Archive for Photography

Lenny

Colleen Henderson at Multiple Exposures Gallery, Virginia


Colleen Henderson, Chatham Light Beach

If you’re a photography fan in the Greater DC area, then you know that Factory Photoworks Multiple Exposures Gallery on the second floor of the Torpedo Factory is one of the best photography galleries in the Mid Atlantic region and they rightfully boast in their website a very cool recommendation by my good friend Kathleen Ewing:

Multiple Exposures Gallery is a showcase to view quality fine art photography produced in our community. I have always been impressed with the professionalism, variety, and quality of photographic images exhibited at Multiple Exposures.

So I’m never surprised when I wander into MEG and discover yet another strong show.

But this time the photographs by Colleen Henderson… the set on the red wall of the gallery, floored me! It is the mastery and simplicity that she has achieved with the work that faces the viewer as one enters the gallery that merits this glowing adjective.

This is as close as painting with a camera as a photographer will ever get. How Henderson has managed to dilute and trap color, and then use her magical photography skills to re-hue them and present us with works that suddenly become a photographic cousin to the legendary colors of the Washington Color School and even would have drawn a gasp from Mark Rothko… is beyond my understanding of the mysteries of the camera at the hand of a master.


Colleen Henderson, Blue Clearing

And in “Blue Clearing” she traps that scene that all of us have aimed a camera at; that sudden instant when the marine clouds and the beach light and the ocean all become one lazy dreamscape that re-enchants us with our blue planet. We all get crappy pictures that look good to us. Henderson gets a photographic painting that belongs in a Richter exhibition.


Colleen Henderson, Cambridge Dawn

In “Cambridge Dawn” we’re brought back to Earth a little, as she offers us more hints of real life, besides dazzling us with color and fantasy, as the dark marine forms in the water anchor an otherwise ethereal scene.

There’s an artists’ reception on Sept 10th 6:30 - 8:30PM.

Multiple Exposures Gallery
Torpedo Factory Art Center
Studio 312
www.multipleexposuresgallery.com
703.683.2205

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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

The Sedona, Arizona Gallery Art Scene

By the time that this posts, I will be airborne heading West to Sedona, AZ, and I thought that it may be a cool idea to rehash some of my older thoughts on the area for all the newbies to the blog.

While there’s no doubt on the planet that Sedona, Arizona is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, as I discovered while visiting there the last two years, it is also one of the key spiritual magnets to a variety of religions and beliefs, including the significant number of people attracted to Sedona as a result of its “energy Vortexes.”

Let there be no doubt that this is an area of profound beauty and full of a palpable sense of energy and power. I loved it and will be back many times, as there are dozens and dozens of trails and vistas to explore. This visit may get interesting as far as hiking, as I am nursing a really sore Achilles tendon (too much basketball).

On my last trip in 2008, I focused some time and comments on the Sedona art scene, a “scene” with some national footprint, regardless of where you stand on the planetary scale of the art world. in fact, within a few minutes of anyone discussing that they’re going to Sedona, someone will immediately pop in and describe the city’s great art scene.

Last year I approached those views with the prejudiced eyes of the artsy Easterner, accustomed to white cube galleries, minimally presented with austere framing, white matting, and where even title and price labels are often eschewed in preference of a discrete price list on the gallerist’s white or light wood postmodern design table.

Let start with Sedona art galleries, which seems to have shrunk a little in membership since last year - probably as a result of the economy.

But first, extrapolating from to the city’s website, the city probably has around 12,000 people, about 90% of them non-Hispanic whites, and last year with a median household income roughly $100,000 less than Potomac, Maryland and paradoxically (also last year) with a median house price about $100,000 more than Potomac’s pricey homes. I’ve been watching those house prices dive bomb over the last year, but they’re still up there.

But this dollar discordance is the first of many paradoxes about this gorgeous place.

Depending on who you believe, Sodona also gets between four and five million visitors a year.

