Art has the power to bring about change and question the way we view things and what we consider to be true and, often times, what art also does is bring to the forefront issues and philosophies that are lurking in the corner of our minds. Anything that has such profound ability and still holds as much relevance as when it was first made deserves a closer look. Here, The Week lists out five such important artworks.
The Dinner Party
Regarded as the first epic feminist artwork, The Dinner Party is an installation art by feminist artist, Judy Chicago. The masterpiece apparently required several hundred volunteers and took more than five years to make. As the name suggests, the art includes a setup of a dinner party. It has several colossal, ceremonial banquet style tables arranged in a triangle with a total of 39 place settings. Each of these sets is decorated with embroidered runners, gold goblet, painted porcelain plates featuring unique butterflies to commemorate important women in history. Similarly, the names of 999 women are inscribed in gold lettering on the white tile floor, below the triangular dining table. Despite resistance from the art world, this installation traveled to 16 venues in six countries. What was created back in 1979 is today preserved at Elizabeth A Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.
In spring 2004, Rachel Whiteread, an English artist especially known for sculpture-making, was offered to produce a piece for Tate Modern, an art gallery in London, UK. That was she started working on Embankment that consists of around 14,000 transparent, white, rectangular cardboard boxes arranged in various ways. Some of them are stacked high to resemble a mountain and others are nearer to actual human height. All these boxes are fixed in a certain position with adhesives. During the exhibition in 2005, some called the sculpture a random pile of sugar cubes whereas others thought it to be spectacular creation that could be interpreted in various ways. The piece was actually inspired by a worn cardboard box Whiteread found while going through her mother’s belongings after her death.
What many consider trash was made into art by a New York-based Brazilian artist and photographer, Vik Muniz. Muniz is known for repurposing everyday materials for his picture such as peanut butter for recreating Mona Lisa and chocolate syrup for Jackson Pollack. Similarly, in 2008, Muniz launched his new series know as ‘Pictures of Garbage’ for an Oscar-nominated movie, Waste Land. Marat (Sebastiao) is one from the series.
Originally, Marat (Sebastiao) was inspired by a famous painting ‘The Death of Marat’ by Jacques-Louis David that was one of the famous images of the French Revolution. ‘The Death of Marat’ portrays the murder of French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat and Muniz created his masterpiece by capturing people who posed in a similar scene with wastes in an impromptu studio at a dumping site. The piece apparently sold for $50,000 but Muniz said that the work was created accidently. Most of the artwork in the series ‘Pictures of Garbage’ has been sold and the money has gone mostly to garbage pickers.
The Balloon Girl
Created by an anonymous England based graffiti artist, Banksy, this graffiti artwork simply has a little girl painted in black and white along with a flying red heart-shaped balloon. The imagery was first spotted on a wall in 2002 in London’s West Bank. Since then, no one has been able to pass by it without noticing it because of its simple allure and ability to covey a deep message. In 2017, Samsung poll ranked it as one of the favorite artworks in the UK.
The hidden meaning behind the picture can be portrayed in multiple ways. One can say the girl in the picture is letting go of the balloon or is actually reaching out for it. You can also take the balloon as a symbol of hope or the little girl’s innocence. But, because balloons often remind us of happy occasions and celebrations, many believe the picture signifies happiness that sometimes fades away.
When Will You Marry?
Also known as Nafea Faa Ipoipo in Tahitian language, this oil painting displays two Tahitian women in unusual postures. The painting, made by artist Paul Gauguin in 1892, was reported to be one of the most expensive paintings, priced at $300 million in the year 2015. It is the same painting that met with relative indifference when Gauguin returned to France, post his trip to Tahiti having completed a series of paintings.
Gauguin’s ‘When Will You Marry?’ explores the idea of love in a non-erotic context. One of the women in the painting has on a white flower that symbolizes purity and a desire to find a husband whereas the other lady’s hand gestures refer to some kind of warning. For this reason, many doubted that the main theme of the painting might have been a relationship between the heart and the mind or innocence and knowledge.