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Lenny

Who will win $150K tomorrow? Not an emerging artist…

The new Jack Wolgin International Competition in the Fine Arts, at $150,000, is the largest juried prize in the world, and it is supposed to go to an individual emerging visual artist.

Philadelphia banker and real estate mogul Jack Wolgin is a very generous man who wants the prize to be awarded annually, and he wanted it to be “intended for an artist who has not yet received widespread recognition outside of the art world and whose work breaks new ground by crossing traditional boundaries.”

Words count. When I first announced the establishment of this new art prize in this blog back in 2008, I wrote:

This is great news for visual artists all over the world and even greater good news for the Philadelphia art scene. I will immediately comment that I am hoping that their selection panel will have the cojones to look truly to nominate artists at “a critical professional juncture” and not just xerox out a bunch of names of the usual suspects.

I remember fondly the days when museums like the Whitney and others would take chances on “new” artists, and as a result in the 80s they would give artists their first museum show ever (from memory I think both Fischl and Schnabel got their very first museum show, both while in their 30s, at the Whitney).

The days when museum curators want to be “first” are long gone, and seldom do we see a major museum take a chance with a “first” anymore. The same lack of cojones seems to have infected the major art prizes of the world, and I for one hope that Tyler and its selection jury get some brass into their system and make a statement with this new and generous prize.

Wishful thinking on my part!

The initial award set of jurors picked to award Mr. Wolgin’s money: Ingrid Schaffner, Senior curator at Philadelphia’s Institute for Contemporary Art, Paolo Colombo, adviser to the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, and Melissa Chiu, director of the Asia Society in New York, have all taken the expected lazy interpretation of the focus of the competition and have selected Ryan Trecartin, Sanford Biggers, and Michael Rakowitz from a larger pool of only 14 nominees.

The nominees were selected by “a group of nine prominent international art world figures from museums and educational organizations, representing the range of media eligible for consideration. The 14 nominees were then invited to submit an application, which was reviewed by the three-person jury.”

Ryan Trecartin, Sanford Biggers, and Michael Rakowitz are all terrific and highly accomplished artists, but in my opinion are all artists who have exhibited far too widely (I think that by the time you get to exhibit in London’s Whitechapel alongside Shahryar Nashat, you’re waaaay past emerging) and are too well known to fit into the category envisioned by Mr. Wolgin.

Remember this prize is supposed to go to “emerging artists.”

“There was a great deal of discussion about the term ‘emerging artist,’ ” said Ingrid Schaffner, referring to the competition’s main criteria. But after the lazy jurors had defined their terms, she admitted that they “surprised everyone by coming to a consensus fairly quickly.”

Very lazily if you ask me. I hope that Temple University’s Tyler School of Arts, who hosts the prize, is as pissed off at paying jurors that don’t do the expected work, and that Temple has learned a very valuable lesson from this initial go around and realizes that seldom does a museum curator or an advisor to any museum (whatever that is?) is really at the leading edge of knowing who is really an “emerging artist.”

In fact, one of the criteria if a museum curator is ever selected for the jury pool again should be: “Have you ever given an artist his/her first museum show?” And maybe even: “How many artists’ studios have you visited in the last five years”?

Back in the 80s museums such as the Whitney in NYC used to give artists their first ever museum show. That was the last time that most museum curators actually were deep in the weeds of who was really an emerging artist.

Let’s hope that this outrageous failure to focus Mr. Wolgin’s initial prize money on the intended pool of emerging artist recipients will put this generous prize back on its intended path. And 2010 jurors, the intended recipients are supposed to be emerging fucking artists!”

The three finalists’ work is on view at at the Temple Gallery through Oct. 31, 2009. The prize will be announced tomorrow; personally I am rooting for Ryan, so that at least the $150K loot stays in Philly.

My hopes for 2010 remain grim. Unless Temple learns this lesson, this $150K will continue to go to the usual suspects because it takes a lot of work to do the job right.

How hard? An independent survey sponsored by The International Art Materials Trade Association (NAMTA) and American Artist magazine recently reported that there are 4.4 million active artists in the United States alone (600,000 professional artists, 600,000 college art students, and 3.2 million active recreational artists). That’s a lot of artists, 99.9999999999999999% of whom are emerging artists, and at least 16 of them (more than 14 anyway) I bet are breaking “new ground by crossing traditional boundaries.”

I hope that Mr. Wolgin is as upset as I am; I intend to mail him a hard copy of this post, and then call him, and I hope that he then picks up the phone and tells Temple to get their act right with his prize money in 2010.

