|Jean-Léon Gérôme, O Pti Cien, 1902, is an academic style|
In 1902, Jean-Léon Gérôme, a leading academic artist of the day, painted O PTI CIEN, a puppy wearing a monacle. The letters suggest a reading of "au petit chien" ("at the little dog"), which would sound approximately like Oh P T shee-en to the French. But the letters also form the French word for an optician. This work actually was a competition for an advertisement, but Gérôme's humorous pun set the stage for the Cubists, Surrealists and other artists who brought the painted word into prominence: Picasso and Georges Braque, Dada artists and even Surrealists like Magritte.
The intersection of the news media and visual art is the subject of the National Gallery's Shock of the News. This cultural force burst onto the scene around the 2nd decade of the 20th century, when an Italian group, the Futurists, published their manifesto in 1909. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque were soon incorporating collage into Cubism and using words from the newsprint to articulate their artwork. Guitar, Sheet Music and Glass, 1912 has the masthead from "Le Journal," a Paris daily. The letters Jou appear as reminders of le jour, meaning day, journal, the daily newspaper and jouer, which means to play.
Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NewYork
Semen Fridliand's photo halftone image, The Venal Press, above center, is a commentary on the public's capability to let the press influence their to beliefs in everything. How much greater that power is with the blogs, the facebook and Twitter of today!
Of course, Picasso continued to respect the power of print media in Guernica, of 1937 (not in the exhibition), which is his commentary the first time a bomb was dropped from air, hitting the Basque city of Guernica in Spain. He wanted the monumental, 25-foot painting to have journalistic quality and therefore imitated the lettering of newspapers, while painting only blacks, whites and grays.
On Kawara painted the date, October 27, 1971, in white on a black canvas. It is one of over 5,000 such images his has done over many years. Each painting goes along with a cardboard box and cover and the packing functions as a time capsule, because the news of that day is place in the box with the painting. After leaving the Shock of the News exhibition, National Gallery visitors move onto the next exhibition, Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective.
First and foremost, we think of Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) as the artist who transformed the art of the comic book into a higher form of art. As a Pop artist, he is often eclipsed in reputation by Warhol. This large exhibition brings together works from his entire career, encompassing several themes. Throughout his long career, he used bold colors and ben-day dots. The dots imitative of a printer's dots for the comics and newsprint remain a consistent signature of his style, but Lichtenstein's late work parodies earlier art history using few words. His images of the 1960s borrow from cartoons, but he added captions and details to complete the compositions. His captions capture the spirit and humor of certain cultural icons like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Other large cartoon-like images fill rooms on the specific themes of war and romance. He uses boldness, humor and a surprising amount of emotion in a simplified style.
|Barbara Kruger, an installation at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, through 2014|
Ai Weiwei, Coca-Cola Vase, 2007, paint on Qing Dynastyceramic at Hirshhorn Museum until February 24, 2013
The works of Ai Weiwei and Barbara Kruger entertain, but those artists also challenge us and make us think more than Pop Art does. This summer I saw another contemporary, conceptual artist's work at the Institute of Contemporary Art in of University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Stefan Sagmeister's The Happy Show, is also the work of a graphic artist, like Kruger. The words printed are in black on a yellow ground, the typeface combination that can be read most easily in the mode of the yellow pages. Yellow is the happiest of colors. Sagmeister made me think of a modern "pursuit of happiness" written into the Declaration of Independence. The exhibition questioned, provoked, entertained, tried to make us laugh and added one more valuable asset, encouraging happiness. If we recognize the paradoxes that Barbara Kruger and Ai Weiwei demonstrate, it's possible to use the art of the word to promote not just "JOU" (play), but also joy in the world, or joy in the word.
|Stefan Sagmeister, The Happy Show, at Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, April 4 - August 12, 2012|