Category

Fun Art

Do you have a sense of humor?

-Part III-

Here we are with the third part that tells you about the most ironic contemporary art and artists, the ones who brought us a smile but also brought us to reflect on serious and topical issues.

Let’s see what they are!

As we have seen, over time many artists have reflected on the right to claim the original idea of ​​a work of art and have wondered about the aura surrounding the artist’s myth.

Gavin Turk (England 1967) – exponent of the YBA – also deals with this theme by reflecting on the concept of authenticity and authorship of artistic creation and in many of his works takes up iconic works of great artists of the past by exploring the symbolic power of works of art and the almost sacred aura that surrounds them.

Having obtained fast publicity in 1991 when – on the occasion of the final thesis at the Royal College of Art – he proposes “Cave”, an installation in which in a completely white space a simple blue plate commemorates his presence: “Gavin Turk, Sculptor, worked here, 1989-1991”.

The ironic inspiration comes from the commemorative plaques placed on the walls of the city palaces and it is thanks to this funny idea that Turk is noticed by Charles Saatchi and invited to exhibit with the Young British Artists, thus becoming part of the group of famous British artists emerging in the late 1980s.

Have you ever heard “I could do this too?”, Here: he did it!

His personal research leads him to redo in a playful key such works as – for example – Jackson Pollock’s action painting, Andy Warhol’s serigraphs, Alighiero and Boetti’s embroideries, Piero Manzoni, Salvador Dalì, Enrico Castellani, as well as “La Fine Di Dio” by Lucio Fontana.

Sarcasm is not just conceptual or self-referential, but it also ironizes on the dynamics of the contemporary art market that imposes some “must haves”, names that cannot be renounced in any self-respecting collection.

“Is it the work of art that makes the artist or is it the artist who makes the work of art famous?”

Turk enjoys the concept of the possibility of reproducing by reinterpreting the idea behind artistic creation.

In these reinterpretations the English artist often leaves a sort of personal recognition that can be his name embroidered in the tapestries, he himself as a subject in screen-prints or his initials in spatial concepts.

From the interpretation of these works we can deduce that Gavin Turk not only has the full mastery of the most diverse artistic techniques such as sculpture, painting, and photography, but also how evident is his ability of assimilation and identification with the most different artists.

Gavin Turk, “Land and Sky”, 2012

Embroidery on canvas

Gavin Turk, “Refuse”, 2012

Painted bronze

 

Micheal Elmgreen (Denmark 1961) and Ingar Dragset (Norway 1969), Elmgreen and Dragset – an artistic partnership since 1995, are also involved in ironic installations; their works are somewhere between art and architecture and play on the alienating effect of the re-contextualization of everyday objects, and their reflections that may arise from new and unsettling combinations.

Their “Powerless Structures” are installations that overturn the rules of space and physics with the clear ironic and polemical intent to create paradoxical contexts; often their public sculpture interventions re-contextualize also the place where the work is placed, as in the case of “Short Cut” (2003 – in collaboration with Fondazione Nicola Trussardi and Massimo de Carlo), an installation with a decidedly alienating effect that sees the Fiat Uno with a trailer caravan as the protagonist. Mass tourism and Italian stereotypes are served: the plaque of Naples, the map of Rimini and the subcompact have the flavour of the 80s national-popular holidays.

A scandal? Maybe. But the ladies of the Milan “parlour” will surely have forgiven them since in 2005 they created a Prada boutique complete with accessories – “Prada Marfa” – in the middle of the Chihuahua desert, to quench the thirst for shopping.

The humour of Elmgreen and Dragset has led them to pay homage to the birth anniversary of Vincent Van Gogh (March 30, 1853) with a 4-ton ear-shaped pool, “Van Gogh’s Ear”, installation placed in 2016 in half air at the entrance to the Rockefeller Centre in New York.

Elmgreen and Drugset, “Short Cut”, 2003

Installation

Elmgreen and Drugset, “Van Gogh’s Ear”, 2016

Installation

 

Another artistic collaboration that over the last 20 years has developed a corpus of experimental and very varied works is formed by Jennifer Allora (Puerto Rico 1974) and Guillermo Calzadilla (Cuba 1971), Allora & Calzadilla – who in their works range between different media such as sculpture, photography, installation, video and performance.

The light-hearted and cheerful tone should not deceive, because the duo is strongly committed to the historical and political front, tackling socio-cultural issues that reflect and investigate the fractures within today’s society.

Since 1995, the year in which their association was born, they have concentrated on exploring the social and political aspects of contemporary living. Playing on the contradictions of western society, their sculptures, performances and installations create unsettling, recognizable but at the same time alienating situations and images.

The ironic and polemical intent inherent in their works has led them to create apparently light and amusing sculptures such as “Hope Hippo” (2005), a life-size hippopotamus that wants to be a critical representation and a mockery of military equestrian monuments.

In 2011 they represented America on the occasion of the 54th Venice Biennale, staging a reflection on the obsessions of the world superpower, between contradictions and false myths.

It welcomed the public of the “Track and Field” pavilion, an overturned tank transformed into a treadmill where a real athlete was training at regular intervals, amidst a strident sound of tracks and scrap metal, a disturbing mix of sporting records and wars – not always – won .

The sarcasm of Allora & Calzadilla peeps out not only in large installations but also in smaller works, such as “Bandage” (2011), a faithful reproduction in metal of a banal plaster.

