Wednesday 25th November 2015Keep the Berlin Wall Standing!
Now before you do a double take, nobody is suggesting that the decades-gone dividing wall between East and West Germany that ran straight through the heart of Berlin should be re-established. The Fall of the Wall was one of the most iconic moments in the final moments of the Cold War, and the first photographs of that day are equally iconic images that live forever in the minds of everyone who knew just how much it meant.
At this point, the majority of the wall is long-gone, but sections of it have been preserved as a monument to the mistakes of past years and past regimes. While it was standing, it was such a hated symbol of oppression and division that it naturally aroused both artistic and intellectual rage - in other words, it was completely covered in graffiti. Ranging from the purely angry to the politically motivated to the aesthetic attempts to create beauty from the tragically oppressive. Over the years since the destruction of the wall, tourists and visitors to the historic site have taken to adding their own marks to what little of the wall remains.
In fact, the site has become so popular that it draws an estimated 3 million tourists every year, and is probably the most popular site for smartphone selfies in the entire city. That much traffic comes with its own inherent risks - primarily vandalism, which is unsurprising in an unprotected open air environment - especially for something so completely covered in graffiti. The more troubling and damaging aspect is that some visitors seem to feel that they are entitled to take a small piece of the wall home with them, and that obviously creates some problems for those who are tasked with maintaining the East Side Gallery, as it is known.
Sascha Langenbach, spokesman for Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, the district of Berlin that contains the gallery section, has grown frustrated with the audacity of tourists. “People come and pick and scratch at it with everything from keys to penknives, hoping to take a piece home with them. Last week we caught a Japanese girl in the act of spraying a complete panel in silver and red paint. She had brought a whole crate of spray paint with her."
Suddenly, the proposed idea of fencing in one of the most famous walls in Europe no longer seems completely insane. Hopefully, efforts to preserve what remains of the wall will succeed, leaving a cautionary tale for tomorrow's generations.
Posted on November 25th 2015 on 05:05am
Friday 24th April 2015Spot the Fake Masterpiece
Social experiments are hardly anything new to the art world. Performance art, that often most conceptual of all art movements, is intrinsically based on social perceptions and the way we interact with the world around us. In the latest twist, though not exactly a performance art piece, an art gallery has been challenging its visitors to take a turn playing art authenticator and attempt to determine which is a true masterpiece and which is a fake. Dulwich Picture Gallery, which has Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s 18th-century work Young Woman hanging on its walls, ordered a hand-painted copy of the piece from China for about £70, and asks visitors to take a guess at which is the original and which is relatively worthless.
Amusingly enough, it appears to be incredibly difficult for the average person to tell the difference. After three months worth of guesses by over 3000 visitors who attended the gallery during the experiment, a paltry 10% of guesses were correct. Whether this is more of a reflection on the caliber of visitors that the gallery gets, the skill of the Chinese artist who painted the fake, or simply the true difficulty of the task is unclear, but it provides an interesting commentary on the ability of the average person to appreciate true art.
Xavier Bray, the chief curator for the gallery, told MailOnline, "It made people look closely at a painting and discern what might be a replica and why. Ten per cent got it right, which means Britain as a nation is still a nation of connoisseurs, which is great. Unfortunately others got it wrong. A number of visitors presumed the imposter was a female portrait by Rubens, which had been restored 10 years ago, because it appeared brighter. But that was interesting as it allowed us to find out more about the way the public look at our paintings."
The entire exhibit was the brainchild of American artist Doug Fishbone, and is entitled Made in China. Bray raised some interesting points about the possible future of the fake painting, as well, and probably quite valid ones (although nothing so grand as if a more prominent gallery had pulled off the same experiment. "It will be very interesting to see what happens when the counterfeit leaves the gallery. Will it achieve significance and become a work of art? This is where the power of it being displayed in a temple of a museum could give it extra significance in the art world - that is also part of the experiment."
Posted on April 24th 2015 on 10:48pm
Tuesday 18th March 2014Street Art Crosses Into the Gallery
Contemporary art always seems to be reinventing itself. In fact, almost the very nature of the word 'contemporary' seems to imply a constant sense of reinvention and re-examination. Every since Marcel Duchamps stuck a urinal in a gallery in 1917, scrawled the name 'R. Mutt' on it and titled it "Fountain", thereby kicking off the Dada movement in the popular imagination and all that came after it, there has been a constant desire to push the envelope of what constitutes "art". That trend is rarely more visible now than in many types of installation work that, in many opinions, border on the ridiculous (see our recent post about Shia LaBeouf's attempt to apologize for plagiarism with a plagiarised installation/exhibit titled #IAMSORRY).
An equally in-your-face artistic revolution has been taking place outside the gallery over the past several decades, in the form of graffiti. While many scoffed at the elaborate system of tags that suddenly appear across the concrete canvases that fill the urban world, it is growing harder and hard to maintain the belief that there is no artistic merit to the pieces. By now, the name 'Banksy' is popular from the art world to the hipster world and many places in between, arguably the poster child for the serious street artist (though doubtless, he would reject that with a smirk). Any number of street artists have more cult followings, but the popularity is on the rise.
Nothing showcases the rising arc of street art's popularity more thoroughly than the furor that arose surrounding the mural 'Slave Labour' by Banksy in 2013. Painted as a large mural on the side of a thrift store in North London during a single night, the piece depicts a small boy sewing a Union Jack. As a result of this choice of venue/canvas - sometimes it can be hard to tell which is which with street art, as the reactions of the passersby must surely be considered part of the piece itself - the owners of the building instantly became the owners of the piece itself, and had the entire section of concrete wall removed. The piece, such as it is, eventually sold at auction for a staggering $1.1 million USD. If that doesn't drive home the reality of street art as valid, nothing will.
Finally, many of those who began careers and gained fame as street artists have quite comfortably made the transition to more easily saleable formats. Shepard Fairey, a United States-born street artist famous for a number of pieces, most notably a widespread sticker campaign featuring late wrestler Andre the Giant beneath huge block letters saying 'OBEY', was also the creator of one of the most iconic images of the last decade, a red blue and yellow poster featuring President Barack Obama subtitled 'Hope'. Banksy also hasn't steered clear of similar popular fame, having even recently produced a documentary (arguably a mockumentary) recently entitled 'Exit Through the Gift Shop', which we'll be looking at in our next post!
Posted on March 18th 2014 on 10:24pm