Archive for Gallery Reviews

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

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

Itsuki Ogihara steals the “Paper” show at Projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lenny

FotoWeek DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new medium indeed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lenny

The Trawick Prize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My prizewinners would be:

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

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

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Bill

Delia Brown: Precious — at D’Amelio Terras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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Trenton Doyle Hancock at the ICA, Philadelphia

 

Trenton Doyle Hancock, \

“Go Vegan” (detail) by Trenton Doyle Hancock

 

Trenton Doyle Hancock

Wow That’s Mean and Other Vegan Cuisine

Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia

April 25-August 3, 2008

A solid two-thirds of me thinks the Trenton Doyle Hancock exhibition at the ICA is pretty funny, while one-third of me is mildly insulted. That one-third of me is interfering with the pleasure I should have at seeing Trenton’s glow-in-the-dark and 3-D wallpaper that adheres to the wall of the ICA’s ramp space and begins to wonder if I should be that interested in art that seems like a massive inside joke that’s gone on for far too long (ten years now. . .). You see, TDH has been developing a body of work around a self-made mythology that evolved from an argument he had with his very vegan roommates back in graduate art school. I guess these roommates were pretty militant about their veganism and gave TDH a hard time so he started an “epic tale of mortal struggle between the Mounds, a gentle human-plant hybrid, and their inbred half-cousins, the evil mutant-ape Vegans.” (from the ICA’s Gallery Notes). 

Detail of TDH’s wallpaper “Flower Bed II: A Prelude to Damnation”

The reason I’m kind of mad is I’m a vegan (for those of you unfamiliar with the term, this is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat any products produced from an animal, including eggs, cheese, etc.). I’m not a very good one (like, I took a “break” yesterday and ate some ice cream) and I don’t try to convince others to become a vegan or preach about how “evil” animal products are, but I am what I call a “lazy vegan”. I have been one for five plus years, and I plan to try to remain one. I can’t help thinking that although I like TDH’s hand-style and some of the drawings look cool, and a connect-four game and an Atari system is set up for playing in the gallery, and you get a free-pair of 3-D glasses to look at TDH’s wallpaper with. . . that Trenton Doyle Hancock is making fun of me. When someone is making fun of you it is very hard to like them.

I have been insulted and yelled at by people who eat meat and dairy many times in my life, being a vegetarian in High School was especially not easy, but I didn’t vilianize meat-eaters, creating grotesque caricatures of them. I understand that what lead Trenton to this path were no-doubt some terribly idealistic extreme young vegans, I have met such people and they can be scary, but they are no scarier then the occasional meat-eater that won’t leave you alone about being a vegetarian. Most of these extremists mellow-out with age and realize that people’s personal diets are really not all that important.  

So I have to end this review with some advice to Trenton Doyle Hancock: 

Trenton, everyone seems to really like this body of work and you obviously have talent and some great ideas, but to me, someone who actually enjoys being a vegan with occasional lapses (hey, I’m only human and very lazy) it sort of is the visual equivalent to a hate crime. I want to like you and your art but I cannot. Hate is ugly. So my advice to you is to forgive and forget and move on. You could be WAY better then this. 


 

 

 

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Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image from The Hartford Courant

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