Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Drawing

Sunil, 'Untitled', Charcoal and ink on Strathmore paper, 9" X 12"

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

B & W photography at the Voorhees Galleries

We visited the Voorhees Special Exhibition Galleries at Rutgers University, NJ over the weekend and ran into an excellent exhibition titled 'A New Reality, - Black and White photography in contemporary art'.

Among the great examples of photographs on display were those that included “straight” photography (not manipulated through darkroom techniques or otherwise altered), odd subjects of Diane Arbus (bizarre aspects of everyday life) and unusual sides of fashion photography by Richard Avedon (a photograph where Andy Warhol displays his scarred, post-operative torso).

We could not resist the urge to take pictures of the pictures. For more on the exhibition, please see here.

Valerie Belin, 'Untitled #010806', 2001, Gelatin silver print

John Coplans, 'Self Portrait', 1988, Gelatin silver print

Matthew Buckingham, 'The truth about Abraham Lincoln', 1992, Gelatin silver print

Zeke Berman, 'Goblets Portrait', 1978, Gelatin silver print

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sunday soliloquy

Fall is here and the mercury is beginning to drop. Finally the temperatures are beginning to have some semblance of normality (for this time of the year). A lot of people remark that they have not seen the weather behave this erratically in their lifetimes. On the other hand, a lot of people also deny global warming. It looks like finally the effects are clear enough for the nay-sayers to begin to see the light – only goodly time will tell.

Sunil, 'Canopy', Digital photograph

A hundred and twenty years ago...

Vincent van Gogh. ' Cemetery in the Rain', 1886, Oil on canvas

Collection of random links with no specific agenda

What the F ? by Militant Art Bitch on current affairs.
Article on painter RB Kitaj who died last Sunday.
A view on libertarianism from outlookIndia.
Open Letter to Roaches from Craigslist.
Some cartographic work and other paintings by Christa Dichgans.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

More drawing

Sunil, 'Denial', Charcoal, ink and ballpoint pen on Strathmore paper, 9" X 12"

Friday, October 26, 2007

Two photos: Two stadiums - both about a week after...

October 19, 2007 - Fire starts in Southern California. The above picture was taken a week after. Description: Mrs. and Mr. Huber of Fallbrook, Calif., leaving Qualcomm Stadium where they stayed for about a week. (ripped from today's New York Times)
August 29, 2005 - Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans. The above picture was taken a week after. Description: Mother tucks in children for the night at the Superdome stadium in New Orleans while the sounds of police preventing rioting for food and space were heard outside. (ripped from online e-zine)

A little segway into the Balkans

Over the next couple of months, a very important geopolitical event is about to take place: Kosovo - one of the more troubled of the nations in the burning Balkans plans to declare itself an independent nation. This will free it of the remote controlled dominance from Serbia and will eventually push Kosovo on the path towards becoming a self reliant nation. All is not that simple and rosy – if it were life would not be easy. Before all of this happens, there are different political constituents jockeying around trying to make sure that this historically subjugated part of what was formerly Yogoslavia remains condemned and relegated to second class status within Serbia.

The cast of actors in this Kabuki play involves:
- Serbia: The ruling political party do not want to let go of Kosovo as they feel that this will give the opposition parties more fuel in their fight for power (there is some kind of an obscure legend that Kosovo has the mythic status as the cradle of Serbian Orthodox Christian history)
- Russia: Who support Serbia position (Well, Russia has few allies in the region and Serbia is one of them. For a wannabe superpower, any flotsam is fine for now).
- America: We support the independence but can do little to affect the outcome as we are mired within the Middle East in a war with no end.
- UN: They support the independence and is the entity with the most leverage to affect the outcome, but is confused by the lobbying employed by powers like EU and Russia and is really flying by the seat of their pants.

It is definitely going to be very interesting come December 10th - the date for the formal announcement of independence by Kosovo. I for one, pray for little bloodshed and for independence - the people here have suffered enough firstly under the bloody genocides perpetrated by Serbian leaders and additionally by the cultural subjugation historically endured by the Albanian majority who reside in Kosovo. They have always reminded me of second class citizens that live in the nether fringes of society little cared for or understood but exist - sort of like the Shrek’s of our world - people take little time in understand them deeper and judge them only by word of mouth and by cursory looks...

An brilliant essay by William Finnegan "Letter from Kosovo - The Countdown" in the Oct 15th issue of New Yorker makes this abundantly clear. Unfortunately I cannot seem to get the link to the full version online.

A better understating surrounding the cultural underpinnings that haunt the denizens of this region may be obtained by reading an essay by Vladimir Arsenijevic titled "Our negroes, our enemies" on signandsight.

It is definitely worth a close read – brings to mind conflicts currently on in Sri Lanka and Iraq – just to name a couple. It also brings to my mind issues faced by untouchables in India.





Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sepulchral - a gallery visit

Perhaps appropriate in an age of permanent global wars, market meltdowns and post Katrina traumatic stress is an exhibition underway at Cheim and Read that features the skeleton as the subject of artwork/artists. Creatively titled 'I am as you will be', the show draws upon a variety of artists from Hirst to Picasso in an eclectic mix of pieces that has one pondering on our calcium framework. Munch and Ensor - the two artists who dealt very closely in morbidity, mortality and our perceptions to the same are appropriately represented here. Maybe because skeletons are simultaneously morbid (our ultimate fate) and banal (used and appropriated everywhere from horror movies to the skull & crossbones), I remember not being affected too much by the subject. Was it a case of my somewhat dour disposition towards this subject or was it because of a mild odor of formaldehyde permeating the gallery (my fevered suspicion given all the bones in close proximity), I am not too sure, but I walked out of the gallery not too depressed and not too happy. Maybe that was what the curator of this show (James Ensor scholar Xavier Tricot) had in mind - reflection.

