Friday, December 30, 2011

Natalia Moroz

Natalia Moroz. Boris Pasternak, linocut, 5 x 7." Available on Etsy (see link in post). [Image: stylized black & white block print of a man's head and neck. The shading is made up of black areas and rhythmic lines emphasizing the curves of the face so it appears somewhat cubist. Wavy shapes are repeated in his cheekbones, eyebrows, neck, and hair that appears to be blowing straight up in a satanic wind, anchored by the straight vertical line created by the bride of his nose, his upper-lip-indentation, and chin shadow.}

A photo of the actual Pasternak. Added because someone asked me, "Who is that a portrait of, a satyr?" Nope, just this guy.
I ran across this awesome portrait on Natalia Moroz's Etsy shop. It's a hand-pulled linocut for sale for $70. If I just had a spare $70.... She has jewelry for sale too but you can click the link on the left to see her prints only. She has a whole series of famous literary types.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kent Williams

Kent Williams. Kevin Llewwllyn as Queen Elizabeth 1, #2, oil on linen, 2007.
I enjoyed looking through Kent Williams' gallery at Merry Karnowski Gallery. I had mixed feelings.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Eye Level Art is closing

I hear that Eye Level Art is closing its doors after December. Mike Elder, who owns the gallery, says he's not making any money so he's closing the place and moving to New York.

I interned at ELA when I first moved to Charleston, when they had a warehouse space on Heriot Street and gallery space on Queen. It was a good way to get a handle on a new art scene and meet some people. Back then Adrienne Antonson was the art director, and she had a gift for networking, creating an art/fashion community that formed one of several hubs or cliques that seem to make up the Charleston art scene. I guess REDUX will fill ELA's place? Or Scoop Gallery?

They're having an event tonight, Dec. 16 from 7-9 that will be their last show. I'd go but I have a million bajillion portraits to finish before Christmas.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Oxford Researchers Note Trees, Miss Forest

I've read some pretty poorly designed research regarding art in my time-- or possibly merely poor reporting of valid research, or poor reporting on poor research-- but of those turds this one is pretty steamy.

According to The Telegraph researchers conducted brain scans on people while they showed them portraits by Rembrandt (prints or actual paintings were not specified). Some viewers were told the portraits were fakes, some were told they were "real." People generally reacted to the "real" ones using the same part of their brains that appreciates pleasure, like food and gambling. When people were told the paintings were fakes they scrutinized the picture to try to see why scholars regarded them as such.

Interesting premise, right? According to Nadia Khomami, who wrote the short article, the study ..."suggests that when we make aesthetic judgements on things like art, we are influenced by many different parts our brain- including what others have told us." So far so good.  And then:

Professor Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at Oxford University, and one of the conductors of the experiment said: “It is always better to think we are seeing the genuine article. Our study shows that the way we view art is not rational, that even when we cannot distinguish between two works, the knowledge that one was painted by a renowned artist makes us respond to it very differently. [...]The fact that people travel to galleries around the world to see an original painting suggests that this conclusion is reasonable.”
 Not quite, sir. Let me explain:

Behold! the electronic device you are using to view this blog post. It's pretty neat, right? Now what if I told you it was manufactured by highly trained monkeys? Does that change the way you feel about the device? Would you stop and examine it? Or: think of a song you like. Now what if I told you the songwriter was trained not as a rock musician but in traditional Japanese opera? Would you go back and listen to that song, examining it for the Japanese influence? People have sort of similar reactions to the information that Alicia Keys and Tori Amos were classically trained. Guess what? Your appreciation of something has been altered by "what others have told us."

But then the researchers added art and authenticity to the mix, along with all the classist, Eurocentric, elitist social baggage that comes along with it. We are a society where people are not generally well educated in art except the privileged few who attend universities, a society where art is generally seen as a hobby for a wealthy elite, where galleries and museums are associated with intimidation and snobbery. Where venturing an opinion about art is, frankly, terrifying. Moreover the general art world has spent the last three or four centuries spreading the myth that art is a magical phenomenon of powerful genius. The same art world that has built up a mythology of the Original (and just so happens to benefit financially from such an attitude). So perhaps-- just perhaps-- the enjoyment of a pretty painting is cut short when the viewer is presented with these pressures?

Or perhaps the act of examination versus pleasure-center appreciation is not a "better" or worse proposition. The researchers or writer did not mention if the part of the brain used to examine a fake painting is the part of the brain reserved for stuff that sucks.

Wouldn't it have been interesting to examine the idea that "the knowledge that one was painted by a renowned artist makes us respond to it very differently," by designing an experiment where similar obscure paintings are shown in a neutral fashion, some by artists the viewer will not recognize and others by, say, Mondrian? When you remove the real/fake better/worse premise I wonder, people will react to unrecognizable artists using the pleasure center referred to above? Or upon hearing that the art is the early work of a famous artist, will the examination process kick in?

And to address the last bit of the remark, about visiting galleries to see the originals, that is a misleading analogy. The reproductions to which we are accustomed are not similar paintings or drawings that we can view three-dimensionally; they are photographs of the work, usually printed in a completely different size, on flat shiny paper. Originals can sometimes look the same as their reproductions but they tend to look different and can actually be quite surprising in person, therefore you have to visit museums to observe the materiality, the brushstrokes, the size, sculptural angles, etc. It's not just an attitude toward the authenticity of the piece, it is an observable difference.

