Category Archives: abstract expressionism

The art of Hackgate

At about 12.30 last night a widely-published cartoonist had his email and password broadcast on Twitter. Mark Wood’s only connection to #hackgate is that he has also worked for The Sun.

If his characters are anything to go by, Wood is a likeable sort. His client list suggests he’s hard-working. And indeed a web listing makes clear he “will draw anything for anybody”.

Someone must have pointed out his innocence, because the offending tweet has been removed. But sadly a few journalists and techies still have mobile numbers, etc, in the public domain.

Disclosure of these details was the fairly shabby denouement to an otherwise spectacular assault on the servers of News International by a crew of hackers known as Lulzsec.

Lulz boast repeatedly about providing “high-quality entertainment”. But the fake death notice they posted on Sun online was not in and of itself all that funny or entertaining.

But what was gripping was the hacking procedural drama in which they played central characters and the metaphorical panache with which they suggest they operate from an incorporeal longship.

So when @Lulzsec tweeted about sailing over to NI and wrecking it, the image of vikings at Wapping coupled with that of geeks tapping away at laptops was a potent mix.

Elsewhere you can see what they’ve done with code. In their exaggerated reports of Rupert Murdoch’s demise, the group reported a body found in the mogul’s “famous topiary garden”.

Topiary, as has been mentioned in the Guardian, is also the handle of a prominent member of the group. Monocles also feature in both fake news stories and Twitter avatars.

With these in-jokes, Lulzsec hint at vast depths. It’s an informational chiaroscuro. If Stockhausen got in hot water for comparing 9/11 to a work of art, he might have waited for something like this.

Art has played a further role in the story this afternoon when Murdoch and his son took their seats before the Select Committee of ten MPs asking interesting questions on behalf of the DCMS.

This was, up to a point, a more polite drama. And behind the action on the far wall of the Wilson Room was a no less polite painting. I was told this was an Untitled work by Kate Blee.

The epic scale and red/brown colour scheme brought to mind certain Rothkos. Although the macho excesses of abstract expressionism were here trimmed by the employment of, I think, painted linen.

But when it was Murdoch’s turn to be attacked in person, we cut to this contemplative work. At that point art came across like the wilful blindness of which James Murdoch was indirectly accused.

As for that incident with the custard pie, it certainly wasn’t a very good performance piece. There’s a time and a place for that sort of thing and it ain’t on the “most humble day” of anyone’s life.

If you haven’t already, check out this post by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian in which he talks up the art factor in a widely circulated photo of Rebekah Brooks.

12 pieces of conceptual art that would probably work as tweets

From the 20th century onwards, the beauty of much art is it has no need for the eye of a beholder. Conceptual works, in theory, place as much importance on the idea as the finished visual object. And while lots can be said about the dozen pieces below, the kernel of each is a thought of no more than 140 characters.

This is not to assume that simple ideas are the best. But it is possible that in a time of information overload, and web-based attention spans, they are the ones that travel best. If these artworks translate into tweets, it is only a sign of their power.

  1. Benjamin Peret, Insulting a Priest (1926):
    “A black and white photo of a surrealist poet harranguing a man of the cloth, as featured in a 1926 manifesto for the liberation of desire”
  2. Robert Rauschenberg, Erased De Kooning Drawing (1953):
    “After six weeks of careful erasing a heavily worked drawing by Willem de Kooning becomes a gold-framed piece of near blank paper”
  3. Marcel Broodthaers, Femur of a Belgian Man and Femur of a French Woman (1964-5):
    “Two human bones, one from Belgian man, one from a French woman, each painted in the colours of the flags of their respective nations”
  4. Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs (1965):
    “A folding wooden chair, a photo of the same (not by the artist) and a blown up definition of the word chair to be displayed as one piece”
  5. Jannis Kounellis, Untitled (1969):
    “A white-walled Rome gallery became a temporary stable for 12 quite mucky and fairly noisy live horses”
  6. John Baldessari, The Commissioned Paintings (1969-70):
    “Out on a walk, the artist took close up pics of a friend pointing at interesting things, then asked 14 sunday painters to paint the photos”
  7. Adrian Piper, Untitled Performance for Max’s Kansas City (1970):
    “The artist wears blindfold and gloves and pays a visit to a New York bar where the art world generally go to see and be seen”
  8. Jørgen Nash, Decapitated Little Mermaid (1972):
    “The head of Copenhagen’s most famous statue is cut off by (it is said) the Second Situationist International. The artist is a member”
  9. Hans Haacke, Manet-PROJEKT 74 (1974):
    “A proposal that a Manet painting be displayed next to panels giving details of all the work’s previous owners and their business activities”
  10. Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting (1974):
    “A suburban house is cut down the middle and undermined causing it to split and thereby open a rift in the social fabric”
  11. Gavin Turk, Cave, 1991:
    “For his degree show, the artist leaves nothing in his studio but a blue plaque with the words: Gavin Turk, Sculptor, worked here 1989-1991”
  12. Sherrie Levine, Fountain (1991):
    “Marcel Duchamp’s infamous urinal readymade has been recast in bronze to give it, at last, some respectability”

By now you should be convinced, some of the most important works of modern and contemporary art lose little from a lot of distillation. They might even work as tweets, albeit ones with plenty more to say.

