I received my daily update from the Boston Magazine blog with tremendous excitement today, because there were a few posts which touched directly on issues I have been thinking about a lot lately. The first was entitled “How Boston Shapes City Resident: A new study proves that we’re still bound by our Puritanical history”. The post directs the reader toward Emily Badger’s piece for The Atlantic Cities in which she discusses a study entitled “The Cultural Construction of Self and Well-Being: A Tale of Two Cities“. Those two cities are Boston and San Francisco. The idea behind the study is that these cities have a tremendous amount in common, offering a perfect opportunity to examine what factors, then, might be responsible for the cities’ profound cultural differences.
It has been announced that on May 22 Lalla Essaydi will be awarded the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s Medal Award. (A retrospective of her work, “Lalla Essaydi: Revisions,” is currently on view at the National Museum of African Art Smithsonian in Washington.) I feel like it’s some sort of personal triumph. No, I do not know Lalla Essaydi and have obviously played no part in her phenomenal contributions to the art world. However, she is the focus of a disagreement in our household which I like to hold over my husband’s head, so she has become a bit of an obsession. I’m pretty sure I have told this story before, but to revisit, my husband and I saw a photograph by Lalla Essaydi at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s sale a number of years ago. I loved the photograph. There is some disagreement about what the actual price was at the time, but it was under $1,000. We did not buy it, much to my chagrin, because it was too expensive and too large. A few years later we saw the same photograph selling for $18,000. Oops. So there is really nothing more satisfying than proving to my husband what a horrendous mistake it was not to buy the photograph.
Essaydi was born in Marrakech, grew up initially in Morocco, and then spent a number of years living in Saudi Arabia. She creates breathtaking large scale portraits of Muslim women. The story they tell is both beautiful and chilling. To look at them is to be overcome by an incredible stillness.
I love Barbie. I know I should feel more conflicted about it, but I think she is wonderful in her ridiculous characacture of femininity. But I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Mattel should really skip trying to be politically correct with Barbie.
As we all know, Barbie has had many fabulous careers, teaching little girls that they can be stewardesses, teachers, pageant winners, you name it. Admittedly, that’s not fair. She has also tried her hand at firefighting and did a few stints as an astronaut.
In contemporary painting, how to make “realism” relevant and engaging, is a particular challenge. So it is a pleasant surprise when you come across an artist who is able to transport the form to another level. Liu Xiaodong is a Chinese artist who was trained in the Socialist Realist style of oil painting. And Socialist Realism, while often vibrant and uplifting (as in the Moscow metro stations), as the sanctioned art form under Communist dictatorship, often tends toward kitsch. Part of its political mandate means that it is not allowed to be self-critical or self-reflective, and so its optimistic joy and exuberance easily reads as ridiculous (and, given the irony of that optimism, as heartbreaking). Liu Xiaodong, however, has managed to manipulate his socialist realist teachings to develop a new form which is incredibly powerful and moving, and provides a compelling critique of contemporary Chinese issues.
A number of terms have been applied to his artistic style and to the movement in which he plays a central part: Neo-Realism, Cynical Realism, and Neo-Academism. I particularly like Cynical Realism — I’m not entirely sure why, but it is such a blunt assessment of facts, and yet so barely scratches the surface of what’s going on in his painting, that I think it perfectly suits his work.
Two recent paintings capture the complexity of Liu Xiaodong’s approach in all of its fabulousness.
It’s unfortunate, but I find that art tends to be just that little bit more interesting when created in situations of strain, conflict or struggle. Street artists ICY and SOT, both from Tabriz, Iran, have a stencil based style which in much of their work bears remarkable similarity to the work of British street (and gallery) artist Banksy.