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Carlee Fernandez, Bear Head, Arm and Leg Study I, 2004 (detail)

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Contemporary Nudes
August 9-22, 2006

The most popular artistic subject for several millennia, the nude has undergone quite a makeover since the Venus of Willendorf. With strippers, amputees, and drugged-out teenagers now entering the field of inspiration, the contemporary nude exposes the perils of modern life as much as its joys. In our interview with photographer Katy Grannan, we learn about her models' choice to disrobe, and we spotlight South Korea's Atta Kim, who puts his living nudes in plastic boxes. Tying the old to the new, we check out a Guggenheim catalogue that pairs Robert Mapplethorpe photographs and 16th-century Mannerist prints. Then, casting an eye beyond the temptations of the flesh, we review shows of Thomas Demand's paper illusions and Jo Jackson's dancing skulls.

  A dynamic new collaboration between Budweiser Select and Flavorpill, Select Flavor harnesses the talents of up-and-coming artists and designers to interpret Select — a premier hand-crafted beer — and its iconic crown through original artwork. Expect a new kind of creativity. Expect everything.

Herzog & de Meuron Reveal New Projects
(New York Times, July 26)
The Swiss starchitect team of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron is returning to the site of its London debut, having put forth a plan for a major expansion of Tate Modern. The new design calls for a stacked collection of boxy forms, some translucent, some opaque, which Herzog describes as a "ziggurat," to join the stolid bunker of the former Bankside Power Station. News of the Tate annex follows on the heels of Herzog & de Meuron's commission for the Beijing Olympic stadium and its controversial exhibit currently on view at New York's MoMA, which is designed to challenge viewers' perceptions of the museum's collection. In a related story, the duo, clearly committed to keeping busy, also announced a plan for the construction of a new building for the Parrish Art Museum in the Hamptons.

Children Making Art World Splash
(Times, August 1)
Seeing genius in the eyes of a child seems to be a new art-world trend. A show at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts is displaying early work — some of it very early — by many of contemporary art's biggest names. Titled Surprise, Surprise, the exhibit includes stumbling-toward-stardom pieces by John Currin, Wolfgang Tillmans, Damien Hirst, and Chris Ofili, as well as a papier-mâché piggy bank made by Dinos Chapman when he was nine. And in an effort to get a head start on hindsight, some other elementary school-aged artists are receiving their due now. The nine-year-old Alexa Kitchen, a hotly tipped comics prodigy who has received praise from R. Crumb and Will Eisner, has published her first hardcover collection, while the six-year-old abstract painter Marla Olmstead is having her West Coast debut.

MoMA Projects Aitken on Facade
(Bloomberg, July 25)
Starting in the new year, the Museum of Modern Art in New York will wear art on its outside. For MoMA's initial foray into public art, Doug Aitken will project a seven-screen film on several of the museum's glass facades from January 16 through February 12. A multimedia artist, facilitator of happenings, and newly minted author, Aitken described the project as "exploded cinema," a pedestrian-friendly version of drive-in theaters. Aitken is shooting the 35mm color film in New York with an eclectic cast that includes actress Tilda Swinton, indie songstress Cat Power, and Brazilian actor/musician Seu Jorge, and claims that the nonlinear story will follow five characters as they move around the city.

Le Corbusier Church Finally Bows
(International Herald Tribune, July 31)
It's hard to imagine a new Le Corbusier building emerging some 40 years after his death, but the Church of St. Pierre in the small French mining town of Firminy is at last nearing completion. Initially designed by Corbu — arguably the most influential architect of the 20th century — with his protégé, José Oubrerie, the structure is an asymmetrical cone fashioned from concrete. Oubrerie modified the design from Le Corbusier's original drawings, a move that has raised questions about how to best honor the famous architect's intentions. The church, which began construction in 1971, joins other Le Corbusier works in Firminy, such as a housing project and the neighboring House of Youth and Culture.

