Thursday, November 30, 2006

Corcoran: Faculty Exhibition II

This evening’s opening at the Corcoran’s Second Installment of Faculty Work was interesting. It served as a good opportunity to view the work of many of my colleagues I teach alongside – only a couple of them I have met.

What I wanted to really engage was the public response to a work that I do not think would otherwise be accepted into any of the calls for entry that I could participate. The documentation of Note 2 Self made its debut this evening, along with the opportunity for individuals to participate, and many people were.

Earlier this week I bumped into Mark Cameron Boyd at the Katzen, reworking his installation outside the museum. He currently has three of his chalkboards available for people to fill in. And some have in rather obscene ways. We talked about that briefly and he mentioned how he has to accept that some people are going to interpret his work differently than his intentions, and if he is inviting people to contribute to the piece he has to except and accept that. This is the polite and academic way to state that there are those who will vandalize.

So, I was not surprised to see someone write “imposter” on a Post-It, or to actually write on the wall. Such defiance I was expecting. People were defiant the first time this was exhibited in a bus stop in late March. As for the imposter, I might have egged that on.

This piece I naturally assumed would have a relationship to Frank Warren’s Post Secret for two reasons: the public participation of personal/private (though innocuous) information, and because the material – a Post-It Note – has a relationship to the first word in Warren’s title. Anticipating that, and in a lousy hope to avoid that I have prefaced both the installation and the documentation by requesting that not be what is added in my piece. In fact, this time I explicitly requested participants to reserve all secrets for Warren’s piece.

HISTORY -- Note 2 Self was a piece conceived a little over one year ago waiting to commute to work when I was considering all of the chores I had to get done in the gallery, and what was left undone at home. And, judging the way people stared off into space waiting around me, I figured I wasn’t the only one. Even when my nose was in a book I was thinking but things to get done.

The Post-It Note has been a regular convention of my upbringing, and from the age of seven I remember that was how we communicated with one another about phone messages, groceries to get, and if I was going to the park to play basketball. (It’s only coincidence that my cousin art is one of the inventors; I’ve never met him to my knowledge, but I am told he is rather pleasant and humble.) I wanted to cover that bus stop in Post-It Notes, but hadn’t figured out how.

Fast forward nearly two months and I saw Frank Warren’s brilliant project in the old Georgetown Staples. I’d heard about it on Kojo, I’d been sent the link by a friend, and I even recalled the article in the Post. What I did not do was think about my little piece. Sometime later I thought there could be a relationship between the two, it is plausible that all the media attention of Warren’s work had primed my consciousness to conceive this piece, and I was willing to credit that plausibility. But, Post Secret starts with what is a seemingly profound and private secret and turns it into something more universal. I’m beginning with the universal and the banal, but highlighting the monumentality of an act of disposable authorship. Post cards we keep, and Warren publishes on a blog and in a couple of books. Post It Notes lay to waste in litter baskets and city dumps. Both contain something written and important. Both are organisms and public spectacles.

For a moment I had a bit of injured pride when I read the word “imposter.” But there is something empowering about that. I have inspired someone to publicly, and anonymously, heckle my work in an effort to humiliate me. When all is said and done that Post-It Note will be framed alongside the Post-It from the original installation – the Post It Note also anonymously authored that says “I love this piece.”

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Caution: Rhetoric Ahead - SIlver Wings

I had the spare time to make it down to the Corcoran this evening for the third installation of the new and experimental media series juried by Paul Roth and Peggy Parsons this evening, and I am rather thankful I did. Granted, few if any of the pieces chosen really challenged new and experimental media that had not already been laid in the foundations we can collectively call the 1960s, but this does not mean the vivid and sometimes wonderful abstractions of film were not worth watching. Quite the contrary: I enjoyed nearly all the videos. Granted, I have a new-found fear of pigeons, and a pang of curiosity why Gene Kelly was juxtaposed with Bobby Kennedy, but if you weren’t there, I’m not going to go into detail.

There were two flaws with the production of the evening. The first was the obvious problem of failing media. Two discs failed, which, while shortening the length of the evening by 20 minutes was acceptable, watching the struggle was not. Compounded by the stop, play and reading of discs, it should be ne3cessary for the WPA/Corcoran to realize that they need to consolidate all media onto one disc, submission into the exhibition is consent by the artist for this to occur. Since this is series is in its beginnings, this flaw is quite forgivable. Five years from now, people might still overlook it, but only with chagrin.

Flaw two has a relationship to a Frank Lloyd Wright criticism of architecture of the early industrial age recapitulating architecture of antiquity and the ancients. Consider: if film is an extension of theatre, erecting the fourth wall to distance the actor from the audience, why are we exposed only to movies in an experimental media series. There was little experimental with tonight’s work. Overlapped film/video goes back to (S) Einstein… maybe further. The combination of live music and video in psychedelic tones (even if it is T2 and Total Recall mashed and symmetrical) invokes The Velvet Underground at the Factory. Meditations on film projectors, dancing Egyptian girls at a wedding, or Monarch butterflies migrating, even with funky Final Cut and After Effects tweaks, does not inspire anything more than a film of a man sleeping or of clouds passing the Empire State Building. Pigeons in slow motion… hi, Bill Viola! I take nothing away from the artists on exhibit this evening, but I want to punctuate one thing: there was nothing experimental… except maybe to the artists… and some of the people watching. If I throw paint on the canvas I am experimenting. But Pollock has already done it, and hundreds of thousands of others since.

I also object to the label of new media for this series. Media represents the display of several medium(s). This was new video, and only new in the same sense that Déjà Vu or Deck the Halls is new, and even then only kinda. Let’s be willing to call a spade a spade.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

An Open Letter to Claudia Rousseau

I am writing this with the full intent of explaining a question that Claudia Rousseau raised within her review of the current exhibition at Glenview Mansion Art Gallery, which contains an installation of mine. In her article in the Rockville Gazette, she mentioned how surprised she was to see that in neither my artist statement nor my newspaper did I give any mention or credit to Mimmo Rotella. For this there are several good explanations to dissuade such conjecture.

The first is an issue of avoidance. Not so much skirting the work of others for the sake to appear original, but more for the sake of not watching people’s eyes glaze over. The learned artist, critic, gallerist, or historian, interested in contemporary art and with a wide knowledge of Pop-like movements that occurred across the pond, might know the name of Mimmo Rotella. He is/was well-known in Italy since the mid to late 1950s in and outside of the art circles. But, for a pedestrian, American audience that might scarcely know the name of Tom Wesselman or James Rosenquist (and there are many… don’t kid yourselves oh learned minority, because three years ago I was a member of that audience), Mimmo Rotella first requires a double take to first discern the pronunciation and then a definition to follow.

The second issue can be summarized by the early career of Jacques Villegle. To define: Rotella and Villegle both veered into collage and decollage about the same time in the late 1950s. Because Villegle was in Paris and Rotella in Rome, neither knew well of the other’s interest of this method of working at first – which, to be specific and simple, involved ripping down full street posters and gluing them to canvases. Forty plus years later I came to Rome for a second time, knew nothing of the work of either man, and began tearing down whole stinking and bug infested posters only to dissect them like an archaeologist so I could reassemble them through means I thought might be more archival or at least solvent. I was thinking of Schwitters, and the street was my dustbin. Then, these collages became studies for paintings.

Now, I can’t fault my art history teacher, Terry Kirk*, for setting foot in the studios for the first time AT THE END of the semester, AT THE END of my first year of graduate school, to inform me of Mimmo Rotella’s work when I was studying in Rome. Nor can I justify his incredulity toward my ignorance of the man. All I can say is sorry. The state of Iowa kind of stops at Grant Wood in public art school education. Ana Mendieta doesn’t even get a nod (or club OJ candidate Carl Andre, for that matter).

I returned to the States to complete my second year of graduate study, which is an additional hamstring. Finding scholarship on either Rotella or Villegle is difficult, let alone one in a language I can read. And, to be faithful to my initial inclinations of interest in those smelly posters, it was the halftone, color, typography, and play between representational and abstract that were of greater interests. Process became a second, because it played as a rich analogy for the history of Rome and Roman architecture: built up over time, stripped away by vandals, and built up again. Only in the States did I begin thinking about new narratives and the meaning of the words, critique on culture, economy, or politics. And the only reason I can think it took so damn long is because I was forced into an environment with adequate ventilation where I wasn’t huffing turps for a couple months.

In short, Rotella is incidental. So is Villegle. Two guys I’d never heard of before, on a continent that isn’t mine, speaking languages I can scarcely speak, doing work that is a novelty to this Midwesterner. After all, there aren’t a lot of posters plastered in the cornfields (though I am certain Monsanto has thought of it) – just baseball diamonds. Be that as it may, even with my recent scholarship, he still remains incidental. His work, as he has stated, was a rebellion, “…the only way of protesting against a society that has lost the taste for change and fantastic transformations.” (Hentschel; Mimmo Rotella) On the other hand, I don’t have much rebellion in me, just sarcasm.

