Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Melissa Ichiuji, Nasty Nice at Irvine Contemporary

Although the exhibition has already been reviewed by my fellow grads several times, the extension of Melissa Ichiuji’s exhibition Nasty Nice at DC’s own Irvine Contemporary gave me the opportunity to experience the show first-hand. And I am glad that I was given this last chance for there was indeed something intriguingly nasty and nice about Ichiuji’s soft sculpture.

Most of the works, which depict young women and animals, are fashioned from diverse media such as nylon stockings, human hair and latex in addition to the more traditional thread and cotton. The mediums certainly enhance one message conveyed by the work; it doesn’t matter what you do to your outsides because your insides stay the same. In other words, the prettiest girl isn’t the healthiest, smartest or most interesting. Ichiugi is suggesting that women spend too much time on the physical self and perhaps neglect the more important areas.

There was an inside-out quality to all of the characters, a torture or dismembering enhanced by the obviousness of the stitching, the constraining tightness of the pantyhose, the, well, nastiness of the human hair sprouting from these fetal, eyeless creatures. For example: a young girl opens her legs to reveal blue eggs in her feathered crotch that she is hiding from a desirous snake. The eggs are part of her, her ovarian eggs and her unborn children. She is a vessel waiting to be impregnated by the phallic snake hissing eagerly over her leg. What does it mean to present women as these vessels? Creatures in other works physically wear their intestines on their outsides, such as in The Optimists who literally wear their beaded hearts sewn on their chests. It’s too bad their faces are made of dried, shriveled fruit. Perhaps the prettiest don’t have the best hearts. Perhaps we shouldn’t always trust the book with the prettiest cover. I like The Optimists. I am one. Ichiuji’s works say that we are all full of blood and guts and nastiness, despite the pains we take to make ourselves look nice on the surface. We can still die like the little, tortured animals at many of the sculptures’ feet. Which leads me to:

My first observation concerned how accidentally cruel we can be to others and ourselves. Many of the sculptures were young girls who were accompanied by a dead, dismembered animal at their feet. Each girl had obviously killed her pet, whether out of curiosity, accident or spite. I am reminded of my brother and cousin killing lizards when they were little. They did this out of ignorance and curiosity, not purposeful malice. However, there was a kind of excitement in killing, in the doing of wrong. Most people get over this instinct. Some don’t. Other works, such as Chorus Girl, a sculpture of a blind ballerina taffetaed in red, has cut into herself with a knife she is still holding. Parts of her insides are strewn on the checkered ground around her. I think: Poor girl lopped off her toes trying to make herself a better dancer. This piece speaks particularly of ambition and the desire to succeed no matter the cost. In a sense, all of these works speak of fitting into an ideal of beauty and not stopping to consider the harm done to ones own body.

It is a difficult exhibition to stomach. Not only does it seem as if the disturbing characters come to life the minute you leave the room, but as a girl, I am very aware of the way I attempt to beautify myself in order to be accepted socially. Women love to feel like the prettiest girl in the room. It is a disturbing realization and Ichiuji’s sculptures will not let you forget it. Furthermore, the works speak about praise from an Other in power. It feels as if these girls are performing for someone else. For the viewer perhaps? It does put us in an odd position. This performance to please is reiterated in one of my favorite pieces in the show Garden Party. In this work, three out of four character’s attempt to attach soft-sculpture penises to their soft-sculpture selves. These characters want to change to be in the position of power. Of course I could “put on a different hat” and say that these are women that don’t need dicks because they already have their own. Who knows? All I can say is that Ichiuji’s exhibition made me consider ideals of beauty and power that are often easy to ignore.

Guerilla Art in DC

Katherine Knight

I first encountered Guerilla Art in DC about three years ago. It was winter, and we’d had a storm similar to the one we just had: cold weather, snow, melting snow re-freezing into solid ice. I was living on Capitol Hill at the time and I used to walk past the Capitol and all the other Government offices on my way to and from the museums on the mall. I was on my way home from such an excursion when I noticed that the snow and ice covering the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol Building was all messed up. As I got closer I realized that someone had obviously had a great time sliding across the reflecting pool’s ice. I continued on, and paused half way up the hill for one last view. From there I could see that what I’d thought were just random scuffles was actually a message. Someone had taken the trouble to tread, plain as day, and in enormous letters facing the Capitol, the words ‘FUCK BUSH’. It was impossible to miss; anyone looking out of their office window had to see it (and remember- at the time most of these people were Republicans). Plus, the repeated melting and re-freezing of the snow meant that it was there for days and days. It was brilliant.

My second encounter was about a year later. It was just before Christmas and for some reason I was up and on the Metro smack in the middle of morning rush-hour. The cars were packed with just the people you’d expect: mostly business men and women in their drab suits and overcoats clutching briefcases. People crushed together to get on and off at each stop, but of course no one spoke. After one stop, as soon as the doors closed, and Asian man (I believe he was Chinese, but I could be wrong) started singing Christmas Carols in broken English and a thick accent. The effect was unexpected and instantaneous. One business man looked up from his Palm Pilot and said, in a voice already laden with hostility ‘Shut Up!’ and when the Chinese man didn’t stop he said, in a louder voice ‘Don’t you shove your religious views down my throat!’ A second business man addressed the first: ‘Hey! It’s a free country, pal. He’s got a right to say whatever he wants!’ After this a chorus of heated arguments broke out among the passengers; one nearly coming to blows (no joke). The Chinese man ignored it all and continued to sing, although he did move a little closer to the door. This whole scene erupted before we’d even reached the next stop, and when we did, the Chinese man was one of the first people to get off. As soon as he set foot on the platform the lady next to me, who’d been quiet up till now, gave an odd yelp and lurched forward in her seat. I looked at her and she said ‘I thought he’d stepped out through the wall’.

The third piece I experienced was probably my favorite. Early this fall I was riding the escalator up to the street from Metro Center. It was a pretty long escalator, and about half way up I became aware of a weird jangley rhythm coming from near the top. I didn’t think much of it and probably assumed that it was coming from a street musician. When I got to the top, though, I realized that there was no musician around. The sound was coming from a handful of Smarties (those sour candies shaped like little fruits) that had been scattered at the top of escalator. They would ride the stairs up, bounce off the grate at the top, and fall back a few stairs to begin the whole process again. The result was a wonderful continuous, plinking rhythm; made both regular and irregular by the evenness of the stairs.

My most recent Guerilla Art encounter was about a week ago. Again on the Metro, I noticed that someone had taken the time to remove or black out all the personal information from their junk-mail, and then tape one piece on the back of each seat. I tried to think of all the different points this person might be making. As an environmental nerd my first take was on the total waste of such pointless and mass mailings. My second thought was about the protection of our private information such as addresses and interests. The mail was from such a wide range of groups that I found it impossible to believe that a single person could actually have signed up for it all. Finally, judging from the way many of the other passengers were inspecting the mail- some even taking pieces with them- I thought the artist might be making some commentary on our willing acceptance of information or propaganda; even to search for a point when none was readily available (after all, what else was I doing?)

It’s possible, and perhaps probable, that none of these ‘pieces’ were orchestrated by people who consider themselves artists, and that many of them (the Smarties, and the reactions provoked by the Chinese man) were complete accidents, but that matters little to me. What I love about each of them is their simplicity, their directness, and especially the way they function as reminders of how little it takes to remove us from the every-day. I loved the way the Smarties turned the escalator into a musical instrument. In the case of the Chinese man, who knew that such anger was bubbling so close to the surface of Washington’s business people? Or that it could take something so small to make the woman sitting next to me believe, if only for a moment, in the impossible? Do any of these experiences qualify as Art? Who knows? Perhaps they do only because I’m approaching them from that direction. But in each experience I have learned or appreciated something new about my world, and I am eagerly awaiting the next one.

Bill Jensen at Cheim and Read

February 15 to March 24, 2007
547 West 25th, NY, NY

reviewed by Tim Campbell

Nearly two-dozen of Bill Jensen’s most recent paintings are currently on view at Cheim and Reid in Chelsea. This is Jensen’s first show at Cheim and Read, and his first show of works on canvas since leaving Mary Boone Gallery. The show reveals several years of a labor-intensive, virtuosic painting process that explores pigments, mediums, and emotions, but ultimately falls short because of Jensen’s reliance upon techniques and an inability to find new ideas in his own work.

