Archive for Video

Lenny

On District 9

By now, anytime that film critics all over the place have been rave about a movie I get suspicious that I am about to see either a heavy-handed, thick movie or something that informs us yet again. And critics have been raving about a science fiction film titled District 9, and the trailers and storyline behind the film really sounded and looked good, but I had one suspicion because of a hidden code that I kept reading in nearly all reviews.

Let me reveal a secret, not about the film itself, but a little secret code that us geeks who have always enjoyed science fiction, since childhood, through the demise, rebirth, re-demise and re-rebirths of Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, etc. have devised since the mid 1960s.

This code lets true SF insiders know immediately who really knows what Science Fiction is all about, besides the usual drivel that Hollywood pumps out, with the occasional gem thrown in the mix, almost like a visual arts group show.

Whenever you read or listen to anyone writing or talking about science fiction, listen or read closely. If they say “SF” or “science fiction,” then they are part of the brotherhood; if they say “sci-fi” then you immediately know that they’re outsiders peeking in.

“Sci-fi” is politically incorrect and word suicide in the world of the genre’s true aficionados and followers. Nerd code for “has no idea.”

And what film critics all over have been raving about, is the interesting and (to them) unusual storyline in this “sci-fi film” about the tried and true “man meets alien” storyline.

The D9 storyline stands out not because SF hasn’t got a rich and diverse set of ideas and novels about the subject, but because when dealing with aliens, Hollywood has repeatedly followed one road when giving us a movie about us meeting them. There are some exceptions, of course, but generally speaking… well you know what I mean.

District 9 will be the blockbuster of the summer season. This is by itself an unusual thing, since the movie has no stars in it, and was made by a 29-year-old South African director whom nobody ever heard of (Neill Blomkamp), and was filmed mostly in a garbage dump/landfill in that ghastly and ugly city that is Johannesburg.

The back story is that decades ago a massive alien ship appeared over Johannesburg and just sat there motionless. They didn’t attack, or make contact, or anything. They just floated there, above the city. Once humans got curious enough, we broke into the ship and found a million starving aliens, apparently helpless and clueless.

First contact is not a pretty or as impressive as we expect it to be, and soon humans lose patience with the ravenous and violent aliens and segregate them into a ghetto outside Johannesburg which is called District 9.

As the present day storyline in the movie begins, a multinational corporation, seeking to profit from the alien war technology, assigns a geeky employee (Sharlton Copley, who does a spectacular job in the part, even though this was his first acting job, ever) the task to begin a massive re-location of the aliens to a refugee camp far from the city.

Geeks will be geeks, and my first issue with the movie storyline began as soon as I learned that the aliens had much more advanced technology that humans.

And yes, I do understand the interesting facets of the film addressing social issues through metaphor (although it is by far not the first time that SF has addressed social issues, often ahead of all other genres). The aliens are segregated, humans refer to them in a derogatory (racist?) manner as “prawns” because of their appearance, and everyone dislikes them, and they have no rights, etc.

But technology rules every time that two civilizations meet. In 1571, Don Juan de Austria led the Spanish Armada and ships from the Holy League against superior numbers from the Ottoman Empire. Outnumbered by almost 50 ships, Don Juan had superior technology and new tactics on his side, and the defeat of the Turks probably saved Europe from force conversion to Islam.

Just a handful of years later, in 1588, as an aging Armada approached England, it was English technology (better cannons, faster, smaller ships) and new tactics (run instead of fight, fireships) that saved the day for the British.

And it was technology that allowed a handful of Europeans to conquer much larger Native American empires, as Cortez in Mexico and Pisarro in South America did.

And it was technology and tactics that allowed the evil Nazi war machinery to sweep across Europe in the early years of WWII. Never mind the brave Polish horse cavalry charging against German tanks.

In D9, the aliens have ass-kicking war technology that only the aliens can operate, as the weapons are genetically matched to them. Humans can pull the trigger, but nothing happens.

So, how did we humans manage to corral a million technologically superior, often-violent and definitely ravenous aliens into a ghetto? The movie doesn’t address this key point. We just fenced them all inside a nasty, ugly ghetto outside Johannesburg.

In the alien ghetto, Nigerians are depicted as evil profiteers who trade in alien weaponry for cat food, which apparently is a delicacy for the aliens. The Nigerians mistreat and insult, kill at random and even eat the aliens. Meanwhile the aliens just walk in and trade superior weaponry that only they can trigger, for canned cat food.

