Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New Post, New Paintings

It's been several months since my last blog - an interim in which these two paintings got done and delivered to their new home in New York State. You'll also notice that my website looks different, and soon the News Page will have frequent postings in a Wordpress format.

I'll be posting videos and a photo essay of the process of preparing paintings for transport - using the painting above right, Summer Grasses in Fog, as the example.

I'll post process shots for both of the paintings - showing the initial studies and the stages of the paintings from blank canvas through major intermediate stages to the finished work.

I was never much of a photographer, so I find the iPhone to be the perfect low-tech tool for documenting  whatever I'm engaged with. So easy to record the day's progress at the end of each painting session! However - I have Jim Nickelson to thank for the studio shot above. Jim does a great job of capturing finished works for my archives.

Stay tuned for more of what's happening in the studio, and see Jim's work here. His images of the Maine landscape are gorgeous.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Red, White and Blue

I like red and white - quilts, polka dots, seersucker sundresses, flags. You name it. I was excited about going to the Park Avenue Armory today to see the collection of  650 American quilts from the collection of Joanna S. Rose. And I was not disappointed, but I got something different than I expected. Being in the Armory, standing under these astonishing constellations of quilts, I felt like a small Alice through the keyhole and into Wonderland. Lovely! 

But the nostalgia that I had expected was nowhere to be felt.  Under the high vaulted ceiling of the Armory, the numbers of quilts and the numbers of people  made for an experience that was distanced from the remembered coziness of one small me in the "pleasant land of counterpane." I realized that the most magic of quilts are those where the pattern elements and quilting stitches are very, very intimate and where the smell and feel of old cotton are tangible and near. 

From Red and White to Blue and White: post-Armory, I wandered back out onto the street and came upon a Greek celebration and parade-in-the-making. Greek flags everywhere along Fifth Avenue. I love a parade!

And then, just because it's March Madness and this is a nostalgia post, I can't resist-  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bye Bye Kitty!!!

Article - Gopnik Nawa PixCell Deer Bye Bye Kitty!!! Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art, at the Japan Society, has received outstanding reviews already, so I won't recap them here. (Links are at the bottom of the blog and the catalog's essays are excellent.) This is an exhibition that puts paid to the easy simplifications of Japan's cult of cute (kawaii), of which the Hello Kitty phenomenon is the slickest and cutest. Bye Bye Kitty!!! recognizes Japanese artists born between the mid-1960's and the early 1980's, whose work looks deeply and thoughtfully at the imbalances in society and nature, and at our deepest fears, both real and imagined.  The complex pen and ink drawings by Manabu Ikeda, PixCell Elk #2 by Kohei Nawa, and Makoto Aida's print, Harakiri Schoolgirls, have the strongest hold on me by far, but there is almost nothing in this show that I did not respond to positively. Though the catalog refers to previous earthquakes including Kobe in 1995, the terrible scenarios unleashed by the March earthquake, tsunami, and atomic disaster could not have been predicted to coincide with this exhibition. In fact they happened one week before the show's opening, and surely intensify its impact on viewers.

From the UN Plaza and the Japan Society, I headed west to Chelsea, where by contrast the vacuousness of certain Western artworks was more obvious this time than is usual. Robert Miller has a triple star show - drawings by Andy Warhol, postcard sculptures by Gilbert and George, and an installation by Yayoi Kusama. I generally like stopping in at Miller for looks back at recent art history, but this was a triple flop. Warhol's drawings could have been done by any talented highschooler, the G&G composites had all the appeal of video game screenshots, and  - biggest disappointment - Kusama's installation (titled Heaven and Earth and priced at an astonishing $1,000,000) consisted of 40 fabric covered boxes from which protruded 285 fabric forms reminiscent of tentacles. As a single installation set in its own seagreen space, it was devoid of the disorientation that I look for and like so much in her work.

Hyperallergic's Review
Blake Gopnik's review in The Daily Beast
PixCell Elk #2 via The Daily Beast

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Black and the White

My take-away from the fairs this week: Black and White. I got around to Pulse and Impulse, the Red Dot Fair and the Korean Art Fair (housed together on Mercer) and the Armory. Also managed to squeeze in Esteban Vicente's collages at NYU and Lynda Benglis at the New Museum, but for now I'll just comment on a few of my favorites at the fairs.

Mario M. Muller at Pulse: an elegant installation at Mary Ryan of Mario's quintessential silhouettes. I loved the finish and restraint of the landscape on the right.

 Not sure if these arrows piercing the corner angle intentionally reference Saint Sebastian, but he was certainly part of the mix at the Armory, where (at a different booth) a stack of take-aways asked viewers to comment on 21st century martyrs.

People too come mostly in black.

One of my all-time favorites, Yayoi Kusama at the Armory. It's the disorientation of pattern dots that I love.

And girls love horses.

A beautiful installation. Sorry that I did not make a note of the booth or the artists.

Below: graphite and paper, if memory serves me correctly. This was a stunner.

And to round it out, Yoshitomo Nara. He takes the particularity of German medieval gothic and dissolves it in the contemporary.

