Thursday, January 31, 2008

Violence and Tranquility: Tony Shore at C. Grimaldis Gallery

Tony Shore, "Tracy Adkins Park," acrylic on velvet

By Zac Willis

I want to discuss the work of Tony Shore. His current show is at C. Grimaldis Gallery in Baltimore, MD and is entitled Violence & Tranquility. The work is partly based off things Shore has seen in his lifetime, a secondary component of the work being still life paintings of fish and other miscellaneous items. The work itself is impressive; it is not necessarily the content by itself but the materials that are used to make the work and how they can be used to contrast what the subject matter is in the work.

Upon first glance, it looks like pastel or paint on black paper, but after closer inspection I realized that it is paint on black velvet. Once I had figured out what the materials were, I was able to start looking into the paintings to question the reasons for the velvet. Why the black velvet for the background color? Why street violence with velvet that I or someone else might associate with wealth, or perhaps associate it with painting done in the 70’s? I kept finding myself coming back to these specific questions as I looked at the work. Why the velvet? How does that take these paintings and elevate them or lower them in terms of content and style? For me, the velvet elevates them above linen or canvas. I am drawn into that texture that velvet can give you. These paintings would be totally different if they were just painted black canvas versus the velvet. The surface on which the paint sits gives them depth and life. This is enhanced by the velvet. But let us not forget the question I am struggling to answer; what is the main role of the velvet? I am sure that there is a reason, or a least I hope there is a reason other than just wanting to use velvet for a body of work. The content and the way they are painted tells me that velvet was used deliberately and for a specific reason and this is why I keep coming back to this work. I can list my own reasons why Shore would use velvet but it is probably not why Shore used it.

I will give Shore some credit- the paintings are very appealing. When they hang on the wall they command your attention. There is nothing else to do but stare at them and get lost in the use of light and color. But that is what makes them so successful and bad at the same time. Shore draws the viewer in with his use of light and colors in such a way that you forget what you are seeing, so you find the paintings too amazing; however, this is the moment I feel the paintings start to fail. They have successfully pulled the viewer in, but they are so seductive that while I was engaged with them I forgot what I was looking at, scenes of violence and dead fish. I had to take myself out of it a couple of times because I was getting into the colors and lighting so much, but when I stopped myself, I switched gears and started to look at content only, and I saw what I hope the work is really about, the violence and death associated to the streets in Baltimore. If I look at work from this perspective only I really start to generate questions. If these were things he saw in his lifetime was he a participant in the acts or was he the one being beaten? Is Shore tying to raise awareness of these acts that I assume are still going on in the city today? If so, is generating paintings that are very seductive and elegant and then showing them to a limited and select group of people the best means to do this?

The work is good, but is it good enough to be able to keep being made? I am not sure if Shore has done works before on velvet, scenes of street violence, fish heads or similar content. Where do you take the work from here? He seems to be getting notoriety for this particular body of work. I just hope that he, like so many artists, does not fall into the trap of making work the same way over and over again. It would be a shame to see the velvet used over and over again to the point where it has lost the power of what makes Violence & Tranquility so commanding.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Jumping In Art Museums

A Self-serving Essay About My Art Jumping Blog

By Allison Reimus

It has often been said that one will "jump for joy" when exuberantly happy. That is exactly what three young Midwesterners did two years ago. We were in the tiny mountain town of Skykomish, Washington (population 208) for a job that allowed us to travel the United States caring for the nation's only traveling art museum on a train, Artrain USA. Exhausted and a bit surly from repeatedly answering the same questions from the public for eleven hours straight, we congregated on the back of the caboose. These meetings were usually reserved for making fun of people, sharing a cigarette, or making our dinner plans. This day was different. A heavy silence surrounded our tired bodies and we stared off into the distance, following the railroad tracks as far back as we could see. It was dusk and the last glimmering of pink sun was reflecting brightly off of the metal. It was this track that brought us the farthest west of Chicago that any of us had ever been. It was this train, Artrain USA, which served as the catalyst for our friendship. We quickly got over ourselves and realized how good we had it. We were lucky. We were happy. We jumped for joy and took pictures of it.

To "jump for joy" is the basic premise on which the Jumping in Art Museums blog was founded. Very simply, while visiting art museums and galleries, I am so excited by what I see that it is impossible to not jump for joy. However, "art jumping" as I like to call it, means different things to different people. Take for example the story of Ms. Lesley Stanley, a writer from Chicago. Lesley has been an art appreciator for her entire life and an avid art jumper for about 6 months now:

AR: Lesley, you've contributed many art jumps to my blog. Can you speak about what drives you, a non-artist, to jump for art?