In a real life scenario: point, shoot, kill, take the canned food.

Makes my head hurt.

I’m sorry, but I am pedantic and this issue really blows the storyline for me.

Anyway, once we get past this, the main character goes to the alien ghetto to inform them that they are being relocated, runs into an alien scientist-type and his son, gets sprayed with some alien technology matter and things begin to change for him real fast.

It is an entertaining, fast paced movie full of great special effects and action. As such it is a good SF movie, but definitely not worth all the unusal accolades that it is receiving as a high brow, spectacularly intelligent, different “sci-fi movie.”

You want intelligent, socially-relevant SF? Start making movies out of the stories by Harlan Ellison, Phillip Jose Farmer, etc.

By the way, at the end, the aliens do get moved, by then there are almost 3 million of them, and they now live in District 10.

Sequel en route.

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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

Video Didn’t Kill the Art Star

Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
Pictures came and broke your heart
Oh-a-a-a oh

Michael O’Sullivan’s eloquent review a few years ago in the Washington Post made a powerful point about art videos. Read it here.

 And when I first read it in 2005, it really brought out some thoughts and words out of me.

I have never hidden the fact that in my experience most art videos (which I have sometimes called artists’ home movies) leave me pretty ambivalent, especially as I try to view them as art, (rather than entertainment) next to a great painting or sculpture.

I love movies, and maybe that’s why my brain has such a hard time accepting most - not all - “art videos” as art, rather than “artists home movies.”

In the nearly 70 year history of artists’ home movies, I can probably count in one hand the number of them that I would even remotely consider them as something more than a low budget attempt at making a film, and most of those on that list start before the VCR was invented.

Is making a film the same as making a painting? or an etching? or a sculpture? I could argue that case on both sides, I think.

Nonetheless, it is a fact that most of the voices in the art world that count and weigh in a lot heavier than mine, do still view video (pun intended) as the leading edge for creativity in the modern dialogue of the visual arts (even though the genre is now in its 7th decade).

Witness the recent video overload in this Whitney Biennial list as the most recent evidence.

A history lesson for anyone born after 1980 or so: Before everyone had VCRs (already some folks have no idea what a VCR is!!) or DVD players in their homes, if you wanted to see a movie, you generally had to go to a movie theatre, and if you wanted porn or nudies, many American cities had a seedy neighborhood where porn theatres were concentrated - when I was a kid in Brooklyn, that seedy area was in and around Times Square in NYC.

And just like video killed the radio star in that song, it also killed seedy porn theatres all over the landscape but concurrently it gave the porn industry a huge new life that they had never hereto dreamed of!

It also gave them access to the privacy of the home as it eliminated the requirement to visit a seedy theatre in order to view a porn movie.

And as O’Sullivan intelligently deduced a few years ago, now the old news of Vlogging Revolution handed us all a brilliant opportunity to once and for all do for art videos what VCRs and DVDs did for the porn industry (in a sense), but in this case somewhat remove them from our galleries and museums and put them on the web, where we can watch them whenever and wherever we want!

This is a win-win situation for nearly all; except (I think) video, ahem… artists.

Not for us mossbacks, but it will open up gallery and museum space for other artsy stuff, whatever else “new art” may be lurking out there now disguised as technology (I predict some sort of hologram-type stuff).

I like whatever technology brings to art, but I don’t like it when critics and writers and art symbiots opine that technology erases other art genres when we enter the modern art dialogue.

And for art video aficionados, it will deliver an exponential growth in the genre, as millions of weekend arts and crafts projects now take to the web and populate millions of sites such as YouTube full of new videos.

Did I write “will”? How about “have delivered”!

And I think that as soon as your Aunt Elvira (I do have an aunt so named) sets aside her weekend watercolors and oils, and picks up the new family digital camera (now fully capable of recording movies) and starts making art movies by the millions, I can guarantee that curators will leave tire tracks on their way to find something “new” in art.

The allure of the “new” in art has been an interesting topic for discussion over at Thinking About Art, and I found the below comment by Lou Gagnon right on the point of the issue:

“Innovation, in technology, is important in that it offers ‘new’ tools and techniques. What is made with these new tools and techniques is typically derivative of what was made with the old tools. Most innovation is fueled by a desire to make an existing process more efficient.

Humans have been mixing pigment with fat to document the human condition for tens of thousands of years. The innovations of fresco, oil or acrylic are derivative improvements. Photography offered efficient alternatives to painting in the already established need to document contemporary life (events, people and places). Video offers alternatives to photography in that the linear format has the potential to distribute a more explicit narrative.

