It caught my eye when I read last week that Jasper Johns has created a print on translucent paper for the May issue of Art in America magazine. Apparently, the print will feature several of Johns’s “signature motifs,” but the translucent paper might be considered somewhat of a signature motif in its own way. Read more
One of the most extraordinary works in the current exhibition Gauguin: Metamorphoses is Tahitian Woman with Evil Spirit (c. 1900), which was acquired for MoMA’s collection just weeks before the exhibition opened. Among the many exceptionally innovative works on paper that are the focus of the exhibition, this exciting new acquisition stands out for its monumental scale and magisterial presence. Read more
“Coming into Brancusi’s studio was like entering another world.” – Man Ray, 1963This short but evocative quote currently appears high on the wall just inside the entrance to The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries, on MoMA’s third floor. Read more
Since the early 1990s, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson has used art to challenge how we experience and interact with the world. The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1′s 2008 exhibition Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson—the most comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s work to date—transformed MoMA’s galleries into hybrid spaces of nature and culture, prompting an intensive engagement with the world and offering a fresh consideration of everyday life.
Nature serves as a constant source of fascination for Eliasson, but light in particular is one of his favorite mediums and most effective tools. For the artist, light is not incidental: it is an instrument through which he communes with the public. For example, in Room for one color (1997), mono-frequency lights eliminate every wavelength except for yellow, and provoke an involuntary neurological response that intensifies the participants’ perception of detail and dimension. Conversely, 360° room for all colours (2002), utilizes a circular enclosure backlit by 750 lamps that change hue slowly, plunging the participant deep into the color spectrum, dissolving the line between reality and the imagination.
Light acts as muse once again in his most recent piece, Little Sun, but this time the artist’s ambition is not merely to use art to alter our perception of the environment; it is to use art to affect social change on a global level.
“I have an obsession with light,” says Eliasson. “How light forms a space. How a space forms light. As a child I grew up in Iceland where there is no sunlight in the winter. It simply stays dark all day. Light became [something that] pulled people together. Light became a way of connecting to other people. Light is social. Light is life.”
The brainchild of Eliasson and solar engineer Frederik Ottesen, Little Sun is a solar-powered LED light described by the artist as a “work of art that works in life.” Nearly one quarter of the world’s population does not have access to electricity. When the sun sets, entire communities grind to a halt. Poverty reduction strategies are difficult to implement, as working hours are limited to daytime, medical care is dangerous to provide, and education levels drop since children cannot study after sunset.
Kerosene lanterns are a common off-grid solution to these issues, yet an evening of breathing in a kerosene lamp’s toxic emissions is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes. As they spend more hours in the home, women and children suffer disproportionately from breathing-related problems, burns, and fires caused by kerosene-powered lanterns and candles. And while polluting homes on a local level, kerosene also impacts the environment on a global scale, releasing 190 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere per year.
In addition to being healthier and more eco-friendly than kerosene, Little Sun is also more affordable. The cost of one Little Sun lamp (which lasts approximately three years) is equivalent to the cost of three to six months of kerosene-fueled light. The Little Sun may be small, but like its namesake, it is extremely powerful. A five-hour charge produces up to three hours of bright light, and up to 10 hours of lower light.
“It’s for cooking, eating, reading, learning, but it’s also for earning,” says Eliasson. “The distribution part of this project is also powerful. If [local merchants] make a few bucks selling it there’s something there that I consider a work of art as well. The microeconomic infrastructure that needs to take this to the end user is also part of the Little Sun vision.”
Since its 2012 launch at the Tate Modern, Little Sun has not only received official certification from Lighting Africa—a joint IFC and World Bank program—but, to date, 126,402 lamps have been distributed worldwide; one in three going to areas without electricity. The lamp currently has distribution in seven African countries, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, as well as in the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, and Japan.
MoMA and the MoMA Design Store are proud to support this brilliant initiative, and through April our store windows will be dedicated to the Little Sun project, with the goal of bringing these pressing social issues to light and empowering the public through art and design. Every purchase makes it possible for the Little Sun to be sold in off-grid communities at locally affordable prices. To Eliasson, one part of the artwork is the lamp and the activities it enables. The other is the successful distribution of the Little Sun in off-grid communities, and its journey from production to usage.
“I need you to power this project” says Eliasson. “Holding power in your hands is very liberating. It makes you feel resourceful, connected—whether you’re a child or adult, on-grid or off-grid. This is something we all share. In everyday life, it is important that we critically engage in global initiatives and local contexts. Our actions have consequences for the world. Little Sun is a wedge that opens up the urgent discussion about bringing sustainable energy to all from the perspective of art.”
Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst’s The House of Fear (La Maison de la peur) is currently on view in the mezzanine of MoMA’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building, as part of the display Artist/Novelist. Read more
In the second installment of Inside/Out’s spotlight on our new series of artist-produced housewares, the MoMA Design Store is excited to debut a suite of candles and Limoges porcelain collectible trays and plates with Ligne Blanche Paris. The collaboration was spearheaded by The MoMA Design Store’s Director of Merchandising Emmanuel Plat and Ligne Blanche Paris Founder Pierre Pelegry, and launched last week at the MoMA Stores.
“Both the MoMa Design Store and Ligne Blanche Paris have a similar goal: to pique the public’s interest in the work of contemporary artists through design. Since expanding the work of artists to high-quality domestic products has become a focus for the MoMA Design Store, the collaboration was a natural fit,” says Plat.