Issues of The Brooklyn Rail were available at the gallery containing an interview with Jensen about his work and his sources for inspiration. In a particularly telling response, Jensen says that his work is very close to alchemy because of his desire to expose the energy that he finds inherent in materials; he speaks extensively on the different textures and uniqueness of pigments and the necessity to discover emotional content in these materials. In short, Jensen is addicted to paint and to painting, and this is what made the show so dazzling and so disconcerting all at once.

These new paintings are incredibly well-crafted and visually stunning; the materials are handled with great sensitivity and elegance, and the colours have a hyper-intensity that is arresting, highly emotional, and intoxicating. It is rare to find such thorough mastery of technique in art galleries. The craft and paint-handling are unapologetically the focus of these paintings, and Jensen utilizes his techniques to search for the quirky and unique compositions that result from taking chances and risks.

The paintings that stand out most are the stunning “Ape Herd VIII,” “Ashes,” “St. Sebastian,” and “Luohan #6.” The distinguishing factor that makes these paintings more successful is their ability to convey something specific, whether it is a sensation, emotion, or psychological state. “Ape Herd” and “Ashes” are two dark canvases whose faint gestural marks and deep black-violets convey somber moods and deep, empty spaces. They stand out from the other three paintings with same palette and emotional tone because the vague compositions and dark colors are more cohesive; they create gestures that border on recognizable images. This holds the viewer before the painting for a greater amount of time, which seems to be what Jensen is after. If he intends to wager everything on the materials and the process, then these works must be about looking for the viewer. Jensen is asking for patience from his audience, and for his paintings to work in this way, they must offer the viewer something to return to and dwell upon. This is slippery ground; many of the works in this show fall short because the compositions are generalized and thus inaccessible.

When it comes to content, Jensen helps some of his paintings along with a suggestive title. “St. Sebastian” and “Luohan #6” both refer to religion and religious icons (according to the press release, the Luohan were disciples of the Buddha). Jensen seems to be saying that his work has to do with a generalized sort of spirituality or religiosity; there are no specific indicators in the work besides emotion and composition, so the viewer is left on their own when it comes to connecting the works to their titles. Because of the slowness in the paintings and way that translucent colour is allowed to hover just in front of the canvas, there is a kindness, calmness, and consideration in these paintings that works well with the notion of spirituality. This sense of being content was absent in Jensen’s intense palate-knife paintings from the 80s, which explored darker parts of the psyche. It is this same consideration and contentedness that sets Jensen’s new work apart from traditional New York School abstraction.

Ultimately the hallucinatory colours that Jensen relies on in these new paintings reveal too much of the artist’s process and do not offer enough of a search. We can easily see the artist working, but we cannot see the artist making discoveries, surprising the viewer, or discovering unique paintings that remove the artist’s hand from the content. The game that Jensen plays is a familiar one; we have seen this struggle with chance and process in mid-century modernism. The great success of Jensen’s career is his ability to reinterpret this game and play it on terms that are unique to himself and his environment. The failure of this show is that Jensen relives the failures of mid-century modernism, only on his own terms and through his own interpretation. Jensen is clearly a painter of immense skill, but the viewer needs something besides virtuosity in order to find interest in the work. This show sidelined a few paintings that are absolutely wonderful, and filled the main gallery with repetitive gestures and repetitive colours. In the future, I hope Jensen will highlight his best, most unique works and sideline the repetitive ones, even if it means showing fewer paintings, because he is too good of a painter to be written off as a generic abstractionist.

A recent interview with this artist can be found at the Brooklyn Rail.

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes

reviewed by Sharon Servilio

Stephen and Timothy Quay: The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes

Washington premier at the National Gallery

The Quay Brothers’ second feature-length live-action film was released in 2005, but only just arrived in D.C. on February 25 at the National Gallery of Art. The feature was preceded by a screening of their 1986 animated short “The Street of Crocodiles,” which provided a good introduction to the directors’ work. It showcases their elaborate visuals: predominantly gray, decaying sets occasionally disrupted by a brilliant splash of color. The camera moves in unusual ways, and the transition between shots often involves clever visual juxtapositions. Both puppets and objects, such as screws, are animated in an intricate choreography of light, sound, and movement.

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes involves very little animation, which is used only to propel the “automatons,” creations of a mad doctor who lives on a secluded villa somewhere in Europe in the nineteenth century, practicing questionable psychiatry and amateur opera direction. He is joined there by Malvina, an opera singer whom he has kidnapped from her former life, and Felisberto Fernandez, a piano tuner hired to tune the automatons, which not only house elaborate animatronic puppets but also provide the music for the doctor’s grand opera. Here’s where it gets tricky: in a former existence Felisberto was Malvina’s lover, Adolfo, but it seems that he and the nearly catatonic girl only remember this deep in their subconscious. Also present is the doctor’s housekeeper Assumpta, the most grounded of the characters but not without her own eccentricities.

Throughout the film, it is usually impossible to tell dream from waking and past from present. In fact, the most interesting thing about this movie is that it plays with our concept of time. In this world, time does not move in a rational, chronological fashion; rather, it is more circular, presenting countless instances of déjà vu and events that occur in multiplicity. When Felisberto first sets foot in the doctor’s villa, he sees a fresco painted long ago, commemorating an earthquake. Assumpta informs him that the three figures in the painting are Dr. Droz, herself, and impossibly, Felisberto.

A more dramatic example of déjà vu comes when the opening scene is reenacted at the end of the movie. In the former, Malvina performs an opera for Adolfo on the night before their wedding. From a balcony, the jealous doctor wills her dead; back at his villa he revives her, albeit to a phantom-like existence. He wants her voice for his grand opera, which turns out to be a reenactment of that tragic night. Felisberto is roped into playing the part of Adolfo (his alternate self) and rather than a reenactment this seems to be a repetition of events, with the entire opera cast playing themselves.

Another doubling of events begins when Felisberto is tuning one of the automatons. He is shocked to see his own face and hear his own voice inside it—he exclaims that the doctor has “captured my whistle and my reflection!” It seems that in the Quays’ alternate universe these machines are a creepy, archaic version of the television. The machine’s ability to record is seen as trapping or stealing. Later, in the final opera scene, Adolfo is in the audience, unaware of what he is about to see. When he recognizes what is happening, he walks up to the clear screen that stands between himself and the performers (an archaic, alternate movie screen?). He comes face to face with Felisberto and is shocked to recognize himself, echoing the earlier scene with the automaton. As in the previous scene, the man behind the screen is trapped, this time trapped in a memory, doomed to repeat his fate. This doubling effect becomes a tripling when we become aware that we are one more step back watching these events unfold on our own movie screen.

In the final scene of the film, Felisberto and Malvina are shown trapped inside an automaton, reliving an earlier, seconds-long exchange like a broken record, doomed to replay this moment for all eternity.

The directors’ choices emphasize the dreamlike quality of this world. Lush visuals make its strange beauty fully believable, and mysterious editing leaves us wondering what the characters can or cannot see, what they do or do not remember. One choice that seemed a bit jarring was the melodramatic dialogue and the swelling score reminiscent of old Hollywood movie soundtracks. This decision invites a comparison to Terry Gilliam, who was on board as the executive producer of Piano Tuner. Gilliam plays with similar incongruousness with the nostalgic music and dream sequences in Brazil, as well as the banal, soap opera quality of the young girl’s fantasies in Tideland. Perhaps the Quays wanted poke a hole in their otherwise airtight alternate universe, to suggest that the boundaries between that distant world and our own are not so rigid, and that the two are more similar than they appear.

Neither too long and boring nor too forcefully narrative, as some suggest, this film succeeds in presenting a multiplicity of layers and meanings, leaving audiences with much to speculate and ponder after viewing it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Multiple Takes on The Art of Cindy Workman


Cindy Workman’s most recent prints are currently on view at Lennon Weinberg Gallery through March 3. The show delivers a series of fully-realized, single edition digital prints whose conceptual strengths work fantastically in nuanced, complex composite-images of women. The body of work addresses issues of identity, gender, sexualized imagery, and the difficulties of person-to-person interaction that go hand-in-hand with these issues.