To compound the wrongness of this article it is titled, Our Brains Respond Differently to 'Fake' Art. As if to imply that it is the fakeness of the art which causes a chemical reaction due to its sheer inferiority, like magic, as opposed our attitudes being swayed by social pressures related to the authenticity of art.

I'm not holding my breath for Science and/or Research to approach art from a rational place of deeper understanding. Judging by the heaps of either smug or starry-eyed research, science-related people seem to take particular pleasure in debunking (and sometimes confirming) the elitist magical thinking that surrounds art (and fine wine), probably because they've bought into such thinking in the first place.

Sheldon and Leonard from The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon has an Idea; you can tel because he's pointing at his head. Leonard responds like a sad sack.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Newly discovered possible portrait of Jane Austen

I read about this via The Guardian. According to Austen scholar Dr. Paula Byrne,

The previous portrait is a very sentimentalised Victorian view of 'Aunt Jane', someone who played spillikins, who just lurked in the shadows with her scribbling. But it seems to me that it's very clear from her letters that Jane Austen took great pride in her writing, that she was desperate to be taken seriously," said Byrne. "This new picture first roots her in a London setting – by Westminster Abbey. And second, it presents her as a professional woman writer; there are pens on the table, a sheaf of paper. She seems to be a woman very confident in her own skin, very happy to be presented as a professional woman writer and a novelist, which does fly in the face of the cutesy, heritage spinster view.

 Here is the 'previous portrait,' referred to by Byrne.

Sketch of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra Austen, 1810, pencil and watercolor. She is generally thought to look "cross,' but I see the baggy eyes and nostril-to-cheek wrinkles as a common amateurish trait in a drawing. [Image: light simple pencil sketch in oval outlined frame of Austen with her arms crossed looking to her right. The skill is amateurish and the proportions of the face are a bit off.]
 And here is the drawing being proposed as a contemporary portrait of Austen:

Graphite on vellum. [Image: softly gradated monochromatic drawing of Austen at a table writing on paper and looking up at and past the viewer. A cat is asleep on the table in front of her. She sits in front of a thick tasseled curtain partially drawn back to reveal a the base of a classical column and what might be an Egyptian column Westminster Abbey with a hazy horizon line. She wears the contemporary dress of around 1815 with what could be a cloth cap or neoclassical laurel crown, a necklaces, a shawl and lace sleeves. Her faces is regal looking due to being placed prominently two-thirds up the page and contrasting with the curtain.]

The debate seems to hinge on whether this is an "imaginary portrait," painted in homage to Austen after her death during her new-found fame in the 1870's; or a contemporary portrait from Austen's lifetime (1815). While Austen would not yet have been famous she did struggle to be seen as a serious writer and could conceivably have commissioned the drawing. I'm no Austen expert or British art history expert but I think it is from 1815. The ethereal aura created by the soft mark-making and lack of chiaroscuro is common to portraits from the Napoleonic Era because it reflects, I believe, the humanistic idealism of the Enlightenment which turned to hard-edged sentimentality in the later Victorian era (such as Ingres or Bouguereau).

Bougeureauiffic naked lady, late 1800s

Portrait by Ingres.

If this were an homage from the 1870s after Austen's death the artist would have made her face more idealized. If they were basing it on the portrait by Cassandra Austen they would have worked with the wide-set eyes, broad face and tight lips to make a heart-shaped cupid's-bow-lipped beauty typical of the era (see Ingres' portrait above). In portraits from around 1815, however, quirky female facial features abound. For comparison's sake here are some other portraits from around 1815:

Another possible portrait of Jane Austen, purportedly by Ozias Humphrey when Austen was around 13. It is referred to as "the Rice Portrait." [Image: full-body portrait of a girl in a white dress walking through a park with a parasol and her dress in movement].

Yet another possible portrait of Austen, by Stanier Clarke, 1815.

Hortense Bonaparte by Fleury-Francois Richard, 1815. This was a much more formal, finished portrait than Austen's as befitted a Bonaparte.

Alexander Ya. Patton (1762-1815) by George Dawe.

Lady Elizabeth Croft by John Constable, late 1700s.

John Quincey Adams by John Singleton Copley.

Louis Alexander Berthier. Engraving after drawing by Eugene Charpentier, 1840.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pecha Kucha 12

Time for another Pecha Kucha y'all. As you may recall (probably not) I went to Pecha Kucha #10 and had mixed feelings regarding anal beads, community sharing and Penicillin, though completely unrelated. Here is the lineup for this one:

The stage will be set and the lights will go on for Pecha Kucha 12 on Wednesday, December 14th.

Ethan Jackson, emcee for the night 
DJ's Cassidy & The Kid
Concessions: Westbrook Brewing Co.
Josef Kirk Myers & Will Willis – Visualive
Jay Fletcher - J. Fletcher Design
Chris McLernon - Two Heads Music
John Smith - SPARC
Ryan Eleuteri - Charleston Mix
Stephanie Barna  - Charleston City Paper
Bob & Kris Galmarini - Neve Inspired
Abigail Marie - Photographer
John Barnhardt - Barfly Productions

If you don't know what I'm talking about Pecha Kucha is a speed-lecture series held by Charleston Creative Parliament in which people take the stage for six minutes each and discuss anything remotely creative-- report on projects, discuss ideas, explain how stuff works, etc. You pay a ticket and go see it and become inspired, ideally.