The Sedona Visitors Guide tells these millions of visitors that Sedona “not too long ago had 300 residents, now has 300 artists and more than 40 galleries.” We also learn from the guide that Sedona averages one gallery per 300 residents, and for every dollar spent on art, the art buyers spend $12 on other Sedona stuff.

I often wonder how the granularity on these statistics take place.

The guide also claimed last year that statistics show that approximately 33% of the city’s visitors are attracted there by the art, and that these art aficionados thus spend between $200,000 to one million dollars in various Sedona businesses each day. We thus can extrapolate that around $16,666 to $83,333 dollars are spent each day on art in this small town.

One issue appears to be clear: it’s the tourists who buy art, not so much the locals (does that sound familiar?). This makes sense, after all, how much art can 12,000 residents buy from 40 galleries?

“Locals don’t buy any art,” told me last year a former Sedona gallerist, who prior to opening a gallery in Sedona had been a dealer in Chicago. “There are a lot of retired people here [the median age is around 55] and although there are some very large multi-million dollar homes, there are also a lot of modular homes [a fancy way to described a souped-up trailer].”

To the prejudiced and minimalist Easterner eye, the riot of color, subjects and presentation that characterizes most Southwestern art is an assault to long-held visual sensibilities created by the black and white world of the East Coast and Left Coast artworlds and its European and Latin American brethren.

I am shocked to discover that perhaps there’s something of an elitist in all of us, as the preconditioning of being an artist, an art critic and an art dealer raised in all those aspects, and mostly along the Eastern states, prejudices my eyes to what I’ve referred previously as “coyote art.”

My better half, who many years ago interned in Santa Fe with the legendary Gerald Peters Gallery (and Peters is credited by many as energizing the interest in Southwestern art and placing Santa Fe and the Southwest in general on the art scene), tried over the last couple of years to educate me somewhat as to the different sensibilities between what she labels “an Easterner, with an East Coast vision of what a gallery should look like, looking at a Southwestern space.”

It will take time, but then again, at one point in his life Duncan Phillips hated Impressionism and then eventually was seduced by it and became the American champion for it.

On the other hand, Wisconsin farm girl Georgia O’Keefe, even in her Southwest years always kept her austere black and white world where colors were generally reserved for her paintings.

So for the last two years I have proceeded with as open as a mind I can have, maybe somewhere between Phillips’ eventual enthusiasm and O’Keefe’s steadfast minimalism in personal tastes.

I am curious to see what changes the economic downturn has wrought but there were a lot of spaces in and around Sedona that sell artwork. I’m not really sure if there really are 40 galleries, unless one includes a lot of spaces that sell a lot of Native American and Mexican crafts.

Sedona itself is sort of divided into two areas, and as one comes to it from Highway 179, Uptown Sedona is to the right and the other Sedona to the left. Most art spaces are either located on 179 itself or Uptown Sedona.

The first set of galleries one comes across on 179 are located on a shopping area to the right as one enters the city, with a spectacular view (from the shops) of the Sedona rocks and the city itself.

And when you drive up Highway 179 into Sedona, one of the first galleries that you come across is the huge Exposures Gallery, which is located on the right side of 179 as one approaches the city.

exposures gallery in sedona, arizona

Over 20,000 square feet, not including the outside sculpture gardens (I assume) make this the largest art gallery in the state, and probably one of the largest in the nation.

There’s no gallery in the world, in the many, many galleries in nearly all continents that I have visited, that I can compare to this place.

Exposures is a perfect example of what makes most Southwestern art galleries so different from most other fine art galleries in the world; galleries which follow the white cube example of white walls and minimalist hanging styles, coupled with total lack of information about prices, etc.

Not so in the Southwest gallery model, and Exposures is a perfect example of this model for Southwest galleries.

Upon entering the huge spaces, the East Coast gallery sensibility is immediately assaulted by a riot of colors and by a fear of empty space that yields a huge gallery space filled to the brim with art, photography, sculpture, crafts and jewelry.

This is 21st century salon style presentation married to the joy of colors that is the Southwest.

There are probably a few thousand pieces of art hanging and displayed in this gargantuan space. In fact, so much artwork, and so much variety, that the snobbery of the art world would immediately tend to dismiss this gallery as another “art store” filled with “wall decor.”

