There is no Place Like Home

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. ~Franklin D Roosevelt

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Image courtesy of http://www.martharosler.net

It is nearly impossible to drive around San Francisco and not see persons living at risk on the streets. This happens not only in San Francisco, this is a concern for the state, the country, and also internationally. I intentionally and purposefully avoid calling it a problem, because it then mistakenly gets misconstrued that homeless persons are the problem, and it is the problem for those living on the street, rather than a problem of the greater community, a societal problem, one facing those of us who are sheltered; and, by sheltering oneself from the problem this can lead to avoidance rather than engagement to finding solutions. Awareness, concern, and support (along with budget commitment) are needed.

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Joel Daniel Phillips, Aunt Kitty, 2016, graphite and charcoal on paper. Image courtesy of http://www.joeldanielphillips.com

Last December when visiting an art gallery where directly across the street was a row of colorful tents lining the sidewalk, ‘tent city’ as many locals call these makeshift communities, I asked if anything could be done to provide support for these neighbors who we observed from their gallery windows. There must be local services in the neighborhood, I inquired. What about holding an exhibition to raise monies for the local services or offering a percentage of art sales to support existing organizations that help those in need? I suggested.

I thought of various other businesses that are successful models for combining consumerism and charity; for example, Patagonia has given to charitable organizations over the years and this last December donated 100% of black Friday profits ($10 million), the small employee-owned Four Sigmatic, a nutritional food supplement company donates a percentage of profits to cancer patients on an ongoing basis and this last January donated 100% of profits to cancer organizations, and this past January Petzel Gallery’s exhibition “We need to talk…” not only donated a percentage of sales to charities chosen both by collectors and artists but also during this exhibition visitors were invited to write their thoughts, feelings and hopes for the future.

Undoubtedly, it is costly to maintain an art gallery and living as an artist has economic challenges, yet I wondered could there be a way for art to be an advocate for change, to make an impact, to support shelters, food banks, or social services, all which help towards improving the lives of those living on our streets? Could this be done with the gallery acting as a catalyst through annual art exhibitions and fundraisers, if not on an ongoing basis?

Fouladi PROJECTS, opened the New Year with an exhibition focusing on homelessness, “Coming Clean: SF”. This group show is co-hosted and curated by Lava Mae, a local organization that provides shower and toilets to persons without permanent shelter and access to the basic need to get clean. Doniece Sandoval, Lava Mae’s founder and CEO, took her compassion that all people deserve dignity and the ability to keep clean combined with her creativity and innovation she then looked towards a solution inspired by gourmet food trucks and gaining access to out of service metro busses created mobile bathrooms.

Lava Mae’s team inquired how might they bring greater awareness to their organization and needs of homeless persons. They contemplated alternate ways to think about philanthropy and to engage a community. Art was the answer.

Artists have a unique way of addressing a serious matter and creating an artifice that doesn’t belittle or exploit the difficult subject, instead they create an aesthetic, a fictional rendering, making it easier to access than looking directly at darkness and undesirable realities. Perhaps through art we can feel enticed and invited to experience caringly and without judgment. We are able to see the precarious lives of people living under freeways, in doorways, in tents, and in public parks toting their entire possessions in shopping carts and rolling suitcases; through an artists’ perspective we can look empathetically at these members of our society where we might otherwise have chose to look the other way or cross to the other side of the street in order to avoid coming close to a homeless person, or worse, wanting to displace them to a place not-in-my-neighborhood. Maybe art provides an access for people to face one another, approaching from compassion. I hope art elicits empowerment to be a part of the solution. How we choose to either pass judgment or show empathy towards the disadvantaged reflects on our commonwealth as a society. Just beginning by connecting eye-to eye with people affirms that they exist, are seen, and are humanized. It is a deeply healing, therapeutic experience.

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Joel Daniel Phillips, Vicki, 2013, charcoal and graphite on paper. Image courtesy of http://www.joeldanielphillips.com

In 1989 Martha Rosler created “If You Lived Here” exhibited at Dia Art Foundation, an art project on housing, homelessness, and architectural planning with a collaboration of work from artists, writers, filmmakers, poets, homeless people, community groups and schoolchildren which took the form of town hall meetings and deployed activism and discussion as a form of art. This exhibition has shown around the world, most recently in 2016 on a one-year stint in Seattle funded by The New Foundation and re-titled “Housing is a Human Right”.

