The Wendy Project at PS 1
This summer, all summer, New York City is having a Design subway series. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and P.S.1, the contemporary ‘wing’ of MOMA in Long Island City, are both hosting weird playful architect-designed constructions. The Met’s is on the roof, P.S 1’s is in the entry courtyard. Both are audience-friendly with a jungle gym aesthetic; they invite you to clamber up, in, and around - though at the Met you have to have a timed ticket, assure them you’re not drunk, and wear proper shoes. Both present strong visions of human/environment relationships - but only one is actually doing something about it.
Cloud City at the Met
Tomas Saraceno’s Cloud City at the Met, a cluster of glass and metal modules strung with cable, is designed to shine, reflect and reveal. Approach it from any direction and you find yourself in it somewhere, alone and with others around you. Because it’s only accessible in good weather you also find in and around it the glories of heaven and mankind - the vast sky, the green carpet of Central Park, and the peaks and valleys of Manhattan's landmark architecture. That should be enough to start you thinking about your place in the man-made and natural universe. Tomas Saraceno, the Argentinean artist/architect who designed it, specializes in modular installations that require physical interaction; he experiments with space and materials, engaging the mind and body in various intriguing ways.
Cloud City at the Met
Cloud City presents his ideas through planes and surfaces; his installation for the 2009 Venice Biennale, Galaxies Forming along Filaments, like Droplets along the Strands of a Spider's Web, was a 3-dimensional drawing, all lines and spaces. Saraceno’s website offers philosophy as explanation (see link below) - more verbiage than necessary, in my opinion, for what works quite well on an experiential level. I found Cloud City intriguing and engaging, but I haven’t been able to uncover any statement about what Saraceno does with his quantities of metals and materials when the installations are finished. A designer serious about environmental issues should spell out the impact of their work on the environment while they're making an argument for protecting it.
At P.S. I, The Wendy Project is just as serious about the environment but this installation IS actually doing something about it. A bright blue spiky star caged in scaffolding, Wendy is less slick than Cloud City, easier and more fun– and decidedly more pragmatic. The brainchild of architect Matthias Hollwich of HWKN, Wendy won this year’s YAP, MOMA’s contest offering emerging architectural talent the opportunity to design and present innovative projects for a temporary, outdoor installation at MoMA PS1, one that provides shade, seating, and water.
Wendy at Work - display chart
Wendy does all that and entertains too - water occasionally sprays from one corner across the courtyard, mist rises mysteriously, music comes in fits and start. A touch of carnival draws you into the Wendy world but once there, up the steep stairs on the planks among the poles and fans, you learn what’s really going on. Wendy is cleaning the air. The fabric, so bright and pretty, has been treated with a groundbreaking, inexpensive, undetectable nanotechnology spray that soaks up dirt and particles, purifying the environment even as you clamber around having fun.
Wendy at PS 1
The effect of Wendy’s presence at P.S. 1 this summer will be the equivalent of removing 260 cars; the concrete walls have also been coated, so P.S 1’s courtyard will be the cleanest coolest place in NYC while it’s there.
The most important thing about Wendy - and it's huge - is that it’s an amazing practical working model - cheap and quick to build, easy to live with, infinitely variable in construction and application for any type of location -– and a no-brainer solution to the relentless, destructive forces of air pollution.
Architect/designer Matthias Hollwich (center)
Glen Finkel, president of Pureti, the company that makes the spray, reports that the technology is already in wide use in other parts of the world, including Italy and Asia. We’re more than a bit behind over here, but as soon as we start coating walls, roads and buildings, and even wearing fabrics treated with the spray - the uses are infinite - we’ll see a lessening of air pollution and it’s damaging effects. Treasures like the Pantheon and the great Cathedrals of Europe have been greviously harmed by air-borne pollution, not to mention more prosaic infrastructure - this is a remarkably encouraging development. And, when Wendy moves out of P.S. 1, the parts can easily be reassembled and reused in any number of ways. Author photosRead more about both projects and the technology behind Wendy
Cloud City http://www.metmuseum.org/saracenohttp://www.tomassaraceno.com/MET/Telescope/Wendy http://meetwendy.com/http://hwkn.com/WENDY http://www.pureti.com/
Afternoon in the courtyard, Garbatella
Let’s say you’re an artist with a yen for travel. You leave Washington D. C. where you grew up, go to college in Ohio and then in Tennessee, and sign up for a drawing course in Mecca - for artists, of course, that means Florence, Italy. The drawing course ends and you stay - and stay, and after 6 years you move to Rome, where you’ve now been for nearly two years, painting every day. That’s the basic plot for the life of Kelly Medford, a very talented artist and an extraordinary person.
