February 20, 2010

"I was inspired to make a sculpture and studied many other logs, but I realized that I was only interested in this particular one."

I love this line of wall card next to a sculpture at the museum:


That line made me — and, independently, Meade — think of the way the Little Prince felt about the rose he loved. Eventually, the Prince encounters a garden of roses:
"You're lovely, but you're empty," he went on. "One couldn't die for you. Of course an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than you altogether, since she's the one I've watered. Since she's the one I put under glass. Since she's the one I sheltered behind a screen. Since she's the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except for two or three for butterflies). Since's she the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she's my rose."
Here's the sculpture that was made out of the loved log:

Hinoki by Charles Ray

"Hinoki," by Charles Ray is actually one of my favorite things in the Modern Wing of the Chicago Institute of Art. I've criticized the writings on the wall at the museum. I dread these explanations of art, but I loved Ray's essay, which you can read in full here. The man found and fell in love with a log, but the log was about to rot, so he got big cypress tree and got it carved into a replica of the log:
"With several friends, I transported the tree, cut apart by a chainsaw, back to my Los Angeles studio. Silicone molds were taken and a fiberglass version of the log was reconstructed. This was sent to Osaka, Japan, where master woodworker Yuboku Mukoyoshi and his apprentices carved my vision into reality using Japanese cypress (hinoki).... When I asked Mr. Mukoyoshi about the wood and how it would behave over time, he told me that the wood would be fine for 400 years and then it would go into a crisis; after two hundred years of splitting and cracking, it would go into slow decline for another 400 years. I realized then that the wood, like the original log, had a life of its own, and I was finally able to let my project go and hopefully breathe life into the world that surrounds it."


Anonymous said...

I know royalty when I see it. And that log, Professor, is definitely a king.

Ann Althouse said...

The museum guard shows the scale. I talked to her about the sculpture by the way. She looks at it all day, so I was interested in whether she like it. She did. She pointed out some details about it, like wear you could see the joints.

Ann Althouse said...

But you're right, Julius, that the reason for the artist's special love of this log is actually different from the reason for the Little Prince's seeing his rose as special.

Skyler said...

Why is a log considered art? The woman did not create the log. It's just a log. And not a particularly useful one at that. Nor pretty. It's just a log.

I wonder how much someone paid for that log to call it art. Did they launder their drug profits this way? What can explain the spending of money to create, no, copy, this log?

And do people take pictures of this piece of fake log and put it on their website because they think the log is pretty, or because it's just another sign of the bizarre world we live in?

As my whimsy leads me.. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
As my whimsy leads me.. said...

In utmost respect to its loginess, do they let kids climb on it?

Michael said...

I hate modern art but I like this log and I liked the essay even more. At first it pissed me off that Ray was liberating the log from the meadow and chopping it up and hauling it to bleeding Los Angeles, but then when the Japan part came in I got very excited about what he (and they) had done. Very cool. In general I am for leaving natural things in their proper place but the re-creation aspect of this is very appealing. I am not sure the credit for the piece should go to Charles Ray for the idea or to the Japanese artisans who did the heavy lifting.

Chip Ahoy said...

But it's all so recursive. It's blowing my mind. When this wooden copy begins its disintegration will another artist come along and create another wooden copy of it to prolong its form another 400+ years?

Joan said...

How does this qualify as art, and how does the person who was inspired to re-create the log qualify as an artist? It seems to me the artist was (excuse the expression) Nature.

The log was not the source of an inspiration that was then transformed into an artistic expression. The "artistic expression" here is an exact recreation of the thing itself. Does this mean that paleontologists who create those awesome dinosaur skeletons we see in natural history museums are artists, too?

What is it that makes this "art" and not a huge, very well done, craft project?

(I think the log is very cool. I just don't know why it's art.)

Kirby Olson said...

The Minimalists of the 70s liked BIG aspects of nature: a giant boulder, for instance. The idea was to place something in a museum space that didn't have any kind of narrative attached to it.

Of course the narratives start to come pretty thick and fast from critics, and environmental philosophers.