All photos courtesy of my iPhone. Such a handy device. For a much more in-depth look at all the fairs where they were and who was there, see Hyperallergic's blogs for the week.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Economics and Art

Ready to go - my Fundred Dollar Bill

Following up on my previous blog, I've mailed my contribution out to the Fundred Dollar Bill Project. Here's where to get your template and where to send it to convince Congress to clean up lead-contaminated soil in New Orleans. Why should you do this? Lead poisoning leads to health problems, impedes learning ability and contributes to violent behavior. Mel Chin's website says it best: This is an important local and national project of interest in the areas of art, science, health, education, environment and social activism. An armored truck, three million kids, Congressional leaders, need we say more?

And thinking about how imagination (art) works in the service of society, I'd like to mention the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. From time to time I serve as an Artist-Teacher working with their MFA students, and it was nice to meet Danielle Dahline, the MFA in Visual Art Director, and other members of the faculty, at the CAA reception last week. Vermont College's program promotes art that is collaborative and takes on its significance through a relationship with social, cultural, political and economic concerns. In their words, "All artists have an obligation to understand and struggle with these extra-artistic issues."

I just have to get my licks in - add them to the many voices speaking out against yet another round of cutting programs and funding for all the arts - and say that devaluing the creative process can only hinder intelligent thinking in all areas including science and economics. When will they ever learn?

Monday, February 14, 2011

More from CAA

Last Friday's programs at the CAA Conference included a panel discussion of current practices in painting, a presentation of global opportunities for artists who want to work outside the US (and for artists from away looking to come here to work), and finally, an interview with Mel Chin.

There's a unresolved conflict between the modernist notion that paintings are objects, and post-modern practice which posits that paintings are events that take place over time, and that the resulting image is simply the residue of those events. When I'm working, I like knowing that the essence of change is always implicated in the painting, and that paintings come out of doubt rather than out of historical certainty. The unresolved conflict bit comes in when, in spite of the painter's doubts and uncertainties, the paintings themselves are inevitably resolved not only as objects, but often even as uncomplicated objects of beauty.

One of the presenters - my notes don't record which one - spoke of the computer as offering a new complexity for painters, a new way toward the sublime. I like that idea too - that the sublime as located by the Hudson River Painters for instance, and as run to ground by the Abstract Expressionists, will now have a 21st century residence.

And then, Mel Chin. Since the early 90's and Revival Field, I have been in awe of his decision to move away from making discrete objects and toward implicating all of us, whether we are aware of it or not, in taking responsibility for the things that are wrong with society. In awe too of his ability to put ideas into practice. Using imagination and humor rather than ham-fisted accusations achieves much. Have a look at his Fundred project for cleaning up the lead pollution in New Orleans. Make your own Fundred Dollar Bill and send it in. I have my template ready to color in.

Image: Geologics, oil on canvas, detail, has absolutely nothing to do with Mel Chin, but very much to do with paintings as objective accretions of process, and a whole lot more to do with Google limiting today's image choices to its surreptitious storage on Picasa of my own work.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Voy a viajar

The subject of today's afternoon session at the College Art Association ARTspace conference was: Residencies. I've done residencies both locally, at Spalding University in Louisville and at the Art Center at Kingdom Falls in Maine, and also internationally at Pouch Cove in Newfoundland. This year, I'll be spending October at the Can Serrat Residency in Spain.

I have always loved to travel in search of the artistic grail, and I have always loved languages. Therefore, being awarded a stipend for a residency at Can Serrat is perfect. When I applied, I promised myself that if I got this, I would learn Spanish, and I'm well on the way to doing so now. I'm attracted to the geological splendor of the region (see above image), and the more I look into the region's history, the more I find connections to the medieval mysteries of Catholicism. All of this will feed my work in ways that I can only guess at now.

My thanks go out to ARTspace and the Services to Artists Committee of the CAA for excellent programming, and I'd also like to mention ResArtis and the Alliance of Artists Communities. If you are looking for residencies - and there are at rough estimate some 500 in the US and 600-700 world-wide - then these are your go-to resources.

Image credit: Can Serrat website

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


The College Art Association is in town this week, hosting its 99th Annual Conference. The ARTspace "conference within a conference" offers programs free to the public, as a service to artists. This morning's sessions were titled  "The Aesthetics of Sonic Spaces" - four talks on the nature of sound art, what it is, what the tools are, and how sound art intersects with environmental art. Like installation art and performance art, sound art had its genesis in the 60's and in situational esthetics. Two of today's questions were "who owns the air space in which sound occurs?" and "how do we make sound art that does not reference music?"

So the image I've chosen does not accurately represent what today's talks were about, but it does identify a seminal modern composer and sound architect whose drawings were the subject of an exhibition last year at the Drawing Center in Soho. I am sorry I missed that, but grateful for the opportunity today to be introduced to his work. I see it as a point of entry for my own installation work - not to jinx the subject, I'll save writing about that for later when I'm deeper into it.

Other take-aways from the talks today:

Jonny Farrow's Soundwalks along the Gowanus Canal and in Fort Greene. I'll walk more slowly and listen more intently next time I'm headed for the studio.

