Friday, March 30, 2007

The Latest Art Controversy

Catholic Group Says Chocolate Jesus Sculpture is No Easter Treat

Source of this article.

NEW YORK, March 30, 2007— The Easter season unveiling of a milk chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ, dubbed My Sweet Lord by its creator, left a sour taste in the mouths of a Catholic group infuriated by the anatomically correct confection.

"This is one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever," said Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League, on Thursday. "It's not just the ugliness of the portrayal, but the timing to choose Holy Week is astounding."

The 6-foot sculpture by artist Cosimo Cavallaro was to debut Monday evening, the day after Palm Sunday and just four days before Roman Catholics mark the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday. The final day of the exhibit at the Lab Gallery inside midtown Manhattan's Roger Smith Hotel was planned for Easter Sunday.

"The fact that they chose Holy Week shows this is calculated, and the timing is deliberate," said Donohue, whose group represents 350,000 Catholics nationwide.

He called for an economic boycott of the hotel, which he described as "already morally bankrupt."

The gallery's creative director, Matt Semler, said the Lab and the hotel were overrun with angry telephone calls and e-mails about the exhibit. Although he described Donohue's response as "a Catholic fatwa," Semler said the gallery was considering its options amid the criticism.

"We're obviously surprised by the overwhelming response and offense people have taken," said Semler, adding that the Holy Week timing was an unfortunate coincidence. "We are certainly in the process of trying to figure out what we're going to do next."

The artwork was created from more than 200 pounds of milk chocolate, and it features Christ with his arms outstretched as if on an invisible cross. Unlike the typical religious portrayal of Christ, the Cavallaro creation does not include a loincloth.

Cavallaro, who was raised in Canada and Italy, is best known for his quirky work with food as art: Past efforts include repainting a Manhattan hotel room in melted mozzarella, spraying 5 tons of pepper jack cheese on a Wyoming home and festooning a four-poster bed with 312 pounds of processed ham.

The Christ sculpture will be on display April 2-7 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., with a final showing from midnight to 1 a.m. on Easter Sunday. Its location on the ground floor ensures attention from the thousands of passers-by in the busy neighborhood just north of Grand Central Terminal.

Semler was particularly upset by the call for a boycott of the hotel, which he said was not involved in the selection of My Sweet Lord.

It is not the first time that Donohue's group and the art world have been at odds. A painting of The Holy Virgin Mary that used a splash of elephant dung drew outrage in 1999.

By Larry McShane, copyright 2007 Associated Press

Here is the link to the controversial image on the artist's website. WARNING: If you are easily offended by controversial religious images that could be considered blasphemous by some, do NOT click on the link to the image.

QUESTION: Does the image offend you? Yes or no? Why or why not?

Someone I've Been Listening To

I've been listening to a musician named Sufjan Stevens now for about 7 months and am quite impressed. I'm a sucker for good lyrics no matter what the music and he's got them. I would recommend getting "Come On, Feel the Illinoise" to get your feet wet. He's categorized under "Americana". I'm not sure what that means, except that on the aforementioned CD are songs about Illinois and he has another CD called "Michigan." What he is is a poet and a story teller. I'll post the following video below. This performance was on Austin City Limits.

I'll leave the video posted on the right menu during the month of April. The song is "Casimir Pulaski Day." The lyrics are as follows:

Golden rod and the 4-H stone
The things I brought you
When I found out you had cancer of the bone

Your father cried on the telephone
And he drove his car to the Navy yard
Just to prove that he was sorry

In the morning through the window shade
When the light pressed up against your shoulder blade
I could see what you were reading

Oh the glory that the lord has made
And the complications you could do without
When I kissed you on the mouth

Tuesday night at the bible study
We lift our hands and pray over your body
But nothing ever happens

I remember at Michael's house
In the living room when you kissed my neck
And I almost touched your blouse

In the morning at the top of the stairs
When your father found out what we did that night
And you told me you were scared

Oh the glory when you ran outside
With your shirt tucked in and your shoes untied
And you told me not to follow you

Sunday night when I cleaned the house
I find the card where you wrote it out
With the pictures of your mother

On the floor at the great divide
With my shirt tucked in and my shoes untied
I am crying in the bathroom

In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window

In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March on the holiday
I thought I saw you breathing

Oh the glory that the lord has made
And the complications when I see his face
In the morning in the window

Oh the glory when he took our place
But he took my shoulders and he shook my face
And he takes and he takes and he takes (1)

Sufjan Stevens' website.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927)