Not so fast.

There are plenty of art galleries in Sedona that offer wall decor, and the same in the Southwest, and for that matter all over the nation.

Don’t be fooled by the sheer scale and invasion of the senses that Exposure offers. This is a very successful galleries which offers some very good artists, some so so artists and some mediocre artists. In other words, just like any other reputable art gallery, but definitely not a cheesy art store. This is a very good Southwestern gallery working flawlessly on that model.

Exposures’ success is clearly evident not only in its size, but in the small army of people that it employs, as well as its history, which essentially repeats the usual gallery story: art-loving couple moves to Sedona, open a small gallery; they do well and open a huge one.

And because Sedona’s art buying market is comprised mostly of visitors, this gallery has to operate on the model of exhibiting everything that it has to offer all at once.

It works for them.

So once we get past the fact that this overcrowded gallery space has found its formula for success, and we begin to look at the artwork itself, as I stated before, we find the same mix of great, good, average and mediocre that one finds in any gallery in the world because art truly is in the eyes of the beholder — or in this case the husband and wife team that picks the artists that they choose to represent and sell.

And sell they do…

On exhibit are works by more than 100 artists; yep, 100… and prices, I was informed, range from $29 to $290,000.

The catchy price range seems to have done wonders for both the artists and the owners.

Not everything is about money and sales; but money and sales make most artists, and definitely most gallery owners happy.

About the artwork itself…

Nearly all of it shares a flawless technical skill and delivery that would make most postmodernists elitists raise their noses a few inches higher. As an admirer of technical skill, I have learned to respect technical skill, but also have learned to then look past it and see content, ideas, context and intelligence in the work.

But before I get to the few artists that stood out for me last year, I must note that the one thing that, in spite of over 100 artists, the gallery lacked was monochromatic or black and white works in this wildly colored universe of art. It could really use a few drawings here and there to break up the dominance of color and painting. But I am biased.

As far as I could see there were only two artists working in drawing. Of the two, the two delicate small graphite drawings by Charles Frizzell stood out like little orphans in an ocean of color.

The charcoal and watercolor pieces by an artist named Yuroz also could mostly be qualified as drawing, but the works themselves were rather forgettable, as Yuroz seems to be channelling several of Picasso’s periods — including a rather mediocre stab at cubism — in his paintings and drawings. There is too much Picasso in Yuroz, but there is also too much of Yuroz in Exposures, which in economic terms means that someone must be buying lots of his work. I didn’t like any of it.

Let me tell you what I did like.

There was some very good photography by Scott Peck, and yet I personally test all flower photography to the spectacular work of Andrzej Pluta, or Joyce Tenneson, or Amy Lamb. In fact if Peck’s work is doing well in Exposures, then the art dealer in me is sure that Tenneson, Pluta and Lamb would do even better at Exposures.

Upon entering any business in Arizona that sells imagery, one is bound to find photographs of the desert rocks and formations. By the time that you visit a dozen galleries, one is sick and tired of desert photography.

And yet, one of the most memorable artists in Exposures is a photographer named Martii, whose spectacular desert shots, coupled with superb presentations, make his or her photography one of the best finds in the gallery. And in writing this, I think that another photographer whose work would do well here, would be the split reverse image digitally manipulated split desert photographs by John DeFabbio, who works out of the Washington, DC area. For years DeFabbio has been trekking around the world photographing nearly everything that he sees, then digitally mirroring each half of the image to discover amazing new images in the manipulated work.

But back to Exposures.

The best work in this amazing gallery when I visited last year were beautiful abstract pieces by a Brooklyn-born artist named Eric Lee, one of the rare non-representational artists in the space. Lee creates wonderful reverse paintings in glass that are standouts of skill and delivery. They are fresh and beautiful and add a calming effect to the gallery’s riot of color.

There are two galleries in Sedona claiming to have been voted the best gallery in Sedona. I’m not sure who the voters were, but of the two, Exposures is by far the best and certainly one of the most amazing art spaces in the entire Southwest.