LS: I might not always understand why exactly a piece of work is in a museum. All I know is that I like it. The colors, the scale, and the way it makes me feel. It's almost like the work of art chooses me. When that happens, I jump.

AR: Has art jumping helped in any way to contribute to your knowledge of art history?

LS: Actually, yeah it has. I've noticed that after I jump for a work of art that I am more likely to remember the title and the artist who made it. It's like the jump makes a special place in my memory for the work. The next time I visit the museum, I tell whomever I am with about the jump I did for it, the way the picture turned out, etc. Not to mention, I am more likely to visit an art museum now- just so I can get some new art jumping pictures.

AR: Obviously you can't take a picture of yourself art jumping. Do you always visit art museums with the same friend? What does art jumping do to enhance that relationship, if anything?

LS: I don't always go with the same friend. Some people are great to jump with because they are good with a camera and are capable of capturing the jump. It is important to have a good photographer with you. It is also important to go with someone who is up for sneaking around the security guards. The most memorable art jumping afternoon was with my new roommate. She was a bit shy at first, you know, worried about getting kicked out. After she got over the fear, we really had a great time. It was good for us to bond in that way so early on in our lease.

AR: What does it do for you to see your art jumps posted on the JAM blog?

LS: It might sound a little self-serving, but I just enjoy seeing my efforts posted on the web (the blog is looking great, by the way). I e-mail my friends once you've posted the newest jump, too. They really get a kick out of seeing the pictures.

Lesley brings up an important element of JAM. She referred to seeing her jumping pictures on the web as "self-serving". She is not alone. There have been other contributors who submit photos on this very premise. In the last two weeks, I have had three different artists submit photos to the blog where they are jumping for their own work, or to announce a show they are participating in. Let it be known that I have absolutely no problem with this. In fact, I encourage it. I think it is important for young artists to be able to promote themselves in any way they can and I am happy to help.

I would not be honest if I said I had not thought of how the blog may benefit me in some way. Let's take for example a recent post highlighting AU's own Cory Oberndorfer. His pictures were amazing and he wanted people to see them. He linked to JAM on an internet networking site so that his friends could see his jumps. In turn, all of those people who visited the JAM blog for Cory's sake now know who I am. It is a win-win. Another recent example comes from last weekend’s trip to Baltimore galleries. While visiting Paperwork Gallery, a group jump (almost the entire first year class) was organized to honor a work done by Zoë Charlton. Embarrassed as Zoë may have been and as crazy as the gallery owners thought I was, they will not forget the experience. Now when people visit JAM, they will learn about the newly opened Paperwork Gallery by clicking on the link I have provided with the photo. More people learn about them and they won’t forget the girl who made people jump in their gallery. Once again, a win-win situation for all involved.

Art jumping is just plain awesome. I encourage you to jump for whatever brings you joy (and if that happens to be art, then please take a picture and submit it to JAM!)

Jumping in Art Museums can be found at

AU's first year MFA students jump for a painting made by their instructor Tim Doud.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Tony Shore at C. Grimaldis Gallery

Tony Shore, "Beat Down," acrylic on velvet

By Kate Gartrell

Walking into Tony Shore’s show at Grimaldis Gallery, the first thought in my mind was: “Goya.” Shore’s paintings are dark – both literally and figuratively – but not for the reasons you might first expect. A still life with a sheep’s head was the first image to enter my line of vision, recalling immediately Goya’s painting of two sheep heads shown in the Guggenheim’s Spanish painting show last spring (one of the best paintings in that show). In their strongest moments, Shore’s imagery, palette and compositional strategies echo those of the Spanish master, but his choice of materials brings something entirely different to the work, speaking to insidious violences particular to our time.

Shore paints in acrylic on black velvet. You don’t realize this until you walk up to the paintings. What appears from afar as an overall softening of edges is explained upon approach by the velvet surface. But there is nothing soft in Shore’s subject matter, and this juxtaposition of subject and material appears to be the crux of his slightly depressing yet realistic content. I got bothered in front of a still life with a pig’s head, glass and candle stick because the glass and the metal candlestick appeared made of the same stuff as the pig’s head – nothing of the solidity or coldness of glass or metal was present. In scenes of young men beating each other up in nighttime alleys or playgrounds, the velvet acts similarly, softening the edges of forms in a way that seemed at odds with the subject. Shore paints thinly to create this effect, and it is clear he is a good enough painter that this application is not an accident of the material but a choice to let the velvet have its voice.

