Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Great Accident: The Marriage of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

“There have been two great accidents in my life.
One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”
–Frida Kahlo

To say that Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera had a fairytale marriage would be a stretch. They married, divorced after 10 years and remarried a year later. He cheated on her with several women, including her sister Cristina. Kahlo had her share of infidelities as well, including one affair with exiled communist leader Leon Trotsky. Rivera and Kahlo shared the same house but lived in opposite wings.

Both artists were famous in their own right. She is known for her self-portraits, he for his politically charged murals. They met in 1922, during her first year as a student at the National Preparatory School in Mexico, where he was working on a project.

They married the first time in 1929. This was Rivera’s third marriage, and he already had several children by his previous wives. Kahlo was unable to have children due to a streetcar accident when she was 18 years old.

The two were brought together by their love of art and politics. They were involved in the Communist, Trotskyite and Stalinist movements. When Trotsky and his wife were exiled from the Soviet Union in 1937, Mexico granted them asylum, and they went to live with Kahlo and Rivera for a time.

Kahlo and Rivera went through several periods of separation, divorcing in 1939 after Kahlo went to live in Paris. They remarried in 1940 but continued to live predominantly separate lives. Kahlo died in 1954, due to a pulmonary embolism (some claim it was suicide), and in his autobiography, Rivera wrote that the day of her death was the most tragic day of his life.

Although Rivera was not a member of El Taller de Gráfica Popular, a Mexican printmaking collective that aimed to use art to advance revolutionary social causes, he knew and worked with many artists who were. The TGP was known for its leftist views and radical tactics. David Alfaro Siqueiros, another member of the TGP, orchestrated a failed assassination attempt on Trotsky after the Marxist leader left Rivera and Kahlo’s home.

From June 13 to Sept. 13, you’ll be able to view some of the TGP’s work as part of the Georgia Museum of Art’s exhibition “El Taller de Gráfica Popular: Vida y Arte,” which will take over all the temporary exhibition galleries. Although Rivera does not have any works in the exhibition, there is an illustrated corrido (ballad) in his honor. You can read more about the exhibition here.

Photo credit: Bio.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Big-Eyed Fraud Story

Official movie poster.  Photograph: The Weinstein Company/Allstar. 

The 87th Academy Awards ceremony is just around the corner.  Oscar season starts with the Golden Globes and typically the same movies end up being nominated for both awards, but "Big Eyes" was snubbed at the Oscars this year.

This biographical drama directed by Tim Burton stars Amy Adams, who won a Golden Globe for her performance of artist Margaret Keane, and Christoph Waltz, as Margaret's husband, Walter Keane. In the 1950s, Walter started displaying Margaret's art and convinced her that no one would buy "lady art." He eventually claimed the art as his own as Margaret signed her work with only her last name.  

Margaret and Walter Keane, 1965.  Photograph: Bill Ray/ The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett

In 1965, Walter was interviewed by LIFE Magazine and claimed that his inspirations came from big-eyed children in Europe when he was an art student. After the interview, Margaret announced via radio that she was the true creator of the paintings. Walter counterattacked that Margaret had made those claims because she believed he was dead. She then sued him for slander. In order to find out the truth, the judge ordered both of them to create a big-eyed child painting in the courtroom.

The ending isn't a surprise, but it is definitely an excellent movie to add to your watch-list.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Černý in Charlotte

Sitting in a small pool of water at Whitehall Technology Park in Charlotte, N.C., is a 22-foot-tall sculpture called “Metalmorphosis” and installed by Czech artist David Černý in 2007. Its seven segments each independently rotate 360 degrees and, when aligned, form the giant head of a metal man.

Černý has said that the sculpture is a “mental self-portrait.” Compared to some of his other work, “Metalmorphosis” is tame. One of Černý’s other sculptures, in Prague, is a fountain in the shape of two men urinating into a small pool. Another consists of two naked backsides that people can crawl on and through.

Lately, the sculpture’s visitors have reported that the segments no longer rotate and the mouth no longer spits water, but the stationary head is still a sight to behold. If you are in the Charlotte area, consider visiting the Whitehall Corporate Center to see “Metalmorphosis.” Until then, check out the video below to see "Metalmorphosis" in action.

Photo credit: American Asset Corporation

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fruit by Nike and Pickles by Chanel: Consumerism and Art

Do you ever think about the brand or packaging of your flour? What about your eggs or your yogurt? What if your flour was by Prada, your eggs from Versace and your yogurt made by Tiffany & Co.?

Peddy Mergui, an artist from Israel, explored the idea of adding luxury labels to common groceries in his exhibition “Wheat is Wheat is Wheat,” on view last year at the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design. This May, the exhibition will travel to Italy at Expo Milano 2015.

The SFMCD characterizes “Wheat is Wheat is Wheat” as asking “What does the consumer actually purchase when he or she pays top dollar for a ‘BRAND’ of wheat/flour, or table salt?” It’s an interesting question. When we buy a product, even something as common as flour, are we paying for the actual product or the name on the label? Does a higher-end brand always mean a better quality product?

