Saturday, December 29, 2007


A Mournful Note from Cory Oberndorfer.

I always hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in the world of popular culture all good things must come to an end. Perhaps you all remember the height of Snoop Dogg's "izzle" talk. First it was clever and funny and unique to Snoop. Then everyone jumped on the bandwagon. Then one day I heard the "izzle" death knoll in the form of Fran Drescher's annoyingly screachy voice in an Old Navy commercial. Don't remember? Here's a remix of that moment.

Restizzle in Peacizzle Snoopizzle Speakizzle.

Unfortunately I must announce the news that another fad is quickly nearing its demise. Graffiti. But before you get too weepy, realize that the graffiti boom has had quite a long run. What we know as modern graffiti raged in the mid to late '80s as artists covered entire New York commuter trains. The graffiti culture has always been tied to subculture movements like hip-hop, punk and skating. Then along came Banksy. In recent years he has been gaining international attention with his guerilla art movement, often armed with only a can of spraypaint, a stencil, and a humorous yet biting message.
But then the suits took notice. People like graffiti. Paint drips = street cred.
Don't believe me? Walk into any Urban Outfitters, a store that quickly eclipsed Hot Topic as the largest offender of retailers selling out a subculture phenomenon. In Urban Outfitters you are sure to find graffiti influence on everything from tennis shoes to t-shirts, but most importantly you will find no fewer than a dozen books on graffiti. For a while I enjoyed the fact that street art was becoming available for public viewing. I was even excited recently to see Vanina Holasek Gallery in New York's Chelsea district presenting a show of Banksy's work. As I stood in the gallery looking at the price list of his work I realized that no matter how it's presented, the rebellious nature of his work was dead to me.
Then, several days later I found an even stronger message that graf is dead. It came in the form of a Rambo movie poster for Stallone's new movie. Yes, the 61 year old actor is cashing in on yet another sequel in the form of John Rambo, gratuitous defender of the oppressed, voice of the little man, and co-opter of hip stencil street art.

Need more proof? The Sundance Film Festival has long encouraged the voice of the creative artist. In recent years they have branched beyond film to include other sorts of media arts. In January they will be hosting the Graffiti Research Lab as they present L.A.S.E.R. TAG. L.A.S.E.R. Tag is a Weapon of Mass Defacement (WMD) that gives individuals the power to communicate their thoughts on buildings, ski slopes, and snowbanks, using a 60-milliwatt laser and a big-ass projector. The G.R.L. will bomb screenings, party events, and other random targets for the duration of the Festival. I'm sure these hard core subversive street artists weren't lured into the festival by the promise of big money at what is known as the largest and most expensive Hollywood shopping mall. I'm sure their messages and technology won't be exploited to sell the latest vodka or designer underwear. I'm sure they'll "keep it real".

But who knows...maybe I'm wrong.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WACK!: A conversation

From: N To: Kate Subject: WACK! Conversation Date: Mon, 5 Nov 2007

So we both went to see WACK! this weekend, and we want to try out this "conversation" via e-mail about the show.

Here is what I know about feminism: it’s about equality between the sexes. Women should be able to have the same jobs, benefits, options, as men, and they should also be able to choose to have a family, if that is what they want. I am aware that there were some different periods within the feminist movement, and I know feminism gained a lot of attention due to the actions of bra-burners and the beliefs of “femi-nazi’s,” but I was never under the impression that these more extreme philosophies were the main crux of feminism.

I have heard that the older generations of feminist activists feel frustrated with our (your and my) generation of women, because we are (supposedly) ignoring the struggles that feminists before us endured to give us rights we take for granted. There really IS a stigma attached to feminism within our generation, as far as if you label yourself a "feminist," you are automatically thought of as a man-hater. I guess this is my disclaimer in regards to what may be my ignorance about the specifics of feminism, its mandates and its history.

However, I have felt for a long time that I have a very organic awareness of patriarchal mechanisms within our society, and I usually feel angry when I sense these things at work. I want women to be treated as men's equals (no, I don't think this is happening 100% of the time, everywhere in the world), and because of this, I would label myself a "feminist." With that said, I felt overwhelmed by the show- in a really good way. There were a few works (one, especially) that I felt affected by in a multitude of ways that don't often happen for me in institutional spaces. I also found myself wondering about a few of the works whether, if the same work were created by a man, it would still be considered "feminist art." I don't know, but I think the answer may be lurking in that too-expensive-for-my-starving-art-student-budget catalog.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Do feminist themes have a place in your work? How much do you know about feminism, and is our conversation hurt by my ignorance? (you don't have to answer all these, just some questions to mull over...)

From: Kate To: N Subject: RE: WACK! Conversation Date: Thu, 8 Nov 2007
Dear N,
Ok. Here I am, quite in the same boat as you in terms of (il)literacy with "feminist" discourse and history of feminism.
But. At the WACK! show, I had a strong sense of being confronted with a history of which I feel part as a woman.

In response to your question, I do consider myself a feminist. As long as women are paid less than men for doing the same job, I will consider myself a feminist. I feel a debt of gratitude to feminists of my mother's generation for opening the doors that they did. WACK! brought that historical sense to a personal level as I imagined my mother coming of age with all these crazy things going on around her (which still even to me today), having those pin straight 70's hairdos and marching on Washington. (Just as an aside, that personalizing of history - or empathizing with peoples of the past - seems crucial for social change as well as for art; at the film screening this morning on anti-war protest post-9-11, the director talked about the draft as the most powerful agent, in terms of making the political personal, feeding the radicalism of the Vietnam era (in contrast to today).)

So I'll talk a bit about your question, "is there room in my art for feminist ideas?"
In terms of painting: My ideas about painting tend to be fairly universalist and gender neutral, but I recognize that "painting" as such is historically weighted as a "male" tradition. Certainly conventional wisdom about modernist painting and painters has not changed that. It seems partly the legacy of feminism that we are more able today to see where gender has been assigned to a thing - as when masculinity has been assigned to painting. But even this assignation hints at a more involved gender dynamic. Former professors of mine, modernists to the core, have referred to painting as "of the body, by the body, for the body." As much as the physical has been assigned to a feminine sphere, conventional wisdom would assign painting to the feminine sphere as a sensual, physical medium, the tactile qualities of oil paint in particular recalling flesh of the bodily kind (even when not depicting it). In this view, male domination of painting could be yet another instance of the suppression or co-opting of the feminine. Given the history of figure painting, it is important to me to be a woman painting women, but my ultimate commitment is not to "female" subject matter as such. I am still figuring out what my ultimate commitment is to. It probably comes down to making good paintings. Call me naive or a-historical, but I think those, whatever form they take, may be among the most politically radical things we have available to us to look at.

Like much of the show, I think the paintings in WACK! are at their best when they bring the personal and the political together with a universal quality. Alice Neel's paintings were strong to me in this regard. Her portraits of Linda Nochlin and Andy Warhol are sensitively painted and subvert expectations about the sitters - Nochlin the art-historian powerhouse and feminist icon is shown in a personal, intimate and vulnerable moment with a young girl (presumably her daugher); Warhol the superstar is shown with his scars exposed - slouched, vulnerable.

I won't dwell on the paintings for now because I already feel like I'm lecturing and I want to ask you the same question: do you see your work as "feminist" in any way? in either form or content? and if so, was it a self conscious choice to take up feminist themes?

I also want to know if you'd like to talk about what work affected you most in the show. .

For me it was the gallery where Magdalena Abakanowicz giant red tapestry disc hangs from the ceiling and Nancy Spero's frieze piece on torture wraps around the walls. I was suprised that the concept, which sounds so heavy handed conceptually, (a huge drop of blood suspended next to a torture piece) was in actuality really moving. The monumentality of the weaving, the way its weight was suspended - neither rising nor falling - with a wing-like form rising off the back, and the associations invoked by the color red, drew me to read the room like a poem. The notion of a drop of blood being monumental - potentially a sign of either nourishment or destruction - is palpable in that room.

Last question - just as food for thought - was there anything you HATED in the show?