British gallery owners open their homes to public more »

Melbourne Art Fair opens to rave reviews more »

Danish shock artist unveils latest installation more »

Bergdoll talks MoMA architecture plans more »

Britney Spears sculptor preps Hillary Clinton bust more »

London Eye creators plan seaside observation tower more »

Professor uses surveillance cameras, video games to create public art more »

How a museum logo is born more »

The man behind Havana's online auctions more »

Indiana museum receives grant for largest sculpture park in US more »

Network allows patrons to "adopt" fine art more »

UK sculpture collapse kills two more »

Video artist Jillian Mcdonald profiled more »

Jason Rhoades, transgressive installation artist, dies at 41 more »

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[ The Art of the Nude ]


Lisa Yuskavage / Tracy Nakayama / Spencer Tunick / Su-en Wong

Ever since Édouard Manet's pale, skinny hooker/muse, Olympia, stared down the petty morality of the Parisian bourgeoisie, the nude has represented something more than a paradigm of beauty or an object of sexual desire; it has been a fragmented socioeconomic prism through which to view the encroachment of the modern onto the idyllic — the mirror of society that art is uniquely dedicated to being.

This conflation of high and low endures more than a century later in the work of photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia, whose hyperstylized, iconic portraits of pole dancers subversively celebrate toned bodies. It can be found in sculpture, in the artificially deformed male nudes of Charles Ray and Jake and Dinos Chapman that play with the trope of masterpieces like Michelangelo's David. Marc Quinn causes a stir at every stop, from a standing male amputee to the unpopular dismembered female torso he installed in London's Trafalgar Square, which are both crafted from luminous marble.

But many artists avoid real reference to the ideal form, preferring to use their talents to unearth the unseemly and taboo. In the '70s and '80s, Larry Clark, Skip Arnold, and Sally Mann pushed the envelope on nude art: Clark with his unapologetic, black-and-white images of teenage drug addicts, Mann with the controversial pictures of her own nude children, and Arnold with his penchant for wedging his skeletal naked body into gallery crawl spaces. Performance artist Marina Abramović also places herself in harm's way, but her works are more dramatic and confrontational than Arnold's, often involving the maiming or distressing of her own body as a political act. Younger artists like photographers Dash Snow and Ryan McGinley follow Clark's lead and take their cameras into the untidy, sexually promiscuous, and exuberantly cynical worlds of their peers.

The landmark installations of Vanessa Beecroft fill semipublic spaces like the lobby of the Guggenheim New York with small armies of gorgeous, naked women who stand motionless as visitors move freely around them; the audience behavior is itself involved in creating the work's meaning. Spencer Tunick's photography takes this investigation in a slightly different direction, with his living tableaux featuring the very public choreographing of crowds of willingly naked participants in urban settings. Painter Su-en Wong's compositions are crowded with sexualized nudes, but true to her brand of witty, narcissistic metonymy, they are all self-portraits.

The delightful works on paper of Tracy Nakayama launch an all-out assault on sexual repression, seeking through their retro-erotic sensibility and whimsical draftsmanship to recapture a spirit of play. Lisa Yuskavage's incorporation of lyrical style into her campy sensibility has ruffled more than a few feathers, while British painter Jenny Saville's bulbous nudes make the women of Rubens look like Twiggy. In this multivalent climate, if there is perhaps one artist who touches on nearly all of these themes, it is Pipilotti Rist, whose seminal multimedia work draws on numerous sources, aesthetics, histories, and art forms. Using herself and other models, real and constructed settings, straight and manipulated photography, she deftly touches on the emotional kaleidoscope of contemporary life in all its filth and glory. (SND)

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Africa Remix

Mori Art Museum
Now through August 31

  Taking the seminal but controversial 1989 Magiciens de la Terre exhibit as its point of departure, Africa Remix offers a less magical, more urbane look at African art being made today by artists who are directly engaged in international cultural discourse. Curator Simon Njami, the founding editor of the Paris-based journal Revue Noire, organized the show into three categories — History & Identity, Body & Soul, and City & Land — to address the issues he finds most salient in the work. Highlights include Samuel Fosso's photographic self-portraits in the glamorous roles of pirate and chief, Fatimah Tuggar's digital montages of global money matters, Zwelethu Mthethwa's photographs of rugged field-workers, Antonio Ole's colorfully cobbled Townshipwall, and Chéri Samba's powerfully painted visions of humanity. (PL)

