Wednesday, December 11, 2019

From the Funky to the Political -- Favorite 3D Works at Art Basel

"Sitting Couple" by Lynn Chadwick (1990)
A trip to Art Basel requires a lot of stamina, even if you're not hobbling around on a sprained ankle. But my adrenalin kicked in and never wavered over the course of six and a half hours of viewing. And why would it with so much spectacular art to enjoy?

I felt like I'd hit the jackpot when I arrived at Landau Fine Arts' booth with its aluminum and bronze statues by Lynn Chadwick. His "Sitting Couple" is human-sized and full of life and fun despite the pair's hard edges. Don't you love the heads?

Chadwick was a British sculptor with no formal art training other than some architectural drawing classes. Perhaps this is why he created his sculptures without the benefit of preliminary sketches. Just think about that for a moment. Instead, he created maquettes, smaller "test" versions of his works. (The maquettes on display were equally beautiful.)

Chadwick rose to fame when he was awarded the International Sculpture Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1956. The smart money had been on Alberto Giacometti to take home the honor. Click here to see more of Chadwick's work.

"Massing Studies for The Pavilion #1 
(V.B. Gowns) by General Idea (1975) 
It's no surprise that "Massing Studies for The Pavilion #1 (V.B. Gowns)" caught my eye despite coming upon it late in the day. How could you overlook such a striking combination of geometry and color? And with the addition of the arms, the sculpture transforms into a piece of runway-worthy fashion. And that's exactly the intention behind the work of General Idea, a Canadian collective comprised of artists Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal and AA Bronson.  But here's the craziest part -- the "V.B." in the title refers to the Venetian blinds that provide the material for the sculpture. Allow me to provide a bit of background.

General Idea used the construct of a faux beauty pageant to create works that satirized ideals of glamour and art. In 1971, the Collective held its first "Miss General Idea" pageant. It was a mail art project. The field of title-seeking participants was narrowed down to 16, and each was sent a brown taffeta dress to model. The winner appears to have been selected via photographic entries, but there was in fact an event complete with a red carpet. On another occasion, live models sashayed down a runway wearing the ziggurat VB gowns. I wish I could have been there.  To read more about General Idea (and see a picture of the pageant), click here.

"Boats" by Jennifer Bartlett (1987) 
Despite my aversion to sailing (long story), I found Jennifer Barlett's "Boats" one of the most beautiful works in the show. The play between the painted and sculpted boats was brilliant. And while it's hard to appreciate in this picture, the details in the painting were perfect, from the small stalk of a plant that's landed onboard to the inevitable dings on the seats to the shadows cast from nearby trees.

Bartlett is a conceptual artist whose work elevates the mundane to something significant. I wasn't surprised to learn she had studied at Yale with Alex Katz. There's a simplicity to this work that dovetails with Katz' pared down style.

But her grids are the work Bartlett is best known for in the art world. She would paint small, square, enamel-coated steel plates and arrange them into an image. Sometimes she used media like crayon and ink on paper instead.To see more of her work, click here.

"Gliding into Midnight" by Betye Saar (2019) 
Then there was Betye Saar's mixed media assemblage tableau entitled "Gliding into Midnight." Despite her advanced age -- Saar is 93 -- she continues to make powerful political work. The ebony hands emerging from the boat leave no doubt these people are in danger. Cobalt stones representing the ocean weigh them down. And if that's not sufficiently chilling, below the boat is a diagram of a slave ship that brought Africans to our shores. Millions of slaves made the 21 to 90 day journey over the course of more than three centuries.

Saar's work is so extensive that a short description could not begin to do it justice. Click here for a fascinating article that talks, among other things, about assemblage and Saar's "reclaiming" of the image of Aunt Jemima. And to watch a video in which Saar speaks about her work, click here.

"Sound of Tree Water" 
by Katsura Funakoshi (2019)
I'll leave you with Katsura Funakoshi's "Sound of Tree Water." The woman's long neck and oval face called to mind the work of Modigliani, one of my favorite painters. Plus the carving had a folk art feel that appealed to me. But that's just my own response.

The Japanese artist hand carves these works with a chisel and hammer over a period of months. Funakoshi's choice of camphor wood as his material is not based purely on its tactile qualities. Camphor wood comes from laurel trees, which have traditionally been used in Japan to make religious objects. Knowing this gives the work a meditative quality I didn't immediately see.

Funakoshi has said his figures live “in a world of joy and suffering, of passion and anger, of resignation.” Art critics have commented on their futuristic feel, the realistic quality of their skin and the eerie marble eyes that unblinkingly look ahead.  If you're fortunate enough to live in New York, you can see an exhibit of Funakoshi's work and make your own assessment.  "A Tower in the Night Forest - Recent Works (2011-2019)" will be on display at Van Doren Waxter through January 17. The rest of us will have to settle by seeing more of his work by clicking here.

Next up: Favorite 2D Art at Art Basel

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