I may sit this one out, sadly. Although I typically enjoy this type of self-betterment when forced to participate I just don't want to pay for a ticket to be surrounded by trendy optimists for two hours. You should go though, you trendy optimist you.

Tickets will go on sale mid-week next week.  Check the Parliament Facebook Page or Blog to get all of the latest information.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Happy blogiversary, to me!

So it occurred to me that my blog has a "blogiversary." And that I missed it. This November marks three years of Post- but I barely wrote anything the first two years. I guess I started writing so much in 2011 because of a New Year's Resolution-- the first resolution I appear EVER to have kept (2011 also marks the third annual failure to be able to do a single push-up as resolved). My goal is 100 total posts by New Year's; I'm at 82 so far.

I've run into two of the artists I've blogged about in random places and chatted, and seen others out & about who had no idea who I was, which was kinda weird. Having people mention they read the blog and having people comment is so cool! Definitely worth the effort.

I'm glad I've gotten more practice at writing because when I went back and read my first couple of posts they didn't make any fucking sense. "Now," I mused in 2008, "painting and all the painterliness it entails has been irrevocably identified as a sort of monument to Culture." What?! I'm swifter to edit things down to a manageable size now, if you can believe it. So on that note:

Birthday hat by AmongstLovelyThings. It can be yours for only $18!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ezra Jack Keats at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

I found out via Apartment Therapy that Ezra Jack Keats, the illustrator of Snowy Day, Peter's Chair and Whistle for Willie, will have a show of his illustrations at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

An illustration from Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day. [Image: an African American kid in a red snowsuit stands in a mound of snow in front of an orange, pink and yellow wall and stoplight. It has a mod 1950s jazzy collage look like West Side Story.]

In high school I interned with an ESL (English as a Second Language) class at my former elementary school and spent a lot of time reading aloud from my old favorites from the library. I appreciated The Snowy Day much more as an adult than as a kid, especially since I resented stories about winter as it never snowed much in my home town. I wonder if this book was part of the inspiration behind the Rhapsody in Blue cartoon in the new Fantasia?

Three stills from Disney's Fantasia's Rhapsody in Blue. [Image: cartoon men in front of cityscapes in monotone color pallets]

Japanese Portrait of a Man, 1502

Caption reads, Sesshu (1420-1506)? Daruma 1502. [Image: black & white print on yellowed paper of a very old Japanese ink painting of the head and shoulders of a man. Tall vertical format with his face halfway down the page and empty space above. His clothes are painted with a few thick rough brushstrokes while his head is painted in thin whispy lines. He is balding and has a beard and saggy, bushy eyebrows. His neck is wrinkly and his eyes bulge out and look sidelong at the viewer.]
Found this old German photogravure of a Japanese print for sale here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Liz Magic Laser

I enjoyed this writeup at ArtFagCity of Liz Magic Laser's performance piece, "I Feel Your Pain." It's a cool description of a complicated performance piece, which can be difficult to find (for me, anyway). It's so frustrating when someone discusses a performance piece but doesn't describe what it is or shows a completely cryptic photo of it.

What is it with contemporary performance and video art not being accessible to the general public? We live in a time where you can use technology to, you know, record stuff and share it. YouTube that shit! Copyright and ownership of the work is an issue, obviously. Your gallery pays you to show the piece or whatever-- I don't really know much about the business side of high art-- so you can't go sharing it willy-nilly. That needs to change. Whatever fucked up system exists that prevents me from ever being able to view Matthew Barney's Cremaster Series (a series of movies nearly impossible to obtain or view) in its entirety, it needs to be fixed. The music industry (and RIAA) are grappling with a similar distribution issue but an obscure recording isn't nearly as obscure as an obscure work of recorded performance or video art. And whereas Radiohead's free/pay-what-you-want independent internet release of In Rainbows was seen as pushing the envelope in a good way visual and fine artists are still struggling with general expectation that they give their work away for free.

And if you want to compare music and visual arts as industries you can see how the visual arts industry fucked itself over in the fifties and sixties. While music became more and more widely accessible to fans and inclusive of youth and counterculture, visual art became an all-or-nothing game of elitism and inaccessibility, where art was either a gigantic cumbersome canvas requiring a mammoth modernist cathedral in which to properly view it, or it was nothing. Of course plenty of art was created outside of this class framing and plenty of it has mass appeal: advertising, psychedelic art, hippie art, clothing (fashion), cartooning, fine art and fashion photography, sentimental schlock, and crafts (macrame, etc). And plenty of worthwhile art was created outside the class framing that didn't have mass appeal: "outsider" art, figurative art of any sort, art in the tradition of the Harlem Renaissance, and more. But it was staunchly unrecognized as art at all, and the Art World still will only generally recognize this stuff in "special," separate exhibits. And when the Art World does recognize "outsider" or "low" art as art it certainly helps if the art takes a bajillion dollars to produce, from slick surfaces to studios full of skilled laborers to sponsored major-museum site-specificity to the diamond-studded roladex of the artist (I'm thinking of Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Damien Hirst, and Ai Weiwi, among many others). I'm not attacking artists here, I'm frustrated with the institutions, the galleries, the art power brokers, the collectors and the schools.

