Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In Memorium: Terry Kirk

As a professor I often reflect on the people who inspired me enough to want to become a professor. Obviously, most of those people were professors. I aspire to live up to the qualities of the great professors I had, and I hope never to fall prey to the shortcomings of the professors I loathed. It should come as no surprise that I have kept in contact with most of the professors that have inspired me for the better; they have become part of that group of people that I call friends.

On Sunday, Oct. 18, I learned that one of my friends was gone. The death of a friend is never an easy thing to accept, and it becomes harder still to learn that a friend took his own life.

Terry Rossi Kirk was professor to approximately 500 students a year in Rome, lecturing on the art and architecture of Modern Italy (1600 - present, give or take). Since Rome is a living textbook, lecture classes were not restricted to slide presentations in darkened rooms, they consisted of walking tours throughout the streets of the Eternal City. What made Terry's lectures stand apart was not just the enthusiasm and interest he possessed for his subjects, it came from his ability to perform his lectures.

During the first semester I had Terry for a professor, studying painting in my final semester as an undergraduate at Iowa State University, Terry lectured on the piazza as public theater, comparing most works of Classical and Modern architecture to the stage, scenography, the proscenium arch, and the billowing curtain. The analogy even carried into sculpture of the period, most notably the operatic work of Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Theresa in the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria, where onlookers from balconies peer down to see the arrow of the angel plunged into the entrails of the meditating saint. However, instead of simply lecturing about it, Terry went a further step, performing the plunging arrow, discussing - in an enunciated whisper that could be understood by the pope, several miles away in Vatican City - the sexual connotations of the ecstasy, and the penetration of the angels "arrow" into her body. He then moaned, in accordance with the expression on her face. It was not a moan of pain, the moan a mother might make in the midst of labor. It was an orgasm. In a church. In Rome. And students were not the only people in attendance.

We then went for coffee.

Terry bought a painting from me after the completion of that semester. Had it not been for that acquisition, I might have remained one of the hundreds of students he has in a semester. It was a triptych, measuring a total 100cm x 50cm, with the middle measuring 50x50. Considering its size I was a little dumbfounded that he picked it up on his bike with a spool of twine.

Two years later I was getting ready to return to Italy, to a 2 year MFA program through American University in Washington, DC. Prior to applying for the program there was one name on the list of faculty that stood out to me: Terry Kirk. He taught my graduate art history course, and I sat in on an undergraduate architecture of Rome course, from time to time.

I left Italy after a year to finish my degree in DC, and Terry and I kept in touch, bumping into each other at College Art Association conferences. The last time I saw him was in February in Los Angeles, and he suggested I tell whoever I was interviewing with that, if hired, if they wanted to set up a semester long program, he would help me help them; I should be teaching in Rome, after all.

On the afternoon of Oct 18 I learned that Terry's body was found on Saturday in his car on the outskirts of Rome with his wrists slit. He had been missing since Wednesday. While I believed the news, I did not accept it. Terry had e-mailed less than a week earlier, proud to have been mentioned in an article by Susan Spero, writing for the LA Times about her time in Italy and the importance of Fascist architecture.

There was no news on Google searches. Eventually I looked at Terry's page on Facebook. There the reality of his death hit home. Four people I did not know had written their farewells to Terry.

It is interesting that Facebook has given me a better outlet to grieve over his death. On Terry's wall, a small community of people have gathered to say goodbye, to pay respects, to share stories, and to mourn. It is cathartic not only to contribute to that space, but to read the contributions of others, no matter how brief. I doubt Mark Zuckerberg ever thought this might be a use for his social networking creation, and I fear that, if after a certain period of inactivity, Facebook consumes his dormant site; in a way, Terry is still alive on Facebook, and it is the community of friends he made during his membership that continue to post stories and pictures. In a virtual space we gather together to celebrate a life.

Admittedly, I did not know Terry that well. To be in his presence for a semester, to be the student of his lectures, to listen to his enthusiasm and his flamboyant performances, was to know half of the truth. Privately he might be quite and demure, less likely to be on the stage, and more likely to be focused and concentrated on the conversation at hand. As e-mails have passed back and forth between friends and colleagues who knew him, I've been told he suffered from depression and was bipolar. He masked it well and I suspect only those who were closest to him personally and professionally knew of this. I was not a member of that fraternity, nor had I any reason to be.

The first step toward suicide is not simply wanting to die – though that motivation certainly helps – it is having a plan to carry out the mortal act. According to a news story in Il Tempo, wherein a young American was found dead outside Rome, he was found with keys and papers in his pocket. His final act was not impulsive. I wonder how long the plan had been ruminating in his mind. I'm told, a few days before he died, there was a party at his flat. I am wondering now if Terry intended that as his farewell party, and all the guests were oblivious. I also wonder if the final e-mail I received was another goodbye. Better to go out on high notes. Though sad, there is a certain poetry with that.

I still cannot comprehend his suicide. In truth, with grief subsiding, I'm angry about it. And, I'm left with no choice but to forgive his decision.

Friday, October 23, 2009

To Paraphrase Wednesday Night

Over the past few months, thanks in part to the gift of a generous benefactor willing to pass down used/read back issues of recently published art magazines that she might otherwise throw out, I have been enjoying Dave Hickey's random essays in Art in America. So, it was with great surprise, Wednesday, that I learned he was speaking at the Smithsonian American Art Museum later that evening.

Sometimes news like this escapes me, and I can't help but get pissed about my own laziness, ignorance, apathy, or some combination of the three.

With my wife's permission, I attended, proceeding to SAAM immediately following my 4+ hour class at GW, book bag in tow, the contents of which were approximately 30 lbs of books, mostly on the subjects of Flash and ActionScript3. Since I teach Wednesday afternoons, dinner usually consists of whatever I threw in the crock pot that morning, so Gretchen was taken care of. And, as luck would have it, the coffee and cake a scarfed down at 4:00, just after my marathon 3.5 hour lecture on animation, held me until I got home at 9:00.