From: N To: Kate Subject: RE: WACK! Conversation Date: Sat, 10 Nov 2007

I'm not sure I could really say that I HATED it, but I felt uncomfortable in the room with the Spero pieces and the Abakanowicz tapestry. I tried to read the text in the Spero work, and I was already feeling really drained from everything else I had seen- it was too much. The presence of that huge red object was overwhelming, and I had to leave the room.

I am starting to see my own work as more feminist. In the WACK! show, the work I felt most moved by was one of Judy Chicago's "Rejection Drawings." The particular one that got to me was "Female Rejection Drawing." It consisted of a colored pencil and graphite drawing of what looked like flower petals peeling away from a vagina-like form. Below the drawing, Chicago had written about some of her personal experiences with rejection of the "feminine" within her work by her colleagues and the art world. I wrote down some quotes that particularly appealed to me from that writing:

*"My struggle has been and is to find a way to let the female experience be represented in such a way that it can stand for those areas of human experience that male society denies, thus challenging the prevailing values..."

*"Whatever gap exists (between Chicago's rhetoric and her work, as expressed by critics) grows out of the fact that I have been trying to bridge a gap that exists in the world- the gap between feminist consciousness and sophisticated art language..."

Wow! I'm usually really turned off by written narrative within art, but by the time I reached Chicago's drawings, I was feeling put off by some of the show's artworks that felt inaccessible. I was ready for someone to lay it all out for me, and I thought that Chicago's writings did that. These quotes expressed some things that I have been thinking about- I think of the first quote as relating to our society's denigration of the validity of intuition. Because we live in such a scientifically and technologically advanced time, non-concrete ways of knowing are discounted. Intuition is largely relegated to the realm of the feminine. In the second quote, I guess I was thinking a lot about my own work, the ways in which I work intuitively, and how difficult it can be to explain meaning and content when I am pressed to do so. Because, I think, I am working through a "way of knowing" which is nonverbal. Yet the art world insists (or does it?) that I give it (whatever "it" is) a name.

Sooo... to answer your question more directly: Yes, I see my work as "feminist" in some way. I think aspects of my form and my content may apply to this, but if pressed to go into specifics, I don't think I could, because I'm currently right in the middle of all of that, trying to work my way out. No, I don't think it was originally a conscious decision to take up feminist themes, but I am consciously now working to identify these themes in order to better (consciously) express them. (Ugh- what an answer.)

Okay, here's my question: Do you think there is a gap (as Chicago writes) between "feminist consciousness" and "sophisticated art language"? Why is there a gap OR why do you think there is no gap, AND (here's the tough part) how can we, as emerging artists work to bridge this gap (if it exists)?

That could be really hard- I look forward to hearing your thoughts. I don't think I've formulated mine yet...

‏ From: Kate To: N RE: WACK! conversation Date: Nov 15, 2007
Great question. Do I think there is a gap, as Chicago claims, between "feminist consciousness" and "sophisticated art language?"

1) First, a few disclaimers. Saying "yes" there is a gap, we risk implying that feminist consciousness (and does Chicago mean "feminist" or "feminine" consciousness?) is unsophisticated and even nonlinguistic by nature. But this is only "risky" if these qualities are devalued -- look how entrenched I am in the system! If we take Chicago's argument to its logical extension, we could say that all intellectualism - and the academy as such - is inherently a masculine enterprise. Whew. I am loathe to follow her there, but at the same time, I agree with her statement to a certain extent simply based on my experience in academia and (more recently) in the art academy.

2) The Mind-Body Split or "Clapping for Credit" in upstate NY (a cautionary tale...)
Basically it seems we are talking about the old Cartesian mind-body split. We are all still living under that dualistic way of being, of seeing, of experiencing and knowing, and our institutions reflect the split as well in their structures. (ie/ the specialization of academic disciplines)

Here's an example that relates. At my undergrad school (lefty upstate NY liberal arts college), there was an initiative to encourage what were called "alternative" modes of learning among the student body. A wealthy arts therapist-Jungian had given money to fund the project. Specifically, it was meant to encourage body-based modes of learning and knowing. "Laughter therapy" workshops, meditation and mindfulness, Alexander technique, plus various other improv-theatre-game type sessions sprouted up across campus. An English class I was taking on myth and fairytale incorporated guided visualizations in class as well as a drawing session based on the Odyssey, and a "ritual" by our professor where she brought pine cones and pomegranates to class to accompany our reading of Psyche and Eros. If it sounds a little contrived - well, I wish I could say it wasn't. In the back of my head I knew we were going to eat the pomegranate seeds and then leave and have to write a paper. The academy still loomed large. We were playing at creating a new culture of body-based learning and knowledge, but it seemed tentative and provisional.
So that experiment in cultural revision had mixed results (sorry Carolyn Grant Faye committee...). But the problem - the mind/body split - is enormous. I value intellectualism hugely, enjoy and participate in it, but at the same time, I have never felt like it was the modality that came most naturally to me. My very last written assignment in college was perhaps my favorite, for a 17thC Flemish and Netherlandish art history class. On the final exam, our (female) professor asked: "If there has been a work we have studied that moved you in some way, please talk about why and how this work moved you." My heart leaped and I wrote for an hour plus about Vermeer's Milk Maid. It's no accident that we talk about being "moved" --- real transformation (real education) works on the body as well as the mind.

3) Words as a tool for seeing- Poetry as a possible bridge
The gap. Most language is extremely abstract. We as visual artists are working utterly concretely, with material things.

The old addage: a picture is worth a thousand words. I wouldn't be painting if I felt like I could do in words what I want to do in painting! Yet, there are times when words are a helpful in making me see more, see clearer and better what I am doing and what I have done, and what others have done. Maybe timing is the issue. Have you ever NOT dissected an artwork you loved because you wanted it to keep its non-verbal, bodily hold on you? The only kind of dissection that seems to allow works to keep that for me is a very formal "look at this relationship" kind of analysis - how does the thing work formally to express its content. Not a heady situating of the work in terms of art history or cultural history. Sometimes I feel like I'm being willfully naive when I do that - defer analysis. Other times I feel like it's the best way I can be responsible (in the sense of a call and a response) to the work.

How can we bridge the gap between body and mind? ? ? between feminist consciousness and sophisticated art language? ? I feel like poetry is an attempt to use language in a different way - ie/ to say things non literally but very specifically. Highly concretely (ie/ often highly visually) as opposed to abstractly.
Maybe it's a matter of using everything we have at our disposal - intuition, literal "sophisticated" language, poetic language (which is highly sophisticated), etc etc etc. as we need them, or when it seems appropriate.

What do you think? ? ?
(sorry this response is all over the place)

To be continued…

Monday, November 19, 2007

October at David Zwirner Gallery

October at David Zwirner Gallery
Review by Tim Campbell

Zwirner’s sibling spaces in Chelsea hosted two very different shows by artists Chris Ofili and Raymond Pettibon this fall. The shows were not only markedly different in comparison to one another; both artists presented new bodies of work that revealed new approaches and new tones.
The first show I saw was Ofili’s, and I was quickly astonished by work. Many of the new paintings are quite beautiful (saleable??). The Turner laureate has long been known for his contemporary takes on the icon; his optically stunning paintings featuring glitter, elephant dung, snippets of porno and other adornments built his reputation in the nineties. For the past few years, it seemed that no change would push the work into a new arena.
Ofili’s current gestural paintings do just that, although it is a more traditionally academic arena than one might have expected. Ofili is in transition here, but the new direction of the work is not entirely clear. Never the less, Ofili should be admired for displaying his work while still in a transitional phase, especially after remaining content with his ‘90s icon paintings for so long. The gallery is full of dozens of canvases that draw unabashedly from the works of modernists such as Matisse. The themes in this show address Ofili’s standard concerns: images of women, race, the notion of icons, and the optics of color. The surfaces of these paintings are spotless as if Ofili didn’t have to work for the mellow color relationships that he finds. The palate seems relaxed and self-consciously “exotic,” and it never becomes jarring or urgent, even in the most grim paintings in the show. These Blue Rider images of lynching and murder are rendered in deep blues, and the viewer must wait for the narrative to emerge from the quiet color. This detachment lends them a sorrowful, elegiac quality.
The rest of the paintings are more lively, but they also become repetitive rather quickly. Ofili combines a pleasant retinal buzz with images of curvaceous, sexualized women. What are we to do with these paintings that deliberately combine visual pleasure with nude women? Ofili’s previous work seemed to be about the objectification of women; his combination of porno, religious icons, and seductive color seemed to take concern with this issue and raise questions about it. In his new work, Ofili’s stance is less obvious. The change in the work blurs the line and I begin to wonder if Ofili himself has become the objectifier.