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Other artists have used their art to illuminate the homelessness challenges in our society. Michael Rakowitz created paraSite shelters, custom designed inflatable transportable temporary shelters out of recycled zip-lock bags which were inflated and heated by attaching to exterior outtake vents of a building’s HVAC (heating ventilation, and air conditioning system). These ‘art objects’ have been distributed to over 30 homeless persons in Boston and New York City since 1998.

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per owner’s request, designed to look like a rib cage. image courtesy of http://www.michaelrakowitz.com

Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Homeless Vehicle unveiled in an exhibition at the Clocktower Gallery in 1988. It is a hybrid between a shopping cart and a rocket-like-looking sleeping compartment. Wodiczko, like Rakowitz, ‘consulted’ with homeless persons in developing the design for his art piece.Both Rakowitz’s paraSite and Wodiczko’s Vehicle are neither a temporary or permanent solution to the housing problem, nor are they intended as prototypes for mass production, rather they are social/political art raising awareness of the existence of a crisis and calling into question its causes and possible solutions.

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Kryzysztof Wodiczko, Homeless Vehicle version 3, 1988-89. Aluminum, steel, plastic, plywood, lexan, rubber. Image courtesy of http://www.mca.chicago.org

And, Willie Baronet’s artwork stemmed from a direct purpose to raise funds for his “We Are All Homeless“campaign and exhibitions. He gathered handmade signs, those often seen held by people standing along a busy city street or propped against the leg of someone sitting on the sidewalk with their hand out asking for help, and he collaged these signs together making them into large wall installations. These few examples make clear that this has been a decades long challenge with no simple solutions. I believe with innovative, intelligent community engaged citizens, artists, and local/state leaders we can garner visibility and funds required for developing housing that is connected with social services as a part of tenancy and with upward transition possibilities. We can help give people more stable homes than those made out of blue, yellow, and green nylon. We can start creating solutions, it is happening now, and tomorrow it continues.

In this essay are images from two artists in the fouladi Projects exhibition; Amy Wilson Faville, whose art transforms mobile shopping cart collectives into aesthetically appealing images, she is interested in the tableaux created, the narrative of the contents, and Joel Daniel Phillips, intricately draws portraiture on a lifelike scale, capturing the commonalities we share as humans, exposing visibility to deeper, truthful emotions. “A true portrait is far more than a rendering of physical form-it is the capturing of the vulnerable, un-invented narratives that make us human.” states Joel Daniel Phillips. In addition, the other artists in the exhibition Elizabeth Lo, Danielle Nelson Mourning, Ramekon O’Arwisters,Yon Sim, and Kathryn Spence each in their own words expressed homelessness could happen to anyone, it could happen to them, and they hoped their art would open hearts and minds. The “Coming Clean: SF” exhibition showcases art as an imaginative and compassionate advocate for the precarious and complex issue facing those living on the streets. This is making art that matters!

Please share in comments any other art projects or exhibitions that matter, particularly those addressing homelessness. Thank you!

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Amy Wilson Faville, Pasture, 2007, graphite and collage on paper. image courtesy of fouladi  Projects.

Made Of Plastic

ana de la cuesa,
ana de la cuesa, untitled, 2013. mixed media

From the beginning artists sourced nature to create art: paint originally made from plants, sculpture formed from stone and clay, and now artist reuse discarded plastic for creating art.

Some artists use this plastic and other trash-destined debris in their artwork for both material and conceptually as embodied points of view onto the world they live in, and a few, ahem…perhaps, one, consider human detritus as simply anart medium without reflecting on or moralizing it’s impact in our world.

Tony Feher’s material is our civilizations toss-a-way packaging. He finds delight in plastic bottles, but also boxes, and bags with labels removed yet easily recognizable by their trademarked shape. With a wink to modernist sculptors before him and well, the public, his audience, he creates serious sculpture (or at least with serious price tags). Is he intentionally drawing attention to the wastefulness of excessive packaging, or is he intentionally drawing our attention to how branding influences our visual vocabulary that consciously and unconsciously manipulates consumer choices. Is he ridiculing our addiction to consumption of both wasteful, trash-bin-destined debris and at the same time passionate global art consumption? My inclination is that he doesn’t think about important environmental issues nor is this what his art is about, in his esteem; but, as they say, when the art leaves the studio, the object takes on its own symbolic in the world, it carries it’s own meaning—the place in which to access the real the imaginary must be conjured.