China Blue's Seventh Kingdom projects that invent new "bioforms" from the detritus of urban life. Her use of seismic recorders to catch vibrations in the structure of the Eiffel Tower - and then ratchet them up so as to be audible to humans - make me wonder what the inner shiftings of the earth sound like, to paraphrase Octavio Paz, sounds from the other side.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Erosions at Coleman Burke Gallery New York

Some images from my exhibition Erosions at Coleman Burke Gallery New York
January 27 through March 10, 2011

Erosions, geologics & terrains, the exhibition catalog with an essay by Mark Wethli, is available at the gallery and from

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

So here I am in my apartment, having started the day by sketching the flowers on the windowsill. When you try to come up with marks that read as chrysanthemums, you do begin to understand Van Gogh and Japanese art. The trick is to avoid photographic representation and rather to provide a language, a transcription, a translation, a geomantic summons of the Family Asteraceae.

Driving down to New York this time, I stopped at a Barnes & Noble in Norwalk to pick up a map of New York State. Maps that you can lay out on the table are far superior to the disjointed bits of information dispensed by the smartphone or the 27" display where an involuntary flick of the wireless mouse can transport you instantly from the spaghetti junction at Worcester, MA to the twilight zone of Central OH. And then what? How to get back? Paper maps allow me to possess my territory, to locate myself in space, to see my path, to know - for future reference - what other paths I might have taken.

But maps, useful as they are, lack the smell, sound, movement and dimensionality of the "real" world. The perceived/received world is always changing itself and changing us, and so provides a richer source for visual language than any given by a printed or digital layout. This is why I am always so delighted to come into my light-filled Brooklyn apartment and find the vase of florist's brilliant yellow mums  - and why I am equally pleased to be out among the profligate early yellow buttercups and late spikes of goldenrod in Lincolnville.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas at Caldbeck

Now that my blog's officially joined my website, it seems a good time to use the space for updates as well as for philosophical musings. I'm thrilled to be part of Caldbeck Gallery's Christmas festivities and their December-January Drawing Show.

They'll be showing a suite of very recent drawings done last month while I was in Austin, Texas. The medium is watercolor, ink and salt - and though process was important, I was exploring a range of images relating to imagined northeast landscapes. (Austin's another story. It has its own very specific hills that I hope to explore in more depth and height next time I'm there.)

Untitled Study #5

If it looks like meteors just landed in the ocean - well, it's possible. My latest reading has been on the subject of biocentrism, which begins an explanation of the universe at the point of probability, where quantum physics has reached an impasse. 

Friday, November 05, 2010

In Unfamiliar Places

I am such a big fan of Yoshitomo Nara (I even have the iPhone app) and glad to see his adolescent girls on Park Avenue as an lead-in to Nobody's Fool, the exhibition of his work on the second and third floors of the Asia Society. I've always loved Nara's drawing hand, and I remember the first time I saw some of the drawings a year or so ago - the sensitivity with which the eyes were rendered was completely unexpected. Clearly the time he spent in Germany influenced the way he uses graphite, and his early paintings too have a very Germanic way with narrative.

That narrative space has given way to simpler backgrounds for his dogs and children. In recent years, Nara has been working in collaboration with YNG to create shacks as sites for exhibitions of the figures he produces. Many of these "rooms" and spaces were built specifically for the Asia Society show. There's a distinct connection to medieval iconography in the isolation of the suffering or disaffected child, whether that figure is sited in a two-dimensional field of paint or in a room constructed of recycled materials.

Further wanderings yesterday took me down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass for First Thursday. I'd read two stories on Hyperallergic, one about underground art in Vegas, and the other in New York -  art created by and about people who live below the streets. This is a subject of the moment - there is also an exhibition of photographs at 111 Front Street about street people. The new Kunsthalle Galapagos on Main Street in Dumbo has the feeling of being underground, in spite of the fact that it's on the top floor of Galapagos Art Space, a former horse stable. At the Dumbo Arts Center, you can enter a labyrinth of thousands of locally sourced cardboard boxes. I reflected on the fact that this might be housing for less fortunate members of society and though I never thought I would get lost in it, I did at least lose my sense of direction, wondered whether I could slip through some of the narrower passages, and in the end came out where I went in much sooner than expected. Pigeonhole is on exhibit through November 14th.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Haystack Mountain

Last week at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, Maine, the dripping trees, the fog, the moss on the rocks and even the architecture made me think about the timelessness of Japanese art, where nature is not so much looked at as it is lived in.

I was at Haystack for a gathering of Maine's arts leaders, and learned a lot that I did not know about the intersection of government, the arts, and the business sector. At the same time, I've been reading.

The Music Instinct by Philip Ball makes the case that music is something we cannot live without, that it is "a gymnasium for the mind" and that "no other activity seems to use so many parts of the brain at once." The same case could be made, I believe, for making and appreciating the visual arts. Art and music are more than candy for the eye and ear.

