Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's That Time Of Year Again...

As final projects are being handed in and assessed, and grades are being posted digitally to on-line resources, I tend to get a couple of letters every semester from students pushing for a change in the grade. Here is a sample of a letter I shall never receive:

Hey Professor,
I cant believe you got grades up on line so quick. I was amazed by teh A-. I was hopping I could get you to reconsider the grade. Normally I don't do so well in collage courses, and I don't wanna upset my parent's expectations of me. Is there any kind of extra course work I can complete to get a lower grade? I'd really, really appreciate it.

Thanks, and have a good break!

(spelling errors and formality issues were added to suspend disbelief)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Roden Crater

I stumbled upon an interesting article from the NY Times about James Turrell's Roden Crater. A couple of months ago I stumbled upon an article that said the crater opened last year. Apparently plans have been delayed. 2011 is the opening date. It doesn't stop people from trespassing.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

James Rosenquist at SAAM

Last month when I learned Jim Rosenquist would be lecturing at the McEvoy Auditorium in the basement of the Smithsonian American Art Museum I quietly rejoiced and then began showing students images of his work on Google.

Back story: Two years ago I was helping Barbara Rose move stuff to New York, and after a long day of working we sat chewing the fat over a bottle of wine. She asked me who I thought the five best living US painters are. I spit out Rauschenberg, Johns, Stella, and Rosenquist before I could blink an eye. Then I stopped speaking and sheepishly admitted I couldn't think of any other living painter that I was passionate about. I think I followed up with , "Elizabeth Murray, I suppose. " (I know she's no longer with us... this was 2005.)

Barbara stated sharply - "Now, Jim Rosenquist. That's interesting. He has to be one of the most gentlemanly artists I have ever known." Perhaps I am paraphrasing.

The lecture Jim Rosenquist was supposed to give was entitled Fine Art Is Not A Career. I don't think he ever broached the subject. His talk was mostly war stories: growing up in the Midwest; his parents being aviators; working as a sign painter with ex-convicts in ND, SD, NE, IA, & WI painting signs for Phillips 66; a scholarship to New York; the cost of George Grosz's apartment in the 1950s; his first apartment in Coenties Slip; and the differences in price between paintings he sold in the 1960s and what they recently sold for at auction this year. Basically, things you could read in the catalog published by the Guggenheim five years ago, during his retrospective.

But, my, was he entertaining! He speaks with a voice reminiscent of a quiet Harvey Keitel. He fidgeted with his glasses, wiped his face with his hands, hiked up his trousers, lost his place in his lecture, and told little more than amusing anecdotes. He had the charm of an afternoon out with my grandfather, sitting in a boat, lines in the water, waiting for the catfish at the bottom of the river bed to come up for a bite. And he was capable of mastering that poise in front of an audience of hundreds. He's as cool as his paintings.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving recap.

Thanksgiving involved a five hour drive to New Jersey on a Tuesday evening, and near six hour return on a Saturday afternoon. This afternoon as Gretchen and I listened to the radio we heard I-95 was jammed up and down the Eastern Seaboard between New York City and Richmond, Virginia. No doubt the bottle necks somewhere south of Exit 8 in Jersey, and somewhere south of Ikea in Northern Virginia - where six lanes of traffic become three and two respectively - contributed to this. So too did the Deleware Memorial Bridge. We paid $7 between the two ends of a four mile stretch, waiting 40 minutes to drive through it.

More trains in the Easter corridor, please. At least more rail cars would be nice. A drop in ticket prices would be beneficial to buoying the mass-transit commute along the coast. Less gasoline will be consumed. More people will read books and periodicals. And, when not reading, they'll be rocked to sleep like babies, or skimming the landscape with wide-eyed curiosity. Better than sitting in a parking lot, wading through a sea of brake lights in the EZ-Pass lane, a kettle of anger boiling over in the sternums of thousands, reflexively displaced to the accelerator stitching accidents between lanes of traffic at 90 MPH.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mark Cameron Boyd at Galerie Ingrid Cooper

A little over a week ago I traveled up the Rockville Pike to see Mark Cameron Boyd's recent exhibition at Galerie Ingrid Cooper. Seldom have I ventured north into Maryland to view an exhibition, and I became a bit dumbfounded to learn the gallery was in the White Flint Shopping Mall. This would be curious, at least.

Art in a mall conjures up images of strange poster/prints replicating paintings derived from movie stills and promotional advertising for movies: stuff to hang in a dorm room. But, the idea of selling and purchasing art in a shopping mall makes perfect sense. There is a high volume of foot traffic; people are going there specifically to spend money; and there is no limit to that money to spend. Down the hall a visitor may spend several hundred or thousand dollars on furniture, commercial jewelry, shoes, literature, computer equipment, or cooking gadgets. Never mind the pop melodies of Amy Grant and Debbie Gibson in the background! If the opportunity should arise, "how much is that painting in the window?"

Ingrid Cooper has been operating her small boutique for a dozen years. Raised and educated in Germany, she mentioned that students were exposed to two hours of art education every week. "That doesn't mean it was quality; that depended on the teacher you had," she said. Students were educated about the aesthetics of composition, about classical art, and about how art evolved into and through the 20th Century. Though Ms. Cooper modestly questioned the quality of the art education as a whole in Germany, there is no question that she had it - something that a growing number of Americans cannot say they have had. For many in the States, mandatory art education stopped before the end of elementary school, if it was even offered. Keeping Ms. Cooper's education in mind, it will be certain that the "painter of light" will never make an appearance in her quiet space - painted prints of cozy cottages on canvas tend to clash with DeStijl walls and stainless steel counter displays (Galerie also displays artisan jewelry).

Mark Cameron Boyd has received his fair share of recognition lately for his chalkboard pieces: phrases or statements, written on alternating stripes of slate and tape, with tape removed, something he calls text bisections. What is revealed are half-strings of words that Boyd allows the viewer to sometimes fill in with an abandoned stick of chalk. They are ephemeral, require audience participation, involve looking and reading. The chalkboards might be too theoretical for the mall.

Created between 1998 and 2003, Boyd's work, currently on display at Galerie Ingrid Cooper, is a plausible step backward in time to what influenced the chalkboard pieces. Each composition is painting and decollage: an act of collage that involves cutting and tearing away from the compositional surface.

Decollage first came into vogue during the middle of the 20th Century when artists like Mimmo Rotella, Jacques Villegle and Raymond Hains admired the abstract nature of the vandalized posters on their respective city streets to such an extent that they pulled the posters down from the walls, carted them to their studios, and pasted them onto canvas and board.

Boyd's work does not share the vocabulary of street poster. Instead, it has newspapers from several cultures piled atop one another and stripped away. The layering of languages - Japanese, German, Spanish, French, English - is the cacophony of the DC street, the texture of sound heard passing between point A and point B, the poetics of language. Through the act of decollage, and the design of painting, the work becomes unified and whole.

Seeing the influence and execution of decollage from earlier work, the process for the chalkboards begins to make sense. Removing a strip of Japanese newspaper in the past is similar to removing a text-strewn strip of tape from a chalkboard.

Mark Cameron Boyd's exhibition at Galerie Ingrid Cooper will be on display through November 19. Galerie Ingrid Cooper is on the second floor of the White Flint Mall, 11301 Rockville Pike.

pictured: Thing in a Ringer, 2002, courtesy Mark Cameron Boyd.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Get Thee to the Katzen

I had half an hour today and wandered over to the Katzen between meetings at American University. Between the Feminist work on the ground level and Botero upstairs I was blown away. I cannot recall who was on the second floor - Metropolis in paint - but even that was astounding.

Last month there were nothing but lemons hanging in the Katzen. I've actually blocked those shows out of memory - they were so bad. And, in looking at the work on exhibit now, I can see why: the energy of the past year has been invested in this month, these shows, this opening. And, it might be the best grouping of exhibits, in one space, in all of DC, at this time.

Botero may be one of my least favorite artists. It is possibly because his stylized paintings of rotund figures never "speak" to me. I find them as empty and hollow as Jeff Koon's bunny rabbits. His images of Abu Ghraib, however, truly capture that Joseph Conrad-ian psychological fracturing of humanity. What does it take to bring one human being to such moral depths that he or she performs those acts to another human being? It is more than just a fissure in the system.