Allora & Calzadilla, “Hope Hippo”, 2005

Installation

Allora & Calzadilla, “Track and Field”, 2011

Installation

 

Continuing with the artistic collaborations, in Italy it is Bertozzi and Casoni who bring irony to everyday life by playing with the staging of the – bad – habits of today’s society between consumerism, waste and decadence.

Using only ceramics, working with an exceptional mastery, Giampaolo Bertozzi (Borgo Tossignano 1957) and Stefano Dal Monte Casoni (Lugo 1961) achieve impressive results showing the potential of a medium sometimes considered – wrongly – a second category.

The collaboration started in 1980 becomes more conceptual since the 1990s, and then opens up to technical experiments towards an increasingly objective and realistic rendering of the chosen objects.

In their works the hyper-realism that deceives the sense of sight and the technical-artisan virtuosity of their art take shape in conceptual works and in very colourful, ironic and often unsettling combinations.

In addition to the theme of memento mori and vanitas, Bertozzi and Casoni are also dedicated to the objective representation of the present; everything that is ephemeral and perishable becomes an icon and a work of art, a metaphor for the human condition: packages of detergent and food, and dirty dishes are a criticism of the consumerism of contemporary living while the cabinets for medicines, symbols of help but also of pain and sickness are overflowing with cigarettes, skulls and moldy objects.

The moments of daily life are crystallized forever in an “epic of trash” – as they themselves called it – that immortalises the obsessive accumulation of today’s consumer society towards disposable, futile and superfluous products.

They are currently on display until November 20 at the MARCA of Catanzaro, with the personal “Bertozzi & Casoni. Land!“.

Bertozzi e Casoni, “Avanzi”, 2001

Polychrome ceramic

Bertozzi e Casoni, “Brillo Box”, 2008

Polychrome ceramic

 

But one of the greatest representatives of hyperrealism in sculpture was Duane Hanson (USA 1925 – 1996), an artist who most of all knew how to portray all the defects and characteristics – sometimes funny – of American culture down to the smallest detail.

His “realism of anonymity”, as it has been defined, amuses and amazes for the meticulousness and precision of the details that go to create real sculptural illusions.

The American artist made his debut by addressing social issues often overlooked by the art of those years, investigating the conditions of the marginalized, such as the homeless and ethnic minorities, a commitment demonstrated by denunciations such as “Trash” (1967) or “Race Riot” (1968), a sculptural group that describes the brutality and abuses of the police towards the minority of colour.

It was not until the early 1970s that Hanson began to focus on the American middle class, recreating life-size people down to the smallest details that, thanks to their hyper-realistic rendering, aroused surprise and fun.

Painters, tourists, old people, waitresses: the real protagonist of Hanson’s works is crowd, banal but unsettling for the attention to detail – from clothes to moles on the skin – disturbing for the resemblance with real people we might meet on the street as soon as we turn the angle.

Impossible not to smile in front of the middle-aged housewife in a tight-fitting outfit accompanied by the poodle who sleeps at her feet, or in front of the couple of American tourists with sunglasses, slippers, camera and nose in the air.

Just this year his 1989 installation “Lunchbreak” was revived in the Unlimited section at Art Basel, Basel. The construction workers perfectly reflect a real moment and seem to rest after installing some stands at the fair.

Duane Hanson, “Tourist II”, 1988

Mixed Media

Duane Hanson, “Lunchbreak”, 1989

Mixed Media

 

Another master of hyper-realism, Ron Mueck (Melbourne 1958) also creates sculptures with meticulous attention to detail that represent faithfully reproduced human beings with altered dimensions.

Often giants, his characters portray human feelings and fragility, amplified to the point of causing the viewer a sense of anxiety.

Mueck, who previously worked for film and television, made his debut in the art world in 1997 with “Dead Dad”, a work created following the death of his father: impossible to remain indifferent to the faithful reproduction in scale of the little bloodless body.

The definitive consecration took place in 2001 on the occasion of the 49th Venice Biennale, when in the spaces of the Arsenale he exhibited “Boy” (1999), a child 5 meters tall scared and huddled on the floor.

In his works, mystery, fear and wonder are tied together and those who observe them have the feeling of being catapulted into a fairy-tale world among skulls, giant orcs, but with vaguely offended air, and dormant, a bit sullen faces. It almost seems to hear them breathing, as it seems to be able to hear the gossip whispered by the two elderly women in the work “Two Women” 2005, hard in the eye and critical in the attitude.

Ron Mueck, “Boy”, 1999

Mixed Media

Ron Mueck, “Untitled (Big Man)”, 2000

Pigmented polyester resin on glass fibre

 

Continuing on the theme of sculpture, one cannot fail to mention the Italian artist Paola Pivi (Milan 1971), who has always been committed to environmental problems and uses different artistic mediums and techniques ranging from sculpture to installation, from photography to performance and often include live animals.

The latter, out of their natural context, appear as a dreamlike vision, provoking an alienating effect on the observer, disoriented by a real image but imbued with fantastic elements.

Suspended images created by the artist play on nonsense, such as the donkey in a boat in the middle of the sea or the leopard walking among cups of cappuccino.

You certainly know it for its famous bears with coloured feathers, works that have a very pronounced playful component, phosphorescent and playful animals that lightly and playfully remind us of the serious problem of climate change that is forcing many species to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Ironically, Pivi’s fluorescent bears run for cover, responding to the danger of extinction with a practical change of clothes: they replace the thick fur with a light plumage, much more suited to high temperatures.

The references to soft toys make Paola Pivi’s works ironic and similar to children’s games, leaving only a distant echo of the dramatic dimension of stuffed animals.