The other book I've been working through, a few pages at a time at odd moments, is Ludwig Tieck's Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen. Franz has been a student of Albrecht Durer, and is setting out for Italy to study with the masters there. When it comes to descriptions of the art world, this book could have been written yesterday, but the actual date of publication is 1798. In one respect however, the art world has changed radically. Artists no longer get to act like misunderstood children, but are expected to engage, if not with government, then at least with each other and with their communities.

Here's a loose translation from the book, in which the author speaks to Franz the childlike adult, the adult-like child. "How fine for you that you are still shielded from humanity's craziness and misery, that you can be wholly devoted to yourself and your first love [art].  For most people there comes a time when winter takes over their summer, when they forget themselves in order to appear right to other people, when they no longer make sacrifices on behalf of their soul, but place their own hearts as sacrifices on the altars of worldly pride."

So High Romanticism has passed into the annals of cultural history, and we are all most likely better for it, though wouldn't it be nice to have uninterrupted studio time, time for wandering, and for it to be always summer, at Haystack, in Maine.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Bern Porter Found

A frog can support itself splayed out on the points of a group of rising rushes, just as if the rushes were a lily pad. There must be a metaphor here, or a haiku. Rushes are pointy but the frog does not seem to mind and even appears to be asleep.

About a month ago I began reading a book that's been on my shelves for years, James Schevill's where to go what to do when you are Bern Porter. Then I discovered that there is - right now -an exhibition of Bern Porter's work at MOMA.

Here's a Found Poem by Bern:


FAILED IN BUSINESS AT AGE                           31
FAILED BUSINESS AGAIN AT                            34
SWEETHEART DIED AT                                       35
HAD NERVOUS BREAKDOWN AT                     36
DEFEATED IN ELECTION AT                              38
DEFEATED FOR CONGRESS AT                         43
DEFEATED FOR CONGRESS AT                         46
DEFEATED FOR CONGRESS AT                         48
DEFEATED FOR SENATE AT                               55
DEFEATED FOR VICE-PRES. AT                         56
DEFEATED FOR SENATE AT                               58
ELECTED PRESIDENT AT                                     60

John Perreault's Artopia blog on the Porter exhibition is a good introduction with videos and images if you are not familiar with Bern's work - and even if you are, it's a pleasure to read.

Image credit

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Chases Daily and Weasel Artblog Two

I really mean to start work on the website updates today. However, down by the pond just now I got distracted by three dark shapes coming out of the rushes. At first I thought ducks, but these little shapes ran beside the pond edge, threading their way over and under each other, headed in my direction. After some discussion tschhk tschhk tschhk about my presence, they decided I was out of the ordinary for them and reversed direction. Back through the rushes, into and under and through the rocks, out on the other side of the pond. Now I thought I saw only two, but the third was there, swimming alongside his friends on the bank.

If weasels were charcoal and water and rushes were gesso, they would have been a drawing of line and erasures, describing the space of the pond and its surroundings. Some of my earliest drawings were done that way in description of bicycle wheels and frames. But if you want to see really impressive work in this mode, go straight to Chases Daily on Main Street in Belfast where Gideon Bok is making a drawing in charcoal, sumi ink and graphite. It both spans and describes Chase's interior, floor to ceiling. Gideon's blog has an image, and more information, but you really must see for yourself. There will be a closing reception on July 8, at which point Gideon will wash the drawing off the wall.

Pond rushes (Juncus effusus) image credit

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Days of Decadence

Tonight, the catbird's doing a great cover of the cardinal's song, the woods are alive with late evening light, and  this morning, as I was coming back up the rise from the my pond, I met a bull moose on his way down the creekbank. He was gone through Beeler's Woods before I could get to my iPhone. The combination of experiences reminds me that I haven't yet written about absinthe.

My decadent day in Portland - now a few weeks ago - started at the Salt Exchange with frogs legs ravioli on a bed of arugula and quinoa with candied garlic and balsamic vinegar. As if that were not enough, this was accompanied by the sounds of Gene Austin's 1928 hit My Blue Heaven and a Satchmo version of Mack the Knife. 

From there I went to an opening at The Bar of Chocolate Cafe where Holly Gooch has assembled an exhibition of absinthe spoons. It's an intimate grouping in a display case, of exquisite contemporary examples of the tool one uses to drizzle water over a sugar cube into the absinthe in the glass. "Absinthe has a wonderful colour, green.  A glass of Absinthe is a poetical as anything in the world.  What difference is there between a glass of Absinthe and a sunset?" So said Oscar Wilde. The absinthe spoon made art history in a cubist sculpture by Picasso, made in Paris in the spring of 1914, in painted bronze with a perforated silver absinthe spoon. I have to add that the flower pots by William Merritt Chase in a painting now on exhibit at Colby College are so individually painted that they too are as poetical as a sunset and made me long for the good old days of painting as an art, not a conceptual exercise.

There's a good long run for the absinthe spoons at The Bar of Chocolate. They are up through New Year's Eve. My pond has lily pads. So does one of the spoons. Go see - and don't wait until December 31. Order an espresso martini? What?

