Sunday, January 7, 2018

Kota Ezawa, The Crime of Art

Site Santa Fe, our renowned Kunsthalle has been recently enlarged and has had an overall renovation as well. Before you reach the main exhibition galleries there is a curated shop with design pieces opposite a pair of smaller galleries called the SITElab where the exhibition Koto Ezawa, The Crime of Art is installed.

As indicated by the title, this is a solo exhibition based on famous art thefts.  All the works are new or recently done. As I have at home a shelf of books on art crime, the title of this show caught my attention.

Ezawa pays tribute to the  stolen works of art with transparencies placed in light boxes.
His series devoted the 1990 theft of the Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet and Degas among others  from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum starts the exhibition. The case has not been solved in almost 30 years. Every once in a while we seen a blurb in the news that they have another clue but these lead nowhere!

The show is not limited to the Gardner theft.  Another series of images refers to the famous theft of the Edvard Munch’s, “The Scream” from Oslo’s National Museum.  This picture was recovered in Norway after a two- year search.  There was another painting stolen as well and tree men were eventually convicted of the crime.  In this lightbox transparency you can see two men carrying paintings and the third opening the back of the wagon to put them in.

Ezawa is a Japanese-German artist who was born in 1969 in Cologne, Germany.  He currently lives near San Francisco and is Associate Professor of Fine Arts and Film at the California College of the Arts.  His work has been shown in many major museums in this country as well as in Canada, London, Paris and Germany.

A press release from the Haine’s Gallery in San Francisco defined Ezawa’s work very clearly, “Kota Ezawa’s work explores the appropriation and mediation of current events and images.”

The artist himself  states that this series, “draws upon painting only to recognize that painters before 1850, like Rembrandt and Vermeer, were essentially the photographers of their time. In the absence of photographs, their paintings take on the task of recording reality with the scrutiny and minuteness that we now expect from cameras. ….I feel compelled to produce an exhibition dealing with ‘stolen art works’ because my own process could be regarded as a form of image theft. One could say I’m hoping to steal these images back and give them a new life.”

What wonderful self-awareness! I too had the reaction to the work that it was copying though it certainly was not identical replication .  It is the theft of thought and who owns art?  It is always open to interpretation and what we call appropriation.  This has become a serious contemporary legal issue involving copyright law.   The Tate Gallery in London defined artistic appropriation as, “the more or less direct taking over of a work of art, a real object or even an existing work of art.”  I doubt very much that Rembrandt or Manet are going to go after Ezawa, however!

But when you compare Ezawa’s transparency with an original painting you see that he has not copied but simplified in a way like Cézanne simplified form and started cubism and abstraction almost at the same time!  Here, for instance, is his version of Manet’s “Chez Tortoni" together with the original.

Again in Ezawa’s appropriation of Rembrandt’s “Storm in the Sea of Galilee” it’s starkness derives from very flat colors and stylized form.

The video that goes along with the exhibition is marvelous exposition.  It shows among other aspects of art crime the helicopter coming down on the roof  of the museum and guards scrambling in the famous Topkapi heist; as so often happens they are too late!  I have included a small portion of the artist’s video.  In Google you will find many others.

I apologize for having  “discovered” this show at such a late date so you only have a couple of days to see it in Santa Fe live but a beautifully produced book with the same title has images from this show and a lot more.  A version of the show will go on to the Christopher Grimes Gallery in Santa Monica, California.

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