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.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Redux: Before I die...

I'm sure the event for the new "Before I Die..." mural at Redux was a lot of fun. Unfortunately I got there 5 minutes before it was supposed to end. I arrived to find some hushed stragglers finishing up their last requests in a nearly empty parking lot. They went inside and I read the mural, alone: "Before I Die... I want to visit my grandchildren. ...I want to live forever. ...I want to visit [somewhere, I forget]."

"Before I die..." mural at Redux. From Redux's website: "This project was organized by Nicole Diefenbach and inspired by Candy Chang’s Before I Die… project in New Orleans." [Image: the long low wall of the Redux building painted like a chalkboard. A large white stenciled heading reads, "Before I die...." Under that are around 20 columns each containing 8 repetitions in white stenciled text of the statement, "Before I die I want to" with a fill-in-the-blank line. People have written in all kinds of things in colored chalk but they're illegible in this photo.]

The sun was almost completely down and abandoned pieces of chalk were ground into the pavement. Rainwater was puddled on the ground and in the seats of empty folding chairs, the year was almost over and the mural had been abandoned only two-thirds complete. Everyone had left to go do Saturday night stuff-- probably not what they'd written on the mural, but fun stuff they probably won't regret.


When I was in high school, if artists didn't want to sell their work in a traditional gallery, they had basically five options:

1. Set up a tent at a craft show.
2. Put it in a zine and Xerox publish it.
3. Make friends with a band and do their art.
4. Check out Burning Man.
5. Complain.

Artists have always had good reason to avoid galleries. In an ideal world you'd submit your work to the right gallery, they'd do the legwork to sell it, and then take a cut from your profits for their trouble. But most gallery people are business people, and most artists are not. Artists often get screwed.

Some artists simply resent the elitism of galleries or their work just doesn't fit in that format. By the '90s artists had organized cooperative galleries owned and run by the artists they showed. These can be a blessing or a curse, mostly due to the group dynamic involved. Some artists had gained popularity with subcultures like goths, geeks, and bikers.

Then came the Internet. Now most artists have their own website to publicize their work and thus sell it themselves. There are also online galleries, but I haven't heard much about their success. Many young artists feel empowered to start collectives and businesses. Real galleries still matter (a lot) but here are some alternative marketplaces and art spaces I admire and that I hope will change "the system:"

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: Part 2

Next up we went to the Telfair building, a grand mansion from the 1800s housing mostly turn-of-the-century European and American paintings plus Edgefield pottery and some contemporary art that was billed as folk art but wasn't exactly. We drooled over the formal dining room that was covered in wallpaper that created a mural of a Parisian toile-esque landscape around the room and gleaming neoclassical furniture upon which sat priceless silver serving pieces. A little sign described the meals they would have had: first course, oysters 3 ways. Second course, [something ridiculous], champagne. 3rd course, [something else ridiculous 2 ways], [some fancy wine], caviar. 4th course, [some delicate French dish involving fish], pastries, [hard liquor, like brandy maybe?]...." etc. I tried and failed to picture myself dining there, being waited on, entertaining important people. But it was nice to dream.

Then we walked down the stairs and around the corner to the kitchen, if you can even call it that. It was like a hovel dug out of mud with rounded "shelves" molded into the walls. There was one rough wooden table. One fire pit that could barely pass as a fireplace. Enough room for two people reasonably, a crowded three. Dried herbs hanging from the ceiling. A pan. Bellows. Some mysterious thing with a wooden crank. A bucket. And a dumbwaiter where the food was transported to the elegant dining room.

I still try to imagine oysters 3 ways, caviar, delicate French crap and pastries coming out of that kitchen and it just does not compute. How do you make a croissant in a fucking fire pit?? I immediately felt foolish for having daydreamed upstairs about old-timey rich-lady-ness because the kitchen slapped me back to reality. For every 1 rich lady there are, what, 10 slaves? 15 servants? And you would rely on them for everything, someone is always waiting on you in the same room, and you know deep down they freaking hate you. I cannot even describe how uncomfortable that would make me. Knowing that kitchen is right below my slippered feet.

