October 31, 2008

Lauri Chambers: Just simply look

"Content is revealed by process...to understand my work it must simply be looked at. I want the encounter to be very, very quiet." Francine Seders Gallery presents Lauri Chambers's well-worked black and white paintings this month. In the Seattle P-I, Rgina Hackett writes that Chambers locates the impure pleasure of painting within the world of abstraction. "Black is not a single shade for Chambers, nor is white. Each is a spectrum unto itself, and she works each to full effect, from matte to moist, clear to soiled, faded to flush. Nor does she always stick to black and white. As a surprise tucked at the bottom of a 36-inch-square painting with three irregular pillars, there are rare splatters of blue Her blacks are mismatched parentheses or stiff-jointed quotation marks, and her whites have been through a lot. Even fresh, there is always the suggestion of darker shapes moving underneath. She paints in layers, laying paint on with a knife or brush, rubbing down, scoring cuts in the surface and painting over. White expands for her, and black contracts. Each painting is a record not only of the personality of each tone but the bruising it undergoes by interacting with its opposite. White's forays into black have left smudges that weaken the solidity of its mass, making it vulnerable. Similarly, black undertones have sullied the white clouds and added weight to the composition overall, aging it and giving it a history. The art world has glamour. Chambers has none. What she has is her determination to adhere to her principles while remaining open to the possibilities of improvised grace." Read more.

"Lauri Chambers: Soundings," Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle, WA. Through Nov.30.

Sean Landers: Anticipating the "pathological narcissism of the blogosphere"

Sean Landers is best known for his layered text paintings, which typically advertise his artistic triumphs and failures in tragicomic fashion. In his current installation, “Set of Twelve,” at Friedrich Petzel, Landers reconfigures a series of videos he made in 1990 that feature obsessive monologues spoken rather than painted. Appearing in his empty studio, speaking directly into the camera, Landers satirizes the solipsistic formula of 1970s video art as he tests the limits of his logorrhea.

In the NY Times, Karen Rosenberg writes that Landers is a writer at heart, so the video camera sometimes seems like an unwelcome intermediary. "He makes faces, swigs wine from the bottle and ambles across the rooftop of his studio, but mostly he sits and talks (and talks and talks). More than anything, the installation reminds you how much of a '1990s artist' Mr. Landers is; in the current art world his professed ambivalence about fame and fortune seems as dated as his grunge hairstyle. But you could also say that his unchecked ramblings anticipated the pathological narcissism of the blogosphere. " Hmm...let me check my stats and update my new "Daily Progress" Twitter feed while I consider whether I'm pathologically narcissistic. Aren't all artists overtly, unapologetically self-absorbed?

"Sean Landers: Set of Twelve," Friedrich Petzel, in conjunction with Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York, NY. Through Nov. 15.

October 30, 2008

Jonathan Lasker's impishness rascality

Jonathan Lasker celebrates the act of making in highly controlled compositions of thick impasto elements and dense linear circuitry. Using color, silhouette, and pattern, Lasker invents a fresh vocabulary of abstract signifier and painterly glyph. "In The Oregonian, DK Row reports that Lasker, especially in the larger paintings, is like a cartographer of the abstract, arranging colors and shapes that project a restrained whimsy. "Usually, in each painting, Lasker creates several large geometric shapes filled in by a vortex of scribbly corkscrew designs. Each awkward shape is a different color -- purple, blue, yellow, red, green, black, etc. -- and almost a painting unto itself. Lasker also opens up each painting by creating an expanse of white or yellow that's surrounded by thickly built-up paint of the same color. One way to interpret these flat spaces is as little windows that have been opened up in the middle of each painting. Peek-a-boo. There is indeed a rivulet of impishness to these large paintings, a rascality that is actually more pronounced in the smaller works, where Lasker's graphic marks realize greater flourish. But light-heartedness is not Lasker's objective here; he's expanding upon some longstanding art historical ideas about painting.

"I wish that circuitry would dazzle more often and in unpredictable ways. Lasker produces taut, complex structures, but this mastery also seems to hem in the artist's waggish impulses. The winding corkscrew squiggles want to push beyond or outside of their strictly outlined geometric containers, but alas, clerkish exactness prevails. " Read more.

Watch James Kalm's video of Lasker's 2007 opening at Cheim & Read. At first his camera runs out of memory, but hardworking Kalm returns the next day to finish his report.

Also check out the now-dormant PaintersNYC, where the rambling, hard-to-please regulars actually had a fairly interesting discussion of Lasker's work last year.

"Jonathan Lasker," organized by Bruce Guenther. Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR. Through Jan. 11.

October 29, 2008

New Orleans Biennial: 81 people running around with good ideas

In the NY Times Shaila Dewan reports on "Prospect.1," the first New Orleans Biennial. Opening on November 1 and running for eleven weeks, the biennial is the largest international contemporary art festival ever organized in the United States. "Billed as the largest exhibition of contemporary art ever held on American soil, the biennial is intended to help restore the cultural vibrancy of a city that remains on its knees three years after Hurricane Katrina. With a star-filled roster of 81 artists and a projected 50,000 visitors from out of town, it may indeed bring benefits to New Orleans. But it is already clear that the arrangement has not been one-sided, and the New Orleans contribution has been rich. With its history of destruction and rebirth, artistic triumph and economic struggle, this crumpled crescent of a city provides a singular interpretive context that acts as a resonance chamber.

"Curator Dan Cameron said it's 'just 81 people running around with good ideas, and basically everyone they meet goes, Oh yeah, sure, I’ll help. It is American, but it’s no longer what we think of as American — it’s drop what you’re doing and go do what your neighbor’s doing.' This is, after all, the city of spontaneous parades. Mr. Cameron said he was careful to select artists for the first Prospect who would attract critics and collectors but were not divas whose expectations might exceed the abilities of a first-time exhibition on a shoestring budget of $3.2 million. 'I would have liked to have taken a few more risks,' Mr. Cameron said. 'Curatorially, I like high-risk situations.'" Read more.