This whole notion of the INTRINSIC VALUE of nature (why the Grand Canyon is worth saving has partially to do with its bigness, as the Sequoias of Sequoia National Park, or the geysers of Yellowstone) all have to do with BIGNESS.

This in turn goes back to Kant and the sublime. Kant said really big stuff like waterfalls reminded him of God.

So I think the big log is God sneaking in the back door, or to put the log backwards, and reintroduce the linguistic aspect:


Anonymous said...

It's better than bad, it's good!

Anonymous said...

It looks like a person being swallowed by a legless crocodile.


MnMark said...

So the "artist" had an idea and sent off to Japan to have actual artisans craft it? Huh. I had no idea one could claim credit for the artistry of someone else.

So if Joe Blow pays DaVinci to paint a portrait, it's Joe Blow who's the artist.

What a load of crap. Every time I think the art world can't get any more ridiculous, it proves me wrong. I thought it was the bottom when they were creating the crap you find in "modern" art museums, but here they've gone one better - they pay someone else to create the crap, and then claim it as their own.

Skyler said...

So who paid for all these workers, shipments, artisans? Was it federally funded?

How do we know that the fake log looks anything like the real log? Is it better or worse if there are differences?

steve said...

It looks like a giant took a dump on the museum floor

Anonymous said...

The Frogs Who Desired a King

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Hey... We have one of those in our yard!!

We are going to burn it in a few weeks in our designated burn area, along with a lot of other tree trimmings and rosebush clippings from last fall.

It is always fun. A big bonfire, some Adirondack chairs and scotch in front of the fire.

I guess we just don't appreciate 'great art'. LOL

rhhardin said...

It's patriarchy art.

Unknown said...

I can go to the Naturealm in Akron and see the exact same thing, wrought by the greatest artist of all. If you want to call it Mother Nature, if you want to call it God, makes no difference.

Another "artist" who needs to justify him/herself by claiming what belongs to Someone Else.

Ralph L said...

he told me [in between fits of laughter] that the wood would be fine for 400 years

A hundred years ago, Duchamp(?) took a manufactured urinal and called it art. This trick is getting old.

traditionalguy said...

I have noticed that German/Norse folks usually have an affinity for big trees and large logs. Fallen Redwoods are a religious experience for them. This artists wanted to make his log eternal. Shakespeare had the last word on that in sonnet 18..."every fair from fair sometime declines"....

Unknown said...

"so he got big cypress tree and got it carved into a replica of the log"

So someone took a living tree (actual art) and carved (well, he didn't) it into a dead tree?

Stop at the fiberglass and take the time and talent to make it look like the original and I'd call it art.

Paddy O said...

"I have noticed that German/Norse folks usually have an affinity for big trees and large logs"

Must be why I like it. My Oden roots bring instinctive resonance.

And I do like it. I like staring at logs and trees, noticing how the apparent randomness of shapes isn't random at all but is based on a myriad of initial conditions which come into play.

A log fallen in the forest is a history of the forest, a participant in many stages of contribution now no longer living, but still feeding, contributing even in its rootless form.

A log removed from this setting still echoes a bit. It's artificial but is beautiful especially in the midst of a very ordered, very modern building which is thought advanced because of the millenia of learning which goes into human architecture.

That log is beautiful because it represents a level of order and contribution our architecture can't come close to meeting.

It is a postmodern piece, in that we no longer fear nature, as in premodernity, nor want to dominate it, as in modernity, but can live in appreciation with nature and learn from it.

I've had a lot of time staring at trees to come up with passable rationalization about the use of it. Though, I still think it's those Oden roots of mine who think there's wisdom to be found hanging around trees.

DBQ, I think burning of logs shows an artistic sense too. You all watching the big burn signifies an aesthetic appreciation, accelerating the process in a massive blaze, with fire and wood making a brilliant dance together.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

I like this log better!

Palladian said...

"Another "artist" who needs to justify him/herself by claiming what belongs to Someone Else."