Upon entering the gallery, several large prints are mounted to the east side behind plexiglass that is bolted to the wall. Further back in the gallery space, similar prints are displayed in plain white frames. All of the prints combine a variety of imagery from dolls, floral cloth patterns, magazine advertisements and pornography to create highly edited constructions of women. Like many other great prints and paintings, Workman shows how the best visual strategies are simple on the surface but full of intense complexity and struggle underneath.

The use of plexiglass brought to mind issues of transparency. As viewers, what are we seeing through? Are we seeing through social constructions of gender and recognizing their theatrical aspects, or are we seeing the constructions themselves and thus rendering the individuals behind them transparent? I left the gallery feeling that this question was not resolved in the work, but that it was intentionally left to the viewer to think about.

In many of the prints, such as “Woman 12,” Workman cuts and enlarges images of breasts from pornography and contrasts this enlargement with a shrunken head, whose outline is derived from either advertisement or a doll. This distortion is highly suggestive and puts the viewer in a position of discomfort because Workman is clearly referencing a predatory, sexualizing gaze directed towards women. In this piece, the head is disproportionately small, pushed back in space, and forced to confine to the outlines of an ideal shape. The mouth is blurred as though the words that issue from it are something to be skipped over, hushed. Some type of close-fitting band constricts the throat. Meanwhile, magnified breasts rendered in high grayscale relief occupy the entire lower third of the print.

The print “Large Woman 10” takes on an equally tragic tone in its discussion of childhood, growing up, and the difficulty of dealing with changing social expectations. Between the doll-like image of a young girl chasing butterflies and the soft-core porno image that dwells inside of the girl’s dress, there seems to be no chance of relief for this person in both childhood and adulthood; social constructions, expectations, and sexualization impose at every age.

The most impressive aspect of these prints is their ability to evade definition and question themselves without loosing any of their stunning visual presence. Are we looking at investigations of assigned identity, at collages of social projections of gender, or are these prints supposed to be portraits of specific individuals who must struggle with social projections, gender, and sexualization, while maintaining their own unique identity? Incredibly, the prints do all of these at once without leaving any slack behind.

What really drove these images home for me was how Workman pushed the imagery out of the realm of cold theory than can isolate viewers from highly conceptual artwork, without sacrificing any of the conceptual strength that dictated the composite arrangements. These prints are not actually collage or assemblage because they are pure-image; various images were cut and edited together on a computer and then printed digitally. None of the original material upon which the fragments were printed is included. This fuses the fragments together into a newly synthesized whole, and it lends a cohesive power to each composite image. Furthermore, Workman chose to place these images upon blank backgrounds (with the exception of an occasional butterfly). The combination of a cohesive image and a blank background pushed these prints surprisingly close to a more traditional genre: portraiture. This is what really gave the imagery a lot of power; the suggestion that the viewer might actually be looking at a portrait of an individual, a person with a specific background. The images are not just composites and clips of information; they have a strong visual and figurative presence that compels the viewer to consider each woman-image as a person here in front of them. Workman’s ability to keep the viewer guessing about where the social constructions come from, or who assigns them, only makes the work more affective and challenging. This highly successful show is certainly worth a visit as it will engage the viewer on multiple levels and its message stays with the viewer after leaving.


In a masterful play of dichotomies, Cindy Workman balances images of the innocent and the experienced, the playful and the playgirl, the naïve and the voyeuristic, and the metamorphosis between the two.

Her most recent show at Lennon, Weinberg, Inc. in New York’s Chelsea District is titled “Les Demoiselles”, an obvious reference to Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (The Ladies of Avignon). Picasso’s painting depicts five prostitutes in a brothel and receives a great deal of attention due to the use of multiple styles in the same painting. For Picasso, this painting documents a transition period in his work. For Workman, it’s the ladies themselves that are caught in a transitional period.

Workman gathers her images from a number of sources. The idealized drawings of girls come from the envelopes of sewing patterns, clad in bows, ribbons, simple frocks and plain hairstyles. The soft-core nudes are obtained from photographs, publications and online sources. They offer breasts, inviting looks and the occasional accent of kink. The artist has then her sources and collaged them using computer technology and transitions in opacity and transparency. I am still unsure how these transitions should be viewed. Upon first look, it seemed that the child and adult fought for attention and dominance within the same figure. But after further viewing, the subtle transitions and overlays blend these archetypes together with an odd sense of harmony, creating a new hybrid. The hybrid idea is reflected with the occasional appearance of butterflies in her prints.

In each piece, we are witness to the physical and sexual transition. The bodies of the young girls blossom immediately into curvaceous women, fully aware of their sexuality yet sometimes still displaying shyness by covering their genitals. As viewers, we experience a metamorphosis of our own. Watching a young child at play is such an innocent activity, but seeing the adult nude in sexual poses is voyeuristic. But in actuality, the traditions of voyeurism are reversed here. The children are unaware of the viewer and are often found at play in their own world. We have stumbled across a candid moment. The adults pose full frontal or in ways that are hyper-aware of the viewer and invite the gaze. In which situation should we feel like the peeping tom?

Workman has also made a deliberate choice to cull her images from a specific time period. By using work created in or around the 1950’s, she recalls a time when gender and age roles were more strictly defined and crossing those lines was taboo. The dated material also provides color palettes for Workman to manipulate. The adult nudes are presented in black & white or muted sepia tones. The children are rendered with pastel colors found in children’s clothing or candies. The transition in palettes takes place within the figures as well as the neutral backgrounds.

While standards of propriety may have been clearly defined in the 50’s, the lines have been blurred. We now live in a time when children mature at a younger age and are inundated with images of a sexualized culture. At what point should we let go of innocence? What are the implications of the transition from virgin to whore? Can the two identities exist simultaneously? Should we enjoy the playfulness in Cindy Workman’s pieces or feel like a voyeuristic pervert? Can’t we have both?


Cindy Workman's show was the first of a few shows that I was really impressed with on my recent trip to New York. I was not familiar with her work so that made it all the more impressive in its freshness. Her pieces are large scale ink-jet prints (most likely giclee) which appear as layered transparencies of various body parts of women, juxtaposed together to form one powerful image usually frontal with strange cropping within each layered image to accentuate the whole being the sum of the parts. The individual images come from a wide range of sources – soft core, sewing patterns, children's books, etc. Each individual image, through it's construction with the others, takes on the history of the portrayal of women in the media as well as how women portray themselves to reveal the complexity of identity.It is also significant that the women are made up of varying ages, the little girl's face in transposed with the full breasted female of a men's magazine. The act of juxtaposition references politics and time in these pieces as they seem to tell the story of themselves. They reference narrative without being narrative in nature. There are also signifiers within the images. One woman wears a bondage collar, while another holds a flower. Each one identifying and addressing stereotype and archetype while not being stereotypical in any way. The nudity in these images serves their politics as well, at once they are both exposing themselves and being revealed, but because of their construction, do not come off as pornographic but rather simply provocative. The use of the scanner and computer could be seen as a crutch, however the artist's use here separates these images from being simple pop art and transforms them, giving them an extremely modern look.It is interesting in reading the press release for the show that Workman's style developed from forms of direct collage and fully realized narrative to arrive at these striking images.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Stanley Lewis, A Retrospective

reviewed by Lauren Rice
American University Museum at the Katzen

If artist Stanley Lewis is anything like his work then he is indeed charismatic, eccentric, passionate, rigidly energetic and obsessive. I have heard for years about Lewis' personality and his work through professors and fellow students, however his current retrospective at the Katzen Art Center has given me my first opportunity to view his work for myself. At first glance, the paintings steal the show, illuminating the gallery with their sugary palette. However, although I am intrigued by Lewis' paintings, it is his drawings that I find extraordinary.

