« Shaida » endless walk in the streets of London

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From the 14th to the 17th of January 2016, the streets of London have been lit up on the occasion of the Lumière Festival, staging art wonders from various artists.

The first outdoor festival edition showcased the capital’s buildings through the installation of artworks in public spaces, letting the strollers explore the city in a new way.

The british artist, Julian Opie, took part in the event, enjoying the « combination of festival, party, nighttime, art, extravaganza (which) goes together well”.

For Lumière, Julian Opie has installed an artwork which, contrary to other art pieces on show at the festival, will remain as a permanent installation in the central Carnaby Street area, in Soho.

Entitled « Shaida Walking », the piece is a double-sided LED vertical monolith which is animated to create a ‘walking portrait’. The moving artwork is set on Broadwick Street and shows a female figure walking towards Carnaby Street. ‘Shaida Walking’ will join the existing permanent installations through the 13 streets of Carnaby.

This moving installation creating an interaction with the viewer, is “an interesting way to present art.” Opie stated.

This urban artpiece is not uncommon in Opie’s work and is part of a series of installations the artist has completed for major public commissions in cities all over the world.

Capture d’écran 2016-02-08 à 10.20.54Galloping horse, 2012, Yorkshire sculpture Park, UK

Capture d’écran 2016-02-08 à 10.20.05Walking on O’Connell St, 2008, Dublin, Ireland

Capture d’écran 2016-02-08 à 11.13.02Crowd, 2011, Seoul Square from Seoul Station, South Korea (Courtesy of Gana Art Gallery)

Julian Opie indeed created series of videos where he made his drawings into films, as he would also do in different media, such as paintings, billboards, cd covers, sculptures in steel, wood, concrete, road signs and screensavers, thus exploring multiple forms for a single image or concept.

Capture d’écran 2016-02-08 à 14.24.24.pngCaterina dancing naked 02, 2009, Paint on aluminium (Courtesy Lisson Gallery)

Even if the artist has not only produced reduced and standardized depictions, such as « Shaida’s walking » in London, the « Crowd » in Seoul, « Walking on O’Connell St » in Dublin, and many others, these quintessentials imageries have been democratized. They became well-known and very popular.

Minimal syntax

In order to show a standardized visual language, Opie used a most common imagery, avoiding the specific.

These simple geometric forms somehow minimalist by their rigorous economy of means, had rather placed the emphasis on the generic, the universal, the essentials, to give immediacy and create the most direct relationship between the art object and the viewer.

Opie’s visual language, devoid of any decorum or details, tends to be reduced to the minimum.

But where do the roots of this particular condensed imagery lies?

Defining his style towards a virtual reality

Opie’s economy of visual means was refined in preparation for his participation in the 9th indian triennale in 1997. He aimed at compressing the physical aspect of his subjects so as to make them more mobile and therefore more adjustable. Being rectangular and narrow, reminding canvases, the shape of the office buildings he got inspired of, led him to go forward. He realized this format was easy to read and that he could paint anything on it, as these boxes-like shapes functionned like screens. So he came to the idea of putting all the painted objects – cars, buildings…- onto flat boxes.

Capture d’écran 2016-02-08 à 19.12.07Church ? 1. 1997, Courtesy of the artist

Opie felt these condensed forms were able to function independently from each others as well as in groups. « I’d realised it wasn’t necessary to build a full scale world. Just a few suggestions were enough ».

He added « I see the sculptures as functioning a bit like objects in an Ikea catalogue. They can exist on their own but are also capable of  being combined in many different ways with other objects from the catalogue, to create a larger whole, an exhibition in my case or a home in the case of ikea. »

Indeed, the parts of a whole could be displayed and arranged in new ways, according to the limits of space. These images created a virtual reality.

The artist explains « different combinations of symbols or drawings create different scenarios and atmospheres. Car/tree/road is calm, modern, smooth and distant. Trees/high office buildings is noisier, urban, crowded, tough, but a bit romantic. Trees/low office buildings is more campus-like, quieter, a bit lonely, but still public. Trees/suburban house becomes a little mysterious, more old-fashioned, silent. »

To populate his world, initially the artist’s intention had been to make anonymous the passers-by.

Thus, Opie approached the human form by first selecting the most standardized representations he could find – looking at signs and symbols in the real world, such as those to indicate male and female in lavatories. He then combined these with a digital photograph of a real person, merging the two using a computer-drawing programme.

His representation of key famous people is a perfect exemple of this quest to quintessential depiction. « I think the whole notion we carry of people, as examples of types, is very interesting…There are some key famous people who become these types and I want extend that really so that everybody is a type, if you draw them in the way I do ».