Efficiency and effectiveness are not the same. The limit to a tool’s effectiveness is in the imagination of the maker. In art, I believe effectiveness is measure by the power of a work to engage people. Does the engagement temporarily distract someone from his or her daily existence or does it shift his or her paradigms and actions? Work premised on technology will be irrelevant when the technology changes. Work premised on the human condition has the potential to be timeless. Have there been innovations in light, color or form? What about fear, love, desire, freedom or apathy?

The ‘new’ in art is that unique intimate engagement between an individual and his or her relationship with these larger issues. That fragile union between the ephemeral and the eternal is magic.”

Amen! Long live to video and long live to all the other genres of art!

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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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Lenny

Plein Air Easton - Part I

Day One, July 24, 2008
Sometimes writers are challenged on how best to begin to describe an event, in this case Plein Air Easton, which at first seems just focused on the re-emerging art of painting outside of the studio, but when examined in depth has grown to become not only very good at that, but also - on a wider scale - very good for art, for artists, for collectors, and for a picturesque little town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

I had never been to Easton, Maryland before our arrival on a Thursday, July 24, as I had been invited to be a guest speaker as part of the 2008 Plein Air Easton festival. We decided to arrive a couple of days early, to soak in the whole experience of a little town taken over by a bunch of artists painting out in its streets and countryside.

Our hosts had put us in at the Inn at 202 Dover, and I must admit that even for an experienced traveler such as I am, I was floored by the beauty, authenticity and elegance of this gorgeous 19th century historical house, recently refurbished and brought to spectacular modern glory by owners Shelby and Ron Mitchell.

The place is breath-taking and the love of the Mitchell’s for their inn is apparent in the care and expense that they took to restore it.

Restoration began in 2005, not only under the watchful eyes of the owners, but also of Historic Easton, the State of Maryland, the Easton’s Historic Commission, and the Department of Interior. Today the beautiful colonial revval building and gardens boasts four elegant suites and one luxury en suite bedroom, each themed and decorated accordingly. The Mitchells like the Victorian approach to decor, and invoking the Victorian era, the suites have an international flavor in keeping with the Victorian concept of what was exotic to them. Arrivals can expect to choose among France, Asia, England and Africa (Safari) suites or, the Victorian bedroom.

We were given the Asian suite, which was larger than most New York apartments — in fact I think it was larger than the Brooklyn apartment in which I was raised. In addition to a beautiful huge bamboo canopy bed and Asian furniture, I loved the antique puppets and the original Ukiyo-e woodblocks on the walls.
inn at 202 dover
And the steam shower, and the cool air jet tub with the golden dragon spitting high pressure water, the fireplace, and the high definition flat screen TV with satellite TV - located… ahem… in the sitting room within our room.

And free high speed internet access.

But enough about this gorgeous place; suffice it to say that if you visit Easton, and want it to be a super special visit, this is the only place in town that will be a memorable stay! It gets a hundred stars and a thousand thumbs up from my wife and I.

At 5:30PM on our first day we hung around for happy hour at the inn… and it didn’t disappoint, as Jorge Alvarez, the Inn’s Cuban-born chef popped in with some tasty food, which included what can be best described as my first exposure of the delicious results what happens when Southern cooking (let’s say fritters) meets Cuban food (let’s say WOW!).

Afterwards we walked over to a local Easton restaurant called … ah… Restaurant Local, where we had some good happy hour vittles (Shrimp Fajitas and Calamari) on their sidewalk tables, listening to a local dude play the guitar, and you won’t believe this: a $5 pitcher of beer in a fancy restaurant! It was great, although we did have to teach our young Russian waiter what “seltzer water” was.

We walked around town and saw several artists painting out on the streets, although it seems most of the 2008 artists were out in the gorgeous countryside. We also scoped out a couple of the town’s art galleries - more on that later, but overall the first afternoon and night was just an opportunity to walk around Easton, see a few galleries and a few artists here and there.

Tomorrow the judging begins!

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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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Lenny

Studio Visit: Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons

She has been called “one of Boston’s most prominent artists,” and as evidence it has been submitted that the Cuban-born artist has shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center, the Smithsonian, the Venice Biennale, and many other prestigious venues around the world.

And last year the Indianapolis Museum of Art hosted “Everything Is Separated by Water,” a mid-career retrospective of Campos-Pons’ paintings, sculptures, photos, and installations.

IMA poster for Campos-Pons exhibition

I visited Magda, as she is usually called, and we met in her four year old gallery, Gasp, which she and her husband opened in 2004 — and which according to the Boston press “specializes in group shows of young experimenting artists and stars from the international art circuit that her own stature attracts. It’s one of a handful of galleries in town that aren’t primarily commercial or institutional.”

“You look like one of my cousins,” she told me with a huge smile as we met; the smile would rarely leave her face during the three plus hours that I spent talking with this dynamo of a woman.

Campos-Pons was born in La Vega, in the province of Matanzas, Cuba, a sugar plantation town where her Nigerian great-great grandfather worked as a slave in Cuba’s brutal slave system, in which sugar mill owners often owned thousands of slaves and where life, death and rape were common parts of life.

In Spanish, Matanzas means “Slaughter” or “Killings” — imagine a US state or a Canadian province named “Slaughter.” It commemorates the actual suicide deaths of tens of thousands of Taino Indians who committed suicide rather than become slaves to their white masters from Spain as Kubanacan (as Cuba was known in the native Taino language) became a colony of the mighty Kingdom of Spain.

When Cuba’s native population died out from suicide or disease, the Conquistadores began the America’s slave trade and brought in African slaves purchased from the Arabs, and mostly on the brutal labor of their backbones, a new Cuban nation was forged eventually.

And as an Afro-Cuban woman, Campos-Pons has used her cultural and racial background the initial key theme of her own work, with long ties to her Cuban homeland, but also with a powerful influence of her evolving Americanosity.

We talked about Cuba, about her background there, her education, her growing disappointment with the intolerant and repressive Castro regime, her trials and tribulations in leaving the land that she loves so much, her marriage to the talented American musician Neil Leonard, the struggle to get a legal visa to the US - during which she lived for a year and a half in Canada on art fellowships with her husband visiting her on weekends, before she was allowed to immigrate to the US at the end of 1991.

We switched between machine-gun Cuban Spanish and English, as she described her gallery, which she is heroically building one room and idea at a time. I was amazed by a wide-planked wood floor that Magda constructed herself, the doorway that she cut through the wall, the translucent plastic materials that she uses very elegantly to cover up and separate areas and to create a resident artist’s studio, and the new expansive room that she is now building. “This gallery is an art installation in progress,” I thought to myself.

We discussed her then current show at the gallery, Are We There Yet? - curated by Dawoud Bey. It featured work by Howard Henry Chen, Alan Cohen, Christine DiThomas, Aron Gent, Rula Halawani, Surendra Lawoti, Curtis Mann, Oscar Palacio and Adriana Rios. I was particularly impressed by the work of Curtis Mann and Christine DiThomas. Mann’s compositional abilities and a very effective technique of distressing paper in order to acquire a good ground for the piece, really yields very memorable imagery, while DiThomas’ photographs transcend the focus of the show and float - aided considerably by the very elegant presentation and soft focus - a sense of time and place; they can be “modernized” images from the 50s, 60s or even colonial America.

Magda was enthusiastic and energizing in describing the show and the artists, and relating - from one gallerist to another now - the struggles and successes of running an independent art gallery: dealing with landlords, helping the emerging Brookline neighborhood establish a separate but individual identity rather than become another cookie-cutter gentrified neighborhood. She is a hurricane in action, one moment telling me about her plans to talk to a friend restauranteur into opening an Iranian food cafe that would feature artwork; the next moment talking about forging friendships with the new small businesses that have opened since they opened Gasp.

In the middle of this, a Chinese lady pops into the gallery. “I just cooked these and wanted to give you some,” she tells Magda as she hands her a bag full of noodles. She is the owner of a tiny new Chinese restaurant down the block. It is the perfect exclamation point to our conversation.

I’ve been there for over two hours and I still have not talked about her own work, but I have been hypnotized into talking for hours about Cuba, the gallery business, art, race, immigration, the press, Cuban food, cooking, her neighborhood, Boston, and even issues dealing with the plight of illegal aliens.

Her 15-year-old son Arcadio walks in, already half a foot taller than either one of us; it is time for Magda to check his homework assignment. They disappear for a while in the back of the gallery while she checks his laptop report. Later on I find out that Arcadio’s homework assignment is in fact assigned by his parents in exchange for computer gaming time. The assignment? To write four gallery or museum reviews a month. “He is really developing into a very good writer and critic,” the proud mother tells me.