Rotella’s work now remains as a document, a record, an archive, an objet d’arte, instead of a painting (not painted). I can nod to him as someone who has done similar work. But I hope to take it somewhere different. That stated, I am certain there are tens of people who have done likewise before me. I’ll never know of it – I’ll probably never meet them – and it doesn’t invalidate my work anymore than Caravaggio invalidates de la Tour (despite the difference that what I’ve done is mostly a priori).

So, that’s why I don’t mention Rotella. Because it takes me seven paragraphs (not including this one), and eight hundred words to do so. And that is without going into the sordid history of growing up in a test-market, studying graphic design, mentioning Hannah Hoch, and on, and on, and on. The end.

*note: Terry Kirk is still the best damn and most entertaining art history professor I have had the pleasure to learn from and in his defense he had too much on his plate that semester in Rome. And, no, that link was not a picture of John Waters

Friday, November 17, 2006

Website Up

In the past week I have been tweaking a design for a website and it is finally up. Granted, it is hosted by American University, so please forgive me for not boring you with a long title. For the mean time, this will be my website

Meanwhile, the following is a link to a recent review of the work at Glenview Mansion. Which means I'll need to update the bibliography on my resume and repost it to my website. Management...

A Conversation with Alice

The following entry, a conversation with Alice Denney, is taken from the first issue of Gestalt, published shortly before the first of November. Copies can be found at the Glenview Mansion Art Gallery and DCCAH.
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Discussing ideas on how to bolster the arts scene in Washington, DC through collaboration and the exhibition of multi-media seemed an appropriate subject with Alice Denney. She has seen it all, and her influence would only require a glimpse through her CV. In 1958 she opened The Jefferson Place Gallery. In 1962 she was instrumental with the opening of the Museum of Modern Art in DC. She took a leave of absence from the museum to work as the United States Vice Commissioner for the Venice Biennale under Alan Solomon in 1964. There were the happenings she organized in the mid 1960s with Rauschenberg and Cage and Oldenberg. Finally there was her stint with the WPA between 1975, when she helped found the organization, until her “retirement” in 1980.

The conversation, however, focused less on collaboration and multi-media, and more on the challenges of the greater Washington arts scene as she has experienced and observed. Five recurrent themes were expressed.

1. More venues for experimental arts.
“Galleries are important. But they need to take chances!” Alice Denney understood that from the moment she opened The Jefferson Place Gallery. In 1958 she opened the gallery with the express interest of providing artists in Washington a venue to exhibit the work they wanted to exhibit. She exhibited artists from American University - Ben Summerford and Robert Gates - as well as the DC colorists like Kenneth Noland. The differences in styles were evident as were their differences in where painting should go next. In order to advance the ideas of art and how art functions, a gallery must be willing to take chances for the sake of the artists. Ironically in order for a gallery to stay in business it must sell those chances to a buyer. She observed the many exhibitions of her good friend Annie Gawlik at G-Fine Art and recognized Annie's exhibitions as some of the gutsiest. Alice then pointed across her living room to a Luis Silva toadstool, “that show got no attention. A lot of Annie's shows don't get any attention. Luis's exhibition was genius! It was exactly the sort of thing DC needs more of. But, who wrote about it? Working in galleries is tough business.”

Observing the model of the 14th street, where in a given hour a person can observe the work in Transformer, Irvine, G, Adamson, and Hemphill. “At the very least there needs to be some sort of core for experimental and emerging arts. If The WPA, and Transformer and The Warehouse Gallery and a couple of other galleries were to get together you would have a center. One space. So that you know when you are going there you have something new and exciting (to see). And it can be a learning process, so that when people are curious it doesn't have to take so much time (driving from place to place).”

2. Nurture an audience interested not just in collecting, but also learning about the work.

It was this idea, learning about the art, that Alice continually emphasized about her experiences. “There was an audience who wanted to learn. That was the interesting thing. It wasn't Bohemian. In my day there were crowds of people who went around to the gallery openings. Oldenburg had his group. Andy (Warhol) had his group. And it was the groups that would flow between the scenes. Now it's just a mob,” This kind of mob is sometimes observed at most openings where the audience is mixed between the willing acolytes, the mad collectors, and the people who are simply there to be seen in rhinestone studded designer Yankees t-shirts sipping white wine.

“You have to understand, I've never been a collector.” She said. “I mean, sure, I bought a couple of pieces.” She pointed to her paintings and sculpture. “But I think of this like my scrap board. I mean, I wasn't a saint about it, but it helped those artists out. They were young and no one knew who they were. But, I was also interested in their work!” Collectors she defined as the people who would harass Leo Castelli and insistent that they would do anything to buy the next Jasper Johns, to pay any price above the other collectors situated on the list, also demanding the same attention.

3. Criticism.
“There is nobody who is reviewing the work (in print), just a little bit. Artists need critical feedback to know that, 'well, maybe this isn't working.'” This has been the biggest criticism on the blogosphere, of late, and judging by Alice's comments, perhaps the largest criticism before the internet. DC possesses no constant printed criticism, as was pointed out in a December 20, 2005 posting on Lenny Campello's dcartnews.blogspot.com. He pointed out that, in a given month, the Washington Post might have four articles critiquing the art around DC, and that The Arts section of The Post is inappropriately named. For example, sometime after the interview with Alice, pop celebrity Ashton Kutcher's transformation, from little-screen bozo to big-screen action star, recently graced the front of the Arts section. Being neither from Washington, nor an artist, this observation epitomizes the commentaries by Campello and Ms. Denney. “DC has never had an arts writer. Gopnik is trying to report on world-class art in London. Who really cares about art in London? Who here is going to go see it? Richards was pulled from the sports section. Jessica Dawson is taking art classes to learn more about it. So at least she is trying!”

It was that effort she appreciated most. In the hey-day of Alice Denney, when she was bringing experimental theatre to Washington, DC there was one critic who got it. A critic for DC must have the flexibility to understand and critique not only the popular but the experimental theatre, dance, the plastic arts, and multi media as well as the courage to say what is or is not working and why.

4. Politicians need to stay in politics.
When a politician, politician's spouse, or potential judicial nominee to the higher courts gets on the boards of arts organizations, more often will they make decisions that do less damage to their careers. “Politicians aren't real,” she said. “They have to appeal to a constituency back home so they can get re-elected.” Art has taken much the same route. She described an incident from the early days of the Museum of Modern Art in DC, wherein a Tom Wesselman All-American Nude was rejected from an exhibition, at the insistence of a member of the museum board - the wife of a senator from Pennsylvania - because the likeness of Jack Kennedy was also in the painting. “Almost all of the Pop Artists were willing to pull their work out in support of Tom,” she finished.

Alice cited the Mapplethorpe Show as another example. “The Corcoran never would have had a problem with the Mapplethorpe exhibition.” The irony of the Mapplethorpe exhibition is in the many years that have followed, the show has had a near legendary infamy more for the fact that the Corcoran chose not to exhibit the work rather than the content of the work. After the Corcoran dropped the show, the WPA picked it up after Alice prodded the board. “It turned out to be one of the best shows at the WPA! Granted, everyone was nervous with the reputation that was built up over the thing, and they decided to place the most sensitive work in one room. But, that room was packed! That's where everyone wanted to go!”

5. Koons = Bad Porn.
“I hate to sound terrible. I feel like I've seen it all. Even multi-media. That doesn't move me. It seems so mechanical. It seems easy. I watched those artists (in the 1960s) struggle using such rudimentary materials. And the beauty that came out was just spectacular. When we were doing happenings we were doing them on tennis courts and skating rinks. Our equipment was not that sophisticated.” She gestured approximating the volume of a reel-to-reel projector with her hands. “We'd show this (equipment) to the audience and they'd laugh! But then we would show this beautiful performance. When I see some of the video things (today), it just goes back to old Andy Warhol. (It was interesting) then because he was in the groove; it was the first time.”

Amid the rinse and repeat of some forms of art since the beginning of the 1970s, Denney mentioned the work of Hirst and Koons who were polluting the environment. “(Koons) was selling stocks before he got into art. All he did was know how to market and publicize himself. Even his version of pornography was bad porn.”

Sadly, Koons's and Hirst's versions of art are not reflections of art or culture, but of a market that caters to collectors and the idea that art is more about shock and awe and less about an intelligent and sometimes emotional perceptual cognition. But if there is safety in numbers, then it is groups of artists who can collaborate and spearhead these five initiatives.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Grave Digging

It is necessary to stay mentally prepared before embarking on a journey to unearth a mediated grave. But, it is the things I didn't consider that from now on need to be taken into consideration. Taking stuff off a wall and digging stuff up is one thing.