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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

In DC: Artomatic is coming again!

If you are an artist or art lover reading this post, then chances are that you already know what Artomatic (or AOM) is and all about this amazing spectacle.

But just in case, a little review.

About once a year or so, under the guiding hand of a board of hardworking artists and volunteers, a large, unoccupied building in the Greater Washington, DC area is identified, and eventually filled with hundreds of artists’ works, loads of theatre and dance performances, panels, and everything associated with breathing a powerful breath of energy into the Greater DC art scene.

Let’s review: The idea behind AOM is simple: find a large, empty building somewhere in the city; work with the building owners, and then allow any artist who wants to show their work help with staging the show, pay a small fee and work a few hours assisting with the show itself.

Any artist.

Artists love AOM, but most DC area art critics hate it.

Why?

I think that in order to write a proper, ethical review of AOM, a writer must spend hours walking several floors of art, jam-packed into hundreds of rooms, bathrooms, closets and stairs. And I think that this is one of the main reasons that most art critics love to hate this show. It overwhelms them with visual offerings and forces them to develop a “glance and judge” attitude towards the artwork. It’s a lot easier to carpet bomb a huge show like this than to do a surgical strike to try to find the great art buried by the overwhelming majority that constitutes the great democratic pile of so so artwork and really bad artwork.

Add on top of that, an outdated, but “alive and kicking” elitist attitude towards an open show, where anyone and everyone who calls him or herself an artist can exhibit, sans the sanitizing and all-knowing eye of the latest trendy curator, and you have a perfect formula for elitist dismissing of this show, without really looking at it.

This harsh and elitist attitude towards art is not new or even modern. It was the same attitude that caused the emergence of the salons of the 19th century, where only artists that the academic intelligentsia deemed good enough were exhibited. As every art student who almost flunked art history knows, towards the latter half of that century, the artists who had been rejected from the salons (because they didn’t fit the formula of good art) organized their own Salon Des Refuses, sort of a 19th century Parisian Art-O-Matique.

And a lot, in fact, most of the work in the Salon Des Refuses was quite so so, but amongst the dreck were also pearls like Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur ‘Herbe (Luncheon in the Grass), Monet’s Impression: Sunrise, (and we all know what art “ism” that title gave birth to) and an odd and memorable looking portrait of a young lady in white (The White Girl, Symphony in White, No. 1) by an American upstart by the name of James McNeill Whistler.

Everyone who was anyone in the art world hated and dismissed this anti-salon exhibition; except for the only one that really counts: Art History.

But how does a writer cover an arts extravaganza of the size of AOM once the eyes and mind become numb after the 200th artist, or the 400th or the 1,000th?

As an art critic, I once started a review of a past AOM by complaining how much my feet hurt after my 5th or 6th visit to the show, in a futile attempt to gather as much visual information as possible in order to write a fair review of the artwork. Over the years I have discovered that it is impossible to see everything and to be fair about anyone; the sheer size and evolving nature of the show itself makes sure of the impossibility of this task. But AOM is not just about the artwork.

As a gallerist, I also have visited AOM looking for new talent amongst the vast numbers of artists who come together under one roof. Over the years, together with my fellow DC area gallerists, we have plucked many artists from the ranks and files of AOM. Artists who since their first appearance at past AOMs have now joined the collections of museums and Biennials and have been picked up by galleries nationwide. Names like Tim Tate, the Dumbacher Brothers, Kelly Towles, Michael Janis, Kathryn Cornelius, Richard Chartier and that amazing worldwide phenomenon and best-selling author Frank Warren of PostSecret fame. But AOM is not just about the emerging superstar artist.

As an artist, one year I decided to participate in AOM, just to see what the guts of the machine looked like. “I know the monster well,” wrote the poet Jose Marti, “for I have lived in its entrails.”

My volunteer hours patrolling the halls on a Wednesday night at midnight, and still seeing people come in and out, and explore art on the wee hours of the morning, also left a footprint on the public impact of the exhibition. Dealing with prima donna artists, recharging my own artistic batteries from hundreds of fellow artists, many of them in their first public exposure, also left an impression. But AOM is not just about the public.