Paola Pivi, “Untitled”, 2003

Photographic print on DIBOND sheet

Paola Pivi, “Ma’am”, 2016

Installation view

 

The playful dimension is also an integral part of the work of Takashi Murakami (Tokyo 1962), a Japanese artist who outlined and in fact founded the post-modern artistic movement Superflat, characterized by bright colours and figures without perspective derived from graphic art.

Strongly influenced by manga, science fiction, but also by traditional Japanese painting, Murakami creates funny and colourful characters, smiling mushrooms and sharp-toothed monsters that have become icons and symbols of complex and delicate themes, which hide a complaint against the apparent carelessness behind the apparent marginalization of the otaku subculture.

His collaboration with Marc Jacobs for the fashion house Louis Vuitton is famous, for which since 2002 he has reinvented some of the most iconic bags of the French fashion house, bringing a breath of light-heartedness to the world of luxury fashion among cherries, sweet eyes and colourful flowers.

Since 2011, following the terrible Tohoku earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the artist has also begun to explore the impact that natural disasters have on civilization and culture.

Terror and joy, recurrent aspects in oriental culture, are proposed by Murakami in luminous smiling flowers in contrast to heaps of skulls ­– vivacity of a precious and fragile life opposed to the cruelty of the passing time.

Takashi Murakami re-reads in pop key the impact of Western culture on Japanese civilization and his approach to art overcomes the boundaries between fantasy, fashion, technology and history, demonstrating that all of them are closely linked.

Takashi Murakami, “Flowers in Heaven”, 2010

Lithography

Takashi Murakami, “Skulls MCBST”, 2011

Lithography

 

In a difficult historical period like the one we are experiencing, taking life – and contemporary art – with a touch of irony helps to play down and give that touch of lightness that never hurts …

…. Smile!

P.S. There are still many interesting artists I could talk to you about, if you would like to learn more, do not hesitate to contact me.

 

“The shades of the art rainbow are endless: choose your favorite!”

 

Do you have a sense of humor?

Maurizio Cattelan image

 

-Part II-

If you are reading this article it means that you like ironic art and that you enjoyed reading the first part we dedicated to this particular aspect of art.
As we have seen, starting from Pop Art, fun and satire begin to play a greater role in the world of contemporary art. More and more cutting edge, irony does not spare anyone or anything and becomes an effective tool able to convey the author’s message in a more incisive way.

Banksy (Bristol 1974), an artist and writer who is one of the greatest exponents of Street Art, knows this very well. The secret identity is a moral and aesthetic choice that emphasizes its non-belonging to the system and a further way of fighting it: the use of stencils, previously prepared in the studio, allows it a rapid realization that is well suited to its sudden incursions in the nightlife of public spaces without ever having been discovered, a trick that is part of his “joke”.

Direct communication and the use of simple and incisive language reach and interact with a very large number of people belonging to different classes and ages.
His is an art of protest towards current politics, culture, ethical and social issues, which is expressed through a sharp satire: often at the limit of modesty, his works deal with “uncomfortable” and often unspoken subjects, as in the case of “Snorting Copper”, graffiti appeared on a London wall in 2006 that depicts a policeman making a cocaine line.

On other occasions, Banksy is the spokesperson for the counterculture and leads a revolt against the large multinational companies that manage and govern most of the planet with the sole purpose of enriching themselves to the detriment of the weakest.
The Bristol artist reworked advertising images and icons of our time as an act of social denunciation, often drawing from the English punk aesthetic of the ’70s, as in the case of works that reproduce the portraits of Queen Elizabeth or Winston Churchill in an ironic and desecrating way.
His political commitment, always very strong, led him to take a position on the Palestinian question, and in 2005 he made some stencils on the dividing wall in the West Bank. Its presence in such an oppressed and delicate area culminated with the opening in 2017 of the Walled Off Hotel in Palestine, a hotel that offers a view right towards the Wall.

His interventions did not spare even the works of the great masters of the past and the denunciation against consumerism makes its appearance in “Japanese Bridge” (1899), one of the most famous works of Claude Monet: the charm of the garden of Giverny is troubled by abandoned shopping carts and reflective signs (“Show Me the Monet”, 2005).

Not only famous persons and artworks have found place in his paintings, but also animals – often highly symbolic – like monkeys and rats: the latter are among his favorite objects, as they are animals living in shadow, rejected by society and therefore perfect metaphor that represents the “excluded”.
Banksy was able to collect and re-elaborate the witness left by Keith Haring, to whom he makes clear and direct references, especially in “Choose your Weapon” (2005), a work that alludes to the “Barking Dogs” of an American artist.

We must not forget the great hit at the Sotheby’s London auction in October 2018, when “Girl with Balloon” (2006) destroyed itself under the incredulous eyes of those present, becoming the first art action ever made during an art auction. If you think that those who bought it at £ 1,042,000 (including interest) found themselves with nothing in their hands you are wrong, because I am sure that when it comes back to market, the work will have acquired a new charm and extraordinary value.

The last intervention by Banksy that made much talk was his appearance in Venice during the opening of the Biennale in the guise of a street vendor, in strong controversy with the question of the cumbersome and annoying presence of cruise ships, an apparition followed from the murals in the Dorsoduro district.
By the way in Venice, this year the Serenissima risked not being included in the list of UNESCO Heritage due to the out-of-control tourism and the problem of large ships that continue to furrow the waters of the lagoon; among other things, last June 2, a cruise ship clashed against a tourist boat re-igniting the controversy.

Banksy’s humor centered the problem, anticipating the episode almost like a prophet.

