Monday, March 31, 2008

ArtCade-Sponsored Crit Night at AU

Jeffry Cudlin spoke at AU's Crit Night (artworks by Lana Stephens, photo taken by Emily Cunetto)

By Nikki Painter

Sunday night, March 30th, six first and second year American University MFA students presented work for critique by fellow classmates, students from George Washington University, the Corcoran, and local artists.

Area artist, writer, critic, and Director of Exhibitions for the Arlington Arts Center Jeffry Cudlin also participated in the evening’s events, taking time to inform the audience about opportunities to exhibit at the AAC and some upcoming events. Cudlin mentioned that many of the proposals for shows received by the center were not from Baltimore and DC artists, and that this was something that puzzled him.

Critiques were timed to last about fifteen minutes, and the students whose work was being critiqued opened the discussion with introductory comments about his or her art.

Installation by Lauren Rice (photo taken by Alex Ebstein)

Questions asked several times during various critiques had to do with origins and inclusion of pictorial elements. Were AU artists considering their use of (socially and historically) content-laden imagery?

Other questions that arose during the evening:

What kind of research are we doing about our work? What are we reading? What other artists are we looking at?

What kind of relationship do we want viewers to have with our work? How does a viewer interact with our work?

How and why are we choosing our materials? Why draw instead of paint and vice versa? Why not use animation?

How do you know when it is finished? What “looks” finished?

How do you differentiate yourself from your contemporaries who may be working in a similar manner?

Overall, questions asked during critiques were incisive and addressed important issues AU students continue to grapple with.

“Thank you” to Jeffry Cudlin for taking time out of his busy schedule to hang out with us and talk about our work!

Thanks also to Rachel Fick and ArtCade for sponsoring and organizing our evening- check out ArtCade Forum for another account of the evening’s events.

AND be sure to read another response to the evening at There Were Ten Tigers.

Thank you to everyone who came out- there has been some really great dialog started as a result of Crit Nights, and we hope to continue to get to know our community.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Kiss is for Art and the search for identity through rock and roll

By Bonner Sale

In the last decades artists have been shedding the academic vessels of expression and creating new pedestals for discussion. SSION does just that a 6 part rock/performance troupe from Kansas city Missouri that consisted of two singers dressing in contrasting gender outfits a drummer, key board player, and synchronized asexual dancers. With a uniform face tattoo for the group and video projections of sexual acts and curse words, SSION creates a sexually perverse identity that lies in between performance art and Glam rock.

Its hard to make a argument that art hasn’t mutated with rock's blood and that rock music has become an art form from it, beginning with a NY based band titled Kiss where all four members came on stage wearing a unifying identity taken from Glam and Mythology. This created an identity that supported the music as well as the mythic quality that surrounded the actual musicians/ artists themselves. More recently, rock acts have been based solely on identity of sound. The Locust for example put out screeching unworldly albums that are relatively 11 minutes long but act as an assault of napalm to the face, making the album completely deplorable and uncompromising all at once.

The identity aspect of music and art is tricky at best. Sometimes it can be perceived to function as a gimmick or a device used to undermine what it is representing. What culture does Kiss or SSION represent or what culture does Nikki Lee represent but not undermine. That being said, in rock, identity is less dependent on the act being real.

SSION is clearly parading the same path that Kiss had laid before them but to another degree of identity: opposed to pulling from mythos, it pulls from sexuality and identity with a full stage and beat and energy to prove the provocative insights that it makes on art society. Entertainment is a tricky road lain for this vessel of music/art, where in an art scene viewers are easily subjected to more explorative and self indulgent acts which makes performance art so good or so bad, whereas rock culture has an entertainment property which is hard to walk away from as a touring band trying to sell records and t-shirts.

But SSION clearly does not have to worry about either its completely engaging upon first approach like a rock act, because it has so many layers to read that this leads to a second and third viewing. From changing costumes to "Maggot Brain" influenced guitar solos played by lead singers. It was such an entertaining set it was hard to see the identities as guises or references, but after having time to be able to look back on it, SSION crossed a lot of boundaries between art and rock.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Botero at the Katzen

Fernando Botero, "Abu Ghraib 72," oil on canvas

By Bonner Sale

This past winter vacation I was a guard at the Katzen Museum where Fernando Botero's Abu Ghraib painting/drawing collection was being shown. At first glance I felt the need to shed light on a subject as gruesome and venomous as torture but then I was left with the question of "by whom?" Who has the authorship on this subject? The subject being paintings depicting "Uncompromising graphic images by this Colombian painter express his outrage at the American-led torture of Iraqi insurgents" (this quote taken from the Katzen Museum's website).

This is where you can say problems start for this work. "Painter expresses outrage," but the paintings are not depictions of real events, they are expressions of when "Botero constructed each work after reading official reports of the atrocities and concentrated on the suffering and dignity of the victims rather than their tormentors." I am not sure if anyone has the authority to show those paintings with conviction without looking like a phony.

