Archive for Museum Reviews

Lenny

I’m so confused (or not?)

I’m not sure if this review by Blake Gopnik, the Washington Post’s Chief Art Critic is a good one or not.

“There’s not much to see in two art projects now on view in Baltimore. That’s why it’s worth rushing out to get a look at them before they close in the next few weeks.”

In fact my plebian mind fails to understand the bipolar nature of the points in the review, wondering from negative to positive to negative again, and ending in positive (I think), all the while while seeming to praise the actions of a former art curator heading to the fold of a mad South American dictator while rehashing traditional critical arrows at the heart of art and style as if they themselves were new. I think that Blake may be somewhat brilliant in the way that he managed to confuse me, but then again, I could be wrong. Prepare to be confused here.

For an equally brilliant counterpoint, Richard Whittaker interviews Jane Rosen:

“Jane Rosen: I want to make work that you don’t have to have a Master’s degree in Art History to understand. When I lived in St. Martin there was something about the quiet and the water. I became interested in fishing and met an elegant old black man, Mr. Anstley Yarde, who was very tall and thin and had a great presence. He taught me how to fish. You use a can and string. He’d get me at six o’clock in the morning and we’d get these snails. We’d sit on a rock and drop soda-can lines and just sit there. I never caught a fish but he’d catch them. He’d hear them…and I thought, this man has knowledge. And one day, we’re sitting on the rock and he asked me what kind of art I made. I knew Mr. Anstley Yarde would not understand the art I was making at that time, and I realized I wanted him to understand it. It raised that question: who and what does my art address? Who did I want to talk to and what did I want to talk about?

… Theorists will start talking and I’ll start thinking, “O God. I’m illiterate!” But in actual fact, I’m literate about another range of experience, a range they are not connected to. It’s simply not an issue for them!”

Read the interview with Jane Rosen in Conversations here.

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Lenny

Spring Break in New York City

A guest post by Robin Tierney

Here’s a cure for cabin fever: a recession-priced escape to Manhattan.

If you’re around the Mid Atlantic area, look for a discount fare on the Amtrak Acela (tip: board the no-cellphone “Quiet Car”). Rate-surf for the New Yorker Hotel, an architectural classic one block from Penn Station. It completed a massive renovation in time for the economic bust, so you can get a bargain and colossal views. Next, buy a $74 CityPass that gets you VIP admission at a bunch of iconic venues, and a $7.50 FunPass for 24 hours of unlimited subway riding on days you don’t feel like walking, although walking’s easy from this central location.

Now, some quick takes from my long weekend of art-spotting.

Big venues are scrambling more than ever to lure more visitors. The Metropolitan Museum of Art hit the bell with its new “It’s Time We Met” ad campaign built on photos submitted by museum-goers. Winners got a couple hundred bucks and an annual pass. So if you dream of having work shown at the Met, instead of slaving over a hot canvas just click some whimsical scenes with your cellphone.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when security sentry Guy Anglade told me that visitors have asked which way to the “We Met at the Met” exhibition. Anglade shook his head: “Forget Carravaggio, where are the Flickr photos?”

Six-year-old emulating Edward Hopper! His own choice, said his mother
“Six-year-old emulating Edward Hopper! His own choice, said his mother.”
By Robin Tierney

The supersized images are plastered on billboards, buses and fencing in front of the museum. Evidently in the social media age, there’s an unquenchable thirst for acts of cuteness executed against fine art. Imagine your life’s work functioning as a background for goof-shots.

One special exhibition revisited the debate that won’t die: “is photography art?” “Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard” arrested scores of onlookers during my visit with its documents of Americana arcana culled from the photographer’s collection of 9,000 postcards. For most of the cards, the photographers remain unknown, but several of Walker’s own postcard creations are on view. Through his 1936 experiments, he taught himself to crop for maximum clarity and intensity. Walker then worked decades to free this humble genre from the pigeon-hole of nostalgia and get respect as an art form.

View of Easton, Pennsylvania

Walker Evans (American, 1903–1975) View of Easton, Pennsylvania (variant), 1935 Postcard format gelatin silver print 8.6 x 13.7 cm (3 3/8 x 5 3/8 in.)

Whatever you call them, their allure overpowers: viewers studied b&w and hand-colored portraits of beach towns, main streets, train depots, river ports, windswept cliffs, hometown jubilees, fan-dancers, sanitarium patients. The alchemy of documentary and lyricism includes original Coney Island amusements (“Atlantis, the Sunken City”), San Francisco’s Valencia Hotel vaulted out into the street by an earthquake, even an electric chair at Sing Sing prison.

