Please all come along to my new exhibition opening this weekend in a fabulous bar and pizzeria. Look forward to seeing you all there.
Alphonse Mucha was born in 1860 in Ivancice, Moravia, which is near the city of Brno in the modern Czech Republic. It was a small town, and for all intents and purposes life was closer to the 18th than the 19th century. Though Mucha is supposed to have started drawing before he was walking, his early years were spent as a choirboy and amateur musician. It wasn’t until he finished high school (needing two extra years to accomplish that onerous task) that he came to realize that living people were responsible for some of the art he admired in the local churches. That epiphany made him determined to become a painter, despite his father’s efforts in securing him “respectable” employment as a clerk in the local court.
Like every aspiring artist of the day, Mucha ended up in Paris in 1887. He was a little older than many of his fellows, but he had come further in both distance and time. A chance encounter in Moravia had provided him with a patron who was willing to fund his studies. After two years in Munich and some time devoted to painting murals for his patron, he was sent off to Paris where he studied at the Academie Julian. After two years the supporting funds were discontinued and Alphonse Mucha was set adrift in a Paris that he would soon transform. At the time, however, he was a 27 year old with no money and no prospects – the proverbial starving artist.
For five years he played the part to perfection. Living above a Cremerie that catered to art students, drawing illustrations for popular (ie. low-paying) magazines, getting deathly ill and living on lentils and borrowed money, Mucha met all the criteria. It was everything an artist’s life was supposed to be. Some success, some failure. Friends abounded and art flourished. It was the height of Impressionism and the beginnings of the Symbolists and Decadents. He shared a studio with Gauguin for a bit after his first trip to the south seas. Mucha gave impromptu art lessons in the Cremerie and helped start a traditional artists ball, Bal des Quat’z Arts. All the while he was formulating his own theories and precepts of what he wanted his art to be.
On January 1, 1895, he presented his new style to the citizens of Paris. Called upon over the Christmas holidays to created a poster for Sarah Bernhardt’s play, Gismonda, he put his precepts to the test. The poster, at left, was the declaration of his new art. Spurning the bright colors and the more squarish shape of the more popular poster artists, the near life-size design was a sensation.
Art Nouveau (“New Art” in French) can trace its beginnings to about this time. Based on precepts akin to William Morris’ Arts and Crafts movement in England, the attempt was to eradicate the dividing line between art and audience. Everything could and should be art. Burne-Jones designed wallpaper, Hector Guimard designed metro stations, and Mucha designed champagne advertising (at right) and stage sets. Each country had its own name for the new approach and artists of incredible skill and vision flocked to the movement. .
Overnight, Mucha’s name became a household word and, though his name is often used synonymously with the new movement in art, he disavowed the connection. Like Sinatra, he merely did it “my way.” His way was based on a strong composition, sensuous curves derived from nature, refined decorative elements and natural colors. The Art Nouveau precepts were used, too, but never at the expense of his vision. Bernhardt signed him to a six year contract to design her posters and sets and costumes for her plays. Mucha was an overnight success at the age of 34, after seven years of hard work in Paris.
Commissions poured in. By 1898, he had moved to a new studio, illustrated Ilsee, Princess de Tripoli (see image at left), had his first one-man show and had begun publishing graphics with Champenois, a new printer anxious to promote his work with postcards and panneaux – sets of four large images around a central theme (four seasons, four times of day, four flowers, etc. – see below for Stars). Most of these sets were created for the collector market and printed on silk.
There was a World’s Fair in Paris in 1900 and Mucha designed the Bosnia-Hercegovina Pavilion. He partnered with goldsmith Georges Fouquet in the creation of jewelry based on his designs. The bronze, Nature (at right) is from this time period. He also published Documents Decoratifs and announced Figures Decoratives. Documents Decoratifs was his attempt to pass his artistic theories on to the next generation. In actuality, it provided a set of blueprints to Mucha’s style and his imitators wasted no time in applying them.
His fame spread around the world and several trips to America and resulted in covers and illustrations in a variety of U.S. magazines. Portraiture was also commissioned from U.S. patrons. At the end of the decade he was prepared to begin what he considered his life’s work.