Stanley Lewis' drawings are unlike anything I have ever seen. Lewis' collaged elements echo the nervous energy of Giacometti's lines. If he had not succumbed to so many collaged pieces the drawings would be nothing grand, but their fantastic obssessiveness puts them into a superior category. His obsessively patched paper reiterates his packed compositions that have been ripped apart, scratched out and built back into until they become tactile, sculptural things. Backyard trees become jungles and kitchen interiors become hazardous. There is a violent beauty in his process, destructive and constructive simultaneously. His decision to often leave obvious holes in the paper as touches of light or his choice to show his work unframed is refreshingly confrontational. Lewis has found a way not to feel precious about his marks or his paper. It is just paper, after all. Collage allows him to change anything at all and adds to the overwhelming experience of his world.

The drawings and the paintings in the retrospective begin to speak of movement, fragmented memory and order in chaos. Things in the world are constantly moving and Lewis moves with them, cutting out or building on paper when necessary. One gets the sense that he is searching for truth but knows he will never find it. In fact, the errors and Lewis' search for perfection creates a truth bigger then the frenzy of trying to render without flaw. The collage creates a history, as Bill Willis said, "an archeological dig in reverse."

I like Lewis' paintings for the same reason I like his drawings, for their sculptural quality and Lewis' additive eagerness to change the shape of the canvas if truth or the need for a more interesting composition requires. For some reason, however, the construction of the paintings becomes the focus, as opposed to what is painted on the construction. (Confession: I must admit that this comes from a conversation with someone else. It wasn't my idea first. But I have thought about it seriously and do believe it to be true.) The construction is what is eye-catching and different instead of the way that they are painted. This is similar to the work of Frank Stella and Elizabeth Murray: I find their work more interesting without the theatrical construction of the canvas. In fact, I feel that it takes away from the work as a whole and the artist's excitement of creating space on a two-dimensional surface. Furthermore, although Lewis' colors often glow with glossy mediums, I miss the thin areas of the drawings that perfectly contrasted to the heavy buildup of paper in other areas. There seemed to be less thinness/thickness contrast in the paintings than the drawings and for this I find them less satisfying. However, I still find him a painter to be reckoned with. The evidence of his work ethic alone is extraordinary and I love that he does not automatically accept the boundaries of the canvas as the boundaries of the painting. There exists a passion in his work that is rarely seen.

Embedded at Conner Contemporary

reviewed by David Waddell

I visited the Maria Friberg exhibition at Conner Contemporary the other day. This Swedish video artist and photographer has had three solo shows at Conner in the past six years. This one is titled ‘Embedded,’ which features one video triptych and four photographs. While I did not pay as much attention to the photography, the video completely mesmerized me. Two of the three screens were packed for PULSE art fair, but I still enjoyed the experience on the single screen. It made gallery hopping worthwhile.

The video fits into a range of categories. It reflects nature, fashion photography, advertisements, landscape and subjects of masculinity and feminism.

Due to the pace of the video, one primarily associates the work with nature. Four men dressed in black, slowly emerge from the center of a mattress which is luxuriously draped in white sheets. Some compare the action in the video to the cycle of a caterpillar transforming in a cocoon. My immediate thoughts were that of a rose bud opening its petals. The figures are born from the center and creep towards the parameters of the screen. A horizonless background allows the viewer to dismiss scale. It might as well be the center of a flower.

I had wondered if Friberg incorporated stop-motion animation. Norm McClaren shot frame-by-frame to capture humans performing impossible tasks. I suspected that the movement was altered and slowed down as well. Friberg states that the work was done in real time. While I gasp at the thought of a person having to perform this excruciatingly slow act, she explains that dancers were no good at the assigned task. Rather, those who used meditation were successful.

It makes sense that Friberg uses men who meditate. The work is about isolation and the mental and physical boundaries of the body. It is about the individual that is so much smaller than the scope of the world. We never can escape ourselves and pull out to see ‘the bigger picture.’ Even those in the same bed are not in communication. They are silent bed partners and separate entities. The bed acts as a cloud, an island, a raft and an iceberg.

When listening to the discussion between Friberg and Julee Holcombe on feminism, I thought, “Yes, these men are the muse.” The woman is stands behind the camera as a director and in control. The men seem limp and without control at all. Contrary to the visuals, this is a real act and these men are in complete control of their movement. Their minds are in tune with their bodies through meditation. Friberg is documenter in this instance.

The aesthetics of the work emasculates these men as they slide off this bed, in a flaccid manner. They are arched back, stretched out and beautified. I associate these men with the backup dancers for this one Shania Twain video. Twain is dressed in a suit as a man. She has the microphone and is in control. She is surrounded by men with shaved heads and red fishnet shirts. They play fake guitars and are merely present as eye candy in this gender role reversal.

I also associate these men with a skin commercial due to the black-and-white color schematics and costuming. The exposed body parts are central locations for lotion: the hands, feet and face. In the commercial, a leathery alligator waddles through a minimal stage towards someone who needs lotion. I feel the same deliberate staging in this work.

I find this work so appealing because it falls into the realm of good photography, advertising, and staged fashion. Friberg has an acute sense of color and compostion because she was a trained painter. This is evident in the video as well as her photography.

Friberg got into this line of work because she did not want to be isolated in the studio. And yet she makes work about isolation. When viewing ‘Embedded’ I felt like I was alone in the gallery having an intimate moment with the video screen.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Gillian Carnegie at Andrea Rosen

written by Brian Barr

Andrea Rosen Gallery in Chelsea is currently host to an exhibition of new paintings by British painter Gillian Carnegie. Carnegie is a traditional painter in that she has maintained the use of the rectangle as the picture plane, and paints on stretched canvas, yet still belongs to a continuum of young painters today exploring what it means to be a painter right now. Her themes cover the very traditional realm of landscape, still life and nudes; arguably, the three most prevalent themes in the history of western academic painting. The show is made up of large painterly images of trees and horizon lines, intimately scaled still lifes with the subtle hues referencing Morandi, and small paintings of a young womans naked butt; which I found out later to be self portraits of a kind.

It is from this tradition of western painting that Carnegie’s work stems. It is also this very tradition and her place in it, as well as the place of painting within the context of the contemporary art world that Carnegie is concerned with. She seems fixed on the pairs of binaries within the context of paintings formal properties. The press release issued by the gallery says, “Carnegie explores a place between subject and style, representation and abstraction, depiction and matter.”. While she maintains a high degree of sensitivity and admiration for her own mark and palette, she also creaties bold gestural strokes reminiscent of the Bay Area figurative painters. It appears that her intention is to flirt with the line between painting and image, form and content.

Carnegie's work cannot escape the dialogue about beauty and aesthetics; and I would guess that she is not only not concerned with avoiding this discussion, but very much wants to make paintings in defense of both. Beauty and aesthetic quality are both her greatest strengths and most obvious weakness. The simple fact of the matter is that Carnegie can lay down paint with the best of them, and her paintings are truly beautiful. It would be hard not to be impressed with her technical prowess and mastery of her craft. She has the ability to craft paintings dealing with light, space, color and design, yet I find that at times there is an almost narcissistic infatuation with this ability that gets in her way. It is only in the context of the small paintings of her own ass that the show becomes curious.

Next to beautiful little painting of a vase of flowers in a very subtle pallette is a painting of the artist bent over from behind, leaving me to wonder if it is her intention to objectify herself and Painting all at once? Being a female painter today no doubt versed in feminist theory, Carnegie cannot possibly be ignorant of what it implies to paint a female nude in the position, void of a head, body or any personal signifiers. All that is left is the feminine orifice and surrounding flesh. Yet these images were not created by a man, and what is more, they are self portraits.

Carnegie appears to be claiming ownership of her own self objectifications and the stigma that traditional, self referential painting has become. To explore ones ability to manipulate paint; to strive to create beautiful images through technical mastery has certainly become more than slightly taboo, and still Carnegie has no qualms with trying to “explore the handling of paint”.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Graffiti on the Red Line

Lily deSassure

The red line goes above ground between Union Station and New York Avenue in Northeast Washington, D.C. Admist the train tracks, garbage and chainlink fences, homeless camps are the facades of brick buildings with colorful writing for the passengers to enjoy- or not. The writing changes every month or sometimes as often as every week, depending on when the building owners decide to buff the walls. Sometimes there are indecipherable scribbles, multi-colored angular letters, full murals containing text and image or simply mint green paint that concelas any or all of the above. Such is the scene in almost all urban (and now sometimes suburban) areas since the rise of grafitti in New York City in the 1970's.