Jo Jackson: Victory Over the Sun

Kavi Gupta Gallery
Now through August 12

  Jo Jackson is known for pastel-colored pop renderings of skulls, headstones, and birds accompanied by DVD animations. Her latest works are elegant, melancholy ink-and-watercolor paintings accompanied by a pristine 16mm projection of various images that overlap and interact. By the Sea shows a mysterious cloaked figure against a blue background, its pink sash providing a striking highlight, while another painting, Victorious, dynamically presents a group of rosy-cheeked men blurring into tie-dye hues. Throughout, motifs such as skeleton keys, playing cards, and tin soldiers combine with references to Yves Klein's "living brushes" and his untimely death in 1962, apparently precipitated by the release of Mondo Cane, an exploitative documentary that features Klein's then-misunderstood work. (AMM)

Thomas Demand

Serpentine Gallery
Now through August 20

  Thomas Demand distinguishes himself through his laborious attention to detail. Demand's large-scale photographs initially appear bland and dull — institutional hallways, rows of photocopiers, empty kitchens, an ivy-covered wall. Closer inspection, however, reveals that the images in fact represent life-size simulacra painstakingly created by the artist from paper and cardboard. Furthermore, the innocuous settings often conceal disturbing political connotations drawn from the media and other sources. In one work, Demand reconstructs the archive of filmmaker and Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl; in another, the kitchen of Saddam Hussein's Tikrit safe house. Fascinating as they are in this regard, the photos question the fragility and substance of reality and our relationship with it through images. (FG)

Richard Jackson

Hamburger Bahnhof
Now through August 13

  Although Richard Jackson's recent pop installations have won him international recognition, this solo show in Berlin focuses on his earlier abstractions, presenting exquisite preparatory drawings and three large installations. Since the '60s, Jackson has tackled the legacy of action painting and abstract expressionism with Technicolor gusto. He uses stretched canvases to smear semicircles of neon paint onto gallery walls or turns them into building blocks for room-size enclosures. On display here, one signature wall painting and a paint-splattered, geometric structure foreground Jackson's interest in surface and process. By contrast, a hard-edge, op-art maze — vibrating with stripes of complementary colors — underscores the tension between sharp geometry and loose painting that animates this body of work. (BR)

Rineke Dijkstra: Portraits

Galerie Rudolfinum
Now through August 27

  This traveling retrospective with an accompanying catalogue proves that Rineke Dijkstra is nothing if not consistent. Since the early '90s, she has taken large-format photographic portraits of postpartum mothers, awkward teens, matadors, club kids, and young soldiers, superimposing her signature formal style — cool tones, low horizon lines, and eye-level perspectives — over quiet psychological dramas. Her best works catch her subjects off guard, as when the maturing girl in Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 26, 1992 can't quite hold a woman's pose, or when the mother in Julie, Den Haag, Netherlands, February 29, 1994 instinctively shields her newborn's face from the lens. Ultimately, Dijkstra shows how a singular traumatic event can define one's life, or at least how the camera records us for posterity. (NB)

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[ Atta Kim ]

Atta Kim

Already established as one of South Korea's leading photographers, Atta Kim now enjoys unprecedented international recognition for his work. Two concurrent New York shows bring him to the center of attention in North America's art hub. The International Center of Photography presents the ON-AIR Project, featuring long-exposure large-format photographs. The Sex Series, 1 Hour languorously reinterprets lovemaking, blurring a couple's minutely recorded movements into a glowing ball of energy. Self-Portrait Series, 100 Countries/100 Men — a billboard-size composite portrait combining individual sitters' facial features — achieves a "nude" effect through the shocking, uncanny smoothness of the composite sitter's skin, as Kim unveils the one person cloaked behind all people.

These works are rooted in Kim's most recognized series, the Museum Project, completed between 1995 and 2002 and celebrated in a 2005 monograph published by Aperture. At New York's Yossi Milo Gallery, the Museum Project upends the tradition of humanist documentary photography propagated by Diane Arbus and other contemporaries such as Liu Zheng. Instead of framing subjects within their natural environments, Kim places his "contemporary treasures" naked into Plexiglas cases, depositing them in city streets, mossy forests, shipping yards, and museum-like settings. The body and the individual become part of an abstracted, alien terrain where time and narrative collide, an artwork within an artwork.