When I am not here/Estoy Alla by Magda Campos-Pons
“When I am not here/Estoy Alla” c. 1994 by Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons

We digress into a discussion about children and she laughs as she tells me about the surreal experiences of a Cuban black woman in the wee hours of the morning taking her very Bostonian child to hockey practice in a freezing ice arena and also relates Arcadio’s visits to Cuba and how well he fit into the Cuban world of La Vega.

My wife calls and wants to know if she can run from the downtown hotel to the gallery and meet us. Magda, who also runs regularly, changes gears and gives her directions and is amazed when my wife shows up forty minutes later. “You ran from Copley to here already?” she asks amazed.

We start the gallery tour all over again - this is a gallerist possessed by love for her art and love for her gallery and the opportunity that it affords to the artists that she show. “We have a different model,” she tells us. “We have a curated show each month,” she explains, “with a thematic exhibition by several artists as well as a show by a new, emerging artist in the back room.”

We walk upstairs to her studio, on the way up she apologizes about the mess that we’re to expect. “All artists do this,” I think to myself. I have never been to a neat artist studio, and hopefully I never will.

She immediately begins to root around for things and artwork and post-cards and books and memories. “I never throw anything away,” she warns us as she dances around the crowded two rooms that make up her studio space. The walls are packed with both work by other artists, really advanced work by her son, and works in progress by Campos-Pons.

Like most Cuban artists, Magda is highly trained in nearly every facet of the fine arts: she is a printmaker, a painter, a sculptor, a videographer, a photographer and even a glass artist.

Over the years her photographic work has been a prominent member of the leading visual imagery of contemporary art; the one below (of Magda and her mother) once graced the cover page of the New York Times’ art section…
Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons

As most artists who dance at the top of the art world know, it is a hard dance, and continuing exploration of what fuels the fire of being an artist becomes an essential part of continuing success.

María Magdalena Campos-Pons. Backyard Dreams #5, c.2005.

We begin discussing her latest works and Magda dissolves and melts in front of my eyes, and reforms herself into a fountain spewing multiple jets of information at once.

There’s something unique about this talented artist - she’s the Cuban art world’s Pocahantas to the New Yorkish John Smith art universe. Through her and her work, Cuba’s bloody African entrails are exposed, perhaps to the chagrin of Miami’s powerful and nearly all white Cuban-American population. Like Pocahantas, she learned English harshly and quickly, and also like Pocahantas, she learned to adapt as needed and become a new entity in an almost colorless new world.

Through her and her art, first Bostonians and then the art universe was given a high dose of Cuban art education, and within that art world even African-Americans were also initiated: “you are not the only ones, my Northern brothers and sisters,” her artwork shouts to the four corners of America.

It is all a good thing for art, because the most important achievement that her artwork has caused is to deliver Campos-Pons from precisely all those boxes and labels that we are all so fond of trying to pin on artists.

In a very strong sense, her artwork and her success has liberated her from labels, and while her Cubanosity has certainly fueled her artistic personna and productivity, it is her talent and work ethic as an artist that now has her as just a brilliantly talented artist simply producing great art.

Art.

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A TOUR OF PHILLY (in two parts)

Starting with the South Philly Biennial and heading north.

Though it took up no more then a parking lot roughly the size of one-third a football field (if that) and I’m not sure if it can yet properly be called a biennial, this being the first and possibly last year of it’s existence, the “South Philly Biennial” seems about as good event as any to stop and reflect a little on the myriad of players in Philadelphia’s art scene. I’m going to be writing about the shows I see in many of these tiny and often hard to find alternative spaces, or smaller commercial exhibition spaces, so I thought it might be a good idea to give you some background. . . as often times with art, the location of the show and the people who made it possible are overlooked. 

The blog for the event, is a very good place to start, as I’m guessing Athena Barat (the biennial’s organizer), wrote nice little summaries about many of the groups involved. Through it you can become intimate with legendary Philadelphia art-bloggers Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof, who were both given awards at the biennial for “helping art grow”.  Libby and Roberta seem to get to just about every show in Philadelphia, always check artblog before a trip into the City of Brotherly Love, or you might miss something you would rather not. 

Libby Rosof and Roberta Fallon receive an award from Athena Barat. 