Having grown up in New York City and New Jersey, I am particularly fond of words or "names" written on buildings, highway overpasses, or over anything that is otherwise bleak and gray. I do, however, maintain certain criteria for what is there. When the red line emerges from underground and daylight pours into the cars, I immediately notice black and dark blue spray paint on the first building that come into view. Two weeks ago the building had been bombarded with ridiculous, sloppy babble, but yesterday the surface had been replenished with well-balanced, neat and creative penmenship. Like any successful painting, piece of art or graphic design, a "tag" must be executed with diligent precision. The same goes for larger pieces and murals alike.

Further down the line, there is a large brick building with pieces painted on the side. This is the building with mint green paint covering old graffiti... in one spot someone who wrote 'ease' has drawn large bubble letters outlined in black and white that gently fade out into the green background.

In another place, "Mint" and "Best" have their names wiritten high on the rooftop of a building. Sections of the roof jut out just enough to provide accurate framework for their block letters that happen to fit in perfectly with the architecture.

When traveling through any city, I always enjoy a piece of graffiti that is strategically placed in temrs of composition with the surroundings. It has to be executed with the utmost consideration concerning draftsmanship, balance and color. Pieces that are witty in their statement to the viewer also make my train ride more interesting, especially considering the risk involved in getting a piece where and how the artist wants it.

Now, grafitti has made its way from the streets to galleries, shirts and company logos. As far as careers are concerned, for these artists, there are plenty of options but little compare to the risk, thrill and originality of creating something aesthetically satisying on the fly.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

...all of the above, Judy Pfaff at Rice Gallery, Houston TX

Kelly Ulcak

Judy Pfaff
……all of the above
Rice Gallery, Houston, TX
February 1 – April 1 2007

The openness of Rice Gallery’s entryway allows a good tease to the forthcoming experience of being in one of Judy Pfaff’s installations. The entire front wall from floor to ceiling of the gallery is a transparent glass window that Pfaff has used to hush the installation behind the pane. The window is adorned with corrugated strips of plastic and loose lines of paint that seemed to have functioned as a privacy screen for the working artist during installation. This wall is a precursor to the main event.

If one is familiar with Judy Pfaff’s installations, they are acquainted with her vocabulary of materials. A mix of natural vines, driftwood and wood are in dialogue with steel, nylon rope, artificial colors and paint.

This installation, like most of Pfaff’s work, was fairly basic in terms of color; a dichotomy of black and white called and responded throughout the room with bits of tiny neon slices of rope strung taught from wall to wall. The black and white seemed to further divide the room into two major material sections: the white curled tornadoed steel and the troubled gnarly black grapevines. Even though the visual weight of these materials was delicate and fine, Pfaff uses their erratic nature to dominate as the main focal points of the installation.

But what was in the peripheral was a new character that held its own weight among these other materials. Thin disks of varying thickness and diameter mounted one another toform a wobbly and seemingly unstable column of white saucers. These objects were striking because they had a presence of solid stability despite their appearance. Pfaff trimmed down pieces of Styrofoam and coated them with a dense white paint. One must really know materials to achieve such and effect. She made these ultra light forms appear to have such weight with just a bit of arrangement and paint.

Along the walls were strict but drippy lines that seemed to have been whipped on by a color-soaked thin rope made the wall look like a minimalist drawing. Thousands of these drippy lines were arranged with other small strips of fluorescent lighting that detailed the area. Along the walls, there are also a few bits of simple but unexpected delight. Besides the heavy materials that she uses, Pfaff also utilizes elements like air to activate some dead parts of the installation. A corner lined with string that is spaced apart enough to resemble lines on a music sheet. It is remarkable how well she utilizes space and knows her materials. No part of the space is ignored and all of the spaces in-between the materials are certainly part of the whole even
with nothing occupying.

My first impression of the installation was that of a bit of disappointment because Judy Pfaff seemed to have made a Judy Pfaff. I have seen her materials before and am acquainted with the way in which she uses them, however, there is something to say about how she makes theses opposing materials and open spaces coagulate to form a dynamic and interesting space.

Iona Rozeal Brown and Zoe Charlton on race and ethnicity in a global art world

Graham Childs

February 2, 2007 at the Hirshhorn, DC Artists Brown and Charlton discuss their work. The discussion centers around black culture in the U.S. and the usage of this culture and its stereotypes in both Iona and Zoe's work and by the Japanese culture. This speaks to a larger area of aetheticsizing a race or a culture. Sampling and appropriation within their work were other topics that relied heavily on their definitions of both.

The artists were both elequent and rational as ill-prepared questions and statements were brought up. And I was personally impressed with the ability of both artists to position themselves in authoritive roles. This is not to say they are not authorities, but in a way that they take ownership of the subject matter of which they tell us their work is constructed from and emoting its ultimate content leave me very little room to question them at all.

This is not a criticism only an observation. I am, however, left with questions only as an afterthought. In Iona's work, she depicts Japanese people weearing black-face and other 'clack culture,' stereotypical clothes, hair, etc. Is she taking the side of 'it is wrong to aesthetisize a culture' because she has done the same to Japanese culture in her work? Is the difference between appropriation and sampling even relevant when the definitions that were given relate only to citability and ownership? Does it matter where that line is drawn or is this a tool to take more ownership by pointing out that you are not appropriating, you have recontextualized and made the content yours.

Overall, this was an exciting discussion that brought up many questions, what I feel as relevant questions in art today. The Hirshhorn will be having discussions in this format every Friday and recommend attending.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A South Carolina Boy at Heart, Another Look at Jasper Johns

Katherine Knight

I decided to challenge myself by reviewing ‘Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Painting 1955- 1965’ at the National Gallery. I know embarrassingly little about Jasper Johns; especially when you consider that he spent his middle school, high school, early college, and army years in my home town of Columbia, South Carolina. But Johns’ was never a loyal native-son in the way that Dizzy Gillespie, Steven Colbert, or the guys from Hootie and the Blowfish are, so I’d inherited the bias that Johns had ‘sold out’ or had ‘gotten too big for his britches’. Plus, I had never been convinced that Johns’ work was Art. What is all the fuss about? This seemed like the perfect opportunity to investigate.

The exhibition claims that Johns’ work was vital in determining the future of post-war (and post New York School abstract expressionist) painting. This claim is supported by tracing the way four motifs- the target, the mechanical device, stenciled words, and casts or imprints of the body- challenged accepted notions of Art, art making, and the Artist. The exhibition itself is sponsored by Target, and I still can not decide if this detail is a disgusting example of rampant corporate sponsorship, or a telling manifestation of the breadth of Johns’ influence on our culture.

Anyway, the target was, of course, the first motif to be presented. After several small pencil drawings of targets, where the image is nearly lost to the density of the scratchy marks, I was first struck by the large ‘White Target’, painted in 1957. The image is constructed by collaged torn paper covered over with gloopy white encaustic. Looking at the messy surface, I was more aware of a sense of work than I was the presence of the artist’s hand. This is a significant and intentional shift, especially when contrasted with the surface of a Pollock painting, where the drips are controlled and carefully choreographed.

A second large ‘Target’ from 1961 furthers this line of thought. This target, also in encaustic, is blue, yellow, and red, and although the circles remain true, the paint is applied in a frantic slap-dash manner, as evident by the thread-like colored drips flecked haphazardly across the bottom of the painting. Again, the sense of work prevails. The message is clear; Johns is removing the romance and mysticism from his role as a painter, and questioning the possibility of artist as manual laborer. To Pollock he seems to say; sometimes a drip is just a drip.

Johns further questions the role of the Artist in his Device paintings, which depict perfectly crafted arcs along with the simple devices used to make them. Later, many also include imprints of his own arm in a similar capacity, which demands that we view the arm, and perhaps the artist as a whole, as a simple art-making device.

At this point in the exhibition, as I was considering becoming a true Johns believer, I came across four pieces of a different nature that would solidify Johns’ position in my esteem. The first was a stenciled drawing (reading Red Yellow Blue Yellow from top to bottom) entitled ‘Folly Beach’. Folly Beach! The site of many a happy holiday and the beach I visited when playing hooky from high school, and later, from work. This drawing, I soon discovered, was a study for a larger painting entitled ‘By the Sea’ which contains the aforementioned stenciled phrase and flashes of corresponding color amidst a muddle of steely blue-grey and murky green, which is undeniably the Atlantic Ocean.

