Tuesday, March 21, 2006

a little rest from the wicked

(The wicked being the Biennial).

This is from my expedition on Friday...

Went out today for a day in the city. Considered going to see the Biennial, but after seeing the following two shows, which I really enjoyed, I didn't want to ruin my mood. The first show, Ernesto Caivano at Guild & Greyshkul was a wonderful surprise. I knew it was on my list of things to see (thanks ArtCal), but couldn't remember why or what the work might be. The brilliance of the work was refreshing. The press release (I read it after viewing the work) was in itself a work of art, but since G&G doesn't have it on its site, I will pull some text from an earlier review by Douglas Max Utter in Angle Magazine:

In a distant, heavily wooded dimension, lovers are separated for a thousand years. As the centuries pass each slowly realizes different potentials of the mind and spirit: he becomes a knight, intimately in tune with the natural world. She becomes a spaceship—reason and its achievements incarnate. These two halves of a neo-Platonic world soul communicate through birds known as philapores, which Caivano says means “love of pores.” He also remarks they cannot fly but are able to pass through dense matter. Inscribed on their feathers is critical information and coding, which passes between the lovers with much difficulty and effort. The salvation of the natural and spiritual environment is at stake.

The work, all ink on paper, ranged in size from about 4"x4" to about 47"x139". The subject matter was elusive, but not unattainable. The small drawings looked like extracts from a Victorian botany reference book. The larger drawings incorporated references to landscape and technology, organic flora and strange dust clouds. The drawings contained large masses of blackness, topped with light, fine and precise renderings, several of the drawings also included technicolor aspects which aided the link to futurism. (I was most fascinated by the deftly and delicately rendered clouds of minuscle 'dust' - for lack of a better term).

I also visited Sumi, a gallery on West Broadway. Sandwiched in between the high octane shops of Soho, this gallery offers a wonderful respite from the cacophony outside its doors. The show was entitled 'artintme' and was brought to my attention by my friend James Jack, who had work in the show. The curatorial preface of the show was art that is intimate and personal in both its creation and presentation. All of the work succeeded in representing this thesis in a variety of ways - all bringing to bear their own cultural identity and personal history on the work. I also (imho) felt that there was a strong secondary curatorial thesis at play - an idealized sense of serenity within an object or mark.

Most of the works fit within this secondary theme and worked well, but there were a few works which, while they fit within the stated curatorial theme, because of their disonance within the secondary unstated theme presented a distraction from the overall presentation of the show. The works were interesting on their own level, but the curatorial oversight left them out of synch with the rest of the show.

The works which did work together did so on a variety of levels. They included finely crafted works of intensity by Ilan Katin, Jasmine Sian and Regine Polenz. Katin's books of line drawings are intricate marks with seem to reference the passing of time. Polenz' comic book style drawings and her sculptural abstraction of them remove the frame of reference and leave the viewer lost in non-narrative. Sian creates floral drawings (remniscient of wallpaper or upholstery) and filigree cut outs from ultr-thin deli-paper, rendering that which is normally a discarded bit of refuse into a refined object of fragility.

Other artists, James Jack, Bodo Korsig, Gyoko Yoshida and Brad Paley explored the visual representation of the mark, Jack's work, while beautiful in its epemerality (they were photos of calligraphic marks made with water on rocks) suffered from a lack of explanatory text, poor display (they deserved to be treated more preciously) and the strange curatorial decision which placed his work on one side next to some of the distracting work (see above) which was brightly colored. On the other side of his work though was work with whom he shared the affinity for delicacy. Yoshida's work consisted of barely there marks on sheer organza (which - since we are offering opinions - suffered itself from the artists decision to place this spare and delicate work on bulky and distracting wooden frames). Kosig explores the mark through stark and reference laden black wall mounted sculptures. Paley's work utilized a fascinating tool called a text arc to analyze 'The Tale of Genji' to create a visual representation of the weight of words and their use within the book.

So you can see how these two escapist (whether through a fantastical world of arcadia and utopia or through acts of meditative intimacy) would leave me unprepared for the whitney. I, too, am tired of the violence - but how to react? Do we hide under a rock, provide a salve or express yourself in simplistic terms? Me I prefer to find a way to create work which will change the world by affecting positive action.

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Monday, March 13, 2006

And the beat goes on

After wading through all the posts about the art fairs this weekend, I headed out to see Pulse today. I decided not to see Scope because of this and this, and this along with the list of galleries helped me decide to go to Pulse. And in the end (maybe it was me) I felt like it was "a nice show" yeh, nothing really jumped out as either great or awful. It was a lot of the things you see in Chelsea (obviously because of the many Chelsea galleries there) and it was nice to see works from other galleries around the world, but few were really that different.

