24 October 2013

Anthony Caro: 1924 – 2013

[Via the Telegraph]

Sir Anthony Caro was Britain’s greatest sculptor…

Caro made his name during the 1960s with the invention of a new kind of abstract sculptural technique involving the use of steel parts, welded together then painted in bright colours. His use of colour enabled him to amplify mood in his work, and suggested a freedom and lightness not easily achievable with industrial steel. It also helped him to establish his own artistic persona against that of Moore, for whom Caro had worked as an assistant during the early 1950s and for whom the idea of “truth to materials” had been all-important.


To many young sculptors it seemed that Caro had liberated their art from the weight of past association, and many took his pronouncement that “sculpture can be anything” rather too literally. But Caro himself never truly believed his own dictum; he clung tenaciously to a belief in the language of three-dimensional form — often comparing the process of sculpture to musical composition. All his sculptures depend on an intuitive sense of balance and placement, and on the harmonious relationship between one part and another.


One of his most audacious experiments was the development in the 1990s of what he called “sculptitecture” — large sculptures, reminiscent of sophisticated playground follies, that incorporated architectural elements such as ramps, steps or towers. Caro got the idea for this new genre at a summer workshop in America in 1987 where he and the architect Frank Gehry had discussed the idea of exploring the relationship between their two disciplines.


But he was not simply a fine sculptor; he was also that rarest of breeds, the successful artist who could also teach superbly. From the 1950s to the 1970s, when he taught at St Martin’s School of Art, he inspired a new generation of contemporary artists and sculptors including Philip King, William Tucker, Richard Long, Barry Flanagan, Gilbert and George, Richard Deacon and many more.

Some followed his example and methods. Others reacted strongly, challenging his ideas head on. “It’s no good teaching what you know,” Caro said on one occasion. “You have to teach and encourage your students to do what you don’t know or feel comfortable with. If you teach properly then you discover things. Students ask the difficult questions and you have to think to find a proper answer to them.”


He remained something of a professional iconoclast. In 1990 he weighed into the debate about Canova’s The Three Graces (which the Victoria and Albert Museum was attempting – successfully as it turned out – to save from being exported to America). “In my view Canova is one of the first of those decorative sculptors whose sentimental ladies in white marble brought such discredit on the art of sculpture,” Caro observed. He steadfastly refused to join the Royal Academy (“too complacent, not enough good art… summer shows a disgrace”) and claimed to have accepted a knighthood only “so that Sheila could deservedly be called a Lady”.

Yet he accumulated accolades from the artistic Establishment, becoming in 1998 the first contemporary sculptor invited to hold a one-man show at the National Gallery; by the end of his life his work was held by more than 175 public collections.

He continued to work into old age, in 1999 beginning a nine-year project to restore and install new sculptures in a church in northern France destroyed during the Second World War. His spirituality seemed rooted more in his art than in his Jewish family upbringing. “Is art so different from religion?” he asked. “It feeds the spirit, and through it you also try to find this inner part of yourself.”


Anthony Caro was the subject of a host of awards and honorary positions. He was a member of the Council of the Royal College of Art from 1981 to 1983, and of the council of the Slade School of art from 1982. He was also a trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1982 to 1989.

He was created CBE in 1969, knighted in 1987 and appointed to the Order of Merit in 2000 (the first sculptor to be so honoured since Henry Moore).

He and his wife had two sons.


16 April 2013

Sculpture for Beginners

27 February 2013

William Perehudoff 1919 – 2013

Well-known Saskatchewan artist William Perehudoff has died at age 94.

Perehudoff, who grew up in Langham, Sask., died peacefully on Tuesday, his family told CBC News.

Best known for his abstract style, his paintings have been displayed all over the country including the National Gallery of Canada.

Fellow artist Robert Christie says he was a pioneer of abstract painting in Saskatchewan.

“He was a bit of a mentor to me and certainly to others,” Christie said. “Not just in Saskatoon, but in Edmonton, Calgary and further afield and even into Britain.”

Perehudoff was in the news in November 2009, when several of his murals from 1950 were successfully removed from the former Intercontinental Packers plant, which was slated for demolition.