Another ambiguous work of art by Kris Martin, Water, 2012 an assemblage of various size, shape, and colored glass vessels, each containing water, either half full or half empty, depending on the viewers perspective seems to inquire into the worldly water issue. Does each vessel represent all the nations in the world and our dependence on water for existence? Is the piece questioning how much more time do we have before the half full glass empties? Martin’s art ponders humankinds most vital issues, like the fleetingness and fragility of existence, mortality, time; albeit, he challenges the seriousness of his art with a wink and whimsical playfulness, like an art jester.

Kris Martin, Water, 2012. glass bottles, water.

Kris Martin, Water, 2012.

On the other hand, Alejandro Duran leaves no ambiguity about the intention of his art. His latest project Washed Up, he states is intentionally to address the issue of plastic pollution. He focuses his lens on the debris from around the world that wash up on the shores of Sian Ka’an in Mexico making Andy Goldsworthy like forms and capturing them in photography.

Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang turned their daily strolls along the Kehoe beach in Point Reyes National Park into a collaborative art project. They consider themselves artist archeologists. Since 1999, they began gathering and sorting by color and or theme the varied thermoplastic junk or our throwaway culture and recreating it into inspired colorful art pieces.

Pam Longobardi’s mind continually analyzes and investigates humans’ relationship with nature. Drifters Project began in 2006 when she came across mountainous heaps of plastic detritus washed up on the shores in Hawaii. She began following the ocean currents to catalog, study, and collect the floating waste from the perspective of a scientist, artist, and anthropologist. She describes her passionate pursuit,

“Traveling expanses of space and time, ocean plastic is a material that can unleash unpredictable dynamics. I am interested in plastics in particular, as opposed to all garbage, because of what it reveals about us as a global economy and what it reveals about the ocean as a type of cultural space and a giant dynamic engine of life. As a product of human consumer culture that exhibits visibly the attempts of nature to reabsorb and regurgitate it, ocean plastic has profound stories to tell us about the interconnectedness of the fate of the planet and our impact on it. “

Pam Longobardi. Installation View.
Pam Longobardi. Installation View. “One World Ocean” SoS (So Sorry). Ionion Center for Arts and Culture, Kefalonia, Greece. 2011

Pam Longobardi

Pam Longobardi 2013 exhibition image.

Underlying all of Mark Dion’s art is a high-minded ecological agenda. Like the other aforementioned artists, Dion considers himself an explorer, a historian, and a dilettante archeologist. I see him as an intellectual ecological artist. He creates installations or assemblages that are a take on the form of the tableaux-like scientific arrangements found in natural history museums or historical cabinets of curiosities. Like Longobardi he is fascinated by the histories the found objects hold, he treasures the stories a washed up piece of plastic tells us about civilization as much as he would value discovering artifacts from the Antikythera shipwreck.

Mark Dion, Landfill 1999-2000. Mixed Media. Image courtesy of Tanya Bonakdar Gallery.
Mark Dion, Landfill 1999-2000. Mixed Media. Image courtesy of Tanya Bonakdar Gallery.
Mark Dion, Ichthyosaurus, 2003. Synthetic Ichthyosaurus, backdrop, misc. obects, sand, rocks. image courtesy of Tanya Bondakdar Gallery.
Mark Dion, Ichthyosaurus, 2003. Synthetic Ichthyosaurus, backdrop, misc. obects, sand, rocks. image courtesy of Tanya Bondakdar Gallery.
Mark Dion, Marine Invertebrates, 2013, 70 objects in glass jars, isopropyl alcohol, glass and wood cabinet. image courtesy of Tanya Bondakdar Gallery.
Mark Dion, Marine Invertebrates, 2013, 70 objects in glass jars, isopropyl alcohol, glass and wood cabinet. image courtesy of Tanya Bondakdar Gallery.