In no way am I disqualifying the tortures that the American led soldier did to the Iraqi insurgents, but I am worried about a painter who thinks that reading something in a newspaper means that they have a voice in what happened, and I am worried about who hears that voice. Putting America down is a clear and manifested gravy train that started when America started. So Botero is not winning any races there, he just spins it to ultra violence, which is a shame because the paintings' tour of the country won't be visiting any veteran hospital, but they will be touring art museums and colleges alike. This gives the painting tour the benefit that its audience will be well-knowing and well-receiving of the work. This makes it function as an account of Army monstrosity to faceless victims which has already been made a very popular subject. Usually when covering that subject the artist or creator has some correlation to the particular monstrosity other than reading about it in the news.

When 911 happened I remember the resurgence of patriotic items for sale. Botero's Abu Ghraib functions on that level of shameful manipulation as well, but it functions humorously to the people who didn’t buy the American flag bumper stickers.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dude where is my peace pipe dream?

Still from "Dude Where Is My Plane?"

By Bonner Sale

Upon watching "Dude where is my plane?" one would gather the free spirit and humor that artist Josh Baptista has to offer. It’s a video piece where two boys on a balcony in New York send a large cardboard air plane across the street and on to the facing building's roof top. The video opens up with a shot of the cardboard air plane with "Save the world" across it as an animated shooting star christens the piece with humor of such an innocent thought on hope. Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas time is here" starts to play as a voice says "What up bitch, save the world."

The video is a curious gesture that two boys can send a cardboard air plane across the street as an attempt to save the world, if not saving it, just making the world a little bit better. In today's society of expensive promises and sensationalist media, it’s a reassurance that somewhere someone is enjoying life's simple pleasures. Baptista does just that and shows a genuine interest for alternative achievement and friendship, creating a simple paper airplane and throwing it across a street and then filming that happening. Though many have done work like this before- like Yoko Ono- it has tended to fall flat as a whimsical gesture opposed to a great idea that nobody has thought of. But unlike Ono, Baptista considered the raw element of human emotions displayed in his argument for peace.

When the plane finally lands, Baptista tells the camera operator to turn the camera on himself to share the credit for this great act of endearment: "Turn that shit onto yourself," as the operator and Baptista continue to chant "What up bitch, save the world."

What up bitch, indeed. The quote almost serves as a new slogan said over and over again explaining to the viewer that it is up to themselves to save the world or their world. Is it that easy to save the world though? With the problems and identities that surround his other work, one would have to guess that most signs point to no, but Baptista much like the Beatles before him has a gift and practice to show and if the work is in coalition with good will toward man, let it be.

Ugh, Beatles puns, the worst. The piece gives nothing of what is wrong about the world but simply explains on how to make it better by a simple gesture of fun or engagement which is a facet lacking in Baptista's other political or social commentary art work.

The title is a play on the film "Dude Where is my Car?" a stoner comedy directed by Danny Leiner. Or even better, "Dude Where is my Country?" a preachy political satire written by Michael Moore. The film seems to lay somewhere between the two great "Dudes where is my...?" genre in that it is a political piece but it also has a warm-hearted feeling throughout the video.

At the end of the day with all the elements added up, the video stands strong against the almost transparent attributes of a peace piece. With much to do with the raw human factor that could only be caught at that one time making a cardboard airplane fly over a street, and certainly the human factor is very present in all of Baptista's work as well as in this video performance "Dude where is my plane?"

Check out "Dude Where Is My Plane?" at

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Welcome Home @ The Cork Gallery

Featuring work by Tim Campbell (AU MFA thesis student) and Marty Weishaar (AU MFA thesis '07).

Installation- Marty Weishaar

Paintings- Tim Campbell

See more images from the opening reception at (Side note: this is another really awesome blog! Check it out!)

Check out "Welcome Home" at The Cork Gallery, 4th Floor (Buzzer #9), 302 E. Federal Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21202.

ARTCADE Crit Night at AU

As a participating university in Artcade Magazine's rotating Crit Night, the American University grad students will be hosting this month's session on Sunday, March 30, 6:30-9pm. It will be in the Katzen Arts Center, second floor graduate student area. There is free parking available under the building, as well as a metro shuttle from the AU/Tenleytown stop.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Mark your calendars some more- OPENINGS!!!!

Opening Reception for first year MFA candidates' show will be held Friday, April 11, from 7-9 pm.

Opening Reception for MFA Thesis exhibition will be held Friday, April 18, from 6-9 pm.

We will see you there!!!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mark your calendars...