The murals will find a home in Saskatoon’s new art museum.

He was a member of the Order of Canada and had been awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit.

11 December 2012

Karen Wilkin on Art Criticism Today

[Via the Brooklyn Rail]

Artists made me an art critic—not a theorist, essayist, or reviewer; blogging hadn’t been invented when I started writing criticism, nor had the Internet, which probably defines my point of view, in many ways. I was working as a museum curator in Western Canada (a long story), visiting studios, responding to the work I saw, organizing shows, and writing catalogue essays. Several local artists approached me, saying “You’re from New York. You have connections there. Why don’t you write about us for some magazine?” The only connection I had was with the then editor of Art in America, Brian O’Doherty, who to my amazement accepted my proposal. I’ve been writing ever since, without ceasing to be a curator. All of which is a way of saying that I believe the most interesting, often most pertinent writing about art is and has always been informed by studio talk. Denis Diderot, Charles Baudelaire, Julius Meier-Graefe, Roger Fry, Meyer Schapiro, Clement Greenberg, and Michael Fried, to name only a few, all frequented studios and their familiarity with how artists talk about their work is palpable in their writing. It’s also what makes the most acute artist-critics, such as Donald Judd, Fairfield Porter, William Tucker, and more recently David Humphrey and Sean Scully, worth seeking out.

Is there a crisis in criticism? Only if you believe that criticism should matter. Art gets along just fine without criticism, although artists, in my experience, almost always benefit from discussions of their work with people whose eyes they trust. The Internet and Twitter culture have made everyone’s opinion seem equally important, however ill-phrased or downright ungrammatical, essentially making the pronouncements of those of us who get paid (admittedly not very much) for having opinions in public beside the point. If this sounds elitist, so be it. While I’m fully aware the once clear separation between what used to be called “high art” and everything else has become as blurred and insignificant as the Academy’s categories, I’m old enough and stubborn enough to believe in qualitative differences. Yes, the boundaries between disciplines are permeable and yes, all work must be approached without preconceptions and with an open mind, but that’s not the same as abdicating critical judgment or refusing to draw distinctions among works, in their own terms. Unlike some of my colleagues, who agonize over the question of whether something is or is not a work of art, I’m willing to accept that just about anything can be art, if the artist says so. Then the interesting (and profoundly unfashionable) question, for me, remains “Is it any good?”

Nonetheless, I’m not certain what the function of the present day art critic is. We certainly don’t influence which shows people attend the way movie or theater critics apparently do. My friend and colleague, Peter Plagens, divides critics into cheerleaders (obvious), cartographers, who point out the lay of the land, and goalies, who will let nothing past their aesthetic standards. I suspect I am a variable combination of all three, at different times, singling out artists I find specially compelling, trying to discern commonalities or shared concerns among contemporaries, and inevitably (Immanuel Kant would say “involuntarily”) making value judgments about what I see. I have no qualms about attacking what I believe to be an over-inflated reputation, if I don’t think the work merits it. But that, I suspect, is something that I do largely for my own pleasure and to sustain a sense of probity. Adversarial critics—even vociferous ones with a gift for the well-honed, savage phrase, such as Robert Hughes—don’t have any discernable negative effect on artists’ reputations in the current art world.

Nor do I believe that cheerleaders, even the most respected and articulate, have any significant role to play in enhancing how an artist is perceived. An enthusiastic article may help to focus some attention, which, I suppose, is ultimately helpful, but whatever else critics do these days, they certainly don’t influence the art market—nor, from what I can tell, do curators. A handful of collectors and powerful galleries do that. Once, embittered artists who felt overlooked by Clement Greenberg often accused him of being a “king-maker”; now, that title would more accurately be given to Larry Gagosian, but no one seems to object to the practice any more. I suspect that collectors and dealers may even influence other things, as well, such as whose work is deemed worthy of a museum exhibition. An otherwise admirable and revealing current museum show of Mark Rothko’s work of the 1940s, for example, conspicuously downplayed Rothko’s long, close friendship and aesthetic collaboration with Adolph Gottlieb, whose stock is relatively low at the moment despite the excellence of his art. Instead, the exhibition emphasized Rothko’s relationship with Clifford Still, who is far more conspicuous than Gottlieb, these days. It’s hard to suppress uncharitable thoughts about a connection between auction prices and scholarship. Critical enthusiasm or disapproval, on the other hand, seems largely irrelevant.

