Commercial Break

There once was a time when Hollywood actors took direction by the likes of Rossellini and Fellini who captured golden moments on the cobbled streets of Italy of a now bygone dolce vita; when a lifestyle was instantly iconic and so intensely desired by American folk who were mesmerised by everything and everyone who were filmed through a camera lens. While the tables may have turned in light of America's very own dolce vita - the American Dream - Italy has always sung to the beat of tu vuò fa l'americano, placing Hollywood and its contemporary superstars on a gilded pedestal as if it were the mid-twentieth century. Now the likes of Costner, Clooney, DiCaprio, De Niro, Pitt and Stone take direction of advertising producers who pay millions of dollars for their Made in Italy endorsement from coffee to banks and bathroom tiles, telecommunications and jewellery. Hollywood endorsement is big business anywhere, but the Italian market is somewhat of a guilty pleasure for movie stars - knowing the commercial will never air on their home turf to jeopardise their profile (and that of their studio), the opportunity provides the old Hollywood glamour that the Italian consumer gushes in abundance.

So to Venice, one of Italy's most famous cities, with its inherent style and movie-magic quality that will play host to La Biennale di Venezia next week. Artists, celebrities and celebrity artists will all ascend on the Arsenale to attend a host of openings, performances and exhibitions. This year Dasha Zhukova's Moscow-based Garage Projects will be presenting Commercial Break in the opening week of the Biennale. Over one hundred artists will contribute to this digital intervention with a series of works that engage with the relationship between advertising and culture - the works will be screened in various sites across the city as well as through an iPad application powered by POST magazine. Curated by Neville Wakefield, artists include Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Barbara Kruger, Gillian Wearing and Marilyn Minter, who will bring the form and language of advertising to Venice which has famously invited international controversy in the past with billboard advertising around the historic city. Below is a trailer to the event with clips from some of the participating artists.

Making column inches in both art journals and gossip magazines alike before next week's opening is Richard Phillips' contribution with his first short film, Lindsay Lohan. An extension to Phillip's practice of exploring themes of identity, sexuality and celebrity obsession - Most Wanted, White Cube Hoxton Square, March 2011 - the ninety-second motion portrait of Lindsay Lohan draws on classic portraiture and depicts the Hollywood celebrity in a number of classical poses that reference iconic moments in films starring sirens of the silver screen from Bardot to Ullman in masterpieces by Jean-Luc Godard and Ingmar Bergman respectively.
The motion portrait strongly references the form adopted by teasers or trailers that have become popular of late by luxury brands to create alternative product awareness. The fact Lohan's troubled profile, which most recently has awarded her house arrest for stealing a necklace that ironically she was endorsing, brings us to an incredible paradigm of narcissistic screen-test-meets-projected-mediated-identity that is driven by the demands of popular culture today. On Lohan, Phillips says,
"Lindsay has an incredible emotional and physical presence on screen that holds an existential vulnerability, while harnessing the power of the transcendental—the moment in transition. She is able to connect with us past all of our memory and projection, expressing our own inner eminence".
This is not the first time Lohan plays the role of art muse - Jonathan Horowitz used paparazzi shots of Lohan's then-weight loss intrigue to create large scale posters in his series of work Rome, and for Gagosian Gallery - who will be presenting Phillips' short film - this is also familiar territory. In 2009 the gallery presented GREED, A New Fragrance by Francesco Vezzoli, a short film by Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli that replicated the strategy and aesthetics of a commercial perfume launch and starred actors, Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams.
It is too early to say what messages or themes will result in this years Biennale, but if the first week is anything to go by Commercial Break will set the bar for unabashed contemporary commentary and the troubles of reality and fantasy into the forefront of artistic expression. What is certain is that Lindsay Lohan will not be able to attend the opening in Venice - with nothing more to lose and everything to gain, she will be lying low at home in Venice, California endorsing her very own accessory: an ankle bracelet.

Click here for more information about Garage Projects at La Biennale di Venezia 2011 and see film stills of Richard Phillip's Lindsay Lohan below...

Commercial Break
Garage Projects
1st - 5th June 2011

La Biennale di Venezia
The 54th International Exhibtion
4th June - 27th November 2011


Between The Lines

It was a private view like no other. Set in the rich green valleys of Wiltshire, there was no better place to be this past Sunday than 81 miles out of London to celebrate the opening of Michael Craig-Martin's exhibition at the New Art Centre, Salisbury. Originally established in London as Sloane Street Gallery by the Countess of Bessborough in the late Fifties, New Art Centre has resided in the splendour of Roche Court in the village of East Winterslow, and has been attracting the art pack from their metropolises since 1994.
Phyllida Barlow, Anthony Caro, Barbara Hepworth and Richard Long are only a handful of names that have grandly installed works on the estate with its rolling paths and uninterrupted vistas that make for the ideal outdoor gallery. I'm a big fan of sculpture parks and one can really be surprised at finding a new appreciation for an artwork, or even an artist, when a work is open to the elements and free from the constraints of the white cube.

