Metabolic City

October 10, 2009

In my final year in graduate school I learned about a group called the Situationist International and I became fascinated with their imaginative imagery that drew from architecture and art. I was interested in their concepts of urbanism, the city and Marxism as a creative apparatus. Like the artists in the Chance Aesthetics exhibition, the work and their concepts are rather playful and I think are a reaction to the horrors of the destruction of cities and deaths of millions during World War II. This was their vision of post-war utopia.

Metabolic City focuses on mainly three different groups working at relatively the same time; 1950s-1970. The British architectural group, Archigram, the Japanese Metabolists, and the Situationist International (SI) (mainly Constant Nieuwenhuy).  The exhibition consists of montages, diagrams, architectural rendering, videos that are projected on glass while you sit in a cockpit type module, and models.

All three groups think of the city as a living organism that is flexible, mobile and expandable. They all had their views on economic systems that seemed to permeate their work. They all seemed to embrace technology as a way to make life better. For example, Archiagram and the Metabolists embraced consumerism and mass pop culture. Whereas the SI was very critical of capitalistic society. Their goal was to revolutionise space and mass culture through Marxist revolution. They wanted to liberate man from the confines of capitalism and mass culture. They envisioned urban space as an experimental arena for human interaction and self-realization. In simple terms, let’s think of the SI as socialists and Archigram and Metabolists as capitalists.

The Metabolists

After WW2, Japan was going through social, political and cultural changes. They drafted a new constitution and made dramatic changes in regard to land use. Looking for a positive identity and individual rights led to visions of he city based on metaphor of life cycles. They proposed new territories of inhabitation such as the ocean and social spaces gained prominence. There work defiantly has a biological and natural element to it. Some of it looks like part of living creature or is just closely tied to the natural environment.

Those included are Kisho Kurokawa, Fumihiko Maki and Arata Isozaki

Kisho Kurokawa diagram

Kisho Kurokawa diagram

Fumihiko Maki model

Fumihiko Maki model

Arata Isozaki photomontage

Arata Isozaki photomontage


This was a British group in which the members were fresh out of school. They were not too interested in politics and were more enthusiastic about the social aspects of built space and broader issues of urban livability. They were brough up in a time when destroyed cities were being rebuilt in short spans of time and lacked a sense of the vitality found in a living city. Seeing this and the desire for a better life spurred them to push the limits of architecture. Their proposals embraced emerging technologies and commerce to advance individual freedoms and enhance the lives of individuals. Their cities had a patterned look with a lot of alien-like spaceship-like pods that look like they are from some thing of Sci-Fi movie.

Those included are Peter Cook,Dennis Crompton, Michael Webb, Ron Herron.

Peter Cook's Plug-in City

Peter Cook's Plug-in City

Dennis Crompton's Walking City (not in show)

Dennis Crompton's Walking City (not in show)

SI (Constant)

This group was mainly based in the Netherlands and in France. Constant was from the Netherlands and like the Japanese and the British they were hit hard by the horrors of WW2. Constant’s most famous project was New Babylon. It was a sample of what maybe a Situationist city could look like. It focused on the city as an emphasis on the individual, social interactions and the presence of art as part of the environment. The city was an urban framework in which the occupants would be able to create, reconfigure and control their sensory environments.

Others associated with the SI are the activist, Guy Debord and artist, Asger Jorn

Constant's  New Babylon project drawing

Constant's New Babylon project drawing

Constant's New Babylon drawing/diagram

Constant's New Babylon drawing/diagram


Chance Aesthetics

October 9, 2009

Since my mother was diagnosed with cancer I have not have much time or energy to go out and see many art exhibitions. In addition to that, there hasn’t been much time for even working in the studio. Other than the small drawings I have done I have been sort of out of the art loop.

In saying that, Monday I was able to make it over to the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum on the campus of Washington University. I also what to state that I like going there to see contemporary art than I like going to the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. I think the exhibitions at the Kemper are more varied and I like that the museum is free and being in the situation I am in, free is great. I honestly have not been too interested in the recent exhibitions at CAMSTL.

The exhibitions I saw were Chance Aesthetics and Metabolic City. I will separate the two into separate posts. I was interested in Chance Aesthetics because in my own art I have used elements of chance to develop my work. I tend to use it as a starting point such as dumping ink or paint, using drip patterns and allowing “mistakes” to happen and worked with the unexpected things that come up when making art.

Historically, art has been a skill in which an artist demands exceptional control to achieve a great work. This means works were planned endeavors obsessive perfection. In the 20th century some artists decided to work in opposition to this. The exhibition starts with the Surrealists and Dada, which makes sense to me. What I think is so great about using chance as a basis for a work is that it becomes playful and fun instead of being an intellectual and dry assignment that a lot of art has become.

