Dada, Surréalisme et au-delà

On 21 October in Paris, Sotheby’s offered for sale the collection of Dr. Arthur Brandt, whose passion and appreciation for Dada and Surrealism is reflected in this auction. Highlights include numerous works by Marcel Duchamp and Kurt Schwitters as well as a major work by Francis Picabia and others by Yves Tanguy, Man Ray, and Max Ernst.

The auction has now ended, with a grand total of €21.5 million.

All right then. Let’s take a look at Dada, Surréalisme et au-delà, particularly at the two out of several works of  Marcel Duchamp. Above is his “L.H.O.O.R”. Quoting Wikipedia:

In 1919, Duchamp made a parody of the Mona Lisa by adorning a cheap reproduction of the painting with a mustache and goatee. To this he added the inscription L.H.O.O.Q., a phonetic game which, when read out loud in French quickly sounds like “Elle a chaud au cul”. This can be translated as “She has a hot ass”, implying that the woman in the painting is in a state of sexual excitement and availability. It may also have been intended as a Freudian joke, referring to Leonardo da Vinci‘s alleged homosexuality. Duchamp gave a “loose” translation of L.H.O.O.Q. as “there is fire down below” in a late interview with Arturo Schwarz. According to Rhonda Roland Shearer, the apparent Mona Lisa reproduction is in fact a copy modeled partly on Duchamp’s own face.[33] Research published by Shearer also speculates that Duchamp himself may have created some of the objects which he claimed to be “found objects”.

On October 21, L.H.O.O.Q fetched a whooping 631,500 euros. Gasp.

Dada artists are known for their use of ready-made objects — everyday objects that could be bought and presented as art with little manipulation by the artist. The use of the ready-made forced questions about artistic creativity and the very definition of art and its purpose in society.

Indeed, L.H.O.O.Q manifests remarkably little manipulation by the artist upon the ready-made object — a cheap print of La Joconde! Just harping.

Boîte-en-valise, yet another Duchamp, is a portable museum containing 68 of his most famous works, either reproduced or miniaturised, has been sold  for €319,500.

Dada was the first conceptual art movement where the focus of the artists was not on crafting aesthetically pleasing objects but on making works that often upended bourgeois sensibilities and that generated difficult questions about society, the role of the artist, and the purpose of art.

And what a remarkably cheap and time-and-effort-consuming method to achieve such a noble goal! Makes me, a skeptic lacking of appreciation for Dadaism, wonder if Dadaists themselves defined their intentions while “crafting their art”.  Numerous art critics say yes and more:

So intent were members of Dada on opposing all norms of bourgeois culture that the group was barely in favor of itself: “Dada is anti-Dada,” they often cried.

The video clip below features the entire Collection Arthur Brandt : Dada, Surréalisme et au-delà, courtesy of Sotheby’s site:


Meet The Artist: Tomek Setowsky

Image result for setowskyTomek Setowski (his web page is in Polish with lots of images) is a Polish artist born, by his own admission, “a very long time ego” in Kraków-Częstochowa Upland. He revealed his artistic talents at the tender age of three.His learning lasted for a long time…BiografiaThe young dreamer honed his painting skills over the years, displaying his works first at local galleries and then moving to the best showrooms of the world.For many years Setowski has been put under the wide notion of surrealism. Only recently it was decided that artists having a similar style fall under “magical realism” or “fantastic realism” and the artists themselves (what is often stressed by Setowski) are closer to Bosch than Salvador Dali. There are not many representatives of this trend in the world, for creating such works deserves a faultless, almost masterly technique and immense imagination. (From an article on Setowski here.)

Flaming Testicles

“Actionist” Pyotr Pavlensky

On November 10, 2013 on Red Square in Moscow Pavlensky nailed his scrotum to the stone pavement. God only knows how he did it, that is if he really managed to drive а nail into the cobblestone. Unbeknownst are the ways of a true artist…

I’ve written about Mr. Pavensky’s this and other exploits in the field of actionism with plenty of pictures in my post Tastefully Nailed Testicles.

Since then, more actions followed, because true actionist must act and shock.

In February 2014, near the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Pavlensky, along with other actionists, “staged” the Ukrainian Maidan. The “artists” brought fifty or so tires, gasoline, metal sheets, sticks and two flags — black anarchist and yellow-blue Ukrainian. The tires were stacked into a barricade and then set on fire. The metal sheets, struck by sticks, created a characteristic Kiev street fighting rhythm.pavlensky maidan The ruckus continued even while the firefighters tried extinguish the fire.
Mr. Pavlensky was detained by police. No serious repercussions followed, however. The district court of Saint Petersburg dropped all charges against him soon thereafter apparently for lack of evidence.