Predictably, Pettibon’s show has no trace of Ofili’s visual pleasure. The show is entitled “Here’s Your Irony Back (The Big Picture),” and it is one of Pettibon’s most ostensibly political shows yet. It’s also one of the best shows I’ve seen in Chelsea in a long time. The rough, gritty drawings are organized into suites and arranged in a single room as an installation. Enormous captions are written above each group on the wall, wrapping around three sides of the gallery. This show, despite its bite, was far more enjoyable for me. Viewers are asked to migrate through the drawings in a group, and my awareness of myself as a member of the larger audience underscored the political message behind the work. Furthermore, this show drew in a more diverse audience than the Ofili show, which was virtually empty by comparison.
The show is highly political in the best sense of the term. Pettibon is not simply taking righteous, empty shots at this or that politician; he clearly confronts blaring issues in American politics and turns them over the viewer, as if he is asking us to do something about it ourselves.
Each series of drawings addresses a different theme. Beginning with an organized attack on the War on Terror and conflicts in the Middle East, the themes gradually become less focused until, on the final wall, the drawings are organized in a chaotic, free-for-all fashion. The highlight of the show for me was a group of 14 landscape drawings on the far wall of the gallery, which seemed to bring Pettibon’s politics, his graphic sensibilities and skills, and his concern with a bigger picture together in one statement. This was one of the few times I’ve walked into a gallery in Chelsea and actually felt that the show was genuinely connected to something outside the gallery world. Pettibon’s politics and ideas leapt off the page, and I’ve never seen images from this artist that were more exciting or gritty than these.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

“Claiming Space” Some American Feminist Originators at The Katzen Museum

American University

By Lana Stephens

A focus on Art and Politics

As I walked into the Katzen Museum I was immediately confronted by a diversity of intense color, rich content and material. As a whole, the show exudes a certain aura of femininity, strength and grandeur. The vast majority of works present in the show were executed using a larger than life scale that seems to both confront the viewer and demand attention, respect and contemplation. Above all, the pieces require that one reflect on the movement of feminism. The show is called “Claiming Space,” and that’s exactly what these massive works do among the white walls of the museum, institution, society, whatever.

My journey through the Katzen began with Faith Ringgold- a pioneer of the feminist and anti-racist movement. Born in 1930, Faith began a lifelong dedication of political activism against the evils of sexism and racism. “A large painting titled “Die” from the American People Series” completed in 1967 confronts the viewer as they enter the museum. Faith wanted to represent how she, an African American woman living in the U.S. during the civil rights movement felt about issues such as sexism, violence and racism in a time when only black men such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were delivering speeches to the American public. Faith’s paintings, including “The Flag is Bleeding” from 1967 do not seem to be about any one culture within America but rather the collective of American Society. In “Die” both Black and White people murder and cower together. They kill and embrace each other in vivid color. The stylized schematic facial features seem reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica while the dramatic poses and gestures seem more appropriate for a theatrical production. The piece is strangely moving as one notices that the women in the painting have neither knife nor gun –both of which are possessed by their male counterparts. The women simply have outreaching arms and open mouths as if to question the meaning of humanity in such a time that in history was not so long ago.

Faith was criticized for her paintings and even jailed for her depictions of the flag as in “The Flag is Bleeding.” She later set out to make African inspired artwork such as “The Slave Rape Series.” Faith remarked in a panel discussion that nobody liked her earlier work – that nobody would show it or buy it. The latter work shown in the museum came off as disingenuous. The face of the woman in turmoil seems cartoonish and mocking. Ringgold, though a poignant artist and enduring political activist seems at least in the 70s to have left her heart back in 1967.

Art and Politics serve as congenial companions in the work of May Stevens and Suzanne Lacy with Leslie Labowitz. May Steven’s portraits of “Big Daddy” such as “Top Man”1975 and “Big Daddy Paper Doll” 1970 focus on patriarchy and the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The “Big Daddy” figure is shown as a smug, fleshy elderly man in the company of his grotesque bull dog. In “Top man” Big Daddy sits amongst the heavens draped in the American Flag while wearing a halo in the outline of a solder’s helmet. On his throne he is in full support of war but far removed from its earthly destruction.

In Lacy and Labowitz’s documentation of the street performance “In Mourning and in Rage” L.A. 1977 women fight back against violence, sexual assault and their portrayal in the mass media. The artist’s intent was to critique the “sensationalized” media coverage of the “Hillside Strangler” case which consisted of repeated violent sex murders. The demonstration/performance seemed to go beyond the topic and reach the public on a much more universal level. Nine women draped in black cloth stood before a banner that read “Women Fight Back” A tenth figure draped in red stood for the rage of all women. The work of these two artists and activists is deeply moving. “In Mourning and in Rage” transcends temporal constraints reiterating its vitality in 2007 as the staggering numbers of cases of rape, sexual assault and violence against women in the U.S. and abroad seem to grow.

I’ve chosen to focus on the work of only a few artists present in the expansive show whose work was grounded in political activism during the feminist movement. The work of these women was empowering yet confronting. Why did I, a self proclaimed feminist, not know these women’s names prior to visiting the exhibition? I felt a need to be responsible as a young woman and as an artist in today’s society. Information offered on the walls of the museum inform us that the representation of women artists in museums and major collections is unexpectedly now in decline. I feel a sense of empowerment witnessing the successful collective efforts and strides made by the feminists in the show such as Faith Ringgold, Suzanne Lacy, May Stevens and the collective feminist publication “Heresies” in which nineteen or more female artists were involved in including Joyce Kozloff – another artist featured in the exhibition. The show “Claiming Space” brought about questions of why female representation in collections is now in decline and what we women of today’s generation can do about it. Perhaps it’s been just long enough for women to re-evaluate their position in the world and in the arts and as Lacy and Labowitz would put it, “Fight Back.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bread and Puppet

By Katherine Knight

A couple of weekends ago, I had the opportunity to see a performance by the legendary political art and theater troupe, Bread and Puppet. I love Bread and Puppet, and have loved them for years. In fact, Love may be a bit of an understatement. I have revered them, internet-stalked their work, and ripped off their construction techniques. Despite this, I have seen them in person only once before; and that was more of a parade than a proper show. This past Saturday, therefore, was my first opportunity to see them in full swing, and I was not disappointed.

The show was held in the sanctuary of St Stephens Episcopal Church in Mt Pleasant, NW DC. I was struck by character of the crowd before even entering the building. There was a generous helping of crunchy hippies and pseudo-hippies (of course), but also a large contingent of normal people. Not DC politicos, hill-staffers, hipsters, hustlers, or fashionistas; but actual, bona-fied normal people, of all ages and races, with their sensible shoes, wooly sweaters, and kids. They didn’t seem to be trying to convince anyone that they were important, or cooler than they were; they just seemed to have showed up for a good time. It was a huge relief and such a pleasant (and sadly scarce) environment to experience. It was a great way to start the evening.

The performance itself was entitled Divine Reality Comedy Circus, and took place in front of a large and delightfully crude painted landscape which was lit cabaret-style from below by cheep hardware store clip-on ‘foot lights’. The performance began with a brief and rollicking musical interlude; which was a poignant moment in itself. The event was sponsored by ‘Hear Mt Pleasant’, a group fighting a neighborhood ordinance against live music, which was passed without consent of the residents, and was specifically designed to target Mt Pleasant’s large Latino community. What followed was ninety minutes of pithy, campy, ironic, politically charged, hilarious and wonderful puppet genius.