The Countess of Bessborough perfectly fuses the aesthetics of a fine Georgian country house and its natural surroundings, with accents of contemporary sculpture bridging the classical with the contemporary in a triumphant arcadia. The new sculptures and paintings by Michael Craig-Martin effortlessly balance their simple origins of everyday objects by their strong graphic colours that were reflected in the blooming flora that has excelled in recent weather. Umbrellas, bulbs and hammers were all given Craig-Martin's trademark mechanical outline that has been synonymous with his 'universal language' around form and purpose. Gate (White) poetically stood in all its picket-fence-glory in a central area of the garden where all paths congregated and made for the highlight of the exhibition. A series of new paintings were also on display in the magnificent glass fronted Gallery and Orangery that looked out across the endless landscape, reminding visitors this is first and foremost a sculpture park but equally a space that thrives on juxtaposition as is so evident by the diverse and exciting exhibition programme at Roche Court.
Gate (White) 2011
It was also wonderful to see Eva Rothschild's Someone and Someone, a similar work to her recently commissioned Empire for Central Park in New York that I reported on in March, as well as Julian Opie's Imagine you are driving a... editions that added an urban reminder to the everyday in the same way Craig-Martin's ordinary objects extraordinarily appear and disappear amongst the backdrop of foliage as you circumnavigate their two-centimetre depth.
Eva Rothschild - Someone and Someone (2009)

Julian Opie - Imagine you are driving a blue Honda (2004)

Michael Craig-Martin: New Sculpture and Painting runs until the 4th September 2011 - visit New Art Centre for visitor information and travel details here.


Urban Jungle

With the summer fast approaching, Scotland's biggest ever outdoor art exhibition is in motion. As I reported last month, I am very excited to be involved with the animal conservation organisation Elephant Family - my charity art tiger will be involved in this year's Jungle City exhibition which will be held at various venues across Edinburgh over the summer. 150 life size sculptures of crocodiles, elephants, hornbills, orangutans and tigers will be customised by artists and designers with the aim of raising awareness and support for these endangered species.
It's been a pleasure meeting a handful of the participating artists while I've been working on my design, Tribal Tigris, in the London studio. Check out the promotional video below which features some of the artists that include Martin Aveling, Rebecca Campbell, Nilesh Mistry and Ben Sanderson working on their animals.

My design was inspired by native drawings and markings that have commonly been understood to be signs of identity within tribes throughout history. Identity plays an important role in society today and the Tiger as a symbol is famously depicted in various forms such as logos and mascots: an irony when the importance of immortalizing the species through image is in reality being driven to extinction.
Tribal Tigris is composed of various markings painted by hand across the body of the tiger – including arrows which refer to its Persian derivative ‘tigris’ – to form a bold pattern of lines and accents that create an abstract narrative of exotic fantasy met with the harsh reality of survival.
With each artist sourcing inspiration from their own unique practice, Jungle City will guarantee an eclectic mix of public interventions from Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens to the Royal Mile during the Fringe Festival and throughout this summer in the run-up to a live auction in the autumn. Click here for more details about Elephant Family's work around the world or visit the official website for Jungle City where scheduled events and information will be posted for visitors and sponsors.

Follow this project and many more @JMVELARDI for the best in art, culture and design!


The Well-heeled

A landmark in the history of the shoe is cited as early as the ninth-century when the attachment of a heel was constructed to hold a horse rider's foot in the stirrup. Through history foot decoration has played an extraordinary role of identity, spanning all cultures and corners of the globe. It was the French nobility from the sixteenth-century however who used their soles to project their social standing and so the term well-heeled was born. Before the risings of the French Revolution high-heeled shoes, for both men and women, became synonymous with opulent wealth for over two centuries until their abrupt end in the late eighteenth-century when the very associations that were once admired turned quickly into a right of passage towards the guillotine.
So to the irony, when a French fashion house steeped in equine luxury and purveyor of exclusivity such as Hermès, meets an American sneaker brand who cater for the urban youth in an unofficial collaboration by American stylist Robert Verdi. Verdi has customised a series of Vans Slip-Ons with vintage Hermès silk scarves that bring together the classic trademark products of their respective brands to define the 'High-Low' style of the twenty-first century. While identity continues to be expressed through fashion today, a pair of these silky kicks will definitely have you walking in contemporary harmony... on horseback or BMX.

Kindness & Brutality

Sticking with the monochrome theme of late, recent works by the artist who can bring a city to its knees with very few words is on display at L&M Arts in Los Angeles. The mixed media exhibition comprises of Barbara Kruger's best known elements of room wraps, public projections and video installations that engage with,
"... the kindness of brutality of the everyday, the collision of declaration and doubt, the duet of pictures and words, the resonance of direct address, and the unspoken in every conversation".
L&M Arts presents one of the largest exhibitions on Kruger's work since her solo presentation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1999 - don't miss the exterior projection on Venice Blvd of two new works, You Want It and In Violence through to July 2011.

Barbara Kruger
14 May - 9 July 2011
L&M Arts
660 Venice Boulevard
Venice, CA


Monochrome City

Damn I miss Chicago, particularly when it hosts street action like this. Shepard Fairey left his mark at last week's Art Chicago - his exhibition, REVOLUTIONS, rocked out at the fair with his trademark album cover designs as well as on the streets under Grand and Lakeshore underpass. Fairey's OBEY campaign installed an 11x130 feet mural near the city's famous Navy Pier area to complement the exhibition - check out some photos below and visit the official OBEY GIANT website here for information about its monochrome manifesto...
Images courtesy of D. Katz


Barn Conversion

There is nothing like the English countryside in the sun to get you in the mood - the smell of grass or mustard seed in the air, mixed with a hearty manure that is caught in the breeze make for a cocktail that is as intoxicating as a pitcher of Pimm's. At this year's Milan Design Week, Established & Sons set the scene while flying the flag for British design with a collaboration with designers and artists, Richard Wood and Sebastian Wrong.

Capturing the embodiment of rural England, Hay Bale is a portable and modular seating landscape upholstered in the artists' trademark aesthetic of graphic Pop. Reminding me of a travel trunk-cum-ottaman, the units bear web handles to resemble hay binding, are versatile for seating, lounging or just plain admiring and will no doubt feature in interior design bibles in the coming months. Fun and practical (the graphic upholstery can be removed for washing), whether you live in a contemporary pied-à-terre or a stately pile, bring the English countryside indoors to create your very own barn conversion. Pimm's o'clock anyone?

Images courtesy of designboom