tv France 24 Mid- Day News LINKTV November 20, 2013 2:30pm-3:01pm PST
which has sustained the west for so long, is now at an end. there is a feeling of contradiction between our material demands and our spiritual needs. because of this, many artists today are turning back to first principles, and the first principle of all is nature. this is robert smithson in a film he made in 1970 of his pivotal earthwork, spiral jetty. this 1,500-foot-long coil of rock was built in utah's great salt lake. it leads the visitor out into the water, like an ancient hero venturing through a maze. he sought a modern restatement of the artist's relationship to nature,
one which led away from what he considered to be the historical exhaustion of painting and sculpture. spiral jetty is now underwater, but the concept of earthworks like this challenged, expanded, and revitalized our notion of what art is. in the environmental work running fence, six miles of parachute material mounted on poles were stretched across sonoma, california, to the sea. the entire ranching community and the california office of environmental protection were involved in deciding whether the fence would be allowed and, indirectly, whether this was a work of art at all. the controversy was part of the experience.
at the same time, attempts were being made in urban environments to respond to criticisms that our culture had become dehumanized. new ways were sought for art to reach the people. in the early seventies, the idea of the museum changes. when the pompidou center in paris was planned, it was envisioned as a kind of antimuseum. it was to become a factory of information, a sort of center for news, a center for the masses, a kind of supermarket for culture. the idea was that the square and all the area around the building was more important in a certain way than the space inside.
they thought that the museum has to go in the street and not the people from the street have to go in the museum. it was reversing the attention of visitors. the original plan called for huge video screens, projecting news of the world into the square. this whimsical fountain by jean tinguely and nicky de stael add to the creative surroundings. all over the world in the seventies, artists felt the desire to get out of the enclosed space of the museum and try to invade the city, so they start to think big, and they start to think in a large-scale way that creates objects that compete with skyscrapers and with large elements. but also they want to compete with the media
and create something that is so theatrical, that takes the attention of the media and compares the media with art. the swiss army knife was designed as a ship for the city of venice. it was the main character of a performance piece created by claes oldenburg, coosje van bruggen, and frank gehry. like any art object, it has different levels of meaning. it represents tourism. in fact, the army knife is always in the pocket of the traveler. but also it is the symbol le reality of t do of venice, the schizophrenia of venice, which is seen in the contrast between the past and the present, an invasion of modern materials into a very ancient city. the knife is truly a ship.
it traveled through the water of the canals of venice. so it becomes the symbol of a city and represents, also, the people visiting the city. it's a traveling object, and so as a traveling object, it becomes a nomad. so a work of art is a nomad, going everywhere in cities as new york, paris, venice, and los angeles. oldenburg's witty play with scale has been copied everywhere, as here in soho, new york's fashionable art center of the eighties. we've reached the point where more people are exposed to art than ever before in history, not only through books, films, museums, but from the everyday artifacts around them in their lives-- through advertising, through packaging,
through the very clothes that they wear. the distinction between art and commodity is now blurred. so where does the artist go from here? we're looking at the skyline of new york, the sort of mythic image of modernness, progress, of endless sense of possibilities opening in front of an early 20th century sort of drunk on its own sense of growth and power. what's interesting is that now for us in the age of postmodernism, this skyline, this sort of mythic field of vision, seems to have receded from our view or seems to have sort of vanished
into a reproduction of itself. richard haas here has painted the blank wall of a soho building precisely to trick us. postmodernism is a term that architects adopted in the early seventies to describe a kind of building that dropped a veil of near-classical decoration in front of a traditional boxlike structure. this is michael graves' portland building in oregon, more interested in the building as an image than as a three-dimensional experience. what we're really dealing with in the period in which we live is an extraordinary conformity.
that despite the seeming pluralism, the seeming diversity, in fact, we are seeing many, many different reflections of the same underlying reality, and it is that underlying reality which seems to me to be at the root of what's happening in the art of our time. it's as though the world has become a kind of huge billbrd or opaque wall of ages that separates us as individuals from a nature that might exist behind that wall, but which we cannot penetrate to. somehow reality has been swallowed up by a television tube. so this sort of nightmare possibility accounts for absolutely everything that's going on now.
certain artists have dedicated their work to the problem of how to break through this wall, how to put a crowbar underneath it and get some leverage on it, try to make a space between the imitation of the real and the real or to try to comment on the ways in which we are trapped in this plato's cave, in which what we are looking at is a world of shadows and simulations rather than a world of real things. tony berlant confines a miniature 19th-century landscape within the modern contours of hammered metal. gilbert and george appear in their own paintings, a pair of artists romping through an unreal media world.
postmodern is a new way of saying modern, this kind of new culture that represents absence of distinction between originality and reproduction and the idea that you go to the past, uncloak the past, remake the past, in order to say something new. for today's artists, the problem seems to be, what new is there to say? in a vanitasive style, pat steir takes the traditional still life genre and fragments her painting into 64 separate frames. the range of styles presents an encapsulated course in the history of western art.
boldly invoking the classical tradition, carlo maria mariani has painted looking into celestial mirror. the artist self-consciously winks at his postmodern audience, a public fully aware of the ironies of reciting the heroic past in an unheroic age. here julia paolini presents art looking at art-- two replicas of the most famous of greek sculptures, the venus de milo, mirror each other. beauty studies beauty in order to develop. the palais royal in paris is an 18th-century building that houses part of the french administration.