Following this were the drawings ‘Hatteras’ -which is a device drawing depicting an arm cutting a light arc through a cloud of dark smudges in a clear reference to the beam projected by the historic Cape Hatteras light house- and ‘Edisto’- whose smudged footprint and adjacent clam shell could only mean a beach walk on Edisto Island, where Johns lived and worked for several years.

These discoveries delighted me; a South Carolina boy at heart! All was forgiven, but they also made me consider the work differently. What other subtle commentary could be hiding behind the bigger picture? Could the charcoal colored ‘Voice’ from 1965-67, whose solitary message is defiantly resilient despite the threat of literally being wiped out, perhaps be saying something about the civil rights movement? What about the original ‘White Flag’ (which was not present in the exhibition) from 1955? A white American flag; what other connotations could that possibly have? The mind boggles.

In all, I thought the exhibition was a success. The literature early on encourages viewers to ‘de-familiarize’ themselves with Johns’ work, and I think this is good advice. His reinterpretation of the Dada ready-mades and the ensuing dialog about what Art can be and who can make it has become so familiar to us that his early, ground breaking pieces seem almost quaint. When considered in context (post Rothko, Pollock, and Newman, and pre Pop Art), the work takes on a deliberateness and power that had previously been lost on me. I went into the exhibition with ignorance and skepticism, and came out enlightened. Isn’t that what Art is supposed to do?

Openings this weekend

Saturday February 17th

2 PM Artist Talk at Transformer, Lely Constantinople

6-9 PM Stanley Lewis, Duane Hanson, Robert Brady at Katzen Arts Center

6:30-8:30 PM G Fine Arts, Graham Caldwell

Thursday, February 15, 2007

With the opening of Factory Girl....

Which movie entertained you the most when it comes to portraying the art world?
Factory Girl
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Portrait Gallery 2006 Competition Review

Katherine Knight

I was disappointed in the Outwin Boochever 2006 Portrait competition at the National Portrait Gallery. I saw a lot of skillful painting, to be sure, but to what end? I went in hoping to gain some insight into the state contemporary portraiture, but found that most of the pieces relied too heavily on either art history or photography for my taste.

Offenders in the first category include Ginny Stanford, and Richard Weaver. Stanford’s gilded vertical triptych of Nicholas looks like some bizarre cross between an icon and a sterile CEO portrait, and unfortunately conveys no trace of the strong AIDS survivor described in her Artist Statement. I was particularly keen to see Weaver’s painting of Maggie Sullivan since he is the mentor of a dear friend. Unfortunately, the stylistic nostalgia is so overpowering that the sitter’s contemporary clothing seems out of place; and not in a good way.

There is also a sub-category of historical coattail riders; a gimmick so obvious that it overshadows all legitimate skill. Among these are William Lawrence’s Big Self-Portrait, whose Warholian scale, color, and funny hair are permissible only because the artist is clearly no more than 15 years old and doesn’t know any better, and Mark Dennis’ Portrait in the Composition of a Jackson Pollock Painting, Echo no. 10, 1951. Need I say more? There are also those who painted actual living historical figures; such as Paul Oxborough’s uninteresting Chuck Close, and Kathleen Gilje’s Robert Rosenblum as the Marquis de Pastoret; which is witty for the correlation it draws, but rendered in an unconvincing cut-and-paste manner.

There are two portraits of historical figures worth mentioning for their aptitude. The first is Carle Shi’s large, double portrait of Anthony Haden-Guest, which is beautifully executed, striped down, contemporary and thoughtful in an unselfconscious way, and Brenda Zlamany’s Portrait #83 in which a discerning Alex Katz stares critically out at the viewer for a change.

Among those who rely too heavily on photography are Bryan Drury’s Electro Bloodlines and Sarah Sohn’s Between Dialogues. It is clear to me, from the flat colors and all-too-familiar light source that both artists went to great pains to copy a photograph, and my question is ‘why bother?’

Two artists who address photography and film in a more complex way are Alan Caomin Xie and Burton Philip Silverman. Xie’s Still Image 24-Andrea resembles a de-laced TV still, and directly challenges the traditional relationship between portrait artist and sitter. Silverman turns assumptions about use of photographic sources upside down in Survivor by including the camera in his very painterly self-portrait. This begs us to question whether the camera is being used as a tool or a prop, and then to question the larger significance of ‘tool’ and ‘prop’. Earlier I asked ‘why bother’, and Silverman’s painting seems to counter ‘why bother questioning my camera when I can get this kind of result?’

There are a few truly original pieces in the competition. Among these are Zak Smith’s Girls in the Naked Girl Business: Aprella, which flirts dangerously with graphic design but ultimately escapes the stigma by the shear density and specificity of the image, and Steve DeFrank’s light-bright piece Mom and Dad- whose combination of material nostalgia and parental nudity is cheeky, hysterical, and a little disturbing. My favorite piece is Winter to Spring by Sara Pedigo. The piece is comprised of 47 match-box sized images painted chronologically on a single slat of wood; a format clearly referencing a film strip. However, instead of indulging in a straightforward narrative or some kind of motion sequence, Pedigo explores broader cinematic themes such as the development of character, place, and time. The result is genuine, light-hearted, and exquisite in its simplicity.

My hope for next year’s competition would be that more artists would attack the difficult issues facing portrait painting in the 21st century, and that less would rely on crutches and gimmicks.

Zoë Charlton and iona rozeal brown: Artist to Artist at Hirshhorn

Zoë Charlton and iona rozeal brown intimately reveal themselves and remind us to be aware of imitating social constructions
by Amy Misurelli-Sorensen

There is no line upon entering The Hirshhorn Museum today, no “headliner” draws only a small crowd, and Ryan Hill, manager of interpretive studies at the Hirshhorn, invites the audience to fill the first few rows of seats nearest the stage. Ryan Hill introduces Zoë Charlton and iona rozeal brown, two local women artists, and they begin a casual discussion on their work and the world.

Iona brown’s paintings are evocative of 17th and18th century Japanese woodcuts and rely on a multitude of resources from eastern and western cultures. She is constructing a “Warrior Aesthetic” where Samurais and Hip-Hop unite. Brown’s dual career as an artist and a D.J. inspires a body of work that represents Hip-Hop’s influences on the youth of Japanese culture. She captures Japanese youth mimicking the hip-hop scene in America through costume in black face, afros, baggy jeans, drawers, grills, logos, and attitudes. One painting depicts a teenage Asian girl in corn rolls; her smile reveals a grill and the audience are faced with a beautiful and pleasurable image of conflicting identities. Brown questions the history of the black face, the Yellow Negro, Warriors, trends, stereotypes in the media, and identity theft.

Charlton’s work explores similar issues with the face as identity. Black face and white face are explored in relation to the figure, usually female and nude. Unlike Brown, Charlton uses the figure to make a statement without clothes, but relies on props and symbols to convey a message. Her theme is politically and sexually charged in a playful way, yet loaded by serious undertones. In one image, for example, Lincoln’s Hat sits on top of the butt of a bent-over black woman. Brown states that Charlton’s work makes her want to laugh, but more willingly cry due to the historical burdens of women, specifically black women represented in Charlton’s work.

Brown and Charlton address sampling, appropriation, and the unquestionable significance these devices have in both of their work. Charlton believes sampling to be culturally free and that an artist is able to “sample” or use something and have the freedom to change its meaning, but not its character. Charlton clearly states that appropriation is a cultural denial. Brown stays committed to research, “owning it”, which is why she is critical on issues of social responsibility in her work. The devices of sampling and appropriation through process are as inseparable from the appropriation and sampling of cultures addressed in their work.

Brown and Charlton both rely on the media as a core source for research. They are critical about the media’s representations of culture and they exemplify a critical view of the media in their work. Charlton states, “We must be proud and critical of who we are and be aware of imitating the constructions of who we are.” Brown gets personal by confessing her shame and weakness to consumerism; she has recently purchased an ipod. This fall to consumerism has inspired a new body of work; ugly, teethed worms trying to drink Hypnotic painted on mirrors in the style of Japanese Animation. Brown tells us to fight the demons, stay strong.

