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November 2011

Art Spiegelman

Art SpiegelmanArthur Spiegelman was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and immigrated to the United States with his parents in his early childhood. Spiegelman studied cartooning in high school and started drawing professionally at age sixteen. Despite his parents wanting him to become a dentist, Art Spiegelman majored in art and philosophy at Harpur College. After leaving college in 1968, he joined the underground comix movement.

The following decade, Spiegelman became a regular contributor to various underground publications, including Real Pulp, Young Lust and Bizarre Sex. Under a variety of pseudonyms like Joe Cutrate, Skeeter Grant and Al Flooglebuckle he drew creations such as 'Ace Hole, Midget Detective', 'Nervous Rex', 'Douglas Comics' and 'Cracking Jokes'. In 1975, he and Bill Griffith co-founded Arcade, an influential comix revue with artists like Robert Crumb, S. Clay Wilson and Justin Green.

Perhaps his best known tour de force was Maus . 'Maus' was based on the experiences of his parents as concentration-camp survivors. He expanded this premise into a full-blown graphic novel, which he drew from 1980 to 1986, with the Jews presented as mice and the Germans as cats (the Katzies). The book 'Maus: A Survivor's Tale', earned Spiegelman fame. He completed the tale in 1991 with 'Maus II: From Mauschwitz to the Catskills'. Art Spiegelman received the Pullitzer Prize in 1992.


Anselm Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer concrete house of cards The contemporary artist most associated with ruins is probably Anselm Kiefer. He was born into a ruin, after all. That's to say, he was born in Germany in 1945. He was born into a place that had just been bombed to smithereens from the air and then smashed apart at the ground by the Allied advance on one side and the Red Army advance on the other. Kiefer's paintings and sculptures reflect a sensibility that was forged during the breaking and smashing of things, and then further shaped in an environment where one wandered through the wreckage.

Kiefer works with dirt and broken glass. He likes rusty metal. He paints in streaks of black and grey and in clumps of color that go on the canvas to rot. In a scene near the beginning of Sophie Fiennes' recent movie about Anselm Kiefer — Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow — we find the artist throwing dust and dirt over a large grey painting depicting forlorn tree trunks in a forest nearby. The entire painting, which must be somewhere in the range of 10' x 20', is covered and then shaken with the help of crane and forklift. It is, literally, unearthed from the rubble.

The rest of Fiennes' film is a lingering meditation on the spaces of Kiefer's longtime studio complex in Barjac, France, which he has recently abandoned for another site. During his many years there, Kiefer dug underground tunnels, deposited paintings and sculptures in rooms left over from the dilapidated silk factory that once existed there, burned things, forged giant books with blank lead pages, and otherwise constructed a landscape of ruin from his own imaginings.

The movie’s last scenes show Kiefer in the midst of directing the building of a series of concrete towers, many of them multiple stories in height. They are constructed in the haphazard manner in which you might build a tower out of playing cards, except with giant blocks of concrete. The towers totter and veer in all directions, some propped up with the giant lead books that Kiefer has been making for years. The result is a mini city of ruins. It is a city not of this time, or of any recent time. In fact, though the teetering towers are made of concrete and lead, they seem to have been brought onto the Earth from olden times, maybe the oldest times.

Alex Gross

Alex grossAlex Gross is an artist whose complex work crosses genres. Yes there is a low brow cartoonish type of feel but it is more sophisticated than that. There are also classical / international / new tech elements that lend to a commentary on modern life.

Drawing from a vast range of artistic influences, Alex has a keen interest in and appreciation of foreign cultures and world history. His paintings often contain references to both vintage Japanese and Chinese advertising imagery, as well as contemporary American advertising. Other important influences include Gothic Flemish painting, early American lithography, and Victorian wedding photography. Often in his work, Alex incorporates elements inspired by these diverse sources, as well as a comprehensive knowledge of art history, in exploring such themes as globalization, industrialization, consumerism, alienation, reconciliation, and mortality.

Alex Gross received a BFA with honors from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, in 1990. Since then, he has achieved steady success as a gallery artist. Alex taught at his Alma Mater from 1994 until 2005, and was a recipient of two faculty grants there. A recipient of the prestigious Artist Fellowship from the Japan Foundation in 2000, Alex spent two months traveling throughout Japan, researching and collecting a wide variety of Japanese Fine and Commercial art. Part of his collection was compiled and published by Taschen under the title Japanese Beauties in 2004. The Art of Alex Gross, Alex’s monograph from Chronicle Books, was released last year to strong sales internationally. In 2007, Alex’s first retrospective museum show was held at the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, California.

Ai Weiwei

Ai weiweiAi Weiwei is a powerful and controversial Chinese contemporary artist who is  active in sculpture, installation, architecture, curating, photography, film, and social, political and cultural criticism.

Ai collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government's stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called "tofu-skin schools" in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

In 2011, following his arrest at Beijing airport on 3 April, he was held for over two months without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of "economic crimes" (tax evasion). In October 2011 ArtReview magazine named Ai number one in their annual Power 100 list. The decision was criticised by the Chinese authorities. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin responded, "China has many artists who have sufficient ability. We feel that a selection that is based purely on a political bias and perspective has violated the objectives of the magazine"