Ron Gorchov: Fields of color floating

Harry Swartz-Turfle of Daily Gusto reports on Ron Gorchov's lecture at the Studio School. "Speaking at the NY Studio School last night, artist Ron Gorchov recalled seeing a frustrated painter friend kicking work off a balcony in the mid-1960s. At that moment it occurred to Gorchov that 'It's important to do something you really want to do.' For Gorchov, the elusive goal has been to get fields of color to float in a room. At 78, he feels like the work he's doing is the 'most fluent and fertile of my life.'

"Gorchov first came to New York in 1953, meeting Mark Rothko on his second day here. It was a different time, he explained, and meeting famous artists was as easy as going to their bars. At the end of meeting Rothko, Gorchov made an overture and said they should get together soon. Rothko balked, saying 'No. Have a few gallery shows. It's a small place, and we'll meet.'

"When Gorchov tried to get an introduction to John Russell through a mutual friend, the friend said no. 'Nobody would introduce each other,' Gorchov explained. The atmosphere was competitive. 'They were all jealous of each other.' Read more.

October 28, 2008

Playing for Fung in Santa Fe

Here’s an excerpt from the press materials for “Lucky Number Seven,” the SITE Santa Fe 2008 Biennial curated by Lance M. Fung:

"The entire project proposes an alternative to the current format of biennials, which has evolved in recent years into international mega-exhibitions studded with big-name, well-traveled artists…. All of the works for ‘Lucky Number Seven’ are site inspired commissions that will not exist as works of art, per se, beyond the exhibition, with the majority of the materials being recycled back into the community. This element emphasizes temporality and process, and provides the artists with the opportunity to push their practices into new directions. The advantage of such a framework is that it allows for experimentation and play, and is not dependent on the forces of the market. This instead proposes a field of possibilities, grounded in the unique environment and history of Santa Fe."

For the group of emerging artists selected, participating in this kind of biennial must be like completing a well-funded homework assignment that includes travel and grad-school camaraderie. I imagine them pulling all-nighters at their desks, trying to develop their concepts: “Let’s see….the project needs to explore temporality, use ephemeral materials, relate to the unique history and environment of Santa Fe, and oh yeah, be fun and playful…”

In Art In America, Charles Dee Mitchell hails “Lucky Number Seven” as charting a wonderful new direction for the tired, bloated international biennial format. I agree that taking the market forces out of the selection process is a good idea. When considered from the artists’ perspective, however, the limitations the curator has imposed seem artificial and stultifying. Fung’s exacting stipulations as to improvisation and impermanence no doubt guarantee a big art-tourist audience and plenty of publicity. But when the projects are dismantled, the artists, having spent countless hours developing a concept and creating the project, are left empty-handed save for a folder of publicity materials, an honorarium, and a line on their résumés. I wonder why there aren’t more artists who still credit art’s importance for posterity and realize that this isn't an especially good deal. Wouldn't it be more worthwhile for emerging artists to "push their practices" in self-determined directions that have a longer lifespan?

"SITE Santa Fe 2008 Biennial," curated by Lance M. Fung. Santa Fe, NM. Through Jan. 4.

Philip Pearlstein's "saucer of formalism"

The Montclair Museum's retrospective of Philip Pearlstein's work includes an award-winning artwork from high school, expressionist works of the 1950s, post-1961 female and male studio nudes, lesser-known landscapes and cityscapes, and a selection of portraits. Curator Patterson Sims spoke with The Star-Ledger's art critic Dan Bischoff. "Philip told me, at one point, why he decided he didn't want to be an Abstract Expressionist -- because he didn't want to have a perpetual nervous breakdown. He wanted his art to be an orderly experience, for him as much as for the viewer."

"And orderly it is," Bischoff reports. "Reduced, in Pearlstein's classic period, to classroom nudes arranged matter-of-factly amid a growing cast of thrift shop props (empire chairs, wooden lions, toy trains, hammocks, etc. Just see 'Model with Neon Mickey and Bouncy Duck,' finished in 2007. That Pearlstein could take both the oldest art subject and the most socially charged (nudity) and make it flat, neutral even, has a kind of dignity of purpose, a coolness of resolve, that has to be admired....'Objectifications' is accompanied by a smaller show of objects gleaned from the Moses and Ida Soyer bequest, given to Montclair in 1974 by Moses Soyer, the well-known representative painter. Drawings, sculptures and paintings by Edward Hopper, Ben Shahn, Philip Evergood, Chaim Gross, and several others are arranged in the small reading room near the old main entrance, most of the art documenting the humanist concerns of the Depression era, when inspiring figuration was all the rage. You should take in all the hot little sketches hung in this room and cool them in the saucer of Pearlstein's formalism, just around the corner. Together they make a perfect Goldilocks of a show." Read more.

Tonight at 7pm, Pearlstein's studio assistant and model Kilolo Kumanyika will give a guided tour of the show.

"Philip Pearlstein: Objectifications," Curated by Patterson Sims. Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ. Through February 1.

October 26, 2008

Beatriz Milhazes: Culture eats culture

In the NY Times, Carol Kino profiles Brazilian painter Beatriz Milhazes, who currently has a show at James Cohan Gallery in Chelsea. "Beatriz Milhazes clearly considers herself a geometric abstractionist, those are hardly the first words that spring to mind when regarding her work. Squares often come laced with lines and dots, circles frequently mutate into eye-popping targets, and everything is laden with motifs that evoke the multilayered culture of her home, Rio de Janeiro. There are arabesques, roses and doily patterns, borrowed from Brazilian Baroque, colonial and folk art; flowers and plants inspired by the city’s botanical garden, which is next door to her studio; and thick wavy stripes — a nod to the undulating Op Art-inspired mosaic pavement that the Brazilian landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx created in 1970 for the promenade at Copacabana Beach. ...Despite the Brazilian feel of her work, there is nothing else quite like it in Brazilian art, past or present, said Adriano Pedrosa, a curator in São Paulo who has known Ms. Milhazes for years. 'She seems to have a quite close relationship with Brazilian art history,” he said, “but that’s because she’s appropriating things.'

He also sees her oeuvre as being related to Antropofagia, a Brazilian movement of the ’20s and ’30s whose name means cannibalism. Mr. Pedrosa described it as 'this concept where the Brazilian native artist appropriates foreign elements and digests them to produce something personal and unique.' In fact Ms. Milhazes often says her major influence is Tarsila, a Brazilian painter who came out of that movement, as well as Mondrian and Matisse.

"'In the beginning,” she said, “I felt a connection between Spanish Latin American and Brazilian, which is more Portuguese: the Baroque churches, the costumes, the ruffles, things that have volume or a sculptural shape.' But ultimately, she said, although she wanted to incorporate all those things into her work, 'I wanted to put them together based on a geometric composition. Because at the end of the day, I was only interested in structure and order.'” Read more.

"Beatriz Milhazes," James Cohan Gallery, New York, NY. Through Nov. 15.

October 25, 2008

The art world's downmarket retreat

Last year, my first article published in The Brooklyn Rail examined how an impending art market "correction" might affect artists. "In a fairly typical scenario, the gallery an artist has worked diligently to cultivate, having been powered by the bull art market, doesn’t make the rent when it turns bearish. The artist is left without representation. He or she may lose artwork kept 'in storage.' Furthermore, as Edward Winkleman has chronicled in his well-regarded art blog, check kiting becomes de rigueur in times of financial distress, and even formerly fair galleries may resort to withholding payment for work previously sold. Widespread gallery closings also mean fewer exhibition opportunities for younger artists. The abundant part-time jobs—often at the galleries themselves—that kept them solvent dry up.

"Some artists will simply hunker down, eke out work at restaurants and bars, and wait for the market to grow again. Others may start collectives or DIY galleries to generate new collector niches. This strategy has worked in the past. Witness iconoclastic successes like Joe Amrhein’s Pierogi 2000 and the proliferation of artist-run galleries in Williamsburg after the art market contracted due to 9/11. The lack of exhibition opportunity actually creates a more experimental atmosphere since few artists are tailoring their ideas or curbing their impulses to cater to a particular audience. Another hidden bonus is that as real estate development plateaus and gentrification slows, artists have more time before they are squeezed out of their once grittily affordable neighborhoods."

This week in New York magazine, Jerry Saltz addresses how the downturn will affect not just artists, but all the different spheres in the art world. "If the art economy is as bad as it looks—if worse comes to worst—40 to 50 New York galleries will close. Around the same number of European galleries will, too. An art magazine will cease publishing. A major fair will call it quits—possibly the Armory Show, because so many dealers hate the conditions on the piers, or maybe Art Basel Miami Beach, because although it’s fun, it’s also ridiculous. Museums will cancel shows because they can’t raise funds. Art advisers will be out of work. Alternative spaces will become more important for shaping the discourse, although they’ll have a hard time making ends meet.

"As for artists, too many have been getting away with murder, making questionable or derivative work and selling it for inflated prices. They will either lower their prices or stop selling. Many younger artists who made a killing will be forgotten quickly. Others will be seen mainly as relics of a time when marketability equaled likability. Many of the hot Chinese artists, most of whom are only nth-generation photo-realists, will fall by the wayside, having stuck collectors with a lot of junk....The good news is that, since almost no one will be selling art, artists—especially emerging ones—won’t have to think about turning out a consistent style or creating a brand. They’ll be able to experiment as much as they want."

October 24, 2008

Patrick W. Welch: An untimely death in Chicago

I recently received a note from Gescheidle Projects that gallery artist and good friend Patrick W. Welch has passed away, leaving behind his wife Carrie Golus, and twin 5-year-old sons, Ben & Alex. Although the circumstances remain unspecified, his death at 43 is unexpected and unspeakably tragic. For many years Welch was a media and animation professor at the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago, and before that, chair of the Sequential Art Department at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Welch worked in many media, including illustration, animation and book arts, but is best known for his "Miniature Hate Paintings" which evoke a strange combination of childhood nightmare and adult neurosis, drawing on references from contemporary fine art, comic books, and science fiction. More recently his "Miniature Insult Blocks," painted on 1" x 2" blocks, detail English playground childhood insults in the saccahrine colours of boiled sweets.

"If someone wanted to send you a postcard from hell, Patrick Welch would be the best living candidate to paint it. But it might make you want to visit. Welch's hell is goofy, cryptic, fairly self-aggrandizing, and inviting." Seth Sanders, The Chicago Reader, 2002

"These spaces are at once abstract, cosmic and microscopic. They become ground to signal huge emotional distances between two people. In Me and You, a network of pipe-like drips becomes vast when the teensy 'Me' appears on the lower left, and 'You' are seen on the upper right. It's like we've lost each other in a sewer system. With a bitter and fatalistic tone, you might think these works are a downer, but as one work proudly proclaims, The End is Nice. Apropos to Gescheidle's final showing. -- Erik Wenzel, artslant, 2008

"Although painter Patrick Welch works small, he thinks big." Jame Austen, Chicago Journal, 2007 "Welch has been on a ride into the infinite regress of his distaste for human existence for years now, and it's a testament to his obduration that he's managed to keep lively each self-reference as the fecal discharge of famous mainstream artists. Michael Workman, Newcity, 2007

"And their many incongruities...underline the central paradox of his work; the split between traditional ideals of beauty and harmony and the discordance around and within us. The witty disparities Welch interjects and his sensual use of color can't efface the awful fixity of his objects and words..." Fred Camper, The Chicago Reader, 2002

"Newcity contributor Patrick Welch is a cranky guy. Well, not him, but his art.....But while Welch is elevating self-diminution to new levels, the works, which often reference comics and science fiction, are fun in spite of their theme." Brian Hieggelke, 2002

"If you're going to be a Marxist these days, it's best to do so with tongue firmly in cheek. And while you're at it, why not go ahead and write an artist manifesto...? Patrick W. Welch and friends group show have done just that, inaugurating "The Micromentalist Manifesto" with this surprisingly enjoyable group show." Lori Waxman, artforum.com, 2008

"He seems defeated by art history and fears of failure and idiocy. Well, not that defeated; he did create a stunning body of work." Erik Wenzel, FNews, 2002

Related posts:
2007 Interview with Patrick W. Welch on Gapers Block is here.
Interview on Chicago Public Radio is here.

October 23, 2008

Blogger shows: Bromirski and Burket

Blogger/painter Martin Bromirski has a show at John Davis Gallery this month. Check out his blog Anaba to see installation shots of the small abstract canvases hung in an old carriage house. "I'm very happy with the show, it looks great," Bromirski posted after the opening. "I'm really into the space, and how the paintings look there. The walls are all concrete and cracked... "

"Martin Bromirski: Circus on Mars," John Davis Gallery, Hudson, NY. Through Nov. 2.

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Upcoming: Lovable Brent Burket of Heart as Arena has curated a show, "Unbreak My Heart," which opens at Pluto on Nov. 1. Here's an excerpt from Brent's press release: "Bad shit happens, like, constantly. Quite frankly, I'm surprised we all aren't in cardiac arrest by the time we're 8. I'm not tipping you to anything new by pointing out that most of us make it past childhood, grow up, and drag our 'long black bag' of heartbreak along for the ride...."

"Unbreak My Heart," curated by Brent Burket, Pluto, Brookly, NY. Nov. 1-Jan. 18. Artists include Rosanna Bruno, Beth Gilfilen, Kate Gilmore, EJ Hauser, Robert Schatz, Luke Whitlatch.

October 22, 2008

Ben Reeves: Super-impasto in Vancouver

In the Vancouver Sun Lloyd Dykk reports that Ben Reeves's paintings are about, well, painting about painting. "Unlike most self-referent practice, it's not off-puttingly self-conscious or clever, it's as virtuosic as it is witty. You haven't seen anything like it before. In every one of the 13 pieces, some of them quite large, your view of the subject is obscured by what looks like a heavy blizzard of snow. Flakes -- they can grow to more like blobs -- obscure the details behind them. Some of them are huge and look more like cream pies, big fat globs of paint -- this is super-impasto -- and are surely a record in the density of paint as applied to a canvas. There's something Brechtian about this deliberate game of obfuscation, a call to attention about the falsity of a technique. It's related to the distancing effect that Bertolt Brecht used to draw us closer to truth by showing us the artifice that he could employ in erecting a facade against it, by giving the game away early. Paradoxically it makes the truth more real.

"Reeves's approach, ironically, is to get to an almost sub-atomic level in his argument about what is real and what is not, which is part of the pleasure of this show. There were times when I almost laughed out loud at the hugeness of those globs of paint. Once, I touched one of them, though I shouldn't have. It was soft and gave slightly, then poofed back. It hadn't dried yet and God knows when it would." Read more.

"Ben Reeves: Elements," Equinox Gallery, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Through Nov. 15.

October 21, 2008

Poured, pulled, rolled, slumped, sliced, dripped, swiped, squirted, pieced, and scraped paint in New Jersey

In the Newark Star Ledger Dan Bischoff reports that "Material Color" at the Hunterdon Art Museum brings together abstract art made out of color -- not paint alone, but color that has become an almost three-dimensional object in itself. "Peter Fox's 'Royaume' (2008) is a good example -- a six-foot-square canvas covered with loops and whorls of acrylic pushed out from a plastic applicator like cake icing. James Lecce, of Hoboken, has poured acrylic polymer emulsion onto a canvas-covered panel with a sort of Rococo abandon ('Chambord,' 2008) that looks like molten candy. 'When we were hanging the objects in this show I kept wanting to lick everything,' says curator Mary Birmingham. And no wonder -- so many of the artists here pour first and peel later (that is, they pour paints onto glass or plastic, let them dry, then peel them off and either reapply them to a surface or turn them into thin sculptures). Ivana Brenner, who flew up from Argentina to install her 'Sin Titulo (Bosque)' (2008), lets oil paint congeal into a solid on strips of plastic, peels them off, and then folds them into deep arrangements that look like patterns of rose or other flower petals. Think of it all as corporeal color."

Although the Museum's online press materials are skimpy, Joanne Mattera, whose work is included in the show, reports on her blog (with excellent images) that the 20 artists in the show all "work with mostly saturated color in a tangible, physical way. Nobody in this show just 'paints.' As you can see, pigment is poured, pulled, rolled, slumped, sliced, dripped, swiped, squirted, pieced and scraped."

"Material Color," curated by Mary Birmingham. Hunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, NJ. Through Jan. 31. Artists include Cecilia Biagini, Alana Bograd, Ivana Brenner, Omar Chacon, Carlos Estrada-Vega, Peter Fox, Vincent Hamel, Gregg Hill, Wil Jansen, Vadim Katznelson, Lori Kirkbridge, Kathleen Kucka, James Lecce, Markus Linnenbrink, Joanne Mattera, Carolanna Parlato, Paul Russo, Robert Sagerman, Louise P. Sloane, and Leslie Wayne

October 20, 2008

Yamaguchi's doe-eyed children

In the LA Times, David Pagel reports that Ai Yamaguchi's delicately painted little girls at Roberts & Tilton are too melancholic for easy consumption. "On the stark white walls of the pristine gallery, Yamaguchi has hung eight curiously shaped panels that resemble puffs of smoke or clouds. Two larger ones lie on low tables, with padded tops made from old kimonos and eight spindly legs jutting out at awkward angles. Each of her canvas-covered panels is impeccably finished, with up to 50 layers of gesso and endless hours of sanding. Its rounded edges and perfectly smooth face appear to be cast from porcelain and glazed to lily-white perfection. The little girls Yamaguchi has painted on these exquisite surfaces are equally delicate: tender wisps of children who look like dolls dressed in colorful kimonos. The ones lolling around in loose-fitting pants or nothing at all look even more breakable....Such subject matter is common to Japanese comics, where it usually fuels male fantasies. But Yamaguchi's doe-eyed children are too melancholic to be consumed so easily. They comport themselves with such heartbreaking dignity that it is too painful to contemplate the tragedies that have sent them to the icy heaven they inhabit. The installation suddenly seems less like a refuge from suffering and more like a temporary respite from the spirit-crushing grind they will return to when their break is over. Bliss is out of the question."

"Ai Yamaguchi: Hana wa no ni aruyouni," Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA. Through Nov. 8.

October 19, 2008

Growing up Starn

Mike and Doug Starn, identical twins born in New Jersey in 1961, were among the crop of young artists discovered in late-eighties New York who experienced phenomenal success, only to be forgotten by the larger artworld as galleries' and curators' interests moved from tactile, materially lush, visually seductive artwork to conceptual, digital and installation approaches. Still well-known in the photography community, Mike and Doug have quietly continued to pursue their uniquely painterly approach that combines materiality and metaphor. This month they have a show at Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design's Steele Gallery that features, appropriately enough, enlarged portraits of moths--those homely butterfly-like insects fatally drawn to artificial light.

In the Denver Post, Kyle Macmillan reports that the fragile little moths make surprisingly good subjects, rich both visually and metaphorically. "Because the adult life span of many species of moths is only a week or two, the unavoidable reality of mortality hangs over this exhibition and cannot help but prod viewers to contemplate their own limited existences. This, in turn, leads to a discussion of time, because it exists only as a function of mortality. Beyond the subject matter of these photographs, the very method of their creation and presentation speaks to this dynamic. Whatever else can be said about these moth portraits, they are not pretty pictures in any traditional sense, nor are they meant to be. The Starn brothers have eschewed conventional printing methods that would supply an impeccable, sharply registered image. Instead, they have printed the photographs by applying a light-sensitive emulsion to Thai mulberry paper. By the very nature of this shaky process, the resulting images have a streaked and faded look. They hark back to the salt-fixed 'photogenic drawings' of the 1830s by William Henry Fox Talbot and other early photographic essays, and that association is not accidental. Such a blurring of past and present reinforces the recurring theme of time....There is much talk in contemporary art about concept, and sometime's it's just that — talk. The subtly interwoven layers of meaning imbedded in these photographs show how compelling genuinely conceptual art can be. " Read more.

"Mike and Doug Starn: Attracted to Light," Steele Gallery, Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design

October 18, 2008

Performance project: Face painting

Twenty years of painting practice will finally be put to good use today when I paint kids' faces during the fall festival at my daughter's school. She nixed the idea of painting the kids to look like famous artwork (a Morandi still life, Picasso's "Weeping Woman," Ellsworth Kelly's "Falcon," etc.) and suggested I practice making Red Sox and Yankees logos instead. I feel a little like Banksy, looking forward to seeing my artwork roaming around the playground and swinging from the monkey bars. Naturally I did a little online research about materials and techniques; here are the most salient excerpts. "Know what you're going to paint before you start, don't make it up as you go along. Kids aren't known for their patience and won't be able to sit still why you ponder what to do next. Have a basic face design fixed in your mind; you can always add special touches to this once you're finished....The paint you're using will work as a basic glue. To create bumpy noses or big eyebrows, soak a bit of cotton wool in the paint, place on face, cover with a piece of tissue, and paint. Puffed rice or wheat make ideal warts; simply cover with a bit of tissue and paint. For an extra-ghostly effect, apply a light dusting of flour once you've finished painting the face (be sure to get your subject to close their eyes tightly)....Remember to take a mirror so the person who's face you've just painted can see the result." Read more.

October 16, 2008

Judith Belzer: Crawling along the bark of a tree

In the SF Chronicle, Edward Guthmann profiles Judith Belzer, whose tree-bark paintings are featured at Room For Painting Room For Paper this month. "'A lot of people look at nature as something remote and romantic, far removed from us,' Belzer says. 'But I've always been interested in seeing nature as an active force in our experience - not something that's, you know, saved for a nice day when you decide to go for a walk.' Belzer walks a lot: in Tilden Park, in the streets surrounding her home. She doesn't take photographs or draw sketches on her wanderings, but returns to her studio and makes paintings 'very much out of my head and my imagination.' When she works she's always listening - to the radio, to a podcast or more often to a book on tape. 'It's actually really great for doing visual work. I really don't understand how the brain works at all, but somehow, by engaging with a narrator, it's very stimulating to the visual side of my brain. In a funny way, it almost distracts me so I'm not overthinking what I'm doing.'"

At Belzer's website, check out her lovely, blog-like artist's statement. "Maybe it’s just me, but the idea of crawling along the bark of a tree and then, somehow penetrating to the tree’s interior is enticing, even thrilling. I would find myself exploring an alternate landscape, completely strange and yet in some respects peculiarly familiar. Would I be a tiny ant-sized being gazing upon monumentally scaled ridges, peaks and valleys busily pushing their way through space, or would I be a giant looking, as if through a microscope, at pulsing veins of energy in constant motion? I imagine it might be an unlikely combination of the two perspectives. My tree fantasy returns me to elementary school science class and to words like cambium, xylem (up) and phloem (down), and then pitches me forward into a horror movie in which the heroic trees are striving madly to suck carbon from the atmosphere as fast as the humans and their infernal machines can spew it out..."

"The Inner Life of Trees: Recent Paintings by Judith Belzer" Room for Painting Room for Paper, San Francisco, CA. Through Nov. 8.

Anders Oinonen: An intuitive society of forms

In Artforum, critic Sean Carrol singles out Anders Oinonen's show at Houston's CTRL Gallery this month. When I was in Miami last year, Oinonen's work stood out for it's easygoing oddness; it's good to see him get an endorsement. "Bewilderment and tension give way to calm and understanding when looking at Toronto-based painter Anders Oinonen’s canvases. With an advanced understanding of composition and movement, he delicately places simple, recognizable elements into his paintings like time-release capsules. Oinonen provides a comfortable balance of color that's dominated by pastel violets and greens, but with punches of hot pink, neon red, and aqua. Having as much to do with Abstract Expressionism as the interplay of characters in a Raphael fresco, the artist uses the edges of the picture plane and his center of attention to focus on conscious and unconscious assumptions about images. In bright brushstrokes, a human face is built up in planes, vibrating between flatness and perspectival space in uncanny ways. Painterly washes compliment opaque geometric shapes; each forms part of a distinctive visage. One may recognize eyes, noses, and mouths depicted from imaginative angles almost immediately, or the shapes may build up slowly in the mind to form a three-dimensional model out of interlocking planar surfaces, as in the forlorn 'Lay of the Land' (all works 2008). In works like 'Longbeach,' Oinonen drops the literality of a snapshot-style portrait for the deft interplay of abstraction; the apparition becomes an intuitive society of forms, a way of fretting about the state of the world. 'Sunstack' seems as if the landscape and the characters from a Carroll Dunham painting have merged into a solid, modular structure. Like Incan abstraction or the stone walls of Machu Picchu, Oinonen’s paintings require adaptation and improvisation of those searching for a perfect fit. They drive at Walter Hopps’s 'imagist' category of painting yet remain indifferent to both coolness and the rules." Read more October Artforum Critics' Picks.

"Anders Oinonen: After After," CTRL Gallery, Houston, TX. Through Oct. 25.

October 15, 2008

Roberta and Elizabeth, BFF

In the NY Times Roberta Smith calls Elizabeth Peyton's portraits girly. "By fits and starts, this exhibition reveals the complicated fusion of the personal, the painterly and the Conceptual that informs Ms. Peyton’s work. Each image is a point on entwined strands of artistic or emotional growth, memorializing a relationship, acknowledging an inspiration or exposing an aspect of ambition. This implies an overriding narrative, which is unusual for an exhibition nearly devoid of text labels and unaccompanied by a meet-the-artist introductory video....Ms. Peyton’s prominence is either a fluke or a further sign of the ascendancy of the feminine. Her art seems to belong to a strand of painting that has historically been dismissed or marginalized, and for which respect tends to come late, if at all. You could call it girly art. It includes the small still lifes of late Manet and the long careers of Giorgio Morandi and William Nicholson; the work of Marie Laurencin and Florine Stettheimer, who, like Ms. Peyton, chronicled their artistic circles; and the suggestive abstractions of O’Keeffe. The painting of O’Keeffe that concludes the show, based on a famous photograph by Alfred Stieglitz, is one of the weaker and larger works here. But that doesn’t stop this exhibition, which wears it heart on its sleeve and sheaths its ambition in a velvet glove, from striking a blow for the girl in all of us."Read more.


At the L Magazine, Paddy Johnson thinks the show is ill-conceived and many of the paintings weak. "Though arranged roughly chronologically, it’s hard to get a sense of the progress and success of the work given its hanging. Dwarfed by the museum’s towering walls, Peyton’s already small works blend together, one almost indistinguishable from another. It doesn’t help that the changes in Peyton’s work over the last 15 years have by in large been subtle: the difference for example, between her early work drawn from photographs and some of her life-based pieces in later years is often only faintly apparent. The larger issue within the work itself, however, is the number of pedestrian paintings the artist has produced....for every good painting and drawing Peyton produces, two or three average works accompany them. Her landscapes are consistently poorly executed, and she has yet to resolve the backgrounds in her later portraits." Read more.

Related posts:
Elizabeth Peyton's status update

"Elizabeth Peyton can really paint"

October 14, 2008

Nick Miller's alternative studio

I'm always interested in artists like Nick Miller who have developed unusual studio solutions. Miller's current show at the New York Studio School features paintings he made in the back of a 8' x 13' truck that he converted into mobile studio. The larger paintings, built up with small clotty agitated brushstrokes, don't translate well in jpegs, but have a remarkable physical presence that transcends the mundane images of the Irish landscape. According to curator David Cohen, "the mobile studio provides a potent metaphor of Miller’s relationship to his subject in its mix of transience and groundedness, of presence and flux." Blake Gopnik points out in the Washington Post that Miller paints more than the view. "He renders his whole act of painting it. His landscapes come edged with peculiar strips of abstract mess that it can take a while to figure out: What we're seeing is the frame of the truck's 40-inch-wide rear door, along with the slathered paint that ends up there when Miller reaches out to scrape his tools on it." Gopnik also calls Miller "the un-Morandi," but I'd have to disagree. Miller may be "out and about" in his truck, but he's equally self-isolating and intensely focused. Check out Bill Maynes's video interview with Miller. A self-taught artist, Miller, 46, is based in County Sligo in northwest Ireland, where he lives with his wife and two kids.

