Author: Chloe Hsu

Interested in art, classical music, cooking, traveling, data science, geometry, graphics, and more.

MoMA/Tate Dataset

Found this MoMA dataset on Kaggle:

https://www.kaggle.com/momanyc/museum-collection

The artworks dataset contains 130,262 records, representing all of the works that have been accessioned into MoMA’s collection and cataloged in our database. It includes basic metadata for each work, including title, artist, date, medium, dimensions, and date acquired by the Museum.

Yet to try out more interesting analysis, but here’s a list of top 20 countries with the most number of artists featured in MoMA. A simple gender count shows that about 18% of all featured artists are female. 

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Top 20 Countries with most artists featured in MoMA

Top 2 longest artwork titles:

  1. Lisa Oppenheim, 2012, photography. ‘A Handley Page Halifax of No. 4 Group flies over the suburbs of Caen, France, during a major daylight raid to assist the Normandy land battle. 467 aircraft took part in the attack, which was originally intended to have bombed German strongpoints north of, Caen, but the bombing area was eventually shifted nearer the city because of the proximity of Allied troops to the original targets. The resulting bombing devastated the northern suburbs, 1944/2012’
  2. Jimmie Durham, 1989, moose skull with antler, metal pipe, wood, and paint. ‘The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan is the World’s Largest Gothic Cathedral. Except, of course, that it is a fake; first by the simple fact of being built in Manhattan, at the turn of the century. But the stone work is re-inforced with steel which is expanding with rust. Someday it will destroy the stone. The Cathedral is in Morningside Heights overlooking a panoramic view of Harlem which is separated by a high fence.’

To be updated! There’s also a dataset by the Tate Collection in UK. Should be interesting to compare the two. https://github.com/tategallery/collection

 

 

Takashi Murakami: Flatness in 3D

I never knew how flat a painting could possibly be, until I saw the collection of Takashi Murakami at Broad. So flat. As flat as an iPhone screen. As flat as a blade straight out of a knife sharpener. Super flat.

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My arms and legs rot off and though my blood rushes forth, the tranquility of my heart shall be prized above all. (Red blood, black blood, blood that is not blood), 2007, acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on board, signage in platinum and gold leaf

^ Yes, that is the full title of the painting.

I wanted to touch it so bad. Of course I didn’t. Instead, I looked it from the left, from the right, from all kinds of side angles. After looking at it for 10 minutes, I still couldn’t convince myself to believe that it was painted, instead of digitally printed.

My friend told me that Takashi Murakami hires a group of young artists to execute his paintings and make them super flat. Poor young artists. I feel bad for them.

There’s something theatrical about seeing a giant flat 2D object in a 3D space. In comparison, when you see the picture of the painting above, the picture is flat, but you can’t tell if that implies the original painting is flat. There’s a difference between the 2D projection of a 3D object, and an actual 2D object in a 3D space. You need to be in a three-dimensional space to recognize if something is inherently two-dimensional or just a projection. We see 2D objects all the time, film, photography, manga, etc, but it is still such a novel experience to view Takashi Murakami’s superflatness in a 3D context.

In one of his interviews, Murakami mentioned that the ‘superflat’ movement ties back to flatness of post-war Japanese culture, but for me I see it more as a reminder that paintings are three-dimensional art. By taking away the bumps and the brush strokes, he draws attention to the lack of texture, and therefore reminds us the importance of texture as an artistic expression.

Kerry James Marshall: Music Scores and Color Worksheets

 

There are two different reasons that I like a painting: the overall visual effect appeals to me emotionally, or the painting has interesting ideas and plastic elements. For example, I like Picasso and Kandinsky for both reasons, the Barbizon school for the first reason, and Dali and Magritte for the second reason. Usually it’s a mix.

However, Kerry James Marshall is a weird case. I strongly dislike how his paintings look – there’s an instinctive desire to close my eyes or walk away – yet I still find them interesting enough that I stare at them for hours.

When walking around the Kerry James Marshall exhibition at MOCA for a first round of coarse look, I was not particularly attracted to any painting. As I was about to leave in disappointment, a staff member was leading a group discussion on Past Times. Two of the little girls in the group were incredibly observant, and pointed out many elements that slipped my attention. I realized that I could still enjoy the individual building blocks of his paintings without finding it pleasant as a whole.

In Past Times, the golf player and the croquet player freeze in motion, but the music notes continue flowing out of the radio. The motion is stopped at one fixed instance of time, whereas the music notes show the passage of the time.

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Past Times, by Kerry James Marshall, 1997

So I went around the gallery again carefully to search for other interesting ideas, and this time Kerry James Marshall did not disappoint. This untitled portrait contains a rich set of ideas, and it is from a series of portraits of black artists with palettes and color worksheets. (At first I thought it was a series of self-portraits but later found out Kerry James Marshall is a male artist.)

