Archive for Emerging Artists

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Add on top of that, an outdated, but “alive and kicking” elitist attitude towards an open show, where anyone and everyone who calls him or herself an artist can exhibit, sans the sanitizing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

Itsuki Ogihara steals the “Paper” show at Projects

A few days ago I dropped by Projects Gallery in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood in order to deliver some of my artwork, as they are taking my work to a couple of fairs in Miami this weekend.

Hanging at the gallery was their “Paper” show, in which I actually have a few pieces of my own work.

When you first walk into the gallery you see this:
Projects Gallery

The wallpaper like artwork all the way on that far wall, seemingly a sort of artist wallpaper at first sight, is one of the most amazing conceptual pieces with a powerful delivery mechanism and one of the most innovative and intelligent works of art that I have ever seen.
Itsuki Ogihara Population Series
Itsuki Ogihara. Population Series. 17”H x 17”W. Digital prints

Like all of you, I was initially fooled by the subject matter macro visual, and it wasn’t until I zoomed in and understood what I was seeing, that this young Japanese-born artist (and a student at UPenn I believe) struck me with the powerful punch of that ellusive artistic goal: something new.

Itsuki Ogihara is her name, and this is her latest project (see earlier projects here) and after I describe it for you, I think you will see why I came away so impressed.

Each one of those 17″ x 17″ digital prints represents an American city. Each “city” has a different design.
work by Itsuki Ogihara, image by Roberta Fallon
Ogihara has taken data from the US Census to determine that city’s racial and ethnic demographics, and using an artistic algorithm, she then designs each print to represent that city. The macro design in each city is made up of 100 tiny silhouetted figures in various poses and activities. As an example, in the Salt Lake City print, there are 83 white silhouettes, 2 black, and so on to describe that city’s racial and ethnic make-up.
from Itsuki Ogihara Population Series - image by Roberta Fallon
Pretty interesting so far. And then when you study each figure, you realize that they are each individuals. That’s right, each individual figure is a separate and distinct image on its own.

What she has done is actually taken hundreds of portraits of people; real people and real photographs, and shrunk them down to the tiny size seen in the prints, and then colored them to represent each race (white for Caucasians, black for African-American, red for Native Americans and yellow for Asians) and one ethnicity (brown for Latinos).

It is such a labor intensive endeavor that it leaves me tired just to think of it. And it is also one of the rare conceptual ideas where the art actually delivers on a par with the idea or wall text about the concept.

Itsuki Ogihara’s demographic wallpaper is an unexpected treat delivered in a superbly professional and unique delivery mechanism, which employs concepts of mass production generalization to delve deep into our shared consciousness about race and ethnicity and art.

I see great things in the future of this young artist.

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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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Lenny

Pricing Artwork

Recently I had an interesting email exchange with a very well-known artist, whose work I have sold (in my capacity as an art dealer and gallerist) many times in the past, including to American and Latin American museums.

She was giving me prices for her new work, and checking up with me (and all her other dealers I assume), because she had noticed that some galleries were selling a particular limited edition etching for “$3,000 each, when the gallery price should be $5,000.”

I’ve never seen this work listed for under $5,000, but I digress.

She affirmed that the gallery price for that particular work was $5,000 and that only she could sell her own work in her own studio for $3,000.

What?

This is a harsh lesson that most artists need to learn very quickly: An artist cannot afford to compete with him/herself when it comes to prices.

Nearly all emerging artists, when first dealing with a gallery encounter the business fact that a gallery has to make a commission from the artist’s work in order to make ends meet as a business. The first reaction of the artist is sometimes to “bump” the price to meet the gallery’s commission.

No good!

The exact same editioned work can’t be sold for $1000 in DC, for $4000 in London, for $800 in Brazil and for $500 bucks in your studio. The same size painting cannot wonder all over the price scale depending where it’s being sold.

See what that does?