AOM is two things to me:

It is perhaps the nation’s most powerful incarnation of what it means to be a creative community of hundreds of working creative hands all aligned to not only create artwork, but also put together a spectacular extravaganza that re-charges the regional art scene as no museum or gallery show can. AOM is a community of artists employing the most liberal of approaches to art that there exists: the artists are in charge, and the artists make it work, and the artists charge the city with energy and zeal. And these descendants of those brave souls who challenged the academic salons of the 19th century face the same negative eye from the traditional art critics and curators of our museums, who challenge not just the art, but the concept of an open, non-juried, most democratic of art shows: a community of artists in charge of energizing the community at large. All good group shows must be curated! shout these chained critical voices.

And AOM is certainly the easiest and most comprehensive way to discover contemporary art at its battlefront lines, right at the birth of many artists, paradoxically showcasing the area’s artworld’s deepest and also its newest roots. This is where both the savvy collector, and the beginning collector, and the aspiring curator, and the sharp-eyed gallerist can come to one place with a sense of discovery in mind. And the ones that I missed in the past, and who were discovered by others, are ample evidence of the subjectivity of a 1,000+ group art show.

Viva AOM!

This year’s AOM runs from May 29 through July 5, 2009, and it is located at the new building at 55 M Street, S.E. - essentially on top the Navy Yard Metro - celebrating its tenth anniversary in a newly built 275,000 square foot “LEED Silver Class A building”, whatever that means. It is all free and open to the public and all the details and dates and parties and performances and panels, as well as all the participating artists can be found at Artomatic.org.

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Lenny

White House art suggestions to the Obamas

Isn’t it interesting that life itself has an interesting way of forcing us to sometimes either reversing what we once thought were final positions, and other times life offers us a chance of defending both sides of a position?

Be careful what you opine today, as it may be different tomorrow!

I have been generally against the segregation of artists by race (Black, Caucasian, Asian or Native American) or by ethnicity (Hispanic, Semitic, etc.), and yet sometimes a void or need is so egregious that the solution is very clear and may cross lines that we may have thought as cast in concrete.

When we all discovered a couple of years ago that 66% of all the artwork by black American artists currently in the White House art collection had been acquired by the Bushes, depending on what side of the political aisle you stand, that fact either raised an eyebrow from some right wing nuts or some sort of conspiracy theory from vast left wing nutttery.

But when we also discovered the fact that only three works (out of an estimated 375 pieces) were by black Americans, both sides of the aisle should find that surprising… and maybe in need of attention by the Obamas.

A little recap and an update: In 2007 I reacted in my usual self-righteous, irate manner to having American artist and my former professor Jacob Lawrence described as a great African-American artist, rather than just a great artist. And then the Washington City Paper in the process of policing that whole issue, came up with an interesting fact.
Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence, pen and ink, circa 1980 by F. Lennox Campello
In an Private Collection

According to the Washington City Paper, Betty Monkman, the curator of the White House, revealed that, “while Lawrence’s painting isn’t the sole piece by a black artist in the executive mansion, it’s close to it — there are only two others.”

That’s now three out of “an estimated 375 total in the White House’s art collection.”

Geez Louise, I mean Betty.

That implies that Simmie Knox’s portrait of President Clinton is not considered part of the White House’s art collection, which doesn’t make sense. Knox is a DC area artist by the way, and a brilliant painter.

So let’s take off the first century and a half of the White House’s art acquisition process. During that time we can safely assume that they probably just focused on American artists from one of the four races, and somewhat let me reverse my stand on segregating artists by race, rather than just artistic merit, and let me take the uncomfortable side of trying to again ask the question, “Why aren’t there more works by black artists in the White House art collection?”

Even if one ignores skin color, and just looks at the art and artistic achievement, there are plenty of great American artists, who happen to be black, whom I think would make a great update to the White House collection.

Some art greats, by artistic default, I would think, would have to be Black, or Asian, or Native American, not just Caucasian artists of all ethnicities - after all, all four races of mankind create art and all four and their many mixtures, live in America.

Back in the 1980’s, Jacob Lawrence was awarded the National Medal of Arts from President George Bush The First. Why did it take 27 years for one of his paintings to become part of the White House’s permanent collection?

The City Paper research identified the other two paintings: “Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City (1885), which hangs in the Green Room, its home since 1996, and an 1892 painting by one “Bannister” (possibly Ed Bannister) acquired in 2006 and which was then undergoing conservation.

So two of the three have been acquired by the Bushes, and before 1996 there wasn’t a single work of art by any black artist in the President’s home, in spite of the fact that artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, Martin Puryear, Alma Thomas, and others are all just great American artists, period, and have even broken the National Gallery of Art code, and should all probably have been acquired by the White House years, and years, and years ago.