  1. The artist is probably facing a mirror, based on the sitting posture. It’s unclear whether she is coloring the numbered worksheet at the back, or whether she is painting this painting itself.
  2. The painting is recursive, and if you look at the color worksheet carefully, the gray part left of her red hair also has the shape of her hair, so it’s a third layer of recursion.
  3. The artist is almost entirely in black, but her blouse is very colorful, and so is the image of her in the color worksheet. Metaphorically, black artists are unnoticed by the society and deserve more attention.
  4. The palette is unproportionally huge. Perhaps this goes along the same line that black artists are underrepresented and hidden behind their work.
  5. It’s possible to complete the color worksheet based on the numbers and the existing colors. Even though no one would actually complete it, it’s entertaining to leave a room for such imagination.
  6. It suggests a different way to perceive colors. Usually, we look at the overall color scheme as a whole when the colors are all visually present. In this color worksheet, we look at individual parts and ask what color the number corresponds to.
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Untitled, by Kerry James Marshal, 2009

Another interesting one is Black Painting (2003), which depicts the murder scene of African American activist Fred Hampton in different shades of black. For more information about Black Painting:

http://witnessvoices.blantonmuseum.org/tumblr-post-from-blantonmuseum-4/

Shoji Ueda on the Sand Dunes

 

It never crossed my mind that photography could be such a good medium for surrealism, but here’s Shoji Ueda (植田正治).

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Hat, 1980

At first, I walked pass “My Wife on the Dunes” painted on the exterior wall of a building in low resolution, and thought the human figures were photoshopped onto the landscape. The composition was interesting so I took a picture of the wall. A few days later when I visited the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, there was a series of prints by Shoji Ueda on display, and I realized “oh, that’s what it was”.

That being said, it’s a fair question to ask: If it’s the same image, does it really matter whether the human figures were real or photoshopped? I think it does. When we see an image, the sense of vision elicits emotions and thoughts. But it’s not just the sense of vision, we also take into account the story behind the image. The viewer’s response is different depending on the story, so I’d say the story is part of the artistic expression in this sense.

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My Wife on the Dunes, 1950

The sand dunes near his home are his stage to pose family members and friends. For me, the most fascinating aspect of Shoji Ueda’s works is the creative use of space. I can’t put it into words so I’ll quote Mark Rothko from his essay “Space”:

If one understands, or if one has the sensibility to live in, the particular kind of space to which a painting is committed, then he has obtained the most comprehensive statement of the artist’s attitude toward reality. Space, therefore, is the chief plastic manifestation of the artist’s conception of reality.

This explains why different art lovers go to different artists to satisfy themselves. Some prefer Raphael, some castigate them. The same is true of Giotto and Titian and the thousands of other masters who were so plentifully produced in those great times. In the case of none of these masters are the opponents unaware of their great qualities. These castigations are simply the result of differences of spatial faith.

Peace of Mind in Horizontal Lines

Maybe visiting art museums is like some sort of religious devotion. This thought occurred to me yesterday when I was alone in a roomful of Yamazaki Hiroshi (山崎 博) photographs.

Yamazaki Hiroshi

Yamazaki Hiroshi’s “Horizon” series

Yamazaki Hiroshi (1946 – ) specializes in shooting sunlight on the sea. His individual photographs didn’t mean much to me on their own, but looking at hundreds of them together in a row was a different immersive experience. For a moment I forgot about time and forgot about lunch plans with my friend, as if nothing else existed other than the sea and the sun.

I had a strong déjà vu feeling when I stepped into the gallery, and it took me a while to realize that the déjà vu must have come from Mark Rothko.

rothko room in moca

Mark Rothko room in MOCA

Mark Rothko’s paintings are meant to be seen up close, so close that the painting dominates the entire field of vision. When I stand in front of a Rothko painting, a voice inside the painting is calling me, and I have a strong impulse to walk into one of the color blocks. Strangely, it’s always very clear to me which of the two or three color blocks I want to walk into, without any ambiguity.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living between a mundane world and a “spiritual” world, even though I’m agnostic and not religious. Art is one of the keys to the “spiritual” world, and so are music and literature and other things. In that sense, visiting art museum is a way to constantly remind myself of the “spiritual” world, so it’s like going to church.

For this reason, I’m always fascinated by the ideas behind the Rothko Chapel and Tadao Ando’s Church of Light, despite not having been to either place in person. The Rothko chapel in Houston is “the world’s first broadly ecumenical center, a holy place open to all religions and belonging to none”, with fourteen Rothko paintings inside. The Church of Light near Osaka is a Protestant church, but I love it as art.

church of light

Church of Light by Tadao Ando

Last week a professor recommended Rothko’s essay collection “The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art” to me. Maybe I’ll update this post after reading the book.

 

God of the Crossroads by Wifredo Lam

I find Wifredo Lam’s paintings kind of creepy. The Afro-Cuban ghosts and jungle animals stare at me, as if they can read deep inside my mind. Their round eyes are telling me that they seem to be scared by what they see in me.