"Nick Miller: Truckscapes," New York Studio School Gallery, New York, NY. Through Oct. 25.

October 11, 2008

Marc Van Cauwenbergh's de-simplification

In The Brooklyn Rail, Stephanie Buhmann takes a look at Marc Van Cauwenbergh's show at Kathleen Cullen. "Instead of exploring the emotive and non-objective, Van Cauwenbergh employs abstraction to capture the human figure, or more specifically, the human figure in motion....Born in Belgium and based in New York since 1994, he trained in dance performance while receiving his fine art education at Pratt Institute. For two years after his graduation, he simultaneously pursued both dancing and painting. He perceives the canvas, therefore, as a sort of stage on which the shapes and colors behave like performers empowered by the spotlight. In this context, each color defines a protagonist of sorts, in dialogue with each other as well as with the audience....

"In general, the new compositions are intentionally less harmonious and at times even confrontational. These are tougher times and it seems as if Van Cauwenbergh has embarked on a search for a different kind of body. It could be that his characters have matured, or perhaps they are simply helpless, clinging to one another as they tumble toward the future; what is certain is that Van Cauwenbergh has found a new pace within his established vocabulary, setting the stage for whatever might lie ahead." Read more.

"Loose Formations: Marc Van Cauwenbergh," Kathleen Cullen Gallery, New York, NY. Through Oct. 18.

October 10, 2008

Show & tell: Contemporary practice in artists' books

In the October issue of The Brooklyn Rail I write about artists' books and how on-demand printers have made book publishing affordable for unfunded artists. Special thanks to everyone who shared their book project experiences with me.

"This month over 138 international publishers, booksellers, and antiquarian dealers will stock their bookshelves at Printed Matter’s annual fair for contemporary art books, art catalogs, artists’ books, art periodicals, and zines. In addition, the Art Library Society of New York is hosting a four-day conference to examine contemporary directions in artists’ books. Chances are, both the fair and the conference will be overwhelmingly successful. Although the printed book in general has suffered at the hands of the digital revolution, things haven’t changed too much for lovers of art books. Not merely readers, they are aficionados, aesthetes of the printed page who cherish the touch and feel of ink on paper, and who can afford to cultivate their tastes. Collecting limited-edition books is far less expensive than collecting most other art forms. So even as the art market careens toward an inevitable 'correction,' the book fair is likely to prosper. Cheapness, however, is a relative concept. And traditionally, the artists’ book has financially challenged not so much the collector as the artist.

"Until recently, publishing options for artists, unless funded by dealers, publishers, grants, or trust funds, have been limited. In theory, book projects were aimed at bypassing the gallery system to the artist’s economic advantage, but in practice, the need for outside funding simply added another gatekeeper. Artists who chose to finance the production of books on their own were limited in terms of print quality and print-run, both of which must be fairly high for stores specializing in artist books, like Printed Matter, to accept them for distribution...." Read more.

New Haven Open Studios: Thanks for inviting me

I went to New Haven's City-Wide Open Studios last weekend, and posted a few images at Connecticut Art Scene. I'm not part of the New Haven art world, and I have only been to one New Haven open studio event several years ago, so I had no idea what a vast and controversial event it had become. I thought I could see it all on a Sunday afternoon. Too bad I didn't set aside more time because I'm sure there's a slew of interesting studios and shows that I missed. Read more.

October 9, 2008

Joseph Goldberg: Blowtorched encaustics

Veteran painter Joseph Goldberg has a show of new work at Greg Kucera this month. According to Regina Hackett in the Seattle P-I, Goldberg is one of "the country's first wave of encaustic painters, binding beeswax to linen with industrial heat and pressing powdered pigments into the still-warm surfaces, articulating his forms with a palette knife, a brush and his fingers....In his new work, Goldberg moves past his old touchstones to find the form for his feelings about space itself. The brushy whites in 'Rain' (48 inches square) are meant as moonlight. As he painted them, he 'wanted to be the moonlight coming down, crashing through the black trees.... A painting is an experiment that suggests other experiments. When I'm working, the painting is the space around me. If I could paint mystery, I would.'" Goldberg's partner Susan Skilling is also a painter.

"Joseph Goldberg: Encaustic Paintings," Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle, WA. Through Nov. 8.

October 8, 2008

Hrag's photo tour of DUMBO open studios

At the ArtCal Zine, check out Hrag Vartanian's slide show of the 2008 Art Under the Bridge festival in Brooklyn's DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) neighborhood. "From Smack Mellon to the Triangle Arts Workshop, from artist studios to loading dock installations: DUMBO was decked out for its role as one of Brooklyn's premier art festivals: the 2008 Art Under the Bridge weekend. While I got to see a healthy chunk of what was on display, I kept overhearing people talk about cool things I missed like the performance artist who bartered objects with the public or the artist who unfurled a blanket on the rocky shores of the East River. It was a rainy day under the Manhattan Bridge but no one seemed to notice."

October 6, 2008

Why doesn't activist art reflect our complex reality?

