The National Gallery of Denmark is showcasing one of the finest engravers of the 18th century. His large-scale prints, packed with incredible detail, provide much to marvel at.
Giovanni Battista Piranesi is probably not a name that rings many bells unless you’re an art buff. Born in Venice in 1720 to a stonemason father and brought up on the Classics, he was later apprenticed to an uncle who was responsible for restoring historic buildings. His career took off rapidly, as his talents were quickly recognised. He was also a qualified architect and an archaeologist.
Although famous in his own time, if anything his reputation has grown subsequently, and he has been a recognisable influence on architects, artists, film-makers and even computer game developers.
France/Greece vs Italy/Rome
In Piranesi’s time, there was an intense rivalry going on between French intellectuals and their Italian counterparts over which of the ancient civilisations was more ‘civilised’ and sophisticated: ancient Greece or ancient Rome. The French felt that the Romans had somehow corrupted a pure style and over-embellished it, whilst the Italians saw this as a sign of progress and a cultural highpoint.
The ‘Imaginary Prison’ series has been interpreted by some art historians as a contribution to this argument, as in the second series there are some named people being unjustly executed or tortured by Nero’s tyrannical henchmen. The Italians argued that Nero’s reign was decadent and tyrannical because he had abandoned ‘Lex Romana’ and introduced a new legal system based on ideas from Greece – a somewhat arcane point perhaps, but worth bearing in mind when you view the prints.
Piranesi also used the ruins of ancient Rome to promote his point of view, and amongst his best-known works are those depicting the Colosseum: The Forum and Cestius’s Pyramid. On the other hand, his images were not always completely true to life; he played around with perspectives and, for example, the pyramid is much larger than it really is. Piranesi often peopled his images with figures, but they are usually very small and almost insignificant.
Stairways to heaven
Regarding contemporary relevance, anyone who has read or seen a Harry Potter film will immediately be able to recognise the staircases that seem to go nowhere or are moveable. Dutch graphic artist Maurits Escher’s impossible constructions also have their roots in the ‘Imaginary Prisons’ series.
The first state of this consisted of 14 etchings and was published in 1750, untitled and unnumbered. Piranesi later reworked the plates and added two prints, together with numbers and titles for some of them. There is a vast difference between the two states: the first being much lighter, whilst the second really does exude a dystopian doom and gloom.
This series really made his name and they were published in a so-called elephant format – a whopping 550 x 400 mm. They were originally bound into books and designed to be read that way. Later, many of the books were broken up to extract the prints. In many cases, any commentary that went with them was discarded.
Nice little earner?
As a trained architect, Piranesi was interested in design and Egyptian art and antiquities. He created many drawings of ‘Egyptian’ chimney pieces and some of these were manufactured – often to sell to rich English visitors to Rome passing through on the Grand Tour wanting to take something back to furnish the stately home and show off their good taste.
These chimney pieces were not based on any one particular Egyptian original, but were created from a number of sources, with a good deal of flair and fantasy.
It’s all done by mirrors
In the centre of the exhibition there is also a new installation created by AVPD (Aslak Vibæk and Peter Døssing) utilising two-way mirrors that form rooms and corridors “creating an architecture with an impossible perspective” – all very much in the spirit of the Italian master.
With more than 120 works on show, you can really delve into Piranesi and have fun trying to decode some of those hidden meanings!
Rosalia, Lizzo, Cardi B wrap up over the top Miami art week – Rocky Mountain Outlook
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The over-the-top parties and star-studded shows surrounding Miami’s Art Basel wrapped up this weekend with performances by Rosalia, Lizzo, Cardi B and rocker Lenny Kravitz.
The annual event, which was canceled last year during the pandemic, is an extension of the prestigious art show in Switzerland. But over the years, Miami has put its own spin on the affair, which has become a magnet for celebrities. Everyone from Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Joe Jonas were spotted around town.
The highlight of the week was Louis Vuitton’s first ever U.S. fashion show Tuesday. But the lavish affair, where guests where ferried to an island by private yacht, turned into an emotional tribute after legendary 41-year-old designer Virgil Abloh died suddenly just days before the show. Kid Cudi and Erykah Badu performed at an after-party where dozens of dancing red drones blazed the skyline to write “Virgil was here.”
Fashion brand Burberry and W magazine hosted a party attended by models Karlie Kloss and Candice Swanepoel, along with Camila Coelho, A$AP Ferg, and Meadow Walker.
Rosalia gave a surprise performance Friday night to celebrate Chanel’s iconic fragrance. The French fashion house partnered with artist Es Devlin for a multisensory sculptural installation that included a forest of over 1,000 plants and trees. Before the show, Chanel hosted a private dinner attended by Pharrell Maluma, Leon Bridges, Joe Jonas and songstress sister trio HAIM.
