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.