I haven’t met Kelly in person but I know more about what she does every day than I do any of my friends or neighbors. We first connected through various social network channels and now follow each other’s work on Facebook, Twitter, and email updates. In many ways Kelly is leading a very old-fashioned artist’s life, carrying her oil paints and canvases on a bicycle, scouting out corners and crannies of Rome’s twisting streets to find just the right subject for that day’s work. That's right - a new painting every day.
Summer Garden Shadows
When she’s done she posts the result on her website and on Facebook - the not-so-old-fashioned aspect of a modern painter’s life. Kelly’s motivation, in addition to her own high-standard search for growth, is an approaching deadline - a show in Rome in October that will feature her paintings and the accompanying stories. With that in mind she is in the midst of a 120 Day painting project - one original work every day leading up to the exhibition. You can have the fun of following Kelly around Rome too - at the end of this interview you’ll find her web addresses.
Here’s Kelly in her own words:
Saturday on the Terrace, Florence
On getting started in Italy
I had a scholarship to study drawing for a year at the Florence Academy of Art; I spent all of my time in the studio copying 19th century lithographs and drawing 3-5 hours a day from the model. After my scholarship year was up I decided to stay but not to continue at the academy. Instead I took my easel outside and began my adventure in exploring Italy through paint. I got hooked, I can’t stop, it seems that there is always something else to explore, a better way to understand the light and history and people and food of a place. This was 8 years ago now, which is hard to believe, but here I am, still on my painting adventure, as I like to call it.
The Flower Stand, Piazza Vittorio
Influences and models
...the Macchiaioli because they are the experts on Italian light, Boldini for his bold, fearless brushwork, Francesco LaJacono, a Sicilian landscape painter and a favorite for his bold use of color and the lyricism of his work. I love the mental approach of Cezanné and the quiet perplexity of Morandi. I also travel to the U.S. and paint at least once a year in some paintouts and competitions in order to meet other painters, be pushed to do my best and learn from artists better than myself. Then there is the contradictory element to all of this, which is not spending too much time looking at other painter’s work in order to develop something of my own. I am in search of something that is not only about a personal palette and color choice, but a personal voice. In Rome there aren’t many plein air painters, so I don’t have many contemporaries to compare myself with.
Morning Market, Pigneto
Effects of living and working in Italy
A strong sense of color has always dominated my work, and I relate and think in blocks of color when painting. Since being in Rome my work has evolved mainly in three areas:
1) Color palette/choices
2) Narration or using paintings to attempt to tell the story of a place
3) Dialogue and interaction playing a major role in my work
Rome has a quality of light that is intense and extremely warm in nature - either golden or pink/red. I adore it and search to bring it out in my plein air work.
Morning at the Fountain
120 Day Project – October Exhibition
In October I will exhibit 35 paintings and their accompanying stories, all from the last year and a half since I moved to Rome in late 2010. The city was so overwhelming at first that I began by inventing a project called When In Rome to explore the different neighborhoods by painting them. While I’m painting on the street people stop to see what I’m doing so I take those opportunities to talk to them and to ask them about the place, its history and their personal story of the place. It’s been a great way to get to know the city, its history and inhabitants. It’s also of the utmost importance to me personally to document Rome how it is today.