Some photos I took of the show are below.

Jenny Holzer 'LUSTMORD TABLE', 1994, 149 bones, 17 with engraved silver bands, 50 teeth, drop leaf wooden table ca. 1800, 34" x 70" x 44"

Kris Martin, 'I AM STILL ALIVE', 2006, Bronze, 7" x 5" x 4"

Tony Matelli, 'SAD SKULLS', 2003, Polysterene, Dimensions variable

Jenny Holzer and Lady Pink, 'TEAR DUCTS SEEM TO BE A GRIEF PROVISION', 1983-84, Spray paint on canvas, 90" x 115"

Jan Van Oost, 'SALOME', 1990, Cast silver, 5" x 5" x 11"

Angelo Filomeno, 'THE PHILOSOPHER'S WOMAN', 2007, Embroidery on silk, stretched over linen with crystals, hematite and stainless steel, 117" x 42"

Andy Warhol (1928 - 1987), 'UNTITLED (SKELETONS)', 1976-1986, Stitched gelatin silver prints, 27" x 31"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Doodling continued...

Sunil, 'Scar Tissue', Charcoal, ink and ballpoint pen on Strathmore paper, 9" X 12"

More sub - prime talk

Previously, we had talked a bit about a fall out from the sub-prime world and in particular, how it is evident that the people who helped foment the mess seem to be on their way to procuring a get-out-of-jail-free card in the form of a super fund developed to bail out illiquid mortgage backed financial instruments. A recent article by Paul Krugman over at the NYT explains in relatively simpler terms the details behind the mess and uses a simpler analogy.

Today, when a bank makes a home loan, it doesn't hold on to it. Instead, it quickly sells the mortgage off to financial engineers, who chop up, repackage and resell home loans pretty much the way supermarkets chop up, repackage and resell meat.

Brings to my mind the recent debacle over at Topps.

It's a business model that depends on trust. You don't know anything about the cows that contributed body parts to your package of ground beef, so you have to trust the supermarket when it assures you that the beef is U.S.D.A. prime. You don't know anything about the sub-prime mortgage loans that were sliced, diced and pureed to produce that mortgage-backed security, so you have to trust the seller — and the rating agency — when it assures you that it's a AAA investment.

So, why isn’t anybody punishing the rating agencies who rate junk investments as triple AAA misleading everybody? Apparently there is a plan afoot to deliver legislation that will curb the irrationality inherent with rating agencies (the rating agencies are hired and paid by the issuers of the very securities they rate - something like students paying the professor for grading their work) and give aggrieved consumers the right to seek legal retribution from mortgage companies that deceived them – but – a huge BUT here, I am sure that K street will not allow that legislation to go anywhere...

Supposedly safe investments suddenly turned into junk bonds when the housing bubble burst. High profits reported by hedge funds — profits that were reflected in huge payments to the fund managers — turn out to have been based on wishful thinking.
Right now the bleeding edge of the crisis in confidence involves worries that there may be large losses hidden inside so-called "structured investment vehicles" — basically hedge funds that borrow from the public and invest the proceeds in mortgage-backed securities.


An article by Alan Blinder, an economics professor at Princeton titled ‘Six Fingers of Blame in the Mortgage Mess’ is a useful read that might help us avoid such debacles in the future – but then who listens amidst irrational exuberance

Of course, even the superfund being developed to safeguard the high flyers who bilked homeowners seem to be running into a bit of flak. It is being compared to using more smoke and mirrors to cover up existing skullduggery - according to the former Federal Reserve sage Alan Greenspan (read full report here)

He also had the following chilling words: “There will be a crash in China, I just don’t know when”...



Xiong Lijun, 'Don't educate me', oil on canvas, 78" X 62", 2004

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Photo

Sunil, 'Lines', Digital photograph

Monday, October 22, 2007

Medium tedium

I have been experimenting with mediums other than oil after a little bit of an issue with my back threw me out of time intensive painting for a while. Hence the doodling.

Sunil, 'Untitled', Charcoal, ink and ballpoint pen on Strathmore paper, 9" X 12"

Prescience

“Guys like you, believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernable reality. That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to study what we do.” - Attributed to Karl Rove, a former senior advisor at the White House.

Sunil, 'Still trying', Digital photograph

Saturday, October 20, 2007

My kid might paint that with help

Is 4-year-old Marla Olmstead a painting prodigy or a hoax? A new movie "My Kid Could Paint That" asks questions about abstract art, marketing and a family willing to go the questionable length. Salon's take on the movie is worth a read. I am sure actually going to the movie would be most insightful.




Weekend experiments

Sunil, 'Untitled', Acrylic based house paint, red wood stain, oil paint and varnish on masonite, 24" X 24"

Friday, October 19, 2007

Weekend rhythm

The helmet and the dandelion by Eduardas Mie┼żelaitis (1919 – 1997)

Near a rotted old stump
Which the spring water washes
An old helmet rusts, gaunt,
And upon it, audacious,

Like a bold mountaineer
Climbs a wormlet.
Nearby A small bird for a nest
Scans the beach with its eye.