Some of the works are sloppy and dirty but some are totally obsessive, clean and systematic. The latter still retain an element of surprise and engagement.

Some notable artists and works. I like Ellsworth Kelly’s gridded, cut-up and reassembled drawings.

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

There is Mimmo Rotella’s decollages of advertisements that you might see on the streets where posters are layered and ripped apart. Sort of like a defaced pop art.

Mimmo Rotella

Mimmo Rotella

Similar to Rotella’s is Jacques Villegle’s work. Something is very subversive and punk about these works. I like that.

Jacques Villegle

Jacques Villegle

I did love the simplicity of Duchamp’s readymade, “hatrack”, that was hanging from the ceiling. I think most people would see the spider-like look of this work and I think most would enjoy this one cause of its playfullness and it is non-confrontational.

Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp

I enjoyed William Anastasi’s subway drawings. I was doing stuff like this when I was in London. I am not saying I did it first but I feel a connection to this cause of my own personal experience with this mindless exercise. Fun and surprising to make.

William Anastasi's Subway Drawings

William Anastasi's Subway Drawings

There is the systematic digital looking Francois Morellet’s telephone directory works. By just looking at it, it looks like a non-objective minimalism. There is the white one that has the layer of varnish on some areas…white on white…so when you look at it at certain angles you see the differences. I think of Ryman’s white paintings. With the black one’s I think of Ad Reinhart’s black paintings. Those ones are definitely more quiet and subtile. Some of them use hot and sometimes competing color schemes that are more challenging. His work can seem like a combination of a Sol LeWit type of work and op-art. The grid seems to be a very important part of the structure of his work.

A telephone directory work by Francois Morellet

A telephone directory work by Francois Morellet

In addition to those works there is Arman’s work in which he collect Claes Oldenburg’s trash. Interesting in an invasion of privacy kind of way. There was a osmotic work by George Maciunas in which spills ink onto a canvas ans lets it spread a soak into the canvas. Marcel Jean and Andre Breton’s drawings were similar. There was Ray Johnson’s mail art and game-like works. There were some exquisite corpse drawings, John Cage compositions and a Nam June Paik’s blank films…well except dust scratches and whatever happened to interfere with the film. Plus there were Deiter Roth’s rotting works.

Announcement and Cindy Tower

June 5, 2009

Slacking on the blogging. However, I am not slacking in general. I am going to be part of a group show at St. Charles Community College this August. It is their annual Multimedia Exhibition. I am honored to be invited and to be showing with some other awesome St. Louis artists. Plus, I am working on a website for someone I know who has a business. Plus, I might have a few more things in the pipeline. Other than that, I’ve been out riding the bike and enjoying the outdoors. After all, it is summer-time. 

A month or two ago I went to check out some art at the Sheldon Art Galleries. I wanted to see what was up with all the hoopla over the Cindy Tower exhibit. She does plein air paintings of industrial and inner city ruins. Mostly, these are in East St. Louis. Plus, she documents the process. 

I have sort of mixed opinion of her. The paintings are nice as paintings. She is obviously a talented painter can really capture all the detail and beauty of the spaces in decay. They actually seem lifelike. 










I think the paintings can stand on their own. This is where I feel mixed. She makes videos documenting the process of painting these. Obviously, the process is important to her. However, I question the importance to the viewer. Is the video supposed to demystify the process or is it purely self-indulgent? My opinion is that the documentation is unnecessary and I would like to have some mystery. Honestly, I am not interested in the process. Well, I like to imagine what it is like.

Some part of me feels like it is exploitative too. Here is a white woman going into a perceived dangerous ghetto that is almost 100% non-white. She goes in and makes these paintings and then selling showings and probably selling these paintings to well-off people. She seems interested in showing the decay and the beauty of it. However, is she doing anything to make those areas better? I am not sure. Anyway, does she even want that? I mean, that is her subject and the revival of East St. Louis would take away her subject matter. Of course, this is St. Louis. There are plenty of areas wrought with decay. 

Plus she is blatantly breaking the law and brags about it in the videos. I think that sort of makes artists look bad. To me, she is trying to make the paintings a performance but I don’t like the “bragging” about how dangerous the process is. it just seems like a case of a well-off privileged white woman having an adventure (slumming) at the expense of the poor.

I like the paintings and I do find the warped canvases, the dirt and the grime that is on the paintings because of the circumstances of creating them quite nice. They are not these precious and pristine objects. They reflect the subjects well. I am just not sure about the need for the documentation and just giving away the process and not leaving any kind of mystery for my imagination.