The kids from the movie Almost Famous. People were ready to connect with something deeper and the visual art industry missed the boat.

So while music became something that normal people felt like they clicked with and could own, art became something stand-offish and inaccessible to all but wealthy eggheads. In my experience people are much more likely to fearlessly approach unfamiliar music than unfamiliar art, more likely to talk about what they think about music than venture an opinion about art, and much, much, much more likely to be able to list off five contemporary musicians in every single musical genre than to be able to list any five contemporary artists. Thanks, class warfare.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Kwanchai Moriya

 Kwanchai Moriya, an illustrator based in LA, does all sorts of work from cartoons to collage to architectural fantasy drawings. But here are some of his portraits:

Kwanchai Moriya [Image: blonde thin white woman holding a baby sits in a throne with her legs crossed and arms firmly planted on the armrests, looking steadily at the viewer. Background is thinly layered dark swirling acrylics that look like an outer-space night sky and fantasy city skyline. The whole thing has a science fiction paperpack cover feel to it but the painting is left undone and abstracted in some spots.]

Kwanchai Moriya. [Image: loose oil sketch of an older man wearing pastel blue on black background. Paint is drippy and brushtrokes are large. Features are very basically blocked in.]

Kwanchai Moriya. [Image: painted portrait of a chef seated, in uniform, before a table. She holds a large knife across her knees. A coffee or tea pot and some other utensils are on the table. The bottom half (legs, under table) is left reddish, drippy and thinly painted. The chef's white clothes and skin is thickly and realistically painted. The top background is thickly blocked in white that silhouettes the figure and objects on the table.]

Kwanchai Moriya. [Image: painted head & shoulders portrait of youngish Asian man wearing a white button-down shirt with red tie leaning back on a couch. The light source leaves most of his face in mid-shadow, his expression reading as non-plussed or tired. Brushstrokes are blocky and Cezanne-like.]

Kwanchai Moriya. [Image: thinly layered acrylic painting of the head & shoulders of a youngish woman in front of an abstract concentric circular background. She appears to be wearing headphones or some sort of suit/helmet but it's hard to distinguish because the layers are transparent and slightly abstracted. The woman's appearance is evocative of 1950's and 60's Chinese or Korean propaganda posters, while the background is evocative of outer space, a void or a record.]

Kwanchai Moriya. [Image: pencil sketch of older white woman in profile leaning her chin on her hand. The planes of her face are emphasized and her curly hair is drawn loosely and expressively.]

I don't know if Moriya buys into the notion of "capturing" a person's character in a portrait or if that's his intent, but all of these people are so interesting. The way he's posed them or cropped and arranged the pose if it's from an art class has a very narrative quality that I'm envious of.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Writing Like a White Guy

Check out this post on Racialicious! It's an except fro Jaswinder Bolina's, "Writing Like a White Guy." Bolina asks, how can a poet write about their identity when using the language of white upper class Western men? Interesting post, makes me wish I clicked with poetry a little better.

Friday, November 18, 2011

I am so fucking sick of zombies.

Should Female Nudes Be Prettier? (Ha!)

I very much enjoyed this post (scroll down till you see the headline, "Female Nudes Should Be Prettier") on Echidne of the Snakes. Yes, this really exists, or it did as of 2003: a league of "gentlemen" is advocating the production and inclusion of more "pretty" female nudes to counter all the "ugly" ones in modern & contemporary art.

A poster for feminist activist group The Guerrilla Girls, showing Ingres' famous reclining nude, but with her head replaced by a the group's signature gorilla mask. Text reads, "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female."

I've sometimes heard-- from female artists, no less!-- that female nudes are more rewarding to draw because women are "made of shapes." Yeeeaaahhh.... Or that "no one" wants to look at nude men (I guess women and gay/bi men are "no one?") I would point out to these people that if women throughout history were not enjoying nude men and making active use of their shapes, there would be no babies.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Liz Miller at REDUX: Picturesque Evacuation Ploy

You walk into REDUX to see Liz Miller's installation and you're hit with a shocking orange wall at the same time that a friendly front desk person greets you with brochures. Then you notice the title off to the side of the orange wall: "Picturesque Evacuation Ploy."

You walk timidly around the wall through the opening to the gallery and are hit with this:

The rhythmic part of the installation that greets the viewer when they walk in the door. This is the part that reminds me of the gym. Other people were reminded of dragons. [Image: A wall about ten feet long painted shocking tangerine orange. Seven or eight identical 3-D structures made of thin flat felt emerge from the wall, each about six or eight feet tall and reaching six or eight feet from the wall toward the viewer's walkway. The felt is black, robin's egg pale blue, tangerine orange and blood red. Each piece is cut into intricate decorative shapes made from silhouettes of pistols, rifles and other shapes I cannot make out assembled in a kaleidoscopic manner. The felt pieces are attached using brads with tiny orange heads. Together the structures give the effect of a giant 3-d crepe paper banner than has been made of folded cut paper. On the perpendicular wall the white under-paint is left visible in some spots. At the orange-white border little black shapes march like ants. They could be mice, birds or something else entirely.]

And you say, "Woooooowwwww!"

 You can see the scale of the sculpture in relation to this viewer and her stylin' blue-lined boots: probably fifteen feet tall, like the branches of a giant fir tree.
Then you wonder aloud how she did it, then you gingerly step in between some shapes and briefly fantasize about living in them.