Thus Gary, the pop star, in Opie ‘s world, is nothing more than a receptacle of formal archetypes.

Capture d’écran 2016-02-08 à 13.33.38Gary, popstar, 1998-9, Tate Gallery, London

Julian Opie’s strive to immediacy and mass-culture recall for some, the pop art current.

A new pop art language to question our contemporaryselves? 

Opie’s minimalist language has shown his desire to communicate directly and to give immediacy. But instead of using abstract and metaphoric form, he would rather ground his work in figuration and use recognizable representations, as the pop artists has done decades ago, interweaving art and ordinary life.

Many critics were quick to see in Opie a mere successor of pop art. The art historian Marco Livingstone stated: « The jocular tone and simple forms of representation, both of which masks the technical complexity of the structure, were clearly intended to entice a mass audience in much the same way as the most exuberant forms of Pop art had done 20 years earlier. »

But the motives are more ambiguous than it appears.

Reflecting imagery that derives from brands and logos, the artist wants « to be as if each person I draw were a multinational company with a logo. »

Indeed, Opie shows an interest in the psychology of perception and in the complex representation and discernement of reality.

Reducing reality to quintessentials and multiple forms is part of the effect. When we think of the human form we think of ourselves, a subjective being, but Opie’s people are blank impersonal reflections…

The serial form of ourselves leads us to think about the society we create and how we relate and resemble to each others, and inevitably, we ask ourselves if we are all reductible to predefined signs and archetypes.

It is intriguing to see something so particular as a human, crystallized in such a neutral, graphic language.

However, while making anonymous the passers-by, the artist never completely erased their personality. They look like signs but their particularities – a woman with a handbag over her shoulder, a man with sneakers and earphones – become more prominent thanks to the reduction of everything else. They look like signs but are still subjective.

Hence the ambiguity.

A reminder of the EphemEra

Opie’s language is a powerful reminder of the speed of contemporary life.

Shorthands icons are everywhere in the contemporary world. Signs and symbols quicky tell us what we need to know and think. And we have come to a point of relying on them without even realizing it.

The artist uses this symbolic repertoire that became too familiar and reassuring, conveying an information we are accustomed to.

Such as multinational logos, being so repeated that they are ordinary and easily recognizable, these everyday domestic symbols relieve anxiety and restore confidence.

His work discloses the modern condition of the accerelated experience.

It could be said that technology is moving too fast for us and that in our daily lives we tend to see life in general.

Opie depects how reality one can feel as well as how our fast-paced environment can look like.

Thus, we don’t pay attention, the surface area being determining element in our world of ephemeral speedy visual expressions.

And Opie exploits this fully. Although when three-dimensional, his objects appeared to be all surfaced.

Opie questions: how do we deal with our perpetual enchantment and disillusionment with superhighway information and cyberspaces.

He strives to far-fetch one’s reflexion of our own neutrality towards things that are so paradoxal in modern world, the will of being individualized and subjective, and the fast-paced environment that make us nothing more than signs, logos and neutral.










Cai Guo-Qiang, the chinese land artist to be shown at the Sundance Film Festival 2016

Cai Guo-Qiang, one of the most reknown chinese artist, is the subject of the documentary by Kevin Mcdonald, Sky Ladder, that will be shown at the Sundance film festival 2016 in the category World Cinema Documentary.

The title of the documentary refers to one of the artist’s most ambitious creations, accomplished last year, a gigantic ladder « into the clouds », of 1,650 feet high rising from his hometown of Quanzhou, China.

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The pyrotechnic masterpiece was the result of his maestria of the ancient art of Chinese fireworks, and after having tried years and years in various places, creating an immense scale of metal and fireworks, slowy rising to the sky, was the achievement dream of Cai Guo-Qiang’s lifetime. 

Cai Guo-Qiang became internationnnaly known in the early 1990’s for the big strokes not of ink, such as would commend the ancient chinese tradition, but of gunpower.

Transforming violence into ethereal beauty

The work of the artist consists indeed of physical, intellectual and spiritual gesture, such as in calligraphy, but at an awe-inspiring scale, and using a technic invented in China, fireworks.

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Pyrographed calligraphy at the artist’s solo exhibition at industrial city of Donetsk, Ukraine.

In China, gun power was used both in good and bad ways, in destruction and reconstruction, that is one of the reasons why explosion is such important in the artist’s work.

Cai’s father having to burn his beloved manuscripts and calligraphy because of the maoist censorship and going into a strange self-exile as a result, has furthermore certainly pushed him to revive this ancient art on a bigger scale.