On its most basic level, the show was an organizational masterpiece. The cast consisted of 9 or 10 individuals who were constantly on the move, and who all participated as musicians, dancers, narrators, masked characters, and puppeteers at different points in the show. During one memorable sketch, for example, the words ‘When A Government Resorts To Violence It Is The People’s Right To ABOLISH It’ (or something along those lines; I may be paraphrasing) each appeared emblazoned on an individual, life-sized burlap donkey, who strode one-by-one across the stage to a saucy march played by the multi-piece band. When each puppeteer finished their rotation as a donkey, they would dash backstage, loose the donkey, pick up an instrument, and join the band -literally seconds later and without missing a beat- before their fellow donkeys had even finished spelling out the sentence. The entire sketch must have taken less than two minutes.

In fact, the majority of the show was so seamless that further evidence of careful forethought and planning was well concealed. What prevailed was a glorious sense of slap-dash spontaneity, where everything there is to love about puppetry shone through. Only the transparent and unapologetic use of commonplace materials could allow for that moment of pure magic when a group of cardboard be-decked burlap sacks transforms into an utterly believable choir of warbling turkeys; or when a fifty-foot scarf waved above the heads of the crowd on a long pole is so unexpected, ethereal, and beautiful that the experience reminds us of our humanity. It was poetic, and almost medieval in its simplicity; a low-tech and humbling moment of awe.

This is not to say that the performance was completely without problems, but they were few, and were, for me anyway, mostly to do with the content. Bread and Puppet is overwhelmingly liberal, and although I am pretty liberal myself, and was aware of the issues fore-fronted by the sketches, there were times when the message was either so vague or so convoluted that it was lost on even me. Why was that buzzard conducting those computer monitors? And what exactly do the Tigers of Complacency signify? Oh, who cares; wow aren’t they cool? Did you see them roll over? Oooooo, now they’re eating that guy! And here come his little felt guts flying around from back stage! Neato!

Fortunately, the sketches that were spot-on far outweighed the ones that were confusing. The oversized potato-faced Rotten Idea Players succinctly summed up our political system as follows:
On Health-care
Republican: Problem? What problem? (hides issue behind his back)
Democrat: This is a very important issue! (laughs manically and hides issue behind back)
Third party: begins to say something coherent but is silenced by a mighty WHACK from both Republican and Democrat.

On Education:
Republican: Problem? What problem? (hides issue behind his back)
Democrat: This is a very important issue! (laughs manically and hides issue behind back)
Third party: begins to say something coherent but is again silenced by a WHACK from the others.

… and again with environmental reform, repairs to the national infrastructure, torture, etc, etc, etc.

Since this was billed as a kid-friendly show, and since kids were encouraged to sit on the floor right in front of the stage (actually, I sat there too…), I found myself wondering precisely what the kids would take away from this experience. On Local Issues, the message was pretty clear: Corporate farming = BAD. Local produce will keep you from falling over (demonstrated by a guy on stilts!) AND local farmers care more about their livestock… they even teach their turkeys to sing! Tap water is 1000 times cheaper than bottled water and uses less resources (Don’t be a sap, drink from the tap!). When arguing with your neighbors, don’t run out of words or you might accidentally shoot them instead. All good advice- if a little quirky. Advice on the broader issues was harder to pin down: Abolish the violent government! You can tame the Tigers of Complacency, but they will ultimately eat you! If you ignore bombs, they will multiply (apparently of their own accord) and take over! Again, all good points, but what should we do instead? If we let our Tigers of Complacency go, won’t they eat us all the sooner? We can’t just get rid of them because they’re so cute! And how exactly does one abolish a government, and what do we have instead? Granted, I am thinking way too hard about this. The overriding message is good: think for yourself, be fair, and act locally; but in some cases I kept remembering the potato-faced Democrat quipping ‘this is a very important issue!’ without ever doing anything about it.

Hold on. These are only puppets after all, and maybe (for puppets, not democrats) it’s enough to simply raise awareness. Maybe it’s enough to plant these little seeds and let the audience nurture them for themselves; and after all they did provide some very solid advice on issues where we can actually affect change. Maybe those kids will go home and bug their parents about buying bottled water, and maybe some of them will tell their friends about it, and those friends will bug their parents, too. Maybe some of those kids will remember the message of non-violence if and when they are ever courted by gangs. It seems outrageous, but then I remembered that my life long obsession with conservation and the environment all began when my fourth grade teacher read me a book. Seeing this performance reminded me of a time when I believed that activism could actually accomplish something; before five years living in our Nation’s Capitol turned me into a cynical, pessimistic, complacent tiger myself. Maybe art, and puppets, and children’s books can change the world after all. Why the hell not.

Geoffrey Aldridge on *gogo art projects roster

Conner Contemporary Art has announced the additions of new emerging artists, including our own Geoffrey Aldridge.
Congratulations Geoffrey!

gogo art projects NEWS:
>> We are thrilled to announce the additions of GEOFFREY ALDRIDGE, TAYLOR BALDWIN, ADAM DE BOER, ISAAC MAISELMAN, NATHANIEL ROGERS and NATALIA PANFILE to the roster of *gogo art projects. Each of these young artists contributes an exhilarating new perspective to *gogo's line-up. New works by *gogo artists will be seen at the Conner/*gogo booths in Miami, New York and Chicago as well as in solo exhibitions after the Grand Opening of our new building.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Lucy Hogg The Last Pony at Meat Market Gallery

By Tim Campbell

Lucy Hogg is an artist who loves color. If you were to attend one of her lectures, she would take you through the history of her work as a painter, discuss her interest in this or that style, this or that mode of painting, how her work interacts with feminism and how it takes interest in the historicity of painting. She might close the lecture pointedly, saying that painting is dead and video and photography are its replacements. You’d be left wondering why she makes these big paintings in the first place.
Hogg answers that question in her current show at Meat Market by publicly rejecting painting as a viable medium. What Hogg’s show fails to address in any way is why painting is dead. Instead, she shows how it can be quickly overpowered. With a cool face, Hogg muscles painting out the door. The photographs exercise a technological mastery of hue and balance by showing how the same painting can be “repainted” using colorways; that is, different color filters can achieve the same effect as the painting, and they can do so instantly and in a number of ways. In the back room, video steps in, and with even less effort the color options are integrated into a time-based composition.
If Lucy Hogg thinks that this proves painting’s ineptitude, then she is missing the point. Its obvious to anyone who has ever tried to paint that the medium is not the most technologically advanced. It’s obvious to any 7 year old who goes into the National Gallery and would rather be watching TV, and its obvious to me every time I use Google or YouTube.
Ironically, the painting in the show is what ends up giving meaning to the photographs and video piece. This is not because the painting is in some way special or more important, its simply because the painting brings the content that Hogg has always been concerned with to the table. The video and photographs fail to add to or alter the content of this painting, they just show other alternatives for how it could be presented. The photographs/video are not concerned with equestrian portraits, or the history of landscape painting, or the political context in which Velazquez had to operate as a painter, but the painting is concerned with these things. The images in the photos and video could be anything- a house, a cat, or perhaps most fitting, Hogg herself.
For all of Hogg’s difficulty with what painting is, with why it exists and what should be done with it, her critique comes with just a hint of Greenberg. She has placed the medium on the table next to several others, and allowed each of them to compete as self-contained modes of visual communication...but none of them really communicate anything. Well, congratulations to video for being video, and to photography for being photography, and to painting for being painting, but if this is supposed to be some instructive lesson on which media we should privilege, then I’m bored.
Maybe Hogg is broadening her audience, or bringing a new vocabulary to her work, but that doesn’t really mean that her statements are more meaningful or important in any way. If you are going to change mediums, fine, do it. It’s exciting, so long as you are using them to make something interesting, and so long as you are using them for a reason. It’s been a long time since John Baldessari made cookies, and anybody who is interested in taking credit for painting’s burial rights should consider this.

Skin City: The Art of the Tattoo from October 12- December 31, 2007

By Kate Sable

I found myself pleasantly surprised upon entering The Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida this weekend. I have always been drawn towards work that finds its roots in the ‘arts of the street.’ The show Skin City: The Art of the Tattoo showcases quite a few artists who draw inspiration from the age-old tradition of the tattoo. This exhibition draws light on this form of art that has been long considered taboo, underground to the normative crowd. Decoration of the body exists in our earliest recollections of human history. However, individuals who use body art as a means of self-expression have always been of a social domain in which one is either a member, or simply an outsider. Throughout the show, I saw very specific and extremely powerful cultural symbols geared directly toward a language used in the world of tattoo art. I felt comfortable viewing this specific type of imagery, maybe because I have seen it so often in the alluring form of tattoo; however, the disconnect was there, I definitely do not have the same awareness and appreciation many of these artists do toward this specific language. Self-expression, personal experiences, social values, and myth are all references for the art pieces in the show and the work effectively challenges serious ideas about identity, beauty and of course, the body.