Why do I want mystery? In my case when I see an abandoned building or drive through a run down area, being a white woman from crystal clean suburbia, I do have this fascination with decay. It does seem exotic. I do get a sense of wonder because it is different. I get curious and want to explore but I get a sense of fear and anxiety of the unknown. Seeing the paintings lets me see inside and still get that feeling. I guess, I don’t want to the reality because it does expose how well off I am in the world. I guess it makes me feel guilty in finding pleasure in someone else’s pain. What I see between the paintings and the documentation is a tug-a-war or reality and romanticism. However, the mystery is gone. 

The paintings with the artist statement with the description of the process was enough for me. The videos….not interested. However, the work does pose some interesting and pressing sociological issues that St. Louis and the nation needs to deal with.

Tony Fitzpatrick at Gallery 210

April 8, 2009

A week ago I went over to Gallery 210 on the campus of University of Missouri – St. Louis to see the etchings by Tony Fitzpatrick. The show is titled, “The City Etchings 1993 – 2003”. The show runs from February 12th  to May 23rd of 2009. 

To see an example of his work and to find out more information about the show and the gallery itself go to the Gallery 210 website.

I have heard of Tony Fitzpatrick for years while studying printmaking while in college. I am sure I have seen some of his work also. However, for some strange reason I was really surprised how small his etchings are. I was picturing them being relatively large. By large I was thinking maybe 16″ x 20″ or larger. On the contrary, they ranged from being the scale of a business card (roughly 2″ x 3″) to maybe 5″ x 7″. So these are rather small. There were lots of these etchings though, 30 to be exact. All black and white.

Each etching seemed like a portrait of some aspect of a nightmarish city. Each featured some figure (animal, insect, human) large and in the center of a swirl of ugliness. The figures themselves were sometimes grotesque and solemn but detailed and well rendered. The backgrounds were full of surprises and interesting happenings that told much of the story through, I would guess, personal symbolism. The background, dream-like images were rather sketchy and were a nice contrast to the figures. 

The City Etchings “started when his father was diagnosed with irreparable skin cancer. He said, “The city died when my dad died.””. Fitzpatrick describes this series as “a novel without words”. Before even seeing the work, there has to be an assumption that the work would be the work of a person in mourning. 

Here are three of my faves:


Chicago Sailor

Chicago Sailor









I like this faceless sailor. It is a portrait of nobody. I find it mysterious. 


Crack Girl

Crack Girl


















This one above is definitely one of the more grotesque ones.


Woman on a bridge (not the actual title)

Woman on a bridge (not the actual title)










This one, to me, had the most depth. It stood out to me because of that.

Role of the Art Critic

April 1, 2009

What is the role of an art critic? I am thinking about this due to a huge discussion about a critics review of an artist on the the Critical Mass discussion mailing list. If you are interested in Critical Mass here is some information:

One of the best ways to stay abreast of visual arts in Saint Louis is to join the Critical Mass listserve.
To subscribe, send a blank message to:
Critical Mass is a nonprofit, self-formed visual arts collaborative dedicated to promoting, enhancing and initiating contemporary visual art in the St. Louis region.

Ok, now on to art critics. Mainly what happened is that David Bonetti, the art critic for the St. Louis Post Dispatch  gave a really harsh review about a show by the artist Cindy Tower. Honestly, I haven’t read the review so I am not going to go on about the review or criticize David Bonetti (it seems many St. Louis artists have a bone to pick with him though). However, what is the role of a critic?

Is it to promote the work of artists…being a cheerleader of sorts?

Is it to be objective and inform the public about the work of artists in an area…like a reporter?

Is it to inform the public about the work of artist through opinion…like an editorial?

Is it to create some sort of discourse about art?

Is it to define taste?

I suppose it can be all the the above. However, I am not sure if it is a critic’s job to be the cheerleader of specific artists. I am sure that is bound to happen if a critic really likes an artist’s work. I think a critic should seek out a variety of types of work especially if there are not many art critics in a city. A critic should be able to have some opinion on the work and there should be a reason for that opinion. It should be stated. Most professionals tend to explain why they like or don’t like something.

Due to the fact that criticism is an informed opinion (we hope so) and it should be given some amount of credible weight. However, lets not forget that not everyone likes the same types of work. That is where some great discussion can come from. Disagreement.

An art review without some criticism and opinion seems kind of boring. I really doubt many people would want to read an article about an exhibition that just states the basic who, what, where, why and how. Do some critics go too far and attack the artist? Not many who are actually professionals do that. I think most criticism is to discuss some kind of topic the critic wants to discuss. The art has influenced the critic’s thinking in that it possibly jogged some memory and made he/she think about some issue or idea. Seeing what other people think can be intriguing to the artist. Is it a help? Maybe. It at least lets the artist know that someone has saw the art and has some thought about it. It helps the artist know if he/she is communicating something to the audience.