When I look at this painting God of the Crossroads, I imagine taking on a voyage up the Congo River like in Heart of Darkness. At some point, the river forks into two branches. I stop my boat, trying to decide which way to go. Suddenly, when I glance at the riverbank, I see a faint image of the God of the Crossroads through the dense foliage. It looks at me as if it already knows which direction my subconscious mind wants to take. It is telling me that direction is wrong, but I have no idea which direction I am secretly thinking about. The God of the Crossroads fades away, leaving me alone in the middle of the waterways…

God of the Crossroads

The Sombre Malembo, God of the Crossroads (1943)

Village Houses – Feininger, Cezanne, Münter, Metzinger

I saw these four paintings of village houses recently at different places, and it’s quite interesting to compare them side by side.

Some random thoughts.. Jean Metzinger’s Landscape reminds me of Angela Carter’s The Magical Toyshop, when Melanie gets stuck on a tree in the middle of the night. Village in Thuringia is exactly how I picture the end of the world in Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldLower Main Street would perhaps be The Wizard of Oz.

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Village in Thuringia (1943), by Lyonel Feininger, oil on canvas

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Mont Sainte-Victoire (1890), by Paul Cezanne, oil on canvas 

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Lower Main Street, Murnau (1910), by Gabriele Münter, oil on textured cardboard

Put Your Red Dress On Baby

Landscape (1914), by Jean Metzinger, oil on canvas

 

Picasso Lithographs: Looking inside the Artist’s Mind

By recording intermediate states of artworks, lithography provides a rare opportunity for the viewer to see inside artists’ minds. To make a lithograph, the artist draws the image on a limestone plate with a special ink, and the image is printed to paper from the stone. It is very convenient for the artist to modify the image by adding or subtracting ink on the same stone. By printing each intermediate state to paper, the artist can easily keep a history of his creative process.

The Norton Simon Museum has a long history of collecting Picasso prints. Norton Simon, the museum’s namesake, purchased 850 Picasso prints in 1977 from the collection of Fernand Mourlot. More than 80 Picasso prints were on view last month at the Norton Simon Museum, including “The Bull” and “Long-Haired Young Girl”.

Not many artists valued the intermediate steps of the artistic creation process as much as Picasso did. He was interested in investigating his own thought process, and consciously wanted to document his “states of mind”. Since he met the French lithographer Mourlot Frères in 1945, Picasso produced 185 lithography plates in the next three years, and more than 400 plates by the end of the 1960s.

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“The Bull” is one of the most famous lithographs by Picasso. The full transition from a realistic behemoth to a simple outline demonstrates how the artist searched for the spirit of the bull in the process of abstraction. From the first plate to the second plate, Picasso bulks up the bull to make the image more powerful. Starting from Plate 3, the bull is dissected by muscle and skeleton contours as if in a butcher shop. As the simplification process continued, the image lightens with a more elegant sense of balance. In particular, the head shrinks, the front sharpens, and a tail appears. In Plate 10, the bull is reduced to a line drawing – except that the bull’s reproductive organ remains shaded to indicate its gender. With all the careful consideration in each step, Picasso shows us in the final plate what he considers to be the absolute essence of the bull.

Houses Are Art: Kazuo Shinohara

Although I know nothing more of architecture than an average layman, my roommate is an architecture enthusiast. Our visit to the solo exhibition of architect Kazuo Shinohara was a serendipitous experience full of pleasant surprises. In addition to enjoying the simplicity and rationality in his designs, it was very intellectually interesting to see the architect’s highly abstract “philosophical” thoughts quoted next to the designs.

Kazuo Shinohara (1925-2006) is one of the most influential post-war Japanese architect. Different from many other architects in the modern era, Kazuo Shinohara was not involved in public architecture until his later years. Instead of public buildings, he chose houses as his main subjects and designed over thirty houses in his entire career, proposing that “houses are art”.

The houses he designed often reflected a unique taste of traditional Japanese homes. Even though Kazuo Shinohara did value traditions by stating that “Tradition is where creation begins, not where it ends”, he valued changes at the mean time by announcing that “tradition provides a starting point for creation but must not be viewed as its final goal.”

While keeping some of the traditional Japanese elements in his houses, such as minimalism, Kazuo Shinohara abstracted certain elements into geometric objects. As he said, “I love the panoply of primary geometric solids, as their hard edges shimmer weightlessly, in the light. From such an apparition, I expect a brilliant, luminous power to emerge.” In his designs, one can see a lot of squares, triangles, lines, as well as cubes. Perhaps the root of his fascination with geometric objects lies in the fact that he was once an excellent student in mathematics.

For instance, the column in the middle of House in White almost looks abrupt, yet there still exists a subtle balance beyond my words. I suppose that the column might represent some symbolic meaning, which I am currently not yet able to understand.

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As another example, the seemingly cold and unemotional triangular structure in House in Itoshima sets up a visual “photo frame” for the ocean view.

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In the following project named House under High Voltage Lines, Kazuo Shinohara artfully turned the high voltage lines as part of his design.

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