After breakfast of a coffee and a croissant at an outdoor café in the capital and nine Streets part of the Canal District, I headed to the Albert Cuyp outdoor market in the De Pijp neighborhood, a poorer neighborhood to the south.
The market had a lot of junk:
And plenty of food including fish, cheese and berries.
And even a food cart:
I stopped at Van Dobben, a cafe famous for their croquettes. I had a beef croquettes on bread.
I headed to Rembrandt’s house
One was a giant Jesus whose face was selfies anyone could upload:
I entered the old churchmaster’s offices. On the wall were the shields of many of the church masters. Most were elaborate. Why did Nicholaus get a hotdog for his coat of arms?
Dinner that night was at Geb. Hartering. A separate post to come on how amazing it was.
After spending the morning changing hotels, I headed to the Rikjsmuseum.
My new hotel:
What’s with the dead frog:
For some reason I was focused on odd animals:
Odd people too:
The afternoon was more somber with a visit to the Anne Frank House
Eight people lived on the 3rd and 4th floors at the back of the building which otherwise housed a pectin (for making jam) distribution business. They were discovered after about two years. Only Anne Frank’s father survived.
I arrived in Amsterdam early in the morning and headed straight to my hotel. No rest or shower for the weary. I had to wait till the afternoon for my room so I headed out into the streets early in the morning before most people had woken up.
Walked around the quiet Canal streets and then headed to the Van Gogh museum. Got there 15 minutes before they opened. I had a reservation for 2 PM that afternoon but I hoped to be checking into my room at that time.
The museum seemed run down and poorly lit but they’re doing work on one of the buildings so perhaps that’s why.
I saw lots of great Van Gogh paintings. Somewhere so familiar that I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen them in person before. Others, I definitely have not seen before.
An unlikely Van Gogh painting:
From there I moved on to the modern art museum, the Stedlijk.
They had works by well-known Dutch and non-Dutch artists and many Dutch artists I have never heard of.
While the works or heavy on abstraction, I was struck by two self-portraits that were side-by-side one by German Max Beckmann:
And another by Brit Stanley Spencer:
I’ve become a big fan of German artist Martin Kippenberger and they had quite a few of his works I hadn’t seen before. The museum had recently put on display three paintings of his from 1985 that I was not familiar with. They are three different buildings that all have narrow horizontal windows one is the Betty Ford clinic another is a present and another is a school. Guess which one this is:
After a night on the plane and a day in the museums, I headed back to the hotel to check in to my room.
My hotel (a great location but I checked out this morning–they put me in the sauna room, which I hadn’t requested):
In New York, we love lines. If there is a line, that is where we want to be. So, in the last few years, we have stood in line for events like Christian Marclay’s The Clock, Yayoi Kusama’s infinity room at David Zwirner, Doug Wheeler’s light room also at David Zwirner, the rain room at MOMA. And now, the place to be is the Kara Walker exhibit at the soon to be torn down Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Kara Walker is a contemporary mid-career artist who is known for scenes done in black paper-cut silhouettes. At first glance, the paper cuts look like something you might stencil in the baby’s room, but they depict scenes involving rape, violence, sex and slavery. Although the images in her work are mostly from the pre-Civil War south, they are also a commentary on abuses that exist around the world today.
The scale of her pieces can go from one extreme to another — from floor-to-ceiling wall murals (above) to small cut outs in vitrines or on table tops (below).
Walker’s work, which deals with issues of race, gender, violence and sexuality can be unsettling and repulsive and ambiguous and contradictory. It can be very controversial. A recent New York times feature mentions how veteran black artist Betye Saar criticized Walker for “her negative stereotypes of blacks as both victims and aggressors.” Walker has been awarded a MacArthur genius grant, her works are included in many museum collections.
Her current installation is different from her well-known silhouettes. On Friday afternoon, June 27th, the line to get into Walker’s current show stretched for about six blocks down Kent Avenue in Williamsburg.
Once in the show, you walk into the cavernous, now abandoned, sugar refinery to see a giant sphinx-like sugar mammy at the opposite end. Entitled “A Subtlety,” there is nothing subtle about it. (By the way, a subtlety is a medieval sculpture made of sugar or marzipan for royal families, often to decorate tables)
As you walk towards her, there are smaller molasses children. Many of them are carrying baskets. To me they seemed to be reminders of child labor (which I had just seen featured the night before on The Daily Show in a feature about children working in tobacco fields). Walker based them on some 10-inch slave boy knickknacks she had purchased on amazon.
At this point in the exhibit–which has been open since April–a number of the sugar children have melted under the heat of the factory and have toppled to the ground and broken.
Kara Walker’s installation deals with many of the issues she has addressed in the past. The sphinx is a stereotype of the handkerchief wearing mammy who took care of white families’ children. In addition, she represents a stereotype of an overly sexualized black woman.
In 1984, Sheena Easton had a controversial hit with the song “Sugar Walls” written by Prince.
Some of the lyrics:
“Come spend the night inside my sugar walls
I can tell you want me
It’s impossible to hide
Your body’s on fire
Admit it come inside
My sugar walls
My sugar walls
My sugar walls
My sugar walls”
TV and radio stations refused to air the song because sugar walls referred to the walls of a “vagina.” Well, Kara Walker’s sculpture includes the ultimate “sugar walls:”
The Domino Sugar Refinery was built in 1856 and for some time was producing half of the sugar in the United States. The refinery, which is about to be torn down to make room for luxury residences, still has the smell of molasses and sugar can be seen every where–dripping down the walls, at the top of pillars, in every crevasse and behind every wall. Sugar, which was at one time a luxury product, is making room, for a modern day luxury product.