The last ice-splinters melt
And are turned into springs.
But what flower in the grass
To the old helmet clings?

From beneath its steel rim
Peers a frail dandelion.
Stroke its head with your hand –
It’s alive – undying...


Elliott Erwitt (b. 1928), 'Mother and Child', NY, 1953, Black and white photograph, 16" x 23"

Art, classical music and philosophy in a video game - a motley brew in Eternal Sonata

I am not too much of a video game player, save for the occasional game here and there. I played Halo a bit because of the outer space sequences and the level of detail with which some of the nether worlds/scenarios have been created. Of course, I assist my three year old son in playing Madagascar from time to time and usually end up losing badly. That said, the potential for a lot of these games to marry reality, action, art and music is rich and is a yet-to-be-explored domain. A recent review of a new game out in the market seems to cater to exactly this combination. Eternal Sonata has art, story, action, philosophy and classical music to boot. Now you might say - well that is interesting, but it must do badly when trying to combine all of these disparate forms into a video game. If reviews are to be believed and strength of online comments are to be trusted, it looks like this game has managed to corral all of these immiscible forces into a cohesive whole. We plan on buying this when the prices have cooled down a bit, but reading reviews here and here, it does not seem like it would disappoint. If this game takes off as predicted, then it must herald a new order where the arts and music might play a larger and much needed role in video games. An additional benefit of games like this taking off would be the further democratization of the arts and demystification of classical music well underway with the advent of blogs like this and this. What do you know; the spiky leather jacketed youngster avidly playing videos at the mall may be listening to Frederic Chopin on their IPods...




Intelligence: A product of environment and upbringing (?)

Dr Watson of the Watson and Crick model posited a new model to looking at economic development and social equality when he told a leading newspaper that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really". He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true".

Of course, we could just excuse a great scientist like him with rambling things like this every once in a while – with the dismissal that figuring out the structure of those helices were a mind-twisting thing – I am sure, but I had not expected the great eminence's grey cells to be this far twisted. Maybe he is just off his rockers or he is a conceited, Klan(ny) bigot. Not too sure, but the pattern points to the latter.

Some of his other pronouncements that have made the hall of shame previously.

- In 1997, he announced that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual.
- He has also suggested a link between skin color and sex drive, proposing that black people have higher libidos, and argued in favor of genetic screening and engineering on the basis that "stupidity" could one day be cured.
- He has also claimed that beauty could be genetically manufactured, saying: "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would great."

…Has anyone ever been intelligent? Alberto Savinio said that complete, balanced intelligence has always been a special case. And he added: ‘The effort made by man to climb the steps of intelligence is so painful, so desparate… The damages resulting from an incomplete intelligence are so much greater than those arising from frank and submissive stupidity.

’We would doubt the usefulness and real value of such prized intelligence, prized intelligence because it doesn’t actually exist. The very fact that some of us—not all of us—search after intelligence simply goes to show that it isn’t natural, it isn’t human, it isn’t of this world. […] ‘Intelligence,’ says Savinio, ‘is the holy Grail, but stupidity, that Cinderella, poor, modest, despised, vilified stupidity, is what the true, spontaneous, lasting love of man in the end returns to.’ Savinio thinks that man, even in metaphysics, divides his affection between intelligence (the lover, the holy Grail) and supidity (the wife or consort). After all the deceptions of intelligence, it is she, good, magnanimous stupidity, who consoles us deeply.Stupidity is loyal and constant, we have known her from time immemorial, she awaits us in the sweet home to share with us, with imposing resignation, the colossal misfortune not to be intelligent. --- Alberto Savinio

An interesting viewpoint addressed here seems to say that the hounding associated with this controversy was a bit much for an old eccentric kook. I do not agree.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

On appropriation in the arts

In my continuing search to find out more about the nature of appropriation as it relates to the fields of the arts and somewhat more specifically to my art, I posted the second in a series of short pieces on Art and Perception here. The first in this series was posted there in April of this year.

Sherrie Levine, ‘Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp)’, 1991, Bronze, 14" X 24" X 14"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sub prime meltdown - Part deux

A quote printed on June 29th 2000 from the New York Times: 'People who don't have good credit are preyed upon in all sorts of areas -- when they try to get a credit card, when they try to get a home-equity loan, when they try to get a mortgage on a house'' - Frank Torres, from an advocacy group that publishes Consumer Reports.

A quick scan of the results of typing in the words ‘gap rich poor America’ into any search engine will make it easy to understand how deep a problem we face with respect to the growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Many studies are now coming out with even more dire results that state that this gap is only set to widen with the fallout being that definitions of ‘middle class’ will become ever more murkier.

From a study by economists Arthur Kennickell and R. Louise Woodburn: “The richest ten percent of the US population - about ten million households - owned eighty-four percent of the stock and ninety percent of the bonds held by individuals. The bottom eighty percent only three percent.”

Sometime back, I had written a bit about the sub prime mess that we are living with right now… and for some reason I thought that in all of their pristine wisdom, we would see some kind of legislation come out from the lawmakers that could potentially help forestall devastating home foreclosures that are leaving families out on the streets because they are unable to pay devious mortgage payment schemes dreamed up by our ever inventive mortgage companies.