On October 19, 2014, Pavlensky staged yet another artistic stint, sitting naked on the roof of the State Research Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry in Moscow, large knife in hand. He tried and apparently succeeded to cut off his earlobe (or hacked a chunk of it) with a knife in protest against the use of psychiatry for political purposes.

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“The knife separates the earlobe from the body… A concrete wall of Psychiatry separates the Society of Reasonable People from crazies. By using psychiatry for political purposes yet again, the police apparatus tries to regain the power of drawing the threshold between reason and madness. Armed with psychiatric diagnoses, the bureaucrat in a white coat carves out of society those pieces that prevent him from establishing a monolithic dictate, a one for all and compulsory for everybody,” Pavlensky said in a statement to the media.

Or something to this effect. He is a remarkably eloquent fellow. I translated his verbiage as close to the original as I knew how.

Mr. Pavlensky underwent psychiatric evaluation and, four days later, was once again found sane, thus not a subject to psychiatric intervention. It seems that these days Russian psychiatrists are terribly afraid of being accused of — yes, you guessed it — using psychiatry for political purposes. It’s much easier to declare citizen Pavlensky perfectly sane, rather than stand their ground and keep him from — if nothing else — harming himself, one anatomical part after another. Besides, the patient was doing it for the sake of sacred art.

Only a few days ago, aching for action actionist shocked and awed again. At 2 am, alone and fully dressed for a change, he splashed a canister of gasoline under a certain door on Lubyanka Square in Moscow and lit it with a lighter, setting it aflame. Mind you, it wasn’t just any door he choose at rendom, but the door of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) — the Russian CIA, that is. the door of FSB

The door burned much to the delight of numerous journalists, duly filming the door alight and the artist’s silhouette against the blazing fire. Because, you see, unless the “performance” is photographed, filmed and broadcast, the actionism is meaningless (aside for the damage to the artist and the property, if any.)

Of course, Pavlensky was detained by police, unless it was FSB. The question remains: Is Pavlensky going to be punished or get off scot-free this time around as well? Honestly, given Pavlensky’s prior brushes with the law and his luck in avoiding prosecution, I don’t know.

Now, lets imagine for a moment that some actionist would have attempted a protest action and approached the doors of CIA headquarters with the similar “artistic” intent. What do you think might have happened? Would the artistic expression of this sort have been duly appreciated by the CIA? FBI? Police?

Neosurrealism Of George Grie


George Grie (Yuri Gribanovsky, Юрий Грибановский), born May 14, 1962, is a Russian-Canadian artist. Educated as “classical” painter, he became a professional multimedia graphic design artist and joined the IBM Corporation as a lead new-media specialist.

Attack of Nostalgia. 1991, Oil x Canvas, 102x78 centimeters, St. Petersburg, signed as Y. Gribanovsky Artist’s possession 2011

Attack of Nostalgia.
1991, Oil x Canvas, 102×78 centimeters, St. Petersburg, signed as Y. Gribanovsky
Artist’s possession 2011

Computers don’t make art, people do. Computers are merely creative tools – very sophisticated ones. Once you try them, you will never give up moving forward. There might be just one tiny annoying obstacle between you and your perfect design – lack of imagination. —George Grie

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Mr Grie is rather vocal about his art and his worldview. His comments aren’t without merit. Here what he says and says what he does about “sifting through the morass of mass culture”:

In recent decades […] some historians and intellectuals have questioned whether a sharp distinction between mass and popular culture can be maintained. Both social historians and critical theorists have challenged presumed processes of social homogenization and ideological domination associated with mass culture. I also question the usefulness of maintaining a strict distinction between mass culture and popular culture, particularly in twentieth-century Western Europe and North America, where the popularity of mass culture vastly overreaches the influence of folk cultures.

Ghost ship series: Full moon rising It is hardly possible to deny a significant effect that our closest body in space has on the Earth.

Ghost ship series: Full moon rising It is hardly possible to deny a significant effect that our closest body in space has on the Earth. — George Grie

Instead, I employ the surrealists to help me sift through the morass of mass culture to recover a “secret history” of popular culture in early twentieth-century France. That is, the surrealists guide me, as a cultural historian, to specific expressions of mass culture whose cultural meanings remain partially detached from the ideological interests or social values of their commercial production.