The postcard exhibition closes May 25; check out curator Jeff Rosenheim’s terrific catalog.

Across the hall, I caught the final day of “Reality Check: Truth and Illusion in Contemporary Photography.” Interesting selections included faux-to-journalist David Levinthal’s staged battle using toy soldiers, flour and plastic bags shot using a very narrow depth of field. Mark Wyse documents a squirrel ignored in the road after falling to his death in his “Marks of Indifference” series.

Downstairs, “Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors” offered an opportunity to observe the graphic shorthand of dots, dashes, loops, spirals and zigzags the modernist used to record images and to compose paintings.

Make time to meander in Central Park.

Just south of the park you can overdose on eccentricities all day at MoMA (AKA the Museum of Modern Art). Sleep-deprived, I lacked the patience to mine for meaning in the temporary exhibitions that left me plagued by an earworm of “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” (from “Gypsy”). Such as Klara Liden’s projects, partly due to the medium designation of “interventions.” And a performance artist’s self-imposed year-long confinement to a cell. “Four Decades of Contemporary Art” felt like a Target commercial on drugs.

The ennui evaporated once I remembered to fetch my MoMA audio tour.

It’s worth scaling the steps for the survey spotlighting Martin Kippenberger, who has lambasted the vagaries of modern culture in nearly every medium. Consider “Psycho buildings” and the sprawling recession-ready installation presenting job interview as sporting event, complete with bleachers and cheerleaders.

MoMA admission gets you a free all-day ticket to use when you wish at P.S.1, the contemporary/indie art haven two subway stops east in Queens.

Cheerful New York Graffiti in Building near P.S. 1

“Cheerful New York Graffiti in Building near P.S. 1″
By Robin Tierney

Speaking of gimmicks, even art-grumps might crack a smile at the swimming pool that mixes false bottom with false illusions. Darker spectacles play out on dual-sided screens showing Kenneth Anger’s surrealistic brain dumps. His lyrical 40s-style b&w “Faux D’Artifice” held me spellbound while others crowded before flickering frames of Coney Island biker escapades in “Scorpio Rising.”

Jonathan Horowitz commanded a bunch of spaces with jarring works in a range of media. Player piano playing songs from the Who’s “Tommy” paired with disturbing clips from “The Miracle Worker” and other movies. Commentary amusing and sinister about politics and celebrity, the universal appeal of violence and scandal, and imperialism as foreign policy and entertainment from the Roman Empire onward. It’s interesting. Really.

Watching Yael Bartana’s videos of vehicles eerily coming to a stop on a dark highway made me contemplate the narcotic effect of film, especially after I nodded off for an uncertain duration until a lady guard told me it was closing time.

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Lenny

FotoWeek DC

The week of November 15-22, 2008 is witnessing one of the most significant art events in the Greater DC region take place, as it markes the launch of FotoWeek DC, the first annual gathering of a diverse and wide-ranging photographic community of artists, dealers, collectors, and venues in the nation’s capital, including photographers, museums, universities and all those involved in the profession across the metro D.C. area, including Virginia and Maryland.

FotoWeek DC brings together a huge number of venues, photographers and imaging professionals from every discipline to join with the public in celebration of the medium. It is one of the key steps forward not only in the medium in the capital region, but for the arts in general, and I really hope that it happens every year.

This is an amazing endeavor and it make me tired just to think of how much work this all was, has been and will be. There are exhibitions by the dozens, lectures, workshops, competitions, etc.

It would be impossible to list all of the ones that I feel are the top ones, as in reality there isn’t a single bad event in the program, but I hope to give you a taste of the event so that in case that you missed it, you’ll ensure that it makes it to your calendar if/when it happens again.

One of the more spectacular events was when FotoWeek DC and area museums teamed to create NightGallery DC, an unprecedented, world premiere digital video slide show. Art aficionados are being treated to a dazzling display of large scale projections of photographs selected from the collections of some of Washington DC’s most honored institutions, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Newseum.

The multi-story photographic projections created the largest outdoor slide show to date and exhibited some of the world’s most famous photographic images — from landscapes, to portraits; from history to art to science. “This is an opportunity for museums to reach audiences in new ways,” said Merry Foresta, Director of the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, “and present photographic images using exciting, and innovative technologies.” Theo Adamstein, FotoWeek DC founder and board president, said, “This is a powerful and unique project where architecture, photography and light combine to create a new medium.”

A new medium indeed!