Terms like adjustable rate mortgages are but one example of an egregious trend of hoodwinking the ordinary citizen into believing that s(he) can dream to be a homeowner at a affordable rate of interest on the loan when in reality the rate would adjust itself in response to prevailing market indicators after a set period of time. Of course, a little transparency would have worked, but in a rush to close deals and ensure market capture, transparency and understanding the fine print were left as discretionary options resting on the shoulders of the confused homeowner (when in reality it should have been the responsibility of the mortgage company to come clean and spell it out).

In this troubled scenario of the citizenry, I was hopeful that the lawmakers would come to help the aggrieved, but was in for a rude shock yesterday when just the opposite happened. The lawmakers had acted, but clearly in favor of protecting the super-rich… I noticed that none other than the Treasury Department stewarded a deal in which various well off banks get together and create a ‘super fund’ of sorts that can in theory raise up to 200 billion in what can be called a ‘veiled bailout’ of the debt markets. Of course, nobody is going to call it a bailout, but the fact remains clear.

A report in the New York Times makes the case abundantly clear, but a few paraphrased words from the article will help us understand how the rich manage to take care of its brethren.

1. The biggest banks in the US, with active encouragement from the Treasury Department, unveiled a plan to keep the housing-related debt crisis from worsening.
2. The new entity, called a Master Liquidity Enhancement Conduit, or M-LEC, could raise as much as $200 billion or more through the issuance of its own securities
3. The banks hope to take minimal risk and avoid actually investing any of their own money
4. If the banks’ initiative works as planned, many investors that helped to finance risky loans will be spared distress

Here, it is clear from #3 that the wealthy investors/owners behind banks take minimal risk and avoid losing any of their money – while still protecting their bottom-line (of course, they always bring up the fact that they are doing all of this to stave off recession).

It is also clear from #4 that the wealthy investors who knowingly financed risky loans (the loans were risky because they depended on manipulating the goodwill of the poor hapless individual who buys homes using fancy mortgage vehicles like adjustable rate mortgages) will be spared distress and ensure return of their monies with the appropriate returns that were originally guaranteed to them.

Of course, the Treasury has repeatedly said that it was only a facilitator and no government money was involved. “I don’t see this as a bailout,” said James Paulsen, chief investment officer at Wells Capital Management. “There is no public money involved in this. The government’s role here is facilitating discussion among private players to take care of this them. If the private players can find a way to help alleviate this, then why shouldn’t they?”

OK, a silent question that remained unanswered amid the clamor and din at the end of the day was this: When is facilitation of the same kind going to be extended to the growing ranks of homeowners who are going to be homeless due to the financial machinations egregiously played by the Street?

Update (October 18, 2007): The treasury secretary outlined the plans behind helping people in distress yesterday: From the yesterday's NYT: Mr. Paulson predicted that foreclosure proceedings would begin on one million homes this year. But his main proposal was a voluntary alliance of mortgage-servicing companies that would try to reach out to homeowners before they fell behind on payments. He tiptoed around the issue that many analysts have argued is a central conflict of interest for rating agencies: that they earn their fees for evaluating a new security offering only after the offering has been sold to investors.

C'mon, when you knowingly admit that 1 million homes are going to be foreclosed over the next year, one would be expected to take stronger proposals than thinking about the creation of voluntary alliances to help consumers...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Shot

Sunil, 'Slaughter', South India, 2006, Digital Photograph

Japanese woodblock printing - a little story

Japanese woodblock printing or Ukiyo-e emanated in China and was bought to Japan along with another important import - Buddhism. This art form was refined and gained its highest levels of popularity in the 1800's. The prints are unmistakable for their allusions to everyday living, cultural references and homage to the forces of nature. These and their apparent simplicity and closeness to a poetry form that I admire very much – haiku – always made me an avid voyeur of this art in whatever form they would present themselves (online, museums, or reproductions in books). I am happy to record here that my wife and I recently managed to acquire an Utagawa Kuniyoshi rice paper print from around 1845. An image is uploaded at the bottom of this post. The print was shipped by a friend of ours who was visiting Japan and we did not get a chance to closely examine the finer aspects until it got home and only then did we manage to get a better look at the same. On looking at the 150 year old fragile looking parchment paper in closer detail, we were surprised to find the unfolding of a little story here. On first looks, it resembles any other period print of that time and culture: A large nosed, hawk eyed man with a flowery kimono in a kabuki pose holding a scroll that contains the caricature of what looks like a samurai soldier with an indecipherable scrawl on the lower left corner. The samurai in the scroll seems to be decked out in battle garb that primarily consist of their long sword (katana blade), a special bland colored kimono (kamishimo) and a shorter sword (wakizashi). The samurai in the scroll seems to be someone who has serenely closed his eyes knowing fully well of the power and violence he could unleash if disturbed from his thoughts.

