Archive for August, 2009


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

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On District 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes my head hurt.

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

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

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

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

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

Sequel en route.

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On Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory Art Center

If you’ve ever been to Alexandria, Virginia, chances are that you’ve walked down King Street to the beautiful Potomac River waterfront and explored the Torpedo Factory located where King Street meets the river. They’re in the local news:

“As its name suggests, the Torpedo Factory originally was used to construct bombs. But after World War II, the building was used for everything from storing dinosaur bones to Nazi war documents. In the 1970s, the Torpedo Factory was transformed into an art center where visitors could watch artisans in their studios and purchase original works. But Alexandria Councilman Rob Krupicka and others are calling for changes to the art center — longer hours, movie showings, maybe a coffeehouse or wine bar. Other ideas? Lifting the ban on the sale of art reproductions and establishing term limits for the studios to encourage artist turnover.”

Listen to Michael Pope on WAMU here (scroll down) and he also has an article in the Alexandria Gazette here.

A SENSE OF uncertainty is palpable among the artists at the Torpedo Factory, and opinions range from those who would like to see major changes to those who would prefer for things to stay the same. Whatever changes are suggested, many say the discussion has been driven by a sense that the Torpedo Factory just isn’t as exciting as it should be.

“You won’t find much particularly edgy work here,” said Joan Aldrich, who has a studio on the first floor. “If we see ourselves as a premiere art center, we should have some work here that’s new — that’s perhaps by definition offensive to some people.”

I am told by separate sources that the articles and the WAMU report contained a few inaccuracies that somewhat upset Councilman Krupicka, who is a supporter of the Factory.

What do I think about all this? This is a very complex situation, with many different angles and approaches, and deserves some thoughts on the subject(s) from a variety of perspectives. In fact, I submit that from a variety of senses and sensibilities and experiences.

I could submit an opinion from the Campello who is an artist, another different one from the Campello who is an art critic, another one from the Campello who is an art dealer, one more from the Campello who is an art collector and yet another one from the perspective of an arts marketeer.

No one at the Torpedo Factory has asked my opinion, and they do have some sort of task force working on ideas to re-invent that amazing place, but I want to express some opinions and start a public dialogue here for anyone else who has something to say on the subject.

After all, the Torpedo Factory was and is a labor of love by a visionary few who took out truckloads of garbage out of an abandoned building and converted it into one of the great art center locations in the nation and the key to the entire revitalization of Old Town Alexandria. The city and the region owes a lot beyond just artistic output to the artists of the Factory, and the $3 million dollars a year that the city of Alexandria spends in subsidizing the Factory has been repaid a thousandth fold over the decades, not only is peripheral income associated with the Factory, but also in the immeasurable way in which the TF kindled and started a complete urban renewal in Old Town Alexandria a few decades back.

So the first thing that comes to my mind is that the bulk of the decision should be made by the Torpedo Factory artists themselves, and although I don’t know who is in this “task force”, I suspect that it is driven by the Torpedo Factory Artists Association (TFAA) members.

But with all due respect to many of my good friends in the TFAA, they also need to be careful that in their zeal to do a good thing, they become too myopic about their own environment and lack an outside view and sanity checker.

Most (not all) artists often make fatal assumptions when it comes to the business of art, and it seems to me that what makes a significant ingredient in this TF re-invention soup, is the business of running the TF as a complex tapestry of things.

That includes artistic presence, focus, business approach, artist turnover, genres, medias, diversity of businesses within the TF, etc.

“Some more divisive recommendations being floated would allow commercial reproduction prints to be sold and create term limits that would bring in a younger set of artists to the building,” writes Pope in the Gazette.

Let’s examine the issue of reproductions.

First of all a lesson in the misuse of the word “print”.

One word that has been hijacked from the art lexicon by the art merchants is the word “print”.

A print is a woodcut, or a linocut, or an intaglio etching, etc. It is created by the print maker, from beginning to printmaking. Anything else is a reproduction.

So if the original is a watercolor, or an oil, etc. and then you get digital copies of it, or four color separations, etc. all of those are reproductions of the original. However, it’s hard to sell something when you describe it as a reproduction, and thus why dealers and artists alike describe their reproductions are “prints”.