My friend noticed the pistol and rifle shapes first, then I could see them everywhere. At that point I decided to read the Artist's Statement. Miller writes that her installations, "...recontextualize shapes, signs and symbols from disparate historical and contemporary imagery to create abstract fictions. Existing forms from a multitude of sources are co-opted, altered and spliced to create hybrid identities...." 

A small portion of one of Miller's felt shapes where you can see the revolver motif that is otherwise obscured through kaleidoscopic repetition (the revolver points to the left in the image). [Image: flat black revolver shape viewed from the side on a flat white wall]

Dear Readers, at this time I should also explain, as I see it, an art historical/theoretical concept involving deconstruction and post-structuralism generally called, "Death of the Author." The term comes from a 1967 essay of that title by Roland Barthes.

Let's say that Wile E. Coyote is about to fall off a cliff. He holds up a sign that reads, "HELP," drops the sign, and vanishes over the cliff. But a few minute later, along comes a hiker who sees the sign. What does it mean? Well, that depends on what the hiker and their culture brings to the table. "Help Wanted?" The Beatles' "Help?" An offer of help? A meaningless sign in a foreign language? A reminder of their job as a 911 dispatcher? Wile E. Coyote's intentions and psyche become irrelevant and the mesh of meanings and contexts to any given sign, symbol or word, along with the viewer's experience, provide legitimate sources of meaning and interpretation for the sign.

Culturally, for example, this is significant because this essay (and the work of Jacques Derrida, postmodern linguists and others) became popular in the academic world at a time when Western culture, previously seen generally though the lens of middle- and upper-class white male society, was experiencing movements for decolonization, civil rights, women's rights, and GL (later BTQ) rights, as well as foreign involvement in Vietnam, Cuba and Latin America, and massive immigration from Southeast Asia, all of which persistently revealed myriad points of view. I can think of many times when someone has made an offensive cultural joke or comment and tried, unsuccessfully, to follow up with, "...but that's not what I meant!" Death of the Author, in action.

Artistically, this idea was central to the transition from Modernism to Post-Modernism. Whereas objects of art had been viewed as distinct objects unaffected by a viewer, both physically and contextually, created by an artist whose psyche and intent is up for artistic interpretation, PoMo subverted this. Some artists, like the pristine minimalist sculptor Donald Judd, erased the expressive brushstrokes and fingerprints of the artist, so prized in Modernism, so that the object stood on its own in meditative coexistence with the viewer. Other artists took an interactive approach, such as Felix González-Torres, who made piles of candy in galleries that the viewers could take. Artists sought to make viewers aware of the act of interpretation. Other artists emphasized the power of the viewer in relation to the artistic intent by making themselves pawns in their own art: putting themselves through documented ordeals, for example, or using their own body as sculpture or artistic tool. Still others emphasized the shared physical space of a work of art and the viewer by making intrusive or interactive art or working with installation, which envelops rather than confronts a viewer, as a way of undermining the fixed fortress-like connotations of Modernist paintings and sculptures.


So now you can see why, when reading Miller's Artist's Statement, I immediately thought of Death of the Author.   Miller has chosen to literally deconstruct symbols by physically obscuring them and actually bending them. She has stripped the gun symbol down to its physical components and used those components to create a pretty, softly tactile modern fairy-tale environment which suspends disbelieve through sheer craftsmanship and scale. She has also made flat shapes emerge from the wall into the third dimension. Merging painting/2-D with sculpture has been a hallmark of Post-Modernism but is particularly relevant to Miller's physical manipulation of symbols. The lacework of shadows on the walls from the felt recalls Dan Flavin's neon sculptures and their emphasis on the immaterial interaction of artwork and environment. Because the installation is so large and you can step between some of the shapes it is also somewhat interactive. The viewer's space is sufficiently invaded. At this point I interpreted the title, Picturesque Evacuation Ploy, as yet another symbol that had been stripped of its meaning and context, and recontextualised in an abstract fictive manner by putting disparate words together in a nonsensical way. What, now, does "picturesque evacuation ploy" even mean besides the title of this specific show?

But I think there are other conflicting messages in this show that make it much more than an homage to the Death of the Author. For instance I mentioned that my friends and I immediately wondered how she created the installation. Hand-cut or laser-cut? How was it assembled, etc. Because of the level of in-your-face craftsmanship the viewer's attention is immediately diverted to the artist creating the piece. What was her process, what were her intentions? Moreover, even as I appreciate how Miller has stripped the symbols of their meanings, I still wonder, why those symbols? I revert back to the generally acknowledged meaning of "gun" as a weapon while I wonder why she chose that symbol to deconstruct. The repetition also poses a problem for me: making a marking into a symbol is supposed to add meaning rather than remove it. And repeating an image ad nauseam a la Warhol's "Marilyn" can make an image into a symbol. But repetition can also, like Warhol's repeated $ sign, strip a symbol of its meaning. The title is beginning to recover some, if not much, of the words' former meanings and becomes, like the show, attention-grabbing and complicated, evocative of a beautiful emergency.