The common theme connecting many of the artists who use plastic and humankinds detritus as their material is how they begin to look upon their material from the viewpoint of an archeologist and a conservationist, as well as an artist. I, too, find the history of plastics in our civilization intriguing; although, I wonder how future generations will remember us. Just as we learn about the precision of the Incan architecture and the aesthetics of the Greek design, what story will the heaps of plastic and technological debris say of our era?

Officers of the Peace

“Police mistakenly shoot 911 caller during manhunt,” read a recent headline in USA Today.

 

Nari Ward, Suspicious Buldge, 2002.  image courtesy of www.lehmannmaupin.com
Nari Ward, Suspicious Buldge, 2012.
image courtesy of http://www.lehmannmaupin.com

Tension was thick in Ferguson, Missouri, while the citizens awaited the grand jury decision on the case of Michael Brown, the unarmed teenage boy shot in the back by a police officer. Emotions were unleashed with the announcement of the jury’s decision not to indict Officer Warren as the answer to justice.

And then there’s the story of Oscar Grant, the unarmed BART passenger fatally shot by a transit officer, a tragedy that inspired the movie Fruitvale Station. “I made a mistake,” testified officer Johannes Mehserle about the shooting, as reported by Huffington Post contributor Michael McLaughlin, who further stated, “The 33-year-old claims he mistakenly used his service revolver when he wanted to grab a Taser.”

 

Muarizio Cattelan, Frank and Jamie, 2002. image courtesy of ww.christies.com
Muarizio Cattelan, Frank and Jamie, 2002.
image courtesy of ww.christies.com

 

I’ll share my own inane encounter with a peace officer. I often cycle on a quiet, one-lane residential street that is mostly a well-ridden bike lane. There are stop signs at intersections to keep motorists from using this neighborhood side street to bypass traffic on the busier, adjacent two-lane road. Routinely, cyclists do not stop at the stop signs—some may slow down rather than speeding through them, as I did recently. Regrettably.

Passing through this lane, I was overtaken—more precisely, cut off—by a police car with flashing lights. I thought to myself, “Whoa, this is aggressive enforcement for a stop-sign violation.” I abruptly braked, clipped out of my pedals, anticipating my lecture on bike safety. Instead, the police officer stepped out of his vehicle, shut his car door without even glancing in my direction, and went off at a waddling pace holding a gun in his hand. I don’t mean touching his holster, where his gun should have been. I mean he was wielding a gun in the air as he ambled toward the white picket fence in front of his parked vehicle. There he stopped and looked intently, rather nervously, at the house.

I realized then that my stop-sign infraction was not his objective. And as comical as the scene might be to recall—chubby cop, waddling like a toddler toting his weapon—it really did concern me. The police officer could have caused me to crash by cutting me off. If he believed there was imminent danger, his first action should have been to warn me to stay back from a potentially dangerous situation. I feared for any cat that might cross that yard—the officer appeared ready to shoot at anything.

As I cycled away, I could feel the entire scene had frightened me. I considered returning to get the officer’s information and report him, but then the thought of reporting a police officer frightened me even more, the prospect that I could be targeted as a troublemaker. Feeling bothered, I quickly pedaled home.

I am not writing this to ignite a fury against police officers. It is one encounter with one cop. In the larger scheme, I deeply respect the risks that police are willing to face in the line of duty to maintain order in our communities. I surmise they hold one of society’s most stressful jobs. No, I would not prefer to live in a lawless society. I have never been faced with a dangerous, life-threatening experience, and if it were to happen to me, I would like to know the police were there to protect me.

To get a wider perspective, I did a Google search for how many officers die in the line of duty and how many suspects are killed in police pursuit annually. Finding no reports, I inquired from a friend, a magistrate judge, who provided a precise list of officer fatalities, but could not find a good source for suspects who have died while in pursuit by officers. These two links offer some statistics:

 

http://www.odmp.org/search/year

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_killings_by_law_enforcement_officers_in_the_United_States

 

They are called peace officers. Yet, why do they illicit feelings of ill ease, tension, power play, or actually confrontation? Police are intended, ultimately, to make us feel calm and safe. They are public servants paid with our tax dollars to ensure peace within a community. But why is it that when I ask anyone, of any age, “How do you feel when you approached by an officer?” they all admit to feeling guilty or nervous. Not once has anyone replied “safe.”