It is not until a bit later that we noticed to the middle right section, hidden among the greenery, was a turquoise-blue, sap-green cobra uncoiling itself out of ornamental grasses and bamboo leaves with its hood stretched and spread out - this could mean only one thing - ready for a killing strike. (For a closer view, please click on the image - a larger, high-resolution image should open in the browser). The significance of the picture suddenly dawned on us and the effects were akin to a bulb popping in your mind at that serendipitous moment accompanying the release of one from ignorance. Here, it seems that the man in the kimono was apparently invoking the powers of a samurai - probably himself or invoking an allusion to powers invested in his warriors, against the attacking snake in order to defend himself or whatever he stands loyal for. The cobra could be read either as a direct physical threat that the man faces right there and then or may even be construed as a larger threat against the man or what he represents (his kingdom possibly?)… He is seen to invoke the power vested in him (possibly armies at his command) helping him allay any misadventures that the snake (marauders?) might harbor... We do not know, - this is all just theory. At this point, I have managed to ask a friend who is adept at deciphering period Japanese translations in an effort to see if the writing on the print may serve as clues to any one of the allusion-laced stories set above. As soon as we have the answers, I will post here. Whatever the outcome, we are happy to have this with us.

Process: Woodcut prints were a cheaper way to create multiple copies of a picture or a painting. They involve several steps: First, a ‘designer’ traces the lines of the original picture into several sheets of thin paper. Then, the designer applies suitable colors one after another using different sheets for each color. A ‘carver’ then comes along and places the thin paper on blocks made from cherry wood and engraves the blocks in consecutive order. This forms the wood cut master. A ‘paster’ comes along who then makes prints from a ‘set’ of these masters by consecutively matching the right color to the appropriate wood cut and transferring their likeness on rice paper in a predetermined order.



Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861), Woodblock print on mulberry bark rice paper, 14" X 10", circa 1845

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Landscape

Anselm Kiefer, 'Nuremberg', Acrylic, emulsion, and straw on canvas, 110" x 149", 1982
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Every time I hear the word quagmire, this powerful images dances in my head.

Shot

Sunil, 'Water Store', Digital photograph

Linkage to essay on the museums of tomorrow

A good read on upcoming curatorial practices and the effects of the great leveller - the internet on the arts. An interesting read.
Essay link here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Simplistic Art is now a year old blog baby

One year ago today, I started this blog not really sure if I had the time (with the family and day-job trumping most other proclivities) to do enough justice to serving some of my original goals that I had listed out here...

Original intents included clarifying thoughts about society, art and neurology (yes, it is a strange combination – but I seemed to like it). Of course, catching up with neurology fell by the wayside as I found out I could not devote time to both art and neurology and have normal sleep cycles. Halfway through the blogging endeavor (about six months back), I decided to concentrate more on art, its effects on society and my paintings. Seems like focusing was the right thing to do...

Some months when the id is particularly strong, I manage to get a larger number of posts than usual. Sometimes, comments are good indicators of readers who are interested - of course, I do not have much of a following that way if comments were the only judge - they seem few and far between, but if unique visits (readers who lurk around the blogosphere) register as a measurement on the interest barometer, then an average of about 1250 visits every month is a good reason to keep publishing. I hope to continue more in the same vein. Thanks for coming back and checking on this blog every once in a while. The occasional comments are a great heart warmer.
Thank you.

In Memoriam - Pele deLappe

Pele deLappe 91, an artist and journalist died on October 1, 2007. My interest in her work was stirred recently on reading a bit about her ideas on society, civil rights causes and social movements. Her artworks reflected her outlook and always were a pointed critique towards the social realities we encounter and how the less fortunate among us always seem to get the short end of the stick.

"She was always on the side of the downtrodden," said her daughter. "She spent her whole life dedicated to civil rights causes and to social movements."

In a 1938 lithograph titled "The Transients," she shows a young Depression-era couple on the side of a road. With a furrowed forehead, the man stands with his thumb in the air, hoping to get a ride for his family; his wife sits on their suitcase looking solemnly at their baby, a knapsack of their items beside them.
Pele deLappe, 'Portrait of B.E.', 1935, Lithograph, 14" x 10"

Note on the lithograph above: B.E or Bert Edsis was a civil rights & criminal lawyer. Active in labor and social causes in the 1930's and thru the 50's. He was famous for defending clients against McCarthy hearings.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fazal Sheikh at Princeton University Art Museum

Kalyani Ghosh: Husband commits suicide in a drunken stupor - she was 23 - went to live with her mother in law - forced out - now lives in Vrindavan age 78
Renuka: Home alone - neighbour rapes her - husband can no longer accept her as his wife - cast out of house - went off to Vrindavan.
Jaida: Kidnapped at six and given hormone injections for premature growth of her breasts. Put to work as a prostitute when she was 11.
Kavitha: Mostly lives on the streets of Delhi. For about $17 / month, performs gymnastics on the road for passers by.
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I had the good fortune of running into an excellent exhibition underway at the Princeton University Art Museum this weekend. Fazal Sheikh, an artist-activist who uses photography to create portraits of communities and in turn helps reflect the underlying economic, social and societal problems and mores that the community faces is quite a show to behold.

The show entitled 'Our beloved daughters' showcases two themes concerning the effects of societal mores on Indian women and their corresponding after-effects on society;

The first theme is Moksha. It focuses on an obnoxious five hundred year old practice played out in the holy city of Vrindavan in northern India. Vrindavan is a magnet for India’s dispossessed widows who are cast out by their families and condemned by strict marital laws, denying them legal, economic, and in some extreme cases their human rights. Due to circumstances that they could not control (like the death of their husbands), they now have to eke out their lives by the banks of the river, worshipping the god Krishna, helping them to cast off memories from their past life and prepare for a new and better life to come. Their ultimate dream is to reach moksha (salvation in heaven) where they will find freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth and live surrounded by their gods forever (apparently).