1. It can damage the reputation of a dealer. Imagine the collector who pays $1,000 in London and then he sees the same work for $500 elsewhere? The immediate reaction is “that dealer ripped me off,” not realizing that the artist is the one who is ripping everyone off by creating price confusion and trying to pass the gallery commission off to the collector. A good artist and gallery relationship is a symbiotic one, not a money struggle.

2. It will damage the reputation of the artist and will always bring the “real” price of the work down to the lowest price, when the idea is for art dealers and artists to work together to raise demand and thus prices; not have prices wondering all over the scale.

This is very different from the secondary art market, where auction prices can wonder wildly all over the place.

But artists must be consistent in their pricing and accept the fact that if they are going to work with an art gallery or art dealer or both, then they can’t have them competing with each other and also with the artist, because a good art dealer’s job is to protect both the artist and the collector.

Of course there are nuances to this process… both dealers and artists should have a specified leeway to give collector’s discounts to ahhh… collectors, and also offer discounts to multiple buys when someone buys several works at once.

But not discount your own work by 50% just because it is being sold out of your studio.

That just drags your prices down and will cause your art dealer to scold and educate you, or even drop you.

Of course, like some artists that I know, if you do not need an art dealer and can sell your own work all the time, then — since you are the only one selling it — you control prices and can do whatever you want, and hopefully won’t be having art “sales” where you’ll be “discounting” the work that you sold to collectors a week earlier for a specific price, to a much lower price.

It’s a little complicated at first, but once you truly examine the issue, then it should be clear to see that the idea and goal is to expose your artwork, get it seen, commented upon and — if that’s your goal — sold for a fair and reasonable price, and letting the laws of economics take it to where it should be.

But definitely not under the “blue light special” of your own studio.

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Lenny

Plein Air Easton, Part III

Scroll down for part I and II or click here and here.

Day Three, Saturday, July 26

Started the day with another spectacular gourmet breakfast at our “Buckingham Palace of Inns,” and then headed out to the streets to observe the “Quick Draw” event.

Note to self: Next year bring art supplies and sign up for the “Quick Draw.” It looked to be a load of fun!

To recap: The Quick Draw is quite a novel event to bring the art of plein air painting directly to the art lover. In Easton more than 130 artists, competition painters, professionals, amateurs, etc. had pre-registered and participated. These artists were then given two hours to complete their works within a three block area of the town.

During this short time, all registered Quick Draw participants set up their supplies and paint, draw, or sculpt “en plein air” in downtown Easton, while hundreds of people stroll around and look in and ask questions.

There were artists everywhere in this small Maryland jewel of a town! And they were not just painting the streets and beautiful houses and spaces around them! Painter Scott Powers, a young Chicago artist, was mesmerizing the crowd by delivering a portrait of a gentleman reading a paper in the shade of an Easton cafe. The crowd was hypnotized as Powers delivered a remarkable piece that not only captured the subject’s likeness, but also that key ingredient of great portraiture: the subject’s unique sense of individuality and self. How he managed to do that in two hours was a spectacular feat.

We walked around for the two hours (I got a mean sunburn) and admired both the multitude of artists of all kinds of artistic skill, and also the multitudes of people admiring them.

When the “finish” horn sounded at high noon, artists began filing down to Harrison Street, where they began to set up their easels to display (and sell) their just finished work. The paintings were then judged by Plein Air-Easton! Competition Judge Gay Faulkenberry and awards were presented at 1:30pm. By 2:00pm the exhibit and all of its paintings were gone from the streets of Easton.

Once again I witnessed a near feeding frenzy as paintings were bought almost as soon as they were up on their easels. I would say that within the first five minutes about 50% of all the works had been sold, with works ranging in price from $250 to $2,000. By 2pm nearly all pieces were gone and heading to the home of a new collector.
Quick Draw at Plein Air Easton

Larry Moore from Florida won the top prize at the competition and it was a well-deserved award - he was also my pick for the best piece in the show. I also quite liked Joe Meyer’s light-filled house (it also won an award), and Ken DeWaard’s piece.