Ideally, critics should illuminate the work under discussion by attempting to identify both what makes it distinctive and tease out the artist’s intentions. It’s helpful to place the work in a larger context, whether present or past. If we’re dealing with works of the past, as I often do, in writing about historical exhibitions, it’s interesting to think about how the artist was perceived in his or her own day. In my own practice, whatever else I may aim at achieving, I try to make my readers privy to my experience of the art, positive or negative, a task that involves, for me, carefully considering which words will be most evocative of that experience. I aim at arguing my case persuasively enough, pro or con, to pique the interest of my readers, so they will go see for themselves.

8 December 2012

Thanks to Van Leeuwen!

Among the many difficulties involved with making steel sculpture, sourcing affordable materials is a challenge that seems to get harder every year. While the NESW once enjoyed a friendly and collegial relationship with a local scrap metal dealer, the business changed hands in recent years, and the new owners are not interested in continuing to support sculptors with their business.

As you can imagine, it was a delight to hear from Tim Brommeland at Van Leeuwen Pipe and Tube this past week, kindly offering to donate two truckloads of various steel products to our workshop. Not only did they do us the courtesy of delivering the materials to the NESW headquarters, but Tim even assisted in unloading the gear.

And what fantastic gear it is! Heavy flanges, collars, pipes, elbows, cap-ends, reducers of various sizes and specifications… it was like Santa had come to deliver shiny toys to all the good boys of the NESW!

Thanks again Tim, and thanks again to Van Leeuwen Pipe and Tube, for your generous support of the artists of the North Edmonton Sculpture Workshop. It’s great to have friends like you in the community!

3 December 2012

“Coloring Book” at Common Sense

4 November 2012

As Seen in the Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON – Tucked away in downtown Edmonton, five metal sculptors — collectively known as the the North Edmonton Sculpture Workshop (NESW) — share a studio where their time and energy is passionately devoted to their art.

On first glance, the studio on 115th Street north of 105th Avenue appears to be a galvanized playground; a metallic junkyard filled with tangled heaps of metal of all descriptions, a few rogue beer bottles strewn about and an arsenal of rather scary-looking gear: oxy/acetylene steel cutting rigs, a plasma metal cutting torch, air compressors, mig and stick welders, a bench grinder and assorted saws (band, table, scroll).

Ryan McCourt, one of the original founding members and owner of the 57-year-old building that NESW has occupied since 2007, is taking me on a tour. The other four members — Mark Bellows, Andrew French, Stephen Pardy and Rob Willms — are busy at their day jobs.

Stepping foot into an art studio is always thrilling; the perfect domain for a curious mind and wandering eye. Here, vision, skill and material collide and art emerges. Brewing suspense hangs in the air for one never really knows what will unfold.

The working space sprawls over 2,100 square feet but McCourt notes the “barriers are permeable,” pointing to French’s latest sculpture that has claimed the stairwell outside the studio domain, where the kitchen, bathroom and office resides.

“If the artist has the ego and will to take over other areas — good on them,” he smirks.

The actual studio is ideal for metal sculptors: cinder block walls, concrete floors and more importantly, 20-foot ceilings. McCourt was once forced to complete a sculpture of the same height in the alley outside his old studio because the ceilings were low. That’s when he realized that “the studio was smaller than his ambitions” and looked for a new space.

The challenges for working with metal are more complicated than the requirements for a painter. For example, the studio must be ground level for transporting artwork weighing upwards of a tonne. A 10-foot by 14-foot sliding barn door opens into a 2,800-square-foot outdoor yard which acts as a storage area and a parking spot for the studio’s half-ton truck.

I spy a sculpture weighing in at 1,500 pounds and ask the obvious: “How do you move that?”

