Saturday, March 31, 2007

Too Much Information, Sarah Morris

Thomas DeBari
Friedrich Petzel Gallery

When seen at first, the painting screams Stella at the over looking the audience; second, the long tradition of high modernism. Arriving again, they take on a photshop image quality. Shapes of colors taped off. Saturated colors opaquely applied. The paint quality teeters on a wet thick application and a tight crisp edge from being taped off. The design took the shape by rings falling and intersecting with vertical lines of color. The shapes described the play of the rings and the edges of the canvas. As well as the ring paintings, she also showed paintings of triangle interlocking and expanding in scale. The paintings also seemed to have both the raw canvas as space, but then also as flat background that the shapes were displayed on top of. These paintings were from Origami series. Overall the work aesthetically functions on photoshop and high modernism.

The basis for this work is the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Titles of all the ring paintings correlated to other Olympic years. 1932 Rings was based on Los Angeles and the Depression. The Depression marks the time when the event and the competition would fail. But the competition was fierce. Here though, the link is in her fascination with the Depression and the change of city and mindset. With interests in revolution and change, politically, I wonder if that kind of identity can be found in work executed at such a distance. Other titles were 1952 Rings, the U.S.S.R. returned to the games in Helsinki in strong fashion after being out of it for 40 years. Nineteen fifty two also marks the start of the cold war. Though not started by the strong showing in overall standings. Another was 1972 Rings, the famed summer in Munich, where eight Arabian commandos took hostages and killed two Israeli team members. The games must go on apparently though some of the competitors chose to leave. The other painting was 1984 Rings. These Olympics were boycotted by all but one Warsaw Pact country. Romania was the only one to commit to LA for the games. The competition was weak considering Russia and its communist Allies did not participate. The USA hence took home a record setting number of medals; other individuals set records for capturing a multitude of metals in various events. Also, this Olympics had a corporate sponsor and they made 215 million dollars profit.

The rings in the ring painting conceptually relate to ring roads in China which become extremely congested in travel.

Looking for answerers in the conceptual nature of this work, I find interesting facts that don’t change the way I interact with these paintings. The information while brooding is washed away from the work. The road approach in the decision-making though is interesting. The paintings do have speed and congestion that creates the complexity. All are varied but they do not infer any significance of the games and years themselves.

The paintings are beautiful and through this context of looking which is sometimes forgotten, we see speed, movement and redirection. It is enough to understand the abstraction of traffic. We can see the tie to art history. The content of architectural development, the basis of the work, is stripped and essential. They are warm and funny in some of the decisions made. Some of the lines are comic in the depictions of speed. Certainly the work is from cold starting point but believing her care about the craft and significance of the subject matter, it nestles inside a point of view concerned with the world.

Oddly as much as we don’t see the significance of the games in her titles, she knows them and thus enacts that importance into the craft of the title. The interesting problem is can she invoke some sense of history in them. For her, she wants the viewer to think they were significant games but the disconnect is that she does not tell us why. This seems like a wonderful safety net, not saying anything. She intrigues people to look at the games and wonder what happened. In doing so, the games and politics are more interesting than her paintings conceptually. So what am I going to think about?
I had to write this.

It's April! Lectures at AU this month

crit room, second floor of the Katzen Arts Center

Clintel Steed, Monday April 9 at 7pm
Cara Ober, Thursday April 12th at 4pm
Lise Lemeland, Wednesday April 18th at 7:00 PM
Jefferson Pinder,Tuesday April 24th at 7pm

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Favorite Sculpture 2006: Petah Coyne, Mindy Shapero, Andrea Cohen

David Waddell

Funny, Not Funny
Part I- Crafted and Crafted Clunk, A Look at Coyne, Shapero, and Cohen

...instead of ranting, here are my raves for my favorite sculpture of 2006. They all made me laugh, smile and left me in awe and wonderment. Some resonated longer, as they took a turn from funny to not funny. Often, what is perceived to be light-hearted has a darker side. That is their power.

The artists and exhibitions include Greg Smith at Susan Inglett, Petah Coyne at Albright-Knox Art Gallery and, The Uncertainty of Objects at the Hirshhorn. I am particularly drawn to the work of Andrea Cohen and Mindy Shapero. Shapero simultaneously showed at CRG Gallery in New York.

Petah Coyne

I saw Petah Coyne at Buffalo’s Albright-Knox this summer, taking the trip twice. Each time, I walked through on my own and then, with an audio guide. Coyne discussed her work in a clear, articulate manner. Her soothing voice enriched my experience.

MIT Peacocks-Untitled #820 captures the magic. Dripping in white wax, time is standing still. As Coyne points out, this chandelier will never actually be stagnant. This pendulum will shift ever so slightly, even if we cannot catch it. My love for this piece could be my projected literary attachment. I have recollections of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I am transported into a snowy forest where flying birds are frozen. MIT Peacocks hangs over my head, acting as a canopy. The chicken wire, the armature, is within eyesight as one stands underneath the work. Suddenly, you become aware of the scale of this massive, welded iron piece that could possibly fall on you. It looks like a giant, white chocolate-covered pretzel that could kill. The silence of the space becomes magnified, you can hear your breathing, and maybe, just maybe, you see the slight swaying.

Untitled #927 (BZ-CD-Put-Put) was another work that tugged at my heart. Coyne created a family tree out of horsehair provided by Ann Hamilton. The braided hair is frazzled at the ends. Flattened and attached to the wall, the dark hair is in flight while eloquently resembling roots. The piece has a parenthesized title that refers to Coyne’s siblings. Another reference to literature, this work could have been out of a John Irving novel such as Hotel New Hampshire or Salinger’s Franny and Zoe. BZ-CD-Put-Put is about the untimely death of her brother. It is a sad, remembrance of childhood and having to carry on as an adult and as a creative entity.

Wonder and awe comes from Coyne’s high craft. The level of fine craft elevates silk flowers, taxidermied birds, feathers, hair and wax. Anyone can use absurd, clichéd materials but it takes someone like Coyne to catch you off guard and leave you breathless.

In Daphane, she catches the viewer off guard. The rose composed figure can be read as a stump or a woman in a dress. An unexpected, tiny face glares into the corner. People shriek when they discover this surprise. Coyne is a knowledgable, well-read artist. She intertwines mythology, world history with autobiography to create experiences.

Andrea Cohen and Mindy Shapero

I appreciate Andrea Cohen. More precisely, I love Andrea Cohen. Not only is she clever with her in-depth investigation and usage of materials, she acknowledges those who dismiss her work.

When I saw this work, I was jealous and amazed. I had all of the same materials in my studio. In my own practice, I recycle materials until it ‘works.’ I had yet to find my answer and then I witnessed the perfect solution for Floam, pool toys, rafts, twigs, wallpaper, and Great Stuff. I wish I was Andrea Cohen. She has taught me to let things sit, and evolve. Fiddling and manipulating objects is not a waste of time when sculpture this poetic, playful and beautiful can form.

Painting justifies itself through painting. So sure, Cohen makes references to Brice Marden, Chinese scrolls, landscape painting and Jonathan Lasker. But she also reminds me that I don’t have to gouge my eyes out with a paintbrush to make something noteworthy.

Far from revolutionary but still highly praiseworthy, Anne Ellegood curates a spectacular exhibition that allows this conservative town dip their feet and test the waters of contemporary sculpture. This is the state of sculpture.

There is a clunky, playful edge to art today. It is evident in the Vitamin P which emphasizes trends. And while, I am undecided if it is suitable for painting, I think CLUNKY is golden for sculpture. Let objects be objects, either elevate them or pronounce how pathetic they are.

Mindy Shapero is crafted clunk. Unlike most of the sculpture in the Uncertainty of Objects, Shapero’s work are creatures with souls. They are sad, pathetic animals, made of paint chips and cardstock. I empathize with these rigid furballs. One resembles an emu. My favorite work is a burnt out rainbow. It is hilariously sad.