Yesterday, I showed Metropolis to my History of Photography and Graphic Design students. I find it instructive in terms of seeing how film geniuses like Lang were being influenced by modern art movements; in this case, Art Deco, Futurism, Surrealism, and German Expressionism. The design of the sets and special effects as well as the cinematography are stellar as well. It's interesting to see the craft and skill that it took at such an early time in the history of cinema. If you haven't seen it, here is the French trailer for the DVD:

I have to agree with the person who posted the following clip on YouTube....It is one of my favorite scenes as well:

Another great film ahead of its time by Lang is the film M, in which Peter Lorre plays a compulsive child killer. The film was made in 1931--well before missing and exploited children were a major social cause. The end of the following opening clip is chilling in its sparseness in what it merely alludes to:

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

My Visit to St. Louis

I went to St. Louis the St. Patrick's Day weekend to visit my new nephew, Andrew Clark Fattic. My cousin Amy and Aunt Darlene came up from Poplar Bluff, Missouri to do the same. Here are some pictures from the weekend:

Cool Slideshows

Friday, March 09, 2007

Some Photographers of Note

I've been a reviewer of a photography contest for the last three years. It's called Critical Mass. It's organized by an organization called Photolucida. I just finished reviewing the contestants today and thought I'd share some of the photographers I found to be particularly talented and intriguing in vision:

Jessica Bruah
David G. Burdeny
Tom Chambers
Polly Chandler
James Gritz
Ruth Kaplan
Doug Landreth
Nate Larson
Bill O'Donnell
Darcy Padilla
Susana Maria Cerdeira Paiva
Larry W. Schwarm
Camille Seaman
Gordon Stettinius
Debra Tomaszewski
Shoshannah White
Edward Yanowitz


Cut Piece
by Yoko Ono
Performed at Carnegie Hall

Perhaps Yoko Ono's most famous performance, Cut Piece is consciously or unconsciously laden with meaning. The performance reveals much about women as victims, martyrs, and heroines and reveals much about humanity in terms of authority, violence, and degradation and our willingness to participate in such positions and behaviors.

The performance was as follows:

Yoko sits on stage with a pair of scissors in front of her. It is announced that members of the audience may come on stage one at a time to cut a small piece of her clothing to take with them. She remains motionless throughout the piece. She ends the performance at her discretion.

"In the 1971 paperback edition of her book, Grapefruit, Ono included not so much a score, as a description, concluding with the statement that, "the performer, however, does not have to be a woman."" (1) What sort of affective difference would it make to this performance if the performer was a man? Does it dramatically change the content? These questions and many more spring to mind upon viewing this performance.

Even though the performance took place before feminism exploded as a movement, many critics and other intellectuals have characterized it as such. Yoko Ono said her original inspiration was not feminism but the story of the Buddha renouncing all things worldly and allowing his body to be devoured by a tiger. Artists' intentions aside, most artists will readily admit that the audience is a product of and participant in the surrounding culture; so, what an artist may initially intend may be lost on the audience or evolve into another level or type of content over a span of time.

I would argue that this performance has gathered more power and intensity over time and connects more closely to feminist philosophy than it ever has. First, to ask whether it would make a difference in today's audience if the performer who was having their clothing cut was a man, I would say, most definitely, unless he was wearing a military uniform. While women have the capacity to be "Buddha" types, Buddha was male. One can see a stoic, Buddha-like response in Ono as the performance moves on. That's about where the Buddhism stops. Perhaps if she had crossed her legs as in the meditation pose, this point would have been more clear. Instead, she sits "like a lady" with her legs bent and to the side. It is this subtle difference that shifts the content from spiritual to something more earthly: pacifism.

The country was in the early stages of the Vietnam War so one could see in retrospect how this might be the content conveyed. Still, 1965 wasn't the height of protest or conscientious objection. So rather than pacifism as a moral choice, it turns into stereotypical female passivity (just from the shift in her legs and her blank expression). How many women (or men, for that matter) do we all know that almost literally invite people to cut and remove parts of them without the slightest reaction or retaliation? It happens for real, all too often, even in this day and age, after the feminist revolution. So, if she is a passive participant in her own "mutilation" is she a martyr for a higher cause or a victim of cultural violence against her? Furthermore, why are people so willing to go up and cut things from her--some even laughing in the background?

Perhaps Ono's performance represents women, nature, and many other things and individuals that are abused on a daily basis. Maybe she is not every woman as some suggest, but merely the vehicle that represents how mistreated so many people are and nature is. This is not a stretch because women are often intertwined with nature in terms of meaning. Women have cycles like nature, for instance.