My son’s friend, John, told me a story passed along from his father. When John was a baby, he had difficulty sleeping through the night, crying his lungs out. On one particularly mild evening, his father decided to take him out for a stroll rather than pace the apartment. Not more than three blocks from home, a police car stalked them down. Interrogating John’s father with a harassing tone, the police questioned him whether this was indeed his son and what business he had wandering the neighborhood at night.

It is not that I long for the days of Mayberry R.F.D., a fictional time when life was simple and the sheriff never carried a gun. But I would like to see and read more heartwarming stories where the officer of the peace maintains a calm, friendly vibe.

Not too long ago, I was traveling in Jamaica with my son. We hired a driver to take us to the rural, “road-less-traveled” side of the island to visit seaside villages and local farmers markets. Our driver wanted to take us to his favorite restaurant in Port Antonio. Unfortunately, all the vegetables were in the markets and there was nothing on the menu for me, a vegetarian, to eat. We decided to drive further along the highway to Boston Bay, known for the best jerk chicken on the island. Our driver, worrying we wouldn’t find any fresh plantains, yams, or ackee, waved down a police car to ask the officers if they knew of any restaurant where we might find both jerk chicken and vegetarian cuisine. The officers chatted amongst themselves, made a call, and sent us on our way.

Apparently, they’d phoned their favorite jerk chicken spot to inquire if the cook could prepare a meal for me. When we arrived the restaurant knew who we were (the only tourists) and we didn’t even need menus. They prepared our lunch, and it was delicious! Later, the two officers stopped by to see how we liked our lunch. Bursting with flavor, police officers assist tourists in a unique, delectable local lunch. Wouldn’t it be nice to read more headlines like this? True, they provided an unforgettable experience and a happy tummy. More importantly, I’ll remember their “Yah mon” calm.

FeelTheVibe_Culture_Cuisine_feature-1

Jamaican graffiti

Remains of our Day

MASS MoCa, a reconverted factory in North Adams, Massachusetts, with capacious exhibition halls can accommodate large-scale art works, perhaps more than any other art museum. Considering other vast visual art buildings, such as, Dia: Beacon, White Cube in London, the Hermitage in Russia, and Hauser and Wirth’s new expansive gallery in NYC, this is saying a lot. The huge scale of the building and of the immense interior spaces within MASS MoCa create an optical illusion making the works exhibited in them seem smaller than they actually are. As I stand in one of the exhibition chambers, I wonder, how do the artists who exhibit here visualize how their art will fill the spaciousness? I presume not many have studios as large. I ponder, where and how do they find the space to create such massive constructions? And what will become of these large-scale works once the exhibition ends?

In the case of the artist, Xu Bing and his installation Phoenix, he answered these questions. Stepping back for a better vantage point to take in the immensity of the suspended birds, I bumped into a ledge installed along the wall. It held copies of a text that accompanies the art–the story of the creation of the mythical birds. Slowly I wondered the length of the room reading page by page, the start to the present, the birth of the Phoenixes (‘Feng’ and ‘Huang’); and, indeed Xu Bing alludes to them as being born, taking on a life of their own. He relates that within the time of their ‘hatching’ two collaborators who helped create the Phoenixes also gave birth to children. This coincidental occurrence of creating new life offered deep symbolism for Xu. It offered another layer to the materials used for the sculpture, the collaborators, and the resulting art object.

Xu Bing, Phoenix Project (2008-2012). image courtesy of www.nothingmajor.com
Xu Bing, Phoenix Project (2008-2012). image courtesy of http://www.nothingmajor.com

Made from construction-site essentials, such as hard hats and shovels, as well as construction debris like rusted corrugated metal and striped plastic tarp, the two Phoenixes take up the entire length of the main exhibition space, appearing to have been constructed specifically for MASS MoCa. However, Xu’s art journal explains that when he began this art project MASS MoCa wasn’t even a remote contributing thought to his creation. He began this commission for one of Beijing’s glitzy new skyscrapers. Standing under Phoenix, two gargantuan birds suspended from the ceiling, I had the sense the sculpture possessed a spirit, as if alive.

I saw the life within the sculptures that came from all of the people who worked the construction site, who wore the hard hats, who dug the dirt with the shovels, who labored to build both the towering skyscraper and the sculptures. Their toil and sweat are the life within the art. One cultural critic, as mentioned in Xu’s journal, has likened the Phoenix Project to Diego Rivera’s mural of the Mexican laborers.

image courtesy of www.hiffingtonpost.com
image courtesy of http://www.huffingtonpost.com

I also see Vic Muniz’s Wasteland project and JR’s global photomurals. These art projects bring people together as collaborators with the artist and the art creation. Inseparable, the artist, those who inspire, those who work in the creation, and the art all become one.

Vic Muniz, Death of Murat, garbage series (2011). images courtesy of www.sikkemajenkinsco.com
Vic Muniz, Death of Murat, garbage series (2011). images courtesy of http://www.sikkemajenkinsco.com
JR, La Havana, Rafael Lorenzo y Obdula Monano, Cuba (2012). image courtesy of www.jr-art.net
JR, La Havana, Rafael Lorenzo y Obdula Monano, Cuba (2012). image courtesy of http://www.jr-art.net

Soaring with the spirit of the Phoenixes, I cruised down highway 2 to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. Entering the museum I detoured through the fenced and roped-off areas surrounding the building and beyond. The Clark Art Institute, like SFMOMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Kimball art Museum, and the Coleccion Jumex in Mexico City is one of the many ever-expanding art museums that are either newly completed, under construction, or about to begin. P1050438 Wandering the galleries in the Clark, I stopped to look out the window to the men in hard hats driving the tractors and pounding the metal stakes into the steel beams. I reflected back on Xu’s artistic monument to the hard working construction laborers. Paradoxically, I couldn’t help but wonder, while considering all this construction done in the name of art, are art museums simply a polished dump for too much cultural debris?

image courtesy of www.berkshireeagle.com
image courtesy of http://www.berkshireeagle.com

With this thought I felt guilty. Even my conscience would persecute me. Maybe it wasn’t an epiphany, but a resonation. Perhaps this is a symptom of an oversaturation of art by attending too many art fairs where there seems to be an abundance of inventory from prolific artists; and, I wonder from all this creative production and consumption what will sustain and remain of value as a cultural recording of this time in civilization? I wonder, in our current prosperous art culture with massively monumental works created by artists, with an abundance of global art museums and private collectors building art sanctuaries or ‘warehouses’ for their collections, are we building temples for our creative consumption?

Andrea Lolis sculptures
Andrea Lolis sculptures

I considered artists who sculpt marble renderings of Styrofoam packaging, cardboard boxes, and plastic water bottles. Discarded debris becomes inspirations for Andreas Lolis to solidify and immortalize into stone, actually turning our debris into marble artifacts. I considered artists who use trash as their medium. Tony Feher I have nicknamed the garbage artist. His material can be foil chip bags to plastic water bottles.

Tony Feher sculptures
Tony Feher sculptures

In Blast From the Past (1972-73), Gordon Matta-Clark swept up all the debris on his studio floor, put the contents in a box with instructions on how to display this dust and cigarette butts; and, even now, from his grave, he asserts an importance to what most people discard to the waste bin day after day.

GORDON MATTA-CLARK Blast from the Past 1970-1972 cut color photograph, 12 inch steel ruler, sheet of text in pencil and floor sweepings dimensions vary with installation
GORDON MATTA-CLARK
Blast from the Past
1970-1972
cut color photograph, 12 inch steel ruler, sheet of text in pencil and floor sweepings
dimensions vary with installation

If art is a cultural recording of our history, what does it say about our present moment that artists like Xu Bing and others create art from our waste, using ever-expanding variations of garbage? Furthermore, if it survives how will future societies interpret these art objects? Hopefully, it may make one pause, to take note of the everyday detritus in our lives.

Tony Feher sculpture. Image courtesy of www.hammer.ucla.edu
Tony Feher sculpture. Image courtesy of http://www.hammer.ucla.edu

Something to think about before you quench your thirst from a single-use plastic water bottle rather than carrying a reusable container, or toss away your plastic straw that you used for two seconds to stir your cocktail.

And, I wonder, what art will remain, which museums will endure over time, and what ruins shall tell our story, many years from now?

Who is that V.I.P.?

