In naming this piece, Damien Hirst compels us to confront the message of End Game: our vanity and mortality. Hirst draws from the vanitas (Latin for vanity) genre of paintings of the 17th century, which depicted decaying animals and fruits and human skulls. The effect was to remind us of the temporality of all life. Hirst too wants us to stand face to face with our own personal “end game.”
End Game is a large-scale sculpture. It measures 77 X 148 X 20 inches and stands up along a wall at one end of the gallery. The main component of the sculpture is a grey industrial-strength stainless steel structure much like the storage racks found in commercial settings. Two human skeletons, male and female, hang side by side in the center section, like formal garments in a fancy closet. To either side, two sets of shelves hold a collection of scientific and medical equipment typically found in operating theatres, or at the morgue. The horizontal skeletons and the vertical shelving balance the composition of hard sterile lines. It is an angular installation with harsh contour lines.
The sculpture, though up against a wall, dominated the room and drew me. End Game’s “on your face” message also forced me to stand before it and examine it with more than a passing glance. The hard metal of the structure, the sterility of equipment, and the remoteness of the skeletons—with their smiling skulls and swinging limbs—left me with an empty an unsettling feeling. It also made me ponder about the short distance between the operating room and the morgue.
Self-portrait is a classic representation of Pop Art, of which Andy Warhol was the best-known artist. During his lifetime, Andy Warhol created a number of self-portraits, but this particular one is special—-it is curious that Warhol likened this specific self-portrait of himself to a skull or death mask, for he died a few months after this work was completed. At his funeral, Andy Warhol was dressed in a platinum wig much like the one he wore during the creation of this Self-portrait.
Warhol used pale violet acrylic paint on a deep black canvas, the contrast in color giving the painting a sort of fluorescence, like marine life floating up from the depths of a dark ocean. The spikes of silver wig crisscross implied lines beyond the two-dimensional plane. This color combination also makes Self-portrait appear like the negatives of the early days of photography. One striking feature of this Self-portrait is the way Andy Warhol was able to capture his own intensity; he appears to stare out at and through you.
I really liked this piece because this is the first time that I have ever seen one of Andy Warhol’s Self-portraits in real life. I have seen images and posters of dozens of Self-portraits by the artist, so I approached this painting with a sense of familiarity. For some reason, it was much bigger than I expected (80 X 80 inches), but then than seemed appropriate for someone like Andy Warhol, who was often perceived as being bigger than life himself. It was odd; I could not stop looking into his eyes. It was as though Andy Warhol was trying to tell me something.
Vermelho Cortando o Blanco is part of a series of paintings that Helio Oiticica created between 1957 and 1958. The series was called Metaesquemas; a term that the artist composed from a combination of two Portuguese words. Meta means “beyond vision,” and esquemas means “structure.” What the artist was exploring in this series was the dissolution of the two-dimensional plane from the surrounding frame.
Vermelho Cortando o Blanco was painted on a canvas that is almost square, but not quite, it measures roughly 20 X 23 inches. The background is a deep bright red and the foreground is composed of 16 white asymmetrical rectangular polygons. The asymmetry of the lines of the polygons make them appear to be precariously stacked atop each other and to lean against each other for support. The two outer stacks of boxes are larger and blur the lines that frame the outer edges. There are spaces between the boxes that form polygons from implied lines formed by the juxtaposition of the boxes. When one looks at these spaces one gets a sense of perspective, of depth. The asymmetry of the boxes guides your eyes from polygon to polygon. The “red” contained the “white.”
This piece was remarkable. I couldn’t believe how such a simple composition could show so much movement. Especially when the theme consisted of just a few rows of rectangles piled one on top of the other. Vermelho Cortando o Blanco gave me the impression that, were I to reach in and remove one of the rectangles, the whole mass would come tumbling down. I felt a sense of playfulness in the composition.
The Elder Sister is one of the finest representations of 19th Century academic art. William Bouguereau’s is famous for his masterful technique and representational art. His elaborate and realistic paintings enjoyed widespread popularity in his lifetime. However, his work lost favor in the time of the Modernists and Impressionists, and it is not until recently that his work has began to enjoy renewed popularity.
The Elder Sister is a portrait of a young girl cradling a sleeping infant in her lap. The children dominate the painting. The young girl is gazing out of the canvas with a calm, Madonna-like smile on her face. Her milky arms casually encircle the pale body of the child. The contour lines of the children’s limbs control the composition and balance the whole. The children are beautiful, perfect, clean, and dressed in organic colors. The detail of the painting is exquisite, the clear lines of the design give the image the clarity of a photograph. The bucolic background reminds one of the paintings of the Renaissance—large skies, lots of clouds, nature as a frame for a Madonna and child.
It was very pleasing to just stand in front of this painting and not have to wonder what it was all about, trying to decide whether I liked it or not, and how it made me feel. I liked this piece because it is so beautiful and realistic and, to me, a classic example of what an artist can achieve when he masters his technique. I felt a sense of relief that I was not forced into the painting. It was a very relaxing painting.