But, it does make me think, under the proper conditions, there might be some sort of evil inside each of us that could take us to those depths. That might be the most frightening thing about Botero's paintings. When humanity and self-respect are lost, we become animals - rabid as dogs on the end of a tightened leash. Abu Ghraib is what happens when that leash goes untethered.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

French Notes

Yesterday was Claude LeLouch's 70th birthday. Gretchen and I honored the occasion by watching A Man and a Woman. For the cinefile it might be worth a look (and by cinefile I mean someone who appreciates watching French films from the 1960s, not someone who has seen every Jerry Bruckheimer production). There is a tremendous sense of realism between the two main characters as their relationship develops over the course of the film. But, for a contemporary America audience, it feels like 15-20 minutes can be removed without it losing much (perhaps gaining). I am not suggesting a re-edit, just stating the perception that, by and large, as a culture, we prefer something that is fast-paced and brief. Unless, of course, it involves a hobbit, a quidditch match, or something with lots of explosions.

In other things French, I made my first soufflé the other night. While I have yet to consult my dictionary, I firmly believe that soufflé roughly translates into "lots of time and effort for little reward." Here is part of the recipe I followed... and be patient with it because there is a joke at the end.

Take 12 eggs. Using 6 eggs, separate the whites and the yolks. Beat yolks together with 3 Tbs of milk and 3 Tbs of flour. Bring to boil 1C of milk. Slowly pour boiling milk into yolks while stirring rapidly, so as not to cook the eggs. Pour mixture back into the pan and place on the stove and simmer to thicken. Beat whites with electric whisk until they form stiff peaks. Check on the yolks in the pan. Throw the yolks away because they have now turned into scrambled eggs. Take the other 6 eggs and separate the whites from the yolks. Throw whites away. Repeat process with yolks, but don't scramble.

This is only part of the process. At some point you take whatever goes into the souffle and mix it in with the yolks. Then you mix some of the whites into the yolks. Then you mix the yolks into the whites. Then you bake it. 40 min of prep. 25 min. of baking. 10 min. of eating. Hours of dissatisfaction. I suggest avoiding this cuisine unless it involves copious amounts of chocolate or cheese.

Finally, I'll be heading up to Kensington to see Mark Cameron Boyd's exhibition at Galerie Ingrid Cooper. In keeping with the theme of this post, a noticeable resemblance to the work of Jacques Villegle (and Mimmo Rotella) can be observed.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Claude LeLouch

Since I have never taken a film history or film theory class, I'll excuse myself from not knowing Claude LeLouch or his films, though I am now inclined to learn about him after he spoke this afternoon in the Wechsler Auditorium at the School of Communication on American University's campus this afternoon (three of his films now reside in my Netflix queue). But, what struck me were some of the things he said, which were undeniably French.

What does that mean? Something that in the American culture that would be regarded as outrageous or romantic. For instance, after declaring that he was a self-taught filmmaker, he said "the only school I ever attended was the school of failure." Later he stated that "the only life worth living is one of suffering."

Of course I am paraphrasing, but there is great profundity in what he said. There is also something that, out of context, is truly worth rolling your eyes over. I recall saying similar saccharine sentiments when I was in high school, and looking back, it was no wonder I could hardly get a date to the movies. Sure, back then I wasn't 70 or French (Okay, fine... 69, his birthday is in 4 days). Last I checked, I'm still neither.

Another thing he stated was in response to a what if question he received from the moderator: what if he were to make an adaptation of his 1966 film, A Man and a Woman, how would it be different?

He didn't answer the question directly. That is to say, he talked about the difference between 1966 and 2007. Back then a letter would take 8 days to go from lover to lover, with an 8 day wait on the return. Today you can send 15 text messages, have a dozen phone calls. A relationship can begin and end in 48 hours, with no sense of mystery or romance - no chase. An interesting concept.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Interview with Paul Roth - Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz at The Corcoran

This fall the Corcoran Gallery of Art is hosting two traveling exhibitions showcasing two of the United States’ most iconic photographers: Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz. I sat down recently to talk with Paul Roth, curator of photography and media arts at the Corcoran to discuss these two exhibitions and the work of these two photographers.

The Corcoran is exhibiting two different photography shows. Aside from medium, what are similarities and what are the differences between these two shows?
I have been thinking about this a lot because there are real similarities in a way, but the differences are far more compelling. And, I think it is very unusual to do two major shows by two completely different artists working in the same medium.

Why is that unusual?
When a museum does a major show it does so in order to draw all the attention to that one stand-alone show. In this case we are doing two, and we are doing them both because they are [by] major and important populist photographers who are interested in reaching the largest possible audiences for different reasons.

In the case of Annie Leibovitz, her work in a single issue of Vanity Fair or Vogue magazine finds an audience in the millions – a magnitude far larger than any museum could ever hope to get. That has clearly been the audience she has been interested in since she was hired by Rolling Stone when she was still in art school.

In the case of Adams, he saw that photography was a democratic medium. He worked commercially, a lot. He used his own art making activity not just for museum shows, but also to make books that would sell a lot of copies, and also to be printed in magazines that had large distributions. He was really interested in popularizing his own work and getting a big audience for it.

How do they differ?
Of course, Adams was making spiritual works of art that are intended to convey a private experience to a larger audience. Leibovitz is making works that are really about the connection between the audience and the [famous] subject. Adams is about nature. Leibovitz is about culture. Adams is about awe. Leibovitz is about breaking down awe and creating something more personal. It is really interesting how different they are when thinking about what connects them.

How did Adams come to Photography?
When Adams was a teenager he instantly fell in love with photography and the Sierra Nevada on a family trip to the Sierra Nevada. That changed his life in a dramatic way. He essentially had a spiritual awakening at that juncture. He was a sickly and kind of odd child. He was very unsuccessful in school and wasn’t good at socializing. After that trip to the Sierra Nevada everything changed for him. He became intensely social, rejuvenated, and charismatic. His health problems cleared up to a great extent. As a result he was powerfully, spiritually driven by landscape, by nature and by the notion that people could have transformative experiences with nature. That feeling he tried to evoke in certain of his pictures.

He joined the Sierra Club when he was quite young. As the Sierra Club grew and expanded he was there, from his teen years to his early adult years. As a young man he joined the board of directors, and was a key transformational figure in the expansion and growth of the conservation movement because the Sierra Club was really the driving force behind that at the time.

Do you view Adams as a political artist?
I wouldn’t say it quite that blatantly, but it is difficult for me to think of an artist that has a more purposeful, sustained, and successful impact on public policy.

How did he have an effect on public policy?
He made work from an impulse that was a piece of a burgeoning political movement: the conservation movement.

That moment in history his photographs were implicitly a political act. He took that implicit political act and he lobbied for change based on the pictures, which he often would take and show to people whom he was lobbying. He personally lobbied corporations and developers and got them to stop developing pieces of property in California. He was able to keep oil wells off of shorelines. FDR set aside Kings Canyon in the Sierra Nevada as a national park, and Adams was credited by Harold Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior under FDR, for convincing them with his photographs.

He was as key in his way as some of the people who are regarded as the major figures in the conservation movement, like John Muir and David Brower. And he was intensely involved in the Sierra Club’s internal politics and in their strategizing and lobbying efforts in Washington. In time he became one of the best-known members of the Sierra Club, and was one of the few people in the conservation movement that could get a Secretary of the Interior or the President of the United States on the phone. He personally lobbied every president from LBJ to Reagan.
A lot of people don’t believe this, but he used his pictures rather aggressively, to promote the generalized idea of the sanctity of nature by making calendars and greeting cards and coffee table books that dealt with this spiritual side of landscape. He also made several books that were deliberate public appeals toward a certain kind of public attention to saving the landscape: books like This Is the American Earth or The John Muir Trail of the Sierra Nevada.

It is really interesting to think that Ansel Adams, through much of his career, was thought of as being apolitical in a negative way. Colleagues of his, like Dorothea Lange the documentary photographer (whom he was friends with and worked closely with, developing her film for the Farm Security Administration), berated him for being too conservative or for doing commercial jobs or just being insufficiently politicized. But this is an interesting irony. Over the course of his career Adams had as great a political impact if not a greater political impact than Lange.

