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.

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 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.

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.