Wednesday
3:30 AM Wake
4:05 AM Board Supershuttle for National
4:15 AM Pray I don't toss my cookies on the winding, bumpy ride to the airport
5:15 AM Arrive at National, normally a 15 min. drive from my apartment in moderate traffic, but I was the second of a five-stop pick-up.
5:30 AM complete check in at the air-port and begin reading a book on managing art as an entity the IRS will look upon as a business (tax deductions) rather than a hobby (out of pocket).
6:30 AM board the plane and sit on a runway for 20 minutes waiting to take-off through the rain.
7:00 AM The baby in the back of the plane begins crying and I thank God for the volume control on the XM Radio in the arm rest.
9:00 AM I am on an escalator in Atlanta's airport and people are camped on both the left and the right side of my escalator, impeding my progress to both a restroom and the Athens bound AAA shuttle. I look over to my right, envious of the man walking up the stairs unencumbered. He beats me, and everyone else, to the top.
9:15 AM, We are on the shuttle to Athens. I phone Iowa for election results because I am tired about hearing the concession squabble alla Webb and Macaca on talk radio. The woman next to me keeps spilling her coffee.
10:45 AM Athens. Picked up by AthICA director Lizzie Z Saltz. We crash a web-geek convention at the University, catered with cranberry juice, coffee, and fine pastries. It is better than the cracker I got with the brown water on the plane.
11:30 I discover that the lock Penske gave me for the back of my rental truck is too small to lock the truck. I also begin wondering if Geico has more affordable coverage on insurance when renting a moving van.
12:30 PM I wish The Grit had better parking. As in, I wish The Grit had parking. At times I also wish they served meat (though I never really notice it not being on the Rueben, the chicken sandwich or any of their other delectable tofu tasties). Wendy's was also quite popular at the drive throug. I forgo lunch for now.
1:00 PM Deinstall begins. Georgia Red Clay begins to fill the gallery with dust as I unearth the television monitors from America's Grave. I reconsider my M.O. and start taking down artwork from the wall to package. I pity the other artists who did not get to the gallery in time to take their stuff off the wall, or the fact that AthICA is a not for profit arts space that cannot afford to hire workers and by law cannot sell work but rely on the charitable contributions of the artists that sell work within it to "give a little back." But, hey, at least Michael Stipe is paying for their phone. Lizzie chips in to help remove work from the wall. A guest worker doing community service on a DUI charge gets me a sandwich and a coffee around 2:00 at some place a little more Healthy than Dave Thomas' chain of old "fay-shauned" burgers... something organic and without meat. Secretary of the USDAT, Randall Packer calls, en route from a deinstallation in New Orleans. He is crossing Lake Pontchartrain, estimating an 8:00 PM Athens arrival. He forgets about the time change.
5:30 PM Line change on the assistance. Lizzie goes home but Mark arrives. One of the other artists stops by to pick up what remains of his work. He informs me Donnie is no longer Sec. of War and Bad Strategery and that he is being replaced by Bob "Iran Contra" Gates (which is fitting since Ortega is once again president).
8:00 PM Randall calls stuck in a traffic jam outside Mobile. Or was it Montgomery?
8:30 PM 2d work is wrapped, electronic equipment is unearthed from the grave and dusted, surround sound speaker installation is disconnected and removed from the rafters. Time for dinner.
12:00 AM Randall has arrived, the Penske is packed, Mark departs, and Randall and I scrounge the gallery for last minute forgotten items. There are several. We head into college town for celebratory libations. For the first time I am asked if I want my Manhattan dry or sweet. I really want a single malt scotch, but bourbon rules in the south.
1:30 AM, Bed.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Glenview Mansion Art Gallery



This will be on exhibit until November 28th
Gallery Hours are Mon., Wed., Fri., 9 a.m to 4:30 p.m.,
Tues., Thurs., 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Closed official holidays

There is an artist talk at 7:30 on Thursday, Nov. 16

For more information on the show click and for more information on how to get there try

General States of Business



I'm exhausted. The majority of this weekend has been spent holding a fishing pool and directional microphone on a graduate student film (not my own) in order to gain a better understanding of sound recording techniques on video shoots.

Then I went to an opening this evening: my own. I am told there will be a review of the work in The Gazette, a weekly that serves Montgomery, Frederick and Prince George's Counties. Above will be the image I send them. Three pieces sold, much to my delight! This will reduce one of my four students loans by a quarter. To quote Napoleon Dynamite correctly sampling milk deficiency, "YES!"

On the downside, America's Grave in Athens, Georgia met its end last evening, dying one day before the gallery was set to pull the plug on the exhibition. May it rest in peace. Wednesday I fly down early to deinstall the piece, and drive it back to DC in a Penske on Thursday. I am hoping we get to reinstall the work before Thanksgiving so that visiting friends and family can take a look.

In another week I learn the fate of issue two of Gestalt. In the mean time, articles from the first issue will appear in this domain.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

From the Studio

I am sitting in my pajamas, after an hour of working in the studio, having found myself unsuccessful at falling asleep.

This work installs in less than one week now, and it is too big, physically, for me to step back and appropriately assess it. In my minds eye, to be blatant and honest, this is closer to what I wanted my thesis work to resemble, but it is not quite there. Something feels missing. Perhaps it was the shift in media to satisfy a compressed studio space that once resided in the living rooom/office/library/dining room that was in my previous apartment. Perhaps it has suffered from working a majority of near 70 and 80 hour work weeks for the first ear post grad. Perhaps it was from the other projects I invested myself with in the US Dept. of Art and Technology or at American.

Or, maybe it was a loss of interest in the proposal that is now nearly two years old, and the idea of painting it.

12,000 square inches of canvas resides stretched in my studio, with collaged paper glued on top, drawn on in pastel and pencil, and painted over with matte medium. They look like objects and less like paintings. Some portions are highly rendered and others less so. Subtle narratives are existent within them. And they no longer feel like me. They feel like something that once was me - something I've intellectually moved away from for now, but will likely revisit a ways down the road. They look like orphans.

If there is any good that comes out of it, it is the periodical, issue one of Gestalt: a meager 7 pages of content that tilts a tad toward self-indulgent narcissism. But the writing is good. And the sound installation that will accompany the paintings and paper will add a little something - a bit of texture, maybe context.

I'll post images before long, and articles from Gestalt. In the mean time, if you reside in DC, a copy of Gestalt is available at DCCAH, up a ways from the corner of D and 8th. The work will be open for public viewing Nov. 2 at Glenview Mansion Art Gallery in Rockville, near the corner of Viers Mill Road and Route 28, off Baltimore Ave.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Epiphany

This morning, I was working in the annex of my studio (read that as living room), tones of lollapalooza coming from the CD player, when this dawned on me. The fourth track on The Crow soundtrack, “Dead Souls” by Trent Reznor, is a song about telemarketers. It has to be. For evidence I cite the refrain, “They keep calling me.”

Meanwhile, November is going to be busy: exhibition opening at the Glenview Mansion Art Gallery; distribution of Gestalt; dismantling of the grave at AthICA in Athens, GA; learning what happens to a piece in auction, Off the Wall, for VisArt, Rockville, (formerly Rockville Arts Place); artist talk at Glenview; Note 2 Self will be in the Corcoran Faculty Show. Not a bad month.

Friday, September 29, 2006

On You Tube



Or you can go to:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4GD7rgletI
It's my homage to Vonnegut

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Leap Into The Void



With the first, and possibly only issue of Gestalt near completion, the artist practices leaping into the void.

Monday, September 18, 2006

America on the Brink. Pt. Four




Randall Packer and I before the excavation of the grave two weeks ago in Athens. Or, fun with Photoshop. It's amazing what 20-25 minutes will get you between five snapss and reducing the image to 72dpi. Call it a draft.

Now before people e-mail in protest that I am ripping off Inigo Navarro Davilla at Irvine Contemporary Art, I'd just like to preface I've seen his kind of work before from a guy in New York a few years back by the name of Anthony Goicolea.

It's not the medium; it's what you choose to say with it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

America on the Brink: pt. Three


This has been my summer project. The extension of America’s Grave, which was first exhibited Jan 20th, 2006, one year after “the inauguration of death,” as my colleague and the creative director of the piece, Randall Packer, puts it. This is the piece as it went on display Sept. 9th, 2006, in Athens, GA.

The piece is fairly text heavy, between Randall’s blog chronicles
and my transcription of the cosmology of hell. We debated how attentive an audience would be to work that is so didactic. But they came in droves, stood, and read.

The background on the piece, or how I don’t want the piece to be perceived as though we are raving lunatics: The Cosmology of Hell is based off of Dante’s Inferno. The original grave, as created by the US DAT, depicted six levels of hell: 1) The Violent Against Their Neighbor, 2) The Traffickers of Holiness, 3) The Falsifiers of Commodity, 4) The Profiteers of the People, 5) The Traitors Against Their Own, & 6) The Sowers of Discord. These levels of hell are represented through the media with television clips from 1) 9-11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine; 2) crooked televangelists; 3) Supernatural Commercials; 4) Katrina; 5) The Administration; 6) Bill O’Reilly.

My job, when I first started working with the Department was to scrub, capture, and edit video and concoct a way to bury the monitors and DVD players in the dirt so they could last a run of two months.

For Athens, the piece had already expanded and additional narratives were included. The Cosmology of Hell had to be included. Below is the text on the wall, pulled from the audio clips of America’s Grave. The audio of the grave is designed in such a matter to allow chance. All six monitors are edited to different lengths, and the audio levels are raised and lowered to emphasize specific sound clips. All six monitors could play at once or the grave can go silent. Relationships form between them. The text below is an attempt to create a discordant linear narrative of the piece, as interpreted by a character I adopted for the trip to Lynchburg, VA: John 3:16. The numbers, which were originally reflective of the order of specific quotes extracted from their various levels of hell, have become an arbitrary assignment, but a deliberate visual aesthetic that communicates how text, even those of wholly writ, when removed from their source, or taken out of context, can be completely polluted of their intention and meaning.


1.1Oh my God. The mighty World Trade Center tumbling down. People saying I love you and then the line going dead. The loss of life is utterly unbelievable. 1.2Today they brought that terrible hatred to the United States of America. 1.3Very seldom a military plan goes according to plan. We are going to have to hold everyone accountable. 1.4Enduring freedom is an inexpensive operation, estimated at less than $2.5 billion. 1.5Allah be praised, it’s a win-win situation -- I hope I live.

2.1I don’t understand why God let this happen to me. 2.2Aww you dummy. Shut up! He’s being God! We did not evolve. We were created by the genius of God. 2.3But, one misstep, one change in the direction of the wind, and I am into the abyss. 2.4There are good days ahead for each of you, I promise. You better get yourself ready. You profess Christ but you do not possess Christ. 2.5When you’ve lived your life and you’ve shared the good news of Jesus Christ... bombs away!

3.1Tell us what you don’t like about yourself. It’s time to start believing, start getting things back to normal the moment you call. 3.2The medicines. The plastic. The materials. Things that make modern life modern. Less of it is stored in the body as fat. 3.3 It’s not only brought us closer together but it has definitely deepened our faith. Order today. And see your world in high definition. 3.4I’m not putting it off a minute longer. This TV really sucks! You know what to do.

4.1I tell ya it’s gotten to the scary level here. I’m just looking to make sure we’re not going to get whacked in the head with anything. 4.2For those of you who are concerned about whether or not we’re prepared to help, don’t be - we are. The government has declared martial law. There are no more civil rights. 4.3We lost everything. Everything. It’s crazy. That’s gotta leave you feeling pretty helpless. 4.4This storm affects everyone. And Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job!

5.1But we need to be alert. We will not tire. We will not falter. And we will not fail. 5.2There’s an old poster out west that said, “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion. 5.3And then there came a day of fire. A fire in the minds of men. We will smoke them out of their holes. 5.4So help me god. My job is to protect America and that’s exactly what I’m gonna do, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

6.1This is World War Four: the war for the free world. It is an attack on American tradition. 6.2Be American. Celebrate Christmas. People spend more money. Jesus makes people want to spend money. 6.3This is what the culture war is all about. 6.4Generally we’re against rape. To an obsessive element, you know, It looks like it is harmless. It’s not. 6.5So, it’s down with Christmas & up with sexual offenders. Because they’re Liberals and they throw like girls. 6.6The American Media is working for the enemy.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

America on the Brink: pt. Two

Monday and Tuesday have evaporated. 26 hours of installation and we still do not appear to be very far along. Transcribing the text of John 3:16 onto a 15'x13' wall takes time, however. Randall has busied himself with organizing and designing the wall devoted to the blog chronicles. More of that occurs today. Tomorrow we become, once again, grave diggers.

We were interviewed by the press on Monday. The author of the article asked, since there are so many Republicans in Georgia, how to go about writing this in such a manner so that it does not offend people. I suppose a grave with the death date of The USA coinciding with the second inauguration of W. can be a bit incendiary. We communicated to her that this is not an anti-Republican piece. The Republican Party is the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower. Nor is this piece in opposition of religion. The piece opposes fundamentalism and the mixing of politics and religion, that the blind cowtowing to both is problematic.

When pursuing this piece it has been of great importance not to have it appear with the look of a political cartoon. Half of the gallery is filled with the work of other artists and some of them appear with the look of political cartoons. Text heavy and with a punchline. The one-liner. Take my president, please! Art and politics is a messy busy.

Monday, September 04, 2006

America on the Brink. pt. One

After a 12-hr. drive I am finally about to settle down in a hotel room in Athens, GA. Driving on a slight situational tour through parts of the South, en route to install the grave of America and the Dantean cosmology of hell that it has descended into, with the US Dept. of Art and Technology, has been a bit of an event.

So far we have seen two red crosses at mega churches with the words Jesus Christ written across the arm beam, a real estate sticker with some relationship to the Passion, and about 3 dozen topless dancing club billboards at such and such an exit with washing units for your big rig. (semi-truck, not the other big-rig, you sick monkey...)

South Carolina does not sell liquor on Sundays.
Georgia can only sell liquor on Sundays if the vendor is a restaurant.

Friday, September 01, 2006

My new roommates

I’ve never been a big fan of insects. There were batches of Christmas cookies and sweets consumed by fruit flies in my youth. The first place my wife and I rented in Derwood had armies of ants dining in the kitchen regularly. There was the summer when I could not seem to go far without being bitten by a wasp, and every mayfly I encountered thereafter I automatically assumed was going to stick me with poison. All of those bugs can be forgiven.


Except roaches. I really hate roaches. There is no logical explanation why I should automatically hate them, though I have been cultured to believe they bring disease and a horseman or two of the apocalypse. I could care less about centipedes and spiders. But roaches creep me out.

A couple of weeks ago I purchased eighty sheets of cardboard from Utrecht so that I could begin constructing a bus stop for an exhibition in November. Within the first 72 hours I knocked off three roaches. Mind you, I am not saying that Utrecht cardboard is teaming with roaches. I’ve only killed six so far.

And they have not been the big friendly palmetto bugs that smoke outside my apartment and carry on through all hours of the night shooting craps. These are smaller, but just as ugly. So far they are no match for my shoe, but I don’t think they’ve found the Grapenuts in the cupboard yet.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Who to facebook...

As I prepare to venture to Athens with Randall Packer and some of the merry members of the US Dept. of Art and Technology, to present the next installation in America on the Brink: a season in hell, I found something of slight interest to out journey through the Bible Belt en-route to ATHICA.

Jerry Falwell & Pat Robertson are on Facebook. I can't help but find this a little funny. I wonder if they've "poked" anyone lately...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Art-Free Post

About a year back my wife and I stopped subscribing to the Washington Post because of our informational mix of NPR and the Wall Street Journal, combined with an inability to finish one, let alone both periodicals. Add to that the lackluster art – icles in the Post and it did not seem like such a loss. Granted, we still get the Sunday Washington Post.

Yesterday I thumbed through the Arts Section (that comes with the Saturday delivered Sunday Source) and discovered something missing: fine art. Sure, there are 9 year olds in the metro region that take to page with colored pencil and crayon and create works of art worthy for any mother’s fridge (page 3). But why write about it? Isn’t that par for the course? Then there was a bit about the V-Chip, Super Mario Brothers, and a guy who does cartoons for kids about how it’s okay to grow up and go through those life changes (yes, I skimmed it, and I must add the images in his studio behind him appeared more interesting). If we connect those remaining dots we could assume that the Arts section could take a very smart and progressive lean in defining or analyzing the shift of art in the region, nationally or even globally. But, at best it looks like an accident and seems more a half-hearted attempt to just fill a section.

While I doubt this is the end of the end for Washington Post critical review of the traditional fine art housed within the walls of certain Smithsonian structures, I kind of wonder if it should be with what little we get in the forms of aesthetic criticism and abject commentary of some goings-on. It is better than nothing I suppose but I would enjoy a bit of juicy criticism or even a diatribe on art theory as it pertains to the twenty-first century. Of course, it’d only have a readership of a few hundred persons in the metro-area while the majority of readers will abandon the section in lieu of finding out how a Redskin scrimmage did. Such is life. Go Nats.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Note to Gallerist: Keep the Coaster.

Coast•er n
1. a mat placed beneath a glass in order to protect a surface
2. a compact disc rendered useless

Recently I received a return from the Arlington Arts Center, responding to an exhibition submission from earlier in the summer. We all know the kind: submit an exhibition idea to the gallery complete with examples of work and a check for entry fee. Include an SASE.

In decades past this was necessary for the return of the examples in slide form. Slides, as we are all familiar, are expensive. The film is expensive to purchase. They may be expensive to take with a hired hand. They are expensive to develop and they are just as expensive to duplicate.

CDs, however, are at most $1 to produce. And the images stored on them have a specific shelf life of the one CD typically due to a specified number of image entries or due to the related nature of the work for a site-specific installation or exhibition.

However, artists may still include the SASE in the form of a business envelope despite the obvious difference in size and function from an envelope that holds a compact disc. Lenny Campello made this observation in a blog entry a number of months ago and screamed at artists about the idiocy of this phenomenon.

It is not idiocy.

It is a reflex by artists to unscrupulous gallerists who do not have the common courtesy to send a rejection letter. And there are many. In fact, this may also be the reflex of artists who have applied for real jobs with real resumes and real portfolios. Who send them out to dozens of companies (273) in eight markets (Des Moines, Lincoln, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York City, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Madison) and not hear one peep from even the lowliest of HR reps… not that I write with such experience.

While I do not suspect this to be an activity specifically of the Arlington Arts Center, why should I take the chance? I’d like to hear back from such centers of art. What makes little sense is the effort spent to return the disc. AAC was kind enough to return the coaster in someone else’s SASE - I assume someone who got a solo exhibition (and his or her penmanship was gorgeous). To balance the cruelty of the even gallerists, the good galleriest will often dig out an envelope and cough up the 78 cents to return the disc.

GALLERIES. SAVE YOUR MONEY. KEEP THE COASTER.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Christenberry at SAAM


The other evening, Thursday the 13th to be precise, the Smithsonian, American Art Museum had a little shindig to celebrate its opening and the dual Christenberry exhibition (the folk art collection he curated and a retrospective of his own work: Passing Time).

I’ve gotten to know Christenberry a little through my work experience at Hemphill Fine Arts the past year and one of the many great things to come out of that acquaintanceship is a redefinition of two words within our lexicon: verbose and loquacious. At a speaking engagement in 2005, George Hemphill introduced Bill Christenberry as a loquacious Southern Gentleman. I had grown up thinking the word meant long winded in a sense where one loves to hear himself talk, whereas verbose just meant wordy. After Bill spoke that morning in mid-May he stepped in the offices of Hemphill and I said, “Bill, I don’t think your loquacious. Verbose maybe, but not Loquacious.” It was an off-hand compliment I thought he’d appreciate. However, being an older gentleman, he’s a little hard of hearing and the wit of the comment was lost.

Bill is a story-teller. There is a story behind every cabin he photographs, behind every dirt road he travels and behind every sign he picks up – some of those he freely admitted were stolen, though he thought “appropriated from their intended origin” had a better charm to their acquisition. And with that twist of vernacular I thought it best to redefine my previous notions of verbose and loquacious. Hemphill was on the money when he called Bill loquacious, because within that previous comment Bill Christenberry placed an eloquent touch on how he came to use the signs within his art work – an eloquence that was drawn out like the hot summer days he came to know in his Southern upbringing.

As a note, verbose I still think to mean wordy, only now I think of it as wordy without the eloquence. A problem my father and I tend to have when speaking freely and unable to edit, as within written texts (though admittedly, I may be a bit verbose in these epistles).

The two shows had a common theme through them – the care of the human hand in the act of visual expression. Through his curatorial work, Bill pulled from the permanent collection of SAAM some remarkably charming works of folk art that not only echoed the found nature of objects Bill had come to know through his own work, but also that sense of story, time, and place that is so evident through all of Bill Christenberry’s work. What tales may be told in a rifle that is bronzed and turned into a weather vane, or in a toy carved after Watergate with an elephant and a donkey on either side of a see saw. Wit and charm.

With rare exception, what the work in the Folk Art section of the museum does not possess is the building methodology of a man’s career with art. Throughout the last few decades Bill Christenberry has returned to locations in the South to photograph lots of land as their buildings age, become abandoned, overgrown and at times demolished and vacant. They exist like people, each with its own history. “Do you know the difference between a juke joint and a honkey tonk?” Bill asked me one afternoon as I visited his studio to collect some work and we go to talking about a Bar-Bah-Que shack in one of his building portrait pieces. Being from Iowa these were words I had heard, but never in any context. A juke joint sounded like a place where one might encounter a juke box. “That’s a good guess,” he suggested. “I’ll give you a clue,” he politely continued, “ a honkey tonk is where the honkeys went.”

Stories like that exist within each article exhibited in Passing Time. They compose the identity and curiosities of Bill Christenberry. They compose the identity of the South. However, knowing the volume of work Bill has produced throughout his career, like the identity of the South, this exhibition is but the tip of something much larger.

So the Renwick has a Wood



With the Renwick’s recent exhibition of Grant Wood I have had to tolerate people informing me they have seen the work once they learn I am from Iowa. But I refuse not to look bored if asked if I have seen it too. I won’t. It’s not because I don’t like Wood.

Hard to escape that damned “American Gothic” growing up. The Des Moines Art Museum and Art Institute of Chicago have a joint ownership of the piece, or at least some sort of loan agreement that allows the piece to travel between the two museums for periods of lengthy exhibit. The former Davenport Art Museum, the only fine arts museum in my home town, had a loan agreement with the two museums that captured the piece on it’s 310 mile journey for a three or four month display every five years. For the cost of a couple clams any person in the area could stop in, say hello to the farmer, compliment him on his lovely daughter, and be on his or her way.

Now, when people tell me how ironic the piece is, I tend to disagree. The irony is that this is the celebrated icon of regional American art, and about the best-known piece of Wood’s when so many other pieces he crafted in his short career were fare superior in complexity and wonder and capture the region of the vast American Midwest with better accuracy and articulation.

That quote of Ruscha comes to mind, and I’ll butcher it here. “There are parts in the middle of America that are every bit as surreal as Paris.”

Few from Iowa would ever claim Wood as “ironic.” I grew up in a time of Farm Aid, when various rock and country musicians would gather in some field and raise money for farm relief. During my childhood there were stories about farmers blowing their brains out because their generations-old family farm was facing foreclosure. In college, farmers were slaughtering large swaths of livestock because the bottom dropped out of the hog market and it was cheaper to kill them and let them rot than to try and butcher them and sell them at market. Then there are the droughts that claim hundreds of thousands of acres of corn, soy, and sorghum and the emergency aid requested by the state and national government.

Perhaps the irony comes from what else was being produced around the same time. Hopper was creating a lonely Eastern seaboard. Lawrence and Davis were making jagged forms of Manhattan urban life. Pollock was throwing paint. DeKooning was butchering women. Rockwell was illustrating the ideals of the American dream. Wood, and Hopper for that matter, can be looked upon as ironic sandwiched in the middle. Their form of representation was not idillic – though who educated in the arts looks at Rockwell as anything but what he claimed himself to be: an illustrator? Their use of paint was neither abstract nor expressionist. If anything is ironic, it was the choice to paint what he painted, and in the way he painted it. But that can only happen through the lens of art history.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I Wish This Was A Joke



While fully respecting the creation of this statue and finding it quite clever, though kitch, it is my sincere wish that the religious right would fully relaize the implications of the first part of the first amendment of our nation's Constitution.


Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.


The Declaration of Independence was written to remove the colonials from the tax structure and ecumenism of England. There were those who wanted to be Catholics, Lutherans, Puritains, Quakers, Calvinists, Menonites, etcetera. While I cannot speak for their personal views towards Jews or Muslims, or even an awareness of the Far Eastern religions, I'm willing to wager that having been prohibited for so long to worship as they pleased the authors of the Declaration may have seen some value in allowing citizens of the United States of America to practice religion as they saw fit.

The writing in the First Amendment far outweighs any document that might state "in the year of our lord," the significance of A.D. (now replaced by C.E. in the history books). The use of that phrase moreover reflects the religion of the authors of those documents written rather than the religion of the country, even if they were governmental documents. This is the narrow vision of mankind (a word forged before the women's sufrage movement).

Therefore, it is likely that a document such as the Treaty of Tripoli, written under Washington and signed under Adams in 1797, more appropriately reflects the atmopsphere of the United States, less than twenty years after the Declaration was signed. The treaty is notable for Article 11, which states, ""As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen..."

The website hosting this statue declares that Jesus will liberate us from things like disease and poverty. And there is nothing wrong with putting faith in Jesus Christ. My uncle Paul once did it after suffering a multiple fracture of his leg. While his prayers to Jesus may have had some part in allowing the bones to settle in appropriate allignment - an allignment the doctor's thought impossible because the bones were so badly shattered aftger his fall down a trap door, ironically in a church - my uncle Paul was certainly wise enough to allow the doctor's to apply a cast to further the aid of medicine upon his wounded limb and not dumb enough to attempt to limp out of there on his desimated drumstick.

The statue, erected by World Overcomers Ministries is certain to raise some eyebrows over the next few days and weeks. It might even stand as a monument for the 2006 and potentially 2008 elections, raising the constituent cries supporting Brownback and Westmoreland. Until it becomes a relic of arcane American monumentality my overarching hope is that the large majority of the populous recognizes the value and meaning of the first amendment, and that the message of Christ is more important than his statements of diety.

Note: Mussulmen was how they refered to Muslims when the treaty of Tripoli was authored.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Monday, July 03, 2006

America on the Brink

Yesterday I assumed the role of John 3:16 for the US Department of Art and technology for the ongoing series America on the Brink: A Season In Hell. We traveled to Lynchburg, VA to witness the 50th anniversary of Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church and the accompanying festivities at Liberty University.

Our documentation began at Rubs, a biker bar in town, where we were able to interview Pastor Steve Diaz of Iron Horse Ministries about his mission to build a bridge between bikers and Christians, bringing bikers who accept jesus Christ into their hearts closer to the church, and bringin Christians closer to their fait by being able to accept bikers.

He then talked about the United States as a Christian nation, and unifying the United States under Christ.

At the rally, Thunder on the Mountain, at the Liberty University stadium, we watched the bikers circle the track, showing off their steally pride, rubber side down. they revved their engines and smiled with pride and the love of Christ. Before they took to the field I heard one of the choir members of teh Thomas Road Baptist Church remark with fear that the reserved seats she wanted to sit next to were reserved for the bikers. "I don't want to tangle with them. They scare me. Maybe if enough of us sit in their reserved seats they won't feel welcome to sit here."

We wandered the grounds scattered with signs supporting George Allen and voting 4 marriage between one man and one woman.

The field alongside the newly erected 1,000,000 square foot church had an *awe*some display of flags waving in the wind, one for each fallen soldier in Iraq, and resting in the morning shadow of a flag typically flown above a pancake house.

A separate interview with a casual bystander yielded the remark about the return to a Christian nation "as our founding fathers intended."

What does that mean?
If the US were to become a Christian Nation, does that mean all citizens have to accept Christ as their personal savior? Does it mean that all citizens must acknowledge the trinity? What happens to those who do not?

The evangelists express concern for those who will be "left behind." But how will the evangelists persuade those who do not believe? Will the non-believers be shunned? Turned away? Will they be persecuted for their lack of belief and prohibited from jobs, education, health care, or property? What are the consequences? And should all confess belief, what truth and value is there in forced attrition?

Based on the reaction of the woman afraid of Christian bikers, what will the dress code be? Will we be prohibited from long hair, torn jeans, t-shirts and dirty faces tanned by the sun, stained by the wind rushing by at 65, the crunch of asphalt, or the splat of a junebug?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

When I’ve been told that An Inconvenient Truth is a slide show presentation on environmental data… well, it’s only part true. An Inconvenient Truth is about a man on a mission. It is a mission far greater than becoming president. It is a mission to save the world.

An Inconvenient Truth is the documentary of a man giving a presentation on the results of data collected by environmental scientists over the last fifty years. The results are supported with some very convincing photographic documentation of recent natural disasters; arctic ice shelf collapses; and the dramatic recession and glaciers snow cap mountains as well as the disappearance of rivers and lakes. The film also explores the motivation of the man who gives the presentation

The man giving the presentation is Al Gore. So, it is natural that this film will also carry some political weight and bias. But the moment that is interjected into the connotative analysis of the film the point is missed.

First, let us call this film a documentary because of the time invested in learning the narrator’s motivation for learning about and lecturing on this issue. Though it is told from a first person perspective and does not investigate another point of view there isn’t another one to investigate when the film involves the following four points. I am Al Gore. I have lectured on global warming since the 1970s. Here is why I lecture on this issue around the world. Here are the facts I have gathered along the way.

Second, what can be assumed is that it will be labeled a piece of docuganda by pundits on the right. Docuganda is defined as propaganda disguised as documentary because the film intends to influence rather than inform. The softer term is advocacy documentary. If the audience member chooses not to see this film as the abbreviated chronicle of a man’s motivation to give this lecture, then it can easily be seen as advocacy documentary because it is first person, because it only presents one point of view, and because the information is succinctly distilled for cogent comprehension.

But, so what? What is he advocating? Here is an abbreviated list, which are paraphrased from the closing credits. Higher fuel emission standards. Cleaner energy policies. Using energy saving appliances. Recycling. Using alternative transportation like public transportation, walking or bicycling. Demanding green and renewable energy options. Writing your congressman to support greener technologies.

Are these bad things to be advocating? No. Does it mean some conscious decisions need to be made on many individual levels? Yes. Will these decisions be convenient? Perhaps you missed that clever title assigned to the film.

Why else will it get labeled docuganda? Because of some of the gentle stabs Gore takes at the current administration on their environmental policies. Additionally, calling it docuganda, attempts to discredit the message for fear that any potential popularity from the film and media attention of the film may generate a Gore ’08 Campaign. And this misses the point of the film. Gore has globe-trotted for the last five years lecturing on how our current dependence on fossil fuel is a direct cause in global warming. Five years. It’s worth a listen.


Edit:

there is some information to support Gore's claim in the film that ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland are shrinking at drastic rates.
http://www.factcheck.org/article395.html

Friday, June 30, 2006


How many times have I told you NOT to draw on the walls?!?!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Satan?



Not often does the leviathan show himself. Captured here is beelzebozo, blind and grinning.

This capture is part of an ongoing project with the US Department of Art and Technology for the next installation of A Season in Hell. Whether this capture will be used in the final exhibit remains to be seen.

Rod Parsley, a dominionist pentecostal minister from Columbus, Ohio, has finished no theological training and is open about his disdain of formal Bible training. He believes that part of salvation is achieved through tithing and has pocketed much of the tithing of his 12,000 person congregation to purchase a private jet and to construct adjacent million dollar properties: one for his family and a second for his father. Parsley preaches against the "evils" of homosexuality, the separation of church and state, and Islam. He also provides the service of faith healer if the sum of cash is correct.

The false prophet is quite entertaining during his services. He preaches in voices. He struts and dances about. He mocks and ambles and jibes. His orchestra has the improvisational talents similar to that of Paul Schafer, accenting Parsley's skits and absurdities. And, when tithing, he reminds you how to spell thousands, enunciating each letter with exactitude.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Art Is Not Popular

...according to a graphic found in the text "Reporting for the Media." (by Fred Fendler, John R. Bender, Lucinda Davenport, and Michael W. Drager and published by Oxford University Press). The graphic indicates that the least popular news stories are "Business, Agriculture, Religion, Minor Crimes, State Government, Art, Music, Literature."

To be fair, this information was gleaned from the 7th edition, published in 2001. There is a good chance that Music and Literature are more popular stories to read than Art at the time of this post. And, thanks to the Neo Cons, I'll wager Religion has become more popular than Agriculture... unless we are discussing pork belly markets.

The graphic also indicates that the percentage of readers completing an article drops significantly as the number of paragraphs within a story increases. Five paragraphs maintains a readership of 56%, ten paragraphs maintains a readership of 39%, and twenty-five paragraphs maintains a readership of 28%. With this kind of statistic, it is safe to say that art blogs might have some sustaining power in the long haul provided we keep things short and sweet... unlike many of my previous posts.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Personal Notes

Possibly adding to dimensions of character, there have been several significant events that have occurred in the last two weeks.

First, my wife and I have signed a lease on a new apartment in DC that is equipped with enough space for a studio. This is a big event since for the last year I have been piecing non-collaborative work together in my living room/office/dining room/library. I am currently working on two pieces that are 50"x120" complete with a makeshift bus stop for an installation at the Glenview Mansion Art Gallery in November. The studio space is a welcome addition and will likely produce some future posts specific to my work until the official website is up and running.

Second, I have left a position as preparator at an area gallery in DC. I will refrain from mentioning the name of the gallery so as not to create any potential conflicts of interest should I ever critique the work exhibited in that space. [Granted, blogs generally act as an environment with little concern for conflicts of interest or accountability.] What I will say, in my bittersweet farewell here posted, is that it has been a privilege working there the past ten months and while there are portions of the job I enjoyed far more than others, it became apparent that it was time to move on in the spring when juggling too many things with respect to college/university teaching responsibilities and art production my two main priorities.

A preparator is a funny job of sorts - a pseudo carpenter, painter and janitor all rolled into one. It is by far the least glorious position, and in a smaller gallery it would be the chore of the operator or hired desk help. It is, at best, a job. But the position also has this covert operation element - a fly on the wall if you will of gallery operations and gallery-consumer relations. Despite wage earnings, the occasional free lunch, discussions on art, and eavesdropping on everything, what the position allowed best was an opportunity to learn an appropriate business model not only on how to operate a successful gallery, but also how to create a successful methodology in the business of art as an individual.

Of course, osmosis and application are dissimilar, but if I am able to apply what I observed these last few months, and even to educate generations of students that I teach, then the experience will have exceeded its potential.

Third, last week I learned my father has prostate cancer. Caught very early, and soon to be treated, I do not look upon this with breathless devastation as some might expect. This does not mean that I do not find gravitas with the discovery and diagnosis. But the event has created a certain awareness, one that will likely be reflected within my work in future months.

In late 2001 and early 2002 I was a volunteer at a radio station in Moline, IL that had a radio information service for the blind, wherein volunteers would come to the station and read articles from the local papers over the air. Every Thursday night I read the obituaries for one hour. It was one of those moments of affirmation when I assembled what it was that I wanted to do with my life and determined goals on how to get there - the motivation concerned what words I wanted written for me at the time of my passing. Having died alone or been survived by no one did not feel like my style.

Every few months additional moments of affirmation continue to direct those goals. My father's cancer is certainly such a moment. But it is not just a moment to recollect the direction of my career. It is a moment to remember not to lose sight of what is of greatest importance.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Expanding My Focus


Happy Hurricane Season

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Ledelle Moe, Congregation: G-Fine Art

Normally I wouldn't think of a small head as something to be marveled at. Upwards of 500 in congregation with one another tends to have a more lasting effect. Especially when each is hand-carved in cement. Yet, individually, each head resonates something of the artifact, something precious yet sturdy.

So rarely does my jaw drop when walking into a space. [Sometimes it is due to an oversaturation of information, or utter banality of something argued as significant.] These heads were remarkable - turned, talking, reacting, engaged, the voices in a choir. It is this animation, this relationship they have with one another that gives them their strength and removes them from the sterile presentation akin to tribal masks on a wall.

Individually it is clear that the whole is different than the sum of its parts. Annie Gawlak was kind enough to remove one from the wall for me, to allow me to touch it and feel its weight. And, as I stood there contemplating this little creature, I thought how barren this would be isolated and alone on my wall, without friends to accompany it. Though monumental and terrific on its own, it becomes a VCR on pause, trapped in time and waiting to be activated once again. I returned the little head to Annie so that it could once again gain life through communion.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Nakadate: Adamson Gallery

As I heard the words of Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey in the background one phrase stood out as I made my way through Adamson Gallery exploring Laurel Nakadate’s recent work Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind – “she’s got a wonderful sense of humor.”

That is also the limit of the work, on exhibition through June 3rd. The most interesting portion of this body (no pun intended) of work is contained in the first sentences of the press release and artist statement, wherein the artist embarked on a thirty day cross country train ride. The rest of the work can be summed up in well composed and designed photographs that attempt to be a little transgressive and yet remain impersonal, sterile, and narcissistic.

Placed in hotel rooms and the cabin of her train, Nakadate poses in her panties in the pseudo seductive poses found in Playboy. The sense of seduction becomes lost in the environment of polyester fabrics and overcast skies. When her gaze addresses the camera it never seems inviting or overly confrontational, but kind of bored. Color is muted and subdued leaving a mostly uninteresting photograph of a mostly naked woman in a mostly non-descript room.

And with this being the dominant theme of the show, there is work that rests out of place. The artist mostly naked on the back of a horse and the artist mostly naked somewhere in the desert come to mind. The color is rich, but the themes are out of place. Then there are the wonderfully graceful close-ups of the artist’s panties as they dangle from the window of her train (described in both artist statement and press-release). These are by far the strongest works on exhibit. They are elegant against the backdrop of a dreary sky. But the consistency of the overcast skies makes the narrative feel forced. Then there is the police car in the background of one photo, the looming threat of order and control, the push for transgression, and the inconsistency of thesis.

Qualms can be raised about the video as well. Her dance on the porch of the home from American Gothic is witty – a strip tease dance without the strip-tease on the unrequited reflexive emblem of American innocence. Then the song changes along with the video: artist seated in the cabin of her train, eyes searching the horizon wildly for a passing pick-up truck so that she can flash her tits mischievously and giggle, only to scope the horizon again.

What is apparent is the utter senselessness this work has. There is no goal within the work, no sense of discovery, no sense of the country, no sense of self and - dare I say - no sense of art. Any argument about sexuality or the female gaze become pointless in the face of this work – it isn’t there! It doesn’t even try to be shocking for the sake of being shocking (except maybe the sticker price of the work). It is the documentation of a wasted cross-country trip and abandoned underwea

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Pedagogy of Art Appreciation

When the bottom line of art appreciation's pedagogy is finally addressed by No Child Left Behind the overwhelming consensus will be "hunh?" Apart from being critical of NCLB to prepare the youth of Usonia from reading or pronouncing polysyllabic words like appreciation or pedagogy, and being fully aware NCLB will never address art appreciation, is the startling realization that disseminating some contextual level not only of what to appreciate in the arts but how to appreciate the arts is certainly stymied.

I address this issue only because I was (gulp) in the mall yesterday shopping and paused for a moment to guffaw at the stand selling "portraits" of Hollywood mafiosos montaged into dinner settings and Hollywood Hills backdrops. To be specific, there was one "painting" of Al Pacino from Scarface with that really big machine gun/grenade launcher, grimacing.

I type "painting" because it was not even a painting but a print of a painting someone made from this Hollywood celluloid still.

Of the five people who will read this, I am going to assume one of you is looking at this from an academic post post-modernist bent and thinking "wow... what a concept." I urge you, for the sake of all humanity to STOP! Apart from the debate over retinal v. intellectual within the arts, let us consider that the M.O. of this vending booth appeals to neither.

What upsets me even more is that, at the age of sixteen, without the aide of parental supervision, I might have purchased one of these things for ten dollars thinking how neat it was: it's a print of a painting of a movie that I like to watch. And I then might waste some wallspace hanging it. I might have even tried to frame it in some plastic framing device purchased at Hobby Lobby for a dollar eighty.

This long-winded diatribe intends to assess the crap we may casually place on our walls for the sake and gratification of not having a bare-wall. Part of this stems from the fear that investing $2000 in a painting seems fool-hardy. Part of it also stems from the reality that the average consumer does not have $2000 in disposable income to invest in such a commodity. Part of it stems from the reality that a lot of the paintings and drawings out there are not investments. Yet, as consumers, we are more than happy to plaster a wall with Coca-Cola memorabilia from the late 1980's, or something purchased at the Disney Store because it is kinda cute while simultaneously soul-less and mass-produced. Yet, for $125 this consumer could have waltzed into any art class at an area or near-by university or college, picked a still-life or figure drawing out at random, and walked away with a far better thing to appreciate and be appreciated by family and friends. For an additional $50 or $150 it could be exquisitely framed to add to the lauds of envious visiting spectators.

What is intrinsically missing in our national system of values is a measuring stick by which to appreciate not only the art we see in the museums and galleries, but also the stuff we are willing to place on our walls, conventional kitsch or otherwise artistic.

I had a friend growing up who was my colleague in artistic interests. Devoutly into comic books, he was also keen toward developing a sensibility and appreciation of the finer arts. His parents redeveloped their basement into an amusement center for video complete with surround sound and dimming track lights - very chique in that Midwest, suburbian way. On the wall opposite the painting hung a very ornately framed print of the School of Athens knock-off "The School of Hollywood" - Raphael's bastardized Stanza painting with Batman, Brando and Chaplin. While one of his academic figure studies or still life studies would have been very out of place in that location, why did he or his parents elect to place that print in the location and not one of his Lichtenstein inspired paintings?

Such is the dilemma I think in many homes across the States. The only art visible is in a gallery, and it usually costs an arm and a foot to obtain. Art that doesn't enter into the market through the gallery tends to wind up under the beds, in the closets, and up in the attics of the aspiring, never to be seen again. Much of it is bad and destined for the dustbin upon the demise of the artist or the artist's aspirations. But lurking somewhere in those corners are true gems. All that needs to be nurtured is the faculty of perspective buyers to acquire the work and consume wall space with it. How to educate this public interest is another issue? How to place the work into the marketplace is yet another.

The galleries might not be the best location or arena to educate this consumer, though it is not a bad-place to start. While the first objection might be "I don't know what kind of art to buy," the greater objection might be overall cost of the work sold. This is not to state that galleries are evil, but they are businesses, and a business' first priority is to stay in business. This means selling enough of a product to cover overhead. When I enter a gallery and see the majority of the work is priced at several thousand dollars, the owner is banking on the sale of several pieces to cover the operating expenses for the next month or two. There interest, if they are wise, will be to culture me into purchasing something in my price-range and suitable to my taste. But, since there is more lint in my pocket than there is coin, and if I do not work for a company of sizable interest, I may also not be worth their investment of time when at best I will yield for them an average of a couple Benjamin's annually.

So, what's left? The mall? Portraits of Pacino blasting away? This is a sharp drop from the gallery. Is there a middle ground? Perhaps the frame shop, that routinely covers profit margins through the sales and assembly of frames and occasionally has some additional wall space to showcase local artists (and their frames) for a slight to substantially lower cost to the consumer. But these appear weary locations because the art is less the center of attention, the art is not like that in the gallery around the corner or across the way, and the art is no where near the quality of that in the museum!

But does it need to be? This is what should be educated. As a country consumed by capital, maybe one of the adventurous methods of a new standard in academic art appreciation is not only to educate the 100-level masses into knowing the "blue-chips" from Piero della Francesca to Pollock, but to also provide a foundation for art-buying. This is so that Joe Iowa does not dismiss purchasing art - because he cannot afford to pursue the painter most probable to enter the Pantheon of art history - but rather becomes a conscious and supportive consumer of the things that interest him from his arts education at a level he can afford. This will limit the astronomic association that art must be priceless or not affordable to be appreciated. When the only conscious level of any appreciation of art is limited to the record sale of a Picasso Boy with Pipe, or an article in Art News about what is hot, then it is obvious we will be unable to nurture and grow a stronger art market within the US.