Do you think because his work was on the greeting cards and the calendars that it became misunderstood?
The popularization of the work, its saleability on calendars, helped establish a market place for other similar works. Now, National Geographic photographers doing landscape in color also have a market place. Therefore, I think Adams work became seen as generic and pretty over time.
On the other hand the political value of his work came from the really wide spread distribution. It’s hard to find an art-market equivalent for reaching tens of millions of people during a Christmas rush in a bookstore, when people buy that calendar, year after year. A lot of people don’t remember this, but many of those calendars were published under the auspices of the Sierra Club.

That is subtlety: to engage someone politically through a stocking-stuffer.
It’s easy to look at those purchases as a Capitalist activity, and I don’t think that’s wrong. It is just important to remember that Adams didn’t go into it without thinking about the politics of it. Adams was very interested in popularizing his ideas about the environment. At the end of the day that’s how you change things. You don’t change things by preaching to the converted. The way you really create policy in your lifetime is working to change policy. Adams did that in every imaginable, possible way. He did it in broad commercial ways and he also did it as directly as sitting across a table with Ronald Reagan, a person who angered him deeply on a personal level.

Both of these shows are traveling exhibits. How have they evolved coming here?
The Adams show is essentially 125 works drawn from the collection of Sandra and Bill Lane. We have added 9 things: a couple from our collection and some are from local collectors. Part of the subtext of the show is collecting. She encouraged me to seek out local collectors and borrow works from them if they fit so that we could call attention to collecting as a practice. In the case of Adams, the Lanes collected directly from him. They bought about 500 works in order to represent all phases of his career. During tours we are going to talk about the idea of collecting and what roll Adams plays in the collection of Photography. Adams is really the key figure in the expansion of the fine art photography marketplace. His photograph, Moon Rise, Hernandez, New Mexico, was one of the first photographs to be aggressively collected by people as an art object to hang on the walls.

There are a few new things added to the Leibovitz show. To great public acclaim, she recently did the official portrait of the queen of England. Two photos of the queen are being added to the show for the first time at the Corcoran. Because of the conjunction of the shows she has also added a photograph she made of Ansel Adams shot in 1976 for a pictorial essay she did for Rolling Stone. I asked her if she would look at her original negatives and see if there was something that might be interesting. Adams is one of her heroes as a photographer. She really liked this idea and made a print of him in his dark room in homage. We found a spot for it that is between the shows; it doesn’t fit into the narrative of her show and it is obviously not an Ansel Adams photograph.

Since Leibovitz has been photographing cultural icons for decades. Has she changed the way we perceive them?
There is no question she has had a major impact on public perception of cultural figures. Not just through her own photography but because of her influence A) on other portrait photographers and the kinds of standards other photographers have to take due to her initial success at Rolling Stone and the reinvention of that style at Vanity Fair and B) her effect on the way that cultural figures are depicted in magazines. This isn’t just photographically but the way that she has influenced the type of attention paid to cultural figures. She is by no means the only person. You could look back to Esquire magazine in the 1960s, which predates Leibovitz at Rolling Stone by several years.

Like the way George Lois was depicting people on the covers of Esquire?
Partly, but I do think of her in some ways intrinsically tied to the advent of new journalism and journalists like Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson. Annie Leibovitz tapped into that with her kind of documentary style. She also evolved a new style of single image color portraiture for the covers of Rolling Stone. In those she used humor and a certain way of evoking the public image of a person while simultaneously poking fun of that public image, which made people [feel] really connected to the subject. For example there is a great picture of Clint Eastwood trussed in rope in the middle of a dusty Western town, but wearing a Lacoste shirt; of Pete Townsend with blood streaming from his fingernails after a concert, poking fun of him giving his all for Rock and Roll; of John Belushi, an on the edge comedian, who took risks with his life, standing on the edge of a highway wearing fatigues and a fedora. Those evocations of the public perception of people are all so powerful that they have an intimacy to them.

The Leibovitz exhibition places images from her private life against how she depicts other individual’s public persona. What does this show reveal about Annie Leibovitz?
The threading together of her personal and professional work throughout the show is essentially chronological and yet, there is no explicit narrative. She has a way of making images of people that feel very intimate and therefore it’s as if you’re there through her; her eyes are your eyes. People like to imagine themselves as being connected to the movies they see and the actors that are in them or the records they listen to and the musicians who record them. I think that people crave that kind of connection.

Over time, people have been told about Annie Leibovitz. Vanity Fair has this feature where they have pictures of their contributors and little blurbs about them. For many years she has been featured in those. Occasionally they do entire stories on her photo shoots. That has evolved a kind of ready-made audience for information about her.

I also think people will be very interested to see that her life is so non-celebrity. Her partner, for many years, was Susan Sontag, and there are many pictures that show their lives together: Susan writing, their vacations together, tourist photos. The rest of them are pretty much family photos, like many of the photos we, ourselves, have in scrap books. That thread of personal imagery is quite different from the celebrity images.

How is that thread different?
There is a relationship that is not entirely comfortable between those images. As an audience you are being asked to make the connections between the people you love and the broader cultural context. Take, for example, a photograph of Jim Carrey that is part of the marketing of a movie he has coming out. What is the connection between that and the picture you might have of you with friends on a beach vacation? Photography plays a key role in connecting us, not just to the celebrities but also to the pictures you see of the people living in poverty throughout the world. You become aware that you really do connect to all of these people.

While I get the idea of being connected to all these people, I still wouldn’t think to put Jim Carrey in a family scrapbook.
An interesting part of this puzzle goes back to the early days of photographic scrapbooks. In the 19th Century the carte de visite – a French term for visiting card – was used in formal society in France, and in the United States. When photography was added to those cards they became collectibles. People might go to a house and present their cards, perhaps to a butler, so the host would know whom he was receiving. The photograph was a gift. The host would keep the photograph and put it in an album.

The carte de visite evolved. People would actually give each other photos of famous people: Abraham Lincoln, Civil War generals, PT Barnum. So, you would have a photo album at home that would have pictures of yourself, your family, the child that died as a baby – they would include post mortem photography – pictures of friends that visited and pictures of famous people. So, when you think of that context, Annie Leibovitz’s exhibition is not unprecedented.

Ansel Adams runs through January 27, 2008. Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990–2005 runs October 13, 2007 – January 13, 2008, The Corcoran Gallery of Art is located at 500 17th St. NW.

Ansel Adams, Monolith–The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1927
© 2007 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

Annie Leibovitz, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rob Besserer, Cumberland Island, Georgia, 1990, Photograph © Annie Leibovitz, From Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life, 1990–2005

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Meeting Buddha in the Road

In the month of September I had the great fortune to begin and finish a video production (with assistants Apollo Gonzales, Stephen Tringali and John Arturo). This is the piece, below.

The video was shot in nine hours over two days using a maximum of four cameras. It took about an afternoon to capture, a couple days to edit and sweeten (as best as I can sweeten), and it is currently being mas-produced (with packaging) by Duplium in Texas.

I am now finally getting around to capturing (and soon editing) a six screen video sculpture that was shot in June with seven cameras. Apparently there is a work flow option in the latest version of Final Cut Pro that will allow me to edit the six screens of the video simultaneously. I look forward to learning.

There are three or four more pieces I was hoping to get into production before the end of the year... with crossed fingers maybe that will happen. Although, with my recent luck at getting adjunct teaching gigs, I'll be happy if two make it into post production before finals are under way.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Promise to Fabian

I guess it was three weeks ago that, as a friend coined it, DCist and I "broke up." It started with a critique I wrote about the most recent show at Meat Market. My review was received (by an editor) as condescending and academic. I was asked to do a rewrite.

This reception hinged on my start: mentioning both artists are/were students at the Corcoran. When the editor retorted something along the lines of, "you act like you are the first person to look at a student show," I knew I had to correct the beginning - somehow. It is not a student show. It just happens to be a show with one current student at the Corcoran and one former.

To rewrite, I looked at the press release to give me a starting point. No good - it was actually some diatribe on how people look at art (at least, that's what I think it was about). After eight hours of unsuccessful rewriting, I decided priorities took precedent: grading papers, projects, and finishing a grant. I informed DCist I did not care if the article was published - I would rather focus my efforts on things I get paid to do. Let's face it, when you spend 60 hours a week scraping together a 30K "living," there are more important things to do than kowtow to claims of condescending and academic. The next day I was divorced from their list serve, thanked for my time, and then informed we were parting company. For the best: more time to make art.

Here is the Meat Market review from early this month, sans rewrite. My last piece never published for DCist.