And now I have used the example of Sedona’s huge Exposure Gallery to discuss what I call the Southwest gallery model — a gallery packed to the gills with art in a riot of color and fear of empty space — as opposed to the more standard gallery model of a minimalist white cube for a gallery.

There are a lot of art venues in the Sedona area, nearly all of them, with one notable exception, follow this Southwest model. Most of the better spaces are listed in the Sedona Art Gallery Association website.

Of these, last year Kinion Fine Arts seemed to offer a blend of the two gallery models. In 2008 they had recently moved from the Hozho Center (located at 431 Hwy 179 and home to several galleries) to uptown Sedona, relocating the gallery to a former bank building, safe room and all. The Kinions have divided the gallery into two rooms; at the entrance the Southwest model is in place, but the bank’s vault is used for solo shows apparently hung in the cleaner, less cluttered style of the white cube. They’re also one of the few art spaces in town where not everything is Southwest art centric.

A new gallery just up a few steps from Kinion Fine Arts, located at Hyatt Pinion Point, is the very beautiful space of the Vickers Collection (there are three of these galleries in total and the one in Sedona is called VC Fine Arts), opened just a year ago and by far the only gallery in the area that fits the cleaner white cube model.

Vickers uses the white cube model, and also offers the most diverse set of artists, not just a heavy-handed focus on Southwest art (as most Sedona galleries do, driven by the tourist art market).

It will be interesting to see if Vickers can survive as the sole Sedona gallery (at least that I’ve seen) that offers a diverse set of artwork; the type of art that could easily be seen in New York, or Philly or DC. I’ll let you know later this week after I drop in again.

At VC I quite liked the bronze sculptures of Bill Starke, a refreshing change of pace from all the bronzes of horses, bears, javalinas, Indians, deer and cowboys that inundate most of this beautiful town’s galleries.

I also liked Chris Nelson’s smart and intelligent reverse paintings on plexi, which upon further examination are more than just paintings, since the artist also routes the verso of the plexi so that the textured reverse plexi interacts with the acrylic paint to actually create grooves and channels that on the front of the work create smart landscapes. As interesting as this work is, this artist has to be careful that he doesn’t fall into a repetitive pattern in his work.

Since I have been in the advice-giving mood, an artist that would be a perfect fir and would actually sell like gangbusters all throughout the Southwest are the amazing storm paintings of the Washington DC area’s Amy Marx, who recently had her first solo in New York and whose breath-taking, hyper realism captures massive storms and weather patterns like no artist that I have ever seen.

Another East Coast artist who would be an instant hit in the Southwest is Alexandria’s Susan Makara, whose beautiful stacked stones series sell as soon as she is finished with them from her studio in Alexandria’s Torpedo factory.

Still in uptown, the Sedona Art Center rounds up a very good artists’ run membership gallery of local artists.

There are also quite a few galleries located in a faux Mexican village called Tlaquepaque; after two trips to Sedona, I still can’t pronounce it. From there you can cross Oak Creek by foot and visit a whole bunch more galleries on Hwy 179, although the ongoing construction on 179 seemed to be really hurting the gallery business on that road.

Last year I also drove up to Jerome and was very pleased with their galleries.

Jerome, Arizona sits straddling the side of a mountain about a mile high from sea level and less than 30 miles from its more famous cousin Sedona.

“America’s most vertical city” — I am told — is home to about 400 people, but once boasted 16,000 inhabitants and a brothel madam who was Arizona’s richest woman.

Although I think that the whores are long gone, today the town still manages to attract a few million tourists a year, not only for the spectacular views that it affords from nearly every vantage point in this tiny and beautiful town, but also because of a budding gallery scene that although seemimgly having fairly established roots, it only seems to be blossoming out recently with a significant number of art galleries and venues and a rather successful monthly art walk on the first Saturday of the month. With 30 galleries and artists’ studios participating in the art walk, it reflects the huge impact of the fine arts in a town of 400.