The answer is the rolling manual gantry with block and tackle chain hoists, custom designed and constructed by NESW. The sculpture is lifted with the gantry, wheeled across the floor to the sliding barn door and placed in the truck bed. Presto.

“It’s just another day at the office,” McCourt says nonchalantly.

My head swings from side-to-side attempting to take in the five individual work areas with a panoramic glance.

Bellows’ area is marked by a mound of spray paint cans and vivacious, origami-like sheet metal sculptures boasting smooth folds and curves created with the English wheel.

In contrast, French’s immense (his sculpture at the Belgravia Arts Park weighs 7,000 pounds) and often brightly painted sculptures are assembled chunks of industrial scrap metal, the ragged cut-marks and thick, bubbly welds exposed to add texture to the composition.

The hefty folds and bends of Willms’ large-scale (one piece stands 14 feet tall), abstract steel sculptures are produced through foraging (heating and hammering) and flaunt what he calls “nature’s patina,” or what the rest of us call rust.

A stockpile of brass found objects — animal figures, musical instruments, ornaments — takes over McCourt’s corner, unearthed treasures from thrift and antique stores that are cut, reconfigured and welded into sculptures inspired by mythical figures such as Ganesh, Medusa and Centaur.

Pardy’s area is equally distinctive, focusing on the human body and face. There is a pelvic girdle and a female head, the the teeth meticulously placed in the jaws of the skull before layering on the steel flesh, skin and hair.

The NESW moniker, a symbolic reference to the compass points, is a place where these artists are free to explore and let their creative juices flow. Here, metal is king and the chosen mode of expression — whether abstract or figurative, candy-coloured or rusted — rules.

“The goal is pretty modest really,” says McCourt, “it’s to be able to make what you want. Andy always says, ‘You can do anything here.’”

The studio is a haven, a refuge, for these artists to explore all things hard, shiny, malleable and fusible.

When I get together with all five members the next evening, the interview quickly becomes a cacophony of loud voices and laughter. Their enthusiasm for the studio and shared arrangement is obvious.

Someone yells, “It’s fun.”

McCourt says it is a “refuge from rules or censorship.”

Pardy likes “the freedom to come and go as you please.” French observes, “The grandness of the space is very rare and a pleasure to work in.”

They often work alone or with one or two others but on rare occasions all five are there together.

“Those moments are so productive,” says Willms, “to be able to work against each other. The sculptures themselves end up having this sort of fighting relationship with each other. This one needs more space while this little one needs to go back to the scrap pile because it is failing next to that big one.”

“Having a shared studio gives you so much more information to either take on board or disregard, whereas if you have a single studio, all you have is your own attention,” adds French.

“That’s how we grew up at university, being critical, visually, of each other’s objects,” says Bellows. “When we are all working together, the sculptures are better.”

The camaraderie is strong as is their deep appreciation for what they have.

Bellows sums it up: “Isn’t it wonderful to have a place to go when I want to?”

Common Sense Gallery (10546 115 St.), situated in the front part of the building, has held 29 exhibitions of local, national and international artists working in all media since 2008.

The NESW studio doors will be open to the public Friday night (Nov. 2) from 7 to 11 p.m. during the opening of Conversations, a group exhibition of new pictures and sculptures by five Western Canadian artists at Common Sense Gallery.

For more information go to commonsensegallery.com or nesw.ca. Additional studio photos at edmontonjournal.com/life.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

26 October 2012

The Trouble With Sculpture

[Via The Nation]

“If there comes a day when all art is digital, artworks will subsist in some ether whence they may be conjured to appear and vanish at our convenience. In this new era, I suppose, there will be only two art galleries, which will have swallowed up all the others. Chances are they’ll have names like Pacebook and Googlegosian, and their offerings will be accessible anytime, anywhere. But until that future arrives, some artists will persist in making things that are tangibly, compellingly, perhaps even brutally present—physically and psychologically. That is, they will keep making sculpture.