The recent exhibition, conscious inaction, at Meat Market, might have all the problems one would want or expect strong undergraduate students to have: high polish, remarkable craft, forced irony, and maybe a touch too much effort to be banal. These are not bad things to have and can likely be expected of the conscientious art student that has one eye looking back at the 20th Century in a history book while the other eye gropes at the 21st Century through glossy magazines.

Benjamin Jurgensen’s sculptures of discarded junk and ordinary objects are gathered in groups and evenly spaced throughout the front half of the gallery. In the corner is a car door with fire extinguishers and a forest of air-fresheners. Next to it is the frame of a large tricycle on bricks and cinderblocks. Painted many times over in latex paint, with a reduced palette of 6 colors, the work appears to be made of plastic. The general idea is for the juxtaposition of elements to force new narratives. But, those narratives are no more interesting than the rubbish thrown out to the curb by the average urban dweller. It is not to say the sculptures are not fun. There is something compelling about the diligence and craft of an individual willing to carve a folding chair and stanchion out of medium density fiberboard and wood.

In the back gallery are the photographs of Paul Jeffreys exploring the predatory identity of masculinity in two environments. One environment documents the directly conquered taxidermy displays of heads and carcasses within a hunting trophy room. The other, an empty strip club, explores the environment of pseudo-sexual domination. Both traipse through the fantasy of machismo. Hunting excursions via game farming and hunting pens are on the incline. And just how elevated can the male libido get when his sexual prey is dancing on a stage fit for the price of admission? The game he can kill but not eat; the dame he can view but not touch. Greed and insecurity gets the better of guys in both instances, and the end result is the sum of shortcomings rather than the actualization of being a man. The images are enough to roll your eyes over, and what a mockery we might make of a sex that can’t hit the inside of a urinal in a public bathroom.

With this exhibition, what is of greater interest is potential. What are these two capable of creating a couple years outside of the womb of the Corcoran, having kicked loose the opiates of academia? With conscious inaction the two artists are true to the title. But every conscious inaction has an unconscious reaction.

conscious inaction is on display at Meat Market, 1636 17th Street NW, through September 30. Opening Reception: Friday, September 7, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Things Learned at the National Gallery

I'm bored of Hopper. The exhibition is pleasant, but how many paintings of a building can a person see?

Ben Stein is taller than I imagined. He was wandering around the exhibition: suit, pink shirt, tennis shoes.

There are some pieces on exhibition that have a telephone number next to them - audio tours visitors can access with their cell phones. Granted, they haven't told the guards this. I looked at Richard Serra, dialed the number, walked away and got told by two guards to get off the phone.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Kid Collectors

On Friday, September 14, the Wall Street Journal had an article on young art collectors: kids. I suppose since the bottom dropped out of baseball cards earlier in the decade this makes a bit of sense. Why drop several thousand dollars cumulatively over the course of adolescence when it can be done in one big purchase that likely won't devalue like Donruss.

Here are the best quotes.
"So far, Dakota (9) says she has focused her 40-piece collection on works featuring animals and "happy colors" such as pink and yellow. An early buy, hanging above her tea-party table, is an Andy Warhol panda from his 1983 series on endangered species. Her dealer spotted it at a gallery in Los Angeles. "Panda is darling and chubby and cute, and at night he protects me," Dakota says."
"Children tend to focus on art that mirrors their interests, which is why animals are a popular theme, as are flowers, cars, graffiti, and the cartoon-like characters found in works by Takashi Murakami and Yoshimoto Nara. For the most part, young children sidestep art containing nudity, extreme violence or irony, dealers say."
Oddly, both quotes kind of mirror the preferences of adults. The creme della creme is this one:
"And Taylor Houghton says his friends are often tempted to break into his Jan Albers wall art, which consists of real candy bars lined up behind plexiglass. "I have to remind them the candy was made, like, eight years ago," he says. "Nobody likes old candy.""
Tell that to the kids in the late 1980s chipping teeth on old sticks of gum found in Topps wax packs from the 1970s.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Insight: Ansel Adams at the Corcoran

I am no longer with DCist, so I guess my insight goes here.

From the first images of the Ansel Adams exhibition at The Corcoran there is a rush of nostalgia. I wonder if there is any child or any art student in the country, or perhaps the world, that has not looked at an Ansel Adams photo and been inspired to do the same. He didn't invent the landscape, the photograph, or the photograph of the landscape, but he may as well have. Every photograph of every tree from my youth, every mountainous vista I crossed, every detail of leaf or bark or petal that I felt so quick to snap as a child points its influence to him.

But this is not about Ansel Adams, or the Corcoran.

While I have walked through several collections of photographs in the past (MoMA, SF MoMA, Getty, Walker, AIC, etc) I cannot recall if I have ever seen an Ansel Adams print, which is ironic because of their iconic nature. Of course, that iconic nature stems from how we access them today: coffee table books, day calendars, and posters in dorm rooms or resting on fire place mantels. To physically see one is a different experience.

My wife, Gretchen, and I were invited to a preview of the exhibition this evening, and as with other Corcoran openings, it was a delightful event (thanks, Paul). We paced through the individual galleries with the dozens of other attendants pausing, reflecting, looking, discussing and staring.

The word grandeur came to mind. I also thought they were smaller than I imagined. There was an intimacy within every photo, in part because of size. But, the intimacy was also due to content. Paul Roth, curator of media art and photography at the Corcoran, and I talked last week about Adams and Liebowitz. He talked in explicit detail about the sense of spirituality conveyed within each Adams photo. A communion with nature that he wanted to convey with every photograph. The epiphany. The conversion.

And it is all there in every image. But, about halfway through the gallery it is impossible not to feel overwhelmed. While the intimacy is there in every photograph, it is difficult to sustain that through all 134 images amongst a crowd of strangers.

This is not a fault of The Corcoran, or of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (who organized the show) for that matter. With the commercial distribution of Adams, the near ubiquity and recollection of his work - through reproductions - the one thing that ends up missing from the entire gallery experience is the living room: the solitude of a chair with big arms giving a front row seat to the stoic beauty of Monolith, Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1927 (above). It is that association, that context, that needs to be checked at the door with coat and hat.

A Smashing Experience

For the past couple of weeks I have been in the production phase of a video art piece. The above is the climax of the work, though likely not the final video edit of the climax. Four cameras were used for this scene. While no animals were harmed in the making of the production, the television wasn't so lucky.

Production assistants are Apollo Gonzales, Steven Tringali and John Arturo. The video is funded in part by a grant from the DCCAH.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Odds and Ends

All four lanes of the Rock Creek Parkway head toward the Kennedy Center during morning rush. Convenient, but confusing the first time.

When I returned to the Kennedy Center to leave GWU yesterday the wonderful smell of burning cedar greeted me before I hit the parking garage. I steady stream of smoke was rising from a location near the steps up to the Kennedy Center. I walked past, thinking nothing of it, but Midwestern sensibility got the better of me - that wasn't normal. I turned around and noticed a little flame peeking above the ivy in the landscaping, and kicked the flame. I guess I did learn something in Boy Scouts after all.

Lenny published an interview I had with Adrian Parsons about his circumcision performance at The Warehouse in April. Initially it was proposed to DCist. However, since parsons used to contribute to DCist, they opted against publishing it. So it goes.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Losing Hair over GW

The joyous thing about working as an adjunct faculty member at numerous institutions is sifting through the bureaucracy, or as I like to call it, bureaucrazy - because it is poorly designed and makes you crazy.

To access an ID number, at George Washington University, one site says
"Go to this URL and enter this personal information."

Once at that URL and after entering that personal information, the response received is
"We no longer accept your personalized information. Please enter your ID number."

There is a number to call for help. At that number, callers are directed to call another number. The second phone number leads to an answering machine that repeats the information found on the URL.

At an institution where the incoming freshman class is paying $50,000/yr, one might hope they had this sorted out. Apparently Major Major is a live and well and working at GW. You can make an appointment to see him when he's not in.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Interview with John Hanhardt

About two weeks ago I met with John G. Hanhardt in his office at the Sithsonian American Art Museum to talk about his career, what brought him to DC, and issues in new media. It was the longest interview I have conducted to date and it took hours to transcribe.

About half of it appeared on DCist today. The other half fell onto the cutting room floor.

So much gets said in the course of an interview that distilling it to the essence of the discussion and maintaining the integrity of what was meant is a challenge - a worthy problem to solve.