Over at the American University Museum at the Katzen Art Center, Moravian-born theatre photographer Josef Koudelka showcases photographs of the brutal 1968 Soviet invasion of the city of Prague, which crushed the political liberation of the nation then known as Czechoslovakia. Forty years after they were taken and smuggled out of the country, Koudelka’s searing images record a glimpse into a historic event, a brutal invasion, and his personal experience with conflict. In his works, the association of photography and history is rekindled.

Smithsonian American Art Museum contributes “Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities.” The photographs by Ansel Adams offer the usual “sunlight deserts, Taos churches, and Western skies,” but the exhibition also examines the friendship of two artists who were “attracted to the distinct landscape of the American southwest and were committed to depicting its essence with modernist sensibilities.”

This exhibition is the first to pair these artists, and “celebrates their mutual appreciation of the natural world and revealed the visual connections between O’Keeffe’s paintings and Adams’ photographs.” The exhibition (which runs through January 2009) includes forty-two paintings from public and private collections and fifty-four photographs borrowed primarily from the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona, which holds the largest single collection of Adams’ work.

At the Gallery at Flashpoint, Elena Volkova, whose work I have been following for years, exhibites some of very ethereal work, which once explored the Baltic and now look with the same sensitive lenses to the air, as she photographs cloud formations from the windows of airplanes.

Many galleries approached the event by having group shows. Over at the Smith Farm Center for Healing and the Arts’ Healing Arts Gallery they present “Visions of Paradise,” a group exhibition by a group of National Geographic photographers ,which as usual showcase the spectacular vision which has characterized this magazine for over a century now.

At Kathleen Ewing, the venerable DC photography gallery exhibits photographs by 20 DC area photographers, while Alexandria’s Multiple Exposures has a juried show where the juror (Steve Uzell) selected work from the gallery’s newest members.

Georgetown’s Parish Gallery also has a group show titled “More than you know,” which includes the work of photographers linked together by their relationship in Washington, DC. Bethesda’s Fraser Gallery selected to go with an exhibition of photographs from their photographers’ books and showcases people like Maxwell MacKenzie, Joyce Tenneson, Danny Conant and others.

A great event… and we’ll be visiting a lot of those spaces this week; and I’m already looking forward to the next Fotoweek of the future.

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Joanne

A Tale of Two Cities: Anish Kapoor in Boston and New York. (Part 1: Boston)

For Part 2, click here 

If you’re a fan of Anish Kapoor, this is a good time for you. And if you’re not a fan, it’s as good a time as any to become one.  Kapoor, the Bombay-born sculptor who lives in England and has an international career, is the subject of a major retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and two solo shows of new work (one still up) at the Barbara Gladstone galleries in New York City.

 Since this is a tale of two cities, it will also be a tale told in two parts. Here, Part 1: Kapoor at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston:  Past, Present, Future  (through September 7)

Although you’ll know a Kapoor sculpture when you see it, describing one does not come close to reflecting what a Kapoor sculpture is.  A sculpture by Anish Kapoor is monumental, yet it pulls you in close. It defines and reflects space; yet it suggests the topography and orifices of the body. It’s concave; it’s convex. It’s hard and smooth; it’s soft and powdery; it’s shiny, translucent, opaque, gooey. The materialty of the forms defines both what’s there and what’s not. Like the blind men defining an elephant by touch, Kapoor’s sculpture is all those things. And more. And less.

  

Reflecting on the exhibition: It’s simplistic to call this sinuous and beautifully polished structure a funhouse mirror because while it distorts, it makes you think about the ways in which all the work in the gallery changes your perceptions of shape and space.  Image by John Kennard, courtesy of the ICA, Boston

Take the the enormous polished red disc installed along one wall of the large rectangular exhibition hall (you can see this work reflected in the image above).  Standing before the disc you feel yourself get woozy. Are you falling into it? Is it somehow expanding itself to touch you? Eventually your eyes become accustomed to the spatial distortion and you see that it’s bulging out—until you check it from the side and realize the surface is concave. Next to it, a polished metal disc with a recitulated surface engages you with its reflecton–make that its thousands of reflections. What you see is never quite what you see.

 

 Looking at Lisson: I couldn’t photograph the show, but these two images–above and below–shot at the Lisson Gallery booth at Art Basel/ Miami in December, are of the same reticulated piece that’s in the ICA exhibition

 

 

Similarly, across the room, you see what appears to be a perfectly formed depression, about 48 inches in diameter, in the gallery’s white wall. It’s barely noticeable, but there’s a slightly darker ring that defines the concavity.  A guard prevents you from getting too close, and this is a good thing because in fact that depression is a bump which protrudes about two feet into room.  A pregnant wall! The effect is totally disorienting in a heady Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole way—and do let yourself take the trip—while at the same time it summons all your rational thinking: what, how, where, how big.