Upcoming American University Student Shows at the Katzen:

Tuesday, April 1- Sunday, April 6: Undergraduate student showcase
Thursday, April 10- Tuesday, April 15: First year MFA students
Friday, April 18- Sunday, May 18: MFA thesis students

More information coming soon!!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Top Ten Local-ish Art Blogs

Image from "Jumping in Art Museums" Blog

(with #1 being the favorite)

By N. Painter

Highly visual art nerd seeks artblog to warm the cold, lonely nights. Must evince sparkling sense of humor, know how to work a comma and the difference between “its” and “it’s.” Broad knowledge of “local” events is desirable, tons of posted images get me really randy. The more fun, the better. Opinions are a plus, “art-speak” not necessary.

1. DC Art News- Lenny Campello talks about area shows, workshops, emerging artists, area gossip- whatever I want to know, he’s generally talking about it. I really wish someone would take him up on his offer to mediate a forum on appropriation in the art world (re/eg: the Cara Ober/Christine Bailey debacle). I visit Campello’s blog almost daily for his breakdown of local events and for his wry wit. He is also interested in feedback from his readers, as he recently responded to a comment that he did not cover individual artists’ websites on his blog by (this is unbelievable) actually starting to cover individual artists’ websites. Campbello’s opinions about whatever’s going on are so good, he doesn’t need a comments section.

2. Artcade Forum- I love this blog because it’s so fun to read! Posts are about Corcoran shows, area shows, talks, and one recent post was even in regards to a library book (which may or may not be returned). I think this is a great example of what an artblog should be- several people posting about topics they are invested in and engaged with, without fear of stepping on any art world toes.

3. Fallon and Rosof’s artblog- This is a Philadelphia-based artblog which often satisfies my search for new-to-me artists. I have a huge pet peeve with “art” blogs that post reviews or blurbs with few to no images. Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof tend to be generous with their images. Not to mention their opinionated and intelligent writing sans hyper-intellectualization. Kudos to the “Kiss for Mayor Nutter” campaign- way to take blogging to the next level- activism.

4. Jumping In Art Museums- AU’s own Allison Reimus can take the credit for starting that new trend you’ve been hearing so much about: visit an art museum, see something you like? Jump for it and send the images to:
Way to emphasize the possibilities for fun in museum-going, Allison!

5. SELLOUT- Stuff they don’t tell you in grad school. Actually, stuff they might allude to if you dig around for long enough and ask the “right” questions, but generally stuff they don’t just come out and say in grad school. Unfortunately, SELLOUT is on a bit of a hiatus, but I have my fingers crossed it will continue with its candid dispersal of need-to-know art world info in the near future.

6. BMORE ART- Baltimore-based art blog, focusing on art happenings in the Baltimore area. I particularly enjoyed when BMORE ART had a series of artists writing about the topic of “Authenticity,” about a month ago. Editor Cara Ober also shared some important information about copyright for artists in a post titled “The Big C: Copyright for Visual Artists?” I enjoy blogs the most when they serve as my source for information about what is happening in the area, and when the authors/editors use them to express personal concerns. I think a high level of investment in a blog’s subject on the part of the editors/authors of a blog are what make it a great read.

7. Adventures of Hoogrrl- Great (because it’s fun!) blog from area collector with tons of images and events. It seems that so many blogs are artist or critic-driven, it’s nice to get the perspective of a collector in the mix.

8. Edward Winkleman- I am such a sucker for gossip. Especially gossip that is intelligently divulged.

9. It’s Nice That- Design-based blog hosting tons of eye-candy images. What about a fine arts-based blog that does this? What am I missing- is there one? PAINTERSNYC kinda does this, but it seems less for the purpose of sharing good stuff than for providing an artist’s work and the opportunity for people to rip it up, via the comments section.

10. Anaba- I have to give a shout-out to the guy who started it all for me, Martin Bromirski and his blog “Anaba.” Through Anaba, I was introduced to the world of art-blogging, and I was hooked. At the time, Anaba was Richmond, Virginia based, and I loved Martin’s witty, snarky, humorous take on the RVA arts scene (or lack thereof). Posts regarding Jerry Saltz and Art Basel:Stuffys, AND the world’s first google image search sculpture, AND the Christoph Buchel saga were instant classics. Martin’s currently living the life in NY, and I think I can speak for many RVA’ers when I said, “Richmond misses you, Martin.” We didn’t know what we had ‘til it was gone.

Honorable (?) Mention:
Anonymous Female Artist (A.K.A. Militant Art Bitch)- I was really intrigued by the idea that there was this woman (?) artist out there anonymously airing her grievances about the lack of representation for women in the art world via her blog. I guess I still am intrigued; however, the vitriolic tone of this blog has made it a tough read at times, and I’ve often found myself wondering, “What is this person doing to promote change aside from griping in his/her blog?” I also think this blog represents a lot of what has side-lined contemporary feminism. “Nice girls” don’t want to be associated with the term “feminist,” because they think this will automatically label them as man-haters. Is there some way for us to be “militant art bitches,” without hating on the gentlemen of the art world? (I did choose the word “gentlemen” intentionally.)