I was immediately drawn to the photographs by artist John Wyatt. The black and white photographs seemed so generous, making each individual portrayed readily available to me. Most of the figures were heavily tattooed artists and patrons who share this common love for the art of the tattoo. While first viewing the photographs, I found myself constructing stories and ideas about these beautiful decorations and their relationship to the person marked, making my own secret assumptions about why they have each specific design or ornamentation upon their bodies. I was feeling quite voyeuristic, attributing each image on their body to some powerful moment, person, or event in the lives of the portrayed, this person I didn’t know at all. After having played these games in my head, I noticed many of the pictures had specific narrative directly beside the image. To my surprise, Wyatt included very personal dialogue alongside the images to let the viewer in on harder evidence of the diverse backgrounds and lifestyles of the figures in the photographs. The photographs really did expose a part of the people, much like the marks on their body can do to an outsider studying the clues of personal expression inked into their skin. I’m not sure if the dialogue available was necessary for me to be drawn into the photographs, but after already having spent so much time looking at the work, I found myself easily and happily passing another 40 minutes reading each description, providing some satisfaction to a risen curiosity.

The show also included drawings, prints, assemblages and sculpture work by Nick Bubash, who has been working as a tattoo artist since 1972. The collages and assemblages were particularly interesting to view. These pieces were very strong compositionally with fabulous color use; a great dialogue is created between each piece. The work is visually complex, I found that I really enjoyed the use of figures, pop culture, and mechanics. He creates work that seems rather specific, as if each image has a very particular function, but upon further inspection I gathered that each created figure or space was completely nonsensical. The images chosen are, as I mentioned before, images in which I feel very comfortable viewing, because I felt as if I had seen them many times before, on the body. Only with this work they have been taken out of context, off the body and onto a formally strong and equally aesthetically pleasing artwork. The paper pieces dance off the page and show a very interesting crisscross of culture. I was also interested in how nicely his artistic sensibilities transferred into book form, exhibited by his book art pieces in cases on the floor of the gallery. Bubash completely rules when it comes to owning decorative and ornate design. I wanted so much to run my hands across the papers and stitched book pieces.

The types of imagery that fill this gallery space are cultural images powerful enough for individuals to choose their permanent placement upon their bodies. By transferring these same images into a gallery space, this show harnesses some of that energy and enthusiasm and finds much success.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dean Monongenis High Rise Vista at Chelsea's Stux Gallery

By Josh Baptista

Dean Monongenis is showing new paintings in High Rise Vista
at Chelsea's Stux Gallery. The first thing that attracted me to the
paintings was an unbelievable amount of craft and flawless execution
of the paint. The craft has been painstakingly mastered through years
of practice. The painting brings together the ideas of fantasy with
the realm of reality. They bring the urban element of structure as
well as incorporating mountains and pieces of green landscape.
Dean Monogenis paintings question the ideas of permanence in
the structures around us. In Another Residential Fantasy Dean begins
to ask questions about the wants and needs of a location in a home.
We all want our space and privacy but to be close enough to Starbucks
and our favorite department stores. It becomes a deconstruction of
the urbanization as these structures invade spaces of secluded homes
in nature. He provides clever imagery as escalators that lead us into
digital structures of the doom and eventually leave us on the edge of
a cliff.
The show as a whole is a glimpse into a world of what maybe
our future landscape. Through technology and process, these paintings
become beautiful and slick. If you cannot appreciate the concept, you
can definitely find something desirable in the quality of the craft.
In the end I left with more questions than answers. Is the
current state of our living condition sustainable in our environment?
Is the architecture around us formatted for future weather conditions?
Is convenience the end of privacy? These are the questions I find
myself asking in Dean Monogenis's work.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Peter Dudek at Smack Mellon

By Lauren Rice

New Monuments to My Love Life

As a formal artist, I am constantly asking myself how to imbue my collage ideas with a clear content beyond my formal interests. It appears that Brooklyn artist Peter Dudek is concerned with the same question(s). His installation at Smack Mellon is a constantly changing conglomeration of corrugated cardboard, felt, wooden tables and plastic school chairs among other things. The colors and shapes are all carefully considered and organized accordingly, strangely reminiscent of retail stores, specifically West Elm, Ikea or other aesthetically pleasing yet affordable furniture retailers. Unlike, West Elm, however, I am not sure what to focus on in Dudek assemblages. In other words, as the viewer/consumer, I am not sure what to buy. Once I focus on a piece of the installation, I realize that it is merely a mass of felt, or a cardboard fixture (which I know from personal experience is not technically easy to make), or a found piece of wood, surely not commodities that I can take home and actually use. But he sure makes it all look so pretty!

I am presuming that this is part of Dudek’s point, despite his artist statement which primarily (ok only) focuses on the formal qualities and decisions in his work. Perhaps he really is only interested in the formal decisions that he makes, although I find this doubtful. And I understand his reluctance to dictate what his work is about; I do the same thing. But surely this is about more than “a rambling and discursive junction where Modern architecture, Design, and modes of presentation intermix”?

Another aspect of Dudek’s work that interests me is that he continues to rearrange the pieces of his installation throughout the span of the exhibition. Again, I can identify with this process. Collage allows me the freedom to rearrange without the mess of painting. However, this can also be a horrible dilemma. I never have to glue; I can rearrange forever! And what do I have? A lot of scrapes of paper. I like that Dudek has made constant rearranging part of his process, yet I wonder if he could benefit from using (metaphorical) glue. What would happen should he add a permanent object and have to respond to it by only adding additional elements? What would happen if he decided he did not like that permanent fixture and responded by destroying it?

Needless to say, I am intrigued by Dudek’s installation and am interested in seeing how his work will grow and change.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Plaid by Elana Herzog at Smack Mellon

By Zac Willis

Elana Herzog’s work entitled Plaid is showing at the Smack Mellon Gallery in Brooklyn, NY. The show also includes Peter Dudek. When you enter the gallery you must pass through Dudek’s work to get to Herzog’s work. The gallery is divided in two parts to accommodate each of the artists. Once you reach Herzog’s work you encounter areas with organic shapes and forms that are comprised of fabric and staples. They are positioned in different locations throughout the room. It was not until I moved closer to the pieces that I realized what they consisted of. Plaid is an installation comprised of several different sizes of this fabric and staples layered on top of one other and then pulled or cut from the wall. What is left is what the artist could not remove. The removal process is important to the piece because it adds certain layer of aesthetic to it. When she staples many times in one place it breaks down the wall and it results in chunks missing from the wall. This shows the destruction of the overlapping process. However, in order to discuss her process, it needs to be clear if she uses an electric or hand powered staple gun. This is very important to in knowing how much Herzog understands the overlapping and layering she is doing. If she used the hand stapler it would demonstrate that she is more consciously aware of where she is putting each staple and understands the relationships formed between the body, staple gun, staple, fabric and the wall. To use a manual staple gun creates a great physical strain on the body. By doing this, there becomes a connection between the body and wall because by stapling it repeatedly, it also experience great strain. This connection would be lost if she just used and electric staple gun. In theory someone could staple 1,000 staples and not even break a sweat. How could she form a connection to the work if she did not physically feel the creation-taking place? When I viewed the space I wondered if it was created for Herzog, or if it was original to the gallery. To describe the space; it was a small square room with white walls. There where platforms that where 3” or 4” off the ground and an awkward half wall with what looked like a non-structural column. The work itself meshed nicely with the awkward walls and columns in the room. The piece seemed too site specific not to have been designed for her. If she did not design it, Herzog controlled the space well using it to her advantage. It was refreshing that she made it seem like she controlled this aspect of the work. With an installation piece like Herzog’s I find it important for the artist to know how much their process of making the work can affect the viewers read of the art.