The walls of the refinery look like abstract paintings:
The show ends July 6, 2014
NY Times on the exhibit
An excellent ten-minute in-depth look at the creation of the project (video with Walker in it)
Interview with Walker in The Brooklyn Rail on how the exhibit developed
Jerry Saltz’s reaction to the exhibit
Poetry, prose and illustrations related to the exhibition’s central themes, from five innovative and internationally renowned writers and artist on the Exhibit’s website
A discussion and guide to Walker’s art work
Video from the Live at NY Public Library Event (excerpt of interview starts 2 minutes in)
I had seen some small focused exhibits of Ai Wei Wei’s work in New York galleries over the last few years. The show at the Brooklyn Museum provides an opportunity to see a a wide range of his works, including sculptures, photography and video, spanning more than 20 years, and gives a good sense of who he is as an artist and a political activist.
I noticed a few themes:
Old vs. New
I spent 6 weeks travelling through China a few years ago. Construction was everywhere. The smallest towns were full of giant cranes. We constantly went looking for a restaurant or shop we had read about only to find either a giant empty construction site or a giant new skyscraper. We saw old parts of towns (e.g. Beijing, Pingyao, Lijiang, Shanghai) torn down and Disneyland-esque towns built in their places. Ai deals with this directly–there are rooms wallpapered with photos of construction sites–and less directly, as he does in one of his most iconic pieces:
In “Coca Cola Vase” (this one made in 2007) Ai has taken an ancient vase from around 4,000 B.C. and painted the Coca Cola logo on it, defacing it and turning it into a piece of modern advertising.
In “Colored Vases” (2007-2010), he has taken vases from the Han Dynasty and painted them in bright colors with industrial paint. Ai lived in the U.S. from for 12 years from 1981-1993. He started making works like the Coca Cola vase (an earlier one not on display is from 1994) in the mid-1990’s after he returned to China. On view (behind the colorful urns) is a set of photographs from 1995 in which Ai is seen dropping Han Dynasty vases on the ground, smashing them.
When I was in China, I travelled into the hills of northern Yunan province near the border of Tibet in order to visit the oldest monastery in China. Only as we were hiking up to the monastery did I notice something strange in the view up ahead—the monastery was missing. When I got to the top, I found out that the monastery had been torn down. It was made of wood and was deemed a fire hazard. A new modern monastery was being built in its place.
Ai Wei Wei has made art works from wood salvaged from dismantled ancient temples, including “Map of China” (2008):
It looks like an abstract wood sculpture, but if looked upon from above (which you can’t do because it is about 6 feet tall) it forms a Map of China.
Taking Functional Objects and Turning them into Something New
A number of Ai Wei Wei’s sculptures are made of things that had a functional purpose, such as pieces of furniture or bicycles.
Moon Chest is made up of a series of chests made of huali wood–the highly valued wood of a Chinese quince tree. Ai has cut four holes into each piece of furniture transforming them from functional objects to pieces of art. When they are lined up and you look through them, you can see different phases of the moon.
He has made pieces from stools:
The show includes “Stacked”, a site specific installation of 700 bicycles. It is a comment on the importance that bicycles have played in everyday Chinese life. And perhaps it is signaling the replacement of bicycles by automobiles–the bicycle no longer serves the same function it used to.
Multitudes vs. the Individual
Many of Ai’s works make us strain to find the individual in the multitudes. He questions how we value things, and looks at mass-production. The piece which best exemplifies this in the Brooklyn exhibit is “Bowl of Pearls”. You can also see a similar quality in his sunflower seed piece (which is not included in this exhibit), in the rebar piece, “Straight,” discussed below, and in the names of earthquake victims that fills a long wall in the room with “Straight”.
Art as a Political Message
And, of course, a large part of his work relates to political issues and some of his most recent projects. He has brought a lot of attention to the response of the government to the earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008. He has started a project to find the names of the children who perished in shoddily constructed schools. One room of the exhibit has a wall of the names of the victims, and a large sculpture called “Straight” made of the tangled pieces of rebar from the ruins of the earthquake that he has collected and had straightened out.
Another room has a serpent on the ceiling made of backpacks like those of the children who perished.
The river crabs work shown above also has a political message. Ai served 10,000 crabs to guests invited to view the demolition of his studio in Shanghai by the government. The word for river crabs is He Xie, which is also the word for harmonious–a reference to the censorship of the regime, which is connected with China’s calls for a “harmonious society, free from dissent”.
The exhibit has a number of works related to Ai Wei Wei’s 2011 imprisonment and his persecution by the police. His passport has been confiscated and he is not permitted to leave China. Ai’s lawyer has recently been arrested.
And there a a number of videos on display, including the documentary So Sorry, which had its own room at the exhibit. Ai’s website has a lot of materials including many of the videos that we in the exhibit and others such as a music video about imprisonment written by and starring Ai.
The exhibit is on view at the Brooklyn Museum through August 10, 2014. A separate admission fee is required.
For more about Ai Wei Wei, I recommend the documentary “Ai Wei Wei Never Sorry“. It is available on Netflix
Read about the exhibit elsewhere:
New York Times review
WNYC: listen to Brian Lehrer and art critic Deborah Solomon discuss the show