Hickey was introduced as a man with a singularly American voice. I disagree. Though his subjects are generally American, as with other critics of American culture (I'm thinking of the Australian, Robert Hughes) Hickey's strength comes from a perspective that is keenly not from America. After all, he is from the Republic of Texas, which allows him the ability to circumnavigate the apologetic bull shit and ass-kissing in his writing. Basically a Molly Ivins for the art world.

The subject of the talk was The Evils of Creationism: Art History According to Darwin. I don't recall either Creationism or Darwin being specifically mentioned.

While he began by linking today's art market to the art market developed in the Renaissance, the point of his argument – which basically ranted against having a federal Department of the Arts – was how an evil called "stupid money" upsets the whole apple cart.

"If blood money gets blood on your hands, and dirty money makes everything it touches dirty, what does stupid money do to the intellect of those who receive it?"

Hickey noted how, in the past 40 years, a lot of money has been thrown into the art with good intentions, but it has been distributed by committees who give the money to the wrong artists. They don't give it to the genius who might show up drunk - if at all. They give it to the person that is likable, sober, and makes okay work. MFA programs are no better because, as he put it, "I have never seen a bad artist go through an MFA program and come out the other side a good artist." What happens is that bad artist might come out the other side a better-educated bad artist.

The issue with stupid money is akin to an article, forward to me from a friend, regarding child sports titled, "Stop the Little League Arms Race." The economist Charles Wheelan basically argues that if everyone placed their kids in accelerated athletics programs the net result would be a waste of time, money and quality family time - not to mention a lot of surgeries to correct limbs prematurely mangled by stress fractures - and that the really talented kids would still rise above the fray because money cannot buy talent.

The same can be said for art.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not So Experimental Media Series

Last week I was able to attend the final screening of the WPAs Experimental Media series.

As is the nature with juried shows, the juror looks for quality work and for the work to fit together in a program. What Kelly Gordan assembled for the one-hour program flowed together quite well.

A critical assessment of the individual pieces are not necessary. It would be safe to say that there were some great works, some good works, and a few stinkers that ranged from annoying to stupid. There was also room for a couple pieces that worked in the context of this screening - or within the context of any juried screening - but might not function as stand-alone pieces.

What does remain is a critical assessment of the title of the exhibition. Nothing in that program seemed experimental, and the very nature of the call for entry limited the potential for real experimental media. I had the same opinion a few years back when I saw Paul Roth's curatorial selections.

Some might state that, "by its very nature, video and sound are experimental." And, of course, I can agree that, generally, the work of the artist, as individual, is to experiment with a medium. But that doesn't mean he is establishing a new foundation, or pushing the height of the plateau. He may simply redefine his personal aesthetic and conceptual boundaries for what passes as art.

The whole title for the Experimental Media series is off.

First, Experimentation:
The notion of experimentation evokes the mad scientist. Think Nikola Tesla. Or Doc Brown (Back to the Future). When it comes to video, I can't say for certain that it has all been done before. However, what was on display last week evoked early cinema, montage, Godard, Hollis Frampton, the telenovella, and even Triumph (from Conan O'Brien, though I was actually reminded of MTV Italy's Pets). Not all possible influences have been listed above, and from the list, not all would be direct influences. Some would wallow in the shallow depths of bad analogy. But, none of the aforementioned examples are malapropos.

As for sound, I heard hints of Cage and Paik. Anytime I hear someone play the inside of a piano, I think of Cage.

Next, Media.
The call for entry was limited to video and sound. Media, however, has a much broader boundary which typically encompasses most things electrical, digital, interactive, performative, mechanical, engineered, and otherwise weird. Granted, that broad assessment would allow a spin painting displayed vertically and placed on a rotating whirly -gig to be considered Media Art, provided it was plugged in. So much of media art today seems to rely on the computer and bits of information from the Internet. Yet, no Internet art was available for digestion.

With the call for entry limited to sound and video, the call for entries went one step further by limiting the work to a single projection. Aspiring video wall artists need not apply.

I will accept that opening the boundaries to be more inclusive creates the challenge to find a suitable venue to show all of it. So, when it comes to retitling the series, I'll be willing to meet the judge and jury half way.

Kelly Gordon's comment on this series, and her selection process, was to look for work that feels fresh. She had the daunting task to review approximately 575 works for the series, nearly doubling her annual intake of video and cinema. And some of this work did look fresh. But, that doesn't mean it was experimental.

Perhaps the better title for the series would be Fresh Media. Compilations can be wrapped in butcher's paper.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fart on the Ave

Two weekends ago my family ambled down a street in Del Ray with friends in an effort to enjoy Alexandria, VA's Art on the Avenue. The next time I go I should chat up the vendors selling "paintings"* and start asking them "how do you do that."

Actually, I know the answer. The better question is, "why in the hell are you doing that?"

The "that" in question is the wretched process of taking a photograph, applying a filter to it in Photoshop, printing the result on canvas, and stretching the canvas. Granted, a fool and their money are soon parted, and in the case of those who would sell or buy, there are two fools involved (because my guess is the vendor goes home with a lot of unsold canvases).

The thing is, a bad vacation photo does not get better when Photoshop's "stained glass" filter is applied to it. Nor does it get better when printed with archival Epson inks on canvas paper. Nor does it get better when the canvas is stretched around a few pieces of pine.

There was a lot of "art" of this sort floating about The Ave. It impressed me no more two weeks ago than it did seven years ago when I found myself sitting in a doctor's office in New York City (whereupon after learning I was an artist the doctor responded, "I do a little art," and then pointed to the photo with inverted colors on the wall behind him). And, it reminded me of two lessons I teach beginning students in my digital art classes.

1. Stay away from the filters. It's not that the filters in Photoshop are bad. At times they are great, but if used selectively. When it comes to using the tool properly, the filters menu should simply be deactivated until later in the semester (or for a later course) so the user gains a better understanding for how to use the tools. The tools do the work. The filters act like a drug. I think anyone who has ever smoked pot knows that the pot doesn't make the problems of the world go away – war an famine still exist – it simply makes the problems of the world seem more tollerable for a very short period of time.

2. Stay away from Live Trace. This is a tool in Illustrator that will break down a photograph into a series of vector shapes, sometimes tens of thousands of vector shapes, and make the photograph look like a drawing... sort of. Again, Live Trace has its place. But, for beginners it becomes a knee-jerk stylistic choce and avoids learning how to do things like draw with the pen tool or use a gradient mesh.