Amy Misurelli Sorenson @ Passion Fish Gallery

AU Grad Amy Misurelli Sorensen explores her history of religion, sexuality and family through unique drawings and prints in her first Baltimore solo exhibition.

"False Gods"
@Passion Fish Gallery
1129W 36th St.
Baltimore, MD 21211

November 10-December 2
Opening Reception:
November 10
7pm til close

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Benjamin Jurgensen and Paul Jeffreys at Meat Market


On Sunday, the Meat Market gallery closed the show Conscious Inaction, a two-person exhibition of sculpture by Benjamin Jurgensen and photographs by Paul Jeffreys. Both men aim to examine ideas of contemporary masculinity, through themes of youth culture and materialism in Jurgensen's case, and an exploratory juxtaposition of images of strip joints and hunting trophy rooms in Jeffreys'. The Meat Market gallery can call this show another success, their exhibition design gave the works their due, with a particularly interesting parallel arrangement of Jeffreys' photographs, highlighting the comparison of the subjects, and lending to the message.

Jurgensen arranges representations of plainly painted inanimate objects made out of MDF and wood in awkward and often sexual setups, creating short narratives. The arrangements are sometimes perilous, sometimes secure, and the interaction of the objects points directly to the title of the show, Concious Inaction. The objects have been removed from their active context, in position and medium, but do not necessarily take on a new life in their discrete groupings, perhaps highlighting the similar circumstance of many people's lives. The objects seem to reach toward some meaning together, but only in a half-hearted manner, as if arranged precisely toward no potential objective. For some, that circumstance would speak volumes.

Paul Jefferey's neutral photographs, on the other hand, utilize places that seem to allude to the man's man of the rural United States. Images of an American sitting room overcrowded with a hunter's preserved trophies of game animals, isolated to a direct comparison with scenery from a over-neglected backstreet strip club point to the misguided intentions of a distinct subculture of men. It would seem that the meaning of preserving an animal for display or creating a stage and lighting to host naked women for view would be to elevate the subject, somehow enhancing them from their natural states of being. However, isolated or jammed into these unnatural spaces, both subjects are distinctly degraded, the animals by losing their beauty of life, the women by performing in much less than pristine conditions. The images lack the human denizens of the spaces detailed, allowing the viewer to enter and examine the static world presented in the first-person, benefiting in a way from the focus on inactivity.

These viewpoints on the two artists' work bring about an interesting connection, by their focus in this specific context the subjects are degraded to a point of pointlessness. With Jefferey's taxidermy animals, it is clear that people cannot enjoy inhabiting the tiny space left between the multitude of animals. The animals lose the little function left them, they fail to beautify their space, and become an impossibility of reason. The strip club images highlight the dingy and worn qualities of the objects that host the sexual encounters of the people that frequent these places. The objects fail to enhance the space or the experiences held there, but continue to exist only as a matter-of-fact. Similarly, the sculpture objects that Jurgensen creates are also pointless, stripped from their function, happy only in their coexistence with the others in their groupings. Sometimes I suppose, pointlessness does not imply meaninglessness.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Jules de Balincourt

"Unknowing Man's Nature"
Zach Feuer Gallery (LFL)
September 6 - October 13, 2007

Review by Allison Reimus

As one of New York's hottest young artists, Jules de Balincourt's season opener and third solo attempt at Zach Feuer was loaded with high expectations and plenty of PBR.

"Unknowing Man's Nature" features unearthly colorful works about a bleak, post 9/11 American culture. His signature rays of "whatever", beautiful in their doom, make a reprise, as do the tiny, unassuming figures engaged in recreational activities. Maps and text also make a comeback.

What's new to the work is a focus on nature as existing through the interference of man, as filtered through the artists mind. These works are more than simple representations of man's nature, and take action as warning signs. Despite the crowds of people on opening night, the show commanded my attention and made me think about everything from the effects of global warming to the importance of always questioning yourself as an artist.

In "Hunting Room," de Balincourt depicts, what would be, a large white, rectangular room, filled from floor to ceiling with taxidermy. These animal heads and bodies adorn the room in an absurd and obnoxious manner and serve as an indication as to the kind of person who might inhabit the space, the real subject of the piece. Just why is it so important to this person to collect these heads? How do they function other than being prized symbols of status or mere decoration? Man's nature exists not only in the hunt of these animals, but puts them in a greedy human space, the epitome of "bringing the outdoors in"- but on crack.

The show brings to attention another important question, that of questioning yourself as an artist. Just as de Balincourt is attempting to un-know man's nature by first knowing it, here (I think), is an effort to know his aesthetic choices by un-knowing them. In "Unthinking the Kinks" a figure stands alone in a large white room (a gallery perhaps) amongst the tangles of the "Unthinking the Kinks Monument", which is clearly labeled for us at the bottom of the piece. The kinks are de Balincourt's signature rays of color, and here, the artist is recognizing that. In the doorway of the white room is another figure peering in, which I read as a representation of a larger audience- the gallery, the dealer, the artists peers. This figure is watching the artists every move and is ready to peg him as something.

In the event that I don't know what I'm talking about, take a moment to judge for yourself. First, a link to the images on the Zach Feuer Gallery website:

Second, a link to a video of the opening, posted on YouTube by the incredibly awesome James Kalm, aka, "the guy on the bike":

The Way Things Go, a film by Peter Fischli and David Weiss

Review by Sarah Vanell

I recently went to the Hirshhorn Museum and sculpture garden. Of everything I saw there I was struck by a film exhibit on the 3rd floor called The Way Things Go by Peter Fischli and David Weiss. The first thing you notice about this particular work is that there will be a large audience watching it. In the half hour that the film ran for from beginning to end, I never saw one person walk by the work without being sucked in to watching for at least 5 minutes, and most stayed for the entire period. The Way Things Go is an ingenious series of compiled chemical and physical chain reactions between objects without any human interaction and that are delightfully amusing to watch. When viewing the film we see everything from bottles rolling down a ramp to balloons popping to explosive fire spreading quickly down a path of fuel.

The film includes the use of objects that are also used in our own daily lives, thus stripping them of their normal functions and ultimately giving them new ones with a different way of being valued, even though the intrinsic properties of the object itself remain intact. For instance, a tire is hit by a spinning plank and rolls toward a two by four, bumping it and causing it to fall onto a ladder which then shuffles down a ramp continuing the chain of reactions. In our world a tire's function is to help move a larger vehicle that the tire is attached to. However in the world created by Fischli and Weiss, the tires function is to roll three feet and knock over the two by four. Even though the function has changed the tire retains its physical property value of being round and able to roll but now is used independently from the vehicle. Among all these reactions there is a created sense of a real world, a planned world, and a destructive one. The space is harsh and unwelcoming with its cold concrete floors and unfinished walls, but it also allows a peculiar curiosity that holds our attention.

After viewing the whole work and having sometime to think about it I realized how true to life the art was. It puts forward the powers of natural forces, such as gravity. A narrative begins to take place in this scientific approach to art. Like an action flick it bring in a dangerous element knowing how destructive the consequences of these reactions are, the explosions of fire, glass breaking, heavy objects falling, and the destruction of the objects function as well after it is completed. The Way Things Go also incorporates elements of suspense and doubt. Time becomes important in this sense; The audience will hang on the edge of their seats waiting for a slower reaction to take place and doubt sinks in whether or not the reaction will occur at all when it seems the period between reactions lasts for too long. Could the artists have planned it wrong? Sometimes this doubt can be so overwhelming it creates humor when the reaction finally does takes place and erases the doubtfulness in our own minds.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ian Whitmore at G Fine Art