The three graces, Goth mode style Modern art culture and subculture influence heavily our perception of female beauty. If you check the art history, you would notice how dramatic this change could be.

The three graces, Goth mode style
Modern art culture and subculture influence heavily our perception of female beauty. If you check the art history, you would notice how dramatic this change could be.  — George Grie

See more of George Grie and his sophisticated opinions here: George Grie’s Romantic Neo-surrealism Art Gallery.

Le Surrealizme At L’objet (Surrealism and the Object)

video-x15zhnxThe exhibition Le Surrealizme At L’objet (Surrealism and the Object) closed last month at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, France. Over the years, the Centre Pompidou devoted several event entirely to  Surrealism —  “Surrealist Revolution” (2002), “The Subversion of Images” (2009),  Salvador Dali and now “Surrealism and the Object”.  img_9779

To the extent that made some critics wonder — skeptics that they are — if the surrealist vein is not permanently exhausted by over-exposure. Isn’t the “surreal source” dried up by dint of being so often exhibited  at so many venues all over the world? Can the art lovers be lured again and again into the galleries to take yet another look at the creations of Breton’s band and its adepts?

The answer, apparently, is resounding yes.  The exhibition had a tantalizing premise…

The idea of the Le Surrealizme At L’objet is to show the integral interaction, interconnection and interpretation of dream and sense, object in its real and physical form with the “sur” of its subconscious representation. In essence, it aims to show the inherent tension and the driving contradiction at the heart of heart of the movement.

Surrealism is rooted in the dream, the subconscious, the secret impulses, intimate, erotic, and then seems to deny reality. Indeed, surrealism favors a world “inside” at the expense of the sensibilities of the real world, as the founding manifesto, launched by André Breton, proclaims.

A hundred or so sculptures and around 40 photographs were brought together, including pieces by Miró, Arp, Dali, Calder, Ernst and more, to substantiate the exhibition’s attempts to follow the inroads surrealist movement. Brassaï. Involuntary sculpture. 1933.

The artwork selection includes the “repercussions of the movement’s ideas that still echo in the art of today” — the works by Cindy Sherman, Ed Rusha and Paul McCarthy. The bias towards ‘installations’ of the more contemporary work  is notable, since installations are “direct descendants” of the surrealist celebration of the object.


Retrospective Bust of a Woman Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904–1989) 1933. Painted porcelain, bread, corn, feathers, paint on paper, beads, ink stand, sand, and two pens.

René Magritte. This is a piece of cheese. 1936.

René Magritte. This is a piece of cheese. 1936.



Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux, “A Hands with the Devil” 2013.

Le Surrealisme at l'objet au Centre Pompidou.4

Giorgio de Chirico. Le Surrealisme at l’objet au Centre Pompidou

Hans Bellmer, ‘La Poupée’, 1933-1936 / Dist. RMN-GP Photo : Philippe Migeat, Centre Pompidou © Adagp, Paris 2013


Salvador Dali, “Lobster Telephone,” 1938.

A Short History Of BLACK CANVAS — Square And Otherwise

Kazimir Malevich. Black Suprematic Square. (1915)

Kazimir Malevich called his Black Suprematic Square a ‘naked icon without a frame’, and himself a ‘President of space’. He openly declared his intention to ‘kill the art of the picturesque, and put it in a coffin.

Boy, am I glad he didn’t succeed, otherwise, by now, our senses surely would’ve been overwhelmed and assaulted by black squares, Black Squares and BLACK SQUARES.

Still, as Malevich predicted, the picture has become a landmark in the world history of art. To this day art critics gash, “Malevich freed the concept of art from all its traditional rules, signified the square as something new, attached to it a null form, and made it the basis of a new art, which he named Suprematism...”

Bless his restive heart and his restless brush, Malevich painted at least four versions of Black Suprematist Square. They differ in pattern, texture and shade of black. The artist, you see, was searching for the absolute “weightlessness” and flight of form. Upon completion, Malevich declared, ‘This is not art, it is something else.

Agree. It is. Not Art that is.

However — and I find it exceedingly curious — Malevich was not the first (and not even the second) artist to experiment with solid black.