Mucha was always a patriot of his Czech homeland and considered his success a triumph for the Czech people as much as for himself. In 1909 he was commissioned to paint a series of murals for the Lord Mayor’s Hall in Prague. He also began to plan out “The Slav Epic” – a series of great paintings chronicling major events in the Slav nation. Financing was provided by Charles Crane, a Chicago millionaire. Mucha had hoped to complete the task in five or six years, but instead it embraced 18 years of his life. Twenty massive (about 24 x 30 feet) canvasses were created and presented to the city of Prague in 1928. Covering the history of the Slavic people from prehistory to the nineteenth century, they represented Mucha’s hopes and dreams for his homeland. In 1919 the first eleven canvases were completed and exhibited in Prague, and America where they received a much warmer welcome.
History hasn’t been kind to either Mucha or to the Czechs – as the current unrest in the area at the turn of this century shows. Mucha’s bequest to his country was received with unkindly cold shoulders. The geopolitical world ten years after World War I was very different from the one in which Mucha had begun his project. Moravia was now a part of a new nation, Czechoslovakia (Mucha offered to help the new country by designing its postage stamps and bank notes). The art world was just as changed. And just as the proponents of “Modern Art” cast their slings and arrows at the oh-so 19th century style, varying political groups brought out their personal arsenals of vitriolic prejudice in damning one aspect or other of Mucha’s work. The public seemed to appreciate them, but political agendas seldom give much weight to public opinion. Only recently have they been made available again. They are on permanent display in the castle at Morovsky Krumlov. Brian Yoder of the Art Renewal Center saw them when he visited the Czech Republic in 2001 (he says they are quite remarkable!). He says “the castle has certainly seen better days and the location is not ideal (for example it is unheated in the winter and is closed to the public during those months).” But at least the public, the appreciative and constant public, can view these masterpieces again.
The Abolition of Serfdom in Russia (1861) 1914
The rest of Mucha’s life was spent almost as an anachronism. His work was still beautiful and popular, it just was no longer “new” – a heinous crime in the eyes of the critics. When the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia, he was still influential enough to be one of the first people they arrested. He returned home after a Gestapo questioning session and died shortly thereafter on July 14, 1939.
above – Stars: The Moon, The Evening Star, The Polestar, The Morning Star -1902
Goshka Mackuga, Deutsche Volk – Deutsche Arbeit. Photo © Tara Booth / Culture24
Tara Booth takes an objective look at this year’s Turner Prize – at Tate Britain until January 18 2009.
The work by this year’s shortlisted artists in the running for the 2008 Turner Prize has gone on display at London’s Tate Britain and it’s the usual heady mix of mild shock and puzzling abstraction.
Runa Islam, Mark Lecky, Goshka Macuga and Cathy Wilkes are competing for the £25,000 prize, which is awarded to a British artist under the age of 50 for an outstanding exhibition or presentation in the 12 months before May 6.
The winner will be announced on December 1 during a live broadcast on Channel 4 and the runners-up will receive a sum of £5,000.
Widely recognised as one of the most important and prestigious awards for the visual arts in Europe the Turner Prize is, whatever you think of it, very effective in encouraging debate and seems to revel in controversial or bizarre pieces.
Previous winners of the Turner Prize include Grayson Perry, Chris Ofili and last year’s winner, the man in a bear suit, Mark Wallington.
Heading up the pack this year, Goshka Macuga is an artist who engages with the construction of histories and is best known for her distinctive installations and environments that explore conventions of archiving, exhibition making and museum display.
Her installation for the Turner Prize attempts to fuse the romantic relationships of artists Paul Nash and Eileen Agar with that of designer Lilly Reich and architect and designer Mies van der Rohe.
To achieve this she juxtaposes meanings and materials by reconciling photographs and paper templates from the Nash and Agar archives into dynamic, single images.
Cathy Wilkes, I Give You All My Money – Photo © Tara Booth / Culture 24
“She breaths new life into them, encouraging new narratives and meanings,” said Curator Helen Little. “It is an ongoing fascination and exploration of Nash and the relationship between the two.”
What results is a concoction of old and new with collages that not only bring together ideas from two people but also unites the relationship.