This is something I don't understand about Arthouse Hillbillies. In between scratching their balls and buying acrylic socks at ChinaMart, they have formulated a paradoxical definition of art which seems to negate the possibility of formulating any definition of art at all. As evidenced by the comments upon any post featuring a photograph or discussion of "abstract" art, the Arthouse Hillbillies harbor an abhorrence of non-representational art of any kind. This seems to suggest that the Hillbillies subscribe to a Romantic view of art as an absolute reflection of Nature, dimly called "Realism" in its later incarnation.

But then, when presented with Charles Ray's artwork "Hinoki", which is an absolute fulfillment of the idea of art as imitator of Nature and even depicts a supremely Romantic subject- the ruin of a great tree- the Hillbillies react violently, claiming that imitating and depicting Nature is an invalid project for a true artist and that the extraordinary result of that project is abhorrent and most definitely Not Art.

This leads me to the conclusion that the Arthouse Hillbillies don't really have a coherent definition of Art at all, and are merely reacting with the same unfocused, insensitive, and unintelligent emotionalism that leads them to choose one pair of acrylic socks over the other.

Palladian said...

"So the "artist" had an idea and sent off to Japan to have actual artisans craft it? Huh. I had no idea one could claim credit for the artistry of someone else.

So if Joe Blow pays DaVinci to paint a portrait, it's Joe Blow who's the artist."

First off, he's correctly referred to as Leonardo or Leonardo da Vinci, not Da Vinci, which is not his last name but the place he's from. Put down the Dan Brown.

Secondly, do you believe that the great artworks of history were executed solely by the Solitary Artist, slaving away in his garret? Leonardo, for example, began his career as an apprentice in the studio of Verrocchio, where he learned a great variety of skills while producing, along with the Master and other apprentices, the paintings and other works of Verrocchio. Most of the great artists, especially those whose work was in great demand and those who produced large-format paintings, sculpture and decoration, employed many apprentices and assistants who did everything from making the panels and canvases to actually painting them, in part or in whole. Some of Anthony van Dyke's later portraits were painted almost entirely by his "studio", except for the faces.

And sculpture benefited even more from the work of a team of assistants and craftsmen. Rodin (and Leonardo da Vinci, who also designed sculptures) didn't cast his own bronzes or even make the large-scale prototypes for the casting process. The point was the production of a sculpture not who did what. And Charles Ray has even credited the craftsmen who helped produce this sculpture, something that most of the artists of the past never did.

Architects don't (generally) build their own buildings. Does that make them less of an artist? Does that make the building any less great?

traditionalguy said...

Palladian...Sometimes a log is just a log. I do agree with you about art appreciation. Maybe it is jealousy of the artist getting attention for seeing things we always overlooked. J'observe. Did Bob Dylan ever say that?

Palladian said...

Some of Charles Ray's other works include "Ink Box" from 1986, a three-foot cube made of black-painted steel, open at the top and filled to the absolute brim with liquid black ink... or 1992's "Oh! Charley, Charley, Charley", which is a sculpture of life-size fiberglass replicas of the artist involved in an awkward orgy.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

DBQ, I think burning of logs shows an artistic sense too. You all watching the big burn signifies an aesthetic appreciation, accelerating the process in a massive blaze, with fire and wood making a brilliant dance together.

Actually, we do appreciate dead trees, logs etc. We have an interesting shell of an oak tree from a rather large forest fire many years ago. It is half of a charred and burned out tree stump about 8 feet tall. The outside is weathered silver and the inside is blackened char. We set it upright in a woodland type area right outside the large office window that I'm sitting next to right now. It is set underneath a huge cedar tree. The area is interspersed with juniper trees, oregon grape bushes, maple trees, pyracantha and with some other flowering and berry bearing shrubs that attract birds. The daffodills are just now putting their heads up above the soft ground. We basically let it go wild and do minimal pruning because we like the woodland look.

The Northern Flickers, Downy Wood Peckers hammer at the twisted dead stump. Quail and other song birds flock to ground (enticed by daily strewing of bird food).

The log/tree limbs we are going to burn was unfortunately a diseased cedar tree that we had to cut down for safety's sake. We'll cut it up and keep the larger pieces for other spring and fall bonfires and our outdoor fireplace, or until it gets too dry and we can't burn until the next season.

It IS very hypnotic to just sit and watch the flames dance like living things.