And so it goes around the room, 14 works created since 1980, each one challenging your perceptions of space and reality, as you fall visually into and out of the work.  In the center of the gallery is the undulating form of an enormous polished stainless steel sculpture. It’s tempting to call it a funhouse version of Richard Serra, but given its reflectivity, it engages you in a totally different way way. The  structure is both concave and convex, so what you see at one moment changes—elongates, compresses, inverts—as you walk its length. It is constantly reflecting and distorting the shapes which, on their own, have already altered your perceptions and disoriented you. Has the floor actually risen? Are you sinking?  Where is the object you thought was behind you?

 

 

Past, Present, Future  is the title both of this work and of the exhibition itself. Overnight when the template is still, that wax skin begins to slide. Image by John Kennard, courtesy of the ICA, Boston

 Then you get to the dome,  positioned against the far wall.  Now this is solid; no distortion, no reflection. Here is an enormous quarter sphere, some 30 feet in diameter, coated in viscous red wax. Given your experience with the other works in this gallery, you nevertheless find yourself wondering: Is the sphere pushing into the room or retreating from it? Indeed it’s moving, but not in the way you think. A large template is passing ever so slowly over the dome. You can hear its motor. During a 90-minute traverse, it reshapes the rubicund goo that is slipping ever so slightly down the surface of the dome. 

(What you can’t see is that about three inches of viscous wax has been slathered onto netting that’s stretched over a cast resin skin, which is in turn set onto a foam armature composed of 10 wedges, like the segments of an orange. The template is turned off at night, and its first pass in the morning smoothes and reforms the surface, smooshing the extra wax up against the wall (reader, I touched the smoosh).

But the back story shouldn’t take away from what’s before you.  Experiencing Past, Present, Future is sort of like watching paint dry—except that you can, if you are still enough and patient enough, watch it all take place in real time.  And there is a reward for such close and patient viewing. Given its reference to planetary shape and the way it is constantly remaking itself, its placental color and primordial goo—and of course, its title—you realize this imposing structure is nothing so much as a metaphor for creation itself.

Next post: Part 2, Anish Kapoor at the Barbara Gladstone galleries, New York City.

 Post Script: The ICA is itself an impressive sculpture of a building.

 

 The Diller & Scofidio-designed building is set into Boston’s redeveloping waterfront, not far from where the historic Boston Tea Party once took place. The dramatically cantilevered fourth floor contains the main exhibition space as well as a glass-walled gallery with a panoramic view of Boston, from  a small knot of downtown buildings at one end of the visual span to Logan airport at the other.

Links:  Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston;   Via You Tube, a guided tour of the exhibition by Nicholas Baume, curator of the exhibition and chief Curator of the ICA;  Via You Tube, 30 seconds of the red wax being applied ; a Flickr set showing the installation of the show, including unpacking and the application of the red wax;  Roberta Smith’s review for The New York Times Sebastian Smee’s review for The Boston Globe ; Richard Lacayo’s review for Time magazine    

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Bill

Knocking heads in the lobby of Yale University Art Gallery

People have become very friendly at Yale Art Gallery since they moved the information desk to the center of the first floor. I never found the place unpleasant to begin with, but I almost expected aromatherapy and a neck-rub after the radiant greetings from security and the desk crew during my recent visit. What a sweet bunch!

You’ll find a number of interesting pieces in the lobby nowadays, but three pieces in particular, lying in fairly close proximity one to another, have needled at me in the week or so since my visit: Ann Weathersby’s “Untitled” from 2002, Robert Arneson’s “Last Gasp” of 1980, and Zhang Huan’s “Ash Head No.3” from 2006.

Weatherby1

Ann Weathersby, Untitled, 2002

If, like me, you spent too much time in front of the TV during the 1970’s, you probably thought “Brady Bunch,” on first look at Ann Weathersby’s “Untitled.” But Sherwood Schwartz would have balked at the sterility of this arrangement. It’s a cheerless piece, nine naked and emotion-free portraits like so many Caucasians caught sitting on examination-table paper, waiting patiently for the doctor to arrive, examine, and modify their Prozac dosages. The stark lighting and lack of any other visual stimulus drove me to look for scars and other hints at imperfect living, but I couldn’t find any.

Weatherby_detailUntitled detail

In contrast to the preservation of the Kodak moment seen in family photos (I realize this might not be a family), these images preserve, like taxidermy-sporting museum cases, specific arrangements of anatomical elements. I view “Untitled” as a meditation on the shapes and forms of flesh as it changes through life, and, simultaneously, a joke about the futile yet persistent sense we have, against all knowledge, that our physical existence has any real endurance.

Arneson_lastgasp

Robert Arneson, Last Gasp, 1980

The chuckles are more on the surface in “Last Gasp,” which flanks Ms. Weathersby’s “Untitled” to the right. In this piece Robert Arneson decapitates himself and sets his bearded head, mouth agape, on a pillar-like pedestal. A wash of bluish glaze drips down from the pedestal top like so much rancid, deoxygenated blood. The hair feels plastered down as if in a final stress-induced sweat, and the beard reads less like hair than like so many maggots feeding on Arneson’s putrifying flesh. He’s made other self-portrait heads on pedestals, but unlike them “Last Gasp” comes off as a true death depiction through the ‘pose,’ the slack jaw and dead look in the eyes. It reads as a comic meditation, the artist laughing while brooding upon the limits of his own existence, both physical and cultural. In what might be a supreme act of self-effacing humor, Arneson presents his own severed head as a trophy for his enemies.

ZhangHuan_AshHeadNo3Zhang Huan, Ash Head No.3, 2006

Flanking “Untitled” to the left is “Ash Head No.3,” by Zhang Huan. Cut like a classic statuary portrait, the head of an Asian male lolls very slightly to one side atop a simple three-legged pedestal. It’s not clear to me whether the subject is deep in meditation, asleep, or dead, although from reading of Huan’s Buddhist influences I suspect it may not matter. The nature of the ash puzzled me at first, until I saw this video:

“Ash Head No.3” is composed of the accumulated meditative acts of thousands of devoted Buddhists. It exists because of a persistent, pervasive human need to face mortality and to somehow grow beyond it, to master existence and its limitations. There’s an irresolvable tension at its root, the refusal of flesh to accept what it is and the ironic ability of the human psyche to comprehend and to yearn for something tangible beyond the limits of flesh. I’m reminded of sutras in which readers seem to be encouraged to become trickster-heroes, to outwit reality through understanding and subverting the illusions it puts forth as truth. A portrait is an illusion of sorts, the molding of form into a recognizable mass. “Ash Head No.3” appears as though it might tumble back into a heap of incense ash at any moment, making it a telling portrait of human identity, composed as it is of so many disparate temporal elements cohering through ego’s pervasive illusion.

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Lenny

“Living Without Them” at the Katzen Museum

Installations… because I’ve seen so many of them, after a while they begin to repeat themselves, and thus it takes a lot for an artist’s installation to really impress me.

Having said that, if your’e in the Washington, DC area anytime until July 27, you just got to drop by the Katzen Museum of the American University and see the installation “Living Without Them” by Lilianne Milgrom/Saul Sosnowski on that gorgeous museum’s first floor.

Because the Paris-born Milgrom and I had exchanged words years ago about our experiences in living and being in the Middle East, she asked me to write some words about her installation for the museum’s brochure, and I did so after viewing her plans and a video about it.

It still didn’t prepare me well enough for the actual visual reception that my maind received when I saw it installed at the Katzen.

When I was in my late twenties, I had the honor to wear the uniform of a naval officer in the United States Navy, having worked my way up to a Lieutenant (Junior Grade) from a Seaman Recruit. One of my most memorable images from my naval career resonates with Lilianne Milgrom’s installation on a personal and visual note, and thus why I think that my voice, as a critic, writer, artist and curator, coupled with my own history as a young Navy officer in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983 gives me a special set of eyes to interpret “Living Without Them.”

There is so much stuff in rubble; it all looks so big and solid on television, but until you get your hands on a chunk of cement or twisted steel, and pull, and pull, and pull, to try to move something out of the way, at the same time that you are listening to cries and screams from those trapped below, you become superhuman.

You are in shock, and rubble moves.

Milgrom knows this, and her installation shows it. And it is because Milgrom lived in the very volatile Middle East for many years, and like the poet Jose Marti wrote: “I know the monster well, for I have lived in its entrails.”

art by Lilianne Milgrom

Milgrom lived in the paradoxical world of the Middle East, where bombings, bombs and their after effects were daily common life. And her psyche and her artistic persona were forever shaped by terrorism and a world where murderers are often heroes to some and demons to others.

Her knowledge shows in the acid perspicacity of her installation, which is coupled with the power of words from Prof. Sosnowski – at first they shock us with a solar plexus punch of destruction.
from installation by Lillianne Milgrom
Then the floating porcelain pages, gently moving in the aftermath of an explosion deliver an anti-punch that is exponentially multiplied over that of the power of the explosion itself. It plants on the mind of the viewer the violence of the act, which maybe sought to kill ideas that went against the bomber’s belief.

“Ideas cannot be killed!” shouts Milgrom in this work – “you can kill people, you can kill poets, you can kill artists, you can kill women who refuse to hide their faces, but ideas will survive and even dance in the death wind of your violence, and in their dance they will spread and multiply.”

And they will use your terminal actions to ensure their infinity and their germination.

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Admin

Things to do in Canada when you’re dead or have a cat

In Toronto they have really good veggie-dogs that you can buy off of street vendors.

I haven’t been MIA. I’ve been in Canada for the last couple of days. Toronto specifically. Before I even exchanged Washingtons for Queens I started reading artfag, which is now my favorite reading material in all of the art world. Here’s a little excerpt, though you should read it all, and everything else

“Ladies and gentlemen, we realize that the following may not be the best thing for a critic of any stripe (let alone a stripe so platonically ideal as ourselves) to admit, but we are nothing if not truthful; as soon as we received the notice for the “Love/Hate: New Crowned Glory in Toronto,” exhibit at MoCCA, we were prepared to make the full swing to the right of that titular forward slash and hate every bloody inch of it.”

When I read it I had never thought about The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art before, but after reading I began to love/hate it like I would an old college chum whom I’m insanely jealous of. The question for me was; would Toronto live up to such great criticism?  

In many respects the answer was sadly no, but in all fairness the majority of my gallery hopping occurred on Father’s Day and many of the places I attempted to visit were closed. Below I have laid out my Canadian odyssey:

Nancy Davenport’s “Bombardment” (photograph)

 

THE POWER PLANT

Not Quite How I Remember It

Most internet searches and guide books for arts and culture in Toronto, Canada will have you believe that all roads lead towards The Power Plant. It seems like a promising exhibition space for contemporary art, and takes an hour or less to get through. Admission is free for the summer right now. 

The exhibition I attended explored artist’s re-enactments of the past. I enjoyed the “documentary” photographs of Nancy Davenport, but thought the entire show belonged to Diane Borsato’s three channel video installation, which was a recreation of three famous performances; Bonnie Sherk’s Public Lunch, in which the lady sedately eats a meal while ravenous tigers devour raw meat next to her, Joseph Beuys’ Coyote: I like America and America likes me, in which JB isolates himself with some felt and a cane in a room with a coyote, and Maria Abramovic’s Dragonheads, in which the lady sits surrounded by ice and covered in boas and pythons.

Diane Borsato with kitty cat /Joseph Beuys with coyote.

The twist in Borsato’s piece is that all of the bad-ass hard-core parts of the performances (i.e. the snakes, the coyote, and the tigers) are replaced by a kitty cat. My slightly mean reading of this is that artists of today find it impossible to live up to artists of the past, my other reading of this is that it makes the legendary work of Beuys, Sherk, and Abramovic seem more then a little ridiculous. 

“Bitch Killin’ Machine” (photograph) by FASTWURMS.

 

PAUL PETRO SPECIAL PROJECTS

Wild Things

This exhibition was a bit silly. I was happy to be introduced to the work of FASTWURMS, which is the trademark and joint authorship of Kim Kozzi and Dai Skuse.

A good interview and flicks of some of their work can be found here

A “gum blonde” by Jason Kronenwald

 

LE GALLERY

A Fresh Pack of Gum Blondes

I was very excited to see these works of Jason Kronenwald; portraits of blondes crafted from gum, until I saw them in person. I discovered that the “paintings” were so covered in acrylic resin that you couldn’t even tell that they were made of gum. If something is made of a food-product I want to see it rot. (Don’t worry Jason, I’m sure I am in the minority with that opinion.)

I tried to visit TPW and  XSPACE and did visit AWOL gallery (if you can’t say something nice. . .). Toronto has many back alley’s (mostly off Queen’s Street) full to the brim with graffiti, and it’s a beautiful city for just walking around. I found many things to appreciate without ever walking into a gallery. 

C’est tout. 

 

 

 

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Bill

Everyday Monuments: The Photographs of Jerome Liebling, at Yale University Art Gallery until September 7

Yale University Art Gallery sometimes hosts exhibitions curated by students, and this is one of them, although I couldn’t find the names of the students involved. Sorry, guys!

As you likely knew, Jerome Liebling is a filmmaker, photographer and teacher. From his website:

While a professor of film and photography at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Liebling began what was to be a longtime collaborative relationship with filmmaker Allen Downs; over the following two decades, they produced several award-winning documentaries, including Pow Wow, The Tree is Dead, and The Old Men.

The only film to which I could find substantial external reference was Pow Wow, which is described on Boston Public Library’s website thusly:

Using concealed telephoto lenses, the University of Minnesota band is photographed while rehearsing. They wheel and careen to form the figures which look so effective on the playing field, but are more like a Mack Sennett comedy at close range. A film by Allen Downs and Jerome Liebling.

That, and the fact that successful documentary filmmakers such as Ken Burns have trained under Professor Liebling, suggests an interest in documenting and re-contextualizing events. It’s interesting how this interest can be seen in the images selected here.

The photographs in this exhibition seem to provide an overview of Liebling’s work, a sampler of sorts. If memory serves, they’re not arranged chronologically or by subject. As for any continuity that bridges the five decades covered in forty-plus images, the handout suggests an emphasis on surface, in a single paragraph that borders on artspeak gobbletygook. For example:

Although grounded in tactility, the rawness of Liebling’s photographs departs from mere physicality and begins to reveal the more intangible underpinnings of his artistic endeavor. As Liebling depicts (a variety of subjects), he reframes surfaces as creative spaces that reveal the range of human productivity and the depths of the human capacity for creativity itself.

The illusion of tactility is present here in abundance, but all rawness is subsumed, in my opinion, by the artist’s masterful technique and his obviously very careful selectivity. All images are plumb, posed, and, in the case of photographs documenting the homes of famous New Englanders such as Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson, they’re dusted, polished and ready for ticket-holders. As for reframing surfaces as creative spaces that reveal the range of human productivity, I suspect it may be the caffeine talking.

What interested me most about this show is the way that many images either echo or prefigure various personalities and developments in the popular and fine art of 20th century America.

The children in Liebling’s photographs from the 1940’s are well-dressed and well cared for, and remind me of Hal Roach’s “Our Gang” comedies from the 30’s and Hummel figurines, those made-in-Germany decorations common to American homes of the time.

Jerome Liebling, Butterfly Boy

Jerome Liebling, Butterfly Boy, New York City, 1949, from the artist’s website

Butterfly Boy, New York City, is adorable in every which-a-way. I want to give this dapper guy an ice cream, tell him a funny joke and make him laugh. If there’s any hint of the intricacies of growing up in the city, perhaps it’s his coat ‘wings,’ extended as if to try them out for the first time; they’re more bat than butterfly, and portend adolescent dives through the glow of streetlamps.

Some relationships between Liebling’s work and American painting are glaring. The subject of Miner’s Wife, Hibbing, Minnesota, from 1983, sits perfectly within the wooden frame of a screen door, her every feature flattened by the worn screen into a Grant Wood painting. The image seeks a worker’s socialist revival, but the woman’s expression betrays the realization that this is not forthcoming. Morning, Monessen, Pennsylvania, out-Hoppers Hopper. The shirtless Counselor, Camp Taconic, Hinsdale, Massachusetts, photographed in 1980, is an image worthy of Paul Cadmus, complete with erotic undertones.

These similarities come off almost as homage, and strike me as an interesting counterpoint to Post-Modern appropriation, particularly its photographic incarnation with its attendant cynicism, that drove the previous story of art to its end. Clearly this is a body of work that maintains a faith of pictures, and this, for me, is the one point of continuity that rides effortlessly through the five decades shown.

In spite of the exhibition’s title, Liebling’s photography, at least as represented here, hardly monumentalizes the everyday. But, much more in keeping with its small scale, this work is quiet, masterfully self-assured, and, at its best, like the small barn in Barn, Foliage, Hadley, Massachusetts, it casts a long and interesting shadow.

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Bill

Andrea Ray – Désire – Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University

I knew nothing about the student uprisings in Paris in May of 1968 prior to stopping by Zilkha Gallery, and what little I know now comes from limited reading afterward. Neither a visit to Andrea Ray’s exhibition, nor twenty minutes of reading, is likely to inform me greatly about this important historical moment. Take that for a disclaimer before reading on.

In very broad overview, it appears that the conflict was fairly typical for its time; liberal college students had gripes against a conservative establishment and held a variety of protests. The universities at first intervened, but were then overwhelmed. The government’s subsequent interventions were so heavy-handed as to turn the public away from the conservative, traditionalist establishment, and toward the liberal causes and interests of the students. This, I now read, apparently resulted in a broad cultural shift away from conservatism in France. May of 2008 marks the fortieth anniversary of the Paris student uprisings, not a bad time for some to reconsider them, and for others, like me, to learn about them.

In the handout accompanying this three-part exhibition, Ms. Ray asks, “Could the Paris model of community, social and political agency be employed in this country at a time when deepening crisis is coupled with fear and apathy?” Parallels between Paris in 1968 and America in 2008 are rather painful on this side of the Atlantic. Maybe the abundance of online outlets for bloviation has bled away the impetus to take to the streets, or depressed us into apathetic torpor. Regardless, there have been few times in history when Americans have had so much worth protesting.

The first component of Désire I encountered was Rehearse, in the cavernous concrete Main Gallery. Picture a long room, glass on the left, gray concrete floor and wall to the right, perhaps fifteen feet wide and fifty or sixty feet long, ceiling far overhead. Along the floor, parallel rows of low gray boxes, looking like tall square pedestals lain on their sides, are arranged like pews in a chapel. At the front are two very large black-fronted speaker cabinets, poorly crafted. Voices ring from the speakers against the cold walls, actors reciting a dramatic script.

Ms. Ray’s literature states that “The audio component of Rehearse is loosely based on (writer and director Marguerite) Duras’ screenplay for the 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour and conveys the impossibility of speaking of war – as discussed through the discourse of love and metonymic desire.” For me, competent acting made Hiroshima’s somewhat tedious love story bearable. I found the audio acting in Rehearse quite difficult to listen to. One female voice in particular carried the heavy over-enunciation you sometimes hear in certain poets who apparently savor every phoneme like fine wine. After a few minutes I had to move on, keeping the memory of the stark dramatic read in mind.

The remaining two components of Désire were situated at the far end of Zilkha Gallery. Fifteen blurry photos of empty Paris intersections filled three walls of the end chamber, each photo perhaps 18 x 24 inches – again, I’m estimating. Titled Occupied, this series shows streets that students blocked during the Paris uprisings. Their absence, and, for me, the absence of any living person in most of the photographs, gave a haunted feeling to them that was only accentuated by their blurriness. In some cases civic architecture filled the astigmatic distance, giving the sense of lost or distorted political identity. A kind of longing permeates these images, independent even of the artist’s intended meaning, and I found myself returning to them again and again. In considering them now, I sense a longing for a culture that, even if only a short jog away, seems somehow to be irretrievably lost.

These images surrounded on three sides The Gift, a finely crafted piece consisting of a long dinner table and chairs made out of flawless plywood, with six beige-colored speakers sunk into the table’s surface. From Ms. Ray’s literature:

“At her dinner parties on rue Saint-Benoît, Duras often served a homemade soup. The Gift, then, is a recorded dinner party. It is the result of an actual dinner party at the artist’s home at which she served a “conceptual soup” to honor Duras’ memory. The conversations at the dinner party were recorded with a microphone at each seat. They are replayed in The Gift on individual speakers at each place setting.”

This visually enjoyable piece is clearly symbolic; the perfectly right-angled chairs would be murder to sit in, let alone enjoy a meal. All sawn angles are pure and perfect at ninety degrees. Plywood – you use it to cover shattered windows, or to protect them from shattering, or to hammer together impromptu structures when time is of the essence, yet this plywood has clearly seen no violence. The sense of an invitation to join the table is mitigated by the aforementioned torture seats and by the places being filled with voice-emitting speakers. Nonetheless, for a while, anyway, I wanted to be a part of the conversation.

And yet it was all so cold. The conversation occurred at the same temperature as the dining set’s mathematical perfection. Six (apparently) people extemporized (again, apparently) over politics and the Paris student uprisings with the chill reserve of the white-bread upper-middle-class. Voices at times rose to the mid-level passion appropriate to polite dinner conversation, and were mingled with the sounds of eating, utensils clinking against porcelain, mouths chewing, sipping, breathing.

The square edges and coldness of The Gift returned me mentally to the difficult enunciations of Rehearse, and back again to the empty intersections of Occupied. I found myself regretting the absence of warm, living and acting people, and the distance we stand now from the volatility, if not the danger, of a world that, even as late as May of 1968, had youth, greenness, potential.

Désire is on view at the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University until May 25.

Image from The Hartford Courant

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