Robert Fludd. The Great Darkness (1617)

Robert Fludd. The Great Darkness (1617)

Nearly 300 years before him, in 1617, Robert Fludd created the first all black work of art on canvas. It was called “The Great Darkness”. It’s a square, all right. Black. Fairly solid. No one proclaimed this painting something new or attached to it a null form. Perhaps, because Robert Fludd, English physician and polymath, was ahead of his time. In fact, his black square was an illustration of his elaborate cosmogony.  His concept based on the three principles of Paracelsus’ alchemy, those of Light, Darkness and Water, of which  Darkness  was the “prima materia”, thus  The Great Darkness. 

Fast forward a few years. 237 to be precise.

Paul Gustave Doré 1832 – 1883, a French artist, engraver, illustrator and sculptor, published  an album of humorous caricatures Histoire pittoresque dramatique et caricaturale de la Sainte Russie, d’après les chroniqueurs et historiens Nestor Nikan Sylvestre Karamsin Ségur etc. (Dramatic and colorful caricature history  of Holy Russia, according to the chroniclers and historians Nestor Nikan Sylvestre Karamsin etc. in my imprecise translation). This is how Doré depicted the mists of antiquity in which the Russian origins were irredeemably lost:

Paul Gustave Doré

Paul Gustave Doré

Russians feel aggrieved to this day… not so much by the “origins” but the not-so-gentle depiction of the Russia’s further development.  But I digressed.

Black squares marched on. Charles Albert d’Arnoux (Charles Constant Albert Nicolas d’Arnoux de Limoges Saint-Saens), otherwise known as Bertall, painted  View of La Hougue under the cover of the night. Those white splotches aren’t stars but rather a poor quality of the image.

Bertall. View of La Hougue.  (1843)

Bertall. View of La Hougue. (1843)

October 1, 1882. ‘Les Arts Incohérents’ (The Incoherent Art?) exhibit in Paris. The most sensational among the paintings – not necessarily a compliment here – was a completely black image, painted by the poet Paul Bilhaud. The name of a painting was ‘Black men fighting in a cellar at night‘. This was a perfectly black rectangle, all right.

Paul Bilhaud

Paul Bilhaud

And from here onward, the color palette gets livelier and lovelier.  The artist Alphonse Allais catches  Bilhaud’s humorous drift. In 1883, at an exhibition titled Incoherent Shows, he put up ‘First Communion of Anaemic Girls in the Snow‘. This was a white rectangle.

«First Communion of Anaemic Young Girls In The Snow» (Carré blanc) 1883

«First Communion of Anaemic Young Girls In The Snow» (Carré blanc) 1883

The following year, he displayed another monochromatic creation – a red painting titled ‘Apoplectic Cardinals Harvesting Tomatoes by the Shores of the Red Sea‘.

Alphonse Allais. Apoplectic Cardinals Harvesting Tomatoes by the Shores of the Red Sea.

After this, mischievous Alphonse expanded his collection with Blue, Green and Grey rectangles, and published a book with these works, adding  a blank musical score to the collection, which he called ‘Funeral March for the Deaf‘.  Political correctness was not yet invented, thus the uproar was only that of laughter.

Not one of the earlier black squares  became a landmark in the world history of art or aspired  to kill the art of the picturesque, and put it in a coffin. But then Malevich burst on the art scene and squarely painted it black. Or unified all forms and art into an absolute null. Cosmic voices made him do it

Makes me wonder if self-proclaimed ‘President of space’ was even aware of these works of his predecessors. My personal favorite from all the above is mischievous Alphonse Allais, particularly his skillful portrayal of Apoplectic Cardinals, Harvesting Tomatoes by the Shores of the Red Sea. I like the uncanny sense of color — perfectly harmonious fusion, amalgamation and inter-flow of the color scheme red on Red on RED.

Hyperventilating Over Hyperrealism

The other day, I read a brief article in The Huffington Post about the art of Ron Mueck, an Australian sculptor currently working in London,  Nude Sculptures By Ron Mueck Bring Hyperrealism To A Whole Other Level.

Ron Mueck

Ron Mueck

I was fortunate to see the exhibit of his sculptures at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh in 2006. Truth be told, I was not prepared for the visual assault that lay in wait for me.

Periodically, I had to remind myself to adjust my face into a semblance of an expression that, hopefully, could be taken (or mistaken) for a semi-intelligent face of a person viewing an art exhibition rather than that of a dumbfounded person hit over the head with unanticipated suddenness.

In Bed 2005

In Bed 2005

Slowly moving along the sculpture of the woman “In Bed”, I remember feeling an unequivocally weird desire to knock at the white expanse of the sheet just to hear the hollow sound of empty space under it… only to convince myself that there are no bent knees under it.


