Tag Archives: art

For Art’s Sake

Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint

by Hope Madden

Film pioneer Alice Guy Blache and contemporary art ground-breaker Yayoi Kusama were copied, hidden and disregarded by the predominantly male industry that determined not only financial success but historical acknowledgment.

In 1906 – five years before Kandinsky painted Composition VII, long considered the genesis of abstract art—Sweden’s Hilma af Klimpt had already created a breathtaking series of abstracts. Not that you’ve heard of her.

How could you? As Halina Dyrschka’s documentary Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint points out, she wasn’t accepted in her time.

Not uncommon for a great artist. What Dyrschka and those she speaks with in the documentary find far more frustrating is that today, even when her genius is acknowledged (more than a million visitors have taken in the current exhibition of her work), art history shuns her.

Leaving behind hundreds of paintings and thousands of pages of journal entries and sketches, af Klint offers an unusual story of a singular life. Inspired by science, nature and spirituality in ways that would seem wildly uncommon today and must have been outright bizarre in her time, she devoted herself to a vibrant artistic exploration.

The filmmaker lingers lovingly on the work, devoting every inch of screen to the vivid color and fascinating images. She surrounds footage of the paintings with landscapes, architecture and even talking head footage framed for elegance. The material balances the energy of af Klint’s work with a calm that’s sometimes even quietly spiritual.

Still, the underlying outrage at history’s reluctance to accept the truth gives the film an energy matched by the excitement of discovery, which is never lost on the filmmaker. As impatient as the film is with the unhurried acknowledgment of genius, it’s equally thrilled to be able to share this genius with an eager if unknowing audience.  

I Do

The Proposal

by Rachel Willis

One part documentary, one part art piece, and one part love letter, The Proposal is an unusual film.

Visual artist and director Jill Magid has an interest in the architect Luis Barragán, particularly his professional archive, which is currently owned by the Swiss furniture company, Vitra. Overseen by Frederica Zanco, the professional collection has been withheld from the public for over twenty years.

The beginning of the film asks some interesting questions about the nature of art and ownership. Not only does Vitra own the physical archives, they also own the copyright for Barragán’s work. A photographer who has taken pictures of Barragán’s work, for example, owns the photo, but Vitra owns distribution rights. It’s a confusing legal quandary that has, in many ways, held Barragán’s work hostage.

However, rather than examine the implications of legal ownership, artistic legacy, and the ethics of corporations owning an artist’s work, Magid has a different agenda for the film.

Working on an artistic installation of her own, Magid has envisioned her entire project, including the film, as that love letter (or a proposal) to Frederica Zanco. What she wants is revealed throughout the course of the film, and her methods to entice Zanco are unorthodox. Many viewers will take issue with her tactics while others will see them as inspired. Part of the film focuses on the debate aroused by her project. 

When the documentary explores the architect (Barragán) and not the artist (Magid), it’s a great film. The moments that concentrate solely on Barragán pay a stunning homage to the man and his work.  However, most of the film is focused on Magid, her project and her goals, which often comes across as indulgent, sometimes even arrogant.   

Though Magid claims she’s sincere in her interest in Barragán’s work and its future, it’s hard to know for sure when each moment is used as a piece in her own installation. Is the film a touching tribute to the architect and those who admire him? Or is it a marketing ploy to draw attention to the artist?

In a scene where Magid addresses Barragán’s family, we might have gained additional insight into her true intentions, but rather than allow us access to the meeting, it’s relegated to a montage. What did she say to Barragán’s family to convince them to allow her to carry out her proposal to Zanco?

The questions raised in the film have less to do with the future of Barragán’s archives and more to do with Magid’s own art, which makes The Proposal an unexpected, if not entirely interesting, film.


Managing Madness

Kusama: Infinity

by Hope Madden

There is a great deal to find frustrating in the life story of 96-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, and even more to celebrate.

A maverick visual artist, Kusama is now the most financially successful female artist of all time. Given her years of struggle and the history of artists who languish during their lifetimes only to find success long after death, there is something supremely satisfying in seeing this uncommon talent live long enough to enjoy global success, both financial and critical.

The fact that she sees it from the voluntary confines of a mental institution is all the more curious and remarkable.

Co-writer/director/producer Heather Lenz’s biography follows Kusama’s story chronologically. Through interviews with the artist. and input from curators, gallery owners and friends, we’re privy to an unpleasant, and even scarring childhood. Naturally, it’s this very struggle that informed not only Kusama’s work but her work ethic, as well.

Driven and unimaginably brave, Kusama moved to the United States alone in the late 1950s seeking success. Unsurprisingly, her ambition was seen as brash and self-serving; meanwhile, her ideas were being lifted by better known (read: white, male) avant-garde artists of the era.

She created repetitive wallpaper before Warhol, who is just one of the icons of pop art to have robbed Kusama’s vision for their own inspiration.

Obviously, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and after many years of frustration followed by ostracism, Kusama has finally found global popularity.

Mirroring the tale she’s telling, co-writer/director/producer Heather Lenz’s film contains elements that frustrate, but what she celebrates more than makes up for it.

If you’re looking for clarity concerning Kusama’s biography, you’ll find little here. Whether vague stories of the artist’s childhood, brief but inarticulate tales of Kusama’s her early years in New York, or fascinating but disconnected images of relationships, Kusama: Infinity drops biographical ideas as soon as it picks them up.

What the film does convey well is the relationship between Kusama’s work and her mental state. Whether the OCD that refuses to let go of an image—hence the netting, polka dots and other repetitions in the work—to her depression and suicidal tendencies, Kusama’s mental health and art have always been tied.

The other great selling point is the sheer amount of Kusama’s artwork Lenz spills across the screen. Few artists render work so vivid, images benefitting from the very largest available canvas. Lenz piques your interest with the story of this unusual, fierce talent, but the payoff is in the color and spectacle of the art.

Liam Neeson, You Can Read Me Poetry Anytime

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet

by Christie Robb

Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran’s 1923 classic volume The Prophet has been turned into a tranquil animated feature by writer/director Roger Allers (The Lion King) and producer Salma Hayek. Suggested viewing for those who require a respite from the routine and petty frustrations of life.

The movie frames Gibran’s poems with the story of a little girl, Almitra (Quvenzhane Wallis), mute since the death of her father. Her mother (Salma Hayek) works as a housekeeper for the imprisoned artist/poet Mustafa (Liam Neeson) and takes her to work one day.

It happens to be the day that Mustafa is released from his confinement and promised safe passage to a ship that will take him back to his homeland. But all is not what it seems. Almitra discovers that authorities have ulterior plans for Mustafa and his supposedly treasonous writing.

As Mustafa is marched from the house where he has been confined for seven years, his jailors (Alfred Molina and John Krasinski) allow him the occasional break to visit with the community he loves. Each communion becomes the occasion for a poem meditating on a theme: freedom, children, marriage, work, nature, love, compassion, the nature of good and evil, life and death.

Each of these meditations is illustrated by a different animator: Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), Bill Plympton (Guide Dog), and others. In their work you can see the echoes of Escher, Indian shadow puppetry, van Gogh, Klimt, Matisse, and Chagall.

Although the frame story of Mustafa and Almitra is a bit weak, the poems—featuring music from Glen Hansard (Once), Damien Rice, and Yo-Yo Ma; and the buttery, lilting voice of Neeson—make the majority of the film a serene delight for the eyes, ears, mind, and heart.