It is the image in the mind that binds us to our lost treasures, but it is the loss that shapes the image. — Colette
With First Sight, people are invited to present the object, artwork or experience that triggered the first aesthetic emotion they can remember. We are equally interested in what caused the aesthetic emotion as in the description of its context or nature.
Artist Julien Gardair was born in France in 1976.
He lives and works in Brooklyn, NY
« Reaching London from the south of France in the early 1990's was an adventure. We were a loud group of freshmen on a art school field trip. It was our first time.
In a small room of the National Gallery, a mid-size painting faces us. An angel hides behind a tree. It is the only figure to acknowledge our presence, and looks us right in the eye. In the center, stands a pensive man, hands joined over heart. Upon one foot, another man, reaches above his head with a cup. Overhead flies a dove. In the far distance, men converse. Nearer, one bends. His shirt covers his face, exposing his underwear.
Since my early teens, I have been an art geek. On a homemade database, I created archives of art magazines collected at flea markets. Every school break was an opportunity to go to Paris and see all the art shows possible.
I remain in front of the painting long enough to notice that each facial hair has been painted one by one. The paint is thin and transparent. It covers as much as it reveals. My heart beats and my eyes bounce around. I am entranced. Everybody else left. I can not understand the nature of this emotion. The depicted scene doesn't recall any memory. I don't intimately relate to the Baptism of Christ. My knowledge of the Bible comes mostly from painting. I don't even remember knowing much about Piero della Francesca then.
I never felt anything like this. It is physical. Soon, tears come to my eyes. »
Artist Alina Bliumis was born in Minsk, Belarus.
She lives and works in New York, NY.
« It was 1988, I was 16, a 10th grader in a boarding Art School named after Ahremchik in Minsk, capital of The Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Our Art School was considered one of the best, with countless hours of drawing, painting and art history classes. At this time in our school, like in the rest of in the USSR, modern art was unwelcome and considered 'decadent bourgeois formalism’ (it was labeled this way by Stalin in 1930).
One week in 1988 the whole class was on school-organized trip to Moscow and We did the usual: the Red Square, Kremlin Museum, Tretyakov Gallery.
Central House of Artist came next: the whole class entered the exhibition space, we were not aware and our teachers weren't either that we were about to see the first Francis Bacon exhibition in the Soviet Union. Of course, none of us including our art teacher knew the artist's name and at this point it didn’t matter. All I remember was a huge aesthetic impact, an almost physical experience like when you want to “eat with your eyes” and “photocopy everything with your brain”. It was not about liking, not liking, judging, reflecting or analyzing. I remember vividly how I stepped onto the street after the show, took a deep breath, looked around and thought “I am changed”. It was not for better of worth, it was just “changed”.
This show was for me a sign of the post-Communist era, Perestroika happened in 1989 and then everything around me changed. »
NEGARRA A. KUDUMU
Negarra A. Kudumu is an independent scholar. Her intellectual interests reside at the intersections of contemporary art, curation and critical theory with a specific interest in the contemporary visual culture of the African continent, Iran, South Asia, and their respective diasporas.
« Thanks to my mother, art has always been a part of my life. As a child, we regularly visited the Art Institute of Chicago. We also attended local festivals on Chicago's south side where artists unknown to the "art world" exhibited and sold their work. At home, my mother had these beautiful black and white photographs of her parents from the 1940s at various Chicago jazz clubs. My grandfather was always in a suit and tie and my grandmother in a striking hat or donning a flower in her hair. They were the picture of elegance and style.
The year 2010 was a major turning point for me as a consumer of fine art, specifically painting: I saw the exhibition of Pierre Soulages' work at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and was overcome. Contained in these works of Soulages is the entire universe. There is topography, there is light, there is texture. All of this Soulages achieves with one color: black. Where traditionally, in the words of Quignard, "to blacken is to annihilate visible form", Soulages does the exact opposite and creates new forms and silhouettes with black. In the artist's own words,
"J'aime l'autorité du noir, sa gravité, son évidence, sa radicalité . Son puissant pouvoir de contraste donne un présence intense à toutes les couleurs et lorsqu'il illumine les plus obscures, il leur confère une grandeur sombre. Le noir a des possibiltés insoupçonnées et, attentif à ce que j'ignore, je vais à leur rencontre."