The heartbreaked artist once said “my father would take sticks and write calligraphy in puddles on the ground” during his exile. “The calligraphy would disappear” when the water evaporated, leaving behind “invisible skeins of sorrow.” Not entirely invisible, one senses the inscribed like calligraphy on his son’s memory.

Humanity and Human scale

But far beyond personal insights, each of his work aims at creating a dialogue between humanity, the earth and beyond, to feel humanity within the universe.

Cai’s philosophy is that humans must exist in harmony with the earth and the cosmic spirits, not separatedly.

His “crop circle” in Germany, modeled on those supposed extraterrestrial “signs” carved in wheat fields—a project that called for 90 kilograms of gunpowder, 1,300 meters of fuses, one seismograph, an elec­troencephalograph and an electro­cardiograph—is a good exemple of this strive to understand the complex relationship between the earthy and extrearthy entities.  In this event, two medical devices were there to measure Cai’s physiological and mental reactions as he stood in the center of the explosions, to symbolize the echoes of the birth of the universe, that can still be felt in every molecule of every human cell.


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Fetal movement II: project for extraterrestrials n°9, 1992

Indeed, Cai claims not to separate the spiritual and the physical, and that « art can transcend time and space, and achieve something that science cannot. The job of the artiste is to create such time/space tunnels. »

Art critic Yashushi Kurabayashi wrote « An explostion is a magical encounter of two different elements, and a process that encompasses the eternal transformation of matter (…) as an explosion is sometimes compared to the Big Bang (that) forces us to imagine a moment without time and space, an instant before they come into being ». The explosion takes place both in an instant and in eternity.

Later, some of his major projects included, to have extended the Great Wall of China by 10,000 meters: Project for the Extraterrestrials N.10 (1993), and extension of the Great Wall of China, a fiery elongation of the Ming dynasty’s most famous work, designed to be seen from space by aliens, as he wanted to open “a dialogue with the universe” he says. the extension constituted of a detonation of a spectacular six-mile train of explosives.

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Project to Extend the Great Wall of China by 10,000 Meters: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 10, 1990


But most people know Cai Guo-Qiang, since 2008, for the worldwide televised “fireworks sculpture” that he created for the opening of the Beijing Olympics. “The explosion event consisted of a series of 29 giant footprint fireworks, one for each Olympiad, over the Beijing skyline, leading to the National Olympic Stadium. The 29 footprints were fired in succession, traveling a total distance of 15 kilometers, or 9.3 miles, within a period of 63 seconds. » as he described it.

Provoking debate in China and international recognition

Over fifteen years he has refined his concept and expand his range of media.

For the 48th Venice Biennale’s prize, Leone d’Oro  he won in 1999, Cai recreated the Rent collection Courtyard installation. This originally is a very popular anonymous sculpture from the 60’s. This propagandistic work, a social realist tableau of more than 100 sculptures, depicts the exploitation of feudalism and was meant to contrast with the benefit of the life under Mao Zedong. This recreation in Venice provoked an intense debate in China, some of the artists of the Fine Arts Academy of Chong Qing even have threatened to bring legal actions against Cai for copyright infringement. A teacher in the Academy granted his art as ‘an exemple of postcolonial cultural imperialism in which China is demonized as backward and despotic’.

But in the Cai’s point of view, it is time for the artist to take responsibility for what had happened during the Cultural Revolution. Cai wants to raise issues such as the role that the artists played during this era, and in any strong political setting in general. As he put it « Everyone acted as if they were victims of the times, yet these are the same people that made up those times ».

The artist also wants to « open up the discussion of the Chinese contemporary art » which has roughly had taken two separated ways that have nothing in common with each others.

Internationally, the artist has been awarded of many prizes, such as the Hugo Boss price in 1996, and is highly bought by collectors. In 2007, his canvas Set of 14 drawings for Asia-Pacific economic co-operation attained the record of 9,5 millions de dollars (6,02 millions d’euros). This record for a chinese artist will be, however beaten in 2008 by Masques, séries 1996, no 6 by Zeng Fanzhi.


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Venice Rent collection Courtyard, 1999

Cai at Sundance Film Festival 

Kevin Macdonald, excited about the cinematic potential of Cai’s works, aims to bring the a very up-close and international look at the work of the Chinese artist, showing all these explosions and sculptures in smoke, in slow motion using drones and multiple cameras. Kevin Macdonald wants to give the public the opportunity to understand more the artist’s lifelong obsession: Sky Ladder, and give an insights of the reasons for this quest.




Edward Hopper

Autoportrait, 1930, huile sur toile, 63,8 x 51,4 cm,  Witney Museum, NY.