My wife and I then went biking around Easton (biking with my wife, who used to be a world-class triathlete before she retired from competition a few years ago, is like playing chess with Bobby Fisher) and then back to the Inn to get ready for my talk at the museum at 7PM.

My talk had been advertised as a “new signature event that will embody Plein Air-Easton’s slogan ‘Art for Everyone.’ Campello, a respected artist and art critic with a flair for engaging his audiences with humor, will give a short history of art and discuss the knack of art collecting. This event will not be boring. Cocktails will be served and attendees can mingle and view the competition galleries. Seating is limited but Campello’s wit and wisdom can be heard throughout the Academy” and sort of like Richard Pryor once said, I thought to myself as I walked to the museum: “I better be funny.”

The room was packed, with maybe 150-200 people, and I had expected to talk for about an hour as I gave them a little background on art history and then discussed collecting art and other associated issues.

The audience was really good and I didn’t notice anyone falling asleep or leaving, and so when I glanced at my watch, and noticed that I had been talking for nearly two hours I was dumbfounded by both my ability to just talk and talk about art and by the audience’s resistance!

So I ended it (I could have talked another hour, but I took pity on them), and surprisingly quite a few people came over and started asking questions and I spent another 20 minutes or so answering them… so I think that it went OK.

My apologies for those who were late for other things because of my Castro-like performance.

Next: the last day at Easton, with Winners Paint-Out and Brunch at Rich Neck Manor.

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Lenny

Plein Air Easton Part II

Scroll down for part I or click here.

Day Two, Friday, July 25

After an amazing breakfast at our even more amazing Inn, we walked around town and dropped in at the Pam Foss Gallery, where we admired some of her paper casts before walking over next door to check out the installation effort, started last year by artists Carol Minarick and Mary Ann Schindler — with the help of gallerist Vivian Knapp — to provide a contemporary “shadow” exhibition to the plein air festival.

This year they’re presenting an installation about the disappearances at sea of two men who have become mythical art figures.

Mounted at Viviann Napp’s small gallery cottage at the corner of South Street and Talbot Lane in Easton, the installation is a seascape from another perspective. Combining contemporary paintings and actual nautical elements, including a naval architect-designed 1939 lapstrake dinghy from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the work recalls the voyages of cult Dutch conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader and English inventor and would-be circumnavigator Donald Crowhurst.

See a 1970s video by Bas Jan Ader here.

It is an elegant and intelligent installation which is the first in what I hope are many new steps to expand the town’s intelligent approach to endorse the fine arts in general; Easton has a good thing going with the arts, kick-started by the hard working folks who put together the Plein Air Art Festival, and I hope that the city council continues to work hard to make this art event the seed for more and more fine arts in Easton.

We also visited and chatted with the owner artists of the Sharp-Mayer Gallery, where we admired the works of owner Joe Meyer. Across the street we walked to the South Street Art Gallery where we ran into the familiar works of the talented NancyTankersley and sort of our first exposure to figurative art in her current series on chefs and restaurant workers. We also quite liked the work of old favorites Sara Linda Poly and Bethanne Kinsella Cople, two extraordinary landscape painters.
4th of July Sky by Bethanne Kinsella Cople
4th of July Sky by Bethanne Kinsella Cople

At 7 PM that night we attended the Collectors Preview Party at the Academy Art Museum, where each of the plein air artists had two pieces for sale, and where the 2008 juror, artist Lynn Gertenbach Gay Faulkenberry (who graciously stepped in at the last minute because Gertenbach could not attend) would later select the 2008 award winners.

Considering how I have been reporting the blues that seems to have hot the art market in 2008, let me tell you that this evening was almost like a feeding frenzy of art buying. Artists were able to replace work on the wall as it was sold, and I would estimate that around $100,000 worth of artwork was sold on this opening night, where collectors paid $150 in order to be there and have first choice at the available works.