View toward Monte Mario, Pincio
When I began thinking about how I could bring my best work to the show I decided on a project of a painting a day for 120 days leading up to the opening. It’s also a way for me to share my thoughts and process on a daily basis, to reflect on the work I’m creating and consider how I can improve it. The interaction, dialogue and feedback of my readers and collectors are invaluable and help me enormously.
In the images you can see to what good use Kelly has put her years in Italy - her lush, deeply colorful paintings are a testament not only to her skills and her eye but to a second nature feel for the magical warms and cools of Italian life - terra cotta, stucco walls, spilling vines and deep shade. Her humane, personal approach to her work and to her adopted city is an inspiration, whether or not you’re an artist. If you’re going to be in Rome in October be sure to include Kelly’s exhibition on your schedule. And if you’re there at any time, think about taking one of her sketching workshops - what a wonderful way to see Rome!
Kelly’s website, including details of the sketching workshops is at http://kellymedford.com
Her Adventures in Painting daily blog, with pictures and purchase information is at http://kellymedford.blogspot.com/
Read about the happy experience of one student who took a sketching workshop at http://alifeinrome.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/experiencing-rome-through-the-eyes-of-an-artist-me-on-a-sketching-tour/
images courtesy of kellymedford.com
42 Kids 1907
George Bellows was once a revolutionary like his fellows in the Eight and the Ashcan School, braving the wrath of a conservative establishment. These days he’s largely relegated to a pre-modernist narrative past, but the retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington should return some of his glory. Bellows is a superb storyteller, at his best among the rough and tumble world of New York streets of his early work.
Stag at Sharkey's 1909
His tales tell of poor lives full of love, hope, and despair; his most famous work is the swaggering ‘Stag at Sharkey’s, one of several fierce, bloody fight scenes he conjured out of the grimy go-for-broke arena of a basement men’s club. Bellows is magnificent here; swabbing paint with broad impulsive strokes, as much an athlete of his craft as his fighters are of their murderous sport. He slathers his main characters with light, giving their pasty flesh an aura that lifts them into an ancient class of warriors. They could be Ajax and Hector, heroes in the thick of the Trojan wars. The scene around them, however, is anything but noble; it stinks of human greed and the low pleasures of violence. I was struck repeatedly by Bellows’s links to Daumier, the great 19th century satirist. The faces leering up at the fighters have a demonic charm that is pure Daumier, who amused his audience while sticking sharp barbs into the fat cats of his day. Bellows is not outright political like Daumier was, but he gets his points across when he needs to.
Excavation at Night 1908
A series of paintings showing the building of Penn Station leaves no doubt about the relationship between the poor buggers doing the hard work and the city that rises up beyond the pit. The work is hard, dirty, and endless – one scene shows dawn breaking as men gather for a long day, another the small fire of someone keeping watch in the dark of night. With his extraordinary technique and instinct for just enough detail, Bellows tells an eternal story – it could be coal mines in Wales, diamond mines in South Africa – any place where the poor and weak do the bidding of the powerful.
Beach at Coney Island 1908
But luckily for us, and him too, I imagine, he also has a rollicking sense of joy in life that comes across in work like 42 Kids, and Beach at Coney Island. Daumier is once again present in the gleeful, mischievous faces and gestures, and Bruegel’s there too, delighting in the human gaggle of good plain honest fun. Marvels abound – the clustered crowd at the Beach has an organic truth - the figures seem to be made of the sun and sand that surround them - and the skinny little lad launched headfirst into the black waters of the Hudson in 42 Kids is a flick of perfect animated perspective.
River Rats 1906
Albrecht Durer: St Michal and the Dragon 1498
One of my favorites in the exhibition is River Rats, a masterful composition of almost Biblical force, a complex story told in a few strokes of bright light and great expanses conveying a sense of forces beyond knowing. The tiny figures and the two little houses surrounded by darkness, bring to mind Durer's Saint Michael and the Dragon, where human life goes on unmindful of danger while good and evil battle it out above the earth.