The imperfection of the questioner can be eliminated. I asked this lemon of a question about concerning energy conservation and the use of new media. Any person who has seen a Nam June Paik television piece knows it is on for many hours and can involve several hundred television monitors. How much energy does that consume? Perhaps no more than a Radio Shack.

In a very long and winding discourse, part of which sought to find the essence of the question, this nugget can be removed from the answer.
Artists are always concerned about concerving technology because they want to preserve their work. And artists are not generating enormous bodies of work [that consume a lot of energy] in any case. So, I find it a higly efficient use of technology as opposed to where it is all brought into an office and gotten rid of and dumped [a couple years later for newer models].
Additionally, there is an issue of grammar. The slip of the tongue, in the last several decades (at least since political correctness took over, but maybe even historically) is to dumb down the plurality of pronouns, such as they and them, into singular pronouns describing a viewer, or an artist, or a person. It happens during interviews heard on NPR, CNN, Fox, and so forth. When transcribing such an occurance into print it can evaporate. Grammar can take over.

I've been talking with a couple of other curators recently that I hope to publish in a couple of months or so. I still feel like I need more material. Part of the Hanhardt interview will fall in there (not published on DCist).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Top 11 Most Influential in the Arts in DC

Today DCist published a list of most influential people in the District in response to a GQ article of 50 most powerful people in DC. Power aside, the question was shot out to the DCist bloggers today and some of us (me) got to it too late and with too few suggestions to back up the arts side. So, below are the 11 most influential arts sources, for better or for worse, past and present, that I could think of before I need to get back to real work.

Artomatic: for providing an outlet for anyone who thinks he's is an artist to have an opportunity to show of his talents (or lack there of).

Lenny Campello: Since late 2003 he has written between four and ten posts on his blog, nearly every day, about upcoming events in the DC Arts scene. His influence doesn't encourage a style or trend, it encourages involvement on any level within the greater DC arts community: from attendance of art events to kindling the interests of artists and gallerists to get on TypePad, Blogger, or Movable Type and plug away about anything and everything.

DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities: provides a financial resource to arts of such grand variety (even mime has its own numeric code) that, while it may not be capable of sustaining artists, it is capable of sustaining many projects that benefit the community.

Alice Denney: From the Jefferson Place Gallery to the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, The 1964 Venice Biennale to the Washington Project for the Arts, in her hey-day she brought introduced the District to Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, Pop and Performance Art, and helped iron out a solution for that sticky Mapplethorpe mess a couple decades ago.

Giorgio Furioso: his building at 1515 Arts Space on 14th Street, helped fuel the lane between N and U streets, NW, into a destination.

Blake Gopnik and the Washington Post: The combined effort (of the Post to no longer be the paper of record and of Gopnik for reporting on arts events in NYC and Europe) have done what they can to keep DC arts wallowing to get out of the dark.

Lyndon B. Johnson: The creation of the National Endowment for the Arts during his administration gave artists a chance to sustain a livelihood and production. Inflated into a bureaucracy under Nixon (and Carter), the Endowment has catapulted some of the biggest and most treasured names in American art from the last half century AND gave legitimacy to Jessie Helms' need to carry pornographic pictures in his pocket (in supposed protest of who the NEA funded... I think we can guess the truth of what Uncle Jessie was really doing when reporters were not around).

Cy Katzen: His multi-million dollar contribution to American University has produced an arts center dedicated to his name which includes an additional gallery space for residents north of Glover Park to visit (apart from the Finnish Embassy).

Lawrence M. Small: his mismanagement of funds at the Smithsonian was so bad even the mannequins of the Air and Space Museum are losing hair over it.

Street Artists: While we may get tired of the likes of Storker and Borf, and their wannabe knock-offs, their events and tags give us a moment to reconsider the function of art and our civic space, no matter how repetitive.

Washington Color School: What was hardly a school has become the one art “movement” DC has latched onto so tightly so much so that this summer began with a region-wide retrospective of work that ranged from interesting to pattern and had Ken Noland up in New York questioning what all the scuttlebutt was about.

Of course... by mentioning anyone from the past, or even the contribution of Cy Katzen, it would be necessary to at least note the contributions of the likes of William Wilson Corcoran, Joseph H. Hirshhorn, and Duncan Phillips.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Two More Posts on DCist

Between teaching and freelance graphic design, this is what I do for fun.

You aren't as green as you are cabbage-looking

Interview with Paul So, Founder of The Hamiltonian.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Know Your Audience

Yesterday another of my reviews was placed on DCist, this time reviewing the recent exhibition, Transform/Nation at the Ellipse Arts Center.

There are two things I try to do within my writing: 1) give a broader context for the work or highlight the social issues it may contend with. 2) implant a touch of humor. After all, if art is just about the subject void of context, or about color and movement and composition, reading art reviews is a little dry. Unfortunately, both of my objectives were removed from my post yesterday with the final edit.

One section of the review was a 183 word summary on the political changes in Iran over the last century and how it informs contemporary Iranian identity. Interesting stuff, and if you are interested in engaging it for yourself you can go here or here. The 183 words were cut because 1) it wasn't necessary with relationship to the show, 2) people in DC are aware of the history, 3) it's a blog -- people like to read short things. All three reasons I can agree with. However, what could it hurt?

I had this great line about Hijab that I wanted to keep. Backend: Part of the review dealt with Hijab in Western culture. While Hijab is a practice of modesty through dress, there is also a garment called a hijab that is worn around the neck and head, exposing only the face. For those who have paid attention to the news in the last couple of years, there have been movements in some European countries to ban the wearing of a hijab in public schools, which is ridiculous. So, I wrote this:
For a woman who chooses to faithfully practice Islam in the west, abandoning Hijab for the fashions of Sports Illustrated swimsuits may be as anathema as abandoning Halal to wash down a pork-chop with a beer. (Would we ask Amish women to remove their bonnets or adopt electricity?)
How often do pork chops and beer make it into an art review? To go along with the statement I was going to include the above image from Haleh Anvari's Chadorama (courtesy Ellipse Arts Center).

Heather and Sommer (at DCist) do a fine job with how they edit my posts and they manage to maintain my voice, which is incredible because at times there are significant changes. I am pleased to be under their guidance and a contributer to the blog. But, yesterday, after my most recent post was put up, it almost felt like I wrote it. I guess I need to get to know my audience and my editors a little better so that I can satisfy DCists editorial process and my writing interests. It's a learning process.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Recent post on DCist

Yesterday was a fairly kind day. My most recent arts-post went up on DCist (Addison/Ripley) and got a thumbs up from James W. Bailey and Lenny Campello.

Frankly, I think the editors did it more justice than I. They have the eye to move things around and make it flow with better grace. They've been doing it longer. So, kudos to Heather and Sommer.

Now, if I could only manage to use the following correctly: burrow, borough, borrow, burro, burrito, Borghese.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Things Present Things Past

Geez. I've been bad with this toy. About three weeks ago I submitted the following article (later than I wanted) to my editor at DCist and it was eventually rejected (because it was too late). So here it was,... a review of the last show at Glenview Mansion...

As a note, my latest review of the exhibition at the Sackler can be found here.

Currently, on display at the Glenview Mansion Art Gallery in Rockville, Maryland are the works of three artists: Michael Baltzer, Margaret Paris, and Lisa Aerianna Tayerle.

The Glenview Mansion Art Gallery, in casual discussion, is an often forgotten or unknown arts place – known to some in Rockville, but more obscure to those living south of the Beltway. This is probably due to the complications of finding the venue off of I-270, after the 4A Exit, past Viers Mill Road, resting on the corner of Edmonston Drive and Baltimore Road. It is a sprawling 150 acre estate, run by the city, and nestled amid a bumper crop of post World War II housing. In the evenings it is not uncommon to see deer wandering about nibbling on clover. Unless a person lives in the neighborhood, it is not a destination a anyone might think to go out of the way to see. However, every four weeks there is something new as the Mansion has a steady rotation of two and three person exhibitions for (nearly) each month of the year.