"I like the authority of black, it's severity, it's obviousness, it's radicalism. It's powerful ability of contrast provides an intense presence to all colors and when it illuminates the darkest colors, it gives them a somber grandeur. Black has unimagined possibilities and, attentive to that which I do not know, I am going to find them."
This quote brings together perfectly the aesthetic grandeur and conceptual heft of Soulages work. Every time I reread it I am transported back to February 2010, but also reinvigorated for Soulages words for me are like a mandate. This underpinning coupled with the visual effects of Soulages' black on canvas left an indelible imprint on my psyche. In both my personal life and professional practice, I have ended up doing what is considered impossible given my background. I view my life as a space of unimagined possibilities and in stark contrast to society's antiquated, prescribed notions of how women like myself should conduct themselves, I intend to uncover every possibility. »
Artist Mary Temple was born in Arizona.
She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY
« Many years ago a friend and I entered a room in an art museum. As we sat on a bench, the door closed behind us. The bench abutted a wall--the other walls had benches too, so we would have been facing people, if we hadn't been alone. I noticed that the sound in the small room was strange, somehow larger and more expansive than one would expect in such a close space. The strangest thing, though, was the color of the ceiling. It completely absorbed us. As a painter I couldn't imagine how the artist had achieved the exquisite effect. This was truly the most sublime hue I'd ever seen, I was enthralled and felt suddenly calm. We were perfectly quiet contemplating this apparition of color. It seemed like several minutes passed in this heightened sensory state, but it was probably only a few seconds. These few moments and what followed comprise the single most influential art experience of my life.
What happened next, was that suddenly a tiny dot appeared on the ceiling near the wall. The dot elongated and quickly morphed into the shape of a plane. In a microsecond the intense blue ceiling revealed itself to be sky. The tiny plane was just taking off from La Guardia airport. We could hear it now. It was sunset. We were facing east, sitting in a James Turrell skyspace. "Meeting" at PS1 in Queens irrevocably changed the way I perceive the world. »
Irena Popiashvili is Dean of Visual Arts & Design School of the Free University and runs an art space –Popiashvili Gvaberidze Window Project– in Tbilisi, Georgia.
« I think my aesthetic experience, the first one I remember, started in school - in Soviet history textbook at the end of the USSR History book were bad reproductions of paintings. I used to look at those images, really bad reproductions of Russian 19th century painting, Repin's Ivan the Terribly killing his son etc. but I was so bored in that class that I really studied every detail of those paintings. Later, at home I used to look at Dresden Museum collection reproductions -. My aesthetic experiences are connected to the disappointment i experienced when faced with the originals - not particularly this Russian paintings but any western artwork - I studied and fell in love with them through the bad reproductions, so when I first saw Mantegna's dead christ at Pinoteca di Brera I was super disappointed and had to go back to love the original the way I loved the bad Soviet copy. »
Artist Guillaume Leingre was born in 1971.
He lives and works in Paris.
« This is a painting by Paul Sérusier, a French painter from the 19th century, entitled Golden Cylinder (Cylindre d’Or). I saw it for the first time in 1986 or 1987 in Brittany, France, at the municipal museum where the painting is kept. I remember an empty museum with hardwood floors and seemingly inanimate guards. The building is divided into two parts: the Museum of Brittany, which is dedicated to popular regional arts and traditions, and the Museum of Fine Arts that features a collection of works, including a masterpiece by George de La Tour showing a woman (if I remember correctly) lit by a candle. This painting is a good example of La Tour's famous mastery of chiaroscuro. In an adjacent corridor, among rather ordinary works in my view, a small canvas entitled Golden Cylinder is displayed. It depicts a “cylinder” that resembles a cork, floating above what seems to be a seashore in a predominantly blue night sky. The cylinder is hanging in the air.
This painting doesn't have an actual subject. I have always thought of it as the product of the imagination of a painter who cherished fantasy or symbolic literature. I don't know if this is true. I remember precisely having discovered it a few days before or after attending a David Lynch film festival. Blue Velvet had a profound impact on me. The scene with Frank Booth (played by Dennis Hopper) and his oxygen mask and Kyle MacLachlan as a voyeur was a shock. To me, this painting is also contemporaneous with the passage of Halley's Comet, whose luminous trail crossed the sky before my eyes as I was driving.
What is this cylinder? »
Translated from French by Claire Houdon