These are my current picks, but I’m always on the lookout for a good artblog. If you think there’s one I’ve missed, please let me know.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Selection of Haiku Poems On Life at the Katzen

By Katherine Sable

Heavy words and smoke
Supported on wobbly legs
A plastic table

Coffee and sandwich
A full semester’s stipend
At Katzen Café

Contents old but cold
I would like to scrub you out

A vigorous wave
Arms, legs, and other limbs
The lights come back on

Staff meeting persists
Sandwiches are hostages
Tighten your belts, kids

Bidet from commode
Important differences
I shoot pee at you

Green macaroni
Moldy, oldy, smelly foods
Spare a lunch some space

A sign could explain
What a student is made to
Which way to the show?

Popular venue
Please come, hold a fundraiser
Don’t mind the artwork

Barack’s New Diggs

By Zac Willis

I want to comment on just how far the United States political campaigning has fallen to an all time low. A photo a few weeks ago was released of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) wearing traditional attire of a Somali Elder during a visit to Wajir, Kenya in 2006. The reason for the photo creating a controversy centers around a few topics.

The photo is of Obama wearing a white turban and another sort of cloth wrapped around his body. The Obama camp is calling out the Clinton camp and saying they are using it as a tactic to smear Obama. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) is of course denying this and saying it is a tactic that is being used to distract voters from Obama’s ideas on healthcare, the economy, and his political experience. It just seems to be a he said she said back and forth battle. Clinton is mad and desperate because she needs wins, and Obama is worried because it will hurt his momentum.

The political back and forth is very infantile. We all know that people travel over seas to foreign countries to experience culture and to learn new things. For Obama to go to Kenya, which is where his dad is from, and meet with elders from the town and wear traditional clothing is nothing new or something to sound the alarms about. He was giving respect to the people he was meeting with and showing them that he was genuinely interested in what they have to offer. Clinton herself said that it was ridiculous for this to be an issue because she has been to other countries and worn traditional clothing. So if that is the case, why are there accusations that the Clinton campaign is responsible for the releasing the photo?

This is a clear indication of an act of desperation by a campaign that is fallen. In my opening sentence, I said that political campaigning reached an all time low; in my eyes, it might even have fallen off the map. For a country that has major problems with foreign policy, economy, healthcare, and so on, we should be caring about these issues and who will be the best president to lead our country. Hopefully, the election results will bring a change to benefit all Americans. The Presidential race should not revolve around smearing someone’s name, the American public is better than that and definitely deserves better. If candidates have problems with one another, fight it out in a debate so people can really understand and see how they handle pressure on the topics that matter.

The question is going to be how will this affect Obama in the last remaining primaries? I hope that it doesn’t. It shouldn’t. People should not be afraid to go to a foreign country and dress like a native to that country, then later have to worry about how they are going to be viewed if they return home with a picture.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Best Show Yet, Or Why Haven’t There Been Better Ones?

Freya Grand, "Gulfoss," oil on canvas, 2002

By Jim Creckhorn

When I saw the work going up in the long hallway on the way to the Katzen Museum, I got really excited. The text for the show had not yet been posted, and I asked several people, “What is this work for? What is this show?” I was particularly excited to see work by some artists with whom I was familiar only from online encounters (Suzanna Fields, Susan Jamison, and Rosemarie Fiore, to name a few).

I soon learned that this body of work was for the Washington Project for the Arts Annual Art Auction Gala, which is on display in conjunction with a small show on the first floor of the museum, “Selections from the WPA ArtFile.” In viewing this (tiny) show, my favorite works were by Betsy Shaw who created small block paintings, which projected from the wall. Shaw’s paintings looked like they might deal with microorganisms as subject, and I was interested in the way she painted the sides of the paintings, emphasizing the paintings’ identities as objects. I also enjoyed the mysterious narrative I tried to create as the result of looking at Freya Grand’s “Gullfoss.”

So there were a few pieces in the museum that I spent time with, but I continued to find myself stopping to study several pieces in the hallway/Gala show. I had conversations with quite a few classmates and undergraduate students as well, about our excitement over and interest in the hallway art.

After a few days of this, I began to feel amused by the fact that the Katzen museum’s art I have been most interested in viewing was not even on display in the Katzen museum. I was amused by this, but I am starting to feel annoyed.

Frankly, I’m not a fan of the Katzen Museum. Since I’ve been a student at AU, my feelings about the museum have ranged from mild puzzlement to enraged befuddlement. “Why is this being shown here?” is a question I have asked myself on more than one occasion, and the few times I have actually voiced my concern, I have been met with something more or less along the lines of “He went to school with so-and-so,” or “She used to be a teacher here.”

Don’t get me wrong: Botero was a big deal. Botero was a HUGE deal… because he is Botero. And the subject matter of that show was particularly timely and important. That work was difficult to view, and I believe this was in line with the artist’s intent. But it was Botero, and he was making “Boteros.” I would have been more impacted by the show if Botero had chosen to create work focused on Abu Graib without his typically stylized figures. Had he not chosen to create such easily commodified work, I would have given more attention to the content of the show, and less to the artist, which would have seemed appropriate, BUT it was BOTERO.

To some degree, art appreciation is a matter of taste, so I realize I am commenting on my own sensibilities when I write that some of the shows in the museum since I have been at AU have just been god-awful. Why is it necessary to create large-size paintings using a grid of ovals to veil some sort of squiggly abstract expressionist wannabe conglomeration of paint blobs and spray paint and glitter? Okay, so maybe the artist wanted to see what would happen. Fine- much artmaking could be considered experimental in the sense that an artist “just wanted to see what would happen if” he or she made whatever. BUT why show it in a museum? How am I, as a viewer, supposed to interact with this work? “Wow, that’s a lot of ovals…” This is the kind of work that gives artists a bad name: it doesn’t look like anything, it’s not apparently about anything, and it’s ugly. Again, I ask, why show it in a museum?

“Claiming Space: Some American Feminist Originators” meant well, but it suffered for me, because I had so recently seen “WACK!” “Some” American feminist originators just weren’t enough, and I remember so many more examples of formally satisfying work represented by the “WACK!” show than by the Katzen’s exhibit. The main thing I recall about “Claiming Space” was a lot of ugly, flat paint. This is not to say that was all the show consisted of- hardly; however, this was my overall impression of the show, “ugly, flat paint” was my main memory. So once again, my complaint about the Katzen comes down to a matter of taste. (I much prefer beautiful flat paint to ugly flat paint.)

So we’ve had work that was not about anything and that was ugly, and we’ve had work that was about really important things that was ugly. Is this part of the Katzen’s mission statement as a museum: challenge viewers’ aesthetic values so much that they don’t want to look anymore? Though they didn’t even really want to look in the first place? Actually, Jack Rasmussen, director and curator of the Katzen Museum has quite a different vision for the space:

“…As we celebrate our second birthday, we are not only walking, we are running! This year we will present 26 exhibitions that mirror AU's aspirations to be the premier Washington-based, global university. Our programming puts the best art of our region in a national and international context. Our collections enable us to present the art history of Washington, while our Kunsthalle attitude brings the most provocative art of our time to our place.” (as quoted from the Katzen Museum’s website)

I would suggest that, if this is really the goal for the Katzen Museum, that the museum secure a more consistent collaboration with the WPA, because the shows of WPA-based work currently on display have been the most successful in coming anywhere near this statement of purpose out of anything I have seen (or have heard about) exhibited on AU grounds.

Unless “Kunsthalle” actually means “We don’t give a crap.”

Roger Brown: Southern Exposure at the Katzen Museum

Roger Brown, "Sarajevo the Serbian Way," oil on canvas, 1993

By Josh Baptista

Roger Brown is showing at The Katzen in his show, "Southern Exposure." As one might imagine, yes, it was as boring as one might find the south to be at times. If you want to relax and get away from the hustling of the concrete jungle then this is the show to go to.

My first reaction to this show consisted of feeling the flatness of the South apparent in his paintings. The sculpture and paintings all imitate a clean and illustrative narrative. I found them to be boring. The colors did nothing for me. At points, I imagined how someone arrived in this museum. For me it seemed unfathomable to reach a conclusion as to how the work arrived here and can only contribute it to being about the time that this artist was a live. Therefore, around the 80's and 90's, the economy was good and that is maybe where this artist has gotten a break.

I want to discuss the idea of straight flat lines. When I look at an Edward Hopper who uses the same qualities that Brown does, it still has substance. If the goal of this work is to provide a feeling of nothingness, then I think they succeed especially in the landscape pieces. These big, vast, empty worlds with small generalized insignificant people. However, wait...

Brown is exactly going for that- this is what wants (nothingness). He wants us to feel the empty of everyday. By using these imaginary landscapes, he detaches us from ourselves and our world and allows us to really look at what is going on.

The breakdown of how no one really knows anybody and everybody is on this journey by themselves. The loss of humanity through building structures and the irony of how physically close we are but mentally detached. In even more we encourage these structures to divide us and create our false sense of security. Then in privacy, we wonder what the other person is doing.

I cannot say I feel in love with these paintings or sculptures, but I do embrace their concepts. This is interesting, because I really do not look at them as paintings anymore but more as ideas, thoughts.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Ants Go Marching

By Zac Willis

The Black Box at the Hirshorn once again draws me in for a video piece that leaves me with more questions than answers. The current work is by Rivane Neuenschwander. She collaborated with Cao Guimaraes for the piece. The video consists of ants collecting left over confetti from a previous event. It is shot extremely close to the ants so the viewer can understand what they are doing. By shooting it close, it allowed the artists to capture the sounds the ants were making and other subtle noises that humans may not hear. It sounds simple, an easy concept to understand and watch, but it becomes complicated.