One of the only actual “South Philly” spaces represented at the biennial was Bobo’s on 9th, a gallery that is also a band formed of Nick Payne, Phil Cote, and Drew Gillespie. Bobo’s has some really wild shows that often involved outsider-looking drawings, neon colors, and tape. Famously, one of the gallery’s window displays, that involved photo-copied money, was confiscated by some government officials. My favorite part of the exhibition space is the fact that they change the floor covering for every show (one month it might be covered in cardboard, a rug, fake stone, etc.). Reading their biennial page I have become aware that the spaces’ founders are orchestrating something for Foxy Productions (New York) in July, so you might be hearing more on them. 

Moving North, I’d like to introduce you to two of the cities longest-running artist-run spaces, and by their very obvious differences open your awareness of just some of the differing paradigms artists work under these days:

Space1026 constructs a structure for Locally Localized Gravity at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia

Space 1026, Located at 1026 Arch Street, in what is pretty much the southern tip of Philadelphia’s “China Town” neighborhood, has been around for ten plus years now. They are a huge force in Philly, summoning large amounts of energy from their ever rotating and large mass of members, which at Space basically means a person who rents a studio at 1026 Arch Street, or anyone who would like to donate their time. Screen-printing is the thing at Space 1026 and I like to imagine that years from now I will see someone on Antiques Roadshow announcing that “the prints they have were made in Space1026 an artist collective in”. . . because there is certainly a “Space-look” to most of the work made there, and much of it deserves to have it’s little place cut into history. Famouser Spacers include Andrew Jeffery Wright, Jim Houser, Thom Lessner. . .  (I could go on but just check the website, if I try to name everyone someone will get upset with me). 

In direct contrast to the paint-splattered DIY floors of Space1026 stands the white-walled Vox Populi, an artist-run for-really and legally non-profit with board members and everything. Vox currently resides on the 3rd floor of 319 N. 11th St, on the northern tip of China Town, not more then a five-minute walk from Space1026. Vox Populi has been around for 20 years (not all of them in the same location), like space it has an ever-rotating cast of artists, but the artists at Vox seem more geared toward conceptual thinking and the experience of an exhibition at Vox is usually more cerebral then visual. You will never be able to say that the artists of Vox Populi all make a similar product, use a similar medium, or even have the same underlying ideology. 

Next to Vox, on the same floor, in the same building, is a little space I help to run called Copy. Copy can be loosely described as an experiment in trying to figure out what art means today, each month is curated by a different member. Copy is in the same location as the first gallery I was ever a part of, Black Floor. When we changed the name and ended the first venture, we simply made the space smaller and sanded off the black paint. 

Luren Jenison and Jamie Dillon sand away Black Floor to make Copy.

There’s still more to come, so look for part two of my little tour tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

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Just some fun stuff

A fun animation

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo
(Does anyone know why the embed code from Vimeo doesn’t work on wordpress?) It’s a wall-painted animation by BLU. . .

Which reminds me of the work of Robin Rhone:

Which reminds me of the work of Keith Haring a little bit.

Also anyone interested in roadside attractions/folk art should pop over to oneculture and check out my flicks of Dinosaur Land, which is how I spent Memorial Day.

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Lenny

Artomatic baby!

A few days ago I discussed the Greater Washington, DC area art extravaganza known as “Artomatic” and gave you readers a little history in this massive, open, anyone-can-hang, art show.

Nearly all art critics and writers hate it, and nearly every DC area artist and the 40,000 or so other folk who visit the show, enjoy it.

Putting on my pop psychology hat, I think that the real reason that most art critics hate Artomatic is that they get visual overload very quickly.  C’mon folks, how does a writer cover an art show of the size of Artomatic once the eyes and mind become numb after the 200th artist, or the 400th or the 600th?

It would be the equivalent of assigning someone the task to review a major museum in a day and come up with a decent review, where both the crappy artists hang with the masters.

And Artomatic has returned to the Greater Washington, DC region. It opened in May and runs through June 15, 2008.

Anyone can hang, install and display work at Artomatic. It is the world’s largest and first self-curated, open Biennial. And this is the District of Columbia’s novel American contribution to the world of the art fair, from an artists’ perspective.

A mock Biennial that freely accepts anywhere from 600 - 1,000 painters, sculptors, printmakers, actors, musicians, photographers, weekend painters, major artists, bums, pornographers, actors and bartenders and then finds an empty building and fills it with artwork, stages, theatres, stores, furniture, parties, lectures and controversy.

And this wild, artist-run AOM model has managed to fuel the dislike of most art critics and the love and passion of thousands of artists and art lovers. The arts intelligentsia doesn’t like it when artists rule the day.

And AOM also creates the Greater Washington DC’s uber arts event of the year – it happens irregularly every couple of years or so. About 40,000 people will visit the event this year, and some new artists will be discovered, and a lot of artwork will be sold, and a lot will be laughed at, and a lot of illicit sex will take place, and some controversy will arise, and a lot of new artistic energy will be created.

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 what at the time was my very futile attempt to gather as much visual information as possible in order to write a fair review of the artwork and artists.

No one can do that. No se puede hacer!

Over the years that I have visited past Artomatics (and I have seen them all) I have discovered that it is impossible to see and absorb everything and to be fair about anyone; the sheer size and evolving nature of AOM makes sure of the impossibility of this task. In fact, I have visited AOM twice this time around, and I think that I may have missed a whole floor so far.

As I said, we in the DC area know that local art critics tend to savage Artomatic; they demand a curatorial hand; they want order; they want “bad” art out and only “high art” in; and year after year, they all miss the point! And this year the Washington Post and most mainstream media will all but ignore the region’s largest art exhibition.

Here’s the key: AOM is not just about the artwork, it is about the artistic energy that it radiates, it is about art community, it is about a free for all, it is about controversy, and it is about anyone who wants to call him/herself an artist.

The current AOM is at a spectacular location at the Capitol Plaza I building at 1200 First Street, NE in DC. There are seven, maybe eight or nine floors of artwork all the way up to the 11th floor, located and installed in many mini galleries with spectacular views of the city.

My main impression at this year’s AOM: loads and loads of space and loads of twentysomethings doing twentysomething artwork.

Plenty of space yields a really decent opportunity to display your work well, and one interesting maturity factor in this AOM is how professionally many artists are displaying their work. On the other hand, because of all the available space, this AOM also yields a significant number of really bad “installations” with all sorts of furniture and stuff.

Historically each AOM has delivered significant artistic discoveries for art lovers, art collectors and dealers. People like Tim Tate, Frank Warren, Kathryn Cornelius, the Dumbacher Brothers, etc., all showed at AOM; some still do. Tim Tate sold his sculptures at AOM a few years ago for $300; today they get as much as $41,000 at auctions. Frank Warren started his spectacular “PostSecret” worldwide art installation at AOM; today his project is one of the most visited websites on the web and he’s had multiple art books on the best-seller list.

And so part of the fun of visiting AOM is “discovering” who will be the 2008 AOM emerging art star. In that spirit I will ignore all the well-known names who are exhibiting this year at AOM and try to find artists whose work is new or little known to me. In this review I will create a sort of short list based on two trips; on my third trip I will finalize my initial picks for emerging art stardom.

Working our way up, on the 4th floor I quite liked the work of Amanda Engels, who is showing a series of portraits that work well in capturing a sense of time and presence about the subject. I also liked Genna Gurvich’s painterly and almost surreal work, especially her innovative and intelligent take on the often visited Campbell’s soup can; and believe me, it takes a lot of creativity to say something new with such an art world subject icon - and she does!
Self Conscious by Genna Gurvich

Yet, my pick for key artist on that floor is Cristina Montejo, whose quirky and sexy drawings stand to draw attention from collectors. Keep an eye on Montejo, and buy some of this artwork now.

On the 5th floor I liked the severe abstract paintings of Matthew Langley and on the 6th floor Holly Burns’ pen and ink drawings on napkins are a treasure trove for beginning art collectors. They are fresh and young and hip. They are also superbly done and I bet that we’ll hear about this artist again and again.

Drawings by Holly Burns
Holly Burns’ pen and ink drawings on napkins

I also like Michelle Chin’s over simplified bug cut-outs and Nancy Donnelly’s glass dresses. The latter are elegant, simple pieces that should attract a galleristor two to them and continues to showcase the District’s abundance of talented glass artists.

I was also taken by Shannon McCarty’s inventive set of burned iron marks. They reveal the surprising achievement of minimalism when employed smartly as McCarthy does in her laundry style installation. Also minimalist are the hi tech (looking) works by Paul So. Also visit Keith Thomas on that floor.

 McCarthy
Shannon McCarthy’s burned iron marks installation at AOM

The 7th floor is a treasure trove of good artists amongst the adequate masses. Nana Bagdavadze is somewhat channeling the super-talented and highly acclaimed DC area artists Amy Lin to the third dimension as she takes the Lin’s vision of a small circle to an illusion of three-D organic DNAish form. Teague Clare’s intimate but very cool pieces are also quite good as are Juan del Alamo photographic test strips. Both these artists also know how important presentation is and have done well in maximizing their space while giving it a clean look. Also visit Damien Gill’s elegant digital works.