La prochaine rétrospective du peintre américain qui se tiendra en novembre 2012, au Grand Palais de Paris est l’occasion de parler et présenter le travail d’Edward Hopper (1882, 1967), phénomène à lui seul s’il en est, et pourtant digne représentant pour beaucoup de l’image archétypale de l’Amérique et de l’école de peinture américaine.

Il a, en effet, reçu toute sa signification à l’apogée de la peinture moderne des U.S. et de l’individualisme roi, au moment où l’expressionisme abstrait d’un Pollock gagnait ses galons et couleurs auprès des critiques d’art du monde entier. Mais à l’opposé de ce dernier, tenant d’une abstraction hermétique et presque autosuggestive, Hopper devrait plutôt être qualifié de néo-réaliste, tant son trait semble vouloir reproduire la réalité qui l’entoure…La feinte est insidieuse….la touche, si elle tend à une reproduction quasi photographique voire académique, vibre et confère un réel effet d’imaginaire….

 La civilisation, symbole d’astreinte:

L’homme seul face à la nature, un thème si souvent traités par les peintres mélancoliques de tout temps, Caspar Friedrich le premier qui pose ses figures en contrepoint d’une étendue quasi apocalyptique où la nature règne en maître….Avec Hopper, sans aller jusque dans une dimension spirituelle et transcendantale à la Schelling, l’homme et le paysage sont deux pans de cette même amérique, esseulée, désiorentée, en rupture, enclins à faire l’expérience de « la frontière avec le monde connu, à la limite de la civilisation ». Cette thématique de l’entrave, de l’impasse trouve écho dans l’obturation du champ libre de la nature, et des éléments de civilisation qui la traversent (phares, passages à niveaux, répétitions de murs, interpénétration du vues intérieures et extérieures dans le même tableau…), cloturant ainsi la perspective, la balisant.

Caspar David Friedrich, le voyageur contemplant une mer de nuages, 98,4 x 78,8 cm., huile sur toile, 1817, Kunsthalle of Hambourg.

Haskell’s house, 1924, National Gallery of Washington.

High Road, 1931, National Gallery of Washington.

Gas, 1940, National Gallery of Washinton.

To be continued…..

Exposition à venir

Le centre George Pompidou inaugura une rétrospective des oeuvres du grand maître du surréalisme, Dali (1904-1989), à partir de novembre 2012. Celle-ci se tiendra dans la continuité de deux expositions antérieures, « l’Enigme sans fin » de 2003 au Kunst Palast de Düsseldorf, et « Une image peut en cacher une autre » présentée en 2009 au Grand Palais, proposant ainsi un tour d’horizon de la mythologie personnelle de l’artiste. C’est le même commissaire (Jean-Hubert Martin), qui, qui plus est, chapeaute l’événement. Il y a donc une logique à aller voir cette nouvelle installation, même pour ceux ayant eu la chance d’assister aux deux précédentes.

D’autant plus que pour cette occasion, les cimaises du musée accueilleront un prêt exceptionnel du MOMA de New York, le tableau Les Montres Molles…s’inscrivant dans la partie surréaliste de l’exposition…d’autres thèmes moins connus seront également traités comme la période mysticiste d’après-guerre du maître espagnol.

Les Montres Molles ou Persistence de la mémoire, Dali, 1931, MOMA. 24 x 33 cm.

Cette oeuvre fut peinte en 1931, alors que Dali n’avait que 27 ans, en pleine époque surréaliste, lors d’une période de transitions personnelles et créatrices.

Anecdote humoristique: Ce fut après un dîner terminé par du camembert, quel le peintre a entamé une réflexion compulsive sur les mystères des éléments durs et mous. Dali s’est alors mis immédiatement à travailler, frénétiquement et toute la nuit, en introduisant sur la toile trois montres aussi molles que la consistance du met qu’il avait dégusté….une muse inattendue…

Cette toile fut achetée par un marchand new yorkais à Paris, et ce ne fut qu’après avoir avoir été acquis par plusieurs musées qu’il intégra le fonds permanent du MOMA.

Outre présenter quelques toiles majeures, cette exposition est exceptionnelle car pour la première fois depuis plus de 30 ans! une série d’oeuvres s’étalant sur toute la période de création du maître cattalan sera présentée à Paris. La dernière rétrospective parisienne remonte à 1979!…..C’est dire si ce moment est attendu avec impatience et délectation par les curieux et les amoureux du symbolisme dalinien..

….et pour patienter et puisque non seulement peintures mais aussi films et documents sonores seront à l’honneur, voici deux courtes vidéos révélatrices de l’humour « bordeline » mais non moins génial de l’artiste aimant flirter avec l’absurde et titiller nos codes et bienséances:

# Exposition du 21 novembre au 1er janvier 2012. Centre George Pompidou.