I think it's a slippery slope to say that this piece is feminist because it represents a victimized woman (in some minds). Feminism and female victimization are not synonymous; though some see that a woman who is victimized is somehow beatified by the experience and therefore justified to be independent and powerful which is a sad misread of feminism. Women who want to be independent and powerful should be allowed to because it is their right as human beings to choose so and explore their possibilities and live their lives to the fullest. I think there is a feminist element in that she is a woman, but it is not feminist because she does not fight or try to break free. There may even be an accidental connection between the contemporary language and the title of the performance. "Cut" refers to an opening and is one letter shy of a pejorative word for female genitalia. "Piece" is slang for the receiver of sexual intercourse. So, if we look at it through the contemporary vision and language we might find a militant feminist read, once again, showing how time changes interpretation--as art does not exist in a vacuum.

Performance art, more than classic theatre, involves the audience as part of the performance. What's revealed most in this performance is the level of comfort the members of the audience feel in coming up to the performer and cutting pieces of her clothing. Her passivity is disturbing, to be sure, but the audience's aggression is even more so. The man who begins to cut her bodice, even laughs insidiously and says, "this could take some time." One could tell that this moment bothered Ono. 32 years later, after the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, 9-11, the current war in Iraq, other wars all over the globe, genocide, dictatorships, and the tragedy in Darfur (to name a few) we as humans, have not outgrown our aggressive tendencies, but seem rather, to be on a roll with it. Because Ono's audience is so comfortable with cutting pieces of her clothing off, it reveals a microcosm of the larger phenomenon of human aggression. The audience becomes imperialists, colonialists, and fascists (even with her silent consent) over Ono's body. The audience's behavior is a chilling reminder of Stanley Milgram's experiments on authority except that one finds with this performance that people don't need to be given authority, they just need to be given permission.

What makes Cut Piece an Art Classic is its timelessness and multiple interpretations. It's yesterday and today. It's against war. It's about spiritual practice and submission. It's feminist. It's about the environment. It's about victimization and martyrdom. It's pro-human and anti-human. It is simple and complex. It is poetic, disturbing, and beautiful.

© Stephanie Lewis, 2007

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Poetry: William Blake

I've been thinking about this poem lately:

(from Songs Of Experience)

By William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


(Did he who made the Lamb make thee? Indeed.)

Ned Kahn -- A Force of Nature

From Ned Kahn's Artist's Statement:

"The confluence of science and art has fascinated me throughout my career. For the last fifteen years, I have developed a body of work inspired by atmospheric physics, geology, astronomy and fluid motion. I strive to create artworks that enable viewers to observe and interact with natural processes. I am less interested in creating an alternative reality than I am in capturing, through my art, the mysteriousness of the world around us.

My artworks frequently incorporate flowing water, fog, sand and light to create complex and continually changing systems. Many of these works can be seen as "observatories" in that they frame and enhance our perception of natural phenomena. I am intrigued with the way patterns can emerge when things flow. These patterns are not static objects, they are patterns of behavior - recurring themes in nature." (1)

His website:

Fragmented Sea
Mesa Art Center,
Mesa, AZ 2005

You can also view videos of his art in action on his website.

Eva Sutton -- Hybrids 2000

Click on this link to go to Eva Sutton's online interactive art/science piece.

You may have to download Adobe/Macromedia Shockwave.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Stolen Painting Found in Spielberg's House

LOS ANGELES, March 5, 2007 The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said Friday it has found a Norman Rockwell painting, Russian Schoolroom, which was stolen in 1973, in the home of film director Steven Spielberg. But the entertainment industry mogul is not a suspect.

The painting was stolen from a Norman Rockwell exhibition in Clayton, Missouri, and did not surface until 1988, when it was sold at auction in New Orleans, Louisiana, the FBI said.

In 2004, FBI agents determined that the painting had been advertised for sale at a Norman Rockwell exhibition in New York in 1989.

While they followed leads, Spielberg's staff saw an FBI theft notice and realized that the painting, which in the meantime had found its way into the film director's collection, had been stolen.

Spielberg's staff immediately brought the painting's current location to the FBI's attention, officials said.

Spielberg purchased the painting in 1989 from a legitimate dealer and did not become aware that it was a stolen work of art until last week.

"Mr. Spielberg is cooperating fully with the FBI and will retain possession of the Russian Schoolroom until its disposition can be determined," an FBI statement said.

Copyright 2007 Agence France-Presse


Friday, March 02, 2007

James Turrell

March's art quote (above) is by James Turrell, sculptor of light. Here is his page on Art:21 (PBS). Be sure to check out the multimedia offerings.

Feminist Art Goes Back Under the Lens

Click here for article.