Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Jimi Hendrix crowned Best Guitarist Ever

On 27 November, Jimi Hendrix's birth date, an expert panel at Rolling Stone chose Jimi Hendrix as the best guitarist of all time. He only lived to 28 but it was enough to leave a mark- including his stage theatrics, psychadelic mood and outrageous fashion sense. He was found dead in his apartment on September 18, 1970, attributed to accidental overdose.

Thanks to posthumuous releases and writings, including last year's 'Valleys of Neptune', the sound of Hendrix remains. This week, he surpassed the likes of Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend to receive the Rolling Stone award. Apple has also launched the "Jimi Hendrix- the Complete Experience App". It can be downloaded for free from the iTunes App Store and allows users to explore Hendrix-related text, images and video.

Hendrix's imaginative lyrics and psychadelic mood has made his sound remain. My favourite performance of his is at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 where he danced with his guitar, played it backwards and eventually set it on a fire. Hendrix is definitely worthy of this week's Rolling Stone award.

Favourite quote: If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Inside AGNSW's Picasso exhibition

A man known for his geometric styling, bold distortions and loud symbolism, Picasso is by no means a small deal. He is heralded as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. But a new exhibition opening this month at the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) provides us with a more serious-minded and politically committed Picasso. It showcases his personal collections from the Musée National Picasso in Paris. Director Anne Baldassari has put the exhibition together with Sydney in mind.

Josephine Touma, AGNSW public programs coordinator, says that the exhibition will be among their biggest, and has been in negotiations for a number of years. “I think in the public imagination, Picasso is kind of out there as crux of all things creative, modernism, the 20th century, but people don’t necessarily have a really good knowledge of the vast array of styles that he worked in - the length of his career, the richness of his output,” she says.

Dr Fay Brauer, art academic, believes that the exhibition is arriving during an intense revisionist scholarship of Picasso. She approves of the reworking of his cultural and political relevance and rejecting of many mythologies surrounding him.

Dr Brauer is an associate professor at the College of Fine Arts in Sydney. She also works at the University of London, where she studied along with the renowned Courtauld Institute of Art. Six weeks ago, she engaged in a discussion with Baldassari on the politics of exhibiting Picasso.

“I think we have to think of Picasso as an artist with endless energy and also on an internal quest to investigate at all times in all places. His radar was never turned off,” Dr Brauer says. Picasso’s nature as a prolific artist is demonstrated by the over 150 works travelling to Sydney.

Baldassari curates by considering specific cultural histories. For Australia, she was concerned with the way Picasso engaged with indigenous art. Dr Brauer also discussed her selection of artworks that focus on the hedonistic beach culture of the Cote D’Azur in France, and the way in which that relates to Sydney. Baldassari’s Paris team installs the exhibition and she examines each hanging.

Les Demoiselles D'Avignon (1907)
Picasso was thought to have drawn upon African art and rituals upon creating this work.

“I think educationally, because she’s tried to contextualise Picasso and bring out the Catalan aspects, as well as many other aspects- particularly his political ones, it will prove a highly educational exhibition,” Brauer says.

Picasso’s status as a cultural outsider separated him from Parisian bourgeois decadence. He is from Catalonia, a separate ethnic region in Spain, but travelled to Paris because it was the modernist art centre in the early 1900s. Life as a diasporic artist was hard but helped him devise a new approach to art. Dr Brauer says that the Parisians shunned Picasso at first as an artist etranger.

“Before the First World War he was also very much derided, in fact denounced, for his Cubism - and cubism was seen to be a destructive art form,” she says.

In Australia today, with multicultural policies at work, diasporic artists are valued for their work. Dr Brauer says: “I think Picasso needs to be seen in that light and seen as an inspiring figure because he took on the challenges, and he didn’t capitulate.”

The exhibition exposes the relationship between Picasso’s Catalan background and his development of Cubism through archival material. Most original documentation, including various photographs, accompanies the art. Josephine from AGNSW says that it was a challenge to find space but photographs complement the exhibition. “It’s a great opportunity to see images of that artwork evolving over time and Picasso in a more informal context,” she says.