Giclees is a modern artsy way to describe a reproduction. Giclee is the French word for “spray” or “spurt.” It describes the Iris burst printers originally used to make the beautiful new digital reproductions that started appearing in the art world around 15 years ago.

Nothing pisses off a print maker faster than hearing a reproduction called a print.

Currently Section II of the TF Bylaws state in (D) that:

“Work created at the Art Center must be original as defined by Standards and Practices For Arts and Crafts in the House Rules. Such work is not to be competitive with local merchants.”

So the TF artists are not supposed to be selling reproductions of their artwork from their studios, and I understand that the membership will request to the Board of Directors that this section be deleted and thus allow artists to sell reproductions of their work.

I’m torn a little by this.

On one hand, in theory it gives the general public an opportunity to acquire a signed reproduction of an original work, and in theory that cheaper more affordable art commodity offers the artist a new avenue of income. Those who can’t afford the original buy a signed poster reproduction, usually described as a “limited edition, signed and numbered print”.

Nearly everyone else does it, and locally in the Greater DC region, one of the top art galleries is also become nationally well-known as the print maker to the art stars, and in the last few years nearly all galleries, both regional and national now offer more affordable reproductions limited editions of their pricier, more popular artists.

I have done it myself in the past with some of my larger, more expensive original drawings.

On the other hand, allowing selling of reproductions does in some sense dilute the sense of art as an original commodity. And then we start getting into the 21st century argument of what is an “original” in digital artwork, and what about photographers with multiple editions, and photographers with open editions, and even true print makers who once they sell out of the original set of prints, decide to dig out the original plate and pump out a second set of prints or a second edition.

See how complicated this got really quick? Nothing in life is really simple.

But the artists have apparently already voted and will soon request that they be allowed to sell reproductions, so in this case, my opinions and the issues have been overtaken by events (OBE) as they say in military lingo.

Although the Board still has to vote on it, I think. But let’s file that for now.

What about bringing in a “younger set of artists” to the building?

For their own sake, I hope they mean “younger” to really mean in terms of artistic development and not just age. Otherwise expect lawsuits from the gray-haired artist who just finished his/her MFA at MICA at age 60.

But this idea does have some merit and deserves some critical thinking.

I am and have been for years a great supporter of the TF and its presence, but in my opinion their Achilles heel is in fact their greatest paradox in a sense, and it is their artistic refreshment rate. If it wasn’t for the terrific job that the Target Gallery (on the first floor of the TF) does with their national calls for artists, we’d rarely see a new name at the Factory.

Paradox because one of the greatest assets of the Factory is the continuous presence of some of their power artists such as Rosemary Feit Covey, BJ Anderson, Susan Makara and others. But because the turnover rate of artists retiring or leaving is so rare and slow, it takes a long time for a studio to become available, and new artists show up almost always through complex process of studio subletting, temporary subleasing, etc. Many of the artist tenants have been there since the very first day that the TF opened its doors to the public (in fact I curated a show of their work a few years ago).

Achilles heel because it is very difficult for a “new” artist to get a permanent space at the Factory. Once a year, the Torpedo Factory puts out a call for artists who wish to be considered for a studio space. Generally about 70-80 applicants enter the annual jury process and about six or seven are accepted. But “accepted” doesn’t mean that they get a space; rather it sort of means that they are in line for when a space becomes available.

Every time that I post the TF’s call for artists (there’s a fee involved), I get a flurry of emails from artists complaining about the process.

This needs new thinking and a new approach, for I am on the side of those who opine that new blood is always good for any artistic community endeavor.

As with any group effort, I am pretty sure that about 5% of the artist members of the Factory do 95% of the actual communal work to keep the Factory working. That 95% will be the, however, the most vocal opposed to any change that may put some studio space in jeopardy.

It has to happen.

Not that it will result in immediate improvement, nor in the way that the art critics around this town view the TF (traditional artwork only, whatever that means). Don’t expect Jessica Dawson or Blake Gopnik or any most of the art bloggers to suddenly put the TF in the same perspective as the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh or the Painted Bride in Philly, etc.