Mergui told National Public Radio that, one day, a coworker saw him designing “Chanel infant formula” and asked where she could buy it for her own infant. That day, he said, he became aware of the power luxury brands had over consumers. From there, things spiraled into what would become “Wheat is Wheat is Wheat,” which serves as commentary on the practices of consumers.

Art is an interesting and creative way for people to make remarks about the state of our society. This is not a new idea. Today, Mergui comments on consumerism and street artist Banksy frequently calls for peace through his paintings on buildings and sidewalks. In the 18th century, French artist Jean-Baptiste Greuze remarked on domestic strife in many of his works of art.

You can view the photos used in this post as well as other pieces in Mergui's exhibit here.

Do you agree with Mergui’s opinion that we are buying the brand over the product?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Somerstein in Selma

By now, you’ve probably heard of the movie “Selma.” Directed by Ava DuVernay and including Oprah Winfrey in its cast, it is based on the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. The marches were led and organized in part by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a member. It took five days for the marchers to reach Montgomery.

Among the photographers capturing shots of the marches was a young man named Stephen Somerstein, the picture editor for the City College of New York’s campus newspaper. He arrived in Alabama just in time for the final day of the march, but the images he captured “serve as a reality check on a history that in ‘Selma’ becomes a seductively shot and charismatically cast docu-opera” (according to the New York Times in an article published Jan. 15).

Somerstein shot around 400 photographs, 55 of which are in an exhibition at the New-York Historical Society called “Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March by Stephen Somerstein.” Images of King and other civil rights leaders, including Rosa Parks, are included, but a writer at the New Yorker believes that Somerstein’s best images are not of these great leaders, but of the crowd watching the marchers, which “[reflects] the soulful quality of Somerstein’s own role as history’s witness.”

A version of one of Somerstein’s photographs appears on one of the film’s posters. Although his images were never exhibited until around 2008, appearing only in the pages of newspapers and magazines, their effectiveness has not lessened since the day he shot them.

Photo credits: The New York Times

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Picasso’s granddaughter is selling off his art… What would you do?

If your grandfather were one of the most famous painters in history and you inherited a collection of his work, would you be willing to sell it off piece by piece?

Because that is what Pablo Picasso’s granddaughter, Marina Picasso, is doing.

Despite being alienated from her grandfather and the controversy over his estate due to the lack of a will when he died, Ms. Picasso inherited 300 paintings. She has been selling her grandfather’s art for several years, first through third-party auctions. Lately, she has taken out the middle-man and has conducted the sales herself. She has said that she sells the paintings to support herself and various charities around the world. Last year, she donated about $1.7 million to the Hospital Foundation of Paris and France.

You can read an article from the New York Times with more details about Ms. Picasso and her endeavors to sell her grandfather’s work here: “Picasso’s Granddaughter Plans to Sell Art, Worrying the Market.”

What would you do if you were Ms. Picasso? Would you sell the art?

Photo credit: Business Insider

Monday, February 09, 2015

Wrapped Together: Creative Growth Art Center and Judith Scott

On 24th Street in Oakland, Calif., sits the world’s first and largest art studio for adults with disabilities. Creative Growth Art Center was established in 1974 and currently has around 150 artists who have mental and/or physical disabilities in its studios. Professional artists teach classes, and the center hosts exhibitions to showcase the art created. One of the most famous among the center’s artists, both past and present, is Judith Scott.

Scott and her twin sister, Joyce, were born in 1943 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Born with Down syndrome and later struck deaf by scarlet fever, Judith was considered to be severely retarded and spent 30 years of her life in a state institution. In 1985, Joyce moved Judith from the institution in Ohio to a group home in California so that the sisters could be closer. Through a state program that allowed disabled adults opportunities to learn, the Scott sisters found Creative Growth.

The first two years Judith Scott spent at the center were fruitless. She showed little interest in creating art. In one of the classes at Creative Growth, however, professional artist Sylvia Seventy introduced her to the use of fibers and textiles in art, and things took off from there.  Until her death, in 2005, Scott created more than 200 sculptures from yard and “found” items. Scott would tightly wrap and tie layers upon layers of yarn on different items and create colorful, intricate sculptures, some of which were as big as she was. No two pieces are alike, either in structure or color scheme. Her art was how she communicated, and it is as original as she was.

Permanent collections of Judith Scott’s work can be found at Washington State University, the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago and the Oakland Museum of California. Internationally, her work can be found in museums in Switzerland, Paris, Prague, Ireland and England. This year, the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, N.Y., is hosting the exhibition “Judith Scott—Bound and Unbound” until March 29. Currently, the Georgia Museum of Art does not own any pieces by Scott.

You can read more about Creative Growth at and about Judith and Joyce Scott on their website, The photos used in this post are from the sculpture gallery and the artist gallery on their website.