As eclectic as the artists featured, the suite provides a unique survey of disparate artistic voices and methods of creation over the last four decades.
Robert Longo’s adroit use of chiaroscuro modeling with charcoal heightens the impact of his subject matter, and gives his pieces—from his blackened American flags to his figure and animal studies—gravitas and a timeless quality.
Alex Katz is recognized as a hugely influential precursor to the Pop art movement and one of the most respected American artists working today. Katz’s portraits and figure studies are characterized by their flatness of form, restrained lines, and aloof subjects.
A bricoleur of everyday objects, Tom Sachs distills the spirit of the modern era and our relationship to consumerism in his flashy reproductions of commodities.
Drawn to celebrity, melodrama, and erotic narrative, Jack Pierson produces works that are infused with literal and visual references to unrequited love, desire, faded stardom, and sentimental musings. Pierson’s typographic Golden Years (2010) relies heavily on the visual poetics of typography and can be interpreted as wistful homage to the halcyon years of one’s life.
From across the pond comes a quartet of plates by British art renegades Gilbert & George, whose prolific career has spanned almost five decades. The dynamic duo juxtapose their look-alike, robotic visages with a hyper-saturated potpourri of images—from anonymous pastoral landscapes to shots of London’s gritty inner-city—to confront the viewer and completely immerse him or her in the visual experience.
The line also includes work by three renowned artists whose prolific and highly influential careers were tragically cut short: Robert Mapplethorpe, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring. Though contemporaries during the 1980s, their respective bodies of work encompass distinct experiences that are radically different in tone, character, and execution.
Ligne Blanche Paris worked closely with the estates of these artists to create products that capture the spirit of those they represent.
“Every product is devised in perfect knowledge of, and with a scrupulous respect for, the works of the artists with whom we work,” says Pelegry.
The MoMA Design Store will carry a limited number of these artist edition plates at two store locations: on West 53rd Street across from the Museum, and in SoHo at 81 Spring Street.
Through examining four pieces in The Museum of Modern Art’s collection, one can better understand how John Cage’s embrace of indeterminacy can be traced in the period following 4’33″ (1952) and in more recent years, and how these later works play with the concepts of chance and the ephemeral in different ways. Read more
This season the MoMA Design Store is pleased to announce the launch of an exclusive new series of artist-produced wares. To celebrate these artistic collaborations we’re going share with Inside/Out readers a behind-the-scenes look at the process of designing these exciting products, and background about the artists involved. Read more
If you visit MoMA’s exhibition There Will Never Be Silence: Scoring John Cage’s 4’33″, you will encounter a suite of enigmatic drawings by Fluxus-affiliated poet Jackson Mac Low, comprising swirling letters and seemingly nonsensical combinations of words. Although they seem like meaningless scribbles, the words are actually legible and meant to be read aloud. Read more
Rauschenberg affixed the bald eagle onto a canvas that would eventually become Canyon (1959), one in a series of radically experimental works he called Combines, which mixed paint and other art materials with things found in daily life. In Canyon, a seemingly incongruous variety of objects surround the eagle, including a photograph of Rauschenberg’s son, Christopher; a postcard of the Statue of Liberty; a man’s white shirt, cut and opened up; a crumpled tube of paint; fragments of printed words; and an industrial metal drum.
Rauschenberg: Canyon, the latest volume in the MoMA One on One series, sheds light on the genesis of this startling and enigmatic work by tracing the artist’s education, influences, and travels through Italy, Morocco, and Spain. Rauschenberg first started using found materials while attending Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina, where every student was required to pitch in with community labor. Rauschenberg volunteered for garbage collection, and ended up incorporating the objects he found in his classmates’ trash into his art. The hybrid creations he began producing in the mid-1950 with recognizable, everyday items offered a defiant counterpoint to the quintessential American style of Abstract Expressionism that prevailed at the time. As he wrote in his earliest statement on the Combines, in 1956: “I consider the text of a newspaper, the detail of a photograph, the stitch in a baseball, and the filament in a light bulb as fundamental to the painting as brush stroke or enamel drip of paint. In the end, what one sees as my work is what I choose to make with no guarantee of enlightenment, humor, beauty or art.”
Canyon, currently on view at MoMA in Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New, had been in gallerist Ileana Sonnabend’s personal collection since she purchased it from the artist the year it was made. Sonnabend was one of Rauschenberg’s lifelong champions, and her support played a significant role in his becoming the first American artist to be awarded the grand prize at the Venice Biennale, in 1964. Following her death in 2007, her heirs entered a curious debate with the IRS regarding the work. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 made it illegal to buy, sell, barter, or possess a bald eagle in the U.S. Canyon was allowed to remain in Sonnabend’s collection because Rauschenberg had provided a notarized statement saying the bird had been stuffed by one of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders before the laws’ passage, but because it could not be sold, the family’s appraisers had valued it at zero. The IRS disagreed, ruling that it was worth far more, and assessed an estate tax and penalties on the heirs. The resolution they reached allowed the family to donate the work to a U.S. institution in exchange for dropping the tax claim. Thus, in 2012, Canyon was generously donated to The Museum of Modern Art, where it joins five other Combines, to provide an in-depth representation of this key aspect of Rauschenberg’s career.
To learn more, download a free preview of Rauschenberg: Canyon by Leah Dickerman.