Holly Gooch and Absinthe Spoons
The Bar of Chocolate, Wharf Street
Image credit

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Armory Show, MECA, and the human condition

My day began around 8 a.m. with a moose in the back field, and a little later on, a hawk soaring overhead. So I have a hard time understanding the current predilection among artists for making images that conjure up imaginatively mangled human forms that are intended to shock but generally don't. There were examples of this in gallery after gallery at the Armory Show in March, but a film there went even further - the artist nailing his own foot to the floor. Was there a point to this? Was this intended to call attention to the suffering of millions, or only to the artist's own aesthetic dilemma? Though each blow of the hammer driving the nail down further was difficult to witness, even at the remove of a filmed action, my personal discomfort then does not extend into the realm of memory today. That is, right now, I feel nothing more than I would if I were reading about Chris Burden's having been nailed to the back of a Volkswagen in 1974.

Given that art is always cutting its own new edge, I was surprised to find, at the BFA Thesis Exhibition at Maine College of Art, large-scale paintings of classically robed figures, wholly present, but with the action of the paint brushing out hands or feet or midsections. This kind of artistic obfuscation leaves more to the imagination than any careful illustration of macabre fictional details. A new web-based exhibition series permanently showcases the art and ideas of the senior class at MECA. Here I learned that Preservation, one of the contexts for their work, "reflects the joining of the artists [sic] relationship to the history of their medium while adding fresh, individualized aesthetics and viewpoints accrued from a contemporary context." In the case of the figure painter who, I think, is Gregory O'Neill, history directly references Greek and Roman art and might also include Neue Sachlichkeit and other classically inspired movements.

If the reason for depicting pain is to call attention to human suffering then the pain must be real, it must be timeless, and it must be shared. The statue of Laocoon and his sons, like the Crucifixion, puts us in the presence of all three. Contemporary art that seeks to contextualize pain will only achieve its objective if it can do the same.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Magic at MOMA

The Artist Is Present. Marina Abramovic at MOMA. My first take? Not that interesting, a lot of people waiting for her to make a move, any move, false or otherwise. And by her refusal to do so, we were all forced to wait. Crowd-at-a-hanging mentality, sheep mentality, no one moves unless the leader moves. The artist as bellwether. Being an impatient Aries myself, I was anxious to look for greener pastures in the Kentridge show. You wait here. I'll be back.

William Kentridge! Magic drawing! Magic theater! Magic music and magic lantern shows! The power of imagination and inventiveness. The three parts of The Magic Flute were so entrancing that I watched each one all the way through. In an entirely different but equally affecting way, Ubu and the Procession is a parade of South African folk, torn black silhouettes moving herky-jerky across the screen from left to right, accompanied a loop of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," a ragged-edged version delivered by a woman's voice in more than a hum but without actual words, scat-style as ragged as the torn silhouettes themselves. Audio-visualize an allelujah chorus of the wounded on crutches, refugees carrying and carting their belongings, miners, prisoners, preachers and the lynched, ghosted and blackened. As I'm a Kentuckian getting ready for another round of nostalgia tomorrow afternoon (it's Derby Day in the Bluegrass), this tableau awakened in me that painful mix of wistfulness and sorrow that comes with the singing of "My Old Kentucky Home." But more to the point is Kentridge's power as a narrator and draftsman. I remembered too that magic moment at the University of Louisville when I was handed the keys to the kingdom of drawing and realized what worlds could come alive just by putting pencil to paper.

The Abramovic performance (I told you I'd be back) is in a way a political stance. By refusing to react, she dissuades us from reacting. Ostensibly, there is nothing to react to. Should we be horrified? mollified? lulled into non-action or provoked into retaliation? A sort of Schadenfreude ensues as one watches the person sitting across from the artist. What are that person's actions, thoughts and feelings? Around the perimeter, students are drawing the event, writing about it. I'm beginning to feel it's really quite extraordinary, the power of this performance. When one sitter rises to leave, Abramovic puts her fingertips to her eyes, adjusts her body, draws within, becomes human for a few seconds. As the next sitter takes her place, Abramovic visibly re-enters her body, the goddess inhabiting the oracle space, and engages this new supplicant through eye contact alone. Magic indeed.

For much more on Kentridge
and live video of Abramovic
MOMA's website is excellent.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Inside the Whitney

My walk through the 2010 Whitney Biennial began on the fourth floor and went downhill from there, though not quite so negatively as that may sound. In a show devoted to ways of experiencing space, there are also connections with human presence. One of the fascinations of re-viewing these works on the internet is that many of the pieces are more effective on my display than in actual fact, and that the most striking piece of all comes across as barely credible on the museum's website.

First off the elevator was a large hemp and jute tapestry by Piotr Uklanski (no image available). There is a recent time and tradition in which tapestry was bold in its imagery and reflected its roots in primitive traditions. Untitled (The Year We Made Contact) is such a tapestry and it comes across now as dated, monotonous and far too big for its wall. By contrast, Still, Untitled, Pae White's tapestry one floor down is modern in its execution but looks back even further in history to the 16th and 17th century tapestries woven at the Gobelins workshops in Paris. The same size as the tapestry a floor above, White's images of curling smoke activate the space rather than kill it. The fact that it is machine woven is so little evident that I at first took it for a painting, which is to say that the technique did not call attention to itself.

