May 28, 2012

Mustache Watch

Jean (Hans) Arp, Schnurruhr (Mustache Watch) - plate 5 from Arpaden, 1923.  
Publisher: Merzverlag (Kurt Schwitters), Hannover, Germany.  
Edition: 50. Gift of J. B. Neumann. 
© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

In 1923, while visiting Kurt Schwitters in Hannover, Hans Arp created a portfolio of seven lithographs of "object pictures." Titled Arpaden, a made-up word meaning “Arp things,” the simple graphic images combining body parts with everyday things can be seen as expressing a personal language of forms and symbols.

Curator, Anne Umland: Arp, like Schwitters, was a poet, but in the interplay between the verbal and the visual, a slippage between the two is perhaps nowhere better seen than in this series of seven Arpaden, published in 1923. Each one of these seven boldly graphic images came with a very particular title.

Moving along the wall you can see the first one's title is Mustache Hat. Then as you move through the series there are different forms: Navel Bottle, Mustache Watch, Egg Beater, Arabic Eight. All of the titles and shapes themselves are purposefully open-ended to provoke as many associations as possible. There's a fabulous fairytale-like narrative that might emerge from these different bold, graphic, yet elliptical forms arrayed before us.

May 16, 2012

Snip Snip Sniff Sniff

When I was young, my British mum cut her long hair. She had let her hair grow most of her life and it cascaded down her back to her rear. When she decided to cut her hair, she chose to get a graduated bob at the Vidal Sassoon salon on Maiden Lane in San Francisco. (This was around 1974). The cut epitomized elegant, hip modernity. And it has survived the test of my mum continues wearing that style to this day.

Left: October 1963 issue of British Vogue. Actress Nancy Kwon with a Sassoon bob.
Right: Grace Coddington in her sculptural "Five Point", circa 1965, with Vidal Sassoon
Vidal Sassoon died a week ago today. He was 84 years old.  Sassoon was a elemental figure in the "Swinging London" scene of the 1960s, creating iconic looks such as the graduated bob (above left) and the five-point cut, sported by model (and current Vogue editor) Grace Coddington (above right).  He transformed women's styles to such a degree that the designer Mary Quant donned him the "Chanel of hair."

"His timing was perfect: As women's hair was liberated, so were their lives," Allure magazine Editor-in-Chief Linda Wells told The Associated Press in a written statement. "Sassoon was one of the original feminists."

Vidal, in London, surrounded by models showing his new cuts for 1976 called,
clockwise from lower left: The Hummingbird, Question Mark, Feathers, Tomboy and Silver Lady

Sassoon was a sensation because his sassy wash-and-wear cuts freed women from towers of teasing and hours of hairspray. “My idea was to cut shape into the hair, to use it like fabric and take away everything that was superfluous,” he said in 1993. “Women were going back to work; they were assuming their own power. They didn’t have time to sit under the dryer anymore.”

His hairstyles provide a remarkable legacy, but Sassoon also became a global success because he  understood marketing. He developed hair care and styling products, opened salons in the US (and elsewhere), and established Vidal Sassoon Academies to teach aspiring stylists how to envision haircuts based on a client's bone structure. He also transformed the haircutting experience by making it glamorous.

Sassoon founded a system of hair cutting that worked, and has lasted, because his hair dressers always take into consideration the person who will wear the style. They tailor looks to help realize a woman's beauty regardless of her age.
"Actually short hair is a state of mind … not a state of age."
This is precisely why his bob looked good on my mom, and continues to look good on her as she enters her 70s. Genius. "If you don't look good, we don't look good."

(A good obit with details on his life can be found here.)

May 13, 2012


Using strands of human hair Kate Kretz embroiders, creating works that evoke themes of vulnerability, beauty, and catharsis.

I first learned of the artist when she was included in Pricked: Extreme Embroidery, a group show at MAD (Museum of Art and Design) in 2008. Of the three pieces by Krestz in that exhibition, it was the sheer, intricate madness of Oubliette I (2006) that stayed with me, that I could not get out of my mind.

In Oubliette I, lips are shriveled and puckered with a mouth rendered agape in what...a yawn, a sexual seduction, a song, a primal reveal a tornado rising above a shadowy landscape.  A reverence, a quiet bubble of awe, is experienced upon viewing her work. The personal fragility of fallen hair, the detritus of a life, feels simultaneously painful and uplifting, while the intricate and intimate nature of the stitch, amplifies the anxiety conveyed by the obsessiveness of working in such a miniature scale.
"Embroidering with hair possesses its own unique intensity: each barely perceptible stitch is like a rosary bead, marking a tiny but ardent prayer whispered over and over...It often feels as though the cathectic things I make are an act of profound resistance."

If Oubliette I explores the tension of internal/external by facing them both, Ebb from 2006 counters that by presenting two closed eyes embroidered onto a pillow case. Whether through sleep, denial, or death, closed eyes refuse the viewer, the voyeur, any clues to that which lies, fear, or grief. A person's person is hidden when the eyes are closed, yet it is also a reminder that we are all vulnerable with our eyes closed.
"One of the functions of art is to strip us bare, reminding us of the fragility common to every human being across continents and centuries."

Another work using a pillowcase, My Young Lover (2006), turns the dial one more time. With a single ear resting on a pillow, we are no longer looking at/into but listening...or rather...being listened to. The cascading curls adorning the embroidered ear are made from an ex-boyfriend's locks.
"For me, it’s a very romantic piece...It’s a symbol of intimacy; a romantic notion of intimacy. The curls are very beautiful and tactile and sensuous. I thought they would be a very appropriate medium for showing oneself."

Decades of Dreaming of You..., 2012, hair embroidery on mother's hair from gestation period, threads from unraveled pillowcase, 3 x 5 x 5".

New work by Kretz is currently being featured in a solo show, This Sharp World…, at Hardcore Art Contemporary Space in Miami until July 7th.  Not everything is made from hair, Kretz works with other materials, such as traditional textile embroidery, paintings, and silverpoint drawing as well. But what appears as the signature object in the exhibition, Decades of Dreaming of You (2012), is a nest of the artist's hair she collected while pregnant. This vessel, a mass and tangle of organic material, contains a single egg of wound, white thread. Kretz sees this piece as marking the end of a life cycle defined at its start and finish by pregnancies: one terminated, one completed.
"I find it amusing that art historians will talk about male artists and how they were influenced by travel to some foreign land, or political/social situations, but one of the most life-changing and powerful experiences of all is rarely discussed. It is a reflection of society’s devaluation of women’s experience in general."

Memento Innocenti, 2011, tarnished silverpoint on found cup, 2.25 x 5 x 2.75"

The theme of motherhood in art is generally undervalued, as it's often been interpreted as quaint, domestic, and "sentimental." Kretz's work suggests we could reframe the notion of motherhood in art. Can nurturing, fragility and tenderness be fraught with narcisscism, decay and confusion? What kind of a tenuous balance exists between care for another and care for oneself? How can we discuss motherhood or birth and not be drawn into a history of romanticized and predetermined associations and projections?

So with this mediation on maternity....I bid you a Happy Mother's Day!