The gun is in some ways an apt metaphor for the show: it's a visual assault in bright colors that creates a "Bam!" effect when you walk in. The shapes seem machine-like and, along one wall, rhythmically echo a military drumbeat. Walking through the gallery feels a little like walking through the interior world of any given addled person with a gun who makes tragic headlines: sort of crazy, poundingly rhythmic in some places, culminating in a frenzied upward spiral of jumbled shapes.

The irony is clear: fuzzy soft pretty gun shapes in felt. Pretty guns dominating an environment created by someone who, because of her gender, is more likely to be a victim of gun violence, and because of her nationality (I assume she is American) willingly or unwillingly, benefits from massive military violence perpetrated by the US.

A portion of the less structured side of the installation, showing how the shapes continue fluidly from 2-D wall images to a 3-D structure. Also shows the full height (fifteen feet?).
Miller's Artist's Statement goes on to read, "...Forged relationships between benign and malignant forms confuse the original implications of each while revealing the precariousness of perception and how easily it can be tampered with. Recent projects pit Baroque and Gothic pattern and ornament against forms derived from armor and weaponry. Seemingly oppositional pairings create duplicitous environments where conflicting messages are conveyed." 

My mind was already heading down the rabbit hole of military actions and public perception: the Iran-Contra Affair, the CIA, proxy wars, police actions, the military-industrial complex, war-time bans on free press, censorship of images of dead soldiers, the complicit media. At this time the meaningfulness and meaninglessness of repetition began to sink in. How Miller, like the media, has numbed the symbol of the gun and created something vibrant and attractive in its place. The small symbols that march ant-like around the orange/white borders suddenly leap off the wall-- or out of the distant space of our television sets-- and clash in three dimensions, in a way that invades our physical space. How it all takes place in an installation that looks fun and contemporary, like an anime future-world or Tord Boontje for Target. I reconsidered the title: "picturesque," attractive, staged; "evacuation," escapism, vacuousness; "ploy," conspiracy, coy persuasion. A misleading invitation to escape into attractive fictions. 

A portion of the less structured side of the exhibit showing the orange paint on the floor and the play of light and shadow cast by the felt.

I stupidly missed the Artist Lecture, so this whole post could be way off base, but the show will remain up at REDUX through November 26, 2011. Go see it!!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Event 2 at Tivoli

 If I weren't going to THE PIXIES tonight I'd be at Event 2 at Tivoli! So go, enjoy yourself, buy affordable art (holiday gifts!). It sounds extremely fun.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


"OMG you are such... a good... drawler."
"Omg no, are you kidding me? Yours is so... much... better than mine."
"What? No! Seriously, yours looks really real."
"What-EVER. Mine looks like crap."
"No, MINE looks like crap."
"Mine looks like vomit."

That was my high school art class. At my all-girl's school, that was basically the only way to take and receive a compliment about your art. Trust me: nothing makes me more uncomfortable than these sorts of exchanges, so eventually I simply tried saying, "Thanks!" Wow, the looks I got. It's like I'd grabbed the complimenter by her collar, shaken her and screamed, "THAT'S RIGHT BITCH! TAKE THAT!!!!!!!!"

So I stuck to the script-- even when the other person's was not always so much better than mine. Or I came off as obligingly fake-modest, even when I was frustrated that mine really looked like crap. Or when I just wanted to be left the hell alone so I could draw. This was in the South, by the way-- there is no "being left alone," or opting out of the compliment competition. There is also no being straightforward and no rocking the boat.

Imagine, then, when my teacher decided to hold a critique. Get in a group, put the drawing up on the bulletin board, go around and say one good thing about it and make one "constructive criticism." No one vocalized anything, there was certainly no formalized plan; but there was an innate understanding, unanimous agreement. The first drawing went up on the board; it belonged to one of the bow-heads (if you're unfamiliar with this classic clique, they are not the Mean Girls, the uber-popular elite; they're not the nerds, either. They are well-liked, reasonably book-smart, well-adjusted, often religious, and they play team sports and volunteer with underprivileged kids after school. Typically wear pastel colored clothes and ponytails with ribbons tied in a bow around them.) The teacher could have selected an unpopular girl's piece and maybe someone would have come up with a criticism. Or maybe a popular mean queen's piece; people might have been ready to bring her down a notch. But she didn't.

"Bow-heads" volunteering in a team. My friend also named this clique, "Pastel People." I know it seems like I'm making fun of them but they were pretty cool-- I just couldn't relate to them at the time.
The first girl called upon started with the good: "It's really... pretty."
"Ok, good! It's pretty! Ok. So do you have any constructive criticism?"
Long silence. Finally,
"I can't."
"Oh, come on, you can think of something!"
"No I can't."
"It's perfect?"
Sigh. Eye roll. "I can't think of anything." The teacher takes a deep breath.
"Ok, let's go to someone else. Katie? Something good?"
"I agree it's pretty."
"Pretty how?"
"Like... I don't know."
"Come on."
"It's got like... nice colors."
"Ok! Nice colors! Yes! And what is your constructive criticism?"
Stony silence.
"Katie. Something."
Stonier silence.
"I can't."
"I can't."

At this point I should mention that, while the drawing was fine-- I vaguely recall it being a landscape-- there was clearly room for improvement. We were high schoolers, not pros.

"Ok. Ladies. We are talking about constructive criticism here. Not a personal attack. Somebody needs to come up with one item of constructive criticism before this class is over." She surveyed the room and landed on another Katie, a teacher's pet.