Some rooms/spaces at the Whitney are devoted to a single artist. Charles Ray's big flower paintings make a nice grouping, though each one could certainly inhabit a space of its own. Ania Soliman's NATURAL OBJECT RANT: The Pineapple, a frieze of collages and text that line the pink-painted walls of a small square room, describe the economic, politcal and ecological cost of the pineapple industry in Hawaii. The images were small enough to draw me in and spin me around the room. By the time I'd finished, I felt distinctly that I too had been sliced and canned, and was drawing personal parallels between the pineapple industry and the processing of viewers in blockbuster shows.

A site-specific installation by R.H. Quaytman that references an adjacent window by architect Marcel Breuer makes good sense visually, but on the whole this is a humdrum Biennial with much derivative work. Roland Flexner's 30 sumi ink drawings that have been mentioned by another writer as magical may have been so in the studio, but the presentation - overmatted, framed and gridded - snuffed the life right out of them.

Now almost a week later it is the breath in other pieces that stays with me: the heart-breaking photographs of Afghani women, by Stephanie Sinclair, Self Immolation in Afghanistan: A Cry for Help; the indifferent-to-human-pain smoke in White's tapestry; the hilarious video, Detroit, by Ari Marcopoulos of a couple of kids making noise rock in their bedroom. Standing in a small darkened room with this one is to know what it's like inside an adolescent boy's head: The Noise! The Color! The Lights! That's primitive, that's brash, and that for me made the show worthwhile.

Photo credit: No photos allowed of the Biennial art, but someone had left a closet door open, a stand-in for installations everywhere.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Some Answers, Some Questions

In Maine, where I spend most of the year, painting is still the gold standard. In New York, the ARTSEEN editors at The Brooklyn Rail write that followers of post-modern theory have created "a ghetto into which painting, drawing and sculpture, along with certain kinds of film and photography have been driven, the door locked and the key thrown away." Personally, I like a balance between content and form, and in thinking about why both are important, have come up with some answers:

Art is an object. Art has no physical form.
Art is presented in special places. Art is everywhere we look.
Art is made by talented people. Art is made by everyone.
Art exists in a vacuum. Art exists in the interaction between the object and the viewer.
Art is the interaction between participants.
There is no message without a sender.
There is no message without a receiver.
Art is always static. Art is always moving.

And then some questions:

Where does art start and where does it stop? What is the vantage point from which art can be seen, practiced and acted on? When is an artist not an artist? Questions of permanence/ephemerality and of commercial value are secondary to the consideration that art is a noun for which there is no verb. The verb is "to make." If I jump on a pedestal and proclaim myself an artist - that's art. If I put a pile of sofas in the middle of Second Avenue and sit there - yes, I am an artist. What makes the sardine packer different from the canner of s***? The difference lies in the ability of the artist (in this case Manzoni) to take a concept, that of putting something edible into a can, and twist the concept for his own purposes, whatever those may be. The art lies in the transfiguration of action into idea into objectification, the creation of the moebius strip that unifies the three.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Sense of Time

This Monday, so many art writers writing about each other instead of about art. Noah Becker sums it up, and says it's maybe just too hard to write about the art itself. Yes it is, and I'm going to take a stab at some art that is hugely complex. Hard to put words to what I feel about it, but here goes.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my favorite thing to do is to wander through to the medieval section. I love those polychrome statues of saints and important persons, love them because they reveal the essence of the real people they once were. I like to imagine what their lives must have been like, birth to death and and the discomforts in between.

At the Brooklyn Museum, I found correspondences between Kiki Smith's cast aluminum figures in the exhibition Sojourn, installed in a series of rooms on the fourth floor, and the Egyptian figures that are part of the exhibition To Live Forever. In both exhibitions, each figure imparts a sense of time transcended, of a permanent present that is rooted in the life of the person depicted. In an eerie way, the viewer senses a vision that emanates not from the artist's skill but from the statue itself. Each figure creates a tangible space around it. As I stood beside Smith's Annunciation (shown above), not knowing exactly what its blank eyes had seen or were seeing now, I knew that I too was experiencing the numinous. It came as no surprise to read that Smith has a deep knowledge of medieval art, or that her figures installed in the 18th century period rooms at the museum were right at home. I learned too that the ancient Egyptians believed that funerary statues contained the spirit of the deceased, and that a possible reason for the broken noses of so many of them was to prevent the spirit from coming back to life.

Sojourn is a new iteration of Smith's exhibition Her Home, installed in 2008 at the Kunstmuseen Krefeld and the Kunsthalle Nuernberg. In the accompanying catalog, Krefeld Director Martin Hentschel describes Her Home as "a scenario of life face to face with transience." Her work "links spirit, human and animal worlds," and in this way, I think, is very much like the art of ancient Egypt. Yet the title of the Egyptian exhibit, To Live Forever implies a different outcome to transience. At the Brooklyn Museum, transient time and eternity seem somehow the same.

Sojourn continues through September 12. To Live Forever is on view through May 2. The statuary at the Met is forever.

More on Kiki Smith
slide show
Brooklyn Museum
Flickr Source

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Kuniyoshi Tour-de-Force

Toward the latter part of 2009, this blog kind of got away from me, or I from it, but I am back and planning to make it a weekly post again. Rainy Monday seems like a good time to begin. I'm in New York, focused on Japanese woodblock and my own beginning efforts in that direction, and I am looking, looking, looking. More than 100 of Utagawa Kuniyoshi's prints from the first half of the 19th century are on exhibit at the Japan Society. I spent several hours there yesterday, and then, it being a perfect Sunday afternoon for walking, continued on to the Asia Society where two exhibitions, Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art and The Arts of Ancient Viet Nam: from River Plain to Open Sea, are on view.

The title Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters barely begins to describe the richness of imagery in Kuniyoshi's prints. There are warlords, Kabuki actors, feuding clans, beautiful women, exemplary women, landscape elements derived from the Dutch, and indeed, monsters, demons and ghosts, along with oversized toads, cat spirits, and politicians rendered as turtles. Equally fascinating for me were the patterned depictions of nature: floating leaves on shimmering river water, pouring rain (described as a tour-de-force on the part of the block carver) and subtle color fades in skies and sunsets. For the aspiring student, most valuable of all, examples of Kuniyoshi's sketchbooks and a few of the key block drawings that provide the line elements for the prints. A related exhibition, The 36 Views of Fuji by Hiroshige is at Ronin Gallery through March 31. I will see that later this week.

Now that I've gotten started there is much I could say about what I notice as obvious contrasts between the exciting line and vigorous color of the Kuniyoshi images that have had such an influence on manga, and the quiet presence of Vietnamese objects and Chinese scroll painting. My work as viewer is different depending on what I'm seeing. Entering into the space of the scroll painting, or even standing quietly before the dun tones of a large ceremonial vessel, I am making a journey into myself. But Kuniyoshi takes me out into other worlds that mirror faces and forms of his own time and also reflect the issues and mores of the 21st century.

Image credit: Kuniyoshi Samurai Print
Japan Society

Asia Society

Friday, March 12, 2010

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stuck in the middle

Coming home from Austin TX I had a 3 1/2 hour layover in Atlanta. Post-Christmas Day 2009 that seems like not such a big deal. Restaurant opportunities in airports have improved greatly since 9/11, and we expect that in the future, as we arrive 4 hours in advance of flights, we’ll have time for 10 course French dining. But to return to my layover, as I finally settled down at the gate, the expanse of windows on the opposite wall gave onto the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen. The entire sky glowed red-orange, and silhouetted in the foreground, prehistoric shapes moved, the blackened tails of Delta’s jetliners.

On the Atlanta-Portland leg of my journey, travelers were reading books. Not Kindles, but bonafide tree-derived books. As a portable means of entertainment, books still have cachet. You can hold them, you can write in them, you can loan them to friends. They are so much more portable than the stone tablets that were once in vogue. As someone who has been plagued by eyestrain since college, I have avoided small electronic screens, and yet, the fun of Bakugan and manga lead me to believe that VOOKS may be the now big thing. If you’re not familiar with VOOKS you can learn more by clicking on VOOKS. Download them for your iPhone or the web, get fit in 90 seconds, cook Japanese and reinvent beauty, in multisensory experiences that work in the same way dreams do, leading you from one strange landscape to another.

Back to that strange landscape out the airport window – among all the waiting travellers, there was only one (besides me) who paid any attention to the sunset at all, and even the fact that he went to the window and photographed it was not enough to cause the people around him to look up.

Monday, December 07, 2009

To Plant a Tree

To plant a tree in rocky soil, every day dig the hole a little wider, a little deeper. For a small person with just a spade and a limited amount of time to spend each day, there’s no way to do it all at once. What kind of tree should it be? A big branchy tree like an oak or an elm, a tree for the ages. The metaphors for art and life are obvious.

Come inside, look at the books and magazines on the table and floor, and write down the titles of those on the tops of the piles. The Wild Braid, The Lightning Field, L’Homme nu, The Language Instinct, Modern Painters, Bulgaria, Art on Paper, Manzoni (with an image of himself thumbing his nose at the world), The Immense Journey, The Doctrine of Recognition. Pretty representative: a naked human standing in a field of lightning rods trying to communicate with other humans, hopeful but with an attitude.

Now pull out one of these books, Stanley Kunitz’s The Wild Braid and open it to a random quote. “I associate the garden with the whole experience of being alive, and so, there is nothing in the range of human experience that is separate from what the garden can signify in its eagerness and its insistence, and in its driving energy to live – to grow, to bear fruit.”

Oak tree courtesy of the website it's nature.

Monday, September 14, 2009

View of Mount Katahdin

I’ve been traveling around to the Bowery, Chelsea, Soho, Japan, China, Afghanistan, Brooklyn and Italy, the top of Mount Katahdin, and also Winnipeg. Not to mention a Grand Tour through Europe. As you can imagine this has meant a lot of walking. I’ve also vegged in my apartment for hours at a time, thinking only about sediments, the mechanics of plate tectonics, and wthether Neanderthals spoke as we do. It seems they did not, and that what defines us as human is the ability to express thought through complex language structures.

In the tradition of Shingon, or Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, the ineffable is beyond language and can only be expressed through mandalas, mantras, and mudras. We are brought to point of contact with other worlds through meditating on paintings and through phsyical position, and this is how I came to the foot of Mount Katahdin while standing on Manhattan ground. Sam Cady’s constructed paintings, on view at Mary Ryan, combine the precision of Hiroshige’s ukiyo-e prints with the spatial perspective of Chinese landscapes, while at the same time being firmly part of the Western landscape tradition. In the view of Mount Katahdin for instance, the shape of the canvas is an inverted trapezoid in which the rhythm of color runs from the slightly inflected dark blue of Chimney Pond at the painting’s base to the profusion of detail and light on the Knife Edge at the top. The perspective is precise, the observation of detail so uncanny that as viewer, I seemed to stand exactly at the bottom of the mountain. (You can see the painting if you follow the link below.) In another canvas that is a narrow horizontal strip of island and water, I was further down in the water, as if swimming or in a boat. A very small canvas captures the distance, the temperature and the great size of the iceberg that is its subject. To experience these landscapes as Cady has done and intends for us to do, we stand with him and with them, and the satisfaction of this communication is that as artist Cady allows us the opportunity to do equal work.

The show at Mary Ryan is up through October 17. Japanese mandalas are at the Met through November 29 in the Sackler Wing. Katahdin image courtesy of Wikepedia.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Art Tours

If the Artist is Tour Guide where are we going? Into the past, into the future, into an altered present? Art is the craft of aesthetics, a Sunday kind of love, a discipline that requires total commitment. Last night I went down to the Lower East Side to an opening where the artist purported to give us a look into the past of Romantic landscape painting. He’d made an installation out of lots and lots of candy colored striping variously suspended from the ceiling and applied to the walls, and also fuzzy digitized images, and it was so fun to hear the popgun pops of taped down mounds of bubble wrap on the floor as we walked across them. The artist here was tour guide through the accumulations of his studio, advertising a look at Caspar David Friedrich-land, where once real hunters in Austrian get-ups might have been shooting boar. But the tour was a flop. The emperor’s new clothes had more going for them.

Thence to Soho to an exhibition that was nothing but paintings, and this one a lesson in why painting second-hand Romanticism is an irrelevant practice. Here the tour bus loaded with artisans never even left the station. It makes no sense to paint what’s already been painted, and it’s equally true that not every experiment with installations is of interest. What’s lacking in both cases is discipline and rigorous editing so that the end result has something to tell us. All dedicated artists seek an audience, all serious viewers want to come away with something more than entertainment. But it’s failure of imagination that allows us as viewers and artists to believe that either the viewer or the artist should do all the work. Just as a profusion of tweets is not a novel, neither does an unedited stream of video nor the detritus of the studio constitute art. Some sort of intelligent shape has to be imposed on it by the artist in order to convey a message to the viewer. Let us not venture further into whether the results are Vermeer or Shakespeare or not, but only remark that while everyone has a nugget of creative instinct, only some have what it takes to pan for gold.

As I finished this blog, into my inbox popped an invitation to what I guarantee will be a tour through some serious art and first-rate painting by Katherine Bradford,Meghan Brady, Cassie Jones, Don Voisine, Mark Wethli and others. Be sure to check out Chunky Monkey at Red Flagg in Chelsea next Thursday night, September 17, 6-8 P.M. and through October 17. Money will be refunded if you're not absolutely satisfied.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Ekphrasis at UMF

“Reading drawings is like leafing through a book for answers, or turning a kaleidoscope until the bits fall into place.” So I wrote for my installation reading the landscape at the University of Maine/Farmington eleven years ago. I still believe that the landscape can be read, that it organizes itself in signs and equivalences, that every branch and every evening primrose is doing something that has meaning for each of us.

During a period of years from 2001 through 2005, I did some 250 gestural drawings of periwinkle shells and flowers. Those drawings have existed as discrete images until now, when in grouping them for the ekphrasis exhibition at Farmington I have been mindful of making connections between the purely visual and the literary. Sometimes the drawings tell their own stories. Other groupings are inspired by poems, as Buson’s haiku: “peony scattering/have piled up/two-three petals.” For the second time in my installation work, I have found inspiration in John Ashbery’s poetry. This time, I borrowed a title from “Some Trees” which begins “These are amazing: each/joining a neighbor, as though speech were a still performance.”

The methodology of each drawing was also simple performance. I laid down an ink or watercolor wash, dropped an ink line or periwinkle shells into it, and recorded the movement of its happening. The gestures are a calligraphy that has correspondences in Asian art, so the exhibition will include a Chinese scholar’s desk that the Curator, Sarah Maline, has very kindly offered include. I am also indebted to Sarah for the opportunity to bring a new dimension and new vocabulary to my work about the landscape.
And next week, possibly, I'll have images from the show.

Exhibition dates: September 3-24, with a reception on September 10.