Of course, this is all the vendors did to photos of beaches and mountains. And each "painting" looked as bad as the next.

In the process of chatting these people up, I would hope to gain how well these people are doing when it comes to selling a bad non-painting "painting." Sure, everyone needs a hobby, but those tents are expensive and printing on canvas isn't exactly cheap. So, how does it all shake out for this, ahem, artist? Do they break even in a given year? What is their business model?

I am also curious who the buyers are. You most likely wouldn't find the Kogods or the Cafritzes buying; you won't find the Barlows buying either; and you probably won't find any artist who is regularly showing at area commercial, non-profit, and alternative galleries buying work there. So, who is the competition? Is it Ikea and Target?

Of the great things that could be found at Art on the Avenue, all of them could be re-defined as "craft" or "artisan". I do not mean that in the pejorative, either. The last time I sat at a potters wheel, in 1995, I managed to throw a good bowl, but I wouldn't make a living from doing it, no matter how funky the glaze looked after a raku firing. There is skill to this craft, much like drawing, and it {is/can be} an art, and it is an art that I cannot confidently attempt to master. Besides, I have a feeling most of the ceramics, wood turned objects, scarves, and such were being sold for utilitarian purposes... much like the hand crafted olive oil soap. Unless, of course, the soap sellers intended for their soaps to sit on a pedestal.

*there are a few vendors selling legitimately painted paintings (notice, no quote) at art on the ave. the above critique does not apply to them.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Best Hydrant. Ever.

This gem was found between 5th and 6th Streets along H Street, NE.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

And junk

I don't think it is too much for me to ask that, whereever I teach, I get to sit in an office that has a computer compatible with my responsibilities. Let me build up to this point.

This is the start of my fifth year as an adjunct professor in the greater Washington, DC metro area. To date, I have had three grueling semesters: one teaching five classes and an independent study between three schools; one where I taught from 9am-7pm, between two campuses, twice weekly (in addition to other courses on other days); and last semester when I taught four courses between four schools.

The onus for these schedules is a shared responsibility, but the initial responsibility is mine. I chose to begin teaching, and I chose to say yes to teaching the number of courses.

The shared aspect is two-fold. The First is from schools bouncing around their schedules, but I have little comprehension for how departments, schools and registrars piece everything together. Based on my experience at Iowa State University, I could expect certain classes to meet at certain times. Their schedules functioned almost like clockwork -- at least they did in the College of Design. But, it always seemed, without fail, that there were 9 am bio, soc, or psych 101 classes M/W/F. the Second is due to the pittance all schools in greater DC pay their adjuncts.

As a student, I did not know there was a difference between the various rankings, because they all had the same in-class responsibility of instruction and grading the products of students. We did not know of or perceive the title of "Lecturer," and few if any of us knew the difference between Assistant and Associate professor, or how they differed from Full Professors. The concept of tenure was, at best, fuzzy.

When I was a junior I was in the check-out lane of a grocery store (Hy-Vee) and the clerk one aisle over was my professor from my 3D design studies course. The long story short: she was an adjunct, teaching one or two classes a semester, and Hy-Vee paid much better than the university.

What does being an adjunct professor mean? The responsibilities are simple: teach class, hold office hours, grade work, give grades. This differes from the responsibilities of full-time professors, who are required to sit on department, school andinstitution (college/university) committees and meetings. Depending on the institution, there can be many. Adjuncts are not required to become parts of committees or attend meetings, and if they do the only compensation may be a pat on the back. It also might be ire.

The compensation for teaching is a low monetary stipend; there are no other benefits (healthcare, dental, 401K)

To give an idea of the disparity, it is not uncommon for an assistant professor to work a 3/2 (three classes fall, two classes spring) or 3/3 schedule and earn between $38,000 and $55,000, + benefits, depending on the location. ($38K seems low, but recently a small school (maybe a Community College) in MD offered a one-year appointment for someone to chair the art department, run the gallery, coordinate adjunct faculty, and teach a 4/4 schedule for $35K. I'll wager the applicant pool was easy to sift through.)

I was told a few years ago that the best pay in DC, for an adjunct, was $5,000/class at Georgetown. Most schools around The District offer $900 - $1200 per credit hour. No school offers benefits.

Some schools offer offices for their adjunct faculty. At three of the schools (four departments) where I teach, the adjunct faculty get to share an office. One department has a large room with multiple computers and desks; one department provides a shared office with several faculty members, and access to one of a handful of computers, depending on what kind of course the professor is assigned the computers work in the office or don't work in the office (the offices are in different buildings; one department has a room with two desks, one computer, and ample shelving; one department has a computer that barely works in a room that can almost fit the desk, the chair, and the adjunct faculty member (if he places the chair on the desk). One school has a lounge for faculty, but they never give the code to adjuncts. One school does not offer an office, but there is a coffee shop in the student union.

Anymore, if I am asked to teach a class I am asked to teach digital art.

Students are not required to attend office hours, but I am. Depending on the institution, I may be there from one to two hours. This is a great time to get work done for the course, either via the creation of documents (assignments, tutorial notes, etc), or via the grading of completed student work. However, if the equipment is not working, or if the computer does not have the Adobe Creative Suite, then I have several options available to me: check e-mail and twiddle thumbs.

Of course, I could always blog about my troubles.

Class starts in ten minutes.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

An Open Letter to Glenn Beck

After seeing Jeffry Cudlin's reaction to Glenn Beck's commentary on how Rockefeller was a Communist Fascist, I thought I'd shoot a response to Glenn Beck. (My only wish is that I double checked the spelling of Siqueiros before sending.


Mr. Beck,

I found your commentary on the art of Rockefeller Plaza to be of interest, for multiple reasons. I wanted to respond to some of your comments.

First, kudos for noticing the stylistic similarities between the art of the US, USSR, and Italy during the 1930s. I think even a casual observer of art history could draw the stylistic parallels you drew (if paying attention) and pause for a moment to scratch his head and ponder why. And, your observations are something I might address in a class I teach on Visual Literacy. For instance, "how does the logo for Shell Motor Oil represent the sale of oil?" A wise student might respond, "because shells represent fossils, and oil is made from fossil fuel." The natural conclusion, then, is that the Shell Motor Oil company chose the logo and identity of a shell to represent their product. It is logical. Just like your argument that Rockefeller was a closeted Communist/Socialist/Fascist based on the art on Rockefeller Plaza. Here is the problem with my student's conclusion: Shell Motor Oil didn't start out selling motor oil products; the company started out selling sea shells. The problem with your visual argument is that it ignores art history just as much as a college student ignores art history when signing up for an elective.

There were two major styles in the 1930s: Art Deco and something called Social Realism. Art Deco embraced the speed of the present (aeronautics, the car) and the streamlined promise of the future. Social Realism, poorly worded as it is, is basically realism with contemporary themes of agriculture and industry. Sometimes, the streamlined look of Art Deco would find its way into Social Realism. The reason why Social Realism gained in popularity has more to do with a response to abstraction in the forms of Cubism and Expressionism, both of which were viewed as "not art" from such politically polar opposites as Adolph Hitler and Teddy Roosevelt. Both men could not comprehend the work of Duchamp, Cezanne, Degas, Gauguin, Kandinsky, or Moholy-Nagy being classified as "art."

The new politics of Europe in the 1920s and 30s (Communism in the USSR, National Socialism in Germany, and Fascism in Italy) embraced the style of Social Realism in an effort to identify with a populous that they thought was being ignored by the previous ruling parties. While all of those political philosophies were at odds with each other, they did have at least one common ground that was, for lack of a better phraseology, elevating "the common man." (The roots of Democracy also spring from this soil. As tyrannical dictators formed and managed the politics of parts of Europe, we could extend the soil analogy further - weeds also grow in fertile ground.) The art form of Social Realism was used as propaganda. For the aforementioned states in Europe, the propaganda partly illustrates the benefits of the benevolent government. The propaganda of the European states also championed some ridiculous notion of "the ideal man," which lead to jingoism, and eventual xenophobia resulting in death camps and executions.

The U.S. had something similar to Social Realism: Regionalism, as painted by John Stuart Curry, Thomas Hart Benton, and Grant Wood. There were also muralist painters in Mexico that were influencing the art of the U.S. with artists like Diego Rivera, David Siquieros. Regionalism also championed themes of agriculture and manufacturing. But, the reason was, in theory, to empower those hurt most by the burden of the Great Depression. Regionalism was also used as propaganda for the WPA. What better way to illustrate the strength of a government program than to commission artists to paint families benefiting from the food grown on lands now irrigated by a newly constructed dam?

By the 1950s, with The Cold War, nearly all citizens of the U.S. regarded Communism as an evil.
As the U.S. was fighting World War II, nearly all citizens in the U.S. regarded Fascism as an evil.
But, in 1933, when much of this art was commissioned, the U.S. opinions of either of these political philosophies was, at best, mixed, and for some cautiously optimistic.

It would seem irrational that Rockefeller, who benefitted from Capitalism, and is arguably the wealthiest man ever to live in the United States, would toss away his fortunes under Communist rule. He hired Rivera not because of his politics, but because his mother thought he was a great painter. Art history thinks much the same of Rivera (though not with as much favor as it does with those masters of The Renaissance). As for the other art commissioned for the building, it was executed under the dominating style of the time, Art Deco and Social Realism. Had Rockefeller gone with a more avant garde style, like Expressionism, people would have received it with much lass favor because of its non-objective nature. Had Rockefeller chosen Cubism, well, as the joke goes, everyone knows a person does not have three eyes.

Tyrants often choose symbols to represent their messages. These symbols can easily be seen with dread by those who do not share the ideals of the tyrants - that is the oppressive control of the tyrant over his subjects, masked under any political ideology. The tyrants of Communism chose the hammer and the sickle, pretending to champion manufacturing and agriculture (while exploiting all of their citizens). There were many in 1933 who were unaware of the tyranny under Soviet Communism. So, there is probably some anachronism in your assertion that Rockefeller is a Communist based on the images of hammers and sickles on 30 Rock. What is more plausible is that, he was obliged to put art there under whatever percent for art regulation was in place at the time. Since this coincided with the WPA, a program that supported artists amongst other public initiatives, artistic allegories to work that stimulated the economy or got people out of bread lines and into the markets were preferred.

There certainly is anachronism based on your assertion that the donation of Swords into Ploughshares (which is from The Bible in the books of Isaiah and Micah) proves Rockefeller is a Communist, especially since the donation was in 1959 -- 22 years after John D. Rockefeller II's death. But, since the quote is in The Old Testament, (Tanakh) does that mean that all Jews are Communists? (I know this was a popular belief by some in the Right Wing back in the 1950s.) Does it mean that all Christians are Communists, because they also read the Bible, which contains the Old Testament? No. Such assertions would be as anachronistic and false as suggesting that some Neolithic people are Nazis, simply because they used the swastika as a religious symbol 7000 years before Hitler appropriated it.

John James Anderson

Friday, August 14, 2009

Go see "Paradox Now" at AAC

I'm not going to be critical about the exhibition in this post -- I was and still am hoping to accomplish that elsewhere. Be that as it may, of the exhibitions I have been to this summer, Paradox Now, at the Arlington Arts Center, has tickled my frontal lobe and funny bone the most. The show is, in its own right, a paradox, and one that possesses little truth within its violation of common sense. But, with the intellectual gymnastics that this exhibition will provide, the push is not to challenge the truth, but rather to challenge how we perceive the truth.

The exhibition runs through August 22.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Strike when the Iron is Hot (and don't forget your camera)

Sometime last week I took a drive down Chain Bridge Road, past the cite of the Cafritz fire. Apart from my slight and morbid curiosity to see the remains of the house (which was heart-breaking to see), I was more curious to find the condition of the fire hydrants near by.

Driving further down the block - toward McArthur Blvd - I saw two fire hydrants were Out of Service (red collars), and (if memory serves me correctly) one had a Maintenance Requested collar. With fathering responsibilities superseding art creation, I had to leave documentation of these hydrants for another day.

That was supposed to be today.