An antique photograph of the wood paneled room in the Telfair. My butt was on that very sofa.
But back to the art.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: Part 1

I went to Savannah, GA. I escaped this humid historic beach town on the marsh for another humid historic beach town on the marsh and I loved it! Actually I found Savannah surprisingly different from Charleston in that it felt more lived-in (less "preserved" than the Charleston Peninsula) and more socially liberal, probably because of all the SCAD kids.  God I was jealous of the SCAD kids. I'm not tossing that off lightly, I mean to say that jealousy of the SCAD kids almost ruined my vacation. There they were in a glorious beautiful town whereas I went to school in DC, an oppressive ball-sac of a city. They were kids in art school and I'm... well... an adult.

But I managed to have a great time with my lovely husband anyway. Savannah's got a great museum called the Telfair, which is actually three centers: the Jepson (contemporary art; folk art), the Telfair (historic Western art in a mansion, plus more folk art), and the Someone-or-Other House, a beautiful historic home from 1809 (I think) with slave quarters and service basement (the most interesting part of the tour). You buy a ticket that gets you into all three places once any time over the course of a week, a great system because there is so much to see.

[Image: the interior of the Jepson Center with white walls and sunlight streaming through the glass ceiling and creating a stripey effect on the walls that morpsa throughout the day depending on the light and weather.]

Jepson Center is an incredible building. I've seen a lot of big white minimalist museums in my time but this place was just big enough to be breathtaking but no bigger, white enough to be calming but not cold, and full of curves that created a soaring airy atmosphere without being hard to navigate. We unexpectedly spent the majority of our time messing around in the kid's educational section where my husband encountered an interactive music software table. Four measures of music bars are printed on the tabletop and you place wooden blocks where you want the beat to go. A thing above your head scans the bars repeatedly and plays the beats as you've arranged them in a loop in real time. You can scatter numerous beats across a measure and the tenor of the sound changes depending on where on the staff you place the block. It was addictive.

[Image: my husband hunched over a table playing with the music thing I described.]
There were plenty more well-designed absorbing stations in the kid's area that really got me thinking about how one should teach kids about art. When I was a kid a museum educational area always had some state-of-the-art interactive station involving computers which was always broken and roped off, leaving the museum with no other funds for further "exploration" except some dubious station involving filthy chip-board cut-out shapes with rounded child-safe edges that you arranged in order to "discover" some concept that no one really cared about. And a fiberglass mascot of the particular area of study that you could climb on. But not at the Jepson.

The staff also had an exhibit up outside the museum offices and I'm just going to say it: the staff show was better than the content of most galleries in Charleston. 

In one of the real galleries they were showing Betsy Cain: In Situ. She's a local artist who makes large abstract paintings by swirling acrylic paint over smooth surfaces with a squeegee. Oh man, they were gorgeous. Floor-to-ceiling huge, they were so big you really got a feeling for the way the painter's body moves as she applies the paint. Check out her work!

[Image: Betsy Cain, Indigofera #4. Vertical abstract composition with blackish indigo thick swirling marks smeared out or watered down to light indigo in some places on a white background. Lots of drips and visceral smearing.]

Friday, October 14, 2011

China, IL

I think I was alerted to Brad Neely's new show, China IL, on Adult Swim through some sort of newfangled subliminal advertising because one day Creased Comics popped into my head for no reason, then I remembered how awesome it was and felt compelled to tell other people, then the George Washington and Wizard People things came up in conversations, then when I was strolling along some street in Atlanta I saw an awesome mural painted on the side of a shop advertising the show. But that is OK because I am SO EXCITED. If you've been reading this blog for a long time-- and you probably haven't-- I've had a link to Creased Comics as one of my favorites for EVAH. My husband and I are always whining to each other, "don't be a shit in my cut!" Sometimes when I am experiencing social anxiety I sing to my self, "be... agressive! B-E-agressive!" Yes, I said it.

[Image: Cartoon drawn crudely but with smooth thin lines and colored with mostly pastel solids except bright red blood. An anchorman with puffy yellow hair and a serious, bland expression reports live in front of what could be a sidewalk full of dead or injured blood-spattered people with a giant baby and a plume of smoke rising in the background. Image is very ambiguous.]

The animation is a little smoother, and the pictures actually move. I miss the old animation, but that's probably really hard to do in large quantities so I forgive Neely. It's also not quite as strange, unfortunately, but it still has plenty of stream-of-consciousness near-logic and near-slang. Hulk Hogan plays the voice of the Dean. I don't have a TV, I don't have cable. But I saw a few clips of it on YouTube. I am cautiously hopeful that it will be the best thing ever.