The fashion brand’s Five Echoes installation is free and open to the public until Dec. 21.
Cardi B performed Saturday night to launch her new line of vodka infused whipped cream. The rapper sprayed Whipshots into the mouth of fans at The Goodtime Hotel. Offset, Mary J. Blige and Timbaland were among the guests. After the event, Cardi B and hubby Offset made their way to Hyde Beach at SLS South Beach for the MAXIM party where the couple danced as 112 performed its old-school hit “Peaches and Cream.” Karrueche, Austin Mahone and Taye Diggs were also in the crowd.
After hours, over 500 fans lined up around the block to get into rapper Meek Mill’s sold-out show at E11EVEN. He didn’t take the stage until 3:30 a.m. Cardi B, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nina Agdal, Karrueche, Migos and Marshmello stayed for the late-night performance.
The official Art Basel fair attracted 60,000 visitors this year, according to a statement, but thousands more attended various art shows all week. At Art Miami, a $4 million Banksy sale, a 10-year-old phenom painter and an 18 carat gold bagel avocado toast on sale for $2.9 million at Galerie Rother generated buzz.
The ultra-futuristic Paramount Miami Worldcenter even partnered with artist Mr. Glue to host a scavenger hunt for street trash transformed into valuable artworks.
And in a week where art often borders on the absurd — remember the infamous $120,000 b anana duct tape pieces — Miami’s DJ Khaled dropped “bling wings” topped with 24-karat gold dust and edible diamonds to promote his restaurant.
Swizz Beatz partnered with American Express to bring back “Women in Art,” commissioning a live installation by artist Tanda Francis at an event Saturday night. The credit card company also hosted a private performance by Lizzo at The Miami Beach Edition.
Dr. Deepak Chopra partnered with “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke for an intimate morning meditation launching his Metaverse For Good platform and NFT drop. At night, Alicia Keys also led a guided meditation where mechanical flowers hanging from the ceiling opened and closed like inhales and exhales. Wearing a neon yellow gown and thigh high boots at Superblue, Miami’s experiential art center, the Grammy winner played songs from her new album dropping next week.
DiCaprio, Marc Anthony, Soleil Moon Frye and Alicia Machado helped pal Sean Penn raise $1.6 million at a fundraiser Thursday night benefiting Penn’s CORE foundation (Community Organized Relief Effort), specifically its crisis response programs across Latin America, including Haiti and Brazil.
DiCaprio also showed up to art collector Wayne Boich’s annual bash, along with Venus and Serena Williams and Latin boy band CNCO. Kravitz took the stage for a 75-minute concert. Rapper T.I. closed out the party.
Even Playboy got in on the action to promote its new lifestyle brand BIG BUNNY. Guests Cardi B, Lizzo, and Charlie XCX attended a surrealist ball, centered around the idea that pleasure is a fundamental human right. The new collection pays homage to artist Salvador Dal who was commissioned for the magazine in 1973 and 1974.
Across town, actress Eva Longoria played the role of mixologist at a party Friday night to promote her new brand Casa Del Sol tequila, pouring drinks for attendees including longtime friend Serena Williams.
Rapper Young Thug headlined an NFT party on Saturday night with Von Dutch in the hip Wynwood District.
Other celebrity spotting included Maroon Five’s Adam Levine and wife Victoria Secret Angel Behati Prinsloo sitting with friend Marc Anthony at David Grutman and Pharrell’s restaurant Swan. Rauw Alejandro and Rosalia also enjoyed a date night there.
Longtime Basel fixture Vera Wang, who wore custom grey, silk Vera dress, also dined at the restaurant with fellow fashion designer Donna Karen, and Giancarlo Stanton. Record producer and DJ Diplo visited the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science with a group of family and friends.
Kelli Kennedy, The Associated Press
Modernism meets sacred geometry in Robert Houle retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario – The Globe and Mail
At the end of a large retrospective devoted to the Saulteaux artist Robert Houle at the Art Gallery of Ontario, there hangs a small but seminal painting. Red is Beautiful was the first work Houle ever sold to a museum – what is now the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. The AGO has borrowed the piece itself for display and taken its title as the name of this exhibition.
Showing a series of concentric, flat-topped pyramid shapes in different shades of red and pink, the 1970 painting could be read as a small example of the colour-field or geometric abstraction of the day. During travels to Europe, Houle had been inspired by the grids of the Dutch abstractionist Piet Mondrian. He had also discovered the American colour-field painter Barnett Newman and must surely have seen Jack Bush’s work in Canada.