Banksy, “Snorting Copper”
Banksy, “Snorting Copper”, Londra 2006
Graffito
Banksy Barcode
Banksy, “Barcode”, 2004
Serigrafy
Banksy, Happy Choppers
Banksy, “Happy Choppers”, 2003
Serigrafy

Previously mentioned, another exponent of street art is Keith Haring (USA 1958 – 1990), one of the greatest promoters of the concept of art within everyone’s reach in the effervescent New York of the 80s, when he turned the entire city into an immense canvas for painting.

The choice to create works in the urban context is not only a desire to express themselves beyond the traditional artistic channels, but embraces the symbolic meaning of democratic art and the international success of his works has contributed to the spread of art forms in public spaces.

Colorful, simple and direct, his works can be read both at a more superficial level as playful and childish images, and at a further level of deeper meanings using a biting humor, aimed at raising public awareness very delicately towards some social issues.
In addition to being a highly acclaimed artist, Haring was also an entrepreneur for himself creating a brand of sweatshirts, t-shirts and gadgets offered at his Pop Shop in New York, further pushing him towards global visibility.

Keith Haring
Keith Haring, “Ignorance = Fear”, 1989
Litografia
Keith Haring Andy Mouse
Keith Haring, « Andy Mouse », 1986
Serigrafy

Provocative and captivating, Christopher Wool (Chicago 1955) has always focused on the immediacy and irony of double meanings, focusing in particular on the visual representation of the language using different styles and using different mediums such as screen printing, stencil, spray paint and paint.

His works composed of large black letters on a white background aim to reflect on the current tensions of society and become a means of criticizing the aesthetics of traditional artistic representation: sharp word plays, ironic phrases and double meanings are a parody of the archetypes of academic painting.

Wool began working on canvases composed of words and phrases in the 1980s, a period in which the conceptual movement boycotted painting and a new generation of artists – including Jean-Michael Basquiat and Richard Prince – imposed itself on the international scene.

The artist has also suffered a strong influence from the action painting of Jackson Pollock regarding the procedural practice of the creation of the works, but during the 90s he elects the serigraphy as a preferred technique, which he still uses. The casual and highly intuitive style is reflected on the canvas in smudges, overprints and “imperfections” that combine to make his works unique.

In one of his most famous series, “Black Book Paintings” (1989-1990), the words are vertically divided on three levels and the concept, while remaining comprehensible in its entirety, is enriched with second meanings.

Christopher Wool Assassin
Christopher Wool, “Assassin”, 1989
Serigrafy
Christopher Wool If You
Christopher Wool, “If You”, 1992
Enamel on aluminum
Christopher Wool
Christopher Wool, “Untitled”, 2005
Enamel on aluminum

Richard Prince (Panama 1949), a painter and photographer, has also reflected on language and concepts. Since 1977 he has established himself as one of the pioneers of appropriation in contemporary art and his most famous reworking is the famous “Cowboys” series ( 1980-1992), in which he re-photographed the advertising campaign of a famous cigarette brand. The controversial, highly ironic, conceptual work is a criticism of the American lifestyle and the power that advertising images have on the human mind. As well as the nurses of the “Nurse” series (2003), taken from the covers of C series economic novels, they have something seductive but also very disturbing.

Richard Prince has therefore always caused controversy over issues related to intellectual property and also the recent series “New Portraits” (2015), in which each piece is an image taken by Instagram, investigates today’s problems related to privacy and control we have over ourselves and the information we consciously put on the net.

These shots, borrowed from some of his followers, magnified and resold at around $ 100,000 have created discontent resulting in lawsuits, and the funny thing is it’s not the first time the artist gets in trouble for violation of copyright, as for example already in 2013 the practice of the ready-made had brought him to court against the photographer Patrick Cariou, a case later won by Prince.
But it does not end here: even recently he has had problems with two professional photographers, Dennis Morris and Donald Graham, as well as with his former Gagosian gallery, but in this case the reasons for the breakup are not known.

The most amusing and light-hearted works remain his jokes, which since the mid-80s have challenged the traditional canons of the era, playing on the idea of creating a work of art that is actually the representation of a joke. His lines transposed on canvases with bright and cheerful colors, however, are much more than carefree sentences, as they reveal tensions often buried under the surface of social interactions.

These sentences, with their almost advertising and didactic rendering, are part of a broader research by the artist, which aims to redefine the concepts of paternity and aura of the work of art through a process of appropriation of images taken from the mass media , from advertising and entertainment typical of the 70s.
Prince uses different mediums such as drawings, installations, paintings and photographs that highlight how modern icons and more generally American identity have been specifically designed to encourage consumerism.

Richard Prince
Richard Prince, «Untitled», 1995
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
Richard Prince
Richard Prince, “Untitled (Fireman joke)», 1987
Acrylic on canvas

Instead George Condo (USA 1957) uses an imaginative language that pays homage to the traditional portraiture of the great European masters of the past, reworked and mixed with icons of contemporary American culture as characters from comics and cartoons: the fusion between the two aesthetic canons creates a mirror of contemporary social customs.

It is from the 1980s that Condo began to include in his works a mix of humor, irony and veneration towards artists such as Rembrandt, Goya, Caravaggio, Mirò, Picasso – embracing the entire spectrum of European and American art.

The artist’s eclectic style is characterized by dynamic figures, bright colors that incorporate surreal and expressionist elements, from Pop Art to Disney characters: this is how the grotesque paintings populated by bizarre characters characterized by bulging eyes, abstract bodies, prominent cheeks and biting mouths are born, which reflect the hysteria and paranoia of today’s society.