This was quite a refreshing change of pace from what I have been seeing in various art fairs so far this year, and while it is clear that the plein air painting niche is very specific on its genre, it is nonetheless a good shock to see artwork fly off the walls.

It was also surprising for me to agree with about 75% of the award selections given out by the judge, although I did have a couple of major disagreements with a couple of her top choices. Nonetheless it is also unusual for me to agree to this extent with any juror, so in that particular vein we seemed to walk a parallel line.

My choice for the top prize?

Had I been the juror I would have given the top award to Bethanne Kinsella Cople’s beautiful landscape painting; her handling of light, application of paint, and experienced brushwork was the best that I saw that night. I also liked the works that I saw that night by Edward Cooper, Stuart White and Frankie Johnson.

Part III will have the “Quick Draw” - More than 130 artists, competition painters, professionals, amateurs and the simply adventurous compete to paint, draw, sculpt and have fun in the sun. These artists have only two hours to complete their works within a three block area, then they are exhibited on easels, prizes are awarded and they’re up for sale!

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Bill

Delia Brown: Precious — at D’Amelio Terras

Delia Brown -- Story Time -- 2008 -- 12 x 16 inches -- oil on wood panel

Delia Brown — Story Time — 2008 — 12 x 16 inches — oil on wood panel — from D’Amelio-Terras’ website

As an artist who’s spent a lot of time in galleries, I’ve thought much about the need dealers have to position artists in relation to art collectors, and the effect this has on dealer and artist success. This leads me to consider collectors, their backgrounds, motivations, interests, tastes. They’re not a homogeneous block, obviously, so it only makes sense that an artist who’s seriously intent on commercial success should, like any conscientious marketing professional, consider a specific segment within that block and target their work toward that segment as sharply and specifically as possible, using any and all means.

This came to mind, with quite a chuckle, when I visited D’Amelio-Terras late in June and pondered Delia Brown’s show, aptly titled Precious.

Viewing these small panels from a distance, I felt as though I’d stepped out of Chelsea and into JC Penney’s home furnishings department, sans furnishings. The literature accompanying this show speaks of “the delicate decadence of the Rococo painters” and “Balthusian tension where innocence teeters on the cusp of naughtiness,” but I’m not buying it. With an MFA from UCLA, I have to believe Ms. Brown knows precisely what she’s doing here. These artworks are, in my opinion quite intentionally, executed in the slick, glowing and vacuous style of the manufactured oil paintings sold in shopping malls to people who neither know nor care about art, the crowd that’s made Thomas Kincade a ridiculously wealthy, powerful and Pooh-defiling man.

But whereas Kincade’s work is designed for a decidedly middle-class, even Southern and Christian, crowd — see for example his painting NASCAR Thunder- The 50th Running of the Daytona 500 — Brown has targeted the upper middle-class and wealthy collector, obviously the kind more likely to amble into a Chelsea gallery.

Much to my amusement, her marketing is even more refined than that; these are images of mothers and daughters, or images of young girls, but all designed to appeal to wealthy mothers.

In every image, girls and their moms luxuriate in a world of satin sheets, high fashion (for the most part), pearls, pricey bathroom fixtures, primpy lapdogs and chi-chi bistros. It’s as if Ms. Brown has tapped into a market of wealthy mothers with absolutely no art sophistication whatsoever, who want mall-quality honey-dripping oil paintings that relate to their self-important, Mabelline lives.

For me Brown’s project comes off as a brilliant ploy by a masterful artist with a broad, sophisticated understanding of art and society. Its conceptual component is heavily salted with the smiling sort of contempt that steams from the disenfranchised, and Brown’s feeding of these images to this market sounds more than a little like Tyler Durden’s “Fight Club” formula of selling wealthy women soap made from their own lyposuctioned fat.

In the past, artists devised strategies to avoid commodification, often effacing and even removing aesthetic considerations in the process. It fascinates me to find an artist who makes commodification her plaything, and, aided by manifestly manipulative aesthetics, integrates it into a sweet yet caustic body of work.

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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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