The sculptural ensemble Haus der Frau I, Haus der Frau II and Deutsche Volk – Deutsche Arbeit (all 2008) are reconstructed from drawings with the help of an engineer. They delve into the forgotten history of Lilly Reich, Mie’s long-term professional and personal partner, who developed revolutionary approaches to exhibition design.
The ensemble was also shown at the fifth Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art in which she was shortlisted for.
Cathy Wilkes’ room-sized installation, I Give You All My Money, presents a highly charged arrangement of consumer readymades, such as prams and televisions, combined with sculptures, found objects and manipulated images.
Describing her installations as confessional and diaristic, Wilkes’ work lies in the examination of the language of objects and is a characterisation of the direct charm of daily human experience.
Two supermarket checkouts and two mannequins stand in the centre of the room with objects and fragments scattered around. Hair, leftover food, glass bowls, burnt wood, scraps of clothing and discarded toys lie on the gallery floor.
“Cathy has chosen everyday objects plus things from her own domestic realm,” explained curator Sophie O’Brian. “Everything has been delicately and precisely placed, to encourage people to relook at objects with a refreshed eye. She makes the familiar unfamiliar.”
Mark Leckey, Resident Poster. © Mark Leckey
Often using found images, footage and sound, Mark Leckey’s work engages in a dynamic questioning of the connections between surface and dimension, appearance and self-determination, location and presence.
He specifically celebrates the imagination and our potential to inhabit, reclaim or animate an idea, a space, or an object.
His group of works here focusses on a series of sculptural animals including Felix gets Broadcasted 2007, Made in ‘Eaven 2004 and Search Engine.
Cinema-in-the-Round 2006-2008 is a short lecture that presents the artist’s collection of film, television and video extracts as a subjective lecture-style performance.
Split into chapters, the talk considers the proposition of matter, the transformation from still to moving image, the development of images from flat to voluminous and the life of images on-screen.
He discusses Felix, the animated cat, popular in the 1920s and 1930s and the development of the CGI Garfield. The 1997 blockbuster Titanic is also discussed in terms of the director James Cameron’s attempt to showcase the relationship between man and technology.
He also approaches the ability to transform an object from 2D to 3D and finally to reality using the recognisable Homer from The Simpsons as an example.
Interested in the transformation of flat to still to moving image to 3D, Leckey’s interest is drawn from the Internet, books, adverts, Hitchcockian films and magic. He uses his own identity as a filter for a wide variety of found material.
Runa Islam, Be The First To See What You See As You See It. 2004, Courtesy Jay Jopling (London). © the artist
Runa Islam presents a selection of three film works including ‘Be The First To See What You See As You See It’ 2004, ‘First Day of Spring’ 2005 and CINEMATOGRAPHY 2007.
Islam’s open-ended pieces are closely choreographed allowing her to innovatively use the apparatus and illusion of film to question and re-imagine contemporary visual culture.
Be The First To See What You See As You See It is a collage of sequences of a woman in a gallery of chintzy china crockery on plinths. As she wanders through the gallery in a dreamlike state, she gently taps the china, which falls and shatters on the floor.
The moment of fracture is exaggerated with slow motion as Islam explores the ability of objects existing.
First Day of Spring is a short silent film of Bangladeshi rickshaw drivers at rest. It is a sympathetic portrait of everyday life and is very lyrical in places. Slow tracking shots scan the scene which then develop into close-ups, revealing texture and life.
CINEMATOGRAPHY investigates the concept and technical foundation of the medium to an extreme, tracking letters of the film’s title as the film progresses. She applies close detail to composition and again favours the tracking shot as the camera swoops around a film apparatus workshop.
Although densely layered, her films reconfigure the conventional structure of the film image to reveal isolated elements of its construction.
“Her films are very carefully choreographed and deliberately open-ended,” said Curator Carolyn Kerr. “Runa is fascinated with the illusion of film, location, plot, familiarity, light and dark and camera apparatuses.”
By Tara Booth
The Turner Prize 2008 Exhibition is open September 30 2008 – January 18 2009 at the Linbury Galleries, Tate Britain. The winner will be announced on December 1 2008