The artist coined the term “Artificial Realism” to describe his work, which creates a decomposition of reality then reconstructed according to the author’s personal order, a sort of psychological cubism that aims to describe the different moods of his characters. The reference to Picasso is not accidental: at the age of 13, George Condo sees a work by the Spanish artist published in a newspaper and from that moment it will become one of his greatest sources of inspiration.

In recent years, the American artist is very much appreciated by the market who amuses the great connoisseurs of art, becoming one of the most requested artists also as regards investments.

George Condo
George Condo, “Little Ricky”, 2004
Oil on canvas
George Condo
George Condo, image from Art Basel 2019

Another artist who revisits icons of art is Francesco Vezzoli (Brescia 1971), one of the most successful Italian contemporary artists, exploring the power of popular culture using different means of expression including embroidery, sculpture, video art and performance.

The study of media and television language leads him to an analysis of the stereotypes of contemporary culture and the influence of advertising on the human mind, research that translates into works that move between historical citations and contemporary figurative culture. A performer, he himself becomes the subject of his works, taking possession of images already known.

Emulating the typical patterns of cinema and advertising, Vezzoli tackles the ambiguity that prevents us from distinguishing reality from fiction in an analysis of myths and icons of popular culture.

These themes are addressed both in short films that portray phantom television productions, and in portraits of famous people – often in black and white – who are crying golden embroidered tears: the seductive language of advertising gives way to a deep contemplation of feelings and obsessions that affect the human soul.

Vezzoli has also revisited Boccioni’s work “Unique Forms in the Continuity of Space“, adding a heel 12 to the famous Futurist sculpture, symbol of progress and movement. The bronze “Unique forms of continuity in high heels (after Umberto Boccioni)” of 2012 aims to ridicule fascism through a sharp satire and at the same time adds a touch of glamor to Futurism.

 

Francesco Vezzoli
Francesco Vezzoli,
“Unique forms of continuity in high heels (after Umberto Boccioni)”, 2012
Bronze
Francesco Vezzoli
Francesco Vezzoli, “Cassandra Crying”, 2016
Print on canvas with metallic embroidery

Maurizio Cattelan (Padova 1960), who has often aroused and deliberately sought debates and controversy, has made irreverence and irony his style.

His works include sculptures, performances and provocative actions as in 1997, when invited to the 47th Venice Biennale he presented the work “Tourists”, 200 stuffed pigeons placed on the beams of the Italian pavilion. In visiting the space before the event Cattelan had noticed the abandonment and raging degradation together with the presence of many pigeons: he decided to “leave everything as he found it”.
One of his most ironic works is perhaps his self-portrait that emerges from the floor (presented for the first time in 2001 at the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam), amazed to find himself in an exhibition hall.

The installation was very much disputed during the Sotheby’s auction in May 2010, and the award of $7.92 million (excluding rights) to a buyer left in the shadow had earned him the title of the most expensive living Italian artist.

Surely scandals and provocations have had a strong impact on the artistic career of Maurizio Cattelan, as when in 2004 he exhibited three children-dummies hanged in the oak tree in Piazza XXIV Maggio in Milan – an installation aimed at raising public awareness towards the problem of domestic violence – considered offensive to public sensitivity and decorum. It is certainly a very powerful form of communication that requires non-trivial interpretative skills.

Having caused a lot of talking about himself in 2010 with the provocative “L.O.V.E.” – theme song for Freedom, Hate, Vendetta, Eternity – an 11-meter Carrara marble sculpture that stands in Piazza Affari in Milan opposite the headquarters of the Stock Exchange, building built during fascism. The work depicts a hand intent on the fascist salute but with all the fingers cut off except the middle finger, a vulgar gesture of irreverence against fascism and the world of finance.

In addition to those mentioned, Cattelan has created a remarkable body of works aimed at reflecting public opinion on issues that concern us all closely.

Just recently, you’ve heard of another of his works, an 18-carat gold toilet pan entitled “America” ​​stolen a few days after the opening of his new retrospective at Blenheim Palace, the English home where Winston Churchill was born.

Certainly theft has increased, not only the particular aura that already surrounded this interactive work – a satire on excessive wealth flaunted by the United States – created in 2016 and installed at the Guggenheim in New York for almost a year, during which around 100 thousand people could admire and use it.

The sculpture had already been talked about when Nancy Spector, curator of the exhibition, proposed it to the White House instead of the requested Van Gogh loaned but considered too delicate to be moved.

The gold toilet, estimated at around one million pounds, had already been ironically linked to Trump – who among other things has an adoration for the precious material – even though the reference to the President has always been denied by the Italian artist.

In the motivations for the particular choice Spector explained how “the work perfectly channels the history of the 20th century artistic avant-gardes”, but the sarcasm was all too obvious.

The work was inspired by income inequalities and the cycle started with the Duchamp fountain (1917) and continued with the “Artist’s shit” by Piero Manzoni from 1961.

“America” ​​stands as a supreme gesture of contempt for money and with its title adds further questions to the Duchamp’s irony, also due to its date of birth which – almost – coincides with the establishment of Trump in the White House.

Intellectually, Cattelan’s work implies different meanings, almost combining concepts and values ​​of the two works mentioned: while “Fountain” was considered without economic value, so that Duchamp’s friend Alfred Stieglitz had thrown it away, the Artist’s shit” had the value of the weight of gold.

It is therefore natural to wonder why the work was stolen: a conceptual wonder or 103 kg of gold?