Throughout this lecture, I cannot keep my eyes off iona and Zoë. Their clothing, body language, and personal exchanges exert confidence and pride. There is an element of magic to their presence. I am aware of my own “whiteness” and just as I begin to start aestheticizing these two black women artists, it is no longer about race. As I begin to share similar ideas on women and beauty, it is no longer about gender. We, all people, struggle with the complexities of identity. The discussion has taken a turn and it is not about separating, but instead about celebrating the commonalities of people. After the discussion, I find myself on an unintentional journey tracing back to my own history and personal experiences.

Richard Cleaver: Family Fictions Review

Katherine Knight

On the third floor of the AU museum there is in exhibit of embellished ceramic sculptures by Richard Cleaver entitled “Family Fictions”. The work deals with the repression of certain truths and desires in a rich style evocative of religious reliquaries and icons. The sculptures are complex and extraordinarily detailed, and invite you to study them carefully for clues to their meaning. Some clues are obvious. Most pieces have drawers, hidden compartments, or hinged heads that reveal truths about their subjects. For example Dreamer, which depicts a series of underwear-clad adolescents holding smaller versions of themselves standing atop a larger head whose retractable tongue reveals two men in a tender embrace, is clearly addressing anxieties about being openly gay. Other clues are more difficult to pin down. What’s with the heterosexual couple represented on the back? Or the tongue of fire burning atop the upper figure’s head? I decided to attend the Artist’s talk in hopes that Mr. Cleaver would explain some of these obscure references to me. Little did I suspect the web of concealment I was about to fall into.

It is always gratifying to learn that you were right about something. Many of Cleaver’s more personal pieces indeed deal with the experience of growing up gay in a ‘repressed’ and slightly ‘depressed’ middle-class Catholic family. He admits that the work, with its obsessive attention to detail, has always functioned as a sort of therapy. He also admits that he is unaware of the significance of many of his references, as he relies heavily on dreams and day-dreams for material. This leaves the viewer free to speculate on the significance of many stream-of-conscious details.

What interested me most; however, was not the way he dealt with the struggles he faced growing up, but the way he dealt with his family as a whole. In one such piece, Family Fiction- Arcadia 1, Cleaver shows us his parents in a coffin-like box, surrounded by all the things that consumed their adult lives: their children, their house, their smoking habits, their marriage, etc. Both the small house and the sculpture as a whole are being enveloped by gilded flames inspired, Cleaver admitted, by a mortgage-burning party hosted by his parents years ago. “I can say this because my mother isn’t here,’ he was quick to add.

In a second piece entitled Mother’s Life, Cleaver again depicts his mother in an uncomfortably cramped space, surrounded, or perhaps guarded by her twin sons, and supported by a frieze of clothespins; a symbol of her domestic drudgery. (Cleaver himself appears in the piece as a small gilded icon.) A similar piece, Spring Mother, which claims to deal with the plantation past of the land now partially occupied by his studio, shows a black woman who is literally enslaved by the children she cares for; twin girls this time.

Similar examples abound: Mother’s Tale deals with the discovery, at a friend’s funeral, that this friend was not the British ballerina she had always claimed to be. Cleaver made a point to add that the woman in question looked nothing like the woman depicted in the sculpture. Mars, God of War deals with the current war in Iraq, yet the soldiers wear uniforms from WWI. When asked about this decision Cleaver replied that he just liked the WWI uniforms better.

I got the feeling from Cleaver’s talk that he is completely unaware of the irony. It’s as though he’s unwilling or unable to depict anything that will hurt, embarrass, or step on any toes, and therefore nearly every piece is at least twice removed from his actual message.(The exceptions seem to be Swim Team and Hair Shirt, which deal with his personal experiences in high school, and are fairly straightforward.) He addresses repression with repression (the hidden compartments), and then represses it again (disguising the subject, addressing one issue through another, obfuscating the imagery, etc). Far from being pathetic, it’s actually quite touching to witness Cleaver’s struggle to work through complicated personal relationships in a manner that is entirely considerate and gentle.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tim Hyde at G Fine Art

by Geoffrey Aldridge

The recent exhibition of photography at G Fine Art Gallery is a cohesive display of artists using architecture and landscape to create an endless field of distortion and manipulation. The ambiguity in the work falls on the imagery and disconnect of what is seemingly referential.

Tim Hyde’s work of “architectural” forms is allusive and generic in a way that specificity is lost in the image: the building, parking lot or window could belong to any western country’s’ landscape. The most interesting, the image of a parking lot and what seems to be some type of discount super store (Wal-Mart, Target, etc), is surrounded by a blackening sky and absent landscape. The lights in the parking lot become illuminated palm trees that give the bare hint of what type of structure exists beneath.

Referencing the notion of banality, the level of curiosity in Mr. Hyde’s work is similar to digging for a sweater in the back of a dark closet. Why distort the image to a level of allusive location and range? The work’s ambiguity attempts to isolate the generic qualities of architecture to blur the boundaries between what is everyday and everywhere. The isolation and manipulation of the color field surrounding the imagery becomes an atmospheric haze.

Hyde is conscious of contemporary photography and it’s identity crisis to look like painting. Actually the crisis doesn’t lie with photography, but painting. Since this is the case, are we inclined to engage paintings’ vernacular and history when discussing Mr. Hyde’s work?

The influence of painting is apparent in Hyde’s work, referencing artists such as Turner and Ruscha. The flat forms of blocky mass represent architecture and landscape in a way similar to Ed Ruscha’s work. Similar in distortion whether it’s perspective of compositionally, Hyde creates an ambiguous relationship between the forms and its surrounding atmosphere.

What I understand about Mr. Hyde’s work is the transcendent quality of the imagery to question our environment of everyday experiences and our physical relationship to our surroundings. That’s clearer to me because of the separation between the natural atmosphere and the developed architectural forms. It’s within that contrast that allows for an interceding viewer to respond.

Pedagogical Vertigo: The Paintings and Drawings of Stanley Lewis

Tim Campbell

I have not yet met Stanley Lewis, but I felt compelled to write about the work in his retrospective at the Katzen Arts Center because I have recently become aware of his presence hiding behind my education as a painter. While viewing the show, I began to feel as if I had always been receiving his teachings second-hand, via professors who had worked with him or had been taught by him in the past. Mr. Lewis’s presence has been felt at the Art Institute of Chicago, Kansas City Art Institute, Yale, Boston University, the New York Studio School, and American University, among others; he has zigzagged across many of the MFA and BFA programs between Chicago and New York.

My first exposure to Lewis’s work was as an undergraduate; one of his pencil drawings was featured in a show of works on paper at my college art gallery. The same drawing that introduced me to Lewis as an undergrad is featured in his current retrospective. As I viewed and reviewed it last week, I experienced a vivid flood of memories of the exact same chunks of paper and glue, the exact same slashes into the flesh of the parchment block, the exact same cords and tendons of graphite which form such neurotic networks of branches and bramble. These drawings have a very real way of staying in your memory, because they reproduce with passionate detail the parts of landscape that art usually ignores. Lewis is incredibly capable when it comes to bringing life to his work; his edgy lines not only represent the trees he is so engaged in picturing, they become palpable, physical presences that tremble and dance before the viewer.

Much like the paintings of Pollock, this work has a physical strength to it. Physicality of material and the physical manifestation of process are clearly primary concerns for Lewis while he is painting. Unlike Pollock, however, Lewis does not erase every pictorial trace of inspiration, context, or source. He loves light-filled landscapes (there were very few cloudy, stormy or nocturnal pictures), and he is very serious about maintaining a commitment to what can be reproduced from observation. This obsession brings his work close to Giacometti’s portrait paintings. And like Giacometti, the point of these paintings seems to be for the viewer to watch Lewis trying to get it right, trying to capture what he sees in paint. It’s about the process of finding a balance between expressive mark and pictorial responsibility.