More on Mindy, Greg Smith in Part II

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Diamanda Galas

Graham Childs at
St Valentine's Day Masacre at the Knitting Factory in NYC

Welcome to coolness. Diamanda while talented vocally and musically has a limiting effect. While this was not what I had expected from a tranny show, which was goth, I was disappointed that someone with Diamanda’s abilities was not utilizing them further and elevating herself above the newest flavor for the “cool kids” in New York City to chew on.
Overall it was a good experience and I’m glad I went. It’s just sad to see that possibilities of redefining images and stereotypes of beauty are put aside, and we are left with spectacle and oddity. This all brings up questions of sameness and individual identity but to be blunt what is individuality when you play into a genre of music and performance that is known for its stereotypes even when you are a seven foot tall transvestite lounge singer.

Check Us Out

Check out our link to our sister satellite space.
We wanted to show some of our goods, but have
kept it separate from the review site.

Our thesis shows are coming up. Come view us.
(The work shown on our satellite space is not
necessarily the work in the shows)

The First Year MFA Thesis Show reception will be held
April 13th from 6-8pm at the Katzen Arts Center.

The Second Year MFA Thesis Show reception will be
held on May 5th.

The Quilts of Gee's Bend at the De Young Museum

Lily deSaussure

Gee’s Bend, Alabama has been geographically, socially and economically isolated for decades until recently. The craft of quilting particular to this area has caught the attention of the country and beyond, resulting in a traveling exhibition now on view at the De Young museum.

An interesting point about shows of craft work is that they draw a greater audience, most likely because the methods and materials are more common and therefore, people are able to relate in terms of process and function. Craft has the ability to break down barriers between viewers who claim they don’t understand or know anything about art and the work itself. Craft is potentially a means for reaching a larger number of viewers with a message – it can function as a political act and it sometimes does quite successfully. In the case of the Gee’s Bend quilts, craft plays a central role in exposing a not-so-pretty aspect of our country’s history.

Gee’s Bend has existed in extreme poverty since slavery was abolished and wealthy plantation owners moved elsewhere. Freed slaves took over the land and took up residence in abandoned homes… only they were not exactly free as they were without and economy and cut off from the rest of Alabama’s.

This seclusion also contributed to the development of a unique genre of quilting. Techniques had been passed down from mother to daughter for generations. Quilting, as a craft, was a skill that these women learned, spent incredible amounts of time doing and eventually mastered. They produced quilts out of necessity in order to keep their families warm at night. Old work cloths were transformed into pattern, line and composition when stitched together. Quilting provided an outlet for these women’s expression, wherein they were allowed to push and challenge their creativity. More recent quilts have elaborate use of material and color, and stitching has become decorative in addition to functional.

The discovery of the Gee’s Bend quilts by the outside world has certainly had a positive effect on their community (especially in terms of economy). However, I can’t help but question the motivation behind the sudden rush of fame these women have experienced. The quilts have been dragged into a completely different world (the art world) than their own, having been placed in a museum with Diebenkorns and Joan Mitchells in the next room and Claus Oldenburg right outside the window. I mean, the motivations for making the quilts were so simple, human and honorable. They are so far removed from privilege and elitism that has been perpetuated in the western art world forever. Then when plopped into a museum setting, the exposure of this country’s ugly past of slavery (also economic and class related issues that still exist) are brushed gently to the side. Can this be avoided when displaying work like these quilts? I’m not sure. Don’t get me wrong, the De Young does an amazing job of showcasing craft on the level of fine art, which is important. It’s just that I question these issues because the original context of the work calls for it no matter what.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Ruth Asawa at the De Young Museum

Lily deSaussure

San Francisco report

The De Young Museum held an exhibition of Ruth Asawa’s work providing an expansive breadth of her career. The well-known Bay Area artist is mostly recognized for her wire sculptures of undulating round organic shapes within round organic shapes that are suspended from the ceiling.

My first experience with Asawa’s work was with a group of these sculptures in the foyer of the San Jose Art Museum, which boasts its own impressive collection of work by California artists. I did not come to appreciate these sculptures as much as I do until viewing Asawa’s show at the De Young. The daylight flooded entryway of the San Jose Art Museum did the pieces little justice, as they appeared as black gestural suggestions of something more then what they were against a blinding white backdrop. Although I personally have an affinity for repetitive pattern and craft, I nevertheless looked briefly and passed on by, having not found anything to hold my interest longer.

At first, I though I found the “something more” at the De Young. The installation was superb on a formal level but also in the way it placed craft on a high pedestal. The galleries were practically dark apart from the carefully lit pieces – up close every bend, knot and color variation in the wire was accentuated. And from afar, the pieces were perfectly composed within the dark grayish rectilinear framework of the gallery architecture. The lighting and display elevated the craft to a high art status by bringing out every detail and intricacy of the work – the labor involved was revealed and spotlighted so that each levitating piece glowed with a heavenly ora. Such a scene evoked awe and did the pieces the most justice possible.

Although having felt the initial awe, I found myself getting restless and walking faster toward the end of the exhibition. Sure, I admired the work for its masterful craftsmanship – not to mention the fact that Ruth Asawa was a student and close friend of R. Buckminster Fuller, whose own work no doubt greatly influenced her’s. As mentioned, I was drawn to the repetitive patterns and shapes, woven together and resembling basketry – but I can only look at so many baskets (I can only look at so many of the same painting as well). If this work had been representative of a decade of Asawa’s career mid-way through that would have been fine… but she is an established, late in her career artist and I wonder why she hasn’t gone farther. Yes, the work is time consuming and requires tremendous dedication, which is in and of itself remarkable – plus she has made a great example of the use of craft in fine art. The work at the De Young still left me feeling very much the same – although slightly more enlightened – as it did in San Jose. I just wanted something more that was not there.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Out and About: Geoffrey Aldridge Interviews Ryan Hill

Meet Ryan Hill, Manager of Interpretive Programs,
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, D.C.

In ARTifice's first interview post, Geoffrey Aldridge
talks with Ryan Hill. They discuss Hill's winding
path through art, film, and institutions.

Hill currently moderates the lunchtime talks
at the Hirshhorn and recently ran they
discussion on criticism at the Provision's
library. Now, we turn the tables on him and
he answers the questions.


This link is to Aldridge's website. The interview
can also be found through iTunes which is titled:
Out And About.

Our Philly Phriends, MFA Open Studios

Well, posting the invitation didn't work so well, so here is the info...

UPenn MFA Open Studio Sale
Friday April 27 from 5PM to 8PM Free Admission, drinks and refreshments

for more info click on the title to this blog or
contact Gianna Delluomo at 215-900-9714,
Simon Slater: 917-763-7034,

For those that cannot make it, stay tuned... we will report back.
We hope to have a loving friendship with our neighbors to the North.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ian Whitmore at G Fine Art

Lauren Rice

I thought that I would like Ian Whitmore’s paintings better than I actually do. I will say, however, that the gallery assistant at G Fine Art only pulled out three works for me to view during my visit. Another disclaimer to Whitmore’s credit is that he does not currently have an arranged exhibition as have the subjects of my previous reviews. Last but not least, I also could have called in advance of my surprise visit to see if a more full viewing could have been arranged. However, enough disclaimers—I will be happy to revise my opinion after seeing an entire Whitmore exhibition.

After reviewing Whitmore’s work online, I felt that the artist must be completely engaged with his work. Strangely enough, I had the opposite impression after viewing several works in person. I was told, though, that the works I was shown were “hot off the press”. I also think that they were the easiest to grab quickly. As a former gallery assistant myself, I know that it can be vaguely annoying when a student comes in and asks to be shown work. However, I also know that you never know who anybody is, or, perhaps more importantly, who they will become. Anyhow, I realize that this tangent has little to do with Whitmore’s work, so I will let it go and move on.