Maurizio Cattelan, “Senza titolo”, 2001
Mixed technique

Maurizio Cattelan, “America”, 2016
Gold
Maurizio Cattelan
Maurizio Cattelan, “L.O.V.E.”, 2010
Carrara marble

As you have seen the irony and lightness – sometimes only apparent – are not lacking in the world of contemporary art and in today’s world artists increasingly choose performance and installation as ideal media as they perfectly indulge themselves to creations of all sorts.

The sense of humor is not always synonymous with lightness, often the meaning of many works is to be found beyond the surface.

There are still many artists worth talking to you about, you will soon discover them in the next article!

See you soon!

 
The shades of the art rainbow are endless: choose your favorite!

Share on:

 

Do you have a sense of humor?

 

-Part I-

The sense of humour is a sign of intelligence. It is the art of those who model what they see with an elegant satire to make us reflect on deep concepts and existential themes, offering an original and less rigid view of the reality.

Using the sense of humour in a sophisticated and creative way is certainly an art, and the combination of art and humour makes our life more fun and enjoyable.

It all started with Marcel Duchamp and Piero Manzoni, illustrious forerunners of ironic thought and revolutionary ideas that were inspirational for the successive generations of contemporary artists.

Initiator of Dadaism, a leading figure in Surrealism and a precursor of Conceptual Art, Marcel Duchamp (France, 1887 – 1968) challenged social conventions and changed the concept of art by raising objects of common use to real artworks. His irreverent provocations have influenced the avant-garde art and anticipated many artistic movements of the second post-war period.

“Bicycle Wheel”, the first ready-made, dates back to 1913 and its destiny is to change the course of the history of art forever. The decontextualization of common elements provokes an alienating effect and a conceptual distortion: the bicycle wheel has lost its function and the stool on which it is placed is unusable.

The most famous intervention will remain “Fountain” (1917), a male urinal complete with the artist’s signature, the scandalous work caused a great sensation at the time, including in the title all the irony of the genius of the last century.

 

Marcel Duchamp, “Fountain”, 1917 Orinatoio maschile

Marcel Duchamp, “Fountain”, 1917
Male urinal

 

As for provocations, after the famous urinal there is “Artist’s shit” (1961) by Piero Manzoni (Soncino 1933 – Milan 1963) which is the most classic example of an artistic scandal, a work that had even caused a parliamentary question.
Besides the pure “thematic” coincidence, the two artworks cited are a cry of protest, a symptom of a strong reaction against the rules and the prevailing system of the time.
Art, which until then had been a carrier of meanings but mainly decorative and with a strong aesthetic function, now no longer worries about satisfying the sight but of conveying concepts and ideas, even of contestation.
Manzoni redefines the very boundaries of the work of art with an absolutely innovative creative freedom for the time, establishing itself as one of the protagonists of the international avant-garde and as one of the precursors of Conceptual Art. It is part of the informal nuclear movement from 1957 to 1959 and founded the Azimuth magazine with Enrico Castellani (1959-60), with which he also opened the Azimut gallery in Milan.
In the “Artist’s Shit” (“Merda d’artista”), in addition to the irony of the label that takes up the wording of any canned food, the conceptual provocation continues in the price given to the artwork, equivalent to that of gold per gram: in this way Manzoni associates two materials that are totally antithetical to each other but both full of meanings.
The controversy also refers to the art market and the arbitrary aesthetic value given to what is considered a work of art and also addresses the question between content and form.
Same as this work, his other works presuppose the concealment of the work of art, as in the case of the “Lines” (“Linee”), made between 1959 and 1961, which consists of a line drawn on a sheet of paper and its existence and length is certified only by the external label of the cylinder that contains it.
Always characterized by a strong irony and position, his work has embraced multiple forms of art: he took the challenge of happening and performance when he branded hard-boiled eggs to offer to the viewers with his fingerprints in “Consumption of dynamic art by the art-devouring public”.
He autographed the bodies of the models – “Living Sculptures” (1961) – bearing a regular certificate and delivery note, anticipating body art and also creating the largest sculpture in the world – an unbeatable primacy – placing a sort of base / pedestal with a reverse writing that reads: “Socle du monde” (“Base of the world”) (1961).
Today the “Achrome”, series begun in 1957, are in fact his most quoted works. With his monochromes Manzoni exceeds painting and limits his personal intervention: the kaolin-soaked cloth is left to dry letting the material modify itself over time.
The revolutionary significance of a genius, who died early, today is easy to guess, but in the 1950s and 1960s it was perhaps too early to receive the recognition he was due.
Hauser & Wirth dedicated a retrospective to his work – “Piero Manzoni: Lines” – running until 26 July in the New York office where 70 “Achrome” and 12 “Lines” are on display.

 

Piero Manzoni, “Merda d’artista”, 1961 Scatoletta di lattina, carta stampata, feci umane o gesso?

Piero Manzoni, “Merda d’artista”, 1961
Can of tin, printed paper, human faeces or chalk ?

