Monday, December 31, 2012

Cotton's Candy

Today I break my “no living artists” rule once again to bring you the 2012 oil painting Ruin by Will Cotton.

Will Cotton, Ruin, 2012, oil on linen, 86.4 x 61 cm.

Will Cotton is known for his naturalistic Candy Land landscapes. With each painting, he creates a lavish utopia where perfect pinup girls lounge around all day. They seem to have no needs or wants, but no substance either. The entire world exists only to make our mouths water. The whole thing is a little obscene. But while it might not be healthy to live there (there are no vegetables or meat to balance out the sweets), it’s fun to explore. I love when familiar things, like molasses and candy canes, become other familiar things, like swamps and trees. And anyway, it’s the rot just under the surface that makes Cotton’s work intellectually stimulating. It’s what distinguishes his form of sickly-sweetness from the sickly-sweet clichés of Thomas Kinkade.

I chose Ruin for a couple of reasons. First of all, it comes from a group of paintings where you can actually see the slow decline of Cotton’s world, like tooth decay caused by too much sugar. There are candy neighborhoods being swept away in pudding floods, landfills packed with chocolate doughnuts and pastries, and of course derelict gingerbread houses. But look carefully at Cotton’s paintings, and read the titles! The decomposition might not be obvious at first!

With Ruin, the first thing you notice is the fog. It gives everything a faded, eerie quality that serves to keep the viewer at a distance. For me, the mere fact that it’s a gingerbread house does that too. While I love the creativity that goes into them, I’ve never actually had the desire to eat one. I wouldn’t even know where to start. At the same time, the intrigue of broken candy cane columns and a large hole in the cookie roof draws you in.

Up until now, I could just as easily have been describing Cotton’s 2007 painting Ghost. The two paintings are essentially mirror images of each other. But I think Ruin has something special that Ghost is missing. And that’s a way in. Instead of having an even coating of fog across the composition, Ruin has an opening near the bottom where the intense reds and greens of candy canes and the dark of a shadowy doorway peek through. Imagining we’re inside the painting, the opening is at about eye level. It’s as if Cotton is inviting us to go inside and have a look around.

Will Cotton, Ghost, 2007, oil on linen, 182.9 x 121.9 cm.

I first learned of Will Cotton while I was in New Paltz getting my bachelors degree. I don’t really remember any specifics. I had no idea he existed one day, and then I did. One thing I didn’t know was that he grew up in New Paltz (although that explains why there was a Will Cotton painting hanging behind the circulation desk the one time I ventured into the town’s library). I learned that when I was an intern at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and had the opportunity to attend a special “interns only” artist’s lecture at Sotheby’s. I also learned that he makes big, detailed maquettes, or models, of his candy landscapes (using actual sweets!) before painting them. Apparently, he’s become quite the baker, and his studio always smells like cake.

A lot of you are probably already familiar with Will Cotton too, even if you didn’t know it. Lately he’s been experimenting with media outside painting. There’s been sculpture, stage design, fashion . . . . He even opened a temporary bakery, selling sweet treats on the cheap. But he’s most known for Katie Perry’s “California Gurls” music video. He was the art director and is responsible for the legions of gummy bears and cotton candy clouds. Since then, Cotton-inspired ads have been popping up in magazines and commercials everywhere.

But overall, what I like most about Will Cotton's work is not the surrealistic world made out of candy and cake. It’s that he makes the surrealistic world seem not so surrealistic. It just seems real.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Klimt Mini Post

I have a post on a work of art that fits with the snowy holiday season all ready to go. But first, a little more on Klimt and Adele.

The picture above shows Adele Bloch-Bauer I as it’s framed and reproduced by the Neue Galerie. I want to know why. What’s with the frame-within-a-frame and the white strip underneath? Does it have some sort of historical or artistic significance? Is it original to Klimt? Did the Bloch-Bauer’s hang it like that? I tried to look it up, but I couldn’t find any mention of it’s framing. If you have any ideas please let me know in the comments!

I also found a silly little website where you can insert yourself into a Klimt. It’s surprisingly entertaining, so go “Klimt Yourself!”

