (“I’ll be right back”) to the locked door of a Bolognese gallery, then peaced out. This print, a page from a cheerfully titled artist’s book that acts as a sort of published retrospective of Cattelan’s work, documents a performance in which Cattelan duct-taped Milanese gallerist Massimo de Carlo to the wall of his own gallery for a day—yes, this actually happened. Talk about biting the hand that, um, represents you.
5. Tom Friedman. Untitled. 1995 Friedman’s ultra-realistic fly on a pristine pedestal is, for my money, the ultimate in trompe l’oeil art. Hats off to our security guards for keeping this little guy safe from swatters.
Susan Collis: Works feature pieces that at first glance appear ordinary and unexceptional, until the viewer lingers or looks closer.
Commissioned artist for the 2010 Armory Show. The 2011 show kicks off in today NYC .
“The Oyster’s Our World” - Appears to be a well used wooden step ladder but the paint drips and splatters are actually inlaid mother of pearl, coral, fresh water and cultured pearls, white opal, and diamond.
“Better Days” - What appear to be a paint splatters on a piece of cloth are actually intricate embroideries.
The 2000 Norton Family Christmas Gift: a Takashi Murakami toy
Peter Norton is a software entrepreneur (as in Norton Utilities) and an art collector (one of the top the world’s top 200 collectors according to ARTnews). Each year since 1988, Norton has commissioned a limited edition art object from a contemporary artist to celebrate the holiday season. “Created by artists represented in Norton’s own collection, and sent as gifts to personal friends and members of the art community, these art objects are designed to be interactive and playful, and to foster engagement with the world of contemporary art,” reports the MoMa, which recently sold leftover Norton’s in its stores as a fundraiser.
The 2003 gift: “Teacup” by Robert Lazzarini,
Here’s an excerpt from a NY Times article about the phenomenon:
As the best multiples tend to do, each Norton project typically provides a smart twist on the artist’s previous work. One example is the 1997 Christmas gift by Kara Walker, known for her flat wall installations of cut-paper silhouettes in black that pinpoint the nuances of the antebellum South. Her Norton project was a pop-up book called “Freedom: A Fable,” which illuminates the dreams of “a soon-to-be-emancipated 19th-century Negress” using 3-D cut-paper constructions.
Mr. Norton’s project, perceived by many recipients as a pretty generous endeavor itself, started out fairly modestly. The first edition was produced a few years after he and his wife, Eileen, began collecting. (They are now separated.) It was an engraved card created by the Los Angeles painter Marc Pally with a local phone number; for a month or so, those who dialed it heard different audio soundtracks. In 1990, recipients were offered three gift choices: “Sacred,” “Secular” or “AIDS Commemorative.” (Those who opted for the last got multicolored condoms in a slogan-covered Plexiglas box designed by the Los Angeles conceptual artist Daniel Martinez.) Though artists were initially chosen by an open call, Mr. Norton soon began nominating them directly. By 1994, the gift had mushroomed into a full-fledged objet d’art: a felt-lined redwood box fitted with three sculptured wishbones by the conceptual photographer Lorna Simpson.
The 2005 gift: a hand-assembled music box by the sound artist Christian Marclay
Ms. Kuramitsu, who has supervised the gift project since 2001, said the process begins about 18 months in advance, when she and Mr. Norton choose an artist. “We basically ask artists to come up with a project that they would like to share with thousands of people,” she said, adding that the only stipulation is that it be “reasonably mailable.” Once the design is final, Ms. Kuramitsu generally oversees sourcing and production. The artist is paid a creative fee, though Ms. Kuramitsu would not disclose it. She indicated that the amount was basically the same for all of the artists who have participated, although it has risen over the years. (Others who have had dealings with the project put the recent amount at $10,000 to $20,000.)
To enhance each year’s unveiling, everyone involved - from the artist to the shipping employees - is sworn to secrecy. “Something really important for the artist and for Peter,” Ms. Kuramitsu said, “is that there’s this wonderful element of suspense and surprise when you open the box.”
