Monday, March 24, 2008

Cost of Enlightenment?

Above: Dainichi Nyorai, detail
Attributed to master sculptor Unkei (11th century)

Last week, Christie’s auction house sold this Buddhist statue for $12.8 million. Once you include the related fees, the sale was worth over $14 million, making it the most expensive purchase of Japanese art in history. It simply boggles the mind. How do you justify that kind of price tag?

You can check out photos and a pretty fascinating audio link on the Christie's website. When a group of scholars examined the statue using x-rays, they found three devotional objects sealed inside the Buddha's wooden body. The relics have remained intact after some 800 years.

The figure represents Dainichi Nyorai (大日如来), the chief deity of the Shingon sect of Japan. Dainichi is also known as Vairocana or the "Great Shining Buddha." Although it makes little sense, the deity is also associated with the Sanskrit letter "A." Maybe it helps to frame the idea in terms of the West. Instead of saying "I am the Alpha and the Omega," this is the god that says:
I am the Alpha, here becoming the Alpha once again.
Here, you can see Dainichi's hands forming the mudra usually identified as the "Wisdom Fist." (Sounds freaking awesome to me...) Of course, the translation may seem a little strange; "Wisdom Fist" sounds like it belongs in a video game rather than in a sacred text. But the intention is highly serious. Unkei is the most well-known sculptor of the Kamakura period. He's responsible for several gorgeous statues at Todaiji temple located in Nara.

The story cuts through a bizarre cross section of issues: religion and history, globalization, and the decline of the American dollar. Was there a more enlightened use of that money? I'm sure that they could use some help in Tibet, where the death count has climbed to 130 according to some sources.


Dainichi Nyorai


Friday, March 21, 2008

Details: Br'er

Change Come (close-up)

Stay Cool Br’er (close-up)

Ghee from India (super-close-up)

This is the last weekend to catch Br'er, a collaborative show by Michi and Dosa Kim over at Beep Beep Gallery. Photos courtesy of Denys, also known as "Kneesee." You can check her original Br'er post and Br'er preview on Kneesee's blog.

Below: On opening night, a live storyteller performed renditions of the old Br'er Rabbit stories. She periodically ripped audience members into the scene to play various Br'er characters. And it was a riot! I want to see more events as authentic and inspired as that one.

Images from Wildpeaches.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Diachrony: Narratives (and the lack thereof)

Br'er Rabbit illustrations, 1881 and 1994.

Early and late Kandinsky.

Early and late Pollock.

El Greco and Basquiat.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Eyedrum Draw Off; ExLucis 2008

(Photos by Ben Grad)
The Draw Off at Eyedrum. 11 artists labored from noon to midnight with little incentive other than a shared desire to create. It was like the happy bastard child of the county fair and a live painting performance. You didn't get funnel cake, but it was still brilliant fun. (Apologees to folks who were waiting for these photos; all things Ghostmap are running a bit behind schedule.)

This projector gizmo was a big hit. It illuminated almost the entire heighth of the Eyedrum. You could see the artists' hands move as each drawing grew, mutated, and started over as the night progressed. Kudos to Silas Reeves for making it happen. The guy showed real character; he was referred to affectionately as "that crazy guy in the orange hat who just won't give up."

The whole thing made me grin. It was wonderful to watch everything inside just bloom into so many colors and styles. Here's Jon Tindel and Michi deep in that creative "zone," brushing details onto their usual sort of composition. (That close-up of Michi is hilarious!) I love their work, but there's still that old reservation: is repetition a sign of confidence in one style or is it a sign of comfort? In their case, I'm inclined to side with "confidence." Then again, confidence can be its own disadvantage. Still, you have to hand it to them; they made that wall come alive.

Also, don't we know this gal who's painting here??
. . .

I also stopped by Composition Gallery for the last night of ExLucis 2008. For some reason, I just can't get over this vertical photo set. In the detail, you can see she's got a toy machine gun. What a cutie! I like to think of her as a "little red shoot-you-the-face hood."

ExLucis is a photo group based out of Georgia State. This year's show was juried by Sylvie Fortin of Art Papers magazine, and the last night coincided with a poetry reading in honor of International Women's Day. Theresa Davis, a dreadlock wearing, in-your-face slam poet, presented an ironic piece called "Butterflies and Rainbows." The theme vaguely resonated with this photo, which was surrounded by images of war and political turmoil. We'd all love to make art about nice, pretty things, but it's kind of hard when the world is so messed up.

