Art April 28, 2010 By Nana Asfour

“The self-taught Syrian artist Sabhan Adam produces paintings filled with nervous, dripping lines and blocks of intense colour. . . In a culture in which the viewing and depiction of the body are bound by religious and social rules, Adam’s radical rethinking of the human figure and face is particularly challenging.” Credit: Sabhan Adam, Untitled (Figure in Yellow Coat), 2006, Private Collection, London

Sabhan Adam, Untitled (Figure in Yellow Coat), 2006, Private Collection, London

artinthemiddleeasttitle1 Art of the Middle East

“It is a very exciting time for Middle Eastern artists: there is a real spirit of innovation and creativity in the air,” the famed architect Zaha Hadid, who is based in London but hails from Iraq, writes in the foreword to the newly released The Art of the Middle East.
Here’s a personal note just to put things in better perspective: When I began reporting on Middle Eastern arts and culture, some fifteen years ago, there were but a handful of notable players worth writing about — or so it seemed at the time. Now, as this book makes all too clear, not only are there enough artists to fill a hefty, 300-page coffee-table book but the number has swelled to the extent that such a compendium can’t make enough room for all of them. As thoroughly exclusive as The Art of the Middle East tries to be, several people — most notably the Hugo Boss Prize winning Palestinian artist Emily Jacir, who had her own retrospective at New York’s Guggenheim last Spring — have been left out. The author, Saeb Eigner, a British-Lebanese financier and self-assigned Arab arts champion (his credentials include acting as the senior adviser for the British Museum’s exhibition Word into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East) apologizes for the omissions in the Afterword.
     He’s forgiven. Especially since this book is so beautifully and impressively rendered.

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Art March 15, 2010 By Nana Asfour

The Giant, David Altmejd. 2006. All images courtesy of The New Museum.

The Giant, David Altmejd. 2006. All images courtesy of The New Museum.

skinfruit title Skin Fruit

 “Nature is being reconstituted,” writes Jeffrey Deitch, the newly appointed director of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, in the catalogue for the Skin Fruit show, which opened recently at the New Museum. In his essay, Deitch explores how far away from real nature we as human beings have moved, and the possible consequences of such detachment. According to him, the embrace of plasticity and biotechnological advances are threatening to create a breed of “superhumans”, whose concept of nature is defined by computer game renditions rather than actual experience. He views this development as having broad ramifications for art. As he notes, art in its early days was inspired by nature and, over many centuries, artists have looked to nature “for the revelation of basic truths”, redefining nature through their vision. But for today’s — and tomorrow’s — generation, he writes, “the traditional search for truth has perhaps become obsolete”.
     Unfortunately, such thoughtfulness doesn’t accompany the actual show on view at the New Museum, despite proclaiming to be themed around the representation of the human body. When it was announced a few months ago, Skin Fruit was greeted with much fanfare. The agitation concerned the non-profit institution’s decision to mount a show of the Greek-Cypriot tycoon and art collector Dakis Joannou’s mighty collection of contemporary art, despite the fact that Joannou presides on its board of trustees. Adding salt to fire, the museum chose to hand over the curating baton to one Jeff Koons who just happens to be heavily represented in Joannou’s art stock.

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Art, Books January 5, 2010 By Nana Asfour
bauhaus cover Bauhaus Women
Images courtesy of Rizzoli Books

bauhaus title Bauhaus Women

In 1919, a revolutionary school opened in Weimar, Germany. It had a short life — only fourteen years — but it made history. Who among us today has not heard of the Bauhaus or isn’t familiar with its members, from founder Walter Gropius to artists Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, to architect Mies van der Rohe? But there was more to the school than these few world-renowned men — there were, wouldn’t you know it, also many women.
     History seems to have washed right over names like Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain, Benita Otte, Gunta Stölzl, and Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, female Bauhaus students who made important contributions in fields such as ceramics, sculpture, weaving, and toy production. But now a new book by Ulrike Müller, simply titled Bauhaus Women and published by Rizzoli to coincide with MoMA’s current Bauhaus exhibition, gives long overdue recognition to “the range of important women — teachers, designers artists — who taught or studied at the Bauhaus” and “carried the idea and works of the Bauhaus forth into the world.”
     As it turns out, in its inception, the Bauhaus had vowed equality among all of its students and, despite an inherent sexism among the male masters marked by such fanciful notions that genius and creativity are masculine and that women were only able to see two-dimensionally and should therefore work only with surfaces, Gropius promised that there will be “no difference between the beautiful and the strong sex” (take one guess as to which is which).

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Art November 16, 2009 By Nana Asfour
timburton page2 Tim Burton
Meloncholy Death of Oyster Boy, Tim Burton. Images courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art

timburton title Tim Burton

When Tim Burton, who has been compulsively drawing since the teensy age of five, was in the ninth grade he was granted first prize in a design competition for an anti-littering campaign poster. His art went on public view, whizzing about on the garbage trucks of his hometown of Burbank for the good part of two months. Now, thirty-seven years later, his creations will be displayed at the venerable Museum of Modern Art. The show will include more than 700 drawings, paintings, photographs, storyboards, moving-image works, puppets, maquettes, costumes, and other ephemera from Burton’s childhood to his adult years. Inspired perhaps by last year’s successful Dalí: Painting and Film, the retrospective aims to explore the convergence of film and visual art. Few individuals fit into this mold and the most likely candidate for the next installment is director David Lynch, who, when not working on one of his I-dare-you-to-deconstruct-this-narrative films, can be found in his art studio, attacking a canvas with a dollop of paint. But as a follow-up to Dalí, Burton makes more sense. Whereas Lynch operates in the realm of abstraction, Burton, like Dalí, is a fan of the surreal (in fact he’s considered a Pop Surrealist) and, to boot, both have worked with Disney — though to frustrating results. The cartoon that Dalí began creating for the studio in 1946 was swiftly abandoned and a short segment of it was only re-envisioned from storyboards many years after the artist’s death.  Fresh from an animation degree at the California Institute of Fine Arts, Burton was hired by Disney and remembers his stint there as being as tedious as an assembly line job.

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