And they’ll do it knowing that sculpture is the most inconvenient of the fine arts. Tedious physical labor is often involved in its making—not necessarily the artist’s, but still, someone’s. And sculpture is hard to move and to keep: it’s heavy and cumbersome, except when it’s terribly fragile and evanescent and likely to be swept up during housecleaning and put out with the trash. For viewers too, sculpture can be hard to come to terms with, and not just because, as some wiseguy whom posterity alternately identifies as Barnett Newman or Ad Reinhardt once remarked, sculpture is what you back into when you’re stepping away from a painting to get a better look at it. (That’s just as true when you’re trying to take a picture of a painting with a smartphone.)

The digital revolution has given us, for the first time, the image in its pure form, an image without body. The image conveyed by a painting, on the other hand, is always a material entity, however unobtrusive, a particular thing made out of pigments, binders and a support. Sculpture, in turn, is often far more physically obtrusive than painting, and to the extent that it offers a multiplicity of possible viewpoints, it generates many images, but typically none of them are the image of the work. The physical impression a sculpture makes is more powerful than its imagistic content, which seems merely transitory by comparison.”


22 October 2012

Caro: Close Up

[Via Yale Center for British Art]

With a career spanning more than sixty years, Sir Anthony Caro (b. 1924) is Britain’s most acclaimed living sculptor. Caro: Close Up is the first exhibition of his work organized by an American museum since a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1975. Focusing on early drawings and small-scale sculptures in a range of media, the exhibition will bring together more than sixty pieces from the 1950s through the present day. Although Caro is best known for his large, brightly painted abstract sculptures, he has always also worked on a small scale. His early figurative bronzes reveal continuities with later works in steel and bronze that play with the tops, sides, and edges of their table supports. The exhibition will also include some of Caro’s most personal sculptures, which were first made in paper and cardboard, away from his London workshop and assistants, before being cast into metal. Drawing has always been central to his practice, not as designs for sculptures but as another part of his private work. Usually stored in the studio archive, only a handful of these drawings have ever been exhibited. Shown together with his sculptures, they provide fresh insight into the visual research behind Caro’s more familiar abstract art.

18 October 2012

Visions of Our Past and Future

A Vision to Avoid Demolition for a ’70s Pioneer

[Via the New York Times]

CHICAGO — A familiar sort of preservation battle has been stewing for months here over the fate of the old Prentice Women’s Hospital, a concrete, cloverleaf structure from 1975 by Bertrand Goldberg, the Chicago architect. It’s a groundbreaking, wonderful oddball among the architectural monuments in this city. High-profile designers like Frank Gehry, Jeanne Gang, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien have signed petitions entreating Northwestern University, which owns the building, not to tear it down, arguing for landmark status and pleading for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to step in.

The university says it needs new biomedical research facilities and that Prentice is too small, old and quirky to feasibly retrofit. A new building, the university argues, would bring to the city millions of investment dollars, create jobs and save lives.

No surprise, Northwestern has been winning the debate. On Monday Brendan Reilly, an alderman representing the Chicago ward that includes Prentice, announced that he was leaning toward demolition. “I remain open to suggestions,” he added, according to The Chicago Tribune. “And believe me, if there’s a eureka moment, I’m all ears.”

So here is a suggestion: Build a research tower on top of Prentice.


Taubman says Art Museum won’t Fail

[Via the Roanoke Times]

ROANOKE — The [Randall Stout Designed] Taubman Museum of Art’s biggest financial supporter said he and the museum’s new board of directors won’t let the struggling museum fail.

“We’re not going to let the place go broke,” said Nick Taubman, who on Monday took command as board chairman of the institution that bears his family’s name.

To that effect, the former Advance Auto Parts president and CEO and the new board, which includes Medical Facilities of America Chairman Heywood Fralin and other business leaders, have infused the cash-strapped museum with about $1.5million to help it cover operating costs for the rest of the year.

And Taubman said Tuesday that the arrangement will continue as long as it needs to. The museum’s annual budget is about $3.4million.

Monday also brought the news that Taubman President and CEO David Mickenberg had stepped down, leaving people in the arts community wondering how the museum will change. Hired in September 2009, when the museum had already resorted to layoffs after being open less than a year, he pushed for the museum to reinvent itself as a regional art center rather than an international tourist draw.