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It is one of the ironies of impressionism, the quintessential French movement, that it had its beginning and its end not in Paris but in London. It is another irony that the key figure in the movement was not a painter but, that most maligned of species, a dealer. In 1871, having fled the Franco-Prussian war, Claude Monet was living in London. It was in January that year that the landscapist Charles-François Daubigny took him along to the inaptly named German Gallery on New Bond Street and introduced him to the proprietor, another French expat, named Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922). Whether or not the gallerist believed Daubigny’s words of introduction – “This artist will surpass us all” – he liked Monet’s work well enough to buy numerous canvases and, a few days later, paintings by his fellow artist-refugee Camille Pissarro, too.
This meeting and the chain of introductions, friendships and innumerable business transactions it put in motion was to culminate 24 years later with an exhibition just down the road on Bond Street at the Grafton Galleries. The exhibition, sometimes known as The Apotheosis of Impressionism, contained 315 pictures and was, and remains, the largest show of impressionist works ever held. For Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley and their peers it was final confirmation that their struggle to win acceptance for their unacademic, light-infused paintings had been successful. For Durand-Ruel, it was validation of his steadfast support for this group of avant-garde painters which had several times put him on the point of financial ruin. As he noted: “My madness had been wisdom. To think that, had I passed away at 60, I would have died debt-ridden and bankrupt, surrounded by a wealth of underrated treasures.”
Set to open in the summer of 2016, a sleek museum designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor for a Norwegian zinc mine has been over a decade in the making, although parts of the attraction are already in place. The arrangement of buildings with its exposed beams, some perched on existing stone structures, is part of Norway’s National Tourist Routes.
The ambitious creation of 18 routes by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, started in 1994, includes an impressive roster of local and national artists and architects collaborating on structures and installations along the road. The project is harnessing the old roadside attraction idea, except instead of fiberglass dinosaurs or mystery houses luring travelers to more rural locales, we are presented with modernist rest stops or a sleeping bear in a cave diorama by artist Mark Dion.
Designboom shared images of the in-progress zinc mine museum this week. Located in Allmannajuvet, it will be dedicated to the mining that took place there from 1881 to 1899. As Icon reported last year, Zumthor was commissioned for this museum of industrial heritage in 2002, but a combination of the instability of the mountains with the architect’s meticulous work pace, which has made his minimalist architecture so striking, has meant long delays. In the subsequent years since the commission, a memorial Zumthor designed in collaboration with the late Louise Bourgeois opened as part of the National Tourist Routes. Situated on the Arctic island of Vardø, it memorializes 91 people burned for witchcraft in the 17th century, with a long structure that looks something like a ship’s hull under construction culminating with a steel chair engulfed by flames.
Years ago, I was asked to write a screenplay about JMW Turner for Peter O’Toole (who was not going to play Turner). Sadly, the film never happened. It might have been a chance to redress the fact that most films about artists set in the past come badly unstuck when it comes to recreating the actual practice of drawing and painting. Peter Greenaway, in The Draughtsman’s Contract, took trouble to provide authentic 17th-century costumes and architecture, yet the draughtsman’s drawings – central to the plot – are embarrassingly late 20th-century in style. Likewise, Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio indulges in painterly oil-sketching procedures unthinkable in Caravaggio’s time.
When I, and some of my colleagues on the Turner’s House Trust, were consulted by Mike Leigh and his team for the film Mr Turner, we found them already steeped in the artist, his life and times. They were well-read, stimulating to talk to, not really in need of much guidance from us. And watching the finished film was a strange mixture of the comfortably familiar and the utterly strange: Turner and the early 19th century bursting fresh and fully formed from creative minds, quite different from those of art historians and museum curators.
As everyone knows, Leigh is an idiosyncratic director. His methods are inscrutable, he keeps his cards close to his chest. He seems to enter into a mystic pact with his actors who join him in a passionate attempt to get as close to their subject as possible, to identify with characters and events as though they were reliving them not as mere imitators but as incarnations of those people and events. Stanislavsky is only the starting point as far as Leigh’s method is concerned. As for plot, that emerges out of the white heat of this debate.
