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.