We are left to wonder, as I did for most of an afternoon: why velvet? What does it mean to treat these subjects in a kitsch medium? Why does he want me to think of a velvet Elvis while contemplating sheep’s heads or street violence or an old man alone in a dark room with an i.v. and a catheter? I think Shore wants us to be aware that the real violence of our times is the disguising of violence, either by our desensitization through overexposure or Hollywood glamorization, or by its hiddenness in forms not obvious at first. Insidious violence may be the most violent of all, because it can act on us longer before we are aware of it (if ever we become aware of it). In Shore’s paintings, velvet acts like a kind of soundproofing, muffling the sharp visual cries that might otherwise issue from the works. Just as kitsch, represented by velvet, is pervasive, so, Shore suggests, are the forces in popular culture and media that dull us to violence and then lull us to complacency over our desensitization.

“Violence and Tranquility” is a comment on painting in the age of technology and mass media. Goya’s contemporaries may have been truly disturbed by his paintings and etchings – as some of us today still are by violent photographs, video and film. On the one hand, Shore seems to question the ability of painting to move contemporary audiences, making paintings that are nostalgic elegies for days when painting on canvas was a strong enough battle cry for the masses. At the same time, his skill and sensitivity as a painter lurks so close to the velvet surface that we sense the images are there in full force, imbued with a truly felt, painterly touch, if only we could take the velvet out of them.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Delight at the American Visionary Art Museum

By Katherine Sable

A Friday afternoon trip to the American Visionary Art Museum proved to be quite the eye opening experience for me. I found myself browsing through each room much differently than I do in more traditional art museums, such as the National Gallery of Art. It is clear that this establishment does not follow typical museum trends, and I was less distracted by wall mounted paragraphs and info lines. I let my eyes wander and simply take in the amazing art. A surprise was found around each corner, glistening gems and mirrored surfaces, and satisfying over-ornamented sculptures with glitter and all that glistens. This was right up my alley.

As I made my way to the top floor of the museum via the impressive grand staircase, I began to ask myself what this place was really all about. I kept repeating the word “visionary” in my mind. I began making connections to my very straightforward understanding of outsider art and during this experience, I began to see fabulous examples of this pure inner vision that I have heard so much about, but felt I had never really seen before. There was no apparent response to the art world; there was only a driving force, maybe a belief system, that compelled these artists to make authentic, honest paintings and sculptures. I started looking all around for the particular innocence in this type of art-making, but as I reached the top floor to the show “OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Delight,” I questioned my notions all over again.

OCD is one of AVAM’s permanent exhibitions that showcases artists who are driven by their compulsion to make art. I was drawn in by the title, expecting something novel from clinically disordered individuals fighting battles everyday with different aspects of an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Instead, I was confronted with the exploitation of an artist with Down syndrome, one who was clinically depressed her entire life- an introvert, and another raised by a mother who was emotionally unavailable. Each of these women lived with difficulty, produced possibly tragedy-driven or inspired work, but may not have been consistently driven by compulsion. The connection between artists was in the word “compulsive,” but after seeing the exhibition, I found it much less interesting, and a bit misleading.

I have to say that I wasn’t turned off by all the work, but rather the structure of the show and even more so, the trajectory of the show. I enjoyed Judith Ann Scott’s sculptures, the artist with Down syndrome who had been institutionalized her entire life. After her twin sister rescued her from the institution as an adult, Judith began making incredible sculptures out of yarn, found objects, foam, and fibers- basically anything she could get her hands on. She was a kleptomaniac, one veritable compulsive amongst the included artists. Judith Ann Scott had a burning desire to steal things and hoard them away. Influenced by craft events that she and her sister frequented, she began binding the stolen objects into the center of her sculpture pieces, hiding them, as if in the center of a coconut. The need for her to wrap her objects up, binding them into a work of art moved me, and the sheer monumentality of the sculptures made this artwork powerful. However, I could not help but find this entire grouping of Judith Ann Scott’s work questionably exploitive. I have to say, at least with this part of the OCD show, a driving force of the work was an actual clinical obsession.

Moving on to Zona Gordon’s work, I was compelled to move close, and then step back as I tried to put together stories of each rag doll presented behind glass. The peculiar little fabric dolls lacked arms and legs, and they resembled many different archetypes of female figures. The sewing seemed intimate, and the different textiles used to create each doll gave a small clue to the decisions this private woman made. Because Zona Gordon was a loner, a creative type who preferred to be in the comforts of her own home, she was included in this exhibition. I had a peek into the life of a woman who wouldn’t let people in. Was her work the result of a compulsive disorder, or merely her lifestyle?