However, to claim artistic ownership over nature is presumptious at the very least.

Paddy O said...

"the same unfocused, insensitive, and unintelligent emotionalism"

We're hailin' for Palin!

WV: filin. We're filin for Palin!

Palladian said...

"However, to claim artistic ownership over nature is presumptuous at the very least."

Living in itself is presumptuous.

Skyler said...

Palladian, you didn't do your argument much credit by sending links to the gentleman's other ridiculous presentations.

Rodin is not a metalurgist, but he did create the template for the skilled metalurgist to cast from.

Here, we have a no talent dumbbell who found a not too particularly noteworthy log and made a cast of it.

This is not skilled work. It hardly even comes to the level of craftsmanship.

The Japanese carver was the craftsman, and if he used modern technology, such as a CNC controlled device or similar controls, then he wasn't a craftsman either.

So, where is the art? It's not a clever or thought provoking idea to display a log. It takes no skill or art to make a cast of it. It takes no artistry, maybe craft, to carve the copy.

It's just stupid. That's my opinion. Everyone has one, and they all stink.

What I want to know, seriously, is who pays for this crap? If this gets federal funds, I'll be incensed.

(And the fad of criticizing people for calling da Vinci by his well-recognized name is nothing but popular snobbery. He's been called da Vinci for ages. That's how he is recognized and there's nothing wrong with that. Do you also go around telling people that the name is NOT Germany, it's Deutschland?)

Paddy O said...

DBQ, I think that exact sensibility is what the artist is trying to provoke in people who aren't surrounded by all the wonderful nature.

Not everyone can see the artistry as you do, and an artists role, one of them, is to bring not only shape and form but also awareness of where and how to look.

I lived in the mountains for about five years, but now live in the middle of the city. Even the wan representation of a log here brings back longings for the art in nature. And what you just wrote... now I'm just pining.

Palladian said...

Skyler, you've already proved time and again that you're an insensitive and unimaginative rube and a bigot.

I'm glad Charles Ray's work rubs you the wrong way. Anything that upsets you is a masterpiece in my book.

Palladian said...

Hinoki also smells very good, which I suspect is apparently when you're close to this sculpture.

Interesting because my strongest association with fallen trees is their smell.

Palladian said...

I do have a question:

"Labels: aging, death, flowers, museum, photography, the "egg salad" challenge, trees, writing"

The "egg salad" challenge?!

I'm going to have some Japanese woodcarvers carve a bowl of egg salad out of hinoki.

traditionalguy said...

I always wondered how the Poplar Tree got its name. Did it have a lot of friends? Then we burned some logs from a poplar. They sounded like chinese fire crackers going off all night, and be sure you close the fire screen for the shooting sparks.

Palladian said...

"I always wondered how the Poplar Tree got its name. Did it have a lot of friends? Then we burned some logs from a poplar. They sounded like chinese fire crackers going off all night, and be sure you close the fire screen for the shooting sparks."

Poplar was one of the woods of choice for making painting panels during the late middle ages and the Renaissance.

Quaestor said...

I wonder if the Japanese who actually craved that replica log are aware that this charlatan Charles Ray claims to be the artist.
Back in the 1962 Hammer released a version of The Phantom of the Opera starring Herbert Lom eponymous backstage haunt; a film I hold to be the best effort yet with the material, including the original story. The Hammer film gives the Phantom a name and a touchingly tragic back-story. Poor Professor Petrie labors for years in obscure poverty to compose a new grand opera on the subject of Joan of Arc. Petrie takes his finished work to Lord Ambrose D'Arcy (Michael Gough) who gives the desperate composer the paltry sum of £20. After Petrie leaves with the money D’Arcy takes the manuscript and strikes out Petrie’s name and substitutes his own. “I paid for it, therefore it’s mine,” reasons the corrupt aristocrat. Professor Petrie discovers the fraud and tires to destroy the printed score before it can be published, but runs afoul of an accident involving powerful acid which disfigures his face and drives him mad.
It seems to me that an analogous bit of artistic piracy is going on here. That a modern American “artist” would commission a sculpture and then unabashedly display it over his own name doesn’t surprise me. American art has been notable by its absence for a long time. What I find outrageous is that the Chicago Institute of Art, a heretofore respectable institution, would knowingly aid and abet this fraud.
Maybe I’m a total philistine. Perhaps I don’t understand art and therefore I have no case. If so will someone please explain in terms that I can understand how Ray can have any artistic claim to this replica of a rotten log?

rhhardin said...

Deborah Butterfield log art.

knox said...

1. I love the log

2. Artists take themselves too seriously. This is what makes them so very vulnerable to criticism.

3. All the stupid writing about art (which has come under fire a lot here lately) is also to blame. People know nonsense when they read it. Sometimes that skepticism then gets projected (if unfairly) onto the artist.

4. Professional (and/or academic) "Critics" of all genres, should just shut up. They ruin almost everything in our culture.

Skyler said...

He can make all the orgies of himself or pay someone to do the art he wants, doesn't bother me.

I just don't want to be the one paying for it.

Palladian, you've made my day! Anyone who defends perverts like this guy can call me names any day of the week because I will call it a badge of honor.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm going to leave "the egg salad challenge" up, because it has caused me no end of hilarity.

I was trying to do a label for "The Little Prince," which I thought I already had, but didn't. "The" autocompleted to "the egg salad challenge."

Meade asked me about it when we were out driving today, and I laughed a lot, but wasn't in a position to do anything about it.

We walked in the snow, saw some trees and logs, then went for pizza. I had a glass of wine with lunch, so when we got home, I had to take a nap. I slept for 2 hours, then started reading the blog and saw Palladian's comment about the tag and laughed all over again.

Chennaul said...

This is one of the funniest damn threads ever.

I was going to post a picture of Picasso in his swim speedo and call it-

Picasso in Acrylic....

[but I think someone is stoked enough.]

Palladian said...

Skyler, or as I like to call you, CedarfordLite (all the contrary blowhardiness with none of the rabid Jew-hatred!), I'm King of the Perverts and there's a hell of a lot more people in my kingdom than in yours.

Madawaskan, Picasso wore a wool speedos. He was a rich communist, after all.

Speaking of art, I'm typing this while at the Met sitting in front of a Jacob van Ruisdael painting - of a dead tree.

So did anyone win the egg salad challenge?

Steven said...

Art is quite easily defined by simply going back to the roots of the word, and then understanding what the old qualifier "high" was intended to mean. Art is then easily derived to mean the application of trained skill to the field of aesthetics.

This item is accordingly a work of art—by Yuboku Mukoyoshi and his apprentices, who actually applied the trained skill to create the aesthetic object. Charles Ray is not the artist, any more than Pope Julius II is the artist responsible for the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

(Picasso was an artist, sure; after all, he applied his trained skills to the creation of aesthetic works. But the central function of his career was to destroy the value of trained skill, helping to overthrow art he could not match and replace it with the non-art of persons like Pollock. Accordingly, he is one of the major anti-artists of the 20th Century. To claim him as a great artist is like claiming a dictator who gained power through elections a great democrat.)

Fred4Pres said...

This was sent to Osaka, Japan, where master woodworker Yuboku Mukoyoshi and his apprentices carved my vision into reality using Japanese cypress (hinoki)...

Art done by proxy is not really art. The great masters mastered their craft. The idea that just the idea alone was art was just not even contemplated...and for good reason because it is the marriage of idea and execution that makes great art.

Some art, like buildings, require many people to complete. But the great architects (note I said great) could do much of the work better than the mechanics putting the building together. They were there making sure the process went forward properly. From the designer of the pyramids down to Frank Lloyd Wright overseeing his projects.

Fred4Pres said...

Picasso was a great artist. As a boy he sketched a dead bird so well that his father, who was a very good artist in his own right, stopped working in recognition that his boy had surpassed him. That classical training helped Picasso make the leap into the immortals.

Palladian said...

"Art done by proxy is not really art. The great masters mastered their craft."

...And usually had their young assistants do most of the work.

Nora said...

Somebody had probably already said it, but still ...