daniel buren was asked to make a sculpture for its courtyard that would complete this glorious architectural monument. what he chose to do was to complete it as a ruin, turning the idea of the colonnaded paris style into the stunted columns from an antique acropolis felled by time. before this work was installed, de plateau was blocked by a court injunction. buren's work became the subject of a memorable cultural battle as only the french can wage. the conservative newspaper of paris roared its disapproval, calling the work cultural hooliganism. ultimately people were attracted to the new landmark as a congenial place to be.
a moving example of postmodern architecture is this museum in moenchen gladbach, germany, specifically designed by hans hollein to house avant-garde art. references to the greek citadel, to the skyscraper, and to the cathedral are all successfully combined here. what has been built in the eighties with the moenchen gladbach museum is more the museum as a temple or church, substituting the museum as a place for another god. and art is the new religion of today, where you don't understand, but you trust.
that's what the religion is about. you have to trust because it's in the museum. anselm keiffer's massive winged book captures both the spiritual and the material-- the debasement of the word in our time and a persistent belief in it. the wings rise towards the heavens, while the material, lead, insists upon its place on earth. in departure from egypt, keiffer varies the surface texture, including straw and a metal pipe, which suggests the rod of moses, again to re-examine the symbols of belief that have endured in our culture.
but in the 20th century, the forces of irrationality and violence have also endured. order, a mysterious piece by robert morris, suggests an altar with painted flames suspended in its center and a sculpture of the fire's smoke curling out into the air. skulls are embedded in the mantel, images of death and sacrifice. sigmar polke uses an overlay of styles and techniques in the death of paganini. his imagery frequently alludes to death and rebirth. computer disks, skulls, and swastikas swirl over the dying genius.
in this art, we seem to see the legacy of the west contaminated. this is the bride, by nicky de stael. if, as many contemporary artists seem to be saying, ours is a culture out of balance, then women artists are becoming increasingly important in offering us an alternative. western art has been grounded on the figure of the woman standing for beauty, for nature, for truth, for eros. the woman is a series of cultural abstractions pronounced through the medium of her mute body. feminist artists want to break through
this condition of bng mut of the woman always having someone else speak for her. sometimes this is done by parodying the roles women have played in traditional art. we see this in the work of alexis smith... or again in the work of cindy sherman... or by giving the woman's voice back to her, as in the work of barbara kruger... or jenny holzer.
this tower in muenster, germany, was used as a prison for torture in medieval times and again during world war ii. for the european artist, it is very important-- the dialogue between past and present, history and our time. rebekorn is using an abandoned building, not for romantic reason, but because it is a building that has a memory of the torture and includes in the space the sound of torture-- water dripping, hammers striking-- so that the silence of history is broken.
human beings once cried out in this cell. this tower has a kind of strange life because it is full of these phantoms-- torture in the middle ages and again during world war ii by nazis. this building has this kind of strange life because it's full of these phantoms. the installation is temporary, to last for just six months, so there's a dialectical condition of the piece-- that to relate the history of germany
to germany today. that to relate the hiour works of art appear to have become ruins. only our perception is rea and our senses are bombarded with the images and sounds of media, which inform us, but do not transform us. in a society saturated with data, the function of the artist is no longer to depict events, but rather to reawaken our perception. this is the roden crater in the painted desert of arizona. here artist james turrell has turned back to the earth for his inspiration. for the modern viewer to experience this work of art will be something of an act of pilgrimage.
when you come in, you won't come over the top of the crater. you'll come through a 1,400-foot-long tunnel lined with the blue clay sand navajos use for their art. the tunnel will line up with the sun at every equinox, with the moon every 18 years, and the other viewing platforms will also be lined up with the planets, like the monuments of the ancient world, designed to take you out of yourself.
out here, above the immensity f the painted desert, with volcanic cones stretching away to the horizon, is the very image of geological rather than human time, and yet what turrell is trying to do up here is literally reshape nature with human hands. he's transforming this crater into a perfect circle so that the modern visitor may come here and in this silence and solitude, take in the clear sky of the north arizona desert like a complete sphere. and in doing that, he's trying to restore to us some of that sense of magic, the power and the presence which the ancient monuments possessed-- the monuments of the egyptians,
the maya, the ancient greeks, the great stone circles and earthworks of britain like stonehenge-- all places which mediated between human beings, nature, the stars, and the cosmos in the belief held by all so-called primitive peoples that human beings and the whole of creation were one. and like them, this is ultimately an architecture of space and light, of mystery at the heart of all art.
at the beginning of this series, we tried defining the western tradition in terms of the culture which arose among the western european peoples after the roman empire's fall, whose ethics came from judeo-christian religion and whose artistic inheritance owed so much to the greeks and romans. much western art can be seen as variations on the love/hate relationship western artists had with greek and roman classicism, but that is just one view. every generation takes from the past what it needs to make sense of itself. there is no such thing as objective history. in art as in anything else, there are only our interpretations, our dialogue with the past. ultimately, it's impossible for us to see in an ancient greek work of art what an ancient greek saw. nevertheless, viewing the tradition as a whole
helps us understand its parts. in that light, the art of our own times may appear to be the disintegration of the tradition, its dissolution. against that, though, western art is clearly still alive and changeable. in its past, it contains a reservoir of riches for future generations to make of what they will. its greatest characteristic has always been its capacity for innovation and change, to draw on the achievements of other cultures, whether of ancient egypt or of modern africa, the pacific, or latin america. and so perhaps now as our culture grows more and more global, the next phase of western art will see it reaching back to its great humane values, to its meditations on the human condition, and integrating them with the global culture of the 21st century.
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