 

Equally provocative and gifted with sense of humour is Salvador Dalì (Spain 1904 – 1989), the greatest exponent of Surrealism, famous also for the eccentric and bizarre personality that has poured into dreamlike works populated by deformed and disturbing animals and objects, fruit of the subconscious of the artist.
His early works are influenced by Cubism, Futurism and De Chirico’s works, to which he will add strong references to Freudian psychoanalysis. Eclectic and ingenious, Dalì has expressed himself in various fields, including cinema, photography and sculpture.
“The persistence of memory” (1931) is the surrealist artwork of excellence, the one with the presence of the famous soft clocks investigates and questions the claim to measure time in an objective and absolute way.
With the director Luis Buñuel he creates avant-garde short films such as “An Andalusian Dog” (1927), before a series of excellent cinematographic and theatrical collaborations: he will collaborate with Alfred Hitchock, Luchino Visconti and Walt Disney.
His unconventional style, his passion for luxury and excess have made him a worldwide celebrity, between unforgettable parties and wild cats kept as pets.
His extravagance has often been immortalized by Man Ray, but the lightness and irony of the Spanish genius are summarized in a photograph taken by Philippe Halsman in 1948: “Dalì Atomicus” – title referring to the nuclear explosion in Hiroshima and Nagasaki of 1945 – it is a real explosion that immortalizes flying cats, buckets of water and the artist suspended in mid-air in his intent of painting.
At the Grimaldi Forum in Montecarlo, an exhibition is underway that can be visited until September 8th, which brings together about 100 works covering the whole of his artistic career, from 1910 to 1983.

 

Philippe Halsman, “Dalì Atomicus”

Philippe Halsman, “Dalì Atomicus”, 1948
Silver gelatine print

 

The real trend of humour in the art world develops later with the Pop Art movement, born in England and the United States between the end of 1950 and the beginning of 1960. The concept of art itself is renewed, making it lighter and more ironic thanks to the appearance of flat and lively colours, to the reference to icons of cinema and comics. Pop Art — incisive and immediate — best expresses the collective imagination and the American society of the time, borrowing the language of mass media and advertising.
The cue therefore comes from everyday life and consequently even mass-market mass-produced products become true icons.
Impossible not to think of Campbell Soup cans or Coca Cola bottles reproduced in serigraphs by Andy Warhol (USA 1928 – 1987), according to which art is also consumed like any other product.
Thus reproducibility and obsessive repetition characterize his works which, like mass products – associated with consumerism – reflect American society. A leading exponent of Pop Art and an eccentric personality, Warhol has also made a name for himself for his unconventional lifestyle.

 

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol, “Campbell’s Soup II“, 1969
Serigraphy on paper

 

The theme of reproducibility of the work of art was also at the centre of the research of Roy Lichtenstein (USA 1923 – 1997), another great exponent of the movement: the source of inspiration – the comics – also translates into an interest in the mechanical processes. Lichtenstein implements the inverse process in his works, that is, starting from a copy par excellence (a printed page) he creates an original, revolutionizing the expressive language of the era. During his career, Lichtenstein has explored various themes, some of which are typically American: from the Far West to the artistic expressions of Indians, from the economic boom to oriental landscapes.

 

Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein, “In the car“, 1963
Oil on canvas

 

Another great Pop Art performer is Tom Wesselmann (USA 1931 – 2004), famous for his “Great American Nudes”. His stylized and seductive female figures introduce eroticism into movement, at a time when the nude of a woman begins to become an advertising product that no longer makes a stir.
In 1970, Wesselmann exhibited “Bedroom Tit Box”, a box that brought together painted wooden objects. What is striking is the presence of a breast between an ashtray and a bottle of perfume: starting from this still life the artist will begin to depict details of female bodies.
In an interview he said: “Painting, sex and humour are the most important things in my life”.

 

Tom Wesselmann

Tom Wesselmann, “Smoker #3 (Mouth #17)”, 1968
Oil on canvas

 

Jeff Koons – eccentric personality and “enfant terrible” of contemporary art – has often been talked about for his controversial choices.
His earliest works date back to the late 1970s but it was in 1980 that Jeff Koons made his debut in the art world: he exhibited at the New Museum the installation “The New” in which he staged some vacuum cleaners, products of consumer goods in which the influence of Andy Warhol is very evident.
The theme of consumerism and the fulfilment of the senses also include the sexual sphere and his pornographic sculptures certainly require a great open-mindedness and a strong sense of humour, even if only to conceive the message.
Some of these are currently on display at the Jumex Museum in Mexico City until September 29th in the review curated by Massimiliano Gioni “Apariencia Desnuda”, and are combined with Duchamp’s works in an unpublished exhibition that highlights the conceptual affinities between the two art giants. They questioned the function of the objects and in both of them there is often a strong eroticism, also found in everyday objects: an evident theme in the voyeuristic work “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, The Large Glass” (1915 – 23) by Duchamp, who considered that desire is a source of creativity, as witnessed also by his alter ego Rrose Sélavy. Recurrent eroticism also in the works of Koons, who caused scandal with the 1991 series “Made in Heaven” created with his wife and porn star Ilona Staller.
It is the first major anthological exhibition presented in South America for both artists and the 80 works on display clarify the points of contact both in the challenge to conventions and in the distortion of the function of common objects.
Jeff Koons is the artist par excellence who has taken over and transformed the enchantment and childhood desire for games into a fetish for adults that reflects the extreme individuality of modern society hidden behind a trivial toy.
He is probably still celebrating the very recent record at auction that he – again – crowned the highest paid living artist in the world. “Rabbit“, a stainless steel sculpture from 1986 was sold last May for $ 91.1 million at a Christie’s auction in New York.