More details on the 12 artworks can be found in Conceptual Art, by Tony Godfrey (published by Phaidon), which contains hundreds more like them all discussed in considerably more depth.

Review: Modern Times – Responding to Chaos

Exhibition: Modern Times, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, until June 13 2010

Somewhere between art and architecture sits a drawing by minimalist sculptor Fred Sandbeck. His pencil and chalk plan for a Zurich gallery construction hovers in mid air, reminding us of the Utopian potential of pictorial space.

The architectural role of this work would have come as no surprise to El Lissitzky. In the 1920s the Russian artist developed a mysterious term for such constructions of art. He called it Proun.

Given that eight lithographs by the inventor of Proun find their way into this show, the concept appears central to the fantastic selection of drawings here. If so, it is also central to the history of 20th century art proposed by curator Lutz Becker.

If that story begins with Lissitzky and Suprematism, it ends here with the minimalism of Sol Lewitt. By numbering the blocks in his Working Drawing (1996) he produces a piece of deadpan technical drawing, like a terse fullstop on all the preceeding “isms”.

The artist’s line, once a vehicle for representation and then abstract expression, now becomes fully realised as a means for drafting perfect structures in the mind’s eye.

Indeed, abstract expressionism here seems almost a folly. Willem De Kooning’s smudges, Franz Kline’s daubs and Robert Motherwell’s painterly blobs could be a vain rebellion against the spatial powers of the line.

But drawing too can represent chaos, rather than clarity. Night Celebration III by Mark Tobey is an even, methodical scribble which spreads across the surface of a sheet of card like cigarette smoke at a riotous party.

However, the lasting impression from this show is that less equals more. The works are largely monochrome. There are few figurative reference points. For every feat of excess there is a study in restraint.

You come away feeling that in art so much can be achieved with the simplest means. A case in point is Norman McClaren film Horizontal Lines, shown alongside moving image works by Fernand Léger, Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling.

The horizontal lines rise, fall and proliferate as if set in motion by an algorithm, but this is no dry exercise in geometry. The film is also a perfect narrative. It is high drama. Excitement runs thoughout this show like lead through a pencil.

Written for Culture24.

Preview: Back Buffer – New Arena Paintings

Scene rendered with ioq3aPaint. Picture:

Exhibition: Back Buffer: New Arena Paintings, The Hannah Maclure Centre,  Dundee, February 13 – April 30 2010

It is hard to imagine Jackson Pollock on a computer. But artist and inventor Julian Oliver has developed what you might call virtual action painting.

Instead of attacking a canvas, Oliver uses software which gamers have long been using to attack aliens.

ioquake3 is a gaming engine used worldwide in first person shooter titles. It is free to use and open source, in other words open to modification.

So Oliver has developed ioq3aPaint. His players are armed with brushes rather than guns. Their aim is to establish painterly supremacy in a mathematical universe.

A 3D environment evolves in response to your control pad. Every twitch and lunge is rendered as a graphic splurge. Visitors to the show at The Hannah Maclure Centre will be able to play the game in a temporary arcade.

36 million paintings will be generated in the course of the exhibition, 250 of which will be made available as prints.

The abstract expressionists tried many ways of introducing chance and spontaneity into their work, but they never tried this.

Clearly none of them had Oliver’s techie skills. His teaching subjects include object-oriented programming, virtual architecture, UNIX/Linux, interface design, augmented reality and open source development practices.

Written for Culture24.

Preview: Modern Times at Kettle's Yard

Franciszka Themerson, Gustav Klucis.

Modern Times – Responding to Chaos, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, until March 14 2010

Attempts to build a world order invariably result in chaos. Some of the outcomes can be seen at a new exhibition at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge.

Modern Times: Responding to Chaos is the first of a series of shows in which creative protagonists of the 20th and 21st century have been asked to trace a personal journey through recent history.

First up is film-maker and painter Lutz Becker, whose personal responses to chaos are classic documentaries. Art in Revolution (1971) looks at Russian art in the early days of Communism, Swastika (1973) looks at the rise of Nazism in Germany, and Vita Futurista (1987) studies the far right Futurist movement in Italy.

So it’s no surprise that Becker’s curatorial interests take in many artist-made films of the last hundred years. The show includes moving image pieces by Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter, Fernand Léger and even Kazimir Malevich.

But latter-day chaos has also caused a rupture in the most longstanding of art forms, drawing. As film captured slices of reality, artists used the hand-drawn line to pit abstraction against figuration and turn geometry against spontaneous gesture.

Malevich and Eggeling reappear on paper, along with Boccioni, Mondrian, Grosz, Klee, Pollock, de Kooning, Giacometti, Bourgeois, Beuys, Serra, Judd and Twombly.

But what have these exponents of Futurism, Constructvism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Conceptualism left us with? More chaos, and the 21st century awaits a few comparable responses.

Written for Culture24.