Katie, like many sixteen-year-old Southern girls, aimed to please (and appease). She must have been genuinely torn between teacherly noncompliance and saying something bad about another girl. I probably would have been, too, as I was a goody-two-shoes, but thankfully she hadn't called on me.

Katie was silent. Her eyes darted back and forth, searching for help from the other girls. Everyone looked down.


Publicity shot for the movie, "Mean Girls." [Image: the three main popular girls. The one on the right smiles at the camera, one stands slightly behind the middle girl making a smirking face, and the middle girl glances sideways at the smirking girl she cannot see, looking extremely uncomfortable.]

Katie took a deep breath and maintained her silence. She was the weak link but her decision to remain silent set the tone. By this point no one would speak, good or bad. There was literally nothing the teacher could do. She was powerless in the face of social pressure. She could have failed us all, but it was understood: you cannot say outright negative things about other girls in public to their faces.

Ten to fifteen minutes later the bell rang. The classroom was vacated in under thirty seconds.

Writing about art criticism reminded me of this incident. I've also been thinking recently about hosting a group critique, inviting some artists I like, since critiques were a favorite part of art school for me and I miss them like crazy. But then there is the memory of that one critique from high school (the teacher never tried to make us do this again). What if it devolves into girl-compliments and critique-fear? It would be absolute hell. But I'm still thinking about it....

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Shadi Ghadirian

Shadi Ghadirian, "Qajar #3." 60x90 cm & 30x40 cm. 1998. [Image: Photograph in dreamy slightly soft sepia of a woman in front of a painted nineteenth century backdrop. The backdrop shows large formal windows with grand drapes, an archway, and fluffy whispy foliage typical of European academic paintings. The woman stands atop an Iranian woven rug and wears old-fashioned Iranian clothes. She stands with her hips akimbo and one hand on her hips, the other holding a 1980's boombox on her shoulder. She looks down slightly at the viewer.]

Wow. Check out this project:

Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian posed female models in nineteenth century Iranian clothes in this formal backdrop setting. In each photo the model holds a modern, often Western object, most of which have been smuggled into Iran. I can't look at the photos with the covered women holding mirrors without thinking of Maya Deren.

[Video: Meshes of the Afternoon, by Maya Deren and Alexander Hamid (her husband). 1943. It's 14 minutes long and sort of strange so I won't go into detail but this is a black and white avant garde film that is slow paced and has a non-melodic scratchy, windy soundtrack. A woman in a house by a sunny garden walks around, thinks and has a dream. She encounters various Jungian symbolic things. Jump cuts and repetition create feelings of dread and waves of sensation. At one point a cloaked figure with a mirror face turns toward her and sort of haunts the film.]

Go check out Ghadirian's website; there is a variety of really fascinating series.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween 2011

We started off w/ coffee at Kudu [Image: black & white quick pen sketch of people ordering coffee in a sketchbook held by my disembodied thumb with grotesque chipped purple sparkly nail polish on it]

Then people-watched on King. [Image: more quick pen sketches, with colored marker, of people in costume. Ninja kid, sleepy baby in a bear costume, dog in a tutu and fairy wings, guy in Alien mask scaring small children, a possible Daisy Duke walking through a cloud of Vomit Smell, a Playboy Bunny, witch, bearded hipster guy in fairy wings, antennae and tube top, matching couple as, possibly, Mr. and Mrs. Candyland, also in a sketchbook clutched by aforementioned thumb] 

Happy Halloween, y'all.

Monday, October 31, 2011

New York Magazine article

I really enjoyed this article by Emily Nussbaum about modern feminism and the Internet. When people ask, "where are all the feminists? Guess feminism is dead," while completely missing the 'blogosphere' (ugh that should not be a word), it reminds me of people in the Art World who are constantly pointing out the death of art criticism because they can't find anyone being published in print media. Ahem... we're out here. On the Internet. Criticizing.

Sister Wendy, art critic extraordinaire. She pops up occasionally on public television.

Another big difference between now and twenty years ago (or how things seem to me to have been twenty years ago, since I wasn't exactly aware of... much at all then) is that artists themselves have much more of a voice in the literature published about them. Most artists run their own websites, which makes it much more likely that people will actually read the Artist's Statement (as opposed to Xeroxing a few copies and scattering them about at a gallery opening). And many more, such as *ahemahem, hem... hem* myself have blogs too, where we can spew forth all sorts of ideas. Of course, just as being a critic doesn't make you an artist, being an artist doesn't make you a critic either.

Raoul Hausmann, "The Art Critic." [Image: antique magazine collage. Man stands in front of black text on yellow background holding a pointy stick, wearing a three piece suit. Woman peers out from behind some tiny text I cannot read and a black & white photo in which the man has been cut out and replaced with small black text on a yellow background. Hausmann has removed the eyes and mouth of the oversized head of the main figure (the man in the suit with the stick) and replaced them with cartoon pink mouths to make a grimacing, sneering expression.]
 One of the most surprising things about checking the primary sources of art history-- aside from the actual art-- is that the shit artists say about their own art is usually vastly different from what critics and historians say about that person's art. Did you know that Piet Mondrian often described his art as being about Eastern-influenced spirituality (what was sometimes defined as The Occult in his day)? Or that the idea that incidental, unplanned spontaneity played a role in his drippy paintings pissed Jackson Pollock right off? Or, according to his vast and rambling writings, Duchamp actually thought... well, I'm still working on that one.* But while this huge discrepancy between recorded artistic intent and general critical/historical consensus seems to me to be a problem, I don't think that it means criticism has failed these artists.