And yet, already in Houle’s art, there was a sense that his point was different – that there was an element of symbolism to his abstraction, and that it sought something more direct than Newman’s spiritualism and more spiritual than Bush’s formalism. Sure enough, there is another early work nearby that makes Houle’s interests explicit: Ojibway Motif, #2, Purple Leaves Series, of 1972, features a column created by alternating chevrons, or arrowheads, in different shades of lilac. The artist was looking for a vocabulary that would somehow unite modernist abstraction with a sacred geometry inspired by his own culture.
Standing near these paintings at a recent media event, Houle described himself as committed to biculturalism (he grew up on the Sandy Lake First Nation in Manitoba, where he was educated in Catholic residential schools, and both his parents’ ancestry is Saulteaux and French). The retrospective is a large testament to that. His has been a long career spent incorporating and critiquing Western art in a practice devoted to Indigenous themes. Through the 1980s and 1990s, he added photography, text and figurative elements to make his points, but never lost a colourist’s love of pure paint.
In 1992, in Kanata, perhaps his best-known painting, on loan here from the National Gallery of Canada, he revisits Benjamin West’s The Death of General Wolfe. Houle makes all the Europeans in the famous history painting fade away in a monotone beige grisaille, while a pensive brave with his red feather and blue loincloth indicates Indigenous centrality in Canadian history. The image is flanked, like the Canadian flag, by bands of colour: A rich saturated blue for the French, and a strong, bright red for the British. Beyond the political symbolism, there is also much power in that paint.
In a more personal mix of the abstract and the figurative in Sandy Bay, of 1998-99, Houle confronted the residential school where he spent every weekday of his elementary years, able to see his home from its windows yet forbidden from speaking his language with his peers or his own sister. (Weekend visits and a strong family kept his connection to his culture alive.) The work includes a ghostly photo-based painting of the school and two actual photographs of the local priest and children, alongside two coloured panels that counter the realism of the school panel with an evocative Indigenous abstraction. In the larger of the panels, Houle repeats the motif of the parfleche – a rawhide bag, often decorated with quills – that occurs again and again in his work.
In 1983, in Parfleches for the Last Supper, he executed 13 small paintings, one for Jesus and each of the disciples, in which he inserted quills directly into the paper. The parfleche is a fascinating motif because it plays so effectively off the tension between the flat, abstract paintings Houle echoes and the traditional container, which would hold three-dimensional content.
Houle emerges in this exhibition, organized by the AGO’s curator of Indigenous art, Wanda Nanibush, as a central figure both in advancing Canadian abstraction and in pioneering a new Indigenous contemporary art. In the show’s catalogue, there is a photograph of Houle in 1978 meeting Norval Morrisseau, whose invention of a distinct Indigenous iconography inspired the younger man. Houle’s own work would then move Indigenous art forward a generation by effectively incorporating contemporary styles and approaches. Today, the careers of Kent Monkman or Brian Jungen, both artists of mixed Indigenous and settler heritage, would be unthinkable without Houle’s precedent-setting work.
In crying out for land rights or denouncing historic betrayals, the work often becomes didactic. For example, collages using Maclean’s magazine covers from the Oka crisis feel too literal to make much impact. In 2007′s multimedia piece Do Not Open Until You Get Home, Houle uses a newspaper clipping and video to compare the introduction of smallpox to North America by Europeans in the 18th century with the U.S. decision in 1999 to keep small samples of the deadly virus. Here, he literally highlights the words in a historical letter from a British officer, who suggests that First Nations resisters led by Pontiac be given poisoned blankets.
And yet this kind of overt and informational approach is often rescued by Houle’s formalism. Do Not Open … is displayed alongside Palisade, a subtler reference to the eight British forts that Pontiac successfully attacked in 1763 – a move that forced the British to acknowledge Indigenous rights. Eight large, vertical wooden panels are painted in different shades of green. It was said that Pontiac gave the signal to attack by flipping over the wampum belt to show its green underside.
That tension between symbolism and formalism runs powerfully through Houle’s work, and sometimes he just has to laugh at it himself. A series of works intended to reclaim Pontiac’s name from the General Motors car brand includes a real 1947 Pontiac convertible in daffodil yellow (leant by Winnipeg collector Norm Dumontier). It’s a gorgeous piece of industrial design, offset by a strong red wall inscribed with Pontiac’s promise: I will stand in your path till dawn.
Are we to read Pontiac’s words as a threat to enemies, or as a simple statement of endurance? Houle speaks for past and present, for Turtle Island and North America, for Indigenous and settler cultures as they stand today: Imperfectly reconciled but actively bicultural.
He’s 74 and, like Pontiac, his art is not going away. The most recent work in this exhibition dates to 2021.
Red is Beautiful continues to April 17 at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It will tour to the Winnipeg Art Gallery and Contemporary Calgary in 2022, and spend 2023 at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
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