Less than two weeks after the fire that destroyed Ms. Cafritz's home, every hydrant along that stretch of ChainBridge Road, including the two decrepit hydrants that were "Out of Order," have been replaced by shiny new hydrants. Apparently, they closed the road to complete the work; at the bottom of the hill were parking cones and a sign indicating such.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Fir to the Cafritz Mansion. Maintenance Was Required.

As Gretchen and I were leaving DC Thursday morning, the traffic report on WAMU indicated a massive fire near Nebraska Avenue and Foxhall Road that was holding up traffic. It was suggested that traffic crossing Chain Bridge Road heading up Arizona find alternative routes. As I have come to learn, the fire destroyed the home of a local arts patron, Peggy Cooper Cafritz. While I have not read any information on the cause of the fire, what has been reported is that low water pressure contributed to the total destruction of the property.

As an aside, in some ways, there are two strange ironies. The DC Art Bank just purchased two of my works. One of them is a collection of fire hydrants photographed in Ward 6; each hydrant is in service requesting maintenance. So, the city is purchasing art work that reflects a problem the city has recognized and is at present getting lots of negative press regarding how it is handling the problem. The other irony, they chose not to review the Ward 3 battery of hydrants I have photographed; Ward 3 is where the Cafritz home is located.

This tragedy for Ms. Cafritz and for the DC art community will remain a black eye for WASA, which has been working diligently over the last two years to locate, repair or replace 2500 of the 10,000 broken hydrants within Washington, DC. Of course, to label their process as diligent is gleaned only from their website and the math. They had given themselves 5 years to get 2500 replaced, and were ahead of schedule last time their website reported (i.e. much more than 1000 hydrants are claimed to have been repaired or replaced in the last 2 years).

However, what WASA reports on their website and the truth of the matter might be different. It certainly doesn't help that Ms. Cafritz's neighbor, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, is quoted in The Washington Post about complaints to the city regarding low water pressure. Regardless, as I have travelled parts of the city documenting broken hydrants, I see the signs change from "Out of Order," to "In Service," or disappear all together. So, I have to believe that something is being done, and that this is a very unfortunate circumstance for WASA. I have also seen "Out of Order" signs return to what I presumed were repaired hydrants. And, in parts of Ward 6, some "Out of Order" signs have "In Service Signs" placed on top of them, which is conspicuous at best, and a great sign of incompetence (on a potentially criminal level) at worst.

Whatever the case of WASA's handling of the situation, the destruction to Ms. Cafritz's home is a tragedy on many levels. For the DC art community, where art appreciation and art collection seem anemic, it strikes at the Achilles heel.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Asked to get the word out: ACC Solo Deadline

Deadline approaching: only one week left to apply for 2010 Solos at the Arlington Arts Center!

The Arlington Arts Center invites you to apply for the 2010 Solos exhibitions. We are looking for contemporary artists based in the Mid-Atlantic region to submit proposals for an exhibition of their work in any and all media.

The panel includes Anne Surak, independent curator (formerly of Project 4 Gallery, Washington, DC), and Henry L. Thaggert, collector and curator.

Submissions are due August 1st. To download a prospectus, visit http://www.arlingtonartscenter.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/solos-entry-2010.pdf.

Contact intern.exhibitions@arlingtonartscenter.org with any questions.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Maintenance Required: recent work at Glenview Mansion

For the better part of the last year I have been walking and driving around Washington, DC documenting broken fire hydrants, and documenting my journey and observations. On display at the Glenview Mansion - through July 28 - are 14 recorded tours in parts of Wards 2, 3, and 6, composites of broken hydrants, and a few sculptural renderings of hydrants.

The work has been brewing in the back of my head since May 1, 2007, when The Georgetown Library and Eastern Market were heavily damaged by fire. In each instance, nearby fire hydrants were either broken or had low water pressure. Little was done to address this issue, until early fall when a large fire in Mount Pleasant summoned a four alarm fire that raged for hours because of inadequate water pressure from several nearby hydrants. That fire destroyed an apartment complex, damaged a few nearby buildings, and was too close for comfort for the DC Ward One Council member who lived near the fire. Within days legislation was enacted to find and replace the broken hydrants within the district.

Soon hydrants were labeled with "out of order, maintenance required" collars, or "in order, maintenance scheduled." Early on, the former seemed to be everywhere. The latter seems a recent edition in the posted signage, seemingly appearing on the scene late last year or early this year.

In the last two years, the city has moved relatively swiftly to replace or repair close to 1/5th of the districts 10,000 fire hydrants. I have to give them kudos. Yet, I still see these labeled fire hydrants throughout the city. So, I thought I would document them.

The walks and drives are also reflections of this city I have lived in for almost five years, yet I still feel like a stranger within it. Coming to DC in 2004, I associated it with monuments and government. Five years later I know that it is much more than all of that, and that there are far more things to see and do, but I know the millions who flock here annually only experience the well known. For instance, no one comes here for The Building Museum, but thousands flock to the (reminiscently Fascist) World War Two Memorial, or traipse through the overblown FDR memorial. Lots of things get missed in the whirlwind tours... kind of like fire hydrants in the landscape. You don't notice them until you need them. Sometimes when you need them, they are out of order.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dirty Diapers

As new parents, my wife and I have been exploring the variety of brand options available for our daughter's diapers. To date we have explored Huggies, Pampers, and a generic brand from Costco. For the last month I have noticed the different designs found on these garments, but did not really start thinking about their significance until today.

To be blunt, designs on a diaper are dumb and a waste of ink.

Huggies depict images of Winnie the Pooh. Pampers have a variety of characters from Sesame Street (baby versions of Bert and Ernie, Big Bird and Snuffleupagus, Cookie Monster and Elmo. Costco simply has a smiling monkey with some miscellaneous patterns. Apart from the quantity of diapers typically available from Costco packages, whereby increase in volume reduces price per unit, that illustration of a random monkey does not have all the trademark issues that Pooh Bear or the mini-muppets have, which further reduces the cost.