by Lauren Rice

Last spring, I entered unannounced into G Fine Art and requested a private viewing of paintings by Ian Whitmore. I remember being disappointed that I was only able to see a few small paintings. I also recall being dissatisfied with the (dare I say) quality of Whitmore’s work in person after being impressed by several reproductions online. I am happy to say that I was able to attend an opening of Whitmore’s current solo show Honi soit qui mal y pense at G Fine Art in September. This not only gave me to opportunity to drink some wine while reviewing the works, but also to see a greater number of Whitmore’s paintings.
Although people watching at the crowded opening was almost as intriguing (and as disparate!) as the paintings on view, I was able to squeeze my way through the crowd to see the show. One painting caught my eye immediately--Chase, a rainbowy oil on canvas. This work was perhaps the most similar in style to the older work that I had seen online because it combined gestural abstraction with hidden figurative elements. However it was of even greater interest to me than his previous work. Despite the painting’s obvious Cecily Brown influence, it was much cleverer than Whitmore’s older work. Again, I must refer to my review last semester where I wondered if Whitmore was challenging his own capabilities as an artist. This sneaky painting made me feel as though he was starting to. Although the painting utilizes trendy saccharine colors (and I was not clear to what end), I felt that the artist had spent time on this work. It gave me hope for young Mr. Whitmore.
Another painting I liked, Unharboring, is a centripetal blob of brown painty marks on a delicately patterned pink background. Whitmore’s use of pattern here was surprising to me; I had not seen it before in his work. I must wonder if Whitmore is succumbing to the present pattern trend, or if he is sincerely interested in the relationship between the decorative and “Fine Art.” Is he jumping on or criticizing this trend?
What is of most interest to me is how Whitmore manages to exhibit typically contradictory styles of painting. Whitmore’s series entitled Manomania Portraits depicts figures from the current governing party and are completely figurative. How does he ride this line, I wonder? As one who has once been accused of making “group shows,” I can only guess. It is clear that all the works on view,be they figurative or abstract, were made by the same (purposefully sloppy) hand, although the relationship between them is suspect. It’s strange; I am both impressed and concerned by ever-changing Whitmore’s stylistic tactics.
Regardless of my suspicions, I like Whitmore’s paintings. They are easy to like. Maybe too easy?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Edward Hopper at The National Gallery of Art


Edward Hopper (1882-1967) was a rather prolific painter and draftsmen. The exhibition of Hopper’s life’s works at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. unfolds with a series of etchings completed during the early years of the artist’s career. Hopper, who is primarily regarded as an oil painter and watercolorist, was actually a rather inclined printmaker.
The artist turned to etching around 1915 after returning to New York from several excursions in Europe where he became heavily influenced by the prints of Rembrandt and Goya. Etching proved economical and Hopper (who worked as a commercial illustrator) sought refuge in the medium. Prints such as “East Side Interior” 1922, and “Evening Wind” 1921 demonstrate the artist’s capability in successfully depicting light and shadow. In both etchings, the female is nude, her face obscured from view. “Night on the El Train” 1921 is a less successful print, but a far more successful narrative. An elusive couple converses quietly and covertly with each other, coupling in the deepest corner of the night train. For the first time one tries (though in vain) to conjure a narrative in an attempt to absolve the thick sexual tension present in the etching. In prints such as “Night Shadows” done during the same year, one is not nearly as concerned with the figures as they are the architecture.
Hopper’s paintings prior to his prints are far less successful than those created from the mid 1920s on. An example from 1908 is an oil painting titled “Railroad Train.” The painting is rather monochromatic, lacking contrast and value. It is thickly painted- an earnest attempt at oil, but poorly executed and “muddy.” His interest in technology and the landscape is however apparent at a rather early point in the artist’s career. The successful jump from drawing to painting was made through the vehicle of watercolor. The medium provided the perfect synthesis of drawing and painting. At last Hopper was able to refine his hand while training his eye to distinguish color and tone.
Hopper’s watercolors are some of the best I have seen. They are crisp and clean with a strong sense of clarity. Light and shadow dominate the paintings, though color is certainly not ignored. The color Hopper uses in his watercolor landscapes and depictions of architecture is rather true to life and limited in regard to the palette. It is far less indulged than the hearty jewel tones present in the artist’s mature work. In works such as ‘Houses of Squam Light, Gloucester” 1923 and “Light, Two Lights” 1927, the figures are absent and the architecture dominates. Hopper’s preoccupation with technology and construction in the landscape is prevalent in his watercolors as well as his oil paintings. Though Hopper maintained similar interests throughout his career, he never stopped learning or allowing the learning process to show though in his work. It is clear that his etchings influenced his watercolors (a medium that lends itself to drawing) and even more obvious that his watercolors strongly influenced his oil paintings which had previously faltered.
Instead of painting everything thickly and clumsily as in “Railroad Train” Hopper began using the canvas as a tool, much like the paper is used in watercolor. “Sunday” 1926 illustrates the artist’s new handling of the medium. Hopper uses his knife (or rag) to scrape the paint away from the surface of the painting where shadows lie and build impasto in areas of interest. The canvas bleeds through the dark windows of the storefront, illuminating them with “sunlight.” The figure is built with thicker, impasto paint. Once clumsy and unasserted, the artist now claims his tool and uses it to successfully build an environment while guiding the eye throughout the composition.
The mature work of the artist, including some of his most famous paintings “NightHawks”1942 and “Chop Suey” 1929 is more concerned with narrative and thematic interpretations. The theme “isolation” is prevalent throughout. The two women present in “Chop Suey” hardly converse or even look at one another, though they are positioned with such inclination. Sitting across from one another in a Chinese restaurant, the women appear isolated, the environment quiet and still (a far cry from the busy streets of New York). The paint in “NightHawks” is more successful than in previous works. The acidic yellow fluorescent light pervades the human forms who seem more like mannequins in a store front window than patrons at a diner. The glass window bends effortlessly around a city corner fusing the city streets and the restaurant interior seamlessly.
One finds themselves again searching for narrative in “Office at Night” 1940. The female secretary looks over her shoulder at the office manager reading over documents. The woman’s dress is fitted, showcasing her curvaceous form. The allusion of sexuality is also apparent in “Summertime” 1943 where a blonde haired woman wearing a sheer white dress stands at the base of a stoop. Seemingly innocuous at first glance, the sexualizing of women is rendered all the more insidious. Whether Hopper was commenting on societal structures, I do not know. It is evident however, that he was at least toying with the idea.
Though narrative is prevent in Hopper’s mature work, it is the palette I found most interesting. What makes his paintings so clear and decisive is the use of a very limited palette. I found that in any given painting, on average the artist used three or fewer colors. They were quite identifiable and hardly varied from their original form. “Morning Sun”1963 is Viridian, Ochre and Cadmium Red. “Sun in an Empty Room” from the same year is simply viridian and ochre. In his most successful paintings, Hopper uses at most four color choices. This was a logical and economical decision on behalf of the artist. Hopper’s use of a limited palette stems from his background as a draftsman whose only color choices were the black of the ink and the white of paper. It seems that when the artist employs the use of too many colors in his paintings they lose the quietness and stillness that has rendered them iconic. It is the decisive manner in which Hopper decides to depict form that is so ingenious and well thought. Hopper’s paintings and etchings have long been regarded as enigmatic, elusive, and covert. Narrative and theme are only alluded at. Perhaps what makes Hopper’s work so dynamic is not the theme or the narrative. Perhaps it’s just the paint.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Nathan Baker at Randall Scott Gallery


Nathan Baker’s “Rupture” offers a view of small breakdowns presented on a large scale. Upon entrance, the spectator is faced with images that are devoid of humans, but not of human activity. The latter is revealed through the wounds inflicted on the otherwise peaceful environment: we see a living-room set with an island of ash and cigarette butts on a nicely groomed carpet, a flipped over bottle of Pepto-Bismol spilling its phosphorous contents onto a shiny white bathtub and sink, a gallon of ice cream mess on a kitchen floor. These everyday disasters are “nothing to write home about.” They are too mundane to evoke sympathy when they happen to others. Yet, these petty accidents can be utterly infuriating when they happen to us, bringing to light our own clumsiness, negligence, ineptness. The spills depicted are barely dead, in some cases the finishing drops are captured in flight. The faster we act the better are our chances to prevent the eternal damage. So off we run for that life-saving mop, or the dust buster, the paper towel, quite likely uttering the compulsory “oh, f*#%!” But why? The second set of photographs, whose composition includes the flawed human actor witnessing the harm that they caused, asks precisely that question. The people in the photographs do not move, they remain at their vantage point staring pensively onto the floating laundry detergent and the knocked over barbeque grill. The Artist Statement explains what is being shown is that fleeting moment before the speed of mind allows us to grasp urgency of the situation and gain control. But from the viewer's perspective that moment is lasting. In addition saying “calm down,” the moment’s tenure is inviting us to note the spills’ aesthetic qualities, which are accentuated by the artificially unrealistic depth of field. And yes, those silky blemishes are, in fact, beautiful. Photoshop does not lie.