Most of Jerome’s art galleries seem to fit the Southwest style of galleries that I discussed earlier in reference to Sedona. However, and very surprising to me, Jerome’s art spaces seem more individual and original — in most cases — than Sedona’s cookie-cutter model of galleries.

There are several cooperatives that I observed, most noticeably the Jerome Artists Cooperative, where the hilarious (and smart) watercolors of Dave Wilder were on exhibit on that day that I visited in 2008. Full of irony and delivered with superb technical expertise, Wilder flexes well-developed observational skills that challenge the genre of “cowboy art” in a new refreshing manner.

Big Hat by Dave Wilder

The Spirit Art Gallery, although an independent commercial art gallery, seems to be run like a coop as well, with work by 30 artists on display at once, with some very good talent among them.

My Mind’s Art Gallery, which features the work of its owner, Ukrainian painter Joanna Bregon, a surrealist artist who has found a home in this unusual little town, also stands out from the cookie cutter cluttered gallery model.

It was refreshing to see diversity in art and rugged individuality in each art space, regardless of how one feels about the quality of the art itself, in some cases.

And then, while walking through the various galleries and talking to some of the owners and artists, it dawned on me that the Jerome galleries and shops is what I had expected to see in Sedona: unique, one-of-a-kind shops, art venues and art galleries.

I also discovered that nearly everyone that I talked to in this tiny town seemed to know everyone else, and also seemed to have a grudge against either the land developers and the expansion of homes in nearby areas (and competition for water) and/or against the Jerome city fathers for a variety of reasons, most dealing with construction issues.

Finally I trekked down to the town’s former High School, an ancient multi-story set of buildings that has been converted into artists’ studios and workshops - 20 of them.

There the work of Michael MacDonald and Derryl Day really stood out, especially some of Day’s older portraiture works, which were exquisite color pencil pieces full of personality and grace, as well as tremendous technical skill. But the key here, with an exception here and there, is that these were all artists in the overall, rounded, sense of the adjective — not just “Southwest art” artists; it was refreshing and interesting.

As small as Jerome is, it’s clear that the town’s colorful past, coupled with its amazing location and vistas, and more recently married to a creative artistic community and over-protective city fathers, all act as an irresistible magnet to the hordes of tourists that visit it every year.

It’s also clear that there’s something special about this place; it can be felt in the air, in its people and in its streets, and the dealer in me wonders if this special spot would not be an ideal place for some sort of very specific and focused art fair - a mini model of my “new art fair model.”

Sedona and Jerome are like kissing cousins of the Arizona tourist draw. I think that together, they can also become complimentary partners for an art draw of its own.

As the above words are being published, I am airborne and heading West to Arizona, eager to see what changes have taken place, and what new spaces may have emerged, and in the coyote-eat-coyote world of art, which gallery has closed.

Stay tuned… more later.

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Lenny

FotoWeek DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new medium indeed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lenny

Why isn’t Diebenkorn (or Neel) famous?

Terry Teachout, writing in the Wall Street Journal discusses one of my favorite pet peeve issues:

“Consider the case of Richard Diebenkorn, whose paintings are passionately admired by countless collectors and connoisseurs of modern art, not a few of whom place him close to the top of the short list of America’s greatest artists. But Diebenkorn, who died in 1993, has never quite made it into the pantheon of American modernism. MoMA owns a half-dozen of his paintings and works on paper, all of them first-rate. And how many are hanging there today? Not a one.

Why isn’t Diebenkorn famous? Because his work doesn’t fit into the standard narrative that many critics, scholars and museum curators use to explain the history of 20th-century art. For openers, he was a West Coast artist who spent most of his adult life in California when New York was universally regarded as the creative center of American art. And though he started out painting boldly colored Abstract Expressionist canvases that made perfect sense to the critics of the early ’50s, he took a sharp turn off the smooth road of history in 1955 and returned to figurative painting, producing an even more remarkable series of portraits, still lifes and suburban cityscapes.”

My pet peeve is not Diebenkorn’s lack of fame, although I agree 100% with Teachout in his case, but the underlaying point to his article.