Greeting the visitor up the stairs and in the hall is the work of Michael Baltzer whose mixture of paint on various layers of Plexi-glass teeters on the line between grotesque and eloquent. The work could be labeled as sloppy or highly methodical. They are not pretty, nor do they aim to be. The paints drip and flow, puckered and piled like pustules. Melted plastic and acrylic clings like flesh to the surface of its support. Compositions are overlapped to exercise the property of transparency, punctured with rods and nails, sewn and sutured together, or held by industrial staples. Medical tubing peaks out from some. The major impetus for this work stems from a relationship with the body. If that association is overlooked in his handling of paint, the astute observer will at least notice the illustrations from old medical texts that are used as the ground for some of the paintings.

The works of lesser strength by Lisa Aerianna Tayerle are the many small drawings throughout the gallery. They encounter a number of problems, some stemming from a sense of preciousness. Most of their compositions are static with objects and illustrations placed in a manner that nullifies their potential dynamism. Some colors are muddied or arbitrary. Granted, this is not true for all of them, and they are the ones marked with little red dots. Where the drawings have strength is as food for thought – a sandbox for exercise and moving ideas around until they form monumental castles: her altarpieces. Here, the preciousness works to her advantage in her reliquaries and shrines to nature’s objects. The hinged boxes contain wonderful illustrations and gold leafing, echoing Catholicism, for the worship of the custodians of fertility, decomposition and inertia: bees, tiny rodents, and corals – the creatures that hold nature in the balance. And it seems that preciousness is befitting for these subjects. With a population of bees on the decline, the price of corn is not only going to be affected by its use as biofuel, but by its scarcity in Midwestern fields.

The Polaroid transfers of Margaret Paris – consisting of sepia toned images of the Florida Everglades – are nothing spectacular, but they are pleasant and easy to live with. Branches and grasses weave together in abstract geometries much like any glade. Each photograph, roughly 5” x 6.5” inches in size, possess the intimacy of a family snapshot: a work to be viewed on a leisurely stroll from the den to the kitchen. Still, without this work, the thematic context of these three artists assembled together would not feel as apparent. Paris’ directness is counter to Baltzer’s subjectivity.

Exhibited together, they give a sense of faculty and awareness of interior and exterior environment, and on a subtle level question what is sacred and profane. This is something our politicians have backwards as they discuss about God rather than environment in their pre-election debates, a discussion better left to Mullahs and Cardinals than legislators. Such an argument is an abase profanity in the presence of code orange afternoons and corporate-sponsored fast-food school lunches. This is not to confuse the art for the argument; that would be conjecture. But, seeing as how art can function for critical commentary, it would seem that if it is not the position of the artists it is the position of the jury to place these three artists together and create a form of dialog that illustrates the fragility of the body and the world it inhabits.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Wednesday I had the opportunity to experience the Press Preview Day at The Arthur M. Sackler for DCist. Sackler's new exhibition, opening the 24th, is entitled Encompassing the Globe, Portugal and the World of the 16th and 17th Centuries (tune into DCist for the full report).

I'd never been to a Press Preview Day, and this was certainly overwhelming. Any event where there are a lot of people and general confusion, I get a little skittish. Regardless, I had a wonderful time and walked away feeling smarter - one of the signs of a great show.

The first hour or so was a brief introduction of the major players who brought the exhibition together, and a lot of thanks were extended to the major financial donors and object lenders
who are making this exhibition possible. There was some mention about the content of the work being viewed (I did manage 3 pages of notes) and how the exhibition was divided.

But, the most entertaining thing of all: the cell phones. I don't know if it is because I have Sprint, but I seldom can get reception if I am wrapped too tightly in a cocoon of cheese cloth (no, it's not a hobby). So, how the bulk of Portuguese in attendance were able to get cellular reception is beyond me, let alone calls. And there were many. When one of the Ministers from Portugal was speaking there were unanswered telephone calls galore followed by a chorus of individuals, trying to be discrete, quickly lowering their ring-tones to vibrate. Eyes were audibly rolling. I simply exhaled a giggle through my nose.

The other thing I couldn't understand were all the photographs. This is simply from an aesthetic observation. How important is it to take a picture of any person standing in front of a Power Point Presentation? Later on, museum assistants were telling camera crews that their lights were too bright for the objects on display. Good times.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Recent Work

The above work might be going into a show at Re'Frame It - A People's Gallery (2015 Lord Baltimore Driv) in Baltimore at the end of the month, along with some other pieces. And, by might, I mean if I don't go back into it this weekend. This coincides with my involvement in the Strictly Painting show in McLean, VA - also at the end of the month.

Considering much of what I did through graduate school involved collage, this work is a bit of a shift. However, I was doing this work too, secretly, in a closet. Fortunately, since DC is in a panic of color school stuff, I can bring them out of hiding, make a few more, and maybe get them out of my system. But I don't think I want to.

Background: my first year of graduate school I knew nothing about the "Washington Color School." This is ironic because I was attending American University at the time. However, I was enrolled in the (now defunct) Italy program. Italy is not DC, though much of the driving style is the same.

I'm from an industrial town on the Mississippi River. The only color there is the color of John Deere and the leaves when they turn in October. Otherwise, it's kinda grey. Alcoa. Case. The Arsenal. Even the river is called the Muddy Mississip. Then I moved to Italy. Color everywhere. Beautiful stucco. It had an effect. I spent part of my summer at the Vermont Studio Center doing this kind of work.

Did I know anything about WCS in Iowa? No. Did I know anything about WCS in Vermont? No. I knew Rothko and Frankenthaler. I didn't even know the names Morris Louis or Ken Noland until I came here. There are about thirty people in Iowa who know about them... they're called art professors. As for Gene Davis? He draws that cartoon, right? That cat's real funny! Creepy though, how they all have the same ey...what?

Oh! That's Jim Davis? Uhm...

Never mind.

When I write pigment on canvas, that's what it is. There is no painting involved. I won't go into detail about how it is painted. And, despite the chaotic method in which they are painted, I don't dwel on the ideas of order and disorder. I think about the pigment like a pixel. It's enough to get a graduate student worked up into a lather about this stuff, but look upon it like a hobby. Strange to think that my hobby away from making art is making art.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Artomatic Pitfalls

Yesterday I meandered through the offices of Artomatic, and walked away exhausted. There is too much to take in at one time. And, by too much, I mean there is a lot of crap. For all intended purposes, I'll count my stuff amongst that kitty. I count a lot of colleagues and friends among the kitty of crap, and they have great work.

When it comes down to it, part of what can make Artomatic successful is presentation. But, in a building that is being rehabilitated, it's going to be difficult. Things that should be considered are the following.

Spend money on a couple of gallons of paint:
The walls are most likely going to be beat up. Get some real Spackle (maybe invest in 20 minute... but not that chintzy stuff that's like cake frosting) and some tape. Sand and paint. Sand and paint again. Even those that did a lousy job still managed to make a warmer environment. In some cases, the wall painting was better than the art ON the wall.

Less is more:
Curate your room. Don't throw in the kitchen sink. Unless the kitchen sink is your piece.

Of course, it is impossible to escape that this Artomatic is in an old government office building that is built like an oppressive maze. Since it is an old office building, the ubiquitous florescent lighting is everywhere, and for many pieces it isn't helping.

But I think what took away from the work the most was the carpet. There was this peripheral thing that kept irritating me in many of the rooms while looking at work that was decent and it was this drab carpet that was bugging me. There were a couple of exhibitors that tried their best by putting in Afghan rugs. No matter how much lipstick you put on a pig it is still a pig. Which is to say, that if that was your studio it didn't help - nor did the waterfalls, inspirational music or incense.

Artomatic is a necessary evil. What other opportunity is there for a whole bunch of artists to buy a space and show off or possibly sell their goods? It gives exposure for some of the hopeful, and a chance to have some fun for others. Maybe it is an opportunity to even be taken seriously.

The organization needs a little tweaking. Specifically, there are three realms that would seem appropriate for people when applying for a space.

1) The Sunday Painters: This is for those who spend about a couple of hours a week moving paint around a canvas to make pretty objects. These are the people who paint from photographs of their friends and postcards of landscapes.

2) Gallery Hopefulls: Those recent MFA grads and dedicated artists who just want a nod from any of the dozens of galleries in and around the area to maybe get in a group show or have a solo in the next year or two.

3) Lab Rats: Those who want to treat Artomatic as a laboratory for trying or displaying conceptual practices involved with or related to the plastic and performing arts. A chance to try something different. A chance to see who the Bob Irwin, Bruce Nauman, Lorna Simpson, or Judy Pfaff of DC is.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Multimediale Commercial Bloopers

When shooting a one minute commercial over the course of an hour (of footage), there are bound to be scraps that are not bad enough for the cutting room floor. Things that are inherently funny to the context of the piece. The above footage is a compilation of such footage.