I don't think that a piece that is a reproduction of something created by nature and produced by the Japanese artisans can be considered as a work by Charles Ray. Ray's involvement is the work of a designer, not of the artist.

Works of art are unique, while design ideas can be reproduced many times, like making lasting copies of endless decaying tree tranks using the same, or different, technique. And as such the idea is not novel either; think - making sculptures using death masks.

Quaestor said...

Palladian wrote:
...And usually had their young assistants do most of the work.

This is an exaggeration bordering on distortion.

Palladian said...

Nora, it's already been said, many times, by people far dumber and less reasonable than you.

The idiotic Romantic idea of the artist as solitary creator is alive and well.

Palladian said...

"This is an exaggeration bordering on distortion."

Prove it to me. Tell me how Rubens or Anthony van Dyck worked. Tell me how their studios were operated.

Your conception has nothing to do with the reality of how art production in Europe worked and everything to do with your 19th century Romantic notion of the solitary genius. When the scale of the artist's vision went outside of their physical ability to execute the work, they delegated tasks. This was true for Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens, and is true for Charles Ray. The validity and effectiveness of the idea and the work is open to interpretation and criticism. The delegated manner of working is so old and widespread that you'd have to invalidate at least 40% of artistic creation in order to adhere to such a silly standard.

If we adhered to this regressive standard, we wouldn't have paintings such as this.

Quaestor said...

You made an extraordinary claim, Palladian. The burden is on you.

Fresco is a form that often requires assistants because of the time element. I had the pleasure of documenting the creation of a major piece work of fresco in my hometown. The artist had several assistants (working students, really). Some were transferring cartoons to the new plaster using chalk and soft charcoal pencils, others were mixing and applying plaster and others were mixing pigments. Sometimes there were three assistants, and at other times as many as seven helpers were busy. But there would be no doubt as to who was the artist in the group. Even a person totally ignorant of fresco could pick him out of the crowd.

Painting is a different matter entirely. Some of the great masters had apprentices. Some did not. The apprentice traded service for training. In the case of a apprentice to an artist the service ranged from emptying chamber pots to working on minor commissions. When an apprentice worked on a commission the work was largely his, while the master critiqued and supervised, though some masters may personally have corrected faulty technique from time to time. When the apprentice worked on a commission it was under his own name. Many great works were produced by artists still under the tutelage of a master. Titian's Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth is a good example. The influence of Titian's master Giovanni Bellini is evident to the educated eye. No doubt Bellini closely supervised the young Titian.

It is interesting that you refer to Rubens and Van Dyke. In the early 17th century Rubens was the most sought after painter in northern Europe. He received commissions to decorate whole palaces, a scale of work that a single artist couldn't accomplish. So he employed so-called disciples -- supervised draftsmen who worked from watercolors or pencil sketched down by Rubens personally. Van Dyke worked for Rubens because he was an outstanding draftsmen who could execute Ruben's style precisely, yet experts can readily distinguish works done by Ruben's hand and work done by his draftsmen.

You think the "lone artist" is a romantic conceit? Rubbish. Rubens was the exception, not the rule. The 17th century was the dawn of the middle class. Every major town had its burgers who desired and could afford paintings, and there were thousands of artists available to meet those demands. Most were indifferent, uninspired and unknown today. Some were creators of genius. Almost all of them worked entirely alone because their incomes didn't allow them the luxury of apprentices. Rembrandt taught students for cash. He never had an apprentice. Perhaps you should acquaint yourself with the careers of Johannes Vermeer and Hans van Meegeren, two men of genius who worked entirely alone for different reasons.

wv: consv -- right wing orthography

Quaestor said...

That you would use a 17th century painter as an example of factory art is laughable since many of that generation were fond of painting themselves at work. Try Las Meninas on your eyes, it might loosen those bourgeois scales.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

I make things out of wood.

I don't reproduce dead trees, but I do make one of a kind items of my own design. They usually have a use, so I suppose they would be considered folk art as opposed to high art.

Am I an artist or a craftsman? I guess that dpends on where my work sits.

Hanging in my brother-in-law's den; I'm a craftsman. If it's in the Chicago MOMA; I'm an artist.

WV: somic- what you call a so-so comic

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