The beauty of art is its transience and concurrent permanence. Contemporary turns to ancient, avant garde to traditional, scandalizing to subdued, and yet none ever fades to irrelevance. Art reflects the changes of mankind, some gradual, some breakneck, it shows us the truth of our lives before it even floats into consciousness, and this is why it matters.
MODERN ART was born in the 19th century alongside the Industrial Revolution. With this technological boom, the world began to undergo drastic changes, and art was not left out. Artists began to turn inward, away from the commissioned, realistic style (mostly portraits of nobles and religious or historical paintings) of the 18th century and toward the uncharted territory of the experimental, the strange, and new. Think Matisse, Picasso, even Van Gogh and Cézanne – classics, in the 21st century mind, but true envelope-pushers of their time, and the fathers of modern art.
Despite the fact that it is over two hundred years old, modern art hasn’t ceased to deserve the name. The style continues to grow and change as today’s artists push boundaries with new styles and media. Modern art belongs to us; it is our contemporary, our biographer, and its profundity should not be underestimated.
A wholly new modern art form is Digital Art, which can take many shapes and cross media that would have been impossible even just a decade ago. While many are beginning to explore this field, two talented artists gained our full attention with their diverse approaches.
DIGITAL ART: TRADING PAINTBRUSH FOR PIXELS
Adam Martinakis’ brand of art is on the cutting edge, a medium and a style that is still fresh even among artists. The Polish artist lives in Athens, where he studied Interior Architecture, Decorative Arts, and Industrial Design at the Technological Educational Institute. Since then he has embarked on an aptly named artistic “experimentation.” It seems fitting because we haven’t ever seen anything else like it. He specializes in computer generated visual media – i.e.: art created on the computer – which includes 3-D visual images, animation, digital sculptures, and videos, to name a few. In its infancy, this form encountered serious opposition from those who claimed that art created with a machine did not constitute art at all, a statement which, when presented with
Adam Martinakis’ stunning work, seems nothing short of ludicrous. However, digital technology has since been widely embraced and has changed the face of modern art forever.
About his work, Martinakis says: “I imagine art being a bridge, a connection between the spirit and the material, the living and the absent, the personal and the universal.” This verbal eloquence is echoed at first sight of his work. There is something quite metaphysical about what he creates, something explosive that causes you to feel. What, exactly, you may not know, but this is the kind of artwork that gets into your gut and stays a while.
When lovers of digital art see the work of Miguel Chevalier, they probably think “pioneer.” For those of us just climbing on board, our initial reaction is probably somewhere between “awesome” and “psychedelic.” But experts and newbies alike can agree that Chevalier’s art is colorful, spectacular and utterly unique.
The French artist, who was born in Mexico, has an impressive collection of diplomas, from l’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts to the Sorbonne, to name a few. Since graduating, he has become a frontrunner in his field, paving the way for future digital and virtual artists. His work is rich with pattern and explores such themes as virtual cities, networks, nature, and artifice. One look at his expectation-defying pieces and even an
art apathetic can be converted.
Much of Chevalier’s work is light-based; images he creates on the computer are projected onto structures and surfaces – and the effect is mesmerizing. He transforms familiar spaces like tunnels, museums, and churches into spectacles of color. Just look at a couple of his “Magic Carpets.”
SCULPTURE: ANOTHER MAN’S TREASURE
Yesterday’s sculptors molded sensual, pious, or pensive forms out of basic stone or clay. Today, sculpture can begin as any ordinary thing turned into an extraordinary statement, wild sentiment, or provocative idea. Some artists defy definition in the way they form, or even source, their work. Here we have two prime examples of modern masters that make the usual, unusual.
Nancy Rubins is a major player – not just of the art world, but of the junkyard. Her outrageously large sculptures – some weighing in around 20,000 pounds – are made from “found objects,” the charming art world name for other people’s trash. From old hairdryers to airplane parts, mattresses to surfboards, you name it, she’s probably used it in a piece. The Texas-born, Tennessee-bred artist received her BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, followed by her MFA from the University of California Davis. In college she sculpted mostly with clay, but moved into found objects after graduating, finding inspiration at second-hand shops like Goodwill and Salvation Army.
She has referred to her work as “three-dimensional paintings,” a commentary on the fact that her giant conglomerations of familiar items become abstract, transforming from something that can be recognized to something surreal, a splotch of color or wild shape. This description rings true when faced with merely a photo of one of her sculptures, especially her recent work with old aluminum children’s toys dating back to World War II that have likely been recycled many times before this most recent reappropriation. The result conjures a painting-like sensation that is coupled with a dusty, unusual sort of whimsy. It is wild, enormous nostalgia.
Her art, because of its large scale, requires close collaboration with an engineer whose job it is to ensure that the art, often displayed outdoors, will hold its intended form, come rain, snow, or wind. When it comes time for a break from the elements, to get her sculptures through the gallery door Rubins takes them apart and puts them back together again chunk by chunk, a kind of art form in itself.
They say teamwork makes a dream work, and this duo is no exception to the rule. Coosje van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg were both artists before they met, but many would say they were better together. They were partners – both in art and in marriage – from the mid-70s until Coosje passed away in 2009. Together, the pair created large-scale sculptures of everyday objects, changing the mundane, from garden hoses to ice-cream cones, to extraordinary.
Hailing from Sweden and the Netherlands, respectively, the couple has exhibited their art all over the world, mostly in outdoor, public spaces, like Nancy Rubins does with her sculptures. The juxtaposition between ordinary turned gigantic and technicolor, as well as that of the setting creates a viewing experience that is thought-provoking and memorable.
Unlike Nancy Rubins, however, Claes and Coosje focus more on the familiar than the found. The objects they create are often about more than just the thing itself. Of their process, Oldenburg wrote: “We usually make decisions in our studio where we are surrounded by objects, models, notes, and drawings from the recent past and present, stimulated, whenever possible, by recollected observations of a site. We work our way through one image after another in words and sketches, testing them in models that can serve as the starting point of fabrication in large scale.”
“The components are put together into an image through a dialogue between us that proceeds like a game of Ping-Pong, to and fro, toward its ultimate crystallization.” Van Bruggen
Even a single look at their online catalog of work serves to cement the fact that this particular game of pingpong was a win for all parties.