Within this group, the Nirvana Series reveals the inner Buddha concealed behind social constructs. One iconic print presents a full-grown woman suspended in the fetal position in midair. Another, tying together the ON-AIR and Museum projects, looks out upon passing traffic from ICP's plaza window. It shows a young boy sitting on a golden dais amid rose-tinted figurines scattered across a rocky shore. The image expresses vulnerability — both human and ecological — as well as transcendence, and it is a fitting calling card for a photographer who approaches the body with philosophical insight and emotional sensitivity. (AM)

Atta Kim: On-Air at the International Center of Photography continues through August 27 and is accompanied by a book co-published with Steidl; Atta Kim at Yossi Milo Gallery continues through August 25.

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[ Katy Grannan ]


Katy Grannan

Paul Laster interviews Katy Grannan about her photographic portraits of people in domestic settings and natural environments.
AK: How do you find your models?

KG: Different ways. I used to almost exclusively find them by placing ads in newspapers, but now more often than not, I approach people wherever, whenever. Also, many subjects refer their friends and acquaintances. There is often a weird, loose network of people that know one another throughout my pictures.

AK: How much instruction do you give your subjects? How do they arrive at the final pose that you choose to print?

KG: It's always different. There isn't a prescription. Some people ask for lots of direction — where to look, how to hold their hands, etc. Others are naturals — they come up with their own thing. Usually, though, I photograph them long enough that any initial discomfort or uncertainty fades away. I think some people just get bored or go into another zone. Right now I am photographing someone who directs me a lot. She has very strong opinions and her own ideas. I have to work really, really fast with her because she is always moving around, always telling me to hurry up. It's rare that I am bossed around. But she makes the pictures better; that's for sure.

AK: Do you ask the sitters to pose nude? Why do you think some subjects want to model nude and others prefer to be clothed?

KG: Ultimately, they make that decision. First, I often share my work with them so they have a sense of the kind of pictures I've made, and then they tell me what they're comfortable doing or not doing. As for why some people are comfortable with nudity and others are not, the explanations are as diverse and unique as the subjects themselves. So it's a long, varied answer. Another interesting question points to the viewer: why do some viewers respond to the pictures with generosity, sensitivity, and even humor, while others feel ashamed and incredulous? Even worse, why do some feel ashamed for the subject? An art critic here in San Francisco, of all places, recently wrote that he was embarrassed for some of my subjects since they were physically imperfect and, in his mind, not sophisticated enough to know what they were doing. It astonished me.

AK: Do you think being a female photographer makes your subjects more comfortable at posing nude?

keep reading the interview »

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  Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition
Germano Celant and Arkady Ippolitov, with Karole Vail
Guggenheim Museum

Robert Mapplethorpe had an eye for beauty. One of the most controversial photographers of his time, he created a dynamic body of work that includes stylish portraits of artists, socialites, and bodybuilders; stunning still lifes of classical statuary and flowers; and bold portrayals of sadomasochism. This book, which was produced to accompany an eponymous traveling exhibition, juxtaposes Mapplethorpe's photographs from the '70s and '80s with Flemish mannerist prints and sculpture from the 16th century. A photograph of a pumped-up Arnold Schwarzenegger appears opposite an engraving of Apollo by Jan Harmensz. Muller; a portrait of a naked Patti Smith is compared to a 1565 bronze of a young woman by Barthélémy Prieur; and three standing nudes are viewed in relation to The Graces, by Jacob Matham. Other images stand on their own to construct a compelling argument for the knowledge and skill of a postmodernist master, and essays by experts leave no doubt. (PL)

Two solo exhibitions of Mapplethorpe's work are currently on view: Robert Mapplethorpe, curated by Robert Wilson, at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Salzburg through September 5 and Robert Mapplethorpe at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, in Edinburgh, through November 5.

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Cover Art
Carlee Fernandez
Bear Head, Arm and Leg Study I, 2004
30 x 42 in./76.2 x 106.7 cm
Courtesy Acuna-Hansen Gallery, Los Angeles
All Rights Reserved

Paul Laster

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Lauren McKee

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