To say the least, since we shot this footage over the course of four hours and covered about five or six miles walking around the various locations, Niels got a little nutty at times. And so, it is preserved here in the mediated remains of digital video.

Friday, May 11, 2007

DCist part Deux

Review Number Two at DCist

It has been an interesting exchange of late. This post went through four revisions. Four. I was given a reminder that I need to be less academic with my writing and to cater to the DCist audience because DCist is not an arts journal. That's a good thing to keep in mind. I guess this means I need to be a little less academic and a little more crass. I like crass, because, afterall, you can't spell crass without cr.

Update 05/13
I noticed yesterday, when I was browsing the DCist site, that the thumbnail of Wondimu's work has all of these faces within it. Genius! (both descriptor of the work and sarcasm regarding my post) If any of you have been to the ramp gallery at McLean Project for the Arts, it is exactly that: a ramp designed for gradual escalation, for wheel-chaired and elderly individuals, wrapping up into the atrium and gallery spaces. Picture a wide hallway with a switchback; in short, there is not a lot of room to step back and admire work. Which is why the faces went unnoticed in my critique. The thumbnail, which is only several inches in width, represents a painting that is between 15 and 25 feet in width. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Odds of winning: fifty – fifty.

I used to say this a lot when I was a carpenter’s assistant shortly after finishing my MFA. At first it drove the foreman bonkers because the statement denies larger calculable factors of winning which some people call statistics. But, really, when you get down to it, you either win or you don’t. And, as Mike Pace of the Iowa Lottery used to say, “you can’t win if you don’t play.”

Yesterday I came home to discover a manila envelope sitting in my mailbox, which can only mean one thing: returned work from a juried art show submission. Inside were four slides. That’s it. No letter. I had to look at the slides to figure out from which jury I was getting my SASE. Thanks, Trawick.

This morning I learned which regional artists were selected for the Trawick Prize courtesy of dcartnews, and noticed my name not among them; this might be what my cryptic slide-return indicated. And, really, that’s not a problem. I entered this year as a last-ditch effort for the young artist award. Even though the statistics were more favorable of winning, my loss would have been better invested in a lotto ticket, which also has a better rate of return.

On the other hand, my work was accepted to Strictly Painting in McLean, unless there was a typo on the MPA website.

Seriously, if I can find all this stuff out online, instead of through SASE, what good is the post office?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Spring Solos 2007 @ Arlington Arts Center

You can check out my post over at DCist
on the subject.

Up on deck:
Interview with Adrian Parsons on his recent performance at The Warehouse Gallery.
Video walk through of Artomatic with Lenny
More reviews for DCist

And grading. Lots of grading. Three classes end at GMU, one class at AU. This means I have a couple hundred papers to finish reading before next week, and about 90 student websites respectively.

Time to brew some coffee.

Updates 5/10/2007:
The Parsons thing never happened because he never got back to me on my questions. Bloggers... he's probably busy healing. Shame. I thought it could be an interesting interview. And I was only going to poke a tiny bit of fun at him because, afterall, he did circumcise himself in front of people with a pocket knife. It was the pocket knife that got me.

Lenny hasn't gotten back to me either. I'm guessing that project is dead. Another time.

Woo's comment in response to the above article is awesome!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Stenvall - Finnish Embassy

Below is a rejected submission to DCist. They thought it was too serious for a show about paintings of Donald Duck. Which is kind of my point. There are enough frivolous things in the world; why should paintings also be? Isn't the Washington Color School enough? Not that painting (or art) should (always) be serious. But, I'm guessing these duck paintings are the equivalent of Sanjaya.

Okay... they aren't that bad. You get my drift.

The banner hanging at the Finnish Embassy depicts what Kaj Stenvall’s website labels as a “very familiar duck,” and is, indeed, a direct representation of Donald Duck. The duck is seen seated in a chair overlooking the water, a brown libation in his hand. The Finnish Embassy so often exhibits the work of Modern Architecture typical of Scandinavia, with an emphasis on wood and curved forms. Such exhibits are reminiscent of the giants Alvar Aalto or Eliel and Eero Saarinen (Eero’s work can be seen in the St. Louis Arch and Dulles International Airport). So, it’s not out of line to say that this duck, this iconic symbol of American kitsch since the mid 1930s, seemed out of place.

Birdhouse, the title of the exhibit, consists of over 30 small and medium sized oil paintings by Kaj Stenvall. Created over the course of the last ten years, these wonderfully drawn but thinly painted illustrations take the figure of Donald Duck into a series of anecdotes with reminiscent tones of Hopper, Magritte, or Whistler. They capture the duck bathing, swaddled in bed linens, and urinating from the passenger side of a classic automobile. The paintings touch on the surreal: his head stored in a bell jar or constructed from the petals of a flower. Then there are the witty strains of puns masquerading as irony: the duck as a Roman Catholic Cardinal, or the duck as a swan. All of these have a dose of allegory, but not in the Classical sense where Pagan mythological themes stand in line for Catholic virtues. Instead, their allegory is the rich history of previously painted subjects within art’s cannon: art about art.

This is, perhaps, what the catalogue alludes to when it suggests that the paintings are, "jumping off points… to draw the viewer deep inside." But, at best, this is a farce. Because, if it is art about art, then it would give us greater information on still life, or portraiture, or a reflection on contemporary culture. His best bet on the later is the mixed identity of the duck. It ages between youth and the elderly. It stands in for male and female figures. And, periodically, the duck has had its white down replaced with black. But, so what? If it is an effort to interpret human emotions, why not simply use humans?

The above applies to only some of the paintings. The rest are insipid replacements for sappy inspirational posters that middle management might hang in the office above the photocopier to encourage the lower staff to "go the distance." It is the only appropriate analogy to be made of a duck ballerina dancing on the beach at sunset. But, if all you need on an afternoon out is an opportunity to get away from all the color field stuff that is rampant throughout the District, this may be the place. The paintings do serve as a wonderful laugh even if they are, at best, one-liners.

Birdhouse runs through May 13th at the Embassy of Finland, 3301 Massachusetts Avenue, NW.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Gestalt Newsstands Hit the Street

On April 16th, between 3:30 and 5:00, two newsstands for Gestalt hit the street in conjunction with Multimediale. The contents of the periodical consist of interviews with the artists involved in the event and discussions about the significance of individual works and the exhibition as a whole. One newsstand will be placed in the gallery throughout the duration of the exhibition and the other shall remain on the street. After April 23rd, they will no longer exist in the public sphere.

The process for putting them there has not been easy. Earlier I reported how I went through a circle of bureaucracy to determine with whom I should speak regarding the placement of the newsstands. This circle began and ended with Jose Colon.

I finally got a hold of Matthew Marcou of the Department of Transportation (DOT), in early February, and he was very prompt, helpful and receptive to at least determine with which agency within the DC government I was supposed to speak. And, indeed, it was in the jurisdiction of Sam Williams. I no longer remember why I had to speak with the DOT. It probably had something to do with the intention to place the newsstand near the Dupont Circle Metro stop. In the crazy circle of DC politics, for some reason it made sense at the time.

When I first spoke with Mr. Williams it was in early March. Apparently his phone had been broken throughout the month of February. (And, possibly his e-mail, too). He said I should just get permission from the ANC (Which stands for Advisory Neighborhood Commission, I would later learn. ANC 2B to be precise - he never said which one, or what ANC meant.) But, since he wasn't certain with whom in the ANC I should speak, he thought it best to speak with Ed Grandis of Dupont Circle Merchants and Professionals Association (DC MAP). DC MAP acts like an advisory board with no real say on anything in Dupont Circle. But, Mr. Williams assured me, that if the ANC did not approve of the newsstands that I could then apply for a permit to the tune of fifty cents.

Mr. Grandis is a lawyer and was very cut and dry when we spoke in the early part of mid March. He informed me the ANC meets once a month. And, to get on the itinerary I had to contact them one week prior to their meeting. Mr. Grandis and I spoke six days before the ANC meeting, and the itinerary had already been set. We did not speak again until after the ANC met. The newsstands were not on the itinerary and he advised me to contact them.

