Fine Art in Context 2

  • Activism and protest
  • Identity
  • Neo narratives
  • Humour and irony
  • Transformation Fantasy
  • EXTRA: Memory
  • Postmodern Landscape
  • The Body
  • The lure of the local & globalization

Activism and Protest

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei’s visual art includes sculptural installations, woodworking, video and photography. A 2014 exhibition, “Ai Weiwei: According to What”, at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, was the first-ever North American tour of his work. More recent works address his investigation into the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake and responses to the Chinese government’s detention and surveillance of him. On 24 October 2012, Ai went live with a cover of Gangnam Style, the famous K-pop phenomenon by South Korean rapper PSY, through the posting of a four-minute long parody video on YouTube. The video was an attempt to criticize the Chinese government’s attempt to silence his activism and was quickly blocked by national authorities. On 22 May 2013, Ai Weiwei debuted his first single Dumbass over the internet, with a music video shot by cinematographer Christopher Doyle. The video was a reconstruction of Ai Weiwei’s experience in prison, during his 81-day detention, and dives in and out of the prison’s reality and the guarding soldiers’ fantasies. He later released a second single, Laoma Tihua, on 20 June 2013 along with a video on his experience of state surveillance, with footage compiled from his studio’s documentaries. On 22 June 2013, the two-year anniversary of Ai’s release, he released his first music album The Divine Comedy. Later in August, he released a third music video for the song Chaoyang Park, also included in the album


Is Ai Weiwei the most important artist of our time? Yes:

The man who breaks the ranks of conformity in a nation of censorship

China is a nation where people have to conform to a political ideology. Having visited China I can confirm this, taking pictures was restricted, the atrocities of the regime were covered up and denied by the people there, the military imposed on foreigners and secret police watched our every move in Beijing. Ai Weiwei has stood against all this intimidation, speaking out against the regime and protesting over censorship and the Tibetan dispute in international news headlines. In a world where there is greater evidence of the rise of autocracy and dictatorship, Ai Weiwei stands as a rock against these forces which threaten freedom, and that is why, considering the current modern times, that I would say that Weiwei is the most important artist of modern times. Simply because he makes headlines for the right reasons and against all the odds.


Too focused on the matter of democracy in China.

I think the problem here is the fact that too many arguments revolve around China and the punishment of Ai WeiWei, and the topic sentence just stating that is he the most important has too many interpretations. “Importance” is not described by how one stands up against a government, it is the measurement of necessity paired with a need. It is completely invalid to state that he is important because he is an icon of democracy, then would you say Lenin was unimportant because he was supporting and promoting Communism? It’s a matter of perspective, however I don’t believe importance is measured depending on the views in which they harbour. However, should the topic have stated whether Ai Wei Wei was important because he is a figure representing human rights and Democracy then yes, Ai Wei Wei would be rather important. But I would not consider him the most important artist. Artistically Ai Wei Wei has made achievements but I would consider him more important politically in the populace’s movement for human rights in China. Important as a…Semi-political figure…However not as much as an Artist.


Jenny Holzer

Holzer belongs to the feminist branch of a generation of artists that emerged around 1980, looking for new ways to make narrative or commentary an implicit part of visual objects. Her contemporaries include Barbara KrugerCindy ShermanSarah Charlesworth, and Louise Lawler. Holzer is mostly known for her large-scale public displays that include billboard advertisements, projections on buildings and other architectural structures, as well as illuminated electronic displays. The main focus of her work is the use of words and ideas in public space. Originally utilizing street posters, LEDsigns became her most visible medium, though her diverse practice incorporates a wide array of media including bronze plaques, painted signs, stone benches and footstools, stickers, T-shirts, paintings, photographs, sound, video, light projection, the Internet, and a Le Mans race car.

“Raise boys and girls the same way”

“Everyone’s work is equally important”

“I lie”

“Stupid people shouldn’t breed”

“Remember to react”

“People won’t behave if they have nothing to loose”

“Men don’t protect you anymore”

“You are a victim of the rules you live by”

“The future is stupid”

“I am loosing time”


Guerrilla Girls

Are an anonymous group of feminist, female artists devoted to fighting sexism and racism within the art world. The group formed in New York City in 1985 with the mission of bringing gender and racial inequality within the fine arts to light. Members are known for the gorilla masks they wear to remain anonymous.

Guerrilla Girls organized protests, create posters, stickers, billboards and artwork, present at public speaking engagements and research into the unfair conditions of working artists and artists of colour.

Early organizing was based around meetings where the group would evaluate the statistical data they gathered regarding gender inequality within the New York City’s art scene. The Guerrilla Girls also worked closely with artists, encouraging them to speak to those within the community to bridge the gender gap where they perceived it.

