Toward the end of my first trip to Europe, I visited a Jean Dubuffet retrospective at the Pace Gallery in London. I was impressed by Dubuffet’s recent paintings shown at Pace London, because they were full of the artist’s free style and references. To work in Dubuffet’s manner seems ideal. So, I looked at more contemporary art than stained glass during my 40 days, perhaps a bit more or less than that, in Germany, Italy, France, and the U.K., in the order of my visits, even though my desire to inspect church windows in person was what led me to make the journey. In hindsight, and I probably knew this then as well, this is only fitting since I am an artist, and I was planning to pursue a career as a full time artist even at the time of the trip.
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The above are images from Tate Modern’s permanent exhibition. The exhibited work, and art in general, primarily interest me for their interesting forms. Contemporary artists obviously sacrifice some of the potential beauty of their work in order to bend the forms to convey some kind of social-awareness-raising message, which I usually find too coded to grasp. Most of the sculpture above, for instance, seem intended to argue some idea, but I presume each artist did so using a made-up language only he understood, as I doubt a universal visual language exists. If there were such a language, I, as someone who majored in art in college and attended a graduate art theory program, should know it, or at the very least be aware of it. In other words, much contemporary art seems riddled with arcane meaning, which I have no choice but to just ignore, at least for now.
Frieze London was beautiful, and my pictures do some justice to what I mean. When I just entered the park where the art fair was being held, an obviously kind man who must have been in his forties approached me, apparently on his way out, and handed me his VIP card, saying, “Use it.” I thanked him and enjoyed the exhibition. Upon learning a bit more about major art fair admissions later, I realized it was praise be that the gentleman allowed me a smooth first encounter with one of these events. (Thanks to him, I remain fully motivated to dedicate myself with heart to making art.) Back to the art: there may be price bubbles, but the difference is lost in the rounding since such aesthetic advancement was, collectively, achieved.
There is a Rachel Whiteread exhibition at Tate Britain, the spaciousness of the gallery housing it is impressive, and my favorite piece was the pictured sculpture of a now-gone radio station office George Orwell worked in. I liked the piece because it is associated with George Orwell, and gives us a picture of Orwell’s life and suggests something about the novelist’s perceptions of the world in a way even Orwell’s most famous novel, 1984 cannot- the room was a bit small, and I can see how one could develop rather pessimistic expectations for society’s future while working there. What does reaching a mass audience from such a tiny space say about a given society’s investment, and thus interest, in its public’s consciousness? One may wonder, to himself at least. In any case, that is what I thought went through my mind while viewing the piece; radio station recording rooms are all small, because they do not need to be larger, but the point is that it is possible to be peculiarly absorbed in an artwork.
The Centre-Pompidou is unique for the great scale of several of its contemporary artworks on view. The sculptures are visually pleasing, too. Viewing the Pompidou Center’s exhibits, I realized that in most cases an artwork’s title does not explain an artwork any further than what is already self-explanatory, e.g. Daniel Firman’s Gathering, including those of abstract paintings. I therefore chose to caption my images with just the artist’s names and years of creation. This is a basis for our understanding of how the appearance of our art has changed over the decades. Based on my own creative process, I have a feeling that many artists saw titling their works as perfunctory, and their titles reflect it. Titles were important when people needed to know whose likeness they were looking at- which emperor or deity or other person of nobility or renown, or holiness- but how relevant are they when we are looking at Léger’s paintings of ordinary folks or pure abstraction? Particularly by being terse, titles can only convey so much in the latter’s cases, and are outdone by the symbolic meaning of the artist’s acts such as stroking paint onto a medium over and over.
François Morellet, who is no stranger to light art, has designed some simple yet refined stained glass windows for the Louvre’s Lefuel staircase. They are playful and interesting to look at, and are part of France and Germany’s class of grey windows, which adorn a good portion of most churches I have visited in the two countries so far. The grey windows, I would hypothesize, must have begun from an economic need and grown into a style in themselves, as at least some of them appear just as expensive as their colored counterparts, with glass in jewel-like forms embedded in surrounding glass, and were designed by artists such as Wilhelm Buschulte. So, some of the grey windows, I imagine, can be expected to be replaced by colored ones in the future, while some of them will remain. I felt on site that Morollet’s Louvre windows were quite tasteful. In hindsight, the Louvre can commission more of them for further excitement.
I visited a Fernand Léger exhibit at the Centre-Pompidou Metz. I appreciated the joyfulness of Léger’s colors, and felt one of his most abstract paintings- the one with maroon, orange, blue, green, yellow and black figures- was the most powerful for its abstract qualities. I also saw the Japanese architecture exhibit, “Japan-ness” at the same venue, and appreciated Japanese architects’ cutting-edge achievements since the mid-20th century. Shigeru Ban happened to be one of the architects of the Centre-Pompidou Metz, the architecture of which happens to be obviously quite interesting as well. There is something relaxing about the organic curves in the building’s roof, which I have sometimes associated with East Asian sensibilities.
Vini vidi. Now I can say I have been to the Venice Biennale. How did it transform me? Well, using my warm feelings inside as an indicator, I conclude it was just plain good for me. For one thing, viewing the exhibition allowed me to properly gauge the prevailing scale of leading-biennial art; now I can create biennial-ready work, of any theme, in terms of scale. The serene feeling the waters created was intrinsically valuable, too.
The pictures alone are a sight well worth seeing to better understand visual pleasure.
Above are some interesting photographs of work on display at the German Stained Glass Museum in Linnich, which I visited as part of my efforts to write the best graduate school thesis I can on Choi Young-Shim’s stained glass. It was special to visit a small German town off the beaten track of international visitors. The locals on trains seemed good-natured in Germany. The fact that not many people practice stained glass, coupled with the beauty of works in this museum, clearly signals that making stained glass is a creative endeavor.
I visited Cologne for its interesting stained glass, many of them by renowned artists. I was able to conveniently visit Museum Ludwig on my way from one church to another. The museum was big on Nam June Paik, which for me was a sudden departure from what I was used to seeing in Western art museums; and if the reader wonders what I mean, their first guess is probably right. I am not dissatisfied, I was just surprised. Maybe I live for the day I get to make a lot of art, exhibit it, and enjoy living in a world that is in rapport with my work. Seeing it again, I just noticed that the artist accomplished really impressive visual effects in the last image above, with New York in vertical letters.