How should an artist take a harsh review? I suppose with a grain of salt. Again, it is opinion. However, there may be something there to think about. The key is to somehow get some distance from the work and to be able to see it objectively. Usually that takes some time. It could be an avenue for growth in the long term.

How should a potential viewer of art handle a review of art? I think it can give some information to take into the exhibition. Could it influence the viewer’s opinion? I suppose…if the viewer doesn’t want to think due to laziness or lack of understanding. Should a bad review keep a viewer from seeing an exhibition? No. The reviewer may not like it but who is to say that a viewer will not disagree. Really when it comes down to liking or disliking work: decide for yourself.

The Sketchbook Project: Accessibility and Art

March 15, 2009

The Sketchbook Show I haven’t been to any art openings in a little while. It is mostly because I have to work on Fridays and Saturdays. It is unfortunate. I saw there was an opening on a Wednesday so I had to jump on it. In addition, I have never been to the venue it was located.

I decided to visit the Soulard Art Market to see the opening of the Sketchbook Project. It is a traveling exhibition of sketchbooks made by a variety of artists from around the country. The whole project is spearheaded by Atlanta’s Art House Co-op Gallery and virtually anyone could participate in this project, just as long as you paid a small fee to the Gallery.

As I expected the quality of the works were going to be hit-or-miss. Some were extraordinary and some were rather horrid. Some were rather clever in how they interpreted the theme, “Everyone We Know”, and some interpreted it in a rather straightforward way….like a traditional sketchbook.

There was no way to look at all of them in one night. It is something to go see over a period of days because there are so many of them. Plus, they were all in one area and that caused a problem. There were so many people jockeying to look at the sketchbooks and many people just hung out at the table where all the books were at, they blocked others from getting to the books. I just found myself grabbing a stack and going to another part of the gallery to page through the books. I found the people camped in front of the collection irritating because they were preventing people from looking at the sketchbooks. This problem could have been prevented by maybe spreading the books about a bit.

The show got me to think about art and the idea of a democratic art form or at least art that is accessible to a large number of people.

For the most part the seeing of art is actually very accessible in that most galleries do not charge admission to look at an artist’s work. The food and drinks are usually free. Museums might have a small fee or ask for some donation. Of course, to find out about shows and when and where they take place does take some initiative and research. That is sometimes a problem for some people.

Buying art is a different story. Of course, it does depend on the person’s work you are buying, the market, the medium and other factors but art is usually not very cheap. I was listening to Robert Storr on Cityscape (it is the St. Louis radio program on the local NPR station that focuses on the arts). Robert Storr is an art critic and was dean of the Yale School of art, a curator for the MOMA, and was a director for the Venice Biennale in 2007. He was in St. Louis to give a lecture at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Anyway, he talked some about collecting art. There seems to be an assumption that only the rich, well-to-do people buy art. He says that is not really true anymore. In recent years more and more middle class people have been able to buy art. Of course, they are not buying the blue-chip stuff but there is art out there that is affordable.

As for the making of art and getting it seen is an issue for most artists. As an artist you have to find a market, find the right gallery to show the work, and in general market yourself well and hopefully you will get seen. There is never a guarantee. Curators and gallery art directors make the decision about who will be shown. It is very selective and not everyone can be accommodated. This is assuring the quality of the work is high to generate interest and sales.

So where does the Sketchbook Project fit in? Well, all an artist has to do is pay a fee to submit work and it is included. So there really is no selective process. Everyone gets in. When the show goes up and people come in to look, the audience becomes the curator so to speak. The attendees go through the work and select what they like or don’t like, some of the “better” work seems to get more visibility. There is this “natural selection” thing going on. The viewers have the power.

This lack of selectiveness leads to unevenness in terms of quality but I am not sure that is always the point of some shows. I think the people who organized the show wanted to see all the different ways a theme can be interpreted and people wanted to see the ideas people have. Through a sketchbook you do get an insight about who the artist is, their personality, and some information about their lives. In a way, it is rather voyeuristic. The sketchbook is usually personal; it is where an artist thinks and tests out ideas before they are ready to be seen. I think that is part of the reason people, including myself, went to see the show. We get to look into another person’s life.

In a world where people are Twittering about what they are doing constantly, putting a lot of personal information of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and keeping in touch though constant text messaging, there seems to be this need to let-it-all-hang-out. People want to constantly be connected. The line between personal and public is becoming blurred and people have chose to blur those lines. It is getting easier and easier through social networking and the advancement of 3G networks. In a sense, people do not want privacy. I think the Sketchbook Project fits into this new era rather well.