As I was changing a diaper this morning, I looked at that design. My daughter was not looking at it. She stares at the ceiling, blank walls, and sometimes the various things hanging on the walls. She does not make a conscious effort to look at the diaper. I'll wager that once she has greater motor skills in her neck she still will not make an effort to bend over and look at the commercially familiar or mundane generic characters illustrated on her diaper. To add more fuel to the fire, those banal and insipid illustrations are covered by whatever garment she wears. So, if the intention of the smiling cartoons is to inspire happiness, the intention is cloaked under onesie, pants, or dress, eliminating any potential function. Unless the function is to provide some sort of happiness for the parents, or possibly some reminder to the parents that their child's development will not be complete without box sets of Sesame Street DVDs, or perhaps Winnie the Pooh dishware, allowing the child to see Tigger at the bottom of the Cheerio bowl, look at Piglet when spooning up peas, or to drink milk from Eeyore's head.

When I was a child, disposable diapers were just coming onto the market. My parents had the misfortune of fumbling with cloth diapers - plain, white, cloth diapers. They have since been recycled into burp rags. The only cute thing on the diaper was a baby's bottom (either mine or my brother's). While this certainly caused for a gray existence - this absence of commercial happiness - they did have the distinct advantage of knowing that if some stroke of yellow was protruding from my blue onesie, it was most likely a soiled diaper and not the feathers of Big Bird.

Monday, June 01, 2009

220. 221. Whatever It Takes.

My wife and I recently celebrated the birth of our daughter. As a result, next semester I am dialing back on my teaching load.

This past semester I taught four courses at four institutions (The Corcoran, American University, George Washington University and Prince George's Community College). This felt like my most grueling semester to date: 16 contact hours, 6 commute hours, 3 required office hours. Grading and prep were mostly manageable and I doubt I ever eclipsed a 50 hour work week from teaching. However the semester was interrupted by a convention in LA (Feb), interviews at two schools (Mar), and odds and ends participating in 5 exhibitions. (Meanwhile, I am getting work prepped for a sixth exhibition in July.)

To better define "dialing back," in the fall I will be teaching one class at one institution (two if I can find and accept a Saturday course). In essence, it will feel like a sabbatical. The rest of the time I will be Mr. Mom.

Significance: studio time!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Baby Blues: Body Image Edition

With a child soon to be delivered, Gretchen and I strolled through Babies "R" Us the other afternoon, gathering necessities for the nest. Most of these products are bunk, catering to the conceptions of the mother and father to be. Most things are unnecessarily fluffy. The stereotyped color coordination with child's sexual identity is in overdrive amongst the merch. Finally, when it comes to clothing, it caters more to the visual identities and associations of Mom and Dad than it does to the actual needs of the child. So, while it is extraordinarily cute for the kid to be dressed like a miniature version of an adult, in the end it seems a little ridiculous and overpriced for something outgrown in six weeks, worn twice for "special occasions," and mostly spit up on. While I could possibly forgive the allegiance parent places upon offspring regarding team affiliation (in this store's case, the regional proximity to the Baltimore Orioles), it's simply stupid.

All of the above aside, I was struck dumb by the insidious Disneyfication of a swath of kiddie furniture. Specifically, Disney Princess and Fairy Chairs were probably the most concerning. Despite all the princesses having the exact same mouth, they all have the same body shape. And, regardless of how poofy those shoulders are on the gowns, all of them are "Twiggy." What impact will this have on present and future expectations of body image for impressionable minds? Pushing the button, what is the consequence of the flirtations and seductive gazes of the fairies? Maybe I am looking too much into it. And, maybe I am just sick of Disney and its never ending perpetuation of kitsche branding and marketing that takes the kids of the last generation and makes them the enabling force to provide the next generation with the same watered-down fairy tales and contrived histories.

The other thing that got me thinking - why does every product have to feature some wild animal as an anonymous, glazed-eyed, smiling companion? The example below was pulled from Babies "R" Us's website.
I knew a lot of frogs and turtles in my childhood. Not one was happy to see any human. Though I never crossed the paths of elephants, lions, or aligators as a kid, I'll wager if I had that I would know not to amble over and pet the creature. Once again, marketing playing on the associations of parents. Frankly, I remember thinking, as a six year old, that the smiling aligator teaching me how to brush my teeth in the dentist's office was hooey. And, as excited as I was about my sandbox when I was little, the fact that it was shaped like a turtle was irrelevant. In fact, I know I once ondered how it could be a sandbox when not shaped like a box.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Silence is Golden

Friday night, at DAR's Constitution Hall, Gretchen and I attended a performance by the Kodo drummers. There were between 15 and 20 performers, each playing a drum that looked like an ancient relic that needed to be played with sticks the thickness of some branches. Some drums measured four feet in diameter, and produced rumbles that sent a wave of energy into the seats of the auditorium, tickling the sternum. Gretchen is 33 weeks along, and our daughter had a fit during the first part of the performance, oddly enough keeping in beat with the drums.

In high school I had several friends on the drum line, and issues pertaining to sticking (height, angle, uniformity) were of some concern. During the performance on Friday there was as much uniformity, structure, and composition to how the drums were played as to the sound produced - a ballet with batons. However, apart from the ceremony of sticking, or the rhythmic beats, there was an awakened awareness of the importance of silence amongst the audience.

I seldom recall attending a concert where an audience did not respond with vigorous applause when the music stopped - or attempted to cease - for even a moment. Most conspicuously this occurs during orchestral performances where a section of the audience is unfamiliar with the movements, and they begin applauding during a decrescendo, only to realize that some oboe is struggling to be heard above the din of wrapping hands, and that the specific piece has yet to cease.

In one piece, seven snares were placed along the floor. The center snare (4) would begin playing, gently. Each note was a whisper of sound. Then, each drummer would alternate in: 5, 3, 7, 1, 6, 2. Slowly they would disappate - perhaps in the same order, perhaps in reverse order, perhaps in an alternate order, leaving the center drummer (4) to remain tapping. They might move their sticks from the edge of the snare to the center, and then back to the edge - changing the pitch of the sound. They might crescendo and decrescendo. The noises produced were similar to locusts in summer, singing in the trees: one starts, others follow, and eventually they stop, for a moment, before one begins the cycle again.

After five or so minutes, the applause began upon a decrescendo, as drummers moved sticks from the center to the edge, and the drummers on the wings disappated. Drummer 4 (in the center) kept playing (like that struggling oboe), and eventually enough audience members figured it was in their best judgement to be pateint and not slap their meat hooks together.

Four stopped drumming. A clap from the audience was followed by a second and third. Then #6 started drumming, and stopped nearly as suddenly. The approbation of the audience stopped. #3 answered #6. Other drummers also responded, each in turn. The thunder of drumming continued without synchronicity and without order - like hail on a car's roof top. Eventually the individual beats fell in synch, and slowly dissapated, decrescendoed, and ceased. At the end, the audience waited for silence, and only applauded once the drummers had lowered their sticks.

In art history classes the theories of John Cage - regarding randomness and silence (or the space between notes) - always creep into the lectures surrounding Robert Rauschenburg or the influence of Black Mountain College. Rarely do I see or hear of it deomnstrated (unless articles about iPod-wearing pedestrians crossing against the light and being creamed by city busses are not indicative of the value of listening to or for random noise apply). During this instance, it was beautiful to witness the value of Cage's theories bear fruit.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shameless Plug: Transaction Analysis

I've been sky-hopping around the country lately, and have little time to mention that I am in “Transaction Analysis” in the Cade Center for Fine Arts Gallery, at the Arnold campus of Anne Arundel Community College Arnold campus (101 College Parkway).

The exhibition runs through April 14 and was juried by Irene Hofmann, executive director, Contemporary Museum of Baltimore.

Pop Culture and The Global Market are on display. The Global Market is always listed as "dimensions variable," and the gallery director, Chris Mona, has apparently taken great liberty with that concept by spacing the individual panels five inches from one another. No complaints on this end; I can't wait to see what that looks like.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Some More Work In Process

Feeling Good

The instant I wondered what the tile of a song was, I googled the lyrics. After a flood, a flu, and the death of two externals, this lightened my mood. I do not know who composed the graphics. Although, I haven't looked very hard.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I've Had Worse Weeks - But Not Many

If it were bad enough to begin last weekend with a flood in the apartment, where upon the loss of some old (and admittedly not great) work was identified, that'd be par for the course: a typical expectation resulting from the ups and downs that comes with a life lived. It may have also been a forecast for the week to come - a forecast that should have included the consumption of a live frog, daily, first thing in the morning. As the saying goes, nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.

Next week I am in California at the College Art Association annual conference. To say the least, I am hopeful; I have interviews. And, with time a precious commodity I have yet to afford, I had been alotted this one week to prepare. Or, so I thought.

Wednesday, as I was in the midst of preparing files, I accidentally knocked my external hard drive off the desk and caught it before it hit the floor. Actually, caught is not the correct word. Pinned is more appropriate. I pinned it - quickly, forcefully - against the leg of the desk before the drive could hit the floor. More appropriately still: I pinned the drive with enough force that it might have been better had it hit the floor because maybe the drive still might work. "Maybe" we can all identify is the operative word.

As a professor of digital media I often tell my students to back up their work. And, while they're at it, to back up their back ups. After all, storage for media is so inexpensive these days that there is nearly no excuse. Get a second travel drive. Get four! Burn things to disc. It's not like they have to buy a Jazz drive. They simply have to be mindful enough not to lose something the size of a stick of gum (which has more memory than those clunky Jazz discs from yesteryear).

As a professor of digital media, I should take my own advice more often. Though, a student backing up a Gig of info is easy. A professor backing up a couple terabytes is a little less.

Fortunately I do take my own advice. Sort of. While the loss of the drive is significant, it is not devistating. The work is backed up, but not as a unit. It is a diaspora of savings, spread across three computers, three additional external hard drives, and a hand full of DVD-Rs. Some where in there is a shepherd metaphore. That stated, some of the content on that hard drive is permanently lost. In all, not a complete waste of nearly 400 GB of content, but one rather large pain in the butt.

A pain that I thought I would be capable of easing on Thursday. That was until I found myself quickly succumbing to stomach flu on Wednesday night. As Bill Cosby once stated (about drunks vomiting, but it is mildly apropos), "and you wouldn't be surprised if you saw your shoes coming out of your mouth." Man! I saw every shoe in my closet come out of my mouth. By Friday afternoon I was back to productivity - in as much as consuming broth and toast is productivity.

So, here I am, trying to pick up the pieces of what was lost on Wednesday evening (prior to my cookies and my lunch). The remnants of one broken hard drive are slowly being pieced together. In the process, a second hard drive has failed - for the life of me I have no recollection what was on it.

Lessons are sometimes learned the hard way, right before interviews at a conference 2,500 miles away. So the time has come to get a back up. And maybe a back up for my back up. And maybe a remote archiving site, tucked somewhere in the corners of Billings, or Calgary, or Memphis. Before the frogs fall from the sky. And the meteors. And Jesus. And the zombies.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nothing Says I Love You Like a Flooded Studio.

Valentine's Day greeted Gretchen and I with a sewer that backed up into our toilet and tub, and eventually water found its way into the studio (the pipes to the bathtub are on the wall with the studio - I think that is how water found its way into the studio).

The damage probably amounted to only a few hundred dollars lost on supplies and past works. Honestly, when a collage from graduate school - assembled from trash - is damaged in a flood, does it really lose value? They were studies for paintings that have never been - and would (realistically) never have been - made. And, as I have found my interests moving elsewhere the last few years, it is only fitting that these relics of unrealized intentions and potential got washed away.

Water is a symbol of purification and rebirth -- even if dirtied by mud and God-knows-what-else.

Some Work in Process

I am nearing completion on a set of work designed to be touched. Above are iconic transcriptions of the hands of Adam (left) and God (right) as seen in the Sistine Ceiling. Beneath is the word Hands, and beneath that is a transcription of a sketch by Leonardo. The work is fairly large; Adam and God is the largest at approximately 10 or 11 feet in length. More on the work in a future post.

Friday, January 16, 2009

When Interns Write Obits

Growing up I had three major artistic influences ever present in the home: reprints of Norman Rockwell on True Value Hardware store calendars, a reprint of a girl created during Picasso's pink period, and a reprint of Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth. The reprints were framed in various parts of the house and the calendar usually hung in my bedroom.