Me as Judith I

Yeah, not much actual substance this time.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Klimt's Golden Lady

I used to hate Klimt. All I knew was The Kiss, or Kuss in German. And while it’s grown on me a bit, it’s still not my favorite. Something about that thick man-neck and the guy’s obscured, caveman-like features. And the impossible angle of the woman’s head. Also, that robe the man is wearing (although it’s interesting to note that it looks similar to the ones Klimt himself went commando underneath). Basically the whole man and how he seems to be interacting with the woman. He looks predatory and unstable.

However, Gustav Klimt’s 1907 painting Adele Bloch-Bauer I is one of my favorites.

Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, oil, silver, and gold on canvas, 140 x 140 cm.

I first noticed Adele Bloch-Bauer I while I was in graduate school. It was the go-to example when talking about Nazi-Era provenance issues. I thought it was beautiful. Painted during Klimt’s “Golden Phase,” the work is an art nouveau/symbolist masterpiece with influences as diverse as early Byzantine mosaics and Egyptian and Mycenaean art. What I love about it is the way the perfectly modeled face, shoulders, and arms emerge from abstraction. Klimt has covered the rest of the figure (i.e. the clothing) and the background with flat, detailed pattern, a practice known as horror vacui, or “fear of empty space” in Latin. I also like the awkward position of Adele’s hands, which Klimt apparently did to hide a deformed finger. Overall, the painting is opulent, mysterious, and wonderfully bridges the art of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Now, since it’s become such a big part of the work, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about the painting’s history and the reasons why it’s the go-to example when talking about Nazi-Era provenance issues.

Adele Bloch-Bauer I was originally commissioned in 1903 by Austrian/Jewish sugar magnate Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer (né Bloch) and depicts his wife Adele Bloch-Bauer (née Bauer). She was incredibly independent for her time. Although she looked fragile on the outside, she was active in the Austrian art scene, loved learning and the pursuit of knowledge, and carried a gold cigarette holder at a time when women didn’t smoke. It was even rumored that she had an affair with Klimt! She was basically an Austrian Isabella Stewart Gardner (if you don’t know Isabella, look her up. She’s awesome).

Adele Bloch-Bauer

Adele died of meningitis in 1925. In her will, she asked her husband to donate Adele Bloch-Bauer I along with a couple other Klimts to the Austrian National Gallery upon his death. But before that could happen, Nazi Germany annexed Austria, and Ferdinand fled to Switzerland, leaving all of his possessions, including the Klimts, behind. Eventually, the Nazi’s divided up and sold the Bloch-Bauer’s property and occupied their home. Although the Nazi’s considered other Viennese artists of the era “degenerate” and banned them for being un-German, they liked Klimt. The Nazi’s renamed Adele Bloch-Bauer I The Lady in Gold to hide its Jewish origins and placed the painting in the Austrian Gallery.

Ferdinand died in Switzerland in 1945. He had lost nearly everything in the Holocaust and had no children of his own. In his will, he bequeathed his estate to his nieces and nephew (Ferdinand’s brother had married Adele’s sister). After the war, they recovered some of Ferdinand’s possessions, but the Austrian government refused to return the Klimts. They argued that Adele’s will gave them legal ownership after Ferdinand’s death. But, as we know, Ferdinand, not Adele, owned the Klimts. He had commissioned them, and while he may have wished to respect Adele’s request, he was not obligated to.

In 2000, Maria Altmann, Ferdinand and Adele’s last surviving niece, sued Austria from the United States, where she lived in California. The case went to the United States Supreme Court and was arbitrated by a panel of three judges in Austria. In 2006, Adele Bloch-Bauer I and four other Klimts were returned to Altmann and the heirs.

Soon after its return, Maria Altmann sold Adele Bloch-Bauer I to Ronald Lauder of the Neue Galerie in New York City for the record-breaking sum of $135 million. The museum’s director calls it their “Mona Lisa.” The work people will come to see. And it works. That’s why I ended up there.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

House Sitting, and Interviews, and Road Trips, Oh My!

With Thanksgiving, and house sitting, and interviews, and work, it's been a busy couple of weeks. And it's not over yet! My husband and I are driving down to Alabama in the next day and a half for yet another interview. We might even make a stop or two on the way back and have some fun. I'm sorry I didn't post anything last week, but I won't be posting anything today either. I do have a couple of things in the works, and I promise (cross my heart and hope to die) that I will be back next week with a post on Gustav Klimt.

But NOT The Kiss.