Notably, during the first years after its founding, the Guerrilla Girl’s started conducting “weenie counts,” where members would go to institutions, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and count the male to female subject ratio in artworks. The data gathered from the Met’s public collections in 1989 showed that in the Modern Art sections less than 5% of the works were by female artists, while 85% of the nudes were female.

The Guerrilla Girls have since done research into sexism and created artworks at the request of various people and institutions, among others, the Istanbul Modern, Istanbul, Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Arts, Rotterdam and Fundación Bilbao Arte Fundazioa, Bilbao. They have also partnered with Amnesty International, contributing pieces to a show under the organization’s “Protect the Human” initiative.

In recognition of their work, the Guerrilla Girls have been invited to give talks at world-renown museums, including a presentation at the MoMA’s 2007 “Feminist Futures” Symposium. They have also been invited to speak at art schools and universities across the globe, and gave a 2010 commencement speech at the School of the Arts Institute Chicago.

“Do women have to be naked to get into U.S museums? Less than 3% of the artists in the Met. Museum are women, but 83% of the nudes are female”

“Guerrilla girls pop quiz. Q. If February is black history month and march women’s history month, what happens the rest of the year? A. Discrimination.”

“How many women had one person exhibitions at NYC Museums last year? Guggenheim 0 Metropolitan 0 Modern 1 Whitney 0”


Mark Wallinger

(State Britain)

Is one of Britain’s foremost contemporary artists and has been invited to produce an ambitious new work for the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain. Wallinger’s work engages with questions of personal and national identity, history and belief systems. Typically uncompromising in scale and intention, this major site specific commission explores issues relating to the liberty of the individual and freedom of speech.

Mark Wallinger has recreated peace campaigner Brian Haw’s Parliament Square protest. Running along the full length of the Duveen Galleries, State Britain consists of a meticulous reconstruction of over 600 weather-beaten banners, photographs, peace flags and messages from well-wishers that have been amassed by Haw over the past five years.

Faithful in every detail, each section of Brian Haw’s peace camp from the makeshift tarpaulin shelter and tea-making area to the profusion of hand-painted placards and teddy bears wearing peace-slogan t-shirts has been painstakingly sourced and replicated for the display.



Neo narratives

Humour and irony

Transformational Fantasy:

Cao Fei

(b. 1978, Guangzhou) is one of the most significant and innovative young artists to have emerged on the international scene from China. Her multi-media projects explore the lost dreams of the young Chinese generation and their strategies for overcoming and escaping reality. She will premiere new work in her September exhibition La Town (2014) at Lombard Freid Gallery, NY.  Cao Fei’s recent movie Haze and Fog (2013) screened at the Tate Modern, the art Institute of Chicago, collected by Pompidou Centre. Her previous online project RMB CITY (2008-2011) has been exhibited in Deutsche Guggenheim (2010), Shiseido Gallery, Tokyo, Japan (2009), Serpentine Gallery, London (2008), Yokohama Triennale (2008). I. Mirror, 52nd Venice Biennale (2007), Chinese Pavilion; RMB CITY- A Second Life City Planning has been exhibited in Istanbul Biennale (2007); Whose Utopia, TATE Liverpool (2007), Cao Fei also participated a number of international biennales, 17th & 15th Biennale of Sydney (2006/2010), Moscow Biennale (2005), Shanghai Biennale (2004),  50th Venice Biennale (2003). She also exhibited video works in Guggenheim Museum (New York), the International Centre of Photography (New York), MoMA (New York), P.S.1 (New York), Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Musee d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris (Paris), Mori Art Museum (Tokyo). Cao Fei was a nominee for the Future Generation Art Prize 2010 and was the finalist of Hugo Boss Prize 2010, and won The 2006 Best Young Artist Award by CCAA (Chinese Contemporary Art Award).

La Town 20141003131753_2187

At a place called the “Night Museum”, open only after dusk, various artefacts about “darkness” are on display. There is the American horror film “30 Days of Night”, Chinese artist Chu Yun’s installation “Constellation”, and surprisingly, there is even the iPad app game for “The Godfather.” The current exhibition is about La Town.

Everyone has heard the myth of La Town. The story first appeared in Europe, but after traveling through a space-time wormhole, reappeared in Asia and Southeast Asia. It was last seen near the ocean bordering the Eurasian tectonic plate, vanishing in its midst as if a mirage. La Town, struck by unknown disaster – where without sunlight, time froze. Polar night was all encompassing, so the few instances of white nights have been momentously recorded in the town’s history. Yet, through the drifting of time and space, various countries have rewritten La Town’s history, and details have been neglected. Now, the story of the small town’s past – love affairs, politics, life, demons and disasters – have all been sealed beneath the museum’s vitrines, the historical “specimens” becoming an authoritative but limited interpretation of this town’s history.

Night town; is there something happening? What kind of story does it carry? What forces caused such distortions in space and time?