The art of Jack Napthine is a powerful mix of boldly outlined locks, light bulbs and snatches of text; Julian Martin’s thick pastels give a dense velvety texture to his drawings; and Terry Williams’ soft sculptures of fridges, helicopters and video cameras are flamboyant and witty.
They’re all talented artists whose art is shown and collected in Australia and beyond and whose creations are currently part of Everyday Imagining: New Perspectives on Outsider Art at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne. But a few decades ago, their careers would have been unthinkable. In all likelihood, they would have spent their lives in institutions for the intellectually impaired.
Outsider art was a term coined in 1972 by British art historian Roger Cardinal. It was a roughly equivalent but more inclusive coinage for art brut (raw art), a 1940s label by Jean Dubuffet for work by inmates of insane asylums, which the French artist described as “unscathed by artistic culture … and the conventions of classical or fashionable art”.
Today, as well as including artists with disabilities or mental illness, the term is increasingly applied to others on the margins of art and society: the homeless, ethnic minorities, migrants, folk artists, the self-taught. Outsider art is hot – art fairs dedicated to the work of the marginalised draw large crowds and big bucks. The flagship exhibition of Massimiliano Gioni’s 2013 Venice Biennale was entitled The Encyclopedic Palace after the work of self-taught Italian outsider artist Marino Auriti.
But while examples of creativity unscathed by artistic fashion can be exhilarating and inspiring for artists and collectors, it’s a salient feature of most outsider art that the people applying the label are invariably on the inside – gallerists, academics, psychologists and artists who are art-school or university trained.
There has long been a fear of including the self-taught in the world of high art, says James Brett, founder of the Museum of Everything, a peripatetic collection of unclassifiable and undiscovered art that has taken up residence at London’s Tate Modern as well as Selfridges department store.
Brett is one of the speakers at Contemporary Outsider Art: the Global Context, a conference taking place in Melbourne from 23 to 26 October. “Being called an outsider artist is a badge of pride if you’ve been labelled as marginal elsewhere,” he says. There are many more art-makers than those who society labels artists, he adds. “Insider” art, with all its rules and gatekeepers, is only a small subset of a much larger world of creativity.
The birth of impressionism now has an exact date and time: it was invented at 7.35am on 13 November 1872, according to an astrophysicist who has calculated exactly when Claude Monet painted Impression: Sunrise, his smoky dawn vision of the port of Le Havre.
This makes a nice headline, but history, sadly for journalists, does not work like that. Things never really happen in a neat, packaged way. That’s why the first historian, Herodotus, dedicated so much of his epic book about the wars between Persian and ancient Greece to a digressive discussion about the entire history of the known world: he was trying to get at the complexity of cause and effect.
Art is just as complex as war. When Monet called his intensely atmospheric morning scene Impression: Sunrise he coined a name for this art movement in which French painters dedicated themselves to capturing the fleeting light of never-to-be-repeated moments. But it was not until they had a group exhibition in 1874 that they were recognised as fighting for a common cause. On the other hand, the ideas impressionism was to make notorious, then famous, then revered, were not new at all.
At the heart of impressionism is a desire to paint the immediate, sensual passing scene, in city or country – ideally and mythically – by placing an easel in the open air. John Singer Sargent beautifully captures this ideal in a portrait of Monet at work in the flux of nature, his easel set up amid the balmy elements.
But this idea did not appear like a flash when Monet painted Impression: Sunrise at 7.35am on 13 November 1872. It had evolved over nearly two centuries – at least. Oil sketching in the open air was already common in the 18th century, when it reflected a Newtonian belief in empirical truth and the Romantic pursuit of oneness with nature. The Welsh 18th-century artist Thomas Jones was a particularly bold Georgian proponent of painting in the open air.
Viewers are supposed to marvel at Rembrandt’s Night Watch (1642), but do they really? Many of us have unsatisfying responses to the works of the Masters, yet we still troop through the museums by the millions. This disconnect has led Alain de Botton and John Armstrong to guest-curate a selection of 150 works at the Rijksmuseum from their pragmatic point of view.