The second theme is Ladli (young girl), where he explores the devastating effects of enduring prejudices against girls and women in the Indian society. For all of the progress made by India, portrayals like Ladli reveal the hidden aspects of caste system, dowry, female infanticide and in some cases Sati. Longstanding custom in certain families/sects makes for girl brides being a drain on the family fortunes at the time of their marriage (the bride’s family would have to pay a dowry to the bridegroom’s family in return for ‘taking/accepting’ their daughters hand). Once married off, the same woman is further ridiculed in the event of their offspring being a girl - for the same reasons stated above, It is a vicious cycle that a lot of these women live in - in the fringes of their households in constant fear of their husbands - males who completely dominate the household ensuring that even a sliver of protest will be beaten back to the corner with ruthless force.

Fazal Sheikh’s photographs capture the city and his portraits of the women convey their sense of acceptance of life in a way that defines common sense and logic. He has spent time with his subjects, listening to their stories, which reveal the suffering caused by the traditions that still govern Indian society.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Kara Walker at Whitney

Kara Walker, an artist who I admire a lot for her honest thoughts on the human condition as it pertains to black people in America has a retrospective opening tomorrow at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Ave.

Employing iconic black-paper silhouettes, Kara Walker — who was named one of Time's "100 Most Influential People" earlier this year — sparks a tense dialogue between artist and viewer with her installations and animated films. Her scathing retelling of American history through images of sexual violence, racial stereotypes, and antebellum mores finally receives the retrospective treatment.

In her installations she uses highly crafted Victorian paper cutout silhouettes to create a dense narrative. But these seemingly bucolic landscape scenes are repeatedly disrupted by images of dismemberment and perverse, abusive and humorous sexual liaisons. In one example, in "Look Away!...," an old man with his pants down is on his hands and knees. He is tempting a child while a dog licks his ass and a woman, with her back turned to them, smokes a pipe and grooms her dog.

A review of her art in NY times from last year. If you can get your hands on the October 8th, '07 issue of the New Yorker, you do not need any other review to understand her brand of art. Unfortunately, I could not locate an online version for linkage here. An interesting bit from the article refers to a talk Kara gave at the Des Moines Art Center where at the end of her talk a white male approached her and asked how long she intended to make the type of work she did. "Oh, probably as long as I'm black and a woman" was the quick answer from Ms. Walker.

Link to images of her art on the New Yorker site.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Gallery reception for my show...

As mentioned here on Simplistic before, my solo painting show titled 'A Show of Faces' opened on Friday last at the Gourgaud gallery over at Cranbury, NJ. The opening was good, the reception went off well and I noticed quite some animated dialogue between people who had come by for the reception. The show runs for three weeks from now and I hope we get more people to come by and look over the works presented.

Something that I tried to do different from regular exhibits was to have a little bit of blurb next to each painting that highlighted the motive and the social circumstance that I wanted to highlight using the face painting as a vehicle. Although gallery purists would shudder at the thought of any implied explanation, blurb or social context for a painting, it definitely worked well in this instance where the process of reading the blurb clarified the intent and social commentary that I have in mind during the creation of the painting.

The show runs for three weeks from now and closes on the last Sunday of October.

I heard the following quirky conversation snippet in connection with my painting 'Belgephor' as I was going around talking to the people during reception night...

Man to a lady next to him: You know: If you wanted to classify the seven vices, I would cull them into two groups of three each with one vice straddling the wall between.

Lady: Really? - I thought they were all bad - otherwise why call them the vices?

Man: Well, you see pride straddles the wall. It can either be a good thing or a bad thing. Pride being perceived as good or bad depends upon circumstance, perspective, and the dosage. Copious amounts can definitely bring downfall.

Lady: Hmmm, that is quite interesting. Well, knowing you, I am sure 'gluttony' is on your 'nice' vice list

Man: Yep, you got it Hon - I count gluttony, lust and sloth making the list of good vices. Who does not love to eat, enjoy the pleasures of the flesh and do nothing better but laze all day? They definitely are the good vices...

Lady: OK, OK, let’s not get into any details...

My father checking out the blurb

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Weekend

'Fall in Princeton', Sunil, Digital photograph

Trip

we drove to Princeton yesterday,
on back roads,
slow and winding
with Kerouac on my mind.

he had not said,
that everybody was trying
to get into the act,
but that everybody were in it.

fall classes had begun,
my son chases after the squirrel,
is dismayed that it nimbly climbs the tree
while he cannot.

the ivy is green on the moss,
the walls hold promises,
optimism is fresh
as the students chase after.

we saw washed out widows
who go off to die,
an alumni had captured them
on film at the museum.

the squirrel, my son
students, trees
the moss, widows
the road home.

Yes, Kerouac was right,
everybody was not trying
to get into the act,
everybody is in it.

'Gnarled', Sunil, Digital Photograph

Friday, October 05, 2007

On the 'new gallery opening every week' phenomenon

A further ratification of my belief that there is something inherently wrong with the sustainability aspect of 'a new gallery opening every week' trend in New York these days has been eloquently captured by this blog post link that was sent to me by email from one of Simplistic readers.

The author mentions all of the patterns...