Visitors quietly wander between the displays. This is just the first exhibit of the summer; there will be more interesting shows to come.

At this moment, from the cinema screen of the “Night Museum” drifts a few lines of dialogue:

The Stranger: “Bar the windows. Try to hide. They’re coming.”
Eben Olemaun: “They? Who are they?

  • Artist as the participant and creator
  • Considering the viewpoint of the maker, they are god and they live in that world
  • Reflecting reality of life
  • Artists have the ability to make the escape from reality real
  • Not about the self, but control, power and manipulation

Matthew Barney

(Born March 25, 1967) is an American artist who works in sculpturephotographydrawing and film. His early works are sculptural installations combined with performance and video. Between 1994 and 2002 he created the The Cremaster Cycle, a series of five films described by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian as “one of the most imaginative and brilliant achievements in the history of avant-garde cinema.”

  • Big production values – massively expensive films
  • Visually spectacular
  • Complex, history, references geography, mythology is interpreted in Cremaster 2
  • Surreal, fractured narrative
  • Drawings – delicate and sensitive


Jeff Koons

Was born in York, Pennsylvania in 1955. He studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He received a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1976. Koons lives and works in New York City.

Since his first solo exhibition in 1980, Koons’s work has been shown in major galleries and institutions throughout the world. His Celebration sculptures were the subject of exhibitions on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and at the Neue National galerie in Berlin. Château de Versailles opened its doors to a living artist for the first time with Jeff Koons: Versailles, where a selection of his works were presented within the Grand Apartments. The Whitney Museum of American Art is presenting the most comprehensive survey of Koons’s career to date, Jeff Koons: A Retrospective (through October 19, 2014), which will also travel to the Pompidou Centre Paris in November, and to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in June 2015.

Koons earned renowned for his public sculptures, such as the monumental floral sculpture Puppy (1992), shown at Rockefeller Centre and permanently installed at the Guggenheim Bilbao. Another floral sculpture, Split-Rocker (2000), previously installed at the Papal Palace in Avignon, Château de Versailles, and Fondation Beyeler Basel, is currently on view at Rockefeller Centre (through September 12, 2014).

Jeff Koons has received numerous awards and honours in recognition of his cultural achievements. Notably, Koons received the Governor’s Awards for the Arts “Distinguished Arts Award” from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; President Jacques Chirac promoted Koons to Officer de la Legion d’Honneur; and most recently, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton honoured Koons with the State Department’s Medal of the Arts for his outstanding commitment to the Art in Embassies Program and international cultural exchange. Koons has been a board member of The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) since 2002, and co-founded the Koons Family International Law and Policy Institute with ICMEC; for the purpose of combating global issues of child abduction and exploitation and to protect the world’s children.

– See more at:

  • -Jeff Koons was a stockbroker
  • Work reflects the consumer world, value and money
  • Makes pieces to make money and is upfront about it
  • Uses large range of media
  • Pornstar wife – works made from it
  • Celebrated artist who uses pop culture and low culture


Paul McCarthy

(Born August 4, 1945), is a contemporary artist who lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

McCarthy’s works include performance, installation, film and “painting as action”. His points of reference are rooted, on the one hand, in things typically American, such as Disneyland, B-Movies, Soap Operas and Comics – he is a critical analyst of the mass media and consumer-driven American society and its hypocrisy, double standards and repression. On the other hand, it is European avant-garde art that has had the most influence on his artistic form language. In his early works, McCarthy sought to break the limitations of painting by using the body as a paintbrush or even canvas; later, he incorporated bodily fluids or food as substitutes into his works. In a 1974 video, Painting, Wall Whip, he painted with his head and face, “smearing his body with paint and then with ketchup, mayonnaise or raw meat and, in one case, faeces.” This clearly resembled the work of Vienna actionist Günter Brus. Similarly, his work evolved from painting to transgressive performance art, psychosexual events intended to fly in the face of social convention, testing the emotional limits of both artist and viewer. An example of this is his 1976 piece, Class Fool, where McCarthy threw himself around a ketchup spattered classroom at the University of California, San Diego until dazed and self-injured.

  • Ketchup – over the top, endurance
  • low culture, pop elements
  • Irony humour, questions taste, class, power, politics
  • Disney – American culture
  • Sensation Generation (Chapman brothers)


People to consider: Meghan Brody, Glenn Brown, Paul Noble, Kiki Smith, Yinka Shonibare



Tracey Emmin – Everyone I ever slept with


My bed


Felix Gonzales



Rachel Whiteread

Doris Salcedo


 Susan Hiller

From the Freud Museum 1991-6 by Susan Hiller born 1940

Louise Bourgeois http://


Christian Boltanski




Postmodern Landscape

Olafur Eliasson:

James Turrell:

Meriele Neudecker:



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