 

Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons, “Balloon Dog (Orange)“, 1994-2000
Mirror polished stainless steel with transparent color coating


Damien Hirst
(Bristol 1965), one of the founders of Frieze, is another “enfant terrible” of contemporary art: one of his goals is to amaze and shock the viewers and the public.
Hirst no longer seeks the manual skill of the author of the work of art but tries to convey ideas and create almost a brand, as Andy Warhol had done before him. He takes up the use of everyday objects and from Duchamp the ready-made, but he models and transforms them by transposing them onto living beings.
The leader of the Young British Artists has always focused on the reflections around the theme of death and has been especially noted for the works that have seen animal protagonists in formaldehyde or for the famous diamond-covered skull “For the love of God”, perfect combination of irony and macabre, object of desire and repulsion.
The exorcism of death through medicine took shape in works that reproduce mirrors of medicine with the pills on display as if they were precious stones, signifying an almost sacred admiration for remedies against death but also a reflection on today’s addictions.
Among these, smoking has a prominent place, also due to its close link with death, and it is no coincidence that Hirst has dedicated more than one work to it: among these “Party time” (1995) is a giant ashtray filled with cigarette butts and empty packages, almost a pool to throw yourself into.

 

Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst, “Lullaby Summer”, dettaglio, 2002
Glass, stainless steel, aluminium, nickel, bismuth and cast resin, coloured plaster and painted pills with dry transfers

 

On the close symbiosis between art and life, Yayoi Kusama (Japan 1929) has always moved, having lived voluntarily in a mental asylum in Tokyo for about 40 years.
Her works move between madness, fun and genius, thanks to their great power of interaction with the viewer.
She suffered from hallucinations from a young age, visions she transposed into her works, giving the viewers her vision of the world, full of suggestions. Not only obsessively repeated pumpkins and polka dots but also immersive installations such as the “Infinity Mirrors rooms” – rooms covered with mirrors that play with the thousand cross-references between pumpkins, polka dots and the reflected image of the viewers.
Obsessively repeated, the polka dots cover the furnishings of entire rooms or go to decorate tentacles sprouting from the floor and ceiling in installations that everyone likes.

 

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama, “Infinity Mirrored Room – All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins”, 2016
Wood, mirrors, plastic, acrylic and leds

 

Another artist who engages us in a fun way playing with the sense of orientation is Carsten Höller (Brussels 1961), an artist who often creates playful works whose purpose is to activate all 5 senses in the viewers, triggering adrenaline and emotions linked to games. childhood, as in the case of slides.
The artist plays with the disorientation and explores the contradictions within us, as in the case of the work “Upside Down Mushroom” at the Fondazione Prada in Milan, which implements a reversal of reality.

 

Carsten Höller, “Upside Down Mushroom Room”, 2000
Fondazione Prada, Milano

 

Even Paul McCarthy (USA 1945) plays with the senses and with the subconscious of the viewer with provocative, disturbing, politically committed works, which aim at a critique of consumerism and to lay bare our fears and neuroses, unmasking the deceptions that lie behind the promise of the American dream.
Known for his vast and varied production that includes performance, photography, sculpture, film, multimedia installations, drawing and painting; at the beginning of his artistic career he tries to break the limits of painting by using unusual “materials” such as body fluids and food.
McCarthy appropriates icons of popular and childhood culture such as gnomes, Heidi, Santa Claus, Barbie reformulating them in a violent version and playing with the viewer’s subconscious.
Brutal, explicit and often repetitive images cause sensory overload by causing feelings of discomfort and disgust: the artist overcomes any taboo and breaks all social rules.
From the early 1980s McCarthy developed a series of collaborations with Mike Kelley, another artist linked to the counterculture: the synergy between the two leads to the creation of “Heidi”, a 1992 video that depicts the disturbing implications of the famous children’s story.

 

Paul McCarthy

Paul McCarthy, “White Snow” Dwarf, Bashful”, 2016
Silicone, fiberglass, steel

 

Like McCarthy, Mike Kelley (Detroit 1954 – Los Angeles 2012) has always been interested in American mass culture, examining it thoroughly to reveal hidden contradictions.
He explored various themes such as the relationships between different social classes, sexuality, religion, repressed memories and politics, making an incisive critique and a great deal of self-deprecating humour to these topics.
Especially known for his work with objects that evoke memories related to childhood and adolescence, such as stuffed toys, dolls and school photographs, throughout his career he has explored any type of medium: drawing, sculpture, music, video, shows, photography and painting.
In the project “Educational Complex” (1995) the artist analyses adolescent traumas and criticizes the rigid rules of society and the educational impositions to which we are forced to submit.
Among his best-known works “Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites” (1991-99), very colourful stuffed toys sewn together to form rainbow sculptures that at first glance evoke the magic of childhood.

 

Mike Kelley

Mike Kelley, “Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites“, 1991-1999
Mixed media installation: stuffed animals sewn over wooden and wire mesh frames with styrofoam packing material, fiberglass, car lacquer, metal hardware, nylon rope, pulleys


Claes Oldenburg
(Stockholm 1929) focused on the theme of consumerism and today’s eating habits and is famous throughout the world for monumental and amusing works that reflect a typically American imagery: from the shuttlecock for badminton to bowling pins, from the giant hamburger to the huge ice cream cone that fell on a skyscraper in Cologne.
His works are often strongly linked to the territory where the work is placed, as evidenced by “Ago, filo e nodo” (2000) created in collaboration with Coosje van Bruggen in Piazzale Cadorna in Milan, a tribute to the world of fashion and a clear reference to the underground lines in the colours used for the thread.

 

Claes Oldenburg,

Claes Oldenburg, “Dropped Cone”, Neumarkt Galerie Colonia, Germania, 2001
Stainless and galvanized steels, fibre reinforced plastic, balsa wood, painted with polyester gel coating

 

“The shades of the art rainbow are endless: choose your favorite!”

 

Share: