January 30, 2014

ON FILM: Blonde on blondes


Guest Contributor Jonathan Stevenson / In the watching, video artist Shannon Plumb’s debut feature Towheads, which MoMA screened last week and has wisely purchased for its permanent collection, comes across as Chaplin meets Cassavetes. Seemingly just for the sake of her two blonde boys, Penelope, a downcast blonde woman with an oblivious dark-haired husband whose face we never see, fecklessly tries to navigate the outside world from a well-appointed brownstone. Her inept and listless attempts at acting, pole-dancing, stripping, and other extroverted endeavors imply that she could live without it, as do her halting, childlike speech and preference for muteness. As in a Chaplin film, the convergence of physical humor and emotional anger and despair demonstrates the close proximity of comedy and tragedy.

At the proverbial end of the middle, however, the film, verging on absurd, takes a darker turn towards O’Neill or Albee territory. Penny’s disaffection transmogrifies into full-blown melancholia. She imagines letting the household descend into filth and disarray, and sequesters herself in the playroom--donning self-made costumes, making short film loops, and refusing to emerge for days. Her cold husband (as well as many reviewers) writes her off as a wackjob, but artists who have kids will recognize immediately that she's not nuts--she just needed to get back in the studio.

In a telling Q & A following the screening, Ms. Plumb made it clear that the film was autobiographical, and itself was a way of managing the challenges she faced in maintaining a career as an artist while raising her two real-life sons, who play the boys. Only a woman could make such a film, she said, suggesting that the women’s movement, for all the talk of a post-feminist epoch, is a work in progress. Beyond that sociological note, the post-viewing intelligence imparted an upbeat art-practice dimension to Towheads. [Spoiler alert!] When Penelope finally opens the playroom door and reveals herself to her sons, she looks like a character from a Dr. Seuss book, a female superhero she dubs  “Everythingman." As she invites the kids into the playroom, we understand that Penelope has realized she needs to wed her parenting to her art practice to survive. Winking conspiratorially at the audience, she and the boys begin a conversation about making a film together--clearly, this film. Dedicated to her mother, and her mother and her mother and her mother and so on, Towheads seems to be saying that parenting is flat-out hard, but a dedicated artist can also be a good mother--maybe even a great one.

Image at top: Plumb as Penelope flanked by her two kids.

Related posts:
DISCUSSION: Owning motherhood (2012)
Neo-Maternalism: Contemporary artists' approach to motherhood (2008)

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January 27, 2014

Sarah Faux : Report from Yale



Guest Contributor Sarah Faux just completed her first semester in the Yale MFA program. She writes about the changes in her work and the diversity of approaches among the other students in the painting program. Image above: stacks of paintings lining the wall of her studio.

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I’ve been thinking about Freud’s idea of condensation: the notion that in a dream a person or object can stand in for many people or ideas simultaneously. A student in my psychoanalysis class asked if art is also a form of condensation. He speculated that art comes from our unconscious, and art, like a dream, might be neurosis manifested. I disagreed. Artists think of their audience, art history, intellectual history, many things beyond their own unconscious. But I don’t disagree entirely. As every aspect of my work and my process has been dissected and discussed in studio visits and critiques, piece by piece, I’ve had to question what is primary in my work. While being in school hasn’t changed my process or imagery in any dramatic ways (at least not yet), it has made me more aware of my deep motivations for making work. I look for forms and colors that resonate on multiple levels in my conscious and unconscious mind, pregnant archetypal images that can express many things at once and, I hope, resonate with others. In this way, grad school has made me want more from my paintings – not necessarily to make them more complex or detailed, but just richer, vibrating on more levels – color, material, form.

January 22, 2014

SURVEY: Bleaching, staining, and dyeing

Matthew J. Mahler, B T W #1[by the way], 2013, acrylic and dye on canvas, 36 x 40 inches. Courtesy of Sardine.
In fall 2012, the flooding and devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy prompted me to think about processes like soaking and staining; in the studio I started to thin binder-and-pigment mixtures with water, pouring them onto wet, raw canvas and letting them absorb. A few months later, Helen Frankenthaler's 2013 show at Gagosian spurred me to revisit Color Field painting, which I'd never been especially drawn to before. Newly attuned, I noticed that more and more artists had embraced staining, bleaching, and dyeing. Below is an image round-up encompassing a few artists who, at one time or another, have treated canvas and fabric like the woven materials they are, rather than transforming them through finely-prepared grounds, modeling paste, or thick applications of paint.
Lauren Luloff, Denim Land, 2012, oil and bleach on bedsheets and fabric, 39 x 28.5 inches. Courtesy of Halsey McKay.
Saira McLaren, untitled, 2013, acrylic dye on raw linen, 16 x 20 inches. courtesy of Sargent's Daughters.

Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson weaves hand-dyed silk into paintings. Installation at the Tang Museum. Courtesy of Pocket Utopia.

Piotr Uklanski, installation view at Gagosian. These 2010 paintings are made with fiber-active dye on oxidized cotton textile stretched over cotton canvas. Image courtesy of Gagosian. Photography by Robert McKeever.

Angelina Gualdoni, Ballast, 2013, oil and acrylic on canvas, 38 x 36 inches. Courtesy of Asya Geisberg.

Sarah Faux, Shadow II, 2013, dye, bleach and oil on canvas.
Meg Lipke, Felt Sample, 2013; fabric dye, beeswax and acrylic on wool felt; 8 x 10 inches. Courtesy of Parallel Art Space.


Halsey Hathaway, Untitled, 2012, acrylic on dyed canvas, 60 x 30 inches. Courtesy of Rawson Projects.
Sharon Butler, 24 x 24 (Sandy), 2013; pigment and binder, pencil, thread on canvas and linen tarp; 24 x 24 inches. Courtesy of Pocket Utopia.
Richard Tuttle, Walking on Air, B5, 2008, cotton with Rit dye, grommets, thread, 22-1/2 x 122 inches, 2 panels, overall installed. Courtesy of Pace.

Further reading: Check out artists Brece Honeycutt and Amy Wilson who are deeply involved with textiles, fibers and hand dyeing. Honeycutt makes her own dyes from plants and nuts.

Related posts:
Resolution and dissolution at once: Angela Gualdoni at Asya Geisberg
NY Times Art in Review: Richard Tuttle, Richard Phillips (2009)

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Resolution and dissolution at once: Angelina Gualdoni at Asya Geisberg

Angelina Gualdoni, Eclipse, 2013, oil and acrylic on canvas, 31 x 24 inches.
In her 2010 show at Asya Geisberg, Angelina Gualdoni‘s work was in transition. Her canvases featured thin veils of paint, pooled in diffuse, ethereal shapes that defied definitive interpretation. The colors melded together, creating light veils punctuated by smaller bits of paint, like sticks and leaves floating on a rainbow puddle of gasoline. In “Held in Place, Light in Hand,” her excellent solo show at Asya Geisberg, Gualdoni continues her exploration of the pouring process, but adds more specific imagery, primarily fragments of still life and domestic interiors, to create paintings that seem on the verge either of resolution or dissolution, depending on your outlook. Matisse, Cubism, Bonnard, Frankenthaler, and the Fauves are all touchstones for Gualdoni’s lyrical new paintings.
Angelina Gualdoni, Without A Net To Catch The Days, 2013, oil and acrylic on canvas, 38 x 34 inches.
Angelina Gualdoni, The Lie Of Balance, 2013, oil and acrylic on canvas, 31 x 24 inches.
Angelina Gualdoni, Whatever It Is, Wherever You Are, 2013, oil and acrylic on canvas, 50 x 47 inches.
 "Angelina Gualdoni: Held in Place, Light in Hand," Asya Geisberg Gallery, Chelsea, New York, NY. Through February 15, 2014.

Related posts:
In favor of improvisation: Angelina Gualdoni at Asya Geisberg (2010)
Pour Catalogue essay: COVER THE EARTH by Stephen Maine (2013)
 
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January 21, 2014

But Mr. Cotter, most painters paint because they love painting

A couple days ago in the NYTimes, Holland Cotter, extremely agitated by the sorry state of the art world, ranted about the detrimental effect big money has had on art production, the lack of cultural diversity, the failure of art schools, the high rents, museums' focus on the box office, conservative art criticism, and more. He even took a swipe at abstract painting as the most salable and least adventurous type of art being made:
Outside auctions, the marketing mechanics buzz on. Roughly since the end of the multicultural, postmodern 1990s, we’ve watched new art being re-Modernized and domesticated, with painting the medium of choice, abstraction the mode of preference. Together they offer significant advantages. Paintings can be assembly-line produced but still carry the aura of being hand-touched. They can be tailored to small spaces, such as fair booths. Abstraction, especially if color is involved, can establish instant eye contact from afar. If, in addition, the work’s graphic impact translates well online, where stock can be moved eBay style, so much the better.

Other traditional forms — drawing, photography, some sculpture — similarly work well in this marketing context. But an enormous range of art does not, beginning with film, performance and installation, and extending into rich realms of creative activity that defy classification as art at all. To note this dynamic is not to dismiss painting or object making, but to point to the restrictive range of art that the market supports, that dealers are encouraged to sell, and that artists are encouraged to make.
I agree with much of what Cotter says, particularly the lack of adventurousness among the top art collectors and the need to support independent art writing, but I would argue that most artists aren't really being encouraged to make anything, and many painters, in an age of relational aesthetics and hybrid painting practices (painting+sculpture, painting+installation, etc.), are sheepish about the fact that they still make traditional paintings. Aside from a handful of super-successful stars or careerist up-and-comers, most abstract painters, if their work is at all difficult, are not painting because that's where the money is, but, rather, because they love the process and challenge of painting.

Image at top: Mary Heilmann, Sunset Waves, 2013, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches. Courtesy of Hauser and Wirth.

Related post:
Holland Cotter: Unadventurous painting is everywhere (at least in New York) (2011)


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January 15, 2014

ON FILM: Tornatore’s creepy art auctioneer in The Best Offer

Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) admiring his secret collection of ladies in Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Best Offer.
Guest Contributor Jonathan Stevenson / In Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Best Offer, Geoffrey Rush, who never fails to ebulliently exude neurosis, plays Virgil Oldman – a high-end art auctioneer so learned and perspicacious that even his two-man operation apparently competes with Christie’s and Sotheby’s, and so fastidious that he even eats dinner wearing gloves selected from a vast display case at his vault-like compound. But as Hitchcock taught us, nobody with that kind of eccentricity is likely to find bliss without ordeal. Oldman’s need to control his world down to the minutest detail makes him a covetous fraudster. He spots the obscure work of great artists in the estates he evaluate, deems them admirable forgeries, auctions them to a paid accomplice (an agreeably hammy Donald Sutherland) for a fraction of their true value, and hoards them in his own secret museum. This larcenous side, of course, is his great vulnerability.

Geoffrey Rush and Donald Sutherland 
For all his public esteem and private wealth, Oldman’s life has been loveless until he is hired by Claire Ibbetson (a pallid Sylvia Hoeks) – a much younger novelist driven by personal tragedy to confine herself to a decaying estate – to assess her family’s possessions. He falls hard for her, and extends his desire to possess what he loves to Claire herself, coaxing her from her self-imposed prison only in effect to sequester her in one of his own devising. Until its generously telegraphed denouement, the film unfolds like a folie à deux in which two high-functioning agoraphobics improbably find each other and live unhappily ever after. Despite Rush’s best efforts, lovely cinematography, and a plot twist, it’s a labored movie, with too many seams showing – Hitchcock-lite.



[Minor Spoiler Alert] For all these flaws, The Best Offer remains an insightful meditation on the nature of authenticity as a form of artifice and convention. Oldman's emotional pain in discovering that Claire is not who she seems to be is no less than it would be had he lost the woman he thought he'd had. Beyond that, in casting the loss of his rich trove of original masterpieces as a mere incident of a greater emotional devastation, Tornatore puts a fine point on the notion that art is meant to be part of life and not a substitute for it.

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January 14, 2014

Masking strategies: Residue in DC


At Adah Rose Gallery, Brooklyn artist and writer Brian Dupont has curated "Residue," an exhibition that celebrates contemporary artists' gleeful, unapologetic, and often imperfect use of masking tape. In his curator's statement, Dupont explains:
There is an old joke once told by gritty New York painters at the expense of their West-coast brethren. As it goes, the painters in California were besides themselves, lamenting that they were unable to finish their paintings. You see, the masking tape factory had burned down…

January 11, 2014

Idiosyncratic rule in Brooklyn

Two recommendations for Brooklyn gallery visits:

At Outlet Fine Art, seasoned painter Hermine Ford continues her exploration of urban decay and renewal in quirky shaped canvases that depict fragments of floor tile mosaics. In the new work Ford begins to loosen up, combining a more gestural painting approach and larger scale shifts with the tighter, more illustrative technique from previous outings. Her work looks terrific in Jason Andrew's new exhibition space. 

Hermine Ford, Untitled (325-13), 2013, oil paint on cotton muslin on shaped panel, 41 x 75 x 3/4 inches. Courtesy of  Outlet Fine Art, Brooklyn.
Hermine Ford, Untitled (321-13),  oil paint on cotton muslin on shaped panel. Courtesy of Outlet Fine Art, Brooklyn.





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In a beautifully installed show in Stephanie Theodore's new (also larger) upstairs space at 56 Bogart Street, four Brooklyn-based painters, Steven Charles, Michael Callaghan, Brian Dupont, Christopher Moss present a selection of recent, but thematically unrelated, work.

Brian Dupont, Archaeology and Revision (Pipe Piece 5), 2013, oil and marker on aluminum in 7 parts, installation dimensions variable. Dupont says the painting consists of multiple pieces that he installs differently depending on the exhibition space.

Michael Callaghan, Horseshoe, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 84 inches.
Christopher Moss, Ebola Winter, 2013, acrylic on panel, 8 x 8 inches. Each small painting has a secret dollhouse-like installation in the back.
Steven Charles, thpaisun, 2013, acrylic on wood, 60 x 48 inches. Although it's hard to see in this JPEG, Charles uses obsessive masking techniques, painting minute halftone dots according to specific rules.
"Hermine Ford: Paintings," Outlet Fine Art, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY. Through February 2, 2014.

"Brooklyn Boys Go Bowling: Steven Charles, Michael Callaghan, Brian Dupont, Christopher Moss," Theodore:Art, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY. Through February 16, 2014.

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Related posts:
Studio Visit: Hermine Ford's enchantment (2011)
Studio Visit: Brian Dupont's square texts (2012)
 
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January 9, 2014

Jane Kent: Unfolded forms, evocative shapes

Jane Kent, Blue Nose, 2013, silkscreen printed, 9 colors Somerset 26 3/8 × 18 1/2 inches. Printed/published Aspinwall Editions, ed. of 35
Jane Kent spent a couple week this summer at the Druckvereinigung Bentlage in Kloster Bentlage, Rheine, Germany and at Aspinwall Editions, NY, collaborating with Ann Aspinwall and Knut Willich. The buoyant silkscreen prints she created, generated from the quirky shapes of unfolded cardboard boxes, are currently on view at Pocket Utopia. I particularly liked "Blue Nose" (pictured above) for the off-kilter stacking, scalloped line, and central blue painterly swirl that reminds me of Robert Mitchum's world-weary eyes--it seems to be watching us.  Go earlier rather than later to ensure that you'll get one of the 1000 offset prints Kent made to give away at the show.

Jane Kent, Pink Eye, 2013, silkscreen printed, 9 colors Somerset 26 3/8 × 18 1/2 inches. Printed/published Aspinwall Editions, ed. of 35
Jane Kent. The take away print. Yes: free art!
"Jane Kent: Knock Knock, new work," Pocket Utopia, LES, New York, NY. Through February 16, 2014

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January 7, 2014

Quick study: New Year's edition with Honeycutt, Winkleman, Viveros-Fauné, Schor, Twitter, and Kohler


2014 is off to a good start. I just returned from Schenectady where I installed paintings (image above of installation in process) for "Blueprint," a three-person exhibition at Union College curated by Brece Honeycutt. Inspired by Simon Mawer's 2009 novel The Glass Room, the exhibition features work by Victoria Palermo, Peter Dudek, and me. The show runs from January 10 through February 27, with an artists' talk on February 20. More details and images to come.