His point is that the “accepted” art historical narrative, which is the only narrative taught to young minds in our schools, promulgated through art history books and enforced tenaciously by most curators and art critics, is spectacularly wrong!

Teachout drives a ferocious key issue home when he writes that:

‘The trouble with these narratives is that they’re dreamed up by theorists so eager to explain the world around them that they sometimes fail to pay attention to it. Such explanations cannot be cobbled together without tossing a lot of “unnecessary” spare parts into the dustbin of inevitability.’

It’s easy to find a dozen  Diebenkornian artists who don’t fit the accepted “art narrative” and just as easy for the galvanized “art narrators” to come up with heavy handed art words explaining the holes.

Alice Neel by Lida Moser
“Alice Neel in her New York City apartment” by Lida Moser

Teachout clearly and efficiently uses Diebenkorn as an example. In my mind Alice Neel is another brilliant example of someone who didn’t fit the narrative, and whose eventual success (according to her very good friend Lida Moser) was resented by many of her contemporaries, who didn’t want a representational female artist getting in the middle of the art narrative.

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Lenny

How to sign your artwork

I was going to title this post “Signature Blues,” just to be cutesy in the wake on my last post on framing issues…

In the hundreds and hundreds of shows that I have organized as a gallerist or curated or judged as a juror or curator, one of my constant pet peeves is how artists sign (or not sign) their work.

My biggest pet peeve in that den of peeves is the common artist mistake of having a HUGE signature that makes such a bold statement as to often destroy the integrity and composition of the art itself.

Some artists, such as Norman Rockwell, often signed their works in bold, and even interesting ways that were designed to still be read when their paintings were reproduced as a magazine cover. For these master illustrators, it was very important that their name was recognized once their work was printed on the cover.

But most artists should not make their signature distract from the work itself. Do not sign your work somewhere, anywhere other than in a discreet location on the margin somewhere. Never a few inches into the work itself and never, ever in gold or silver or some other ghastly color scheme.

Amateur photographers are especially fond of signing their photographs with gold or silver pens. Did you notice that I wrote “amateur?” The visual presentation of a photograph should not be marred by that kitschy practice. if you sign your photo on the front, do it discreetly on the margin; otherwise sign it on the verso, also on the margin. I’ve also seen the practice of signing the mat in pencil, and I am OK with that, although I know some gallerists and museum symbiotes do not like that practice either.

Let me be clear: the art must be signed.

If the signature distracts from your own personal aesthetic, then sign it on the back of the work. To be blunt, most collectors demand signatures and there’s ample empirical data that shows that unsigned works always get less in auctions than signed pieces.

Vatican legend has it that when Michelangelo finished his Pieta, the night before it was to be opened to the public, he hid behind some columns as a bunch of priests and cardinals admired the masterful sculpture.

“Who made it,” asked someone.

“I think it was Raphael,” replied someone else.

Michelangelo was so incensed that his masterpiece was being attributed to his rival, that once the place was cleared, he climbed atop the statue and carved his name in bold letters across the sash that crosses Mary’s chest. He carved: “Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence Created This.”

I believe that it was the last piece that he ever signed.

And it was too big.

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Bill

Knocking heads in the lobby of Yale University Art Gallery

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

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

Weatherby1

Ann Weathersby, Untitled, 2002

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

Weatherby_detailUntitled detail

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

Arneson_lastgasp

Robert Arneson, Last Gasp, 1980

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

ZhangHuan_AshHeadNo3Zhang Huan, Ash Head No.3, 2006

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

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

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Admin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Davenport’s “Bombardment” (photograph)

 

THE POWER PLANT

Not Quite How I Remember It

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

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

Diane Borsato with kitty cat /Joseph Beuys with coyote.

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

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

 

PAUL PETRO SPECIAL PROJECTS

Wild Things

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

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

A “gum blonde” by Jason Kronenwald

 

LE GALLERY

A Fresh Pack of Gum Blondes

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

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

C’est tout. 

 

 

 

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Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerome Liebling, Butterfly Boy

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

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

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

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

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

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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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