Why is it that so much contemporary artwork looks better online and in other reproductions than in the flesh? One of Whitmore’s paintings that I particularly liked online, Blunt Instrument, had such a luscious, painterly quality that it seemed as if the paint had only just been applied. Although, I did respond to Whitmore’s paint application after seeing works in person, the intense freshness that I perceived online was just not as present. The sole abstraction I saw, Living Room, was about 30 x 22 inches and although I liked the tension between the thinness and thickness of the paint application, the piece just did not really do it for me. The colors of the three paintings I saw were incredibly muted which was surprising considering the high chromo colors used in the works online. Also, they all felt very quick and not entirely worked though, like the beginnings of ideas to be further explored. Whitman is very young and is obviously a “talented” painter. However, I did not feel compelled to examine these paintings for any length of time which lead me to conclude that that he did not feel engaged with the paintings either. Overall, I am least interested in his figurative paintings. They feel very flat and disinterested. (Perhaps this is the point. Maybe. But I am not entirely convinced of that either). Furthermore, I feel that the narrative in his abstractions are much more appealing. In Living Room, for instance, it seems as if a giant chandelier has fallen and crushed some huge winged thing. And why are those red arrows squishing upwards out of the rubble? In fact, all of Whitmore’s abstractions have the quality of something just being spilled or broken into a million tiny components (now made up by beautifully applied paint) to sprawl across the canvas. If anything, I wish Whitmore would rely less heavily on the crutch of his painterly touch and really investigate the subject of his paintings.

On the other hand, I will say that I admire Whitmore’s choice to work both figuratively and abstractly. As a young painter with such renowned gallery representation, I realize that this could be a daunting task. It appears he knows that it is more beneficial to continue his investigations as an artist rather than produce multiple “Whitmore’s”. And although I wish he would investigate his ideas further, his choice deserves some respect.

A Review of Vik Muniz: Reflex

Cory Oberndorfer

On my recent trip to New York City, I saw dozens of galleries and work from hundreds of artists. The contemporary artwork being shown was heavy with content or craft and, on occasion, both content and craft. But it was not until I viewed Vik Muniz’s show at P.S.1 that I saw work that contained content, craft and the ever-elusive third element of art…fun. This is what I consider to be a trifecta of success in imagery.

Muniz’s show at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center is a selection from a larger exhibition organized by Miami Art Museum and curated by Peter Boswell. It includes photographs from each of the artist’s major series, as edited by the artist, P.S.1 Director Alanna Heiss, and Boswell.

Technically, Muniz could be labeled as a photographer. That is to say, the work he displays is photographs. But he is a photographer in the vein of Goldsworthy, as his true art is in the creation and temporal product being photographed. The first photograph to greet the view in this show is a portrait. As you get closer to the large print you realize that the entire portrait is composed of thousands of hole punch remains. It was impressive, yes, but I was wondering if a feat like this could continue, escalate or falter as I reached the rest of his show. The next photograph was a reproduction of Goya’s Saturn devouring one of his Sons. The medium used was “junk”. This junk was scattered around until it formed the shapes to mimic the original composition. As I looked closer I realized the scale of this project. There were objects like car doors, 55 gallon drums and ladders. I can’t even imagine the time, skill and space necessary for it’s completion!

One series of prints consisted of reproducing famous photographs with chocolate syrup. The Hans Namuth action photo of Jackson Pollock especially lent itself to this medium. Not only did I marvel at the skill in reproducing such detail with an unconventional medium, but I also became very hungry for chocolate. (It is rumored that Muniz actually eats his chocolate paintings after they have been photographed)

The “fun” aspect and “craft” aspect of these photographs had sucked me in, but you may be asking, “What about the content? Aren’t these just gimmicky photos?” Well, he also had representations from series such as Sugar Children where he reproduced his own photographs of children of sugar-cane workers. He did so by pouring white sugar onto black paper, creating a multitude of values in the image. Is this the ultimate irony of the medium? The product from workers experiencing terrible conditions isn’t even used for consumption. Instead, the sugar, the product of their labor, is used to form images of the other product of their labor—their own children.

Pictures of Ink takes the idea of image reproduction to another level. His technique is that of newspaper and magazine printing methods. He uses ink in halftone patterns to construct famous photographs mass produced by the media. His ink is placed on a surface that does not absorb letting the ink pool into itself and creating light reflections that illustrate the three-dimensionality of the texture. The photos in this exhibition were Terrorist(the well-known image of a terrorist peering over a balcony in Munich during the 1972 Olympics), Monster(the most published photo of the Loch Ness Monster) and Disaster(the explosion of the Hindenberg). Viewed up close, you can see the detail in each dot but as you further yourself from the print, the image becomes one you have seen thousands of times. The oddest aspect of this series is reflected in his titling. With his other works he places the name of the original creator in the title. This time he does not. Does this image appropriation seem a little unfair? These are by far the most recognizable to the public. Perhaps they are so ingrained into our culture that they become the property of our society as a whole, but very few people can actually name the original photographer, whereas those who recognize an image created by Caravaggio can instantly name the artist. When I think of image appropriation, I have always put it in the context of artist-to-artist. I am now conscious that images can be appropriated by the culture of society.

As I dealt the heavy cultural ramifications of his choices, I stepped to the next photograph—that of a cartoon cloud created by a skywriter over the skyline of Manhattan. The “fun” overwhelmed me again. The absurdity of a cartoon drawing of cloud in the sky recalls the tradition of Oldenburg creating ridiculously large ordinary objects, poking fun at the seriousness surrounding the abstract artists in the middle of the 1900’s. Dirt, sugar, string, junk, chocolate syrup, diamonds, caviar, pennies, wire, shadows, plastic army men, dust, pigment. Muniz is adept at using any of these as a medium to produce what he calls “the worst possible illusion that will still fool the eyes of the average person”. I disagree with his choice of words. While his illusion-making may not be revolutionary, it is my far some of the most fun. So let me say that he is skilled at making the most enjoyable illusion that will still fool the eyes of the average person.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Crossbar Hotel: Jim Wright at Rare Gallery in Chelsea

Brian Barr

Crossbar Hotel which was up at rare Gallery in Chelsea last month featured the strangely curious paintings and scupture of Jim Wright. Wright’s work is playful to be sure, full of bright colors, bizzare imagery, and psychodelic references. His work borders upon the absurd and the paintings seem to be taking cues from the work of recluse outsider artist, Henry Darger. Yet Wright is by no means an outsider. He received his MFA in 2004 from Hunter College in New York.
Wright is thus no doubt well versed in art historical trends and movements and the interest in outsider artists as a curiosity. His sculpture seems to take the influence of Darger a step further by removing them from the realm of imaginative fantasies and creates concrete objects in three dimensions to be interacted with physically rather than merely psychically. Wright is one of many young artists using the stylization of quasi naïve as a tactic in which to approach his image making and bringing to it the polish and wit of an MFA degree. Upon investigation however, it is clear that these works are sophisticated in there decision making.

In the painting-sculpture, “Scofflaws’ Widdendrem” we see a painting of a cottage in the forrest. In the foreground is a tree that has just been cut down, fallen right beside its perfectly severed stump. The stump and tree however are three dimensional. The stump rises off the painting in relief and the tree has fallen out of the picture plane all together, leaving Wright’s day dream and entering our space; quite literally bridges the gap between “window and object” in painting.

One of my favorite pieces in the exhibition was the small work on paper, “Peace Machine”. In this painting there is a fork in the road where two strange vehicles; which appear to be wagons with only one set of wheels as opposed to the two sets which gravity would require to hold off the ground, are on a collision coarse with each other. Both are occupied by curious figures in the black and white stripes of prison suits stereotypical of the early half of the twentieth century. In the wake of both is an oozing rainbow spewing from there legs where their feet should be. Out of their wrists (in place of hands) are projected arched rainbows and crescent moons surrounded by twinkling stars respectively. Amidst all of this artificial interjection of “Peace” and happiness is the oddity of the fact that the engines of both vehicles are spewing black smoke and yellow-brown smog, commenting perhaps on the notion that no matter how hard we humans try to manipulate our environment for the better, we leave behind a trail of pollution.

The show also consists of two works that are sculptures, “Dulocray’s Disboscation” and “Verticordious and Scopperloit”, yet both sculptures are painted. Both purposefully noted in there description: “Acrylic on foam”, “Acrylic on foam and wood”, described the same manner as the paintings which are “Acrylic on panel”, “Acrylic ink on paper”. These notions of painting/sculpture, window/object seem to be the binaries that Wright is concerned with. Judging by the decsriptions of his materials, Wright is giving primacy to Painting with a capital P. He is not calling it paint on foam, but rather giving it the specificity of the type of paint on foam, thus questioning the nature of painting and its function. That being said, for all the questions I feel that Wrights work raises, there is still a lack of pretentiousness. His paintings are fun, strange and interesting.

Andy Moon Wilson: Business, The Curator's Office

Sharon Servilio

There is a Dana Carvey sketch in which the comedian plays an auctioneer at Sotheby’s. Rather than being accommodating and encouraging toward his potential buyers, Carvey’s character indulges in outright mockery of them. As he sells items from the Kennedy estate, he imitates how he believes the buyers will act at home, privately enjoying their purchases. “Ooh, look at me,” he sneers between bids. “I’ve got JFK’s rocking chair! I’m JFK!” or “I’ve got Jackie O’s necklace! I’m Jackie O!” The bidders are clearly uncomfortable, but nevertheless they buy the items for typically extravagant prices. We laugh at the absurdity of Carvey’s insinuations until the camera cuts to a scene in which a winning bidder is sitting on his porch, rocking in JFK’s rocking chair, gleefully shouting, “Look at me! I’m JFK!”

The question of buyership and the relationship between buyer, work, artist, and dealer has been a subject of interest for artists who want to criticize the art market or use its absurdities as objects of play. I was reminded of this issue in several DC galleries recently. In a group show at the Adamson gallery, Enrique Martinez Celaya shows a piece called “The Dalai Lama.” Sold in an edition of thirty, this work is a small diptych consisting of a mundane digital print of a lightning bolt on one side and a mirror on the other. Whatever content the artist actually seeks to impart, my one persistent thought is that of the buyers at home admiring the work, and consequently themselves. “Look at me! I’m the Dalai Lama!” The idea of becoming significant by association, of buying one’s way into some kind of intellectual or artistic community, is certainly an intriguing way to think about buying art.

Quite a different idea about buyership pervades Andy Moon Wilson’s exhibit, Business, currently showing at The Curator’s Office. The show consists of hundreds of pen and ink drawings, mostly business card size, with a few larger pieces maxing out at around two feet. Subject matter includes space age architecture, weaponry, wallpaper-type flourishes, grotesque heads, grids of letters and numbers, and sarcastic cartoons that include both text and image. There is nothing particularly special about these drawings. They are skilled in and comfortable with the style they inhabit, which sees to be predominantly the Cartoon Network aesthetic. A few of the cards could stand alone as drawings, particularly some from the group of alphanumeric grids, which take varying shapes and seem influenced by crossword puzzles, wheel of fortune, and Alfred Jensen paintings. The question of audience comes up immediately, being that the drawings lack what typically engages an art audience: formal innovation, a conceptual edge, poignant content, a sense of risk-taking, exploration, or development. They mostly come across as well-executed doodles, probably most appealing to high school and college age boys, or a general public sufficiently impressed with attractive drawings.

So what is the message here? Is Moon Wilson trying to show up art world elitists by showing amateur-style work for an amateur audience in a professional gallery setting? The business card drawings are each priced at fifty dollars, making them accessible to those who would like to buy art but can rarely afford it. Two weeks into the show, nearly thirty cards had been sold. In addition, the business card as material seems to reference another trait of Moon Wilson’s probable buyership, DC professionals who work 9-5 jobs. This imagined audience is also likely to have a somewhat dorky edge, considering the sense of humor evident in many pieces, such as one that lists the top lessons to be learned from Robocop. Unlike Rob Pruitt’s Art for Teenage Boys series, which was clearly tongue-in-cheek even if rooted in real desires, Moon Wilson seems to revel in the teenage-boy aesthetic without really questioning it.

I applaud Moon Wilson’s idea to subvert the evil art market and make his work accessible to regular people. However, once his work finds its way into their homes, what is it going to say to them? Currently it risks simply verifying the general public’s misconception that art is only about something that looks cool on your wall. Of course, enjoying looking at a work of art is a better reason to buy it than the desire to be an important art intellectual, but that doesn’t excuse the artwork for lacking substance or depth.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Water Media on Paper at Heineman Myers Contemporary Arts

Congrats Ms Davis on your win!

Congrats Marty Weishaar, Kelly Ulcak,
Amy Misurelli Sorensen, and Sharon Servilio
for being included in this show.

The National Society of Arts and Letters Washington Chapter
announces The Harriet L. Newbill Art Competition 2007
Water Media on Paper

exhibit at Heineman Myers Contemporary Art in Bethesda, Maryland
open to the public March 18
Exhibit opening and announcement of winner 2-4 p.m.

My take by David Waddell

I could not really be surprised at the choice of grand prize for this competition. They went with the safe choice. The jurors chose an artist who captured realistic portraits through watercolor. They were very traditional pieces. Overall, Davis' pieces all looked pretty much the same.

I think it was a huge achievement for Amy Misurelli Sorensen's work to be included in a Water Media on Paper show as it was displayed in a conservative locale. Her work is exciting, colorful, crisp and SEXUAL. As you enter the gallery, her clean and professioanlly framed work is the first to be seen. It was as if they were practically handing her the $4,000 prize and yet, they did not.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Jessie Mann "Self Possessed" photographs by Len Prince

Thomas Debari visits Adamson Gallery

Being in the business of making images is second nature. Len Prince has been making the scene on magazines since the 70’s and Mann in her mother's photographs since she was born. Mann’s background is one well-written and argued in terms of her mother’s depictions of her and her siblings naked. That said we move into the light where both of these virtuosos are great, Mann for vogueing and Len prince for snapping those moments. The photographs designed with flawless form and content, are referential to all of art history. The true gift of the poser is a the blank embodiment of genre. Quickly changing from starlet to Venus as brown hair to blond, they reconfigure images from pop to Ingres. Small photographs result in the attachment we personally have to these images, while still maintaining a fun for everyone approach. “Art matters.” Or so they say. In their case, it is the truth. The history of the photograph is explored through Prince’s and Mann’s experiences.

Len being the fashion and celebrity photographer uses similar sets sometimes identical for both the commercial work and the Self Possessed Series. In doing this, they no longer mimic but transcend into that same space and time of the mainstream glitz. The lighting on the shots and Lens camera make the viewer wet in the light and shadow play. The staging being perfect at what it is then ready for the other. She walks in stage right robbed as it falls you seen it before. A naked Jessie Mann, but now all grown up. So familiar and unabashedly feminine, she centers herself no smile and click, hot work from a young hot girl with a hot name in photography. As they flip through pages of an Art history book or a POP magazine, they take and reestablish ownership of the images. The Birth of Venus is in the backyard next to the sprinkler. This girl has that intangible something. An ability to ham it up or shut down either way she seems to be exactly where she needs to be at the right time. Her strategy of being in front of the camera is something that is expected and refreshing to see again in context with the history of photography. As Jessie Mann headlines this exhibit, I wonder who does the majority of the work. Is it the model or the photographer? Who owns these images more? Alas, it is a community’s effort anyways and marked as such. Who is more powerful? Mann or Prince.

Mann must be the princess. Prince must be a man and do all the hard work. Judging from the majority of photos present was set at Princes studio.

Mann’s abilities though are not to be diminished for this must be second nature and a natural model that she is and has been. Through out her career she has been in the front exposed and so she is again. With issues that are strong in cases of authorship. What they do in the photos are pieces of the issue they make art about other artist. Embodying the content, the branding of the work as Jessie Mann and the secondary Len Prince they go further. They reach a place uncharted by Cindy Sherman, though starting from similar places in the end this truly is collaborators saying I like art.

This small hole that is constructed is one, which they push through on the Mann’s back.
Jessie Mann is Self-Possessed by what? Jessie Mann is consistently redefining herself sometimes with the photo cord sometimes with out. Their references spiral to the borders of accepted of images. She poses to the images that they hold near. As the art market holds her close we remember when this was the art world.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Role of Criticism Today, Panel Discussion at the Provisions Library

by David Waddell

In the spirit of this conversation, I have written this in a blog style. That is, I sat down and wrote it. Most of our works through ARTifice are written as papers rather than letting it all fly, unedited in a stream-of-conscious act.

I attended the panel discussion, the state of criticism in the arts, hosted by Transformer Gallery at the Provisions Library in Dupont Circle.

Ryan Hill from the Hirshhorn mediated the event. The panel consisted of Kriston Capps of Washington City Paper, Glen Dixon from the Washington Post Express, editor of Sculpture Magazine Glenn Harper, Rachel Beckman at the Washington Post and Andy Grundberg of the New York Times.

To summarize this lively conversation, I will quote Glenn Harper concluding the discussion to Ryan Hill, "That wasn't too depressing, was it?" Well, Glenn, I didn't think the conversation was any more depressing than life usually is. The topic for the panel discussion could have been, 'Complaining About Your Job: Part One, Editors and Critics.'

Hands down, the whiniest and most disgruntled critic was Glen Dixon. Glen Dixon described his background as if he did not have a choice to become an art critic. He made it sound like either it was a complete accident or that a gun was pointed at the back of his head. Everytime he spoke, vomit spewed from his mouth. My question to him would be, is there anything that you do not have a problem with? Are you happy with anything? He complained about everything! In fact, I could list his complaints in order of which he spoke:

1. The Post general audience cannot understand art. (See 8)
2. As a writer, you have to follow rules and censors. You can't say things like "Shotgunning a beer" or "infamous massacre" (See 3)
3. The Washington Post has shackles.
4. There is too much information in the world. Overload. (See 5&6)
5. Zines suck.
6. Blogs suck.
7. It sucks to travel everywhere you could possibly want to go and see all of the shows you ever wanted to see. It seems ideal but in reality one cannot absorb all that information. It is like you saw nothing at all. So why waste the time?
8. Readers are tone deaf and illiterate (when asked, why do critics only describe rather than criticize?)

Glen Dixon loves himself but is mad that he is writing blurbs for the Washington Post Express. He has fallen short of his own goals and dreams. To compensate, he took every turn he could to speak. And each time, it was negative. Just because you cannot land your dream job does not mean that you have to insult your audience. I was offended just listening to him and I consider myself in his target audience for 'his ideal writing situation.' I am an educated person. In fact, his current audience which he insists on trashing (Metro commuters riding to Capitol Hill) are probably literate as well. What makes Glen Dixon so special that he is more literate and less tone deaf than the normal person?

Glen Harper, the editor of Sculpture, was much more eloquent and articulate about explaining the situation and role of the critic in today's world. He says that those pitching articles must know the overall scope of the field. Problematic pitches for him are those that do not contribute to the goal of his publication. A large portion of proposed articles are written by people who have never read Sculpture magazine. On the flipside, he explains that successful critics, such as Lucy Lippard, struggle with maintaining their original voice after an editor has chopped up their work for publication.

A discussion point of the evening was: where is the future of print and the future of critique? Harper points out that the 80's were hot for non-profit magazines. Since the collapse, however, only ART Lies exists. Capps adds other critical outlets to the dialogue. Web-based Glasstire and its contributors such as Chris French fill the void for alternative voices . Students and artists who are motivated and interested also voluntarily fill the gap. Austin based Okay Mountain is an example.

Hill suggested that the internet has brought writing to an informal and pedestrian level. Grundberg agrees, stating that blogs are unedited streams of consciousness that fulfill a grassroots function. The Post or Times would never tread in these areas.

Later, Grundberg questions blog authors. Why would anyone want to write if they were not being paid? It is not very economical. I thought this was a strange comment. I wonder if any members of the panel have a love for art or for writing. Maybe the joy and love was taken out of it by having a 9-5 job. Once you get paid to do something, the fun stops. I think that people who maintain a blog have a compassion for whatever they write about. That is the beauty of this type of writing. You do not have deadlines. You do not have to be forced to write about art which you feel indifferent about.

Overall, the panel was very hesitant to promote the blog. Harper maintains that the print version has a certain aura and documentation quality. If an artist is featured on Sculpture magazine's website rather than their printed magazine, the sculptor is usually angry. Material still dominates, adds Hill. Or does it? Dixon polls the panel audience. Who even reads blogs? 80% of the group raises their hands. Dissatisfied he emphasizes, but who reads ART blogs? 75% He is gonna prove his point somehow. But who revisits those same sites? 50% Then an older woman behind me screams "Get with the times!"

Harper references 18th century salons and Boudelaire's Triumph of Art for Public. He states that criticism is about the public. Blogs are pretty much for the public. What a great way to hold a forum for the public...if only someone would listen.

The last hot topic was in the Q&A session. What do you have to say about critics being more descriptive than critical? All agreed that, in fact, they were critical in their describing. I found their answers to be frustrating and beside the point.

Grundberg: How is describing not critical?
Beckman: We are not critical out of fear that we will run into the artist at the grocery store. (Later, she was questioned about that answer, in which she answers, 'well, actually, I am not a critic. I put myself in a hypothetical situation).
Dixon: Readers are tone deaf and illiterate.

It is amazing how writers could not answer this question without blaming the audience or the artist. My final question was, where is the actual artist in all of this? The critic was central to the conversation. However, the artist and art was at the furthest periphery.

Out of all of this, I have a list of sources to look at:
Bad at Sports Podcast
James Elkins
Peter Plagens

Also, I would advise checking out the Provisions Library at 1611 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC
It is a great source which our city has. I just learned about it and will take advantage of its existence.

- "Just spell my name right." Warhol

-"Be passionate, partisan, and political" Baudelaire

-The most money being spent in art right now is contemporary art, artists that are alive and currently making work.

Investigation into Raiders of the Lost Ark

Graham Childs

Recently I had been asked why Raiders of the Lost Ark should be considered as an artistic work. Despite the commercial success, writing, cinimatography, directing, acting, and cultural impact that this film has had over the past twenty-eight years, I believe there is supportive evidence mostly in its underlining theme of personna. The concept of Indiana Jones’ persona is perhaps the greatest binding aspect of his life that makes him relatable to our own lives; in essence, Raiders of the Lost Arc is a story about storytelling itself.

As in Hamlet, Harison Ford also plays a man grapling with meaning, rightousness, and sin within not only his life but in the metaphor of our own lives. This occurs mostly from the perspective that Indiana Jones has a compulsive lying disorder or at least creatively elaborates the truth. This is most evident after he returns from South America, unsuccessful in his attempt to recover a golden idol. I believe that the true identity of Jones is uncovered here where he is a fumbling professor needing an excuse to justify his failures at his job. In effect, we are Jones’ students captivated in awe while Marcus, his boss, merely states to Jones in more or less words that he has heard it all before (Marcus does not like tall tales).

It is in this created personna of Indiana Jones that the viewer relates, not in the super human achievement or the prevailer of unbeatable odds but in the stretching of the truth to no end. This is perhaps one of our most common threads as foulable humans, the ability to exagerate and find excuses and to justify our own faults into our own existence; we make ourselves the heros of our own stories exactly as Indiana Jones has done for himself.

Now you might be asking yourself what kind of unbearable truth about oneself would a person need in order to justify the need for a story involving the recovery of a sacred Jewish artifact that the Nazis were going to use to conquer the world and by doing so proving that anti-sematism is morally more wrong than what Indiana Jones has done? The answer stems from the fear in Jones’ eyes when called on by the government after he’s finished teaching his class and he exclames to Marcus,”What am I, in trouble?”


The answer and more next week.

Monday, March 12, 2007

DCAC opening

March 16 – April 8, 2007

“The Jolly Cowboy” curated by Cara Ober*
includes Zoe Charlton
opening Reception: Friday, March 16 7-9pm

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Duane Hanson at American University

Thomas DeBari

The Duane Hanson show at American University’s Katzen Arts Center, is currently up and will be viewable into April. I had a chance to stroll the floor with our current visiting artist, Mr. Rob Pruitt. We talked our way through the bottom floor of the overstocked museum. What is contained in the rest of this article are topics and attitudes discussed.

The first floor of the museum blossomed with anonymous cake icing paintings. The paintings were branded with the quintessential DC love of stripes and color fields. Also, there were sculptures stolen from the Liberace museum in Las Vegas. Rhinestone glass pieces rotated with slow movement, casting its visceral light on the pieces hung within proximity to them.

Photos of the process accompany the Hanson work. The real people which he enjoyed paying tribute to, caught with their pants down, were humorous at times. It is interesting how Hanson’s work succumbed to the mediocrity of the surrounding artwork. Everything seemed dull and crafty when approached. The experience of viewing these pieces from a distance is when it is strongest. Hence you shall not notice the inconsistencies. Out of the corner of your eye, the reality possessed by the figures fills the air. This power enables a viewer to second-guess even the gallery sitters, and the gallery sitters to question the patrons.

Disappointment and questions arose when concerning the upkeep of the pieces. For instance, the props that accompanied the main characters in the sculptures were to have been upgraded and renewed with contemporary version of the products. Surely a curatorial nightmare to replace a can of soda for a new can of soda. The varying craft of the people was also open for discussion. On the second floor, a man sits on a John Deer tractor. Everything should have been cast for this sculpture. The clothes cast on the fat man’s body have a terrycloth texture, and the hat is something whose texture and weight is plastic. The incapacity of the artist to go all the way is bothersome. In other pieces littered around the museum, people have natural clothes and wigs for hair. The skin and the human body being the things really worked on. The clothes on our John Deer man signify a change in process. Surely if the process was thorough, the tractor and the coke can that sits in his right hand would have been cast. Possibly not the coke can.

Another problem that cut me off from suspending my disbelief was ‘the painter’, located to the left of the entrance. Armed with a roller on a pole, the painter looks towards the stairwell dumbfounded. A diagonal role of the Hot Pink Paint lies behind him. The figure is amazingly executed. His clothes are real, not cast. His shirt has a hot pink roller mark. This mark spans 18 inches down his chest. This is anything but an accident. The believability is just sloppy, but then again this is the same painter that made a diagonal mark on the wall. (Everyone who has rolled out a wall knows to always go vertical and to start at a specific starting point not aimlessly in the middle or upper left.) Also from this painter to get that roll across his chest, you would expect some spillage on the floor and the drop cloths to be down on the floor next to the walls. It’s just an attempt to be artsy rather than truthful.

The antique quality of them is also of concern. The figures gaze out of dry, old props and wigs that desperately need conditioner. Yet, they are still powerful. The man sits with his mother lost in his day, for we are lost in nostalgia, and the cinematic transcendence of what the west feels like. The time period of the people are 60’s or 50’s, the gaze of the man drinking the soda is timeless. As powerful as is it is, I think they would be more effective if they kept up with the everyday aesthetic that was first captured.

The overcrowded museum makes the viewer question the value of Duane Hanson’s work as it is mixed with inferior shows. This devalues the exceptional work of Duane Hanson. The context of the work was really poor. Seen with its pop contemporaries, the work is reestablished as valuable and while, still dated, remains fresh. The one notable place of excellence in the installation is the area where the couple eating mimics the other diners at the adjacent coffee shop. The context of the work gels perfectly with its surrounding.

Douglas Gordon at the Hirshhorn

written by David Waddell

I had high expectations for Anne Ellegood’s follow-up show to the Uncertainty of Objects at the Hirshhorn. However, Refract, Reflect, Project: Light Works from the Collection was exactly that, a survey show with work from the collection. It was another brief tour of art. Regulars such as Dan Flavin, James Turrell and Robert Irwin appear to educate the masses. Stand out pieces include Olafur Eliasson’s Round Rainbow and Douglass Gordon’s Play Dead, Real Time. I tried giving Turrell a chance but it proved to be a stressful experience.

I barely adjusted my vision to see the Turrell piece without bumping into other guests as a security guard turned on his flashlight to guide me away from the piece. I was too close. I apologized and told him that I could not see. Another man in the room snorted and said “Yeah, me neither.” That was the end of that Turrell experience for me. I recommend the Quaker House in Houston. It is an amazing experience and surpasses the Cy Twombly gallery at the Menil Collection as my new favorite place in Texas.

Meanwhile, at the Hirshhorn, disappointment had already set in when I encountered two large screens and a television set that shows an Indian elephant rolling on the ground, standing up and laying on its side. My gloom lifted off me, as though I were a child at a circus (taking into account that I was ignoring animal rights). The camera pans around an elephant in a white room. The camera constantly spins around this beast, even when the animal is motionless. The ground beneath the subject appeared to be moving. It is disorienting as this giant becomes weightless.

Another dizzying factor is the relation of the screen to the viewer. Standing next to the screen, the top of my head reaches the horizon line. Everything below this point is legible reflection. Where the screen meets the floor, a second reflection merely captures light rather than image.

Visitors walk between the projected light and screen. The projector is mounted to the ceiling at an angle and casts silhouettes of those who pass through. Viewers on the other side of the screen witness heads floating at the bottom of the screen. It becomes a surreal, puppet show.

By including the viewer’s ‘interaction’, constant camera movement on the large screens and a static camera on the television, Gordon shows us his devices. He is reveling his tricks and magnifying his medium.

The camera inspects this animal from a mechanical viewpoint. But the audience can see this pachyderm as a soulful animal. On the television set, Gordon begins by panning slowly across his face and into the eyes. When the elephant playfully rolls around, he seems so compact, like a ball. These acts almost diminish his large stature. He seems like a pet, a cat.

We are reminded of the elephant’s ancestors. His wrinkles, oversized skull and tree stump legs are queues to dinosaurs. These ancient creatures roam this earth. Instead of letting them live in peace, we treat them as a sideshow. It is interesting that Douglas uses the most recent technology to capture one of the oldest creatures who have been abused for various reasons for so long.

In the end, Gordon is making a statement about human control and taming wild animals for transportation and entertainment purposes. And just like the circus, we ignore the protestors outside. We devour cotton candy while enjoying the spectacle. I couldn’t bother to feel sad at the moment of watching in amazement the beauty and grace of this animal. I was seduced by the medium of film and brilliance of light. Gordon is successful at mesmerizing the audience to then overlay a meaningful message.

Black Snake Moan

Thomas DeBari

Black Snake Moan
Written and Directed by Craig Brewer

The movie is drenched in the humidity of the south. A small town farmer Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is broken. His wife left him with a bottle of moonshine and his blues guitar. His heart turns to a hard rose petal-killing monster. He finds solace in the warmth of his music and the bible. Laz is a stern man shaped by the farmland that carries him through the seasons.
Rae (Christina Ricci), a godless jezebel, runs around fucking and sucking her way through the first half an hour. She is possessed by molestation as a child and now has an uncontrollable void in constant need of filling.
With her character intact she is found beaten and left for dead on the road in front of Lazarus’s house. Lazarus nurses her back to health. Rae reunites with her boyfriend Ronnie (Timberlake) who was in the army, and they get married.

The movie is stylized as a retro and gritty picture. It contains the flair of Tarantino’s vision. The props were beautiful. A purple and metallic electric Gibson Les Paul guitar was owned by Lazarus, as was a chain with an enormous pad lock. The Chain/ chastity belt was used to chain up the half naked Rae while she was “being cured.” Her sexual identity was positioned as the devil. And something that needed to be broken. She is chained to the radiator so she wouldn’t run of during one of her episodes, which starts with the clutching her legs. Chained up she raps her sexuality twisting into sado-masochistic fantasy.

The aesthetic of the movie was saturated. The dream sequences were intensely strobing the near past images and her childhood. Ambiguous, due to the change in the depth of focus on the figures makes dust dreamily rain past the camera lens. The figure presented through this filter was of her molester.

The problem I had with the movie was the canned ending. It felt like Hollywood big budget and there was no final cut for the director’s taste. The film’s overall tone was gritty, with dirt that laid on you, and cicadas that filled the sweat that poured off your face. All the way through to the climax the films drive and feel was succinct. The end was what was horrible about it. In a film about redemption of the main character and the teaching of the bible, everything worked out. But it feels as if Gods wrath has been taken for granted, and in doing so does a great injustice to the characters. After all the grit and heart of the film, they end it with couples counseling for Rae and her boyfriend, and a sunset retreat. Fucking crap.

This is how they should have ended it. The Blues Bar’s dark sweaty purple light fades on Ronnie’s eyes through the window. Son House talks about the blues hurting a man. Reopening at Lazarus’ home Rae and Laz play the guitar and sing. Unchecked Ronnie comes up behind them and shoots Rae in the chest. Turns to Laz and falls as Laz snatches away his gun. The next scene begins with Laz at the jail and talking to Ronnie through the glass. Laz is seen trying to redeem Ronnie through the prison walls. If that was the ending they would respect the game of blues and the characters. Since the director chose this other ending all you can respect is the aesthetics of the film. There was no integrity in the overall consideration for this film, because he did a disservice to the characters individuality.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Sharon Servilio reviews Martin Ramirez at American Folk Museum

Young artists today are hungry for alternate histories, particularly when it comes to the recent past. Walk into any major collection of modern art and you will see the same history being sold again and again. A relatively small number of artists have “made it” into the canon, allowing us to relax into the logical, cause-and-effect model of history in which one movement follows another in a neat line. Unfortunately, this line seems to be always running into dead ends or circling back on itself, and many artists are now seeking to widen their perspective and searching for other legacies to explore. Evidence of this came at the recent Hirshhorn show, The Uncertainty of Objects and Ideas, when three young sculptors chose pieces from the permanent collection to exhibit along side of their own work. The majority of these pieces were by virtually unknown artists, and some had not been exhibited in over twenty-five years.

The Martin Ramirez retrospective adds another fresh layer to our concept of twentieth century art. Traditionally, outsider art has been either dismissed or adored condescendingly, possibly in part because of undiscerning curators who have lumped the truly worthy together with anything that happens to be eccentric, obsessive, folksy or weird. There is also the difficulty of discussing and placing such work; as Peter Schjeldahl says, “it defeats normal criticism’s tactics of context and comparison.” The American Folk Art Museum’s extensive solo show does Ramirez the service of presenting him on his own terms and allowing the work to speak for itself. The nearly 100 pieces exhibited show a sophisticated understanding of pictorial space, a willingness to work in series with subtle variations, a deft handling of materials and an ambitious sense of scale. The impact of this show should, as Roberta Smith states, “render null and void the insider-outsider distinction.”

Ramirez’s most striking device in these works, all drawings made between 1948 and 1963, is the use of parallel lines to create planes as well as convex and concave volumes. These he combines endlessly to arrange the space within his compositions, forming the stages and tunnels his characters inhabit. These characters include cowboys, madonnas, and animals, as well as trains and cars that at times seem more like spaceships or soft, rubber versions of themselves. This cast does not enact any particular story, but weaves enigmatically through its lined world. Some compositions are more singular and centered, with a character posed importantly in a stage-like box. Others are more varied and sprawling, with collaged pieces integrated into a panoramic landscape.

Ramirez’s line system not only bends and morphs space but also creates a pulsating rhythm throughout the body of work. This rhythm is echoed in his subject matter, both in the relentless tempo of a train barreling through the American west (Ramirez’s home after emigrating from Mexico) and in the continuous procession of frames that make up a film, which is probably the source material for Ramirez’s caballeros. This shows that the artist was acutely aware of and fundamentally in tune with the pulse underlying modern life and the push towards progress, a theme that was under investigation throughout the twentieth century and includes such diverse media as early modernist painting and minimalist pulse music.

Ramirez’s use of material turns necessity and circumstance into occasion for superior craft. It seems his surfaces are patched together from “whatever was lying around,” ranging from regular white paper to brown paper bags to magazine cutouts. However, these are arranged in an intentional way, using the color, value, and shape of the paper as an integral part of the overall composition. Ramirez used a matchstick to apply his homemade medium, a mixture of melted crayons and other household items; the seductive touch and the range of value and color he coaxes out of these crude materials is remarkable. The one aspect of his work that disappoints is his rendering of some of the figures, especially their faces. All of the humans, animals, and vehicles are stylized, but typically in a way that adds whimsy to the drawings or makes sense within the stylized spaces. However, many of the faces simply read as generalized and childlike, the only scenario in which the outsider label “naïve” comes to mind.

I briefly want to mention the artist’s institutionalization in a mental hospital only to state that it is not worth mentioning; at least not as much as all the scholars and critics seem to think. In a sense, it is important for context and an autobiographical reading of the imagery, but it should not be used to set the artist apart as an outsider. After all, countless educated artists, from Van Gogh to Rothko, have had their share of psychological struggles that do not dominate the discussion of their work.

Extinction of Printmaking? Cannonball Press celebrates Woodcut in Chelsea

by Amy Misurelli Sorensen

American University instructor, Don Kimes, guided several AU graduate students on a tour of Chelsea galleries last weekend in New York. I had a rewarding and disconcerting experience at David Krut Projects, a gallery featuring the work of Cannonball Press.

Cannonball Press is a small printing collaborative, which celebrates the tradition of woodcut printmaking. The group is comprised of both master-printers and artists selling fine art prints at an unusually low cost.

Martin Mazorra, an American University Alum, and Mike Houston are the artists and printers responsible for the exhibition “Treasure of the Black and White Brigand” at Cannonball Press. Martin and Mike collaborated on the project and printed the colossal works with an intimate team of colleagues. They are lucidly stealing from and celebrating a lost tradition, woodcut printmaking, hence the title “Treasure of the Black and White Brigand” and subtitle “Woodcutological Plunder”. While the woodcuts lend themselves to a specific visual stylization and employ propaganda derivative of the work of Tom Huck and Raymond Gloeckler, the presentation of prints shows originality and ingenuity. The exhibition features mural or banner sized woodcut prints on canvas hung from wooden and steel rods evocative of Vatican Tapestries and political posters. The prints on paper collaged onto sculptural forms to enhance the prints’ narratives are playful. The monumentality, quality of line, and presentation is engaging. The political content of the narratives and the concept of appropriating and sampling this method of the woodcut give the show a permissible place in a contemporary gallery.

Bravo! Martin and Mike have resurrected the traditional woodcut in Chelsea. The exhibition evoked in me sensations of pure visual pleasure. However, it has left me on a quest to unearth why this printmaking tradition is becoming extinct.

Why does this show highlight the pillaging of a lost tradition? Is traditional printmaking dead? When I say traditional, I am referring to the processes of intaglio, relief, and lithography. A history of processes that can be traced back to the carved relief, for example, the wooden stamps in Egypt, brick seals in Babylonia, and clay seals in Rome. Multiple prints, picture-making, newspapers, book illustrations then came with the invention of paper. Rembrandt, Goya, and Durer relied on the processes of printmaking. What happened to limited editions? Has the haughty, commercial New York Art World eliminated the print because of its affordability and accessibility? Is there a misinterpretation of “originality” linked to the print? Did it die with Warhol and his money scheming factory? Shall we blame the technological advances of Xerox machines, computers, the media, and digital ink-jet printers, or should we be looking at technology’s advancement as a continuation of the process. Do academic institutions influence the minimal production of printmakers? Why is it that the investigation of historical printing concepts and contemporary printing concepts are only being investigated primarily in the Midwest? Has printmaking, a process as old and as innovative as painting, been lost while painting continues to triumph?

Katrín Sigurdardóttir: High Plane V

Cory Oberndorfer
P.S. 1 Installations
Katrín Sigurdardóttir: High Plane V

Coming into Katrín Sigurdardóttir’s installation space, “High Plane V”, the viewer walks into a room occupied only by two handmade wooden ladders leading to holes in the ceiling. The title card not only explains that it is interactive, but it is meant to be viewed by two people at the same time. After journeying to the top of the steep ladders, the viewers must stick their heads through the head-sized hole to experience the world above. The space you are entering is a brightly lit arctic landscape. It is painted white and has sparse areas of carved blue foam resembling some sort of topography. Given the color and sense of barrenness, they appear to be glacial formations in an arctic icescape.
While looking across the space, the viewer can also see the head of the other viewer peaking over the formations, floating in a disconnected way. The physical distance is not far, but any communication seems awkward and out of place. At this point, I remembered that only one-eighth of an iceberg is visible above the surface. Consistent with this measurement, the human body is eight heads tall, and only one-eighth is visible. The viewers have become icebergs and installed themselves into the topography. I really began to think about the distance between the formations, just as the distance between myself and the other viewer. Beneath the surface, we had shared a conversation, but now there was such separation. Were the formations once part of a whole, or are they still connected beneath?
My personal interpretation of Sigurdardóttir’s installation involves the social and ecological effect of technology. I think about how many times I have seen couple on a date, both on the phone talking or texting another person. They are so busy talking with someone far away that the interpersonal interaction is lost, creating a distance. At the same time, it is because of our technological advances that we are speeding the global warming process. Glaciers are falling apart at an astonishing rate. In both examples, we are breaking apart something that once held such power and beauty.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Jill Moser at Wade Wilson Gallery

HOUSTON connection
written and reviewed by Meredith Cunningham

Recently, on one of those days that screams aloud: Go out amongst the world and be of this time, I drifted into Wade Wilson Gallery in Houston begging the Universe for a morsel of something threateningly alive. A literal and concrete building situated perfectly between the museum district and the trendy part of Montrose, this gallery exists symbiotically with a number of other gallery tenants hoping to bring in the ‘three for one’ crowd. In this place is where I met Jill Moser; not the person per say, but the paintings.

This experience was for me everything that I want an art encounter to be. I walked in, probably a little too smug, and immediately felt a kind of decompression similar to swimming down too deep in a body of water and then releasing yourself to your own buoyancy. Jill Moser’s paintings are portraits of what I imagine Synesthesia to be. They are at once line and form and something that feels faintly like photography. They are musical in that completely silent way that usually means you are looking at something profound. I wondered to myself almost immediately what it was about these oil paintings that were so reminiscent of photography. Perhaps it is the thick yet pristine layers of gesso that hang on the canvases like a porcelain mask absorbing all the textures of the paint into their skin. I could have believed it was made out of just about anything if not for the edges that still give away a canvas skeleton, convincingly deliberate as if to remind itself of who it is. I am a painting.

I could have believed it was a digital print of some sort, even before I thought of drawing. This fascinated me further as I am always attracted to works that take on the conventions of material and tools and work at playing them in a manner that perhaps goes against their natural states. The practice of this kind of witchcraft is the inner scientist that exists in every artist. Even beyond the visceral experience of the material work as an art object, the installation begged attention. These paintings are deliberate in how they relate to each other. They are portraits without faces and sentences without words. The limited palette and duplicated size and orientation lead you to believe that these works are akin. This is where Moser’s painting get down to being really human. The associations I came up with remind me of the cloud game. Do you see that rabbit? No, I see a plate. But do not get too stuck in this game. It is one of those naturally occurring distractions that are an intrinsic part of these kinds of mark-making. Moser’s use of vaporous traces, long ago smudged out lines that hover around the gestures like a statement said then taken back, are ghostly. The forms that she comes up with are so related to the action of painting that one cannot help but think of bottled energy. I am delighted to have been able to look at these works and think so intensely about the life in these paintings. I am both satiated and curious to see how far she takes these ideas.

Stanley Lewis; The Legend

By Amy Misurelli Sorensen

I was amazed to see so many people in attendance at Stanley Lewis’s opening and lecture on February 17. He led a discussion on his retrospective currently on display at the Katzen Museum.

Stanley Lewis comes from a specific school, The New York Art School, where form takes precedence over content. It has a history. It is a very modernist notion and I believed this notion and his work to be dated. I was prepared for the rhetoric to accompany the monotonous display of landscapes presented on the wall. I thought I had Stanley all figured out, and I admit, I went into it half-heartedly.

The audience was a problem. It was a very large crowd. I had a hard time hearing Stanley speak. The fans in attendance fascinated and distracted me with their gaping mouths, frozen smiles, and adoring eyes. What kind of man generates such a large fan club?

Stanley Lewis does.

He stepped in like a breath of fresh air. I found myself engaged with his nonspecific descriptions of process, his humility and honesty to his obsession with paint and paper applications. He is entertaining and I found myself laughing aloud. Finally, someone, an artist, is simply saying it is o.k. to do this art thing, just for the love of it. What a gala and free wine to boot!

On February 19, I witnessed the true genius of Stanley Lewis. Stanley is an admirable teacher. He instructed a drawing class at the National Gallery. After showing the class several Dutch paintings, he recommended we sit and draw from one painting to figure out and reveal its secrets.

I choose to draw from Rembrandt’s “Man with an Earring.” I specifically choose this painting because of the one figure composition and the compelling portrait. Stanley begins to draw along side of me. He eagerly assimilates the larger forms in the planes of the face to their relationships to the planes in the ground. He makes discoveries and shares them with me. I see in Stanley a commitment to figuring out Rembrandt’s formal decisions. I questioned his presumptions, and continued on my own investigation. Then, as I stand and draw from this painting, I have a revelation. Through drawing, I have revealed the analytical rhythm of this painting that is not apparent from first glance. I search through this drawing for two hours, and finally I too figure out the puzzle. I dialogue with the ghost of Rembrandt through my pen and paper.

Stanley’s contagious passion and teachings are a gift. Stanley Lewis is committed, as Picasso was, to figuring out the language of art.

Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick at Irvine Contemporary

Lauren Rice

I would not ordinarily feel compelled to review a photography exhibition. However, after reviewing Melissa Ichiuji’s soft sculptures, I wandered into an adjoining room only to discover, well, a photography exhibition. Due to lack of time, I thought, what the hey, I’ll give it a shot.

This was my first thought. My second thought was that these works are somehow connected to Leonardo da Vinci and his flying machines diagrams. The works of collaborators Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick’s The Apollo Prophesies, at Irvine Contemporary evoked a feeling of fantastical innovation, a feeling of speed, dreams and desire. Furthermore, their photographs, which are reminiscent of film stills, began to discuss the history of humankind’s ambition to fly in order to colonize a new land or escape an old one. Perhaps I initially connected these photographs to da Vinci’s flight studies because da Vinci’s drawings appeal to this same dramatic feeling. Secondarily, the mixed media works directly referenced da Vinci’s initial flight diagrams.

These photos have a comedic quality. Perhaps it is because the men in the images feel too big for their flying apparatus and that they are so invested in what seems to be an absurd process. I have to admit that I have never been overtly fond of photography. And so my bias is stated. However, most of Kahn and Selesnick’s photos have a surreal value contrast that I find formally intriguing in addition to the absurdity of the images. The characters in these works display an ambition comparable to da Vinci’s own ambitious flying machines drawings. However, we are a good many years past the age of da Vinci and have already mastered flight. So why are these images being exhibited?

The myth of Icarus and mankind’s long-lived desire to fly to high for his own good comes to mind. And why was Icarus attempting to fly anyway? In order to escape, says the myth. So from where are these cumbersome aeronauts attempting to flee? Perhaps a planet that they have destroyed? Hmmmm.

Apollo, commonly affiliated with the Greek sun god is also (according to Encyclopedia Mythica) the god of prophecy and colonization. He is also affiliated with plague (!). I remember from my childhood that he also tried to woo poor Daphne who had to turn herself into a tree in order to escape his advances. And we must assume the “Apollo Prophecy” is mankind’s failure at flight. The title of the exhibition suggests that humans may begin with good ideas and intentions, but that we abuse our powers of innovation and are therefore destined to fail. The aforementioned comical aspect of these photographs reiterates this assesment. After all, although we have “mastered” flight, it still poses significant obstacles.

One of my favorite works on view, Launch, shows two men in the pilot seats of a rocket. However, the rocket is splayed in half revealing the maze of intestinal machinery in the bowels of the rocket ship. Perhaps I found this most interesting because of its connection of Ichiuji’s adjacent sculptures. We often forget to engage with the interior of things and the complexity that makes them function. In this way, both exhibitions at Irvine dealt with exposure of the underneath.

My last thought regarding these photographs occurred as I’ve been writing. And the thought goes: why photography? These images felt better suited to a film narrative; they were illustrative. I know that there was an accompanying book to the show (I did not have a chance to look at it…) so perhaps the artists literally illustrated a story there. However, these works as photographs in frames on a gallery wall just did not complete the picture for me. No pun intended.