Them is a void. An e-mail that was never returned, to an inbox I gather is seldom checked. Them consist of nine names and six phone numbers. Since I am teaching five classes this semester between three schools, and was prepping for two shows, I decide to sidestep a phone call. Phone calls that, from my experience with Mr. Williams, never get returned.

I called Mr. Williams and, after several messages, got a hold of him in the beginning of April. I asked to proceed with the permit process. He said they were done selling permits this year - that they had finished selling permits in the beginning of March (incidentally, before I spoke with him in the beginning of March). But, I should go ahead and put them outside anyway. He suspected there would be little concern raised over the newsstands.

We shall see.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Multimediale Commericals

My Video

My Student, Apollo Gonzales' Video

Refract, Reflect, Project

Were I to be the type to indicate my top ten favorite shows at the end of a blogging season I can declare with certainty that number one has come and gone. Refract, Reflect, Project: Light Works from the Collection at the Hirshhorn Museum ended its exhibition on April 8.

While there were several pieces that might otherwise be declared lemons, concepts that fell apart both aesthetically and conceptually, there were three pieces that compensated for anything else that faltered.

Olafur Eliasson Round Rainbow; Robert Irwin, Untitled; and James Turrell, Milk Run.

The first time I encountered Eliasson's work was at the 2003 Venice Biennale where an incarnation of Room for One Color was being exhibited. Simply described, it is a room of such intense yellow lighting that optically cancels out all color within the space. Passers by glimpse into a yellow space where the occupants are blanched of color, reduced to a grey-scale. Occupants within the space capable of looking out of their yellow shroud notice the world still passes them by, filled with color. It is more than an effect on the rods and cones of the eye, it is also visible in 35mm and digital photography.

Round Rainbow is much less shocking, but is certainly meditative. Rotating slowly from the ceiling above, an acrylic disc arcs intense white light like a prism onto the surrounding walls. It is from both the deprivation of light as much as it is from the rotating rainbow of colors that is soothing. The piece, while easy to figure out, none-the-less is admirable for its capactiy to splinter the spectrum.

Robert Irwin's Untitled has this quiet intensity that at first is so casual that people pass it by with the assumption to not give it a second thought. But, the work is capable of doing something to the eye, even in periffery. It's ability to dissolve, both the piece and the wall behind it, is the captivating force that inspires a second glance. If the eye focuses on it too long, at the proper distance, the only other thing it inspires is vertigo. What is lost, thanks to the grey band that stretches across the middle, is comprehending where the piece ends and the shadows begin. Or, if there is even a piece there at all.

Turrell and Irwin both participated in light deprivation experiments early in their artistic careers, and the effects have been most vivid in Turrell's installations. Intended for just a few people at a time, he has been quoted as saying that his pieces should "become a record of how you see, so that you see yourself seeing." As critic Robert Hughes has emphasized in the text and video American Visions, "Turrell's work doesn't happen in front of your eyes, it happens behind them." While he has several dozn pieces with the title Milk Run, the particular piece that was deinstalled at the Hirshhorn was the essence of light deprivation, with a single beam of yellow, red and blue light emitted from a crevice in the wall. Opposed to the multiple images you may find on Google Images with the same title, The Hirshhorn's Milk Run's lack of light transformed the materiality of the room, expanding the walls infinitely beyond their natural boundary. This caused the visitor to constantly clutch for the wall, often grasping nothing. Those visiting on weekends to the space would tread with caution, careful not to bump into another person as they tip-toed through the space. Those who visited during the weekdays would tread with caution, convinced the floor no longer existed.

Though the three examples above could be reduced to smoke and mirrors, what part of art isn't? The Renaissance Window we so conveniently recognize as painting today was bound to astound the first viewers of its convention in the Renaissance. We know the figures of the frescoes in Italy are painted, but what is difficult to determine still is where the real architecture ends and the painted architecture begins. The great difference is that the Renaissance Fresco is an image, and its careful execution is the dependent factor of its success or failure. While the three works of art mentioned above still deal with issues of perception, they do not deal with an image.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Mr. Smith Would Hate Washington

At this time last week I was discussing intimate details with two congressional staffers about their occupations and freshman boss (from a state that shall remain unnamed).

It's a little creepy. The truth.

They were exhausted from a day on The Hill when roughly 70 amendments were made to a spending bill. To paraphrase their paraphrase, it went something like this: Republicans would get up and say, "let's cut (insert name) taxes." Then it would be voted down. Democrats would get up and say, "let's find a way to fund (insert cause)." Then it would be voted down.

The other impressive thing they've noticed is in two parts. The first is the alarming absence of any senator on the senate floor during "the speeches." Seriously, watch CSPAN some time, you'll see what I mean. They are never there. Where are they? Meeting with constituents and lobbyists and attending committee and sub-committee hearings. Two, and no big shock, they don't write their own speeches. They are written by twenty-somethings who paw through old speeches and pull quotes. At least, hat is what this twenty-something told me, who spent the better part of the day pawing through old speeches and pulling quotes. What I found more interesting is that the senator (maybe it was a congressman) didn't even see the speech until 15 minutes before curtain. Strange.

Those speeches are aimed not at influencing the other senators or congressmen (because they aren't in the chamber), but instead to look good for the small-town paper "back home."

This explains why so many speeches are dispassionate before the latest catch phrase that toes the party line: because the twenty-something does not want to be fired. The greatest show on earth, folks. Democrazy in action.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Definition of Failure: Democrazy

Not to get on a rant here, but prior to the House passing a bill that would bring the troops home by Sept '08, Tony Snow mouthed to the press how that was a recipe for failure... Has this administration defined failure?

Defining THEY as the administration who propagated this war:

1 - They failed on the intelligence which got us into the bloody thing.

2 - They failed to maintain the Iraqi army after "gaining control" of the country.

3 - They failed to maintain public utilities.

4 - They failed to secure the borders.

5 - They have failed to prevent the looting of precious and priceless cultural artifacts from Iraqi institutions that reflect the culture of Iraq, the cultures of Islam, and the culture of human civilization.

6 - They failed to hire adequate staff members to get the ball rolling and instead chose party-loyal cronies.

7 - They failed to hire local labor, contracting it out to American Big Businesses (also party-loyal), which lead to:

8 - Failure to maintain or improve the Iraqi economy, which has been spiraling south.

9 - They have failed to maintain order within daily civil discourse.

10 - They have failed to maintain a police department in several major cities.

11 - They fail to prevent the violent deaths of about 30 Iraqis a day.

12 - They fail to prevent the deaths of about 8 American soldiers a week.

13 - They fail to prevent the kidnappings of about one journalist or foreign aid worker a week.

14 - They have failed to work with the neighbors of the Iraq.

15 - They have failed to work with the International Community to gather support for the war.

16 - They have failed to establish and maintain a stable government within the country.

17 - They have failed to understand the differences
a - between Shiite and Sunni,
b - between Al Queda and Saddam,
c - between Radical Islamic Jihadi Fundamentalism and Soviet-Era Cold War aggression.

18 - They have failed to really determine the source(s) of the insurgency and how to communicate with them.

19 - They have failed to maintain quality intelligence.

In the film The Fog of War, Robert McNamara underlines the fact that the war in Vietnam, prior to heavy US involvement, was a Civil War between the North and South Vietnamese and not a war of Chinese Communist Aggression. We did not know this because no one was directly communicating with the North Vietnamese.

Maybe I am missing something. How else can we possibly fail? How can we pull victory from the jaws of defeat? George Will stated in a June Newsweek op ed how Iraq is the result of lines drawn in the sand at the end of the First World War, and that the clumsy shaping of that country then has beeen partly the cause of a century of strife in that neck of the woods.

I'll define what failure means to this administration: It is the realization that it is impossible to bring a country Democracy by force. Democracy is an act of the people, by the people, and for the people. To impose it, like some Crusading Christian Conquistador, is democrazy.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Words Written on Leaves...

...and leaves of paper.

As this semester has progressed I am firmly beginning to believe that my best writing has been contained to one and two sentences reactions written when evaluating student assignments. [Come May, I will have read approximately 1500 pages of student writing between two sections of the Aesthetics course I teach at George Mason University and evaluated 90 web pages crafted in the Visual Literacy course I teach at American. This says nothing for the other two courses I teach]. If I were disciplined and conscientious, I would copy some of these various scribbles down in a journal… a blog seems as good a place as any.