So the interesting thing around the art fairs this year is more about what they represent, and their timing. I think there was a lot of thunder stolen from them by both the recent occurence of Art Basel Miami and all of its side fairs, as well as the recent opening of the Whitney Biennial. It just gets weary with so much hype around everything.

But I do think the continuing expansion of the art fairs is interesting for what it represents. It brings all sorts of galleries into a small space in a short amount of time for collectors to sweep in and pick up what they are most interested in - kind of like a mall for art. It is also interesting in the fact that the galleries have to chose specific artists to highlight - and most keep it to a small roster so as not to create a distracting environment for selling. So this means that the collectors are seeing a select few artists - only galleries allowed in are showing and only the artists chosen to come to the fair are shown. It also means that if there are repeats of the same artist in different booths (Christian Maycheck -above- and Seth Koen), that artist either comes off looking hot, over-hyped, or played out (I'm not a collector so I can't say which, but it made me feel uneasy).

Going to a fair on the last day was a bit odd too, it's like watching a movie that everyone else saw opening weekend, and you're watching it 10 years later. (Or something like that, I was going to try a race horse past its prime allegory). And the most overheard conversation (I really heard it a few times)
gallerist #1: So, did you have a good show?
gallerist #2: We did! We made some sales and some great connections!
I've always suspected that a number of sales would take place after the fair, but I will have to check in with my gallerist friend who participated in a show in the fall to see if that is true.

Fairs all gone now, we can get back to bashing the Whitney.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

When ideas collide

So it often happens that there are waves of thoughts which occur in all aspects of culture, including, of course, the art world. Its like when three galleries in Chelsea are all showing works somehow involving maps, or that there are a lot of shows which involve drawn patterns. (I've seen both of these waves, among others over the past few months).

And so too, it has happened recently to me. It is probably more likely to happen when there is a specific curatorial theme to which the works are responding.

After some well founded procrastination (house hunting) we finally made it to Smack Mellon to see the Site 92 show. A promise of both Almondine and Grimaldi's ensured G would be right there with me. Besides he had seen the proposal I had submitted and was equally as intrigued as I (he brought some extra ire to the mix as well). The open call for works requested that works respond to the site of the new Smack Mellon space at 92 Plymouth Street in Dumbo. My proposal came back with the requisite form letter not long after it was sent in. So it was with equal parts shock and curiosity that I read the press release regarding the show:

"Between its operation as the boiler building and its new function as a gallery, living things and organic materials had taken over 92 Plymouth. Funghi and mineral deposits clung to the structure; pigeons nested in the coal trough. Taking into account this past, Danielle Dimston creates shelf mushrooms made out of cardboard that cling to the metal columns. Carey Ascenzo'’s installation also inhabits the brick wall with tiny red hand-knotted wire balls. The small dots are found clustered in various groups around the wall like an infestation of insects or crystal formations."

You see, my proposal included not just something similar to Danielle's works, but, ahem, almost the exact same idea. And as for Carey's works, I had proposed a number of other pieces which were startlingly similar. See more about the proposal here.

It's not entirely surprising that this kind of thing would happen, especially given that if you did some research you would learn that corrugated cardboard was invented in Dumbo, and the infestation theme is a pretty big concept. The thing that strikes me is that the curators would dismiss my proposal without so much as a mention of the fact that they had selected some other works that might appear similar, but that they made the decision to go with the other works because blah, blah, blah. That's all I'm asking for here, a little consideration...

Did they really think that I would not go to see the show? Did they think that maybe I wouldn't notice the similarities? In all fairness they could have selected one of my suggestions to include instead of dismissing the entire thing out of hand. I generally give the benefit of the doubt since I (obviously) have no idea what goes on behind closed doors, but this is just strange.

So we did go see the show, and I had hoped that the shelf mushrooms would at least be really supremely detailed and intricate - but they weren't. I thought they looked pretty good on the rusty columns - just as I had imagined they would.

The little red infestation was really hard to find, but there they were in the brick, looking sort of like an infestation.

I don't want to disparage the artists (I like Danielle and Carey's work), the work was interesting, so enough about that, and on to some other works in the show.

Wade Kavanaugh & Stephen Nguyen created a beautiful craft paper work thatmimickedd the beams in the space, but it also had overtones of wood. There was a strange strength and fragility in the mass of craft paper.

Karen Dolmanisth's work was a tactile investigation of architectural mass. She used sticks which had been deftly carved to build a small sheltering structure which swirled around one of the columns. Enmeshed in the piece - trapped or finding refuge? - were cultural detritus.

Luisa Caldwell's candy wrapper piece was so festive, decorative and delicate in such a massive industrial space. It swayed gently with the drafts coming through the building, and reflected fragments of light. The piece took detritus and celebrated it and created a beautiful sculptural piece which defined space in an interesting way.