While made with incredible skill, pure craft cannot be the only goal of the work because Lewis deliberately staples fresh canvas into his paintings instead of sewing or pasting new portions, which would offer a smoother and less dramatic shift in surface. In addition, he deliberately shows the build-up of obscene amounts of paint instead of scraping the canvas down, washing it, and reworking it. The build-up of paint and the staples have another function, as well: they make the paintings more concerned with honesty than with beauty. Lewis wants to show us how he gets to a finished painting; he doesn’t want to hide his process behind a nice finish or a nice view. This honesty does not allow for a tremendous amount of variety in the paintings, but it is an honesty that I respect.

Sometimes, the paintings do not hold my interest because of the subject matter. The works show a surprising silence when it comes to commenting on the subjects they depict. The places that Lewis shows us are everyday corner stores, chain link fences, backyards and commonplace fields. They are familiar; they do not offer any surprising events buried within this familiarity, nor are they transferred into the world of metaphor or allegory. Since so much attention is spent upon the medium of paint and the process of picture-making, it is impossible to imagine these locations without the presence of Mr. Lewis. His intensity and psyche are necessary components to this work, and therefore he enters into the content.

Overall, the show displays the career of an intense artist obsessed with understanding the landscapes that he finds himself in. The paintings work best when they erupt into energetic fields of mark that compete with the spatial illusions of landscape, and the drawings come across as the stronger works because of how Lewis amazingly maps every single branch of whatever tree he is looking at. The locations found in the paintings are portrayed as they are seen by the artist; that is, as visual information for a painting. The role of these locations, or their greater importance, is left up to the viewer.

If you are interested in seeing the work of a masterful picture-maker whose main concern is the construction of paintings, then this show will be a treat for its spectacular intensity and unusual techniques. If not, then the show might prove to be uninteresting because of the commonplace qualities of Lewis’s chosen vistas. Either way, this retrospective shows the dedication and achievements of a highly unusual and unique landscape artist.

Which recently exhibited artist has been most influential on your work?
Matthew Barney
Jasper Johns
Joseph Cornell
Stanley Lewis
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The National Museum of the American Indian: Under the Flip-Flop

written by Cory Oberndorfer

The National Museum of the American Indian is visible from across Washington, D.C.’s Mall area. The curvilinear limestone building reminds me of how Frank Lloyd Wright stole many of his ideas from nature’s own architecture, combined with the technological advances that allow for the shapely form. As I stepped toward the front entrance, I couldn’t help but notice that the shape of the building resembled an upside-down flip-flop. It was quite unfortunate.

Once inside, I headed to the 4th floor and worked my way down. What I had expected to be a place dedicated to the rich history and culture of the native peoples was actually a sad tale of their disappearance. There were no totem poles on display, no pottery, few arrowheads, few figurines. Instead, there was a display consisting of a wide array of guns. The guns that were used to kill the American Indians and wipe out the buffalo--their main source of food. Around the corner there was a display of bibles. There were nearly 75 bibles that had been translated into indigenous languages in order to convert the natives and renounce their own faiths. The oddest aspect of seeing these bibles was the fact that they all seemed to be new editions. None had signs of age, and all were closed and did not allow the viewers to see the words inside. Yet another display was a case holding many styles of the swords used to kill the American Indians. These swords easily pierced Indian shields, as they did not have adequate defenses. There was also a great amount of information given on the 367 treaties made with Native Americans as they were pushed off their land. As I looked around, there were very few artifacts on display that were created by American Indians. Even the weaker museums I have visited in the past have had better displays. My disappointment set in deeper as I realized this was not a museum dedicated to celebrating rich cultures, nor was it a proper memorial to dead and dying cultures. Instead, it was a shrewd guilt trip. I was very surprised not to find replicas of smallpox-laden blankets on display.

Hoping to find something more interesting, I made my way to the 3rd floor, which was dedicated to celebrating the Native Americans living among us in the 21st century. This level was packed with monitors and video projections of interviews and stories, but it was nearly impossible to focus on each one, as it had to compete with the video being played nearby. An area was dedicated to the prominence of gaming casinos on reservations, a bottom-of-the-barrel way of creating revenue. A small room was filled with examples of contemporary art. It seemed very wrong that the most prominent display of Native American artwork in the building consisted of a basket made of 16mm film, a mask built of spatulas and dental mirrors and some Chuck Taylors embroidered with beadwork honoring Aw-day children. At this point I wanted desperately to leave, but felt obligated to experience the remaining floors.

The second level is a museum store. You can find sacred patterns screenprinted onto pink children’s shirts or DVD’s of tribal dances.

The main floor has a large theater for special events, another museum store, which I couldn’t bear to go into, and a café.

As I left the building I passed an area no larger than my front yard that was landscaped to imitate natural wetlands. There was a small pond with a family of ducks huddled together for warmth in the semi-frozen water. I couldn’t decide who I felt sorrier for--the ducks, the American Indians or myself. I believe we were all cheated.

How was your experience at the National Museum of the American Indian?
I really learned about the Native American.
The stereotypes I already had are finally verified.
I am left indifferent to the plight of indians, but I sure enjoyed opening the drawers that light up!
I was disgusted by the experience, but the DVD on drumming will make up for it.
Free polls from

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Veron Urdarianu at Mitchell-Innes Nash by Sharon Servilio

Veron Urdarianu, Mitchell-Innes and Nash

The dialogue between painting and other media, such as film or installation, has been a subject of interest for many artists. For Veron Urdarianu, it is the relationship between painting and architecture that merits exploration. This exhibition calls to mind the work of his predecessor in this endeavor, the idealistic painter/architect Hundertwasser. Though Urdarianu seems to share at least some of Hundertwasser’s vision, he unquestionably asserts his own interpretation and ideas.

Hundertwasser promoted the idea that architecture, like painting, should be an individualistic enterprise allowing for freedom of personal expression. Each person should design and build his or her own unique home rather than settling for the thousands of identical, oppressive dwellings whose style was dictated by the two-headed monster of capitalist expediency and communist conformity. His own response when designing buildings was to reject streamlined modernism with its slavery to functionalism and lack of expressiveness, and instead adopted a style that included bright colors, curvy lines, and a high degree of ornamentation.

Urdarianu’s architectural ideas, expressed through toy-sized models scattered in the center of the gallery floor, might at first glance seem more compatible with modernist aesthetics. The houses are nondescript and made almost entirely of hard edges. Looking closer, however, it is clear that Urdarianu is concerned with individual expression, but incorporates it with function rather than considering these two concepts diametrically opposed. For instance, parts of the houses are movable, including floors and roofs that shift to expand the living space or transform the building in some way. The artist has noted that these changes can be made to suit the imagined dweller’s mood. His titles also allude to the individual dweller: “House for a Steady Person,” “House for a Solitary Person 2.” It is interesting to consider Urdarianu’s emphasis on the individual in conjunction with the knowledge that he grew up in Communist Romania.

Urdarianu adopts neither the sleek modernist aesthetic nor Hundertwasser’s ornamental aesthetic. For materials he uses what look like discarded scraps of unfinished wood, plastic, and corrugated plexi. He makes no attempt at a clean finish, leaving screws and hinges exposed and components jutting out on all sides. The curious effect is that all sides of his sculptures look like the back of something, and one expects to find a more resolved facade on the other side. Oddly enough, this might be what houses would look like if Hundertwasser’s dream of self-built homes were realized. Especially through its use of corrugated material, the sculpture also alludes to those individuals in extreme poverty who out of necessity must build their own homes with whatever materials they can find.

In looking for the connection between the paintings and the sculptures, a key component is the spatial shifting evident in both. While the mini-houses contain parts that actually move to create literal spatial shifts, the paintings create this effect pictorially. The artist tilts the landscape up towards the picture plane, while showing houses, objects, and people in traditional perspective. Where this is most successful, as in “The Return of Longing” and “House with a History,” the landscape looms ominously and creates a psychological space. It seems that Urdarianu is particularly interested in this idea: how psychological space is formed in both painting and architecture.

Without the context of the exhibition as a whole, the individual paintings would most likely lose much of this content. Most would probably seem simply half-hearted amalgamations of various elements of modernist painting such as Diebenkorn landscapes, minimalist stripes, and the neutral palette of Morandi. It could be that Urdarianu sees his body of work as forming a whole with each of its components co-dependent, but if he wants them to stand on their own as well, he will have to strengthen the individual pieces.