Emma and her Children 1923
The exhibition continues on into Bellow’s years in Maine and later, as a journalist and then with his family in Woodstock. He continues to create impressive compositions, and some beautiful work. His portraits are particularly interesting, among them some poignant pictures of street kids. Those of his family are beautiful and clearly meaningful, but he never tops what he did in New York. There was an affinity there, something about the urban grit, the metaphors he put to good use, the crowded ordinary lives, that just doesn’t come across after he moves on. The paintings and lithographs he did based on reports of German atrocities in WWI are meant to be powerful statements but, although they contain the passion and humanity present in the early paintings they ring false in comparison. The buzz of daily rights and wrongs, large and small, was, it seems, his best inspiration for telling a significant human story though his art. The George Bellows exhibit is at the National Gallery, Washington, until October 8, 2012http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/bellowsinfo.shtm
Ben Franklin in the Philadelphia parade
The 4th of July - in my historic Philadelphia neighborhood where the 4th of July was invented, just about every house has a flag flying. There will be parades this week all over the country, with lots of flag waving to stir the excitement. Flags send a lot of messages; they're a whole human language system with layers of emotional nuance and significance. They can be symbols of good or evil, partly depending on who is defining the use, and what side you're on.
Norman Rockwell: Miss Liberty Post Cover 1943
The American flag is beautiful - classic in its design of red, blue and white, and its pattern of stars and stripes - and beautiful for associations with all the good things about this country. Even if Americans don't believe all those things (or worry about them), most love their flag and what it stands for. Of course we're not alone - every country has a flag - many are red, white and blue in some combination and many have stars and stripes of some sort - and most people rally to the symbolism of their national flag. That's the point of those bits of cloth and color.
Claude Monet: Rue Montorgueil 1878
Flags, a supremely visual language, can help walk us through history, telling us about attitudes and values at different times and places. Leaving out some of the darker possibilities, here are a few artist comments on life over the last hundred years or so, annotated with flags. Monet's flurry of flags in his Rue Montorgueil: Festival of June 30, 1878 is pure spirit and celebration, painted the year of the grand Exposition Universelle in Paris. The world was either in or watching Paris, the head of the Statue of Liberty was on display prior to moving (with the body) to the U. S., and it was a great time to strengthen French pride and loyalty, just years after a humiliating military defeat. It looks like July 14th, Bastille Day, but that holiday wasn't declared until 2 years later.
Maurice Prendergast Piazza St. Marco Venice 1898
Italy is an old hand at flags - the bright beautiful display of banners at the Palio in Siena each year are the legacy of pre-national Italy, when every city state and even families had their own flag to rally around. The tradition likely dates back even further to Roman times, when there were team colors for chariot racing and other aspects of Roman life. The American artist Maurice Prendergast, on vacation in Italy, painted giant green, white and red flags flying in St. Mark's Piazza, Venice; it makes a pretty composition, but it also makes a statement. In 1898 Italy was still going through the growing pains of a new country and hadn't settled on a final flag. Those here appear to be a variant of Sardinian design - the modern Italian tricolor was only adopted in the 1940's.
James Ensor Entry of Christ into Brussels 1888
James Ensor includes a number of indeterminate flags in his epic Entry of Christ into Brussels from 1888. Contrary to Prendergast's mildly observed scene, Ensor's work is a cry of protest against the modern crush of inhumanity - he turns the shorthand of a flag-waving parade into a mindless mob. By contrast Norman Rockwell - to some the name itself is shorthand for unquestioning patriotism, though Rockwell is far subtler and more interesting - uses the American flag to rally national pride during the difficult WWII year of 1943, cheering the nation up along the way with his good-natured love of detail and fun.
Jasper Johns Flag 1950's
Probably no artist, certainly no living artist, is more associated with the flag than Jasper Johns. Post-WWII, freedom safely snatched from the jaws of evil, it was a time when an artist could take license with the sacred national symbol and get away with it - shocking to some, but Johns also made us SEE the flag in a new way, as an object, a design, a work of art. His pencil rendition from the 50's is brave and beautiful, speaking a language all its own.
Happy 4th of July!