De Botton and Armstrong assert that art’s purpose is to heal some of the pain and malaise felt in life. It would be easy to dismiss this as didactic and anodyne. But reclaiming this broad, utilitarian view of art and reconnecting with the public in an approachable way is not simplistic. It is an important critical challenge to the reductive and self-referential intellectualism that dominates much contemporary discourse.
Tagging each work with large, yellow Post-it-style notes, the curators chat with the audience about the psychological dynamics of viewing art in a large museum. The notes aim to demystify the thoughts and feelings of viewers. Some notes describe the purpose of museums (“cathedrals of art”), while others name the alienation we feel in a room crowded with strangers. Democratizing the viewing experience in this way touches the soft underbelly of art, where contemporary critique has rejected notions of social purpose, beauty, and meaning and thus alienated much of the public.
Art and dance have had a close relationship, from the Modernist flowerings of the Ballet Russes to the downtown scene in 1970s New York. But they have remained largely distinct disciplines until recently. However, choreographers’ work is increasingly being incorporated into museum and gallery programmes, and as integral works rather than interruptions from a distinct artform. Art Basel brings some of the leading figures in dance together for The Artist as Choreographer, Friday’s Conversation, chaired by Hans Ulrich Obrist and featuring the choreographic artists Alexandra Bachzetsis, Xavier Le Roy and Isabel Lewis.
The background to this phenomenon is the two disciplines’ mutual interest in expanding definitions of what art and dance might be, and in bringing art and everyday life into a closer relationship. Bachzetsis’s work is emblematic of this shift. She has recently devised works for Documenta 13 and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and will appear in the BMW Tate Live event at Tate Modern, London, in October. She is interested in how different spaces—the theatre, the museum, the gallery, online space—“condition both the human body and the contemporary status of performance practice”, she says.
The Art Newspaper
In the lead-up to the June 7 opening of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, director Rem Koolhaas sounded like he was planning a family therapy session for the architectural profession: “This retrospective will generate a fresh understanding of the richness of architecture’s fundamental repertoire, apparently so exhausted today,” he remarked upon the January 2013 announcement that he would curate this year’s edition. Koolhaas cited “the process of the erasure of national characteristics in favor of the almost universal adoption of a single modern language” as one source of architecture’s current predicament. Contemporary architecture, he noted, has become “flattened,” and though Koolhaas doesn’t necessarily see this as a negative quality, he requested that national pavilion curators redirect their attention away from contemporary architecture. Each participating country was asked to produce an exhibition on the influence of modernization in the 20th century on its architecture, as a means of inspiring reflection on the worldwide monotony of contemporary building. With the 2014 Biennale now underway, it’s clear that the combined efforts of the 66 exhibiting countries have produced more questions than answers.
Baseball practice in Montgomery County, Maryland. Photograph: Tomas van Houtryve
When photographer Tomas van Houtryve shows people his picture of a yoga class mid-pose in a San Francisco public park, half see people practising yoga, the other half see people praying. It is this reaction to what drones capture that worries him.
“Imagine if all we knew about the way people in Pakistan lead their lives were derived from images of the tops of their heads, taken from 15,000ft (4,500 metres) in the air. It’s bound to be full of uncertainty. Is this the best way to fight a war?”
The fact that there were few published photographs of US drone activity had been bothering Van Houtryve. Then, last summer, he was sent on assignment to Peru to photograph a mine. It was while trying to secure aerial shots that an engineer introduced him to the use of drones in photography; he soon earned enough to buy his own.
“When I first started looking, they were expensive and difficult to get hold of but they started popping up on Amazon for a more reasonable price,” he says. With the help of online forums and through “internet shopping for bits and bobs” from France, Hong Kong and the US, Van Houtryve modified his drone so that it could carry a high definition camera and transmit video back to his monitor on the ground. In total, the device cost him around $2,500 (£1,500).