By the way, this “clean look” is something new in AOM. The exhibition has somewhat matured and “professionalized” in leaps and bounds. There is little of the amateur in the presentation left in this version. It is there, but not in the majority.

I know Rania Hassan’s works, but in this AOM she re-invents herself in a very elegant installation that goes from 2D to 3D right before our eyes. It is sophisticated and elegant, and another clear indication of the level of maturity that AOM has achieved over the years.

Dale Hunt’s monster art is also fresh and reflects a clear AOM trend for young, hip, simple art that is deceptively complex beneath the first visual impression. There is a lot of this “young art” in AOM this year, as well as a lot of tattoo art. Also visit Brad Taylor and see what an artist can do with those tabs in beer and soda cans.

The 8th floor’s find is Michael Auger’s dayglow mini paintings – like Dale Hunt, this artist fits into that young, smart art that is both attractive, simple and yet appealing to the visual senses; at $35 for an original, they’re also a helluva good deal.

The DC area is a Mecca for world class smart, innovative fine art glass and perhaps its leader in bringing glass to a higher place and away from the craft world. David D’Orio’s works join that new emerging movement and are very good.

I also liked the fresh skill in Todd Gardner’s portraits.

The 9th floor offers the very cool mini photos by Erin Antognoli, really good work by Jeanette Herrera and Barbara Johnson-Grener.

Also Kim Reyes’ ceramic wall figures caught my eyes as a good find for sculpture lovers. On this floor you’ll also find Andrew Wodzianski and Kirk Waldroff (OK, OK… so I know them and represent one of them).

The 10th floor has my key find for AOM.

And it is not a single artist but a highly sophisticated multi-artist exhibition titled “Coincide.” This is the AOM find of the year.

If you are a harsh critic of AOM’s free for all art approach, and don’t want to look at the work of 800 artists, just drive up to AOM, go to the 10th floor and look at the work of the 17 artists in “Coincide.”

Using Star Trek technology, we can easily imagine teleporting this entire massive contemporary ceramic art installation to any gallery or museum in the world and no one would blink an eye. It is a triumph of severe presentation and talented artists, and it is also a giant leap forward in the maturation process of AOM itself.

These are skilled, innovative, ordained ceramic artists, whose work is as far from “amateur” – the usual adjective applied wholesale to AOM – as Warp 9 is far from 55 MPH.

Big names like Laurel Lukaszewski, who shows locally at Project 4 Gallery (one of the best, fresh new galleries in DC) and nationally at other various venues, are complemented by (new to me) artists like Leila Holtsman (whose piece I hereby select as the best single work of art in AOM), Novie Trump, Ani Kasten, Kate Hardy (gorgeously displayed) and others in this spectacular group.


Leila Holtsman at AOM

Also on that floor I quite liked the brilliantly yellow installation work by Bryan Rojsuontikul, who joins the tradition of artists working with common materials (in this case yellow and silver Duck tape) to deliver breathtaking minimalist works of art. Also check out Alexandra Zealand.

On the 11th floor I enjoyed the work of Krissy Downing and Gregory Ferrand and then really enjoyed Veronica Szalus’ floor sculpture of painted ball objects. Also on this floor be prepared to be quite taken by Tracy Lee’s familial installation of family memorabilia (and I just broke my rule again, since I know Lee’s work well, but this installation doesn’t fit with her previous set of photographs). Since I broke that rule, also on this floor, super sexy abstract work by Pat Goslee and representational by Candace Keegan.

If you want a quick video walkthrough AOM, check out the video below. The music has been married to this video on purpose from the perspective of AOM’s past treatment by local art critics. I suspect that many of them will not visit this year’s AOM simply because they’ve already made their minds without seeing the art - ahead of time as a DC critic was once ”caught” doing - closed minds that say that the show sucks because it’s all open and a an artistic free for all.

By the way, the art that pops up when Lennon first sings “they’re going to crucify me”is bordering on being one of the art world’s oddest coincidences, since I didn’t synchthe music to video to pre-arrange for that art to pop up at that time… it is worth viewing the video just for that! Be prepared to be chilled!


AOM is free and open to the public and runs through June 15, 2008. All the info that you need is online at www.artomatic.org.

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