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On his blog, dealer Ed Winkleman reminds collectors that they should think of themselves as patrons of the visual arts, with the same obligations to the quality of our collective legacy as do artists, curators, critics, and dealers. "One must form opinions, share those opinions (if only via one's acquisitions), defend those opinions (if only via not flipping artwork like penny stocks), and put one's money and growing expertise where one's mouth is. It's not a game for the faint of heart. It's not a status you can buy with money alone. In fact, as many have proven (such as the Vogels), it need not require all that much money at all..."  Read more.

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In The Village Voice Christian Viveros-Fauné reports that the art market, famously unregulated, is more corrupt than ever. "A year-end wrap-up of art in Gotham would be meaningless without mentioning the single greatest transformation to have struck the visual arts globally: namely, that the art market has turned into one big corrupt casino, a place where price fixing, market manipulation, bribery, forgery, theft, and money laundering have become as popular as risky mortgages were in 2007...." Read more.

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Any artist or critic who has ever had a tweet quoted in a news story or used in an art project  knows that our tweets have a life of their own. Film critic A.O. Scott praised a movie on Twitter, and the next thing you know, the tweet appears as a full page ad in the NYTimes. (via Gothamist)

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Unimpressed and unmoved, Mira Schor on Chris Wool's show at the Guggenheim: "I don’t object to 'no-hands' techniques of screen printing and other methods of producing a painting–in fact the Wool exhibition made me start to think more fondly of Wade Guyton’s digitally printed paeons to corporate modernism in his exhibition at the Whitney last year: Guyton’s paintings at least gave me the eerie sensation that I was on the set of a 1960s spy caper movie, all shiny white surfaces, Knoll furniture, white shag rugs, and Marrimekko patterns, which brought back a happy whiff of being a teenager in New York in the suddenly swinging ’60s, while Wool’s paintings give off more of Bloomberg corporate headquarters vibe than Lever House or In Like Flint.... Read more.

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In the Huffington Post, William Eckhardt Kohler posts a Lower East Side round-up, which includes a nice shout for the big "Clouds" show at Lesley Heller. "We live in a time when artists, curators and galleries are no longer expected or required to hew rigidly to a particular dogma and artistic ideology, to represent a camp and to draw battle lines in the heroic march of artistic progress. Though orthodoxies exist, and while pluralism in art is not anything like a new idea, it seems that this is one of those periods of art when, outside some passing fashions, it would be difficult to identify any dominant movement. There is a great deal of lively and generous work being made and shown today that crosses lines and exists in between historical polarities..." Read more.

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January 5, 2014

On film and painting: Repetitive stress



Guest contributor Jonathan Stevenson / Wall Street hustler Jordan Belfort and sculptor Camille Claudel had little in common, and the recent movies about the lives of each are ostensibly very different. Yet Martin Scorsese and Bruno Dumont share a narrative approach – others have applied it less successfully – that centers on repetition only occasionally punctuated by plot movement. In The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese uses three outrageous hours to survey the cheerful depravity of Belfort and his minions, earning our harsh judgment of Wall Street predators by assaulting us with episode after episode of their solipsistic hedonism. In Camille Claudel 1915, Dumont simulates the cruel monotony of the sculptress’s vindictive thirty-year confinement in a Gothic mental institution by way of an insidiously dull movie, employing one of the world’s least boring actresses – Juliette Binoche – to drive home his point. The repetitive technique put me in mind of the tendency of an older generation of painters to present, in a given show, variations on a single visual theme.

[Image at top: Joan Witek, Untitled (P-156), 2011, oil stick on canvas, 24 x 24 inches. Courtesy of Outlet Fine Art, Brooklyn.]

Etienne Zack: Manufacturing meaning and history

 

Guest contributor Dion Kliner / All history is redacted history (Papers I, image posted above), which is to say that all history is manufactured history (Classified). This is as true of objects as it is for events. Some things survive, others don't; at least as far as our knowledge of them is concerned. In "Aforementioned," Etienne Zack's recent solo show at Equinox in Vancouver, the artist suggests that what enters the story is sometimes a matter not of quality or value, but merely what has the good fortune to survive. Time is the adversary over which those who write history are victors.