In my place in line at the airport security checkpoint, I try to tune out a guy behind me, “Look! That man walked right up to the security check. Whose that guy? We were here first. I want to go in that line. I’m not waiting here.” He ranted on and on to anyone who could hear, yet no one in particular. I look at my fellow travelers moving through the airport. Airlines market to our desire to seek a higher level of status. They promote frequent flyer programs offering access to airport club lounges, exclusive lines, and better seats onboard. My mind wanders to art fairs. There, too, attendees clamber for inclusion to the pre-pre-previews. They compare notes to see who’s acquired the most invites to the abundant exclusive parties where they can see and be seen amongst important people. We all have our own personal ‘matter meter’ in which we want to be a V.I.P..

Historically, since the Renaissance, artists painted portraits of privileged aristocrats and nobility. Arguably, the most famous portrait is “Mona Lisa” painted in the 16th century by Leonardo da Vinci. Little is known of the noble woman Lisa Gheradini, who da Vinci captured on canvas. Most likely she was famous in her day. Now her image lives on in a life separate from that of the person. “Mona Lisa” is the V.I.P..

396px-Leonard Da Vinci:Mona_Lisa:wikipedia.org

Paul Ramierez Jones, 2012. Image courtesy of www.artspace.com
Paul Ramierez Jones, 2012. Image courtesy of http://www.artspace.com

Who is the V.I.P.? This acronym generally known as ‘very important person’ is commonly used today making everybody a V.I.P. As a result, there are many V.I.P.s who consider themselves very (self-assumed) important people, and usually those are the V.I.P.s that others consider very idiotic people or very impolite people. The free dictionary online offers one definition of V.I.P. as visually impaired person. When considering the aforementioned V.I.P.s while they may have 20/20 optics, their self-perception of themselves may be visually impaired. I recognize my status as a V.U.P., a very unimportant person and I take my place waiting in line at the supermarket, the movie theater, the airport and everywhere else behind all the V.I.P.s so busily looking at their electronic devices reading and responding to important texts.

William Wegman, 2012. Image courtesy of www.artspace.com
William Wegman, 2012. Image courtesy of http://www.artspace.com

Today, artists are not hired to paint the highly esteemed, popularly known V.I.P.s, rather they are inspired to paint (or photograph) these portraits not for the individual, but for the art collector. I would like to see a revival in portraiture. (I will write more on portraiture in a future posting.)

Who are today’s ‘true’ V.I.P.s? They will not be seen in any V.I.P. line or holding any V.I.P. card because they are instantly recognizable.  I call them triple V.I.P.s or VeryVeryVery.Important.Person.s. These 3-V.I.P.s have their people run their errands and make their phone calls, their personal chauffeurs drive them to their private planes, they visit stores, museums, galleries, after hours when no V.I.P.s are to be found or seen.

Shown here are images of 3-V.I.P.s captured by artists. I have purposefully left out titles…because, you know who they are!

Chuck Close, 2006. Image courtesy of www.artobserved.com
Chuck Close, 2006. Image courtesy of http://www.artobserved.com
Mick Rock, 1972. Image courtesy of www.artspace.com
Mick Rock, 1972. Image courtesy of http://www.artspace.com

 

Lee Foster, 2012. Image courtesy of leefoster.photoshelter.com
Lee Foster, 2012. Image courtesy of leefoster.photoshelter.com
Adam Mcewan, 2002-04. Image courtesy of www.art-agenda.com
Adam Mcewan, 2002-04. Image courtesy of http://www.art-agenda.com

Stuart Pearson Wright, 2001. Image courtesy of www.saatchi-gallry.co.uk

Stuart Pearson Wright, 2001. Image courtesy of http://www.saatchi-gallry.co.uk

Mark Seliger, 2010. Image courtesy of www.artnet.com
Mark Seliger, 2010. Image courtesy of http://www.artnet.com

Richard Avedon, 1998. Image courtesy of www.artspace.com
Richard Avedon, 1998. Image courtesy of http://www.artspace.com
Andy Warhol, 1977. Image courtesy of www.paddle8.com
Andy Warhol, 1977. Image courtesy of http://www.paddle8.comBranson AirAsia uniform-thumb-300x824-110643

courtesy of http://www.flightglobal.com