• Beyond the Canvas

Updated: Feb 2

The Vase of Flowers by Jan van Huysum is one of the best still lifes that the Amsterdam-born artist produced between the end of the XVII century and the first half of the XVIII century. It is certainly one of the most sumptuous and breathtaking still lives I have ever laid eyes on. It's a triumph of bright colours, sinuous patterns of lines, sensuous textures and airy volumes. It's a symphony, it's a dance, it's a delicate and intoxicating scent. It's a superb example of the almost photographic detail that the Flemish painting transformed into technical virtuosity. Van Huysum's analytical gaze on the beauty of nature and meditation on the themes of existence speak to the aesthetic taste of the Dutch bourgeoisie that was driving the radical change in patronage.

This painting was stolen by Wehrmacht soldiers in July 1944 and all trace of it was lost until November 1989, when a German family repeatedly tried to sell it to the Italian State (the nerve). In 2016, a new intermediary approached the Uffizi, once again making a request for payment. That's when the local Public Prosecutor's Office opened a file for attempted extortion, and the Ministry for Cultural Heritage together with Ministry for Foreign Affairs launched a joint cultural diplomacy operation, which eventually led to its return to the Uffizi in 2019.

I was so intrigued by the troubled story of this beautiful picture, so moved by the passion, time and dedication put in by everyone involved in ensuring its safe return, and so overwhelmed by the emotion caused by its restitution that I started thinking about all the looted art around the world, art that means so much to so many people and that will never find its way home. And I may have shed a wee tear.

#janvanhuysum #stilllife #flemishpainting #painting #baroque #flowerpainting #artblog #beyondthecanvasblog

Jan van Huysum

Vase of Flowers, ca. 1720-30

Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence

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  • Beyond the Canvas

"When I went to New York in 1992, I recognized that there was a genre called installation art, and had an idea that I will pop out from walls. I wanted to pop out from walls, from stuffy walls." -Yun Suk-nam

Reminiscent of the Dadaist and Surrealist objects that lost their function to be transformed into something attractive and unsettling, the Godmother of Korean Feminist Art has produced beautifully upholstered armchairs and sofas that you cannot sit on. I love the contrast between the sumptuous pink silk and the metal spikes. Freudian readings aside, they express the anxiety and the oppression experienced by the artist in her domestic environment.

With this work, Yun Suk-nam's challenges the gendered order of Korean society by reclaiming the domestic space. Which is exactly what Martha Rosler did with her seminal video Semiotics of the Kitchen. And Judy Chicago with her collaborative Womanhouse installation, which included Miriam Schapiro's Dollhouse. Of course it is, because home is the symbolic space where women are expected to govern and thrive, the same place where they also disappear and lose their identity. Those walls Yun Suk-nam wanted to pop out of.

Only yesterday I was reading that South Korea is grappling with a mounting wave of raging anti-feminist sentiment, which is clearly tantamount to misogyny. Groups of angry men have been protesting in the streets and in the manosphere, claiming 'feminism is a mental illness'. Three-times Olympic gold medallist An San has been targeted for sporting a short haircut, as if she had given up being a real woman. A local rapper has been ranting against the feminist movement, with lyrics along the lines of: "Hey if you want those rights so bad, why aren’t you going to the military?”

I know nothing about South Korea and its culture, but I suppose the real question is: are women ever going to stop paying for men's insecurities?

#yunsuknam #pinkroom #pinksofa #koreanartist #feminism #feministartist #femaleartist #feminism #genderwars #contemporaryart #artblog #blogger #beyondthecanvasblog

Kitchen, 1999

Pink sofa,1996

Pink sofa, 2004

© Yun Suk-nam

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  • Beyond the Canvas

Current rabbit hole update: scandals and crimes in the art world, of which I am delighted to inform you there is an abundance of. One episode of Ben Lewis' superb podcast ART BUST tells the story of American art dealer turned fraudster Inigo Philbrick's spectacular fall from grace. It's a compelling listen, during which Lewis also points out the dismally shoddy due diligence and the opacity of the resale market that de facto enabled the jaw-dropping magnitude of Philbrick's scam.

While Philbrick awaits his sentence in a Brooklyn cell after admitting he did it "for the money"(duh), I am reminded of the artist whose work is at the centre of this lawsuit: Rudolf Stingel. In 2013, during the Venice Biennale, Stingel's work took over the the atrium and the upper floors of Palazzo Grassi on Venice's Canal Grande, turning it into an immersive site-specific exhibition, which perhaps is more aptly described as an environment. The entire space was covered in kilim rugs wall to wall, a clear nod I believe to Venice's ancient ties to the Ottoman world. Despite its monumentality and arresting visual impact, the atmosphere in the halls felt hushed, almost meditative.

This painting I have chosen is a hymn to appropriation and reinterpretation of visual and textural magnificence. Stingel has applied stencilled patterns made of what looks like scorched Styrofoam to the canvas, giving life to a lace-like effect that shrouds the figure underneath it - it conceals and it reveals at the same time. Before it was embraced as an independent and broader aesthetic in its own right in the XVI century, the grisaille (monochrome) technique was used for devotional art, which is why this work feels both intensely spiritual and sensual.

#rudolfstingel #palazzograssi #venice #painting #appropriation #grisaille #monochrome #contemporaryart #artblog #beyondthecanvasblog

Rudolf Stingel

Untitled, 2006

Pinault Collection

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