- Just about anybody thinks that they are an art dealer. I walked into a Chelsea gallery the other day and remember the owner talking about someone named Polack and he kept referring to the artist in his gallery as having a style very close to Polack. It was only later in the conversation that I understood that he was referring to Jackson Pollock... And the work did NOT resemble the 1950’s master… Maybe there is easy money to be found and that could be the reason for the average Joe with cash to create a hipster gallery in Chelsea (who does not even try to pronounce the name Pollock right).

- The phenomenon of creative director/curators who think it is the power invested in their newly invested titles to band together works of artist’s that have no relevance whatsoever to each other and then theme the works under a heading that makes even less sense. Sometimes the connections are so vague that one stands there flummoxed until one begins to think 'maybe I am too stupid to get this thing’. The real truth of the matter seems to be that the director who swept up the disparate works into a poorly curated show sees little meaning or reason but manages to invent one up from a 'poetry by random words' kind of theme that seem to fit allude only tangentially to the works and that tenuous connection seems to falls apart at even the slightest analysis. Of course, according to the 'infinite monkey theorem', if you give a typewriter and an ample supply of bananas to a monkey that can live long enough, a novel might be published in about million years... Yes!, apparently random associations of disjoint words might work for group based themed art shows – hey, it is a heated art market where anything goes…

- New art phenomenon like inkjet printing on canvas and selling the works as art - this is the one thing that gets me riled up - creative freedom is one thing, but abusing it so much to make the viewer feel like it is highbrow art to have a lamp-post inserted up ones backside is a little too much. The other day I remember running into a gallery in Chelsea where I saw the works of an un-named artist who had scribbled in a three year’s old handwriting (a la Cy Twombly) on canvas that could have seen better times. I checked out the press release and noticed that it talked about associations between the scribbles on canvas and ancient hieroglyphs of the Sumerians - how this connection was arrived at is a mystery to me… On thinking about it a little deeper I surmised that the art must have been as indecipherable to the writer of the press release as the prospect of an uninitiated observer who looks to hieroglyphs for meaning. This same connection would have driven the writer of the press release to sense that it is a better bet to marry the muddied scrawl on the canvas to something equally less understood as hieroglyphics than to think hard and invent other made up reasons. Of course, what better sales pitch than to burnish the artists work by association to cuneiform and ride the wagon to more money...

Well, read the blog for a super rant and a rant well worth it.

I liked the parting shot:

"BUYER BEWARE! did that $5K painting you just bought come from someone with any kind of rep or sustainability or original talent whatsoever? or does it just go well with your sofa?"

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sputnik, muttnik and other picniks in space.

Sputnik's path in time-lapse photography on Oct 4th, 1957

50 years ago today the Soviets launched the space race with a little orb that went 'beep', 'beep' in a shot that rang 'cross the world.

The Pravda reported thus:

As a result of very intensive work by scientific research institutes and design bureaus the first artificial satellite in the world has been created. On October 4, 1957, this first satellite was successfully launched in the USSR. According to preliminary data, the carrier rocket has imparted to the satellite the required orbital velocity of about 8,000 meters per second. At the present time the satellite is describing elliptical trajectories around the Earth, and its flight can be observed in the rays of the rising and setting Sun with the aid of very simple optical instruments (binoculars, telescopes, etc.).

The United States was probably the nation most affected by this satellite. Many were hysterical with fear because very few understood what a satellite really was. Some thought it was a kind of weapon, something that the Soviets could use to target American cities in an attempt to aim atomic bombs. People surmised that the government's dismissal of the Soviet's success as a sign that we were not prepared to protect people from commie threats.

G. Mennen Williams, the governor of Michigan, wrote a poem to express his discontent:

Oh little Sputnik, flying high
With made-in-Moscow beep,
You tell the world it's a Commie sky
and Uncle Sam's asleep.

You say on fairway and on rough
The Kremlin knows it all,
We hope our golfer knows enough
To get us on the ball.

Of course, Sputnik was followed up by an equally successful launch of the muttnik - the first dog in space - Laika. After undergoing training with two other dogs, Laika was launched into space on 3rd November, 1957 on the spacecraft Sputnik 2 also by the Soviet Union.

Probably the greatest events related to the space race began in 1961 when President Kennedy officially challenged the Russians to get to the Moon before us. A series of lunar picnik's heralded first by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin followed from 1969 that catapulted America as a superpower to reckon with. The rest they say is history, end of the cold war, fall of the Berlin Wall, rise of a new Europe and now, a coming world order of the BRICs...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Is PaceWildenstein now focusing on outer space?

PaceWildenstein has some quirky exhibits. The last time I happened to open its two ton gate-like front doors to reveal the cavernous space inside, I chanced upon three floating globes about 5 ft in diameter eerily balanced high up in a darkly lit gallery space with internally superimposed NASA high resolution pictures of surface morphology/geology of the planet Earth, Europa (natural satellite of the planet Jupiter) and Ganymede (Jupiter's largest satellite, and the largest satellite in the Solar System). Apparently I had witnessed Robert Whitman’s “Turning” exhibition with trepidation, bewilderment and confusion. I was turned off and after a little while decided to turn myself to find the way out… In short, I went in feeling lost and came out more so.

