Wes Modes: Secret History of American River People

Wes Modes Sculpture

Secret Histories shantyboat in Minneapolis. Photo courtesy of Wes Modes.

The Mississippi River runs deep through American culture. From early Native Americans to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the Blues and Hurrican Katrina, the history of the country is in constant flux, much like the river itself. The fascination with the mysteries and power of the world’s fourth longest river is subtle, but undeniable. Continue reading

Looking for answers on public memorials and monuments. Two proposals

Nomanslanding Sculpture

Robyn Backen, Andre Dekker, Graham Eatough, Nigel Helyer and Jennifer Turpin, Nomanslanding, 2015.
Image: Darling Harbour / Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority.

During this centenary of WWI (2014-2018) a great number of ceremonies and memorials are proliferating in most of Europe in remembrance of the victims of the Great War. Australia, so far away as it is from that battle ground, is not indifferent to this sad anniversary as this year they celebrate the creation, 100 years ago, of the ANZAC, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, that took part, among others, in the tragic battle of Gallipoli in Turkey where 8,000 of them died. Nowadays, Anzac Day (25th April) also remembers to all Australians that lost their lives in WWII and in subsequent military actions up to date. Continue reading

Iron Tree in Meijer Garden

Ai Weiwei Iron Tree Sculpture

Ai Weiwei. Iron Tree, 2013. Iron and stainless steel, 264 x 264 x 264 inches. Photo by Kyle Mero

In 2010, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei famously filled London’s Tate Modern with a hundred million porcelain sunflower seeds.  Each was hand-painted by an artisan, and the work was an oblique reference to old propaganda images depicting the Chinese population as the sunflowers of Chairman Mao.  Much of Ai’s subsequent work addresses the sometimes-uneasy interplay between the individual and the rest of Chinese society, making the point that China’s varied and kaleidoscopic culture is not a monolith.  It’s a theme addressed in Iron Tree, his most complex outdoor sculpture to date.

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The Layered Meanings of Werner Pfeiffer

Werner Pfeiffer (German-American, born 1937), Zig Zag. Artist’s book, 2010. 8 3/4 x 8 1/2 x 1 3/4 in. Toledo Museum of Art, Mrs. George W. Stevens Fund, 2014.13. Photo courtesy of the artist. ©Werner Pfeiffer

Werner Pfeiffer (German-American, born 1937), Zig Zag. Artist’s book, 2010. 8 3/4 x 8 1/2 x 1 3/4 in. Toledo Museum of Art, Mrs. George W. Stevens Fund, 2014.13. Photo courtesy of the artist. ©Werner Pfeiffer

Werner Pfeiffer’s first day of school ended abruptly when everyone was whisked into an air-raid shelter as the school, located in the industrial city of Stuttgart, Germany, was leveled by Allied bombs.   Pfeiffer’s vivid experiences as a child growing up during the Second World War heavily influenced his subsequent career in art.  During the war, there was a severe paper shortage.  Books and publications were censored, first by the Reich and then by occupying Allied forces after Europe’s liberation.  Since then, the versatile artist has produced an extraordinary body work which dramatically rearranges our understanding of the nature of both paper and the book.   Like much of the DADA art which inspired it, Pfeiffer’s art, often whimsical and playful, nevertheless remains capable of delivering profoundly resonant social commentary.

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In the Shadows

Lea Bult  Sculpture

Lea Bult, Truck Stop Near La Presa, California – Detail. Photo courtesy of the artist.

In 2004, thirteen men in Nepal found prospective employment at American luxury hotels through a foreign staffing agency, but they never made it to America.  Flown to Iraq instead, their passports were confiscated and they were passed to insurgents; only one survived.  A cursory perusal through the case summaries of the University of Michigan School of Law’s online Human Trafficking Index quickly reveals how widespread the issue actually is, as readers confront this and an ever-growing list of similar cases.  Responding to the problem through her art, Michigan artist Lea Bult has created an extraordinary body of multimedia work, Out of Sight, which draws attention to modern slavery and human trafficking, reminding us that some of the most pressing social issues are invisible at first glance.    Continue reading

Thirteen to Eleven

Public Art Sculpture

Detail of an infographic on public spending, from Arts Council of Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland the political establishment and art have had an interesting relationship. Publicly funded ventures are often imbibed with a special kind of significance: as evidence of progress, demonstrating smiles and fun and a visibly “new and improved” culture. There is a strange dichotomy of being seen as a kind of light relief whilst also an instigator and reflection of social change. Unfortunately, in the face of the country’s unbalanced budget, it makes for a particularly vulnerable investment. Continue reading

Looking Back at Future Returns

Yunchang Sculpture

Casting (No. 1), 2004. Performance at Beijing Tokyo Arts Projects (BTAP), Beijing, China, Courtesy Galerie Urs Meile Beijing

While intermittently living, studying, and traveling in Southeast Asia and Japan, I discovered that Western Culture understandably gets reduced to a mere handful of names and faces: Beckham, Gaga, and Bono, for example. But, such cultural distillation works both ways, and it’s regrettably easy to let a rich and voluminous fugue of 1.5 billion voices become reduced to superstar soloists like, say, Ai Weiwei.  Continue reading