When it comes to the tens of thousands of works of art on display at Basel -- well, let's just say that "free" is the last word that comes to mind.
But California-based artist Dickson Schneider is all about bringing free art to the masses, and this week he's spreading the wealth on Miami Beach.
Funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign, Schneider was determined to make his way to Basel to expose an international audience to his free art message. After hitting his goal, he came to Miami in partnership with Oakland's Autobody Fine Art and Aqua Art satellite fair held at South Beach's Aqua Hotel.
Wednesday night, he set up shop with his cart outside the Aqua for an inaugural run. An hour or two after he began, he was down from over a hundred to two or three pieces of art. To each interested passer-by, he laid out a few different options.
We picked up an erased poem.
"Every month I give art away at the Oakland Art Murmur, it's kind of a tradition with me, every month I make something. It started with a student project, and then just became about trying to communicate with the community. How do you do that without a gallery?" Schneider says.
For Basel, Schneider took an art crate, added wheels and a handle, and made it mobile so he could take to the streets.
"I'm not even sure what it means anymore, except the gratitude of people when they get stuff, and the interest I have in just making something and collapsing the -- OK, you can have a piece of art instead of having to go through all the other things people do, it doesn't cost anything."
"It's weird that sometimes people won't take free art. Sometimes they don't think that they deserve it, sometimes initially they're skeptical, but you know, there are some beautiful little things."
Go visit Schneider in front of the Aqua Hotel, all week long. Finally -- something (besides booze) that won't cost an arm and a leg at Basel.
Texas born painter Dickson Schneider lives and works in Alameda, California. He teaches
Painting and Art at California State University East Bay. His eclectic attitude to art has lead
him to traditional media, video, digital prints and writing. His current work applies high
realist technique to emphasize the unlikely reality found in fashion advertising. Oil
painting on PVC panels offer the richness of the traditional with post modern materials.
In the current work, models are placed in fine art contexts (the art gallery/museum). Thus
a super-model drifts past the crucified Christ while showing off her beautiful handbag.
The paintings create a deliberate cognitive dissonance between real/unreal and
The fashion models posing in front of historic paintings in Dickson Schneider's series of oil on canvases seem intended to express paradoxical relationships between art and fashion. Are they supposed to juxtapose the lasting significance of great art with the timeless distractions of chic, pretty young women?
As the girls in the Cal State University East Bay painting teacher's series preen and pout in their party dresses, they are unaware of the masterpieces they pose before. And their self-obsessed ignorance
undermines their glamour, just as the fifties supermodel Dovima's sculptural chic was demolished when her character hideously mispronounced the name of the sculptor Fred Astaire directed her to contemplate for a fashion shoot in the 1957 film Funny Face. Yet while Dovima's willingness to mock herself gave her chilly beauty a dose of charm and humanity, the women in Schneider's paintings seem to be objects, of her joke, not participants.
For Schneider, the models function as representatives of overall cultural vapidity. Yet in today's contemporary market context, the relationship between the models and the masterpieces takes on another set of meanings. Schneider's ill-advised and distracting decision to name the series "Heroin," may be an attempt to criticize the addictive aspects of mass consumerism. But more interesting potential connotations can be culled from her work.
Many high-fashion consumers were recently buying art as a visual accessory for their egos. And some of the works of art Schneider includes in her paintings are recognizable sore points for those who
were skeptics about the calculus used to measure quality and value that emerged at sales by recent art stars. Is Schneider making the point that the Currins and Hirsts aren't really worthy of attention? Yet also included in the model's disregard are historically fashionable artists such as Fragonard, as well as works with incongruously heavy subject matter such as St. Sebastian and Chuck Close. From her selection of significant works, as well as the fashions in which she dresses her models, it becomes difficult to discover where disdain for passing trends and homage to enduring taste intersect or diverge.
What resonates strongly from the paintings that Schneider has genuine skill and a compelling style. Her figures are slinky and have developed personalities, and they relate harmoniously to Schneider's reproductions of the great paintings. Whether or not Schneider wishes it to be true, the paintings exist in these girls' worlds and the natural relationship between them is more captivating than the contrasts.
In recent years, relationship between artists and fashion has also become too complex and thought-provoking to be expressed through simple criticism of the motives for those who buy both of them. As artists and designers increasingly collaborate and find mutual inspiration in one another other's practices, the significance of fashion as another symbolic forum for meaning gains intellectual support.
The garments worn by Schneider's girls are not particularly innovative. Yet because a few are plausibly in the style of known designers the series gains a larger legitimacy. Without the silliness of the series'
shock-tactic title, Schneider's cynically made superficial beauties carry the punch of some of the best work by Chinese artists such as Feng Zhengjie, who are also raising provocative questions about their culture's attributions of worth and value.
The most laugh out loud amusing things at the show were the pair of video pieces by Dickson Schneider. Both consist of old t.v. sets with simple images painted on their screens and a "single channel DVD loop" playing on them.
"Car" has a painting of a car driven by a figure and the ground beneath it. The video behind it was apparently shot with a camera fixed to an actual car as it travels around in the East Bay, going down mostly residential streets, stopping at stop signs and, at one point, even getting gas. The other video, "UFO," has an even simpler painting on it: a small flying saucer in the upper portion of the screen. The video images behind it wave back and forth, simulating the movement of a UFO over familiar East Bay locations (cranes and factories, etc.) Occasionally, the UFO will hover over something for an extended period of time and then shoot out lightning bolts whatever it below it. This never fails to be greeted with giggles.