Lastly, the works by Ted Gordon, which seem to be the museum’s prize possession, are included in this presentation. A hint of OCD is credited for Gordon’s ability to generate a prolific and focused body of work, and to the Visionary Museum, this is a seemingly good reason to have this whole exhibition. His drawings of faces made by pressing a ballpoint pen deeply into cheap school grade papers to create a variety of linear patterns could easily be called doodles. In fact, he did consider them doodles, and I agree. Perhaps it was his lifestyle and challenges which gain this extra consideration for doodles, and make them art.

Everything Is Illuminated: A review of the National Museum of the American Indian

By Lana Stephens

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington DC is illuminated. I had not yet visited the museum located on the national mall before last week. Construction began on the museum in September of 1999, making it a fairly young addition to the Smithsonian institute. One might presume that the word "institute" or "institution" does not bode well with the American Indian population. I suppose the word itself sat heavily with me as I perused through the space allocated to the preservation of our nation’s first inhabitants.

Museums always have an “air” about them; cold, stale, uninviting, scientific, sterile. Shiny glass often keeps prying hands at bay. The NMAI arose through the collaborative efforts of Architectural firms (Jones and Jones) and the Native American Design Collaborative. The building has an Eastern orientation reflecting the solar calendar and worship of the Sun God. The bottom floor boasts an impressive “welcome hall” rotunda. The ceilings form a dome with an open center to let light in, again making reference to the sun. Light infiltrates the entire museum, whether it is sunlight, moonlight or even starlight.

As I walked up the curved stone staircases to reach the fourth and final floor, I noticed the metal guide rail was warm. Light tracts had been installed underneath the banisters to make them both visible and warm to the touch, thus less foreign and uninviting. The fourth floor is home to a star lit, lunar pathway that guides visitors around the rooms displaying ceremonial dress and artifacts. The starry ceiling stole my attention however, as I could not stop staring upward at the incandescent display. I remarked to a fellow visitor that it felt “magical.” Then I smacked myself. I had been lured and wooed by the architect’s bag of tricks. I recall more about the space and the feeling of the museum than any facts or figures I may have digested. It was all so…enticing, so welcoming. The curved walls, lack of any corners and muted “earth tones” made me feel at ease. I even felt warm and cozy with the snow raining down outside. Wait…what about the people?!

I watched a 13 minute movie presented by the museum to learn more about THE PEOPLE. The theater was round with inset benches. In the center was a tree-like structure onto which the film was projected. Everyone sat in a circle. There was no hierarchy to the seating. The film exhibited various aspects of tribal cultures. I did in fact learn that there are a multitude of tribes present in the United States. I was fascinated by the ceremonial songs and dances and the festivals that still take place every year. Just as I was taking it all in, the ceiling commanded my attention once again. I had just gotten over the glowing rock/orb in the middle of the theater when a forest encroached upon the scene. The domed ceiling had a forest full of greenery and wildlife projected onto it. “Ahh, ooh.” Magical. Wait, what did that woman in the film just say?

The NMAI captivated my attention. I’m just not sure it was in the right way. The architectural space is amazing and feels nothing like an ordinary “run of the mill ole museum”. It evokes a sense of openness and a presence of nature. Several American Indian tribes provided ideas and feedback in regard to the building of the space, and their influence is felt tremendously throughout the museum. However, I would have liked to have seen more artifacts from antiquity. The museum informs us that American Indians have inhabited the United States for thousands of years, yet most of the objects on display are from the 19th and 20th century. I would love to have learned more about what the artifacts and household objects on display were used for. Little information save for a tribe name and date was given. The collection the museum houses is absolutely massive; however, only a fraction of it is currently on display. Why is this? In addition, I would have enjoyed my visit much more without all of the glass dioramas. Display cases housed mannequins dressed in tribal costumes engaging in “everyday activities.” I felt that the act of “looking in” exoticized the American Indian people. The notion of “other” is something tribes have been continuously fighting against in life and in the arts. In addition to feeling guilty for watching the elaborately clothed mannequins, I in turn felt more like an outsider. And the museum felt more like an institution.

My experience visiting the museum was one of mixed emotions. Whereas I respect the integrity of the architecture, I am repelled by the lack of focus and presentation in the exhibitions. Though the architecture and usage of light are impressive, these things overshadow what the museum is truly about; the people.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


The Derby Project and Cory Oberndorfer present Novelty, a collection of murals in both Rotunda Galleries.

Closing Reception
Thursday, January 17th 6-8pm
Katzen Arts Center
4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC