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.