Claire Watkins created a fascinating investigation of suspended energy, by utilizing a magnet to attract a number of needles tied to the columns by long threads of red. (There's a good picture of it in the link).

So the curatorial thesis of 'site specificity' seemed quite broad. Some of the pieces responded to the location of the space, some of the works responded to the shape and size of the space, and some of the works responded to the concept of site specific in itself.

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On being an artist...

J.T. got me thinking with his post, and the ensuing commentary regarding Motivation vs. Inspiration, and of course my class keeps re-enforcing thoughts which I already hold to be true. But given all of this - what does it mean to be an artist?

I feel somewhat blessed to have come to my art when I did, although there are many who identify their path earlier than I, there are many who don't commit or devote to it until later in life. Basically I realized my own need and desire to create at the level of I guess 'professional' about a year out of undergrad (studied architecture, so there was creativity, but I had not fully embraced the visual arts). I decided at that time that I would devote myself to it fully. That meant going to grad school (at great expense) and a continuing commitment by devoting evenings and weekends to working away in my various studio set ups. (Whether it was a live work, or a closet sized separate studio, or sometimes just a patio or rooftop). Besides the financial and time commitments there is also the question of emotional and mental commitment.

As an artist (unless you are extremely talented AND lucky) you get an awful lot of rejections, and even when you get an opportunity to show there will be vocalized criticisms, although frequently mixed with heartfelt praise. Putting lots of effort thought and pure sweat into something, and sacrificing other things in life and then putting it out to the public, only to receive repeated rejections can be a Sisyphean existence. So there has to be an awful lot of ego, and belief in one's self to keep going.

There are a lot of people that I went to grad school with who don't do their artwork any more. But there are just as many who are still working and showing. Like me they have all had their ups and downs. But, speaking for myself (and I would imagine others) there is something within me that truly believes that the work I am creating is interesting and will speak to people (probably not everyone, but to those whom it does...). I also believe that when I get rejected, its not my work or me being rejected, but just not a harmony between my work and the curator, jury or theme.

I have certainly had some pretty down moments - getting three rejections in one day - but there are ups as well. I just keep making work - because I can't honestly imagine a day without it - its kind of like breathing, it is who I am. And I keep on believing that it is truly worth showing and that there is an audience for the work.

So this is a little off my rants of late (don't worry there's one in the pipeline), but I thought I would put some thoughts out there, and would love to hear from other artists what keeps you going and how do you picture yourself?

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

I won't write about the Whitney, I won't write about the Whitney...

That's what I keep saying in my head, over and over again, and yet I am bombarded by comments on the biennial (Thinking About Art, From the Floor, New York Magazine, The Village Voice, NY Times, Bloomberg, Blake Gopnik)--

aw, hell...

Of course I have thoughts on it, and I keep thinking about what is good and bad about the 'curatorial thesis' prior to even seeing the show! So here's what I am going to do, I am going to write a serial response to all the Whitney Biennial input that is so pervasive in NYC. (Its funny that it passed virtually un-noticed in SF except the year that celebrated the -ugh - Mission School).

So, here are some initial thoughts on the curatorial thesis (given that my responses are based MERELY on the media saturation, and not on having actually read the catalog or thesis - yet).

Internationalism - I support this viewpoint, I think it made sense in the early years for the Biennial (and at times Annual) to focus on American artists, but with globalism as a reality of our time, it would be shortsighted and contrived to only have 'American' artists in the show. And what does it mean to be an American artists anyway?

This years Whitney takes the leap and explores what the 'American Experience' is - whether that is by an American living abroad, or a foreign born artist living in America. I think it is an important issue to review, and applaud the curators for taking it on (successfully or not).

Political art - I have talked about this before, so has Donald Kuspit, and more recently J.T., in Thinking About Art There was actually a good quote from Philippe on this, taking from Godard, 'Don't make political films (art), film (make art) politically.' That to me doesn't mean holding up a mirror or regurgitating the same things that we see over and over again in the media. Instead make it your own, use your own style and voice to either comment on it, provide refuge, or look to the future. Of course escapism isn't always applauded either.

Controversy - Doesn't seem to have much controversy this year (yet), in fact critically it is being well received.

The title - 'Day for Night,'Truffauts' 'La Nuit Americaine.' This refers to the old style of filming night scenes for movies in the middle of the day by using a filter and under-exposing the film. G didn't realize this was done (probably because it is a mostly American phenomena) and since I pointed it out, has driven him crazy ever since. It really breaks the suspension of disbelief. So what is this show attempting to do - is it trying to make us believe in the trick? Or is it exposing the faults in society and breaking our suspension of disbelief in modern day culture?

Exploration of the Alter Ego - I have a street artist alter ego - does anyone else have alter egos that they want to come forward with? Grayson Perry has an alter ego, Man Ray had an alter ego. It is an interesting artistic tradition to explore, but to have a fake or alter ego adding to the catalog - cute and clever, yes, important to the investigation, no.

Curators as artists - Todd's spot on about this. I am working on curating a few shows, but those are completely outside my practice as an artist. Yes it takes, skill and talent and effort to create a successful and cohesive show, but it is not at all the same as making art. With the inclusion of 'The Wrong Gallery' while an interesting 'action' and fitting within the theme is ultimately a bit of a slap in the face to the artists who are included.

(I swear this is the last for today, I have drawings to work on and jobs to apply to... Just wanted to say that I appreciate the irony in my large amount of comments regarding a show I haven't seen, when I hesitate to read press releases for shows I have seen. Or maybe that isn't ironic at all.)

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Drawings and decorations

I finally made it out to Chelsea (blame the travel, apartment hunting, sickness), which meant that unfortunately I missed a LOT of the shows I had wanted to see. Still, there was enough on my list still to render me completely knackered.

I saw a lot of really lavish work - some richly detailed, some glamorous and gaudy - but all of it finely, and obsessively created. I also am seeing a LOT of drawing lately. Is this because I am doing more drawing and am therefore more tuned in to it? Or are there a lot more people doing more drawing? I wonder if there is an immediacy and intimacy about drawing which appeals to us in this day and age? On to the works--

PH Gallery presents an installation by Andrea Loefke. She is a talented installation artist, creating worlds of events having just happened. This work is playful and pop in its brightly colored objects. The viewer has the distinct feeling of having just walked in on something exciting (good or bad?) that had just happened. This work adeptly plays with our urge in this media saturated world to get more facts, more information, more pictures... She doesn't let us have that, instead letting us feel a bit anxious and very curious.

Another artist playing with a missing storyline is Caitlin Atkinson, who is showing self-portraits at Foley Gallery. These works were all staged (which is really important to know) moments of anxiety - she stands in a misty field calling for a missing dog, or holds laden grocery bags in an empty parking lot. The work is successful in conveying a feeling of discomfort and loss.

Another photo show worth noting were the photos by Thomas Wrede at James Nicholson. Wrede produces large scale lushly printed photographs of expansive spaces. In the photographs he (appears to) distort the field of view to remove any realistic sense of scale. Beaches look enormous and desolate, a huge container ship looks like a tiny toy in bath water.

In the magpie category, Marianne Boesky featured Angelo Filomeno an stunningly crafted show of 2d and 3d works utilizing iconography of death rendered in shiny fabrics, semi-precious gems, glitter and feathers. This work, though I found it oddly attractive/repulsive has stuck in my mind. A different style of decoration was employed by Shimon Okshteyn in his show at Stux. These works were strangely unsettling and humorous, black and white traditional paintings surrounded by self referential gaudy, colorful decorative frames, also some very nice glass pieces.

As for the drawings, Sebastiaan Bremer presents drawings on photographs at Roebling Hall. Mostly the photographs are barely there but they are clearly idea catalysts for the drawings. The drawings themselves are intricate and delicate layers of intense personal reference. Andre Schlechtriem Temporary presented the work of Ralf Ziervogel, who creates obsessive monstrosity stunningly rendered as ink on paper. In addition he creates interesting sculptures out of rolls of tape.

I also visited Gregory Coates' show at Magnan Projects. It was an interesting show of reductivist forms. The wall pieces were wooden structures wrapped with plastic wrapping, not original but of some interest. Best piece of the show was the floor to ceiling installation of bicycle innertubes strung taught. This pieces reminds me of a modern day forest, the knots tied like stunted branches or thorns.

I also really really wanted to like the work of Lucky DeBellevue at Feature Inc., and part of me did, I was atracted to the forms and the wonderful use of such a tactile material as the pipe cleaner, but there was something missing in the work. I will have to think about this more because in a wierd way it bothered me that I didn't like it more. Maybe its because I had seen some pretty stunning things done with pipe cleaners by Annie Varnot. Nonetheless the photos still look really good.

Overall the work was not uninteresting but there was nothing out there that I was really struck by. Maybe everyone is saving it all up for the upcoming fairs.

UPDATE: Okay, it did bother me about not liking Lucky Debellevue's work at Feature, Inc. and only this morning (c'mon, remember I was knackered!) that it wasn't the work it was the venue. I looked at a lot of other pictures of Lucky's works and liked them all. And when I looked at the images of the work (without the context of the gallery) I liked those too. The space is interestingly divided into many smaller spaces with a lot of different work being shown. I think all that detracted from work that really needed more space, solitude and silence. Of course I also like these pieces, more for conceptual content than form.