“What’s often overlooked in Picasso is this remarkable sense of humour, and satire and parody, as well as a sense of the absurd,” Dr Brauer says.

Woman with Pears (1909)
Paintings of Picasso's lover Fernande Olivier were inspired by his strong connection to the Catalan landscape and portrayed in his representation of women.

The exhibition progresses chronologically into periods of Picasso’s career, including blue, rose and Cubist.

The show is part of the Sydney International Art Series run by Events NSW, which will showcase an international exhibition each year. “Never before in Australia have we seen this volume and quality of Picasso’s work up at the one time and the breadth of his career,” Josephine says.

Coming programs include free lectures, extended opening hours and various performances such as the major symposium.

Timed ticketing will not restrict time spent in the show, but visitors will need to pre-book at www.ticketek.com.au.

According to Dr Brauer, Picasso stands out among the artist greats. “Picasso continuously engaged in challenges. He could have taken the easy option- he never did.”

“He was constantly challenging the parameters of art, constantly expanding them, and even challenging his own practice. And I think that’s a great lesson to learn.”

Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris is at the Art Gallery of NSW from November 12.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Film Review - "Bill Cunningham New York" directed by Richard Press

Bill Cunningham New York (2011)               ★ 1/2

This film deserves four stars simply for its spectacular cinematography and seamless editing. Press brings us right into the world of 82 year old renowned fashion photographer Bill Cunningham- in all aspects of his work and everyday life. We hear from prominent people in the fashion world and friends and colleagues of Cunningham. If anything, the film reminds us of the creative opportunities for fashion and photography in the 21st century.

What's interesting is how Cunningham distinguishes between interesting people and interesting outfits. He sees fashion as art arranged on the body and captures it so. His eccentricities are evident in everything from the minimalist way he lives (no kitchen, no proper bed)- to leaving conversations to photograph something outrageous. The octogenarian travels enthusiastically on his bike around New York, in rain or shine, snapping photos and dodging taxis at the same time. 

A major part of the film also focuses on his appearance at various New Yorkan social events - and it is here that we see how seriously he takes his job. Cunningham insists on not eating, and sends away even a glass of water - so that he can maintain a distance in his photography. The editing provides all sorts of perspectives- we hear from Bill alone, in front of the camera, but also get a sense of what he's like in a social sense.

This documentary rightly celebrates Cunningham's contribution to photography and the arts in New York- and instead of recounting his past achievements, it focuses on the present and his current job with the New York Times. It is really a snapshot of a day in the life of Bill and a great watch for any fan of fashion or the arts.

Visit Bill Cunningham's New York Times online page.

Bill on style: "A lot of people have taste but very few are daring to be creative."
Bill on money: "If you don't take money they can't tell you what to do...money is the cheapest thing. Freedom is the most expensive."
Bill on beauty: "He who seeks beauty...will find it."

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Film Review - "Midnight in Paris" directed by Woody Allen

Midnight in Paris (2011)              

A slightly more whimsical version of Allen's earlier works, this film delves into mysterious Parisian nights, eccentric artistic characters of the 20's and the contradictions of the creative mind. Woody Allen himself does not appear in the film, but we can draw similarities to the protagonist, playwright and francophile, Gil (played by Owen Wilson). Although his character seems at times naive and over-expressive, it's through his eyes that we can understand the fervour surrounding Paris as a city through the ages.

Visiting Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy), the wealthy American style of tourism is exemplified, with the trio preferring to dine in fancy restaurants (they seem to be constantly eating) and watch Hollywood films rather than walk around the city and take it in authentically. The satiric script is great, with the characters almost reaching heated arguments about Tea Party politics and the legitimacy of a writer's lifestyle.

The cinematography is fantastic-the opening shots depict the landmarks of Paris, although a common portrayal it seems fresh and simple. This ode to the city sets up the fim perfectly and brings us into the traditional Paris of the turn of the century which inspires and has inspired many artists. The characters of these past artists are brought to life by a great cast and I think this film carries out what it sets to achieve- an ode to a city and a celebration of creativity.

Favourite quote: “The artist's job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote to the emptiness of existence.” (Gertrude Stein)