The ants respond and behave in ways to make one think that the confetti is a precious metal to them. It seems as though they will do anything to get their hands on it. In watching I started to see their struggles and triumphs. The ants where behaving like humans. There was a sense of pride in carrying the object, they contemplated what they were going to do with items, and they also fought over the items.

While viewing the piece I was thinking of how I collect items and covet them because they have become special to me. The ants were doing the same thing. The video was acting as a device to make me examine my own life and how I behave towards items that are special to me. I was watching the video, but I was thinking about my own situation. However, this is the shortcoming of the piece. I was bringing my own ideas into the piece and creating my own narrative to what I wanted the work to be about. I do not think that was the intention of the work. I think it was more about the ants reacting and responding to this change (confetti) to their environment. If there was to be a narrative for the work Neuenschwander would have followed one specific ant and not moved from ant to ant. Therefore, it is solely about the ants’ movement with these confetti pieces and how the ants respond to the environment with them.

In some ways I see this as nothing more than a documentary of ants that should be shown on the Discovery Channel. I am what is making this piece more than what it is. I as the viewer bring it the content to make it my own. I bring the story to give to the ants. There is nothing more for me to do than just pretend and let my mind wonder about my experiences. So in a sense, I am making the art. The viewer can not just be a viewer; they must be a participant for this piece to do anything.

“Degas to Diebenkorn: The Phillips Collects”

Richard Diebenkorn, "Ocean Park no. 54," oil on canvas, 1972

By Lana Stephens

I must admit, I had high expectations when I entered the Phillips Collection, located in D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, to view the advertised “Degas to Diebenkorn” exhibition. I was more than eager to enter the space allocated to history’s most well known and influential artists. Prepared to be inspired and transported, I began my journey through the “Phillips Collects.” Unfortunately, I hit a few roadblocks along the way.

Upon entering the exhibition I became immediately confused. I asked the security guard if I was in the right place and if this was indeed the beginning. She affirmed that it was. I was greeted by a large striking Diebenkorn painting titled “Ocean Park no.38.” Call me traditional, but I expected the exhibition to follow a historical timeline, given the title of the show. I was prepared for the exhibition to commence with Degas and culminate with Diebenkorn. Perhaps the title of the exhibition is not so literal. I put my confusion aside and drifted through the intimate rooms in the large Georgian revival home, once inhabited by founder Duncan Phillips.

The home is indeed impressive. The Phillips feels less like a cold institution than most museums I have visited, even down to the security guards who dress as they please and wear simple name tags. As I lingered in the rooms, I felt as though I could have been in the intimate quarters of a long lost friend, sifting through old photographs and keepsakes instead of admiring watershed works of art. The space lends itself to introspection, which for me, renders the experience of looking at art less academic and more meaningful.

The exhibition is introspective as well. It is titled “The Phillips Collects” after all, and takes the viewer less on a journey throughout history than on a tour through the museum’s archives. Large portions of the works chosen for display were selected not because they were turning points in history or catalysts for movements, but because they mark important events for the museum. For example, a text box informed me that a Vuillard pastel portrait is the first Vuillard drawing to enter the museum’s collection. Throughout the show viewers are offered interesting tidbits about artists and their relationships to the Phillips such as “The Phillips Collection was one of the first museums in the U.S. to host an exhibition of” The exhibition seems to glorify the museum more than the artists whose work is on display, which is actually an interesting concept.

The exhibition is essentially a celebration of newly acquired and gifted works of art, showcasing the breadth of the museum’s vast collection with over 100 new additions. Names such as Callibotte, Degas, Bonnard, Klee, Motherwell, Ansel Adams, Whistler, and Christenberry are only a few to grace the impressive roster. Don’t be misguided by the title of the exhibition however, only one Degas is on display despite the huge banners reading “From Degas to Diebenkorn.” The newly acquired Bonnard sketch is a breath of fresh air however, offering insight into how the artist built his paintings. The permanent collection hosts an impressive feat of Bonnard paintings, rendering the sketch a smart acquisition.