In New York, Jerry Saltz suggests that activist artists like Martha Rosler should stop recycling the well-worn tropes from the 1960s, move beyond the simplistic polarities of earlier political art, and begin to address our complex, contemporary reality with deeper insight and more nuance. "In the late sixties, Martha Rosler became known for a so-so series of collages titled 'Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful.' She juxtaposed images of models, home décor, and the Vietnam War: A Vietnamese woman carried a bleeding baby in an unsullied American home, housewives dutifully cleaned battlefields, and so on....Four decades later, Rosler turns out not to have changed the look of her own work at all. In 'Great Power,' her current skin-deep effort at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Rosler tries to turn back the clock to her glory days, essentially remaking the Vietnam series.... Rosler’s show is simply mediocre. What it points to, however, is far worse and more widespread. Too many younger artists, critics, and curators are fetishizing the sixties, transforming the period into a deformed cult, a fantasy religion, a hip brand, and a crippling disease. A generation is caught in a Freudian death spiral and seems unable to escape the ridiculous idea that in order for art to be political it has to hark back to the talismanic hippie era—that it must create a revolution. It is sophistry to think that everything relates to Europe and America in 1968. The very paradigm of revolution, of right versus wrong, good versus bad, is a relic with no bearing on the present. Yet artists, exhibitions, and curators valorize the sixties. People who wrote about these artists 30 years ago still write about them in the same ways, often for the same magazines. Their students and imitators are doing the same—writing about artists, sometimes the same ones, in the same ways their teachers did. Often for the same magazines." Read more.

"Martha Rosler: Great Power," Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York, NY. Through Oct. 11.

October 4, 2008

Totally angular

In the Chicago Tribune Alan G. Artner reports that the artists in "Angles in America" at Rhona Hoffman have "found or constructed geometry within the American everyday, and the resulting works prove that geometry can be quirky, personal, unexpected and far from universal." Thanks, perhaps, to the recent Tomma Abts fanfare, angles are in the air, and Joanne Mattera's latest post, "Acute Conditions," features three artists also working with an L-square: Joanne Freeman, Nancy White and, well, me. Thanks, Joanne, for including my latest shack geometries alongside work by these intelligently intuitive painters. According to Joanne, who I think would agree with Artner that geometry can indeed be personal, each painter "combines sharp angles with curvilinear elements, so that depending on how you look at the work, you may see it as soft or sharp." I'd also like to recommend the work of Anne Seidman and Thorton Willis, two more painters who are walking geometry down a personal path.

"Joanne Freeman: Recent Works," Lohin Geduld, New York, NY. Through Oct 11, 2008.
"Angles in America," curated by Terry R. Myers." Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL. Through Oct. 12. Artists include Jim Isermann, Gordon Matta-Clark, Robert Overby, Steve Keister, Laura Riboli, and Jennifer West.

October 2, 2008

Joan Snyder's new work in Boston

MacArthur Foundation fellow Joan Snyder, 68, presents new paintings at the Neilsen Gallery in Boston, and ten politically-charged photocollages at the Danforth Museum in Framingham. In the Boston Globe, Cate McQuaid reports that Snyder's paintings at Neilsen don't merely gush; they have a bristling intelligence. "She's essentially an Abstract Expressionist with a feminist agenda; in many ways, a creature of another era. She overcomes that hurdle with layered, complex works that have immediacy and depth. They're not exactly subtle; they crash into you like a wave. But Snyder's a master with color and a daredevil with texture and materials, and the result is thrilling....'Ode and Joy' reads like a slurpy valentine. Those breast-like circles, red and mixed with a medium that glistens, could be lollipops, hovering on a creamy field blushing with other tones and dribbled over with dancing skeins of paint. The sense, as with most of Snyder's paintings, is one of release and surrender. Sometimes it's into grief, and sometimes it's into creation or exultation. Her works embody letting go, something we all need to do sometimes."

In the September issue of The Brooklyn Rail, Snyder met with Rail publisher Phong Bui in her Brooklyn studio. Here's an excerpt of their conversation.
Rail:
When or how did the use of the grid come about?
Snyder:
The grid came about not so much because of minimalism, although that was in the air, but for myself in a few other ways. One was that when I was teaching art to children, they were making paintings and drawings on lined paper. That caught my eye. I knew that I wanted my work to have a narrative feel and one day while I was working, I looked at the tongue and groove white wall at my Mulberry Street loft and I noticed that it had little delicate drips on it from my brush strokes, and I suddenly said to myself, “That’s what I want my paintings to look like,” And so I started incorporating the drips on the grids. They have been a very important element ever since. Every grid that I’ve ever made has been different. I’ve rarely made the same grid twice. But it was a structure for me to either destroy on the way to making the painting or stay within like a musical staff, providing order. I was also involved in what I called ‘the anatomy of a stroke’—my own version of cubism. I wanted to be able to see the process through the stroke, to see the canvas, the underpainting, the drawing, etc. And then I began painting paint strokes."

"Joan Snyder: ...and seeking the sublime," Neilsen Gallery, Boston, MA. Through Oct. 18.
"Joan Snyder: One Blue Sky," Danforth Museum, Framingham, MA. Through Nov. 23.

Related Posts:
Joan Snyder receives MacArthur genius award

October 1, 2008

Sarah Palin nude scores in Chicago

Brad Flora reports in the Windy Citizen that bar owner Bruce Elliott is drawing crowds to his joint after painting a four-foot tall nude portrait of Sarah Palin. Elliott, whose daughter posed for the painting, unveiled the portrait at the Old Town Ale House on Chicago's North Side last Thursday. The governor is depicted wearing her trademark hairdo, holding an automatic rifle and standing on a polar-bear skin rug. "I don't see how she could be offended by this," Elliott said. "I made her into a sex figure." According to Flora, Elliott is pulling for Barack Obama in the election, and he worked on the portrait for seven to eight hours a day for a week. While the painting qualifies as a quick grab for attention, it’s also very much the creation of someone immersed in the coverage of Palin, whom he calls “a real nasty piece of work.” He admits that he's kind of attracted to her. Read more.

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