Even if Andrea Fraser decided to do her new naked nude museum/art center sex video at the TF or Shepard Fairey decided to move his studio to the TF tomorrow (and got accepted), the galvanized minds of many would be hard to convince that “change” has come to Old Town Alexandria’s first among equals.

But slowly and surely it would work, and here and there a new, “young” artist would push some of the traditional and well-known buttons that get artists and their art instant notoriety and press: sex, nudity, anti-Christian art, bodily fluids, flag desecration, anti-President, anti-Israel, pro-some anti-American dictator, etc. Some if not most of that is hackneyed recycled art in new wrapping, but among the set of “younger” artists would almost certainly be those with new ideas and new concepts and new vitality and energy, which after all is the essence of what I think the Factory thinks it needs.

And a warning to the politicians who subsidize the TF: be careful what you wish for. With new artists and new ideas will come some of what I described above, and then what will happen (as it always does) is that the ugly hand of censorship will rise and the politicians will get involved and demand censorship or the $3M yearly subsidy goes away.

This will of course, bring instant worldwide press to the TF: “Torpedo Factory artist censored by Alexandria Town Council!” the headlines will shout.

But enough nonsense; how can the TF refresh their artists base on a more regular schedule/rotation?

The easiest way would be to make a certain number of studios available on a resident base, so that visiting artists could have the studio space for a year or two and then rotate (maybe they already do this, I’m not sure). Some of these residencies should be made available to recent MFA graduates, perhaps some should be made available to genres currently not represented at the Factory, such as the 60-year-old genre of video art.

Perhaps another, and harsher way would be to have an established procedure where current artists are re-examined on a yearly or biannual, or whatever time frame to re-evaluate their performance and artistic qualifications for having a permanent presence at the Factory. In a sense like the academic community does for their tenure track faculty.

Produce or be gone, or in this case, show us what you are doing, other than painting the same painting over and over again and selling it off to the tourists.

Awright, awright… so I’ve rambled enough and only touched the surface of this complex issue; expect more as I dig out more information and more ideas. This is the surface of the artberg and some of the above ideas and perceptions may be off base, but they’re my opinion… so far. I’d like to hear your opinions and constructive criticism. Send me an email (to and I will publish them here and start some sort of dialogue.

To the TFAA: I will also gladly ramble in person with any/all of you if you want my input ad hoc as it comes across.

More later… stay tuned.

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I’m so confused (or not?)

I’m not sure if this review by Blake Gopnik, the Washington Post’s Chief Art Critic is a good one or not.

“There’s not much to see in two art projects now on view in Baltimore. That’s why it’s worth rushing out to get a look at them before they close in the next few weeks.”

In fact my plebian mind fails to understand the bipolar nature of the points in the review, wondering from negative to positive to negative again, and ending in positive (I think), all the while while seeming to praise the actions of a former art curator heading to the fold of a mad South American dictator while rehashing traditional critical arrows at the heart of art and style as if they themselves were new. I think that Blake may be somewhat brilliant in the way that he managed to confuse me, but then again, I could be wrong. Prepare to be confused here.

For an equally brilliant counterpoint, Richard Whittaker interviews Jane Rosen:

“Jane Rosen: I want to make work that you don’t have to have a Master’s degree in Art History to understand. When I lived in St. Martin there was something about the quiet and the water. I became interested in fishing and met an elegant old black man, Mr. Anstley Yarde, who was very tall and thin and had a great presence. He taught me how to fish. You use a can and string. He’d get me at six o’clock in the morning and we’d get these snails. We’d sit on a rock and drop soda-can lines and just sit there. I never caught a fish but he’d catch them. He’d hear them…and I thought, this man has knowledge. And one day, we’re sitting on the rock and he asked me what kind of art I made. I knew Mr. Anstley Yarde would not understand the art I was making at that time, and I realized I wanted him to understand it. It raised that question: who and what does my art address? Who did I want to talk to and what did I want to talk about?

… Theorists will start talking and I’ll start thinking, “O God. I’m illiterate!” But in actual fact, I’m literate about another range of experience, a range they are not connected to. It’s simply not an issue for them!”

Read the interview with Jane Rosen in Conversations here.

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