It might be wishful thinking, but I hope there's some sarcasm here. I'm not sure what motivated Sylvie's decision, and unfortunately, the photographer didn't submit an artist's statement. But just look at that bass man's face! There's a kind of surreal, deadpan quality to those forbidding poses. And remember: these are the men that the Governor promised a $19 million incentive last year... They had to cancel their "Go Fish" tournament because of the water shortage. Sonny Perdue is washed up.


Friday, March 14, 2008

FALSE @ Newstreet

Thanks to Newstreet for hosting our first official event next week - Thursday, March 20. Designs by Dosa Kim and mixed media artwork by Chris Lawson. Music by New Orleans bands Hurray for the Riff Raff and Samuel Doores and Atlanta's Apocalypse Radio and Collaborative Topologies.
Art, liberation, community, anarchy, literature, sustainability, experience, conversation, injury, co-existence ... FALSE commits words to an expansive energy that is reshaping the South.
*THURS. MARCH 20 - 8 pm.

2800 Washington Street
Avondale, Georgia 30002

For directions check the map on the flyer or click this handy link to Google Maps.

Much love.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Visual * * * Strategies

Above: Obama “installation” by Shepard Fairey

I admit I was a little shocked to hear Shepard Fairey's name on the radio. But I suppose the man is fairly mainstream these days. Still... on a podcast for

Last week, The Economist interviewed Scott Dadich, the art director of Texas Monthly, about visual strategies and the evolution of “political branding.” Dadich's assessment of Barack Obama's bumper sticker logo was especially fascinating. His words cut like a scalpel:
For the first time, we’re seeing the brand obsessed, and now design aware, corporate landscape in a presidential campaign logo. This is a really expertly done, clearly highly crafted piece of typography and graphic design. Designers are always trying to achieve additional, above-and-beyond meaning in their work. This “O” is a clear example of that effort. We have a sun rising over what appears to be a pastoral field. It’s almost reminiscent of the Bank of America logo.
The gist of the argument is that Obama's graphic messages are professional and highly effective. The Obama strategy is, from a design perspective, simply superior to the other candidates', Democrat or Republican.

The interview continued on to analyze the significance of the Obama's stylized "O." Dadich calls it a "peelable" mark. Comparing the "O" to the Nike swoosh or the Apple logo, the design is so distinct that this "O" can be removed and used as a stand-alone symbol for buttons, baseball caps, and merchandise of all varieties.

It only takes a moment to consider the infamous "W" in "George W. Bush" to see the contagious marketing power of a single, "peelable" initial. Dadich discussed the point a little further in his 2004 opinion piece in the New York Times. Although this "O" revelation could form a point of pride for Obama supporters, it still drives home just how intensely commercialized our election system has become.

Dadich also takes up a comparison with a few "less successful" graphic campaigns, including a fairly uncompromising critique of Kerry/Edwards. Some of his criticisms border on minutia - things that only a graphic designer would notice. His complaint about the letter spacing after Kerry's first initial struck me as a little obscure. But when you compare to the boldness and resolve embodied in the Busch/Cheney logo, the contrast of styles becomes crystal clear.

The Economist interviewer then maneuvered Dadich through a number of subjects, including the role of graffiti artist Shepard Fairey and other independent designers. Evidently, Fairey 's larger-than-life Obama (photo above) can be seen all over the West Coast. Dadich cites Fairey's Obama as evidence of a movement - not just one charismatic man.

The discussion even touched on the failed Mondale/Ferraro bid for the White House back in 1984. The redundant typeface failed to distinguish the nominee, Walter Mondale, from his female running mate, Geraldine Ferraro. Ferraro, a savvy New York lawyer, received nearly as much media attention as Mondale.

At one point, Scott Dadich drew attention to the three star motif on the blue Hillary Clinton logo. There are claims that the three stars allude to a third Clinton presidency. I don't give the theory much credit; it sounds a little too convenient and, for that matter, partisan in that predictable, talk radio sort of way. I mean, realistically, three stars could suggest anything: Orion's Belt, a fraternity coat of arms, or the restaurant rating of the Atlanta Fish Market.

My own intuition leans toward a more believable, although ironic, interpretation. Three uniform stars vaguely suggest unity, like that old apocryphal tale of St. Patrick explaining the Trinity by using a three-leaf clover. In Scott Dadich's words, the Clinton logo tries to represent "all things to all people." Maybe Hillary's team intended the stars to suggest a "Third Way," a compromise between the politically divided Left and Right. That was Bill Clinton's platform in 1992, but unfortunately for Hillary, the "unity" candidate this year is not her.

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