Makes my head hurt.

And let’s agree, as Jonathan Melber notes in the HuffPost, that the White House’s collection is not exactly, ah… contemporary.

But let’s say that a traditional acquisition focus on painting were to remain, and thus we would immediately unfortunately eliminate a lot of good contemporary choices. After all, the White House is not an art museum, and the case could be made that it sort of “feels” that it should be an art collection where all things somewhat say “America” in a variety of traditional visual ways, and I submit that for that goal, painting is still first among equals. That still leaves Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, Alma Thomas and others I am sure.

So if the Obamas were to continue what President Bush started, and expand the White House’s collection to be more representative of American artists and the American people, I would suggest that (in addition to perhaps more Lawrence), Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, Martin Puryear, and Alma Thomas would be a good start.

And, if as Malber suggests, the Obamas should expand the White House collection to more than just paintings, then in addition to some Lawrence collages, I would suggest work by other blue chip artists such as Kara Walker, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons (who is not only a brilliantly accomplished artist, but also happens to be both Hispanic and Black) and Lorna Simpson.

But I don’t know if the Obamas personally collect art, and even though I am one myself, I don’t really buy the idea of a staff White House art adviser.

If the Obamas are like most people, they probably don’t “really” collect art with a focus or intensity to say, the Podestas in DC or the Rubells in Miami (either one of whom, by the way, would make excellent unpaid volunteer art advisers to the White House, if having an adviser was the choice made to change the visual arts acquisition status quo).

So… since the odds are that they would be beginning collectors, then I would suggest the same thing that I do to all beginning collectors: start looking first at emerging artists, which generally can be acquired for much less money than a well-established artist from the upper crust of the rarified artmosphere. Do this until you establish your tastes, desires and somewhat of a focus, and then, if your financial status allows it, begin expanding into the big museum-level names.

And if the Obamas listen to Malber’s excellent point of looking locally (as Clinton did in selecting Simmie Knox to do his Presidential portrait), then I would add one of the terrific works by Rikk Freeman to the White House.

A huge Freeman painting would do wonders for the White House collection and also do wonders for Freeman. Not only would it add a presence and feel to the collection that is missing right now and which is an integral part of American history, but it would also set a new, fresh change of venue of how artwork has been acquired in the past, and the kind of artists that get acquired.

See Freeman’s works here.

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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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Lenny

The Trawick Prize

In 2002, the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District, a non-profit organization in that Maryland city created The Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards, a juried art competition awarding $14,000 in prize monies to contemporary artists in the Greater Washington, D.C. area.

The founder, Carol Trawick, is committed to honoring contemporary visual artists with this award. Concerned because in the first few years of the Prize painters were being ignored by the jurors, Ms. Trawick three years into the Prize generously made the same commitment to area painters by creating a separate Bethesda Painting Awards(also funded by Ms. Trawick).

I cannot say enough good things about Ms. Trawick and the fact that in an area dominated by some of the largest and wealthiest corporations in the world, it has been a small business owner who has taken the challenge of ponying up a considerable annual cash prize to recognize an area artist and hopefully place the region on the national fine arts map, is the kind of act that makes one feel good about the generosity of individuals.

Over the years the Trawick Prize has gained momentum and recognition as the top contemporary art prize in the Greater Washington DC region, and some of the area’s premier curators have served as jurors.

In 2004 David Page of Baltimore, MD was the Best in Show winner of $10,000. The next year, Jiha Moon, then of Annandale, Virginia and now residing in Atlanta, Georgia won the top prize. In 2006 James Rieck of Baltimore, Maryland won top honors and last year Jo Smail from Baltimore, won top honors.

Last night I dropped in to Heineman-Myers Contemporary Art in Bethesda (where the show will he held this year) to get a preview and an early first look at the fifteen artists who have been selected as finalists for the 2008 Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards.

The work of these 15 finalists will be on display from September 3 – September 27 and the prize winners will be announced and honored on Wednesday, September 3rd at a special press event held at the gallery. As it is the norm, the Best in Show winner will be awarded $10,000; second place will be honored with $2,000 and third place will be awarded $1,000. A “Young Artist” whose birth date is after April 11, 1978 will also be awarded $1,000.

The entries were juried by Molly Donovan, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Art; Irene Hofmann, Executive Director of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore, MD and Leah Stoddard, former Director of Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville, VA.

Depending on who amongst those three jurors is the “leader of the pack” or the guiding hand for the other, will determine who will win the prize. Five will get you ten that the DC area artists in this show were muscled in by Donovan, Baltimore’s by Hoffman and so on. I’ve been on many “art-by-committee” panels and know how they work. As Jose Marti wrote: “I know the monster well, for I have lived in its entrails.”

This is why it is important for artists to ensure that they are known and their work visible, to their local area curators.

This particular jury committee did a really good job in selecting the 15 finalists. The exhibition is among the best Trawick Prize finalists exhibitions, and it is an crucial mix of art and conceptual ideas, a little play on kitsch themes by a couple of intelligent artists and even a touch of what’s trendy and slicky in the macro art world today.

If Donovan is the leading voice in the jury panel, then I believe that well-known DC artist Maggie Michael will be the winner. I have seen loads of her work and even curated some into past exhibitions. Her entry into this competition is by far the most complex and interesting work of hers that I have seen to date. In the gallery piece by Michael, she has combined all of her previous elements of poured paint, then she peels some of the layers back and nail some of them, with an interesting distressing of the substrate by drilling a big hole in the center and also by adding a graffiti like spraying on the background. I could be off slightly in my guess and Donovan may lead the prize to Maggie’s talented husband, Dan Steinhilber.

If Hoffman is the leader in the panel, then all roads lead to Baltimore’s Tony Shore, whose dark brooding works on black velvet play off a working man’s view of art as an intelligent and creative play on elevating a kitsch substrate to a high art level; the working class’ artist as hero is what Shore is all about.

If Stoddard has the leading voice in the panel, then the prize goes to my good friend and talented artist and blogger from Charlottesville, Virginia Warren Craghead III.

After visiting the show, and after considering in depth the work that I saw, here’s how I would give prizes in this show:
By Joseph Barbaccia
I would give a very good look and consideration to the shiny, elegant and very sexy forms by Joseph Barbaccia, slowly but surely becoming one of the nation’s capital area iconic sculptors. What Barbaccia does to contemporary sculpture is a three dimensional version of what Shore does to painting. They are both using kitsch elements and substrates of the contemporary world to create smart and intelligent works of modern art. Barbaccia’s spectacularly gaudy “Every Man’s Dream” is a glorious achievement of color and sequins and shininess and it is certainly worth of a very close look for the top prize and perhaps setting this artist’s career on an upswing.

Washington’s Molly Springfield is not only one of the nicest persons that you’ll ever meet, but also one of the most amazing talents in the DC area’s art scene, and her technical work is so superbly perfect that we fixate on its tiny imperfections to reassure ourselves of its creation by hand rather than machine. But she goes beyond that and marries her graphite drawings with interesting ideas, concepts and clues about her own sense of growing up and becoming an adult.
Art by Molly Springfield
Molly, at one time or another, has been on almost every finalist’s list for almost every prize in the area for the last few years, and it’s probably due to strike soon.
Painting by Heide Trepanier
Although I am not familiar with Heide Trepanier’s work, there’s something powerful and exciting about the piece illustrated here, which although tends to remind me a little of some earlier Maggie Michael, nonetheless leaps from it in the way that Trepanier has isolated the paint with lines to almost reveal to us Boschian figures and animals and aliens in her work.

My prizewinners would be:

Best in Show: Molly Springfield
Second Place: Joseph Barbaccia
Third Place: Tony Shore

A public reception will be held on Friday, September 12, 2008 from 6-9pm in conjunction with the Bethesda Art Walk. This is easily the best art show in DC this month - don’t miss it!

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Bill

Tale of a Lost Leger

It’s a tragic story, one that institutions everywhere should heed now that remodeling, renovation and rebuilding seem to be a nationwide phenomenon.

According to WCVB’s website, Wellesley College seems to have lost a painting by Fernand Leger.

Here’s how this unfortunate event appears to have unfolded:

Painted in 1921, “Woman and Child” had been on loan to an exhibit at the Oklahoma Museum of Art. When it was returned to Wellesley, the college’s museum was in the midst of a construction project. So the crate sat around someplace, apparently. The sense one gets from the article is that it was just chucked in a corner, more or less. I realize that sounds harsh, but so, to all of us, is the loss of an artwork by an acknowledged master.

Finally, with construction complete, it came time to assess where things were. And no one knew where the Leger was. Talk is that it might even have been thrown away with a bunch of similar, empty crates.

Ladies and gents, the facts are clear: had this multi-million-dollar treasure of an artwork been stored in a high-tech art storage facility such as Mind’s Eye, it would continue to bring pleasure and inspiration to future generations. And at what cost, anything even remotely comparable to the loss sustained by Wellesley College? I think not.

As these museum reconstruction programs continue, I hope that those in charge are giving serious consideration to the temporary storage of their works of art. This is no task for interns or do-it-yourselfers.

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Bill

Art versus the Olympics — a losing competition?

This is from a Wikipedia entry, so take it for what it’s worth:

Art competitions formed part of the modern Olympic Games during its early years, from 1912 to 1948. The competitions were part of the original intention of the Olympic Movement’s founder, Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin. Medals were awarded for works of art inspired by sport, divided into five categories: architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture.

The art competitions were abandoned in 1954 because artists were contended to be professionals, while Olympic athletes were required to be amateurs. Since 1956, the Olympic cultural program has taken their place.

Art competitions turn my stomach, truth be told. I don’t care whether it’s kids’ work or juried shows. It seems ignorant to me to treat artworks like Holsteins at the county fair. “Well, Bob, Glenridge Thunder’s got great head carriage, wrecking-ball testicles and a topline you could split wood on, but I watched him walk into the ring, and — bad news — he’s sickle-hocked. Sorry, Son. Maybe next year.”

In a short paper (pdf), Beatriz Garcia, a doctoral student at the Center for Olympic Studies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona — yes, with all the world’s other problems solved, the A.U. of B. has gone on to tackle the desperate issues presented by the Olympics –  tells us about a clause in the Olympic host city contract that requires the production of an Olympic Cultural Program. But this provides little reassurance to that city’s arts organizations, which will now be competing for the attention the visiting hoards will lavish on the Games.

Ms. Garcia goes on to inform us in another, more-detailed paper on the subject (pdf), that Olympic Cultural Programs are wildly inconsistent from city to city, lasting from three weeks to, in some cases, four years. And here’s the kicker: proposals for cultural programs that were presented by cities during the bidding stage are often not followed through on once a city has been selected. There’s no mechanism in place to enforce promises made during bidding, apparently.

Funding for Olympic Cultural Programs is spotty at best. This makes sense, even if I wish it didn’t, considering that they compete for (incredibly exhorbitant) investment resources with the games themselves.

Perhaps the arts have only themselves to blame if people are apparently more interested in seeing the Torch Relay than in attending a show of Olympics-inspired artwork.

But that could be some seriously funny artwork. Let’s take a fantasy-walk through just such an exhibition, shall we?

John Currin’s stretched-out Neo-Mannerist women, cackling wildly while snapping their backs on the uneven bars.

Picture an Olympics-inspired Richard Serra — thick rectangular mega-tons of steel to suggest the airy flight of a gymnast.

“Tara Donovan’s installation, Mound, consisiting of ten million jock straps arranged into a forty-foot heap, suggests the myriad ways in which our male-dominated culture flaunts its testosterone-fueled fantasies while absolving itself of all responsibility.”

Here’s an Olympics-inspired Damien Hirst: a kangaroo split down the middle, posed in full running extension in a tank of formaldehyde.

Murakami could make giant fiberglass statues of his body-fluid-squirting boy and girl engaged in a competition for distance and accuracy. Perhaps they could be directed at a Bill Viola video of swimmers in ultra-slow-motion.

Maybe the host city’s museums win during the Olympics, and maybe their arts districts get extra visitors, too, and we should all be happy for that. But as far as the Olympic Cultural Program, Ms. Garcia makes it sound like an afterthought at best.

And really, artists of all stripes out there, when have you ever benefited from what the jocks are doing? Didn’t we always eat on opposite sides of the cafeteria?

But I could have it all wrong. If I ever visit a host city during the Olympics — which, incidentally, would be the perfect reason for me to stay as far away as possible — perhaps I’ll find that it’s become a worldwide nexus for the arts, with musicians on every street corner, theatre troupes performing in every park, and art installations on the water, in the air, and spilling out of every enclosed space.

Incidentally, if you’re in Beijing right now and you’re reading this, first, check behind you; I think you’re about to be arrested. But if there’s time before they slap the cuffs on you, I’d be interested in hearing about the Beijing Olympic Cultural Program.

Until I hear more about the Olympic Cultural Programs in Beijing and previous host cities, I’ll have to be content merely to marvel at a world that supports a Center for the Study of the Olympics, while no nation on Earth is apparently wealthy enough to feed a small island whose people are so destitute that their children are forced to eat mud.

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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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Scott

Breaking News for ARTtistics Lenny Campello

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