Wild Man (2005)

The Wild Man (2005) is naked, hairy and very large. The giant, he is imposing by size only. His face is frightened and his pose is that of a man cringing in terror. The sculptor  shocks us into reassessing ourselves in our existential nakedness.

When asked, “How and when did you get the idea of manipulating scale with your figures?” Ron Mueck answered, “I never made life-size figures because it never seemed to be interesting. We meet life-size people every day.”

The Edinburgh’s exhibit that I visited was the first showing of A Girl (2006).

A Girl (2006)

A Girl (2006)

Speak of engaging the viewer’s rapt attention! Hands and arms held down beside her body, her head stretched out towards the viewer, the baby seems to be testing out the space she occupies in the world. In fact, the pose is quite unnatural for the infant — normally a baby would hold its hands towards its face, but Mueck wants to suggest the assertiveness of the new life force, says the booklet I’ve got at the exhibition. Whether the artist wanted to suggest exactly this or something entirely different is up to the author of this passage  (Keith Hartley) to know and up to us — to take his word for it.


Untitled (Big Man), 2000.

Views of the work in progress and detail of the Big Man.

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Hyperrealism has its roots in the philosophy of Jean Baudrillard, “the simulation of something which never really existed.” As such, Hyperrealists create a false reality, a convincing illusion based on a simulation of reality, the definition says. How fully this definition applies to the art of Ron Mueck (and other artists called hyperrelists) is the matter of opinion and, again, the matter of definition.

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The works of other hyperrealists, such as Evan Penny, Jamie Salmon, Duane Hanson and others I’ve found on this site.

Scream Me A Scream

The Scream

The Scream

This post is inspired by the Mai Too Sense blog post Defining Art of February 2nd. I meant to post it earlier but, suddenly, things started happening as if there is no tomorrow:

Richard III was rattling his bones from under the parking lot, demanding proper burial;

Chatbots were making movies;

Sea slugs crawled out, showing off their disposable penises;

Russians launched their first successful meteor since Tunguska Event…

Wow! In no time at all, Sotheby’s  might sell another objet d’art for more than US$119,922,500 and what are you going to do? Scream?

Right. Particularly if you planned to blog about Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” – one of the world’s most recognizable works of art. Arguably, the painting became such for no other reason than the price it fetched on May 2, 2012.

Every soul houses its own horror. Not every soul finds an adequate outlet to its horror.  Edvard Munch did. And his painting — the way I see it — wasn’t it. His words were a lot more expressive, although Edvard Munch might’ve been of a different opinion — after all, he belonged to the Expressionist movement of modernism.

Edvard_Munch. Self-Portrait

Edvard  Munch (1863-1944).  Self-Portrait.
The painter, obviously, has his Memento Mori moment. Have you noticed the skeletal arm?

This is how he described his inspiration for the image:

I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and he city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature. 

Mighty expressive. As I said, to me, the words sound more expressive than the painting looks, in all his many renditions – E. Munch produced several versions of The Scream – including the one that was sold for $120 million.

It does depict a man in a private moment of anguished despair and anxiety, while the other people in the painting, perhaps his friends, seem blissfully unaware of the man’s situation. (I’m quoting someone else’s description here).

The short movie showcases “The Scream” in a way the painting itself hardly merits — by far, it’s my favorite spoof of the painting.

After the sale was announced, reaction from the astounded masses (Vox Populi, in the spirit of this blog) varied in intensity and in sentiment. There were multitudes of those who addressed  the painting itself: “My 9 year old son could’ve painted better picture!” Others marveled  at the price paid for it, contemplating a far better use for the money, “Outrage! How many people could’ve been fed for $120,000,000?” (How many, indeed? Depends for how long you’d feed them, I guess.)

Of course, the Sotheby’s spectacular sale has little to do with the painter. Edvard Munch was a neurotic alcoholic, ridden with all sorts of anxieties. It has even less to do with being an artist or making art. Other words, it has nothing to do with art whatsoever.

What is it then? It’s the speculative and glory hounding investment-consumption side of art marketing. Stunning in its absurdity and empty of its core relationship to art, to be sure. Who is laughing still? You know who. And I do, too.

Follow the link to 5 Most Expensive Paintings Ever Sold, if interested.

“The Scream” has been parodied thousands of times. Some parodies are very funny, others – silly and crude. To see hundreds of them at once, go to Google Images and type “The Scream Parody” into the search box.

To easily identify various art movements, see the exhibit below:Art Movements