Additionally, where are the art sales from area college and university art programs, or high schools for that matter? I recall as an art student at Iowa State University that the ceramics, jewelry and print departments might pool their resources together and hold sales of work. Never the figure drawers. Never the painters. While art should not be produced with the sole intention toward sales, it should not be ignored that there could exist opportunities to promote and sell the work of students educated within art departments. These could serve as opportunities for the students to make a little cash for paints or a beer, and the department as broker to earn a little income for the maintenance of facilities. Lastly, it might serve as an opportunity of outreach and education, a stepping stone for the ignorant and novice art consumer to begin asking questions about his or her interest in the arts and how best to appropriately begin supporting the arts.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Quiet for Two Weeks

In the swamp that was preparation for finals and the organization of the 2006 Visions Festival at American University, I have had little time to sit and contemplate my art and naval over this blog. Pity.

Regardless, some very interesting art events have occurred personally.

First: Call for Entries. I think for the rest of the year I am going to ignore submitting work for any more exhibitions where I have to drop $25. Since the end of last year I think I have been rejected from three. My time preparing those forms and hemming and hawing over slides is better spent on making work and the money saved is better spent on wine and cheese.

Second. Exhibitions. My colleague and friend Randall Packer has asked me to assist on the second incarnation of America's Grave at the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art (Athica). Much of the physical architecture supporting the grave (cardboard) was soiled and disposed of after the grave was dismantled in March of this year, so it'll be fun to reconstruct this skeleton in a different and more stable material. There is a more complicated aspect involved with developing this new incarnation, one that might involve a very impressive map. I have a feeling multiple light boxes and topographical structures are in my near future.

Third: DC Commission for the Arts and Humanities. Thanks for the grant! In November I will be installing a piece (still untitled) at the Glenview Mansion Art Gallery in Rockville, MD. To give it away visually, it is a bus stop. Also, to give away the overall, there will be works on paper resembling torn posters (more than an homage to the late Rotella), an audio component and a newspaper. The grant will cover the printing costs. I better get that paperwork completed today.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Post Graduate Blues: pt. 1

I have a feeling this may be one of those posts that might receive a continuation somewhere down the road. Hopefully it is not wishful thinking like BoyzIIMen's TheYuppieYupAlexVanderpoolEra or GnR's Chinese Democracy, but I digress.

This evening I invited several of my colleagues to one of the classes I teach at CCA+D to give an alternative perspective to drawing, or at least an alternative to my handling of drawing. As someone who is not yet one-year removed from graduate school, a colleague is a very plastic term, and can denote a wide range of individuals. In this instance, it referred to my graduate school chums.

All of whom are burned out from graduate school: the subtle nuances of presentation (off the wall or on the ground; should it be framed; paper clips or safety pins), the lunacy in the significance of a color or shape, being specific, the over-thinking of content, and the constant barrage of visiting artists asking the same questions the previous visiting artist asked last week.

After one year it all melts away. The hostility at least. Perhaps not the memory of the hostility, but the hostility definitely melts away... at least until I look at the student loan.

Graduate school is intended to be the most selfish time of an artist's development. It's a club you pay dues to so that you may correspond with other developing artists, contribute and challenge ideas, and invest copious amounts of time debating green, reproduction versus re-production, the legitimacy of projection, the grammar of art, pseudo science and process, the cannonic defense of your studio approach, the legitimacy of nothing, and rhetoric... lots and lots of rhetoric.

One year removed I can safely state that I have learned more in that time than the entire two years I spent hand over fist in graduate school. Granted, this has much to do with the experiences I've had in the past year, the relationships I made while in graduate school, and the relationships I have made through post graduate networking. Therefore, I am also capable enough to admit that had it not been for those two years this year would not have amounted to a hill of beans, partially because the information received would not have easily been absorbed or decoded.

The Post Graduate Blues... you'll get over them.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Art at the Katzen

I think there comes a time in the tenure of any artist where he or she thinks to his or her self: what am I doing? With all the great artistic advancements of the last century, the only downside is what to do. This is a perplexing issue for any artists who wants to routinely sample at the veritable intellectual and visual buffet that compose the fine arts.

Near the end of this inaugural year, if there is anything that Jack Rasmussen, director of the galleries in the Katzen Arts Center should be most proud of it is the ability to push a few buttons. Throughout the year the exhibitions at the Katzen have become increasingly provocative both in form and in content.

Opening Wednesday, April 19th is an intriguing collection of work entitled Visual Politics: The Art of Engagement. As the Katzen website states, "On tour from the San Jose Museum of Art, this AU Museum exhibition focuses on art from the West Coast to examine the interconnected history of art and politics since the Cold War. Free speech, Vietnam, black power, gay rights, Chicano liberation, the environmental movement, poverty, immigration, and nuclear war are among the issues explored."

While it certainly cannot be said of all the work on display in the exhibition, there are key moments when walking through that it will not be uncommon for either the artist or the pedestrian to exclaim "I really should be doing more of this in my work." This might resonate more specifically with some artists who would otherwise pooh-pooh the idea of incorporating politics into their art for something more (seemingly)innocuous as space. While certainly space deserves as much attention as some artists will give it, it cannot be denied that art also functions as a means of communication. Visual Politics communicates symphoically, bursting forth with momentous bravado and passing subtly in melodious rhythms.

It should seem only natural then to equate an extension of Visual Politics reflecting in the work of the MFA Thesis exhibition - though this relationship is purely coincidental. Overall, what appears to be occurring is American University's shift away from what was once a traditional painting program, pushing between landscapes and abstraction, into something more encompassing involving the intellect as much as the retinal. It is unfortunate that the thesis work will only be on display for a brief period of time, because it is every bit as interesting as the work shipped over from San Jose.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Return to Cezanne

The major motivation for twice returning to the Cezanne in Provençe, on exhibit at the National gallery in DC through May 7, 2006, has largely been due to the academic necessity to expose several groups of continuing education students to the experience of engaging the master’s work both in the development of a single painting and in the evolution of a plastic idea throughout a lifetime of painting.

David W. Galenson, in his recent book Old Masters and young Geniuses sets Cezanne up as the archetype for the experimental painter in the Modern era – one who works towards an undefined goal through undefined means illustrated best directly through a quote “I seek in painting.” The progression of an experimental artist is through an evolution of steps, not leaps, and is always in the pursuit of finding. Conversely, the conceptual artist pursues defined goals through defined solution sets. Picasso represents this archetype with his quote “I don’t seek, I find.” The conceptual tend to arrive upon a painting rather than search for it. We’ll come back to this.

Cezanne is easiest to discuss form a formal perspective by how he puts on the paint and how he is structuring his composition. He becomes the painter for many to look at because a retrospective of his oeuvre becomes a step-by-step approach on how to construct a painting or how one might construct a career of painting. Through the scope of time he shows us two major jumps on the bookends of one subtle shift in his methods.

In the beginning of his work, exhibited in the second gallery shows many studio paintings with sitters and still life – very few landscapes. C. 1860, these paintings demonstrate Cezanne’s interest searching between line and plane to represent form. Plane is approximated through large meaty daubs of paint that appear applied with a club, whereas line rests heavy and black around specific forms within the composition: outlines that break. His first shift away from this is simply through what looks like a greater attention to thinning the viscosity of his paints. Suddenly by the 1870s the paintings become a bit more atmospheric, lighter. While this might seem like a simplistic observation, it is evident how this freed up his mark making. He expertly drew compositions quickly onto the canvas, overlaid appropriate formulae of color, and retraced line where necessary. In this process he quickly began to understand how the stroke of the paint applied with the brush affected the optical interpretation of space: lines in opposition will create an illusion of depth. Where he chooses to create lines that run parallel with one another he develops space through methodic experiments in value and color. Shifts in tone are what allow the space on the canvas to recede. This is something he had to struggle to find in his painting. This is also where a thinned paint will help the solution since oxygen takes less time to penetrate and dry a thin membrane of oil paint rather than a chunky glob.

A second, subtler shift in his work happens with a return to the studio. Whether Cezanne bounces back and forth between the two is not evident through the thesis of work presented on the wall. But, several quotes on the wall suggest his dissatisfaction with the studio earlier in his carrier, forcing him into the landscape. Later in his career he seemed able to construct a studio to fit his needs rather than constructing work to fit what his studio space allowed. Some later work of still life and skulls appear to suggest what he learned in the landscape was applicable to the studio environment once he found a suitable means of production. No suggestion is provided within the thesis of the retrospective to suggest that he ever abjured his sentiments regarding the studio from earlier in his career. But having any comfort to work in the studio would set up his third shift in subject.

The bathers seem anomalous and tangential to his body of work. In later paintings around Sainte Victoire Cezanne seemed to be less interested in the optical needs of representation and more attentive to the intellectual suggestion of form that occurs with how he works color and stroke. Some of this seemed abandoned when it came to the bathers where he stumbles around anatomical issues like an adolescent boy groping his first breast. Yet, positioned next to a late still life of fruit in the studio, it becomes apparent that Cezanne, with his heavy line and clumsy planar approach is a certain influence of Picasso and also a great influence of Cubism (Gardener also makes this correlation). With careful observations of Cezanne’s female bathers we are also likely to find influences for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. While this gives no less credence to Galenson’s findings, and there are sketchbooks filled with Picasso’s preparatory drawings of Les Demoiselles, Cezanne offers a very strong backbone for Picasso and becomes the fulcrum allowing Modernism to shift into Cubism.