The exhibition could have been arranged more cohesively and in my opinion, should have followed some sort of historical timeline. Works were relationally arranged (i.e. very tactile colorful paintings in this room), which convoluted the exhibition. However, the acquisitions were impressive and I especially enjoyed the black and white photography featuring the work of Ansel Adams and Minor White. Overall, it’s an impressive collection and I suggest that individuals take advantage of not only viewing the current exhibition but taking a walk through the permanent collection as well.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Master Drawings at the National Gallery

Mary Cassatt, "Margo Wearing a Bonnet," 1903

By Katherine Sable

I spent another Saturday at the National Gallery drawing from the work in the Baroque Woodcut exhibition. As I wandered out of the three large spaces encompassing the works for that exhibition, I found myself in a dark, small room filled with drawings ranging from the 1500s to the early 1900s. At first glance, the exhibition seemed only a side note, a peculiar little room filled with a small collection disconnected from everything else in the museum. I passed by each piece quickly in awe and excitement at which one I would come to next, as each sketch held its own presence. Only later did I realize that they were drawings by Mary Cassatt, a few by Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Picasso, Durer, and a Bonnard, to name a few. There was little text, which I liked very much, leaving space for my eyes to wander and my mind to survey. The frames were as ornate as you would expect in a venue like the National Gallery, but the room was not grand and the ceilings were not high. The walls were dark and the lights dim. Not what you would expect for a show filled with the starts and honest explorations of the renowned masters of our art history. It succeeded in creating the most intimate of environments perfect for sharing a moment (or an afternoon, as I did) with these works on paper.

I was impressed by the representation of such highly esteemed artists contained in this small collection. As I stepped forward towards the second room, I found myself standing about 6 feet away from a dark drawing behind thick glass. This was a set up. I was clearly supposed to find in this room the highlight of the exhibition, the most “important” drawing. It was a Raphael and it was big, and it had its own room. The piece was almost creepy, a ghost image of a Madonna and child scene; only upon close examination did I find delicate and deliberate marks functioning to model the figures and the quiet face of the Madonna. I’m not sure if it was the atmosphere or the actual drawing, but when I entered the space designated for this drawing, I had to remind myself to breathe. Of course it is a Raphael, and it’s dated 1507. This thing shouldn’t even still survive; it was a preparatory drawing for the larger painting he would later do of "Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist." This drawing is definitely one to write home about and it seduced me- but in my opinion, any number of the drawings in this collection deserved its own room.

I would have to award the best drawing in the house to an Albrecht Durer piece titled "The Centaur Family," dating to 1505. This miniature drawing resembles a cross-sectional study, each line carefully articulated, aiming to describe volume, mass and form of the figures. Durer’s line far exceeds description of volume, mass, and form and takes this drawing into a realm of complete complication. It is descriptive, yes, but it’s so candid. There is a curious smudge near the top of the drawing, revealing Durer’s search in this small composition. The marks are reminiscent of delicate curls, few and far between, light on touch, and completely perfect in place. This drawing is right on point. The marks are careful and quick and at the same time calculated. I spent a long time drawing from this small set of characters, each time hoping to come closer to the rhythm held comfortably in the miniature piece of paper.

Both of Van Gogh’s drawings held a completely different presence from that which I have described above. They were bold and aggressive but not contradictory; rather, they were very straightforward. The figures in "Man Polishing a Boot" and "Old Man Carrying a Bucket" held a peculiar, awkward, weighty stance. The lines, heavy and strong, faultlessly described the tired men, their exhausted bodies held a sameness with the exhausted shapes that described their bearing. I was much impressed by the quality of line Van Gogh achieved through seemingly quick mark making. The marks were deliberate but also at times haphazard. The boldness was drawn onto the surface of the paper, drawn above, paper used only to catch the day's end moments of the two men.

I also found Mary Cassatt’s graphite sketches to be quite beautiful. Cassatt’s drawing of "Margot Leaning Against Reine’s Knee" seemed to be drawn in the air, the paper acting purely as the space within the depicted world. Her lines inform the paper, but in the end surpass it and float above. In "Smiling Margot Wearing a Ruffled Bonnet," Cassatt’s ability to search and find during mark-making is much more evident. The face of the child looks to be revealed from lines and characters coming from her bonnet; slowly but suddenly my eyes find the child’s face. Cassatt exposes the child to us, and to me it felt as if that which I experienced was the same as Cassatt when the figure revealed itself during mark making.
Each drawing could stand alone, and with moments like these, I don’t know how anyone could decide which gets to be showcased in its own special room.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Confusion at the Museum

By The Ancient Urn

What should be the mission of a university museum? For those not in possession of the collections and resources of Yale or Harvard, the question is a complicated one. Funding shows, attracting shows, patronage, and filling gallery space become balls to juggle more than for the wealthy and well-endowed.