I am sure the new exhibit at PaceWildenstein is equally quirky. British artist Keith Tyson has managed to fill the cavernous gallery and its walls with sculptures in an exhibition that goes by the name ‘Large Field Array’. A grid like installation of more than 230 sculptures, each measuring two square feet placed at roughly four-foot intervals in a roughly cubic array on the floor and walls of the gallery. The important fact here seems to be that each sculpture is completely different from its immediate neighbors. The words bizarre, quirky, whimsical and hilarious competed for attention in my brain.

The title used by the artist to describe the exhibition "Large Field Array" actually refers to the 'Very Large Array'; a multi-purpose radio astronomy observatory located in New Mexico, USA designed to allow investigations of many astronomical topics that include radio galaxies, quasars, pulsars, supernova remnants, gamma ray bursts...

I did not get the astronomical connection between the telescope and the random sampling of he sculptures on display, but maybe PaceWildenstein has decided to look outward and upward - towards the stars. I could not come to any other conclusion after running into these two exhibitions held one after another...

By the way, the artist on being confronted with the question of astronomical implications had the following wise words... "Each one of the pieces is the sum of all possible forces acting upon it. Each sculpture is basically the result from the things around it"... Which seems to tell you a lot and exactly nothing...

Also, PaceWildenstein is one of those galleries that do not allow you to photograph the works inside - a fetching lady at the front desk (she had an ‘I would rather be with Donatella’ look) demurely gave me a card with the name of the gallery’s public relations executive and told me to give them a tinkle... I did not try and sneak any pictures in as "Capla Kesting throws blogger out of gallery" stories filled my mind...

I ran out into the welcoming arms of W. 22nd street outside… Confronted with non photographic prospects, you do the next best thing possible - rip a couple of images from their website.


Kieth Tyson's Large Field Array


Robert Whitman's Turning

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Everyday Objects as art

Today when we look to the Guggenheim or the Frank Gehry building, you are more inclined to think that it is a relatively recent phenomenon that strives to imbue individual artistic expressions into objects of everyday usage...
Well, a new exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (downtown Manhattan) soundly proves that this was the case hundreds of years back...
Everyday objects of the indigenous peoples like clothing, tools, musical instruments, pottery and utensils were all elevated to an art form.

It was almost like stepping into a world far removed from the chicanery of Wall Street (the link to the 1970 article on repaving Wall Street seems to echo even today) when I happened to visit this museum...

The exhibition aptly named 'beauty surrounds us' could not be more perfect. In this we see the American Indians of the North Pacific Coast weaving elements of art into everything that they used on a daily basis so much so that life and art and the nature that inspired most (if not all) of the art represented here seemed to unify into some kind of a transcendental trinity. I took some pictures of the show here and if ever if you are in the area, do not forget to check this place out - and an added bonus - admission is free.

Feast dish of the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples made of carved wood, circa 18th century. The central act of feasting involved host and guest sharing sustenance and embracing each other at the same time…

Painted curtain representing whale hunt, post 1870, Paint on cotton cloth

The U.S. Custom House which houses the National Museum of the American Indian is known for its elliptical rotunda with a 140 ton skylight – which I managed to capture above. It also has some monumental 8 foot murals by New York painter Reginald Marsh (1898 - 1954). The front of the building features four 15 ft stone sculptures representing Asia, America, Europe and Africa by sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850 - 1931).

Monday, October 01, 2007

A relevant Indian movie at the NY film festival

While the fact that two movies (The Darjeeling Limited and Outsourced) largely focus their attention on the Indian sub-continent might be flattering for a lot of Indians (currently playing in NY at the 45th New York film festival), most of the attention, headlines and ad dollars have been working in favor of the film by the famed wunderkind Wes Anderson who made 'The Darjeeling Limited'.

I might aver to say that the second of the two movies (Outsourced) might be more worth watching if you are into globalism, its effects and implications for the society at large.

Of course, if you are into quirky, enigmatic stuff (Trainspotting, The Big Lebowski, The Life Aquatic with… etc.) that you could lounge with in the company of friends with copious quantities of wine and the occasional experimental smoke - then the Darjeeling Limited might not be such a bore.

Some quick snippets about the movies:

The Darjeeling Limited
This shaggy-dog road trip, in which three semi-estranged brothers travel by rail across India, is unstintingly fussy, vain and self-regarding. The fraternal trio in “The Darjeeling Limited” — Francis, Jack and Peter Whitman — express, and perhaps construct, their personalities largely through their attachment to things. Francis has an expensive leather belt, which he tentatively offers as a gift to Peter, who cherishes a pair of sunglasses that once belonged to their father. The third brother, Jack, is a bit less of a commodity fetishist, though he does have a thing for the savory snacks served on Indian trains (and for the women who serve them).

Outsourced
At first it threatens to be just another fish-out-of-water story. Todd (the protagonist), being American, has no sense of himself as an American. He has an allergic reaction to Indian culture (embodied by the intestinal distress he suffers after eating local food). He is also taken aback by Indians’ emphasis on family ties and social obligations, and they in turn are politely aghast at Todd’s disconnection from his own relatives.

The film shows that individuals in every nation are nearly powerless before the global economy, a force that shatters tradition and compels people to think of themselves as self-interested free agents. This pragmatic point of view is articulated by Asha, who rhetorically asks Todd why it’s necessary for Indian call-center workers to pose as Americans while selling cheap junk made in China.


The last paragraph is just a classic. Both of the reviews are from the Times.