Deeparture-Video by Mircea Cantor


When I heard about the video, I could only imagine a deer and wolf together in a room. What could happen? What am I setting myself up to see? All these images of death and carnage raced through my mind. Going in to the watch the video, I was already assuming the worst. But to my surprise, I saw a deer and a wolf coexisting in the room afraid of themselves, each other and what type of environment they were now in. After finishing the video, I found myself wondering which animal was more frightened: the deer, wolf, artist, or viewer. While thinking about this issue I started thinking about the artist in the space while filming the piece. His presence had to bring some tension to the space.

What Cantor does surprisingly well is the camera angles and the method in which the video was shot. The viewer is never left with the sense that the animals are alone in separate rooms. They are together interacting in ways that are accelerated by the use of video. Another thing that Cantor has done is left the video wide open for interpretation. The viewer can place whatever relationships they want on each of the animals. I am sure the artist has his own interpretation and I have my own, which no doubt differ in all degrees. This is what makes the video important: it relies on the viewer to interact, to make a judgment on the animals.

The strongest and most important factor in this work is the concept. The piece allows itself to be whatever the viewer wants it to be. One can place a complete detailed story on the wolf and deer or it can simply be a dialogue of wolf and deer. The beauty in this piece is that it is left up to the viewer to determine the relationships.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz at the Corcoran

Ansel Adams
On exhibit now through January 27, 2008

Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005
On exhibit October 13, 2007-January 13, 2008


An art happening by Project 4 and The Pink Line Project

Saturday, October 13, 7:00pm - 12:00am
Music by eightyeight
Sunday, October 14, 12:00pm - 5:00pm
Champagne, mimosas and music by Yoko K. (Aphrodizia)

Lee Jensen Brake Shop : 1333 14th Street NW Washington DC 20005
$10 suggested donation at door to benefit The Pink Line Project's emerging artist grant program.

Featuring the work of:
Steven M. Cummings, Daniel Davidson, Drew Ernst, Kate Hardy, Ju$t Another Rich Kid, Geoffrey Mann, Gregory McLellan, Ted Noten, Cory Oberndorfer, Painted Lady Performance Project, Chris Tousimis, Rene Trevino, Trevor Young

Project 4 and The Pink Line Project present LUSTER an evening of decadence to benefit emerging art and music in Washington DC. The event will feature cocktails, live music, and an art exhibition that explores ideas of luxury and excess amid the debris of an abandoned brake shop.

The questioning of high-end retail and luxury goods has become a strong current in contemporary art and culture, specifically focusing on the obsession with consumption and luxury in America. The artists featured here incite this contemplation, using the tools of commercialism and the allure of gold to appeal to your desires as a consumer.

At a time when it is more important than ever to support and promote a creative culture in Washington, this collaboration expands the reach of contemporary art by redefining the notion of what is art. We believe that everyone's life can be enriched and transformed by the arts and we intend to set the gold standard for raising awareness about contemporary art.

Project 4 is a new voice in the growing Washington D.C. art scene. The gallery's programming promotes an international, forward-thinking exhibition schedule of contemporary art and design. Focusing on one-person shows and thematic exhibitions by mid-career and emerging artists, the gallery also invites guest curators to host exhibitions emphasizing trends in contemporary art and design. It is, in effect, a room for art and ideas spanning a range of cultural issues.

The Pink Line Project supports outstanding artists who contribute to excellence in the arts in Washington, DC. Founded by Philippa P.B. Hughes, The Pink Line Project fosters intellectual and artistic innovation through programs and events that are fueled by the transformative power of art.



Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Jiha Moon: Line Tripping at Curator’s Office


Upon entering Curator’s Office, I was immediately captivated by Jiha Moon’s “Flourish Wind.” First, I moved in close to study the artist’s techniques- I wanted to determine places in the image where acrylic paint and ink were allowed to behave according to their nature (dripping and pooling), and I also searched to pinpoint how the artist transitioned from this treatment of material into more rendered and drawn imagery. These kinds of distinctions are difficult to make via digital imagery and online images really do not do Moon’s work justice. After I looked closely, I moved back to take in the whole composition. Only a few minutes later, I found myself moving in again for more detailed observation. I interacted similarly with each of the images presented in the exhibition.

It seemed to me that Moon’s process began very loosely, with a series of washes and gestural marks. From looking at the work, it appeared that she might continue to react to the “atmosphere” implied by these materials, refining with tighter, more specific forms existing in/as the foreground of the work. Curator John Ravenal’s comprehensive essay accompanying the show supported my assumptions about the artist’s process.

Moon’s work is sensuous, emotive, and elegant. The forms and atmospheres she creates exist in a world I don’t quite understand. There are things in this world that I recognize- hints of trees, clouds, billowing fabric, waves, and these things even seem to (at times) operate according to natural laws such as gravity; however, there is a swirling energy in each of the works that creates a sense of perpetual unrest.

Perhaps this is a natural state for work embodying so many dichotomies. Ravenal writes:

Jiha Moon’s work is often discussed in terms of opposites brought together in a
single image: East and West, tradition and innovation, representation and
abstraction, spontaneity and control… Her work teems with the results of
productive tension between contrasting forces, and she herself describes her
experience of moving between diverse cultures- Korea and the United States,
small town and city, the North and the South- as a primary influence on her

Perpetual unrest is not an unpleasant experience in Jiha Moon’s work. As I moved back and forth to study the parts and then the whole of Moon’s efforts, I noticed moments of stillness in the images’ details, evidence of yet another balancing act on the part of the artist. I believe it is these opposites (or perhaps complements) contained successfully within Moon’s work that make the images so ultimately satisfying.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Cédric Delsaux @ Project 4

Cory Oberndorfer

Cédric Delsaux's show Landscapes/Star Wars on Earth reminded me why I love art. It made me smile. Sounds so simple, doesn't it? Here's a segment from the press release:

Delsaux's digital photographs combine myth and reality. The work is subtle and serene in his Landscapes series, and overtly humorous in his Star Wars on Earth Series, in which Delsaux photographs toy figurines and then digitally places them in Parisian suburbs. His training in commercial photography is evident with his play on branding in the Star Wars on Earth series. Conversely, in Landscapes, traces of human existence are either remote or totally absent. In both series, the expansive and dream-like scenes combined with colors that contrast the washy with the bold is what captivates.

If you have the opportunity, check it out.
Project 4 Gallery is located at 903 U Street NW in Washington, DC. Wed-Fri 2-6pm, Sat noon-6pm

Monday, September 10, 2007

Introductions3 @ Irvine Contemporary

by Cory Oberndorfer

This past Saturday, Irvine Contemporary closed its Introductions3, their annual exhibition of recent art school graduates. From their national call, the selection committee chose 12 artists from over 250 submissions. The eclectically curated show included paintings, sculpture, installation, photography and animation. Some of the highlights for me were Maura Brewer's meticulously starched tuxedo shirts folded into an origami-like structure, Erin Colleen Williams's hybrid sculputral items which blend the look of patent-pending inventions using technology culled from the last 150 years, and the collaborative video project of Stephanie Williams & Jesse Thompson. With imaginative and highly styled sculptured figures and miniature set, the pair create an animated video story of a child creating a story from an overheard conversation and phrases found in the bible.
Overall, the show presented a positive outlook for the future of emerging artists, but my major point of interest in this show lies in Irvine's selection committee. There are many shows that curate recent grads, but most are chosen by gallery directors or a juror who is usually an artist, critic, curator or one who is linked to arts management. Irvine instead chose a panel of area collectors. These are art enthusiasts who promote the creation of new work and support the success of artists through their own purchases. Through this process, these collectors have a direct influence on the work that is introduced to the public. Whether their decision-making is based on long-term investment or a simple matter of taste, they have the ability to give us an idea of the appeal and marketability of these chosen artists.