These issues are well evidenced by this year’s round of shows at the Katzen Center, which have left this MFA student scratching her head in confusion over what this museum wants to do – how it wants to present itself, what work it wants to show, how it wants to build its reputation. The range of shows has been, quite simply, staggering - and not always in a good way. The Katzen’s strategy seems to be, generally, a “blockbuster” show in the first floor galleries, with secondary or lesser known artists exhibited simultaneously in the upper floor galleries. This does not always hold, as with the Fernando Botero show on the third floor that accompanied the “Claiming Space” show of feminist artists on the first floor last fall. The “piggybacking” of minor artists on big names, though, is a recurring pattern in the museum’s exhibition schedule. Sometimes this has worked wonderfully, as with the Irving Norman show that was the third component in the “Art of Confrontation” triad that featured Botero and “Claiming Space.” Having not known Norman’s work, I for one was delighted to discover his intricate and emotionally charged social realist world. In this case, an unknown artist of merit was elevated by being shown concurrent with more recognized big name artists.

However, the Katzen sometimes plays this relationship dangerously in the opposite direction. The current exhibition group is a perfectly dismaying curatorial example. Elena Sisto’s beautiful, substantive oil paintings on the first floor are paired with still lives by Ben Summerford on the second floor that are, at best, less than thrilling, and deeply disappointing after Sisto’s works. Yet the Katzen’s press statement posted on its website claims:

“Summerford remains well-known for his still-lifes, landscapes, and interiors of exquisite color and sensitivity.

At the risk of sounding mean, I would seriously contest that Summerford’s work displays “exquisite color and sensitivity.” Elena Sisto’s work does. Summerford’s does not: it drags down the museum’s image and raises, doubts about the integrity of an art institution that would choose to show this work. Will the Katzen continue to attract artists of Sisto’s and Botero’s caliber if it pairs them with such as Summerford? Summerford is a professor emeritus at AU and that is certainly a factor in the museum’s curatorial decision to show him. His work may have value that is not artistic, such as historical value surrounding his role in the D.C. art world. I would assert, though, that far better work will be seen in the upcoming shows of graduate student work at the museum in April…

So far, for me, the odd mix of shows at the Katzen has worked just barely in the museum’s favor – I am still giving it the benefit of the doubt that, as with Irving Norman, I just might discover a worthwhile and previously unknown artist when I stroll down to take in a new show. It remains to be seen whether this will hold up. The museum should think seriously about what its role is and what it wants its image to be in the D.C. art world and beyond.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Is Graffiti Dead?

Banksy, "Laugh now, but one day we'll be in charge"

By Josh Baptista

Is the war over? Are there still starving kids out there? Maybe our views are too fucken narrow; maybe, we have been living in a fantasy world where the comments and convictions we make no longer have any meaning, but who knows, maybe I'm wrong.

I think we need to open the picture up. First of all, we have been communicating with graffiti from the beginning of time. It was not dead for the cave painters, the Egyptians, or the French revolution -- the birthplace of the stencil. However unfortunate it may be that "suits" have taken a hold of graffiti's marketable quality, the power of real graffiti has not diminished. I am moved every time I see a Swoon or a Banksy in a public space and cannot imagine that the intentions of the artists were for Urban Outfitters to get a hold of their influence. This is a huge concern and a problem not just for graffiti artists, but also for all alternative lifestyles. On the other hand, good graffiti has a message, and so, if the art receives attention, then more people will be exposed to the message.

Sterile surroundings provoke ideas of change in highly motivated kids. When people believe in what they are doing enough, they disregard their own safety and well being in order to benefit others. This is an ever-evolving energy that does not make sense to the corporate world, and thus, is something the corporate man will never obtain. All they do is ape the idea of graffiti without understanding exactly what graffiti really is. For example, a Rambo poster is not graffiti, no matter how hard Hollywood tries to make us think it is. It is waiting to become graffiti though, but that can only happen at the hands of artists.

The untrained person that encounters the Rambo poster that Cory Oberndorfer referenced in his review "Graf is Dead" on this blog might consider the poster to be graffiti, but then again, that same person might be wearing a graffiti-inspired t-shirt from Urban Outfitters. The poster lacks the convictions of an artist.

I would like to take a minute to question the nature of graffiti -- an art that constantly comments on its environment. With that said, do you think with an ever changing world there will be ever changing questions? In addition, yes, the suits will get a hold of that freedom that makes graffiti what it is, but this is only a cheap imitation, and it can never be authentic. This is the cycle, and the fact that it's becoming commercialized I think will only make this cult stronger. So how can the innovators die? The market needs graffiti and graffiti needs the market.

A world that has become desensitized to television, commercial stores like Urban Outfitters, and the ever-growing leeches of the marketing world. The corporate will always be trying to suck the marrow out of the honest nature of graffiti, but advertising could never possess the qualities this art has. Advertising will never be graffiti. The nature of the beast is never ending, and graffiti just keeps pushing on. As time has gone on, graffiti has just reinvented itself to stay ahead of the market. The language has only become more elaborate and sophisticated. Naïve people will always interpret advertising as graffiti, and it is job as the public writers to educate them so we do not get confused.

The exposure graffiti has received has spread worldwide awareness through the work. Graffiti is a virus of potent information and there will never be a cure for it.