But the real suspense is whom Mr. Norton deems nice enough to make the list. They include artists, particularly those in the Norton collection, as well as museum directors and curators. Also on the list are Norton family friends, who are “not necessarily art aficionados,” Ms. Kuramitsu said.
The 1994 gift: “III (Three Wishbones in a Wood Box)” by Lorna Simpson
The objects have also been spotted in the homes and offices of critics and dealers, especially those with whom Mr. Norton has recently done business. Steven Leiber, a private dealer in San Francisco, said he received his first gift - the Lorna Simpson wishbones - after selling a Duchamp edition to the Berkeley Art Museum, which used Norton money to buy it. Though Mr. Leiber had heard of the project, he was still stunned by its unheralded arrival. “I remember getting this box, FedExed, a week before Christmas,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘What the hell is this?’ “
But, like many others, he fell off the list in 2002, the fateful year of the Yinka Shonibare dollhouse. A lavish toy modeled after the Anglo-Nigerian artist’s own London home, it is outfitted with tiny furniture and miniaturized paintings and photographs - and was so complex and heavy to produce and ship that the run was considerably smaller that year.
So how is someone added or dropped? Ms. Kuramitsu claims not to know. The list, she said, is drawn up by Mr. Norton, who is said to delight in printing out every label himself. “It’s a personal gift from Peter,” she explained. “That’s the logic behind it.”
The 1999 gift: Vik Muniz’s Medusa Plate, which features the artist’s re-creation of Caravaggio’s Medusa rendered in pasta marinara.
That the projects can’t simply be bought enhances their desirability, and like all things desirable in the art world, they have developed a market. Norton multiples frequently turn up on eBay and the used-books Web site abebooks.com, which currently lists several, at prices ranging from two figures to the low four figures. A colorful plastic toy designed in 2000 by Takashi Murakami even has an auction record: $7,526 at Sotheby’s London in May 2004.
Selling a Norton multiple - if Mr. Norton learns of it - is said to be a sure-fire way to get kicked off this Santa’s list. But, as Mr. Leiber put it: “What are you going to do? They’re gifts. People re-gift all the time.”
The Frieze Art Fair is an cutting-edge contemporary artaganza that takes over London’s Regent’s Park every October. The fair is put on by Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, the publishers of frieze magazine, and it features more than 150 contemporary art galleries from around the world. Although staged for the purpose of selling work, the fair has become a cultural entertainment and out of its 68,000 visitors it has been suggested that 80% attend purely to spectate. The fair also commissions artist projects and holds a programme of talks.
That’s the general gist of the fair, but for more on how it’s actually been going, I pass you onto The Independent’s Alice Jones, reporting from ground zero:
Last year, there were sales – most notably Hauser & Wirth sold Louise Bourgeois’ The Couple for $3.5m. There were crowds – 60,000 visitors or thereabouts over five days. There were celebrities – Gwyneth Paltrow, Lily Allen, Valentino and Roman Abramovich were all papped at the V.V.I.P preview. And there were parties… But somehow the atmosphere was muted, the glitz a little dulled, the sales figures that bit harder to come by. Though the committee, dealers and gallerists would never admit as much, it was a tentative affair.
The top lot at the 2010 Fair: “I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds,” a butterfly canvas by Damien Hirst, with an estimate of £2.5m to £3.5m
So what can we expect when the eighth edition of Frieze opens next week? Does a Hirst under the hammer [above, this piece will be auctioned] mean that, once again, all is well with the art world? Perhaps. The 2010 Frieze Art Fair is the largest yet, with 173 galleries from 29 countries setting their stalls in Regent’s Park. In a sign of increased stability, the fair had more applications than ever before and this year welcomes new additions from as far afield as New York and New Zealand. At a quietly expensive lunch to launch the 2010 fair, co-director Matthew Slotover was cautiously optimistic. “I have no crystal ball but certainly in the art market, things have settled down,” he said. “Very few galleries have closed. It’s surprising, but the economy seems to be buoyant enough.”
Two of America’s most important artists were born today - Alexander Calder in 1898 and Edward Hopper in 1882. To celebrate their births, we’ve gathered together three works by each artist:
Nighthawks - Hopper’s most famous work, and one of the most iconic paintings America’s got.
New York Movie (1939) - In this painting, Hopper demonstrates his commitment to preparation. He made more than 53 sketches of the theater interior and the figure of the pensive usherette.
Lone Yellow (1961) - Calder combined colorful, natural shapes (snowflakes, birds, and animals) with his interest in mechanical engineering to create charming mobiles that move with the wind. He is an innovator for art that responds to its physical environment.
Big Crinkly (1969) - Even his grounded sculptures are connected to their environment. This piece has a weathervane hat that reacts to the wind, and other sculptures of his have cranks and pulleys that move them.
Swizzle Sticks (1936) - In addition to mobile and stabile sculptures, Calder also created paintings, designed textiles and jewelry, and undertook commissions for large-scale public artworks.
Today, British artist David Hockney turns 73. Huzzah!
In his honor, I thought I’d include a snippet from the documentary about his young life - “A Bigger Splash.” Below, there’s a bit more about the film.
IN THIS SCENE: David Hockney works on his Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures).
ABOUT THIS FILM: 1971: the artist David Hockney is well on his way to art world super-stardom. Filmmaker Jack Hazan, camera rolling, follows Hockney from London to New York to Los Angeles - capturing the artist as he struggles to create what would prove to be some of his most enduring works: those featuring Hockney’s model and lover, Peter Schlesinger.
Straddling the boundary between documentary and fiction, A BIGGER SPLASH tells the story of Hockney’s breakup with Schlesinger and its effect on Hockney, his work, and his close circle of friends. Originally banned for a notorious scene of homosexual intimacy, this award-winning film, “at once precise and dreamlike,” is a unique document of a time and place, a lifestyle, and the artistic process, unlike anything made before or since.
“A unique, astonishing feat. Not quite like anything else in the cinema!” - The London Times
The New York Times Photography Blog posted a great story - Pockets and Purses Give Up Their Secrets - about the work of Francois Robert, a Tucscon-based photographer who artfully captures the contents of peoples’ bags. One of his subjects had 21 bags of Sweet N’ Low in her bag! (Top that mom!)
Enjoy the story and the photos. To check out Ugallery’s photo collection, click here.
Pockets and Purses Give Up Their Secrets
By Candice Chan
Francois Robert was 13 when his mother caught him searching her friend’s purse for pocket money. She had never been one to scold. Instead, she gave him a more introspective way to consider what he was doing:
“A woman’s purse is more private than her naked body.”
Those words inspired Mr. Robert, now 63, in the creation of “Contents”: a collection of photographs documenting the possessions tucked inside 120 individuals’ backpacks, pants and jacket pockets, or purses.
The items in each image offer a voyeuristic glimpse into the intimate details of other people’s day-to-day lives. The subjects’ hands are shown beside their belongings, providing an immediate comparison - or contrast - between the objects and their owners.
The participants were construction workers, C.E.O.’s, designers, doctors, girlfriends, and children, ranging in age from 4 to 75.
To get the most unadulterated look at each person’s belongings, Mr. Robert never told anyone in advance what he would be photographing.
Some were friends and acquaintances, whom he invited over for a chat or a weekend brunch. Others, he simply found at random around Tucson, where Mr. Robert spends winter and spring; and Chicago and Michiana Shores, Ind., where he spends summer and autumn. (He all but dragged a taxi driver into his studio, telling him to leave the meter running.) In each case, he requested participation in what he described as a fine art project.
Only when the subjects were inside the studio would he reveal the nature of his portraits.
“I’m going to empty your entire bag,” Mr. Robert would say. “If there’s anything you don’t want to show, please let me know. You will be allowed to edit the photo.”
But very few people chose to edit their lives, and only one refused to participate.
Bottles of aspirin, bunches of vegetables, contraceptives and gobs of jewelry practically invite you to write your own stories. (Though how does one explain 21 packets of Sweet’N Low?) You can see what people are attached to, whom they cherish or whom they’ve lost. In “Eulogy,” a man flying to his father’s funeral laid out his entire speech for the ceremony.
“I would not have opened my life in that way to anybody else,” said Jennifer Rothman Teufel, 43, whose canvas satchel was upturned for “Alta Forma.” After seeing her life laid-out piece by piece, she said she felt vulnerable. At first, she wanted to take things out of it. But she was also astounded by how powerful the experience was, saying that Mr. Robert “was able to, in such an abbreviated manner, catch somebody’s entire life in that moment.”
Mr. Robert has worked commercially for clients like Crate and Barrel, and has published three books. His “Stop the Violence” project was a finalist for a Lucie award last year. He is now photographing the ears of 160 people. He asks his subjects — including the composer Philip Glass — to recall the best and worst thing their ears have heard.
His work makes us consider our own experiences in a new way. Perhaps that’s why one of the most intriguing photos in “Contents” shows a small hand with turquoise nails next to an empty canvas. It seems to signify that the greatest way to express individuality is to carry nothing at all.
I admit it - this post probably belongs in the pages of People magazine. But, in the spirit of Valentines Day, my sentimental side is out in full force. Just for today, I bid adieu to any form of propriety and present to you a list of five top artist couples:
5) Bjork and Matthew Barney
Here’s a great excerpt from a story about the eccentric Icelandic singer and her husband, a freaky artist and one-time Ivy League quarterback:
Bjork searched for an image to describe a man with whom she had just spent a year making a movie and composing a two-and-a-half-hour soundtrack, the longest and perhaps most ambitious musical project of her career.
She had been in Iceland for several days, so the English language was hitting her at odd angles, but she finally found the word she was looking for.
“He’s a bit of a submarine,” she said, and grinned.
It was an apt description, not only because the man in question â€” Matthew Barney, the artist and filmmaker and Bjork’s boyfriend for almost six years â€” operates at a kind of deep-sea level, silently (he dreads talking about his work) dredging up fantastical and sometimes fearsome creatures from the dark ocean bed of human consciousness.
On a scale of weird from 1-10, I give them a 19!
While Pollock may have come out on top in the history books, most contemporary art historians also give Krasner a lot of credit. She stood strong with Pollock as he battled alcoholism and created highly respectable art in her own right. Many feminists have expressed frustrations that Krasner’s work was marginalized by Pollock’s legacy. With time, hopefully the importance of her work will be able to be assessed free of any bias.
3) John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Now this is a contentious one. Yoko Ono may be one of the most hated nice people on the planet, as many Beatles fans claim she brought on the band’s ruin. In terms of aesthetics, however, there is no doubt that both of them were exceptional minds. Ono emerged out of Japan and became a lead figure in the Fluxus movement and in feminist art. As for Lennon, his music and work for peace changed the world. (I’m only ranking them at number three because Lennon was never a full-fledged visual artist.)
2) Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg
Johns and Rauschenberg have never explicitly said they were lovers in the 1950s, but the art historical jury seems to be out (no pun intended) and most people accept that the two men were romantically linked. Talk about a power couple, eh?
Some critics go so far as to tie their gender into their art historical legacies. Johnathan Katz pushes the thesis that Abstract Expressionism was a monolithic, macho art, which Mr. Johns and Mr. Rauschenberg were in “joint opposition” to. In truth, Abstract Expressionism was not so chauvinistic- - its circle included gay artists, dealers and critics, and Mr. Johns and Mr. Rauschenberg have both repeatedly acknowledged their respect for it. Nonetheless, Katz’s theory is scandalous!
1) Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
Frida is perhaps the most iconic artist of all time. Well after her death, her unibrowed visage has turned into a mass-produced visual commodity. During her life, however, her work was virtually unknown. Her husband, Diego Rivera, was a world famous muralist and communist supporter. Without their connection to one another, it’s highly likely neither of them would have reached such insane levels of fame, and Latin American art would arguably have remained much more marginalized than it is now.