To learn of Andrew Wyeth's passing is met with shock and nostalgia. Shock: I thought he had already died. Nostalgia: he is no longer an influence, and I cannot say I still admire the work, but I am somewhat fond of it in much the same way I am still fond of soda pop (it isn't nourishing, but having one every so often can't be all that bad, either).

However, at this moment I am infested with an overwhelming sense of disappointment, not from his passing but from the obit I just read on CNN. Compare Wyeth's obit with Ricardo Montalban's obit and you'll see some major differences in writing style.

My friend Claire once worked at NBC's flagship. She'd tell me stories about how she (and others) had to research and fact check the biographies of world leaders and celebrities while they were still living so that they could be archived and updated, and easily accessible once news broke of the death. In the event of that celebrity death, the biography became the obituary. This practice merits the skit of Dana Carvey as Tom Brokaw announcing the death of Gerald Ford before going on vacation.

The Montalban obituary reads like it had been prepared months, if not years, in advance. It is polished, meticulous, and is identifiably news. The Wyeth obituary reads like it was handed to an intern late last night - an intern who, when given the assignment, immediately asked, "who?" What gives this away? Citations to Ask Art and Info Please! (For comparison, notice that the author of the Montalban obituary did not cite the Internet Movie Database.) Though I cannot expect the author to discuss the significance of Wyeth's realism in relationship to the movements of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, or Minimalism, at the very least the author(s) could have mentioned that Wyeth's work is included in the permanent collections of The Whitney, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Gallery, and The White House. Perhaps t(he)y could also include his National Medal of Art award, received in 2007, in the body of the article, rather than in the caption of the accompanying photograph.

This tenuous obituary would hardly merit a C- in college writing, lacking in both style and research, and is unworthy of publication. Perhaps it is an editorial decision by CNN that reflects their perspective on fine art, which from this angle makes them a less trusted source for news and information. It is bad enough that schools across this country limit the importance and value of fine arts by cutting arts programs from elementary through secondary curricula. Providing death notice attributions to various Internet sources - boring, general sources at that! - further cheapens and deteriorates the contributions artists are capable of providing to a populous. Though Andrew Wyeth may only possess nominal importance to 20th Century American Art as a stalwart apex for the conservative harrangue, and from a news perspective the value of that is a considerable trifle in comparison to Israel using white phosphorous on Palastinian civilians in what is an unparalleled military offensive, I find the debate over how we perceive objects and value art to be considerably more significant than the sordid details about Boy George's conviction for imprisoning a male escort. But that's just me.

Maybe CNN should take a lesson from The Boston Globe.

"That's the news, and I. am. outta here." - Dennis Miller, Weekend Update.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Is "Starving" an Adjective or a Verb?

Two weeks ago Gretchen and I spent a few hours buying "modern" furniture at our nearby Ikea. Spoils loaded into the car, sights set for home, we sat idle for a few minutes, stationed parallel to the Holiday Inn, waiting to drive onto the on ramp and away from College Park, MD.

"F.ART!" I cried, pointing out the passenger window to the couple of somewhat ambiguous youth, wealth, and race walked to their parked car. "F.ART!" I cried again. Gretchen looked out her window. In their hands the couple clutched two paintings - starving artist paintings.

Gretchen reeled in horror. "Don't do it!" She screamed. It was cool out, and our windows kept out the chill of an early winter breeze, but they weren't so tight to seal in our mocking cries of horror. Or, so it seemed, anyway. The couple looked at each other. They looked around like children seeking the guidance of adult supervision. They looked at their newly acquired "art" and made the faces of uncertainty.

We gasped as he turned over his work: an insipid sea side portrait that might even make Thomas Kinkade, the current king of all kitsch, cringe. We gasped again when her work came into view. More of the same. Thin paintings, straight from the tube. The light turned green, and we drove onto the Interstate, choking back our vomit.

There is art and there is crime. We caught them red-handed.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

What Can Brown Do For You?

Let's focus less on what they can do for me and more on what they can't do for me. The answer: they can't screw it up any worse than FedEx has.

Pleased to learn that I would have work show in Chicago, I sent The Global Marketplace via FedEx Ground to A.R.C. gallery on Dec. 22 (A.R.C. doesn't write the name with the periods, but they pronounce each letter when answering the phone). It was slated to arrive within 2-3 business days, and with a holiday crammed in the middle, I figure it would arrive around the 28th. Currently, the work is in what is called a "destination station" in La Grange - about half way between Chicago and Naperville.

After three phone calls to Fed Ex I have learned quite a bit about their business model. Not enough to become an expert, but possibly enough to know that, unless it isn't urgent, I am sticking USPS. After all, they deliver for you.

I'm willing to believe the typical FedEx user ships from a retail store - a location to buy shipping supplies, get some "Kinkos" copies, and maybe do some computer work, all for exorbitant rates that they might deem "competitive." From there, it goes to a destination station, which differs if you ship air or ground. To the zip code I shipped, air goes to Hillside, ground to La Grange.

Destination Stations can also determine their own hours and work days. In La Grange, they don't do weekends. This might be the same for all FedEx Ground, but I cannot recall. The other thing La Grange apparently does not do is Dec. 30, Dec. 31, or Jan 2, as there is no vehicle activity for my package on any of those days.

There was a time when I swore I would never ship art again via FedEx or UPS. One summer I worked as the Assistant Gallery Manager at the Chautauqua Center for the Visual Arts Gallery (they are only open during the 10 week summer season), and the Gallery Manager and I were strolling the grounds (got a coffee) and we passed a FedEx or UPS truck (f.ups for short) about a block away from the gallery as he was making a delivery to another building in Chautauqua. The f.ups guy was literally throwing boxes around the back of the truck, and I joked to the manager that those boxes were probably ours.

See... we were expecting work that week for the upcoming "craft" exhibition - most of it glass.

The exhibition at ARC I believe opens on Jan 7th. My work, and the work of several other artists, might still be in La Grange.

I miss DHL. Though the joke was that it means "Dumped, Hidden, or Lost," I never had a problem with them. I'd like to believe it is because the D meant Deutsche.