While plenty of artists are both searingly articulate and artistically expressive, many other artists express themselves better through art than through words (or sometimes, tragically, better through words than art). That's why they're artists. It is simply unreasonable to expect that all artists, after creating a piece that expresses something, will then step back, examine their piece within society/the universe/the ivory tower from several different points of view, express it succinctly, and hand it in writing to the public on a silver platter. That is a separate skill, and the two need not always match. It is like a conversation, where the same idea needn't be reiterated: different but related things are uttered between people.

*You know, I would provide sources for this information but I'm going on memory here and that shit would take forever to find. But I am certain.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

And to the tiger in the zoo, Madeline just said, "pooh, pooh!"

Illustration from Madeline's Chrismas, by Ludwig Bemelmans. Text reads, "To the tiger in the zoo, Madeline just said, "Pooh-pooh." Illustration is cartoony and loose with simple black lines filled in by loose lush watercolor.
I ran across a copy of "Madeline's Christmas," by Ludwig Bemelmans, at Goodwill (the source of Everything). I remember my mom reading this to me when I was little (and we had a record where some lady read it, too), and I vaguely remember the illustrations. At the time I thought they were irritating because they were unrealistic and the colors left white spots and didn't stop precisely at the edge of an object. Now, though, I think these drawings are incredible! It's so hard to describe "humor" in something purely visual when there's no punchline and the content isn't funny, but this describes it perfectly. Look at those leaves!

Illustration from Madeline's Christmas, by Ludwig Bemelmans. Madeline and a carpet salesman/magician peer at something magical. White swirls abound.

And it's so loose! The cool patterns, interesting layering, swooshy brushstrokes... *sigh* So I bought it but I don't know what to do with it. I want to open it up to a certain page and frame it and hang it on my wall, but a framed children's book seems a little macabre. So it's sitting on top of my record player along with the other big score from Goodwill, Roberta Flack's "Quiet Fire."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Djuna Barnes, by Peggy Bacon

Djuna Barnes, by Peggy Bacon. [Image: Loose pencil sketch on beige paper of woman in suit top with a black slanted hat that silhouettes her profile. Drawing is so simple it's almost cartoony but is realistic.]

Sketch of modernist author Djuna Barnes. I saw a first or second edition copy of Nightwood at Goodwill and bought it, simply because of the glowing foreward by T.S. Eliot (even though I'd never heard of it or her and I kinda snickered at the name). For a year I've been making my way through it in five-page chunks. It's a short book, but dense and weird with lots of European references that I have to look up and some that I can't ("you know how aristocratic Jewish Germans are!" Actually, no I don't and Wikipedia cannot help me out. That's not a direct quote btw).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Not-A-Gallery (continued...)

The sketchbook project!

Leo Osborne: Juxtapose at Martin Gallery

Leo Osborne. "Gathering of Owls," burled wood sculpture, 23x17x12." This sculpture isn't at Martin Gallery but is representative of what's there. [Image: a hunk of burled, or knotted, wood left dark and uncarved in some spots and carved and sanded in other spots to reveal owl heads and body parts in a smooth light maple color.]

If you are like me you have daydreams of the set of The Importance of Being Earnest, An Ideal Husband and Whistler's "Peacock Room" in the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery. So if you're like me you should head to Martin Gallery to see Leo Osborne's animal paintings. You might have already seen his sculptures at Martin Gallery: gorgeous burled wood sanded down to a smooth buttery finish in most spots and left jagged in others, formed into swooping abstract shapes or somewhat abstracted animals, often stained with paint that works with the wood's natural pattern and color. You can see more of his work at his website.

Leo Osborne. "Rumi K," burled maple wood sculpture, 14x15x6."

But at the opening last night Osborne was showing paintings of animals that accompanied his sculptures. Most were acrylic and encaustic on gold leaf and very decorative. Each painting was accompanied by a handwritten short poem on lumpy handmade paper that was clearly meant to indicate the magical poetic meaning of each piece. But because I'm a weirdo who doesn't like most poetry (or maybe I just don't get it) I thought they were a little superfluous. The paintings themselves were already full of mystery and were deeply connected to storytelling.

Leo Osborne. "Silent Wisdom," acrylic painting. It's about 1.5 to 2 feet square, if I recall. The accompanying poem read, "In clutter and clamor/ our lives now entwined/ constant information/ no peace do we find/ / but sometimes/ between all that frazzled dumb noise/ a silent wisdom above/ speaks only to love." [Image: painting of an owl's head looking over its wing at the viewer like The Shadow peeking over his cape. Head takes up most of the frame. The background is a halo- or moon-like gold circle and the owl is thinly painted so you can see through the layers.]
His paintings and sculptures were much more complex in person so these photographs unfortunately don't pull you in in the same way (so go check them out in person!). The owl above, for instance, is on a gold leaf background with a negative circle incised in some sort of mystery material. The owl figure is painted on a crackled base where the crackles show through as brilliant red veins. The complimentary greenish brushstrokes on top are so thin that you can see the layers of paint but also fluffed up with some sort of medium so they literally create a texture.