Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Blu in Los Angeles

The LA Museum of Contemporary Art recently asked Italian artist Blu to paint a mural on its exterior walls. The partnership made sense given MOCA's stated interest in contemporary artists and Blu's widely popular graffiti aesthetic as a painter and videographer. And how timely! The mural would be in place in time for MOCA's exhibition of street art scheduled to open in April.

Go, Blu! He worked diligently on the mural as the museum's leaders were attending an international art event in Miami, and was nearly done by the time they returned. But therein was a problem - they returned. With only a few days left before Blu could finish loading the walls up with images of coffin-hugging dollar bills, MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch handed him a cease-and-desist order. A few days later, what had been shaping up as a potent anti-war statement was whitewashed out of existence. Unfortunately for the museum, the whitewashing has left it apparently veiled in gentle sheets of toilet paper (see below).

In the wake of this, people are debating whether the museum is guilty of censorship. It's an interesting discussion...I suppose...for those who have a distaste for evidence. There's a broader, more interesting question to be asked, one that kicks at the shins of art as a commodity. Would any museum present contemporary art (particularly street art) if the museum couldn't blunt its political power with contextualizing placards and docent tours? This was asked by quite a few people in Boston during last year's ICA mega-exhibition of work by street artist Shepard Fairey.

Read what Fairey, on whose coaster your coffee mug might now be resting, has to say about the incident in the December 14 edition of the LA Times. Better yet, for a worthwhile read, bookmark Blu's blog and read it every once in a while. Also, watch the short video Muto for an example of his work. Quite amazing is he.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hats off to the new MFA

During these shaky economic times it is gratifying to have something to cheer about in the Boston art scene. Today I spent a few hours at the new Art of the Americas wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, and it is a thrilling place in many respects - modern and cohesive in its architecture, curation and display. A special supplement in today's Boston Globe and The New York Times rightly praises the museum’s bold expansion.

What pleased me most perhaps was the civic pride I felt while strolling through the 50 new light-filled galleries. And I wasn't alone. Cameras were going off, museum staffers were all smiles, and folks were generally in awe of one thing or another… or both simultaneously. Surrounded by historic objects – Paul Revere silver and whatnot - I felt like a modern-day Victorian gentleman at the Crystal Exhibition. There I was in my long black coat and watch chain, holding my top hat behind me, marveling at this and that in a what-will-we-think-of-next sort of way. My reverie deepened as I tipped my head to a hipster with an enormous handlebar moustache.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t alone in my inability to focus on any one piece of art: finding one’s bearings and familiar faces in the crowd was sometimes overwhelming. (I saw a distracted woman bonk into a brilliantly designed yet nearly invisible, glass display case.) There were the old showstoppers, for sure - Sargent's The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit with its enormous blue and white porcelain vases from the painting flanking it, and Copley’s iconic Watson and the Shark. I was especially glad to see one of my favorite Stuart Davis oil paintings in a place of prominence.

But with around 500 recent acquisitions, there is plenty of new work to knock your socks off. Stella’s
Hiraqla, visible from the impressive new courtyard, stands out. Other highlights: the 20th Century People room dominated by the 40-foot bronze angel in Walker Hancock’s Pennsylvania War Memorial, some great new Native American art, and a jovial South American warrior figurine. As our practice focuses on both fine and applied arts, I was especially gratified to see a display of Saturday Evening Girls pottery highlighted. I even saw some colorful plastic retro telephones next to an Eames chair.

I was invited to a spirited lecture led by MFA Director Malcolm Rogers titled The Museum as Good
Citizen, which was geared toward gallery owners and museum members. His enthusiasm for the new wing was evident and shared by guest panelists Elliot Bostwick Davis, chair of the MFA’s Art of the Americas Department; Spencer de Grey, head of design for architects Foster + Partners; and Andrew McClellan, a dean and professor of art history at Tufts. All four speakers emphasized the importance of the new wing’s physical accessibility and the diversification of its collection to include a greater number of people in American history. Bravo (and it’s about time) for that!

Looking at the new interior, the range of visitors and much of the art on display, I believed the
lecture’s message was sincere. This Friday evening the MFA will again demonstrate openness to new voices when it presents America Remixed, another in a series of public parties to celebrate the new American wing. A dear friend, a great photographer and my first gallery business partner, Lisa Tang Liu will be one of twelve featured artists at the event. It should be a great time as large-scale images from Lisa’s American Families series are projected for all to see.

And bravo for that, too!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Art Date

Our customers visit us under all kinds of circumstances - before the movies, after dinner, or when they come to show out-of-town friends our eclectic neighborhood and shops.

One local couple recently visited us on their anniversary, as they add one piece to their collection every year as an anniversary present. Read their story below:

Our Anniversary Art Tradition

We have friends whose house is filled with interesting and charming artwork, accrued through the years. How did they do it? Each year their anniversary present to each other is to choose a piece of art. Ten years after moving into our house, our walls still woefully barren, we decided to follow their lead and start a new tradition by picking out a piece of art together from 13FOREST. After a wonderful dinner at Flora, we went across the street to the gallery.

But how to decide? We probably didn’t have any artwork in our home because subconsciously we were both worried about the permanence of any art-buying decision. And now that we made a romantic event of art shopping we faced the extra challenge of making such a major choice after a good meal and a few glasses of wine, arm in arm with that special someone who might be saying she liked that print to be nice, or who might agree to buying that unique ceramic not to hurt her feelings. And then we’d be stuck with it forever.

Anticipating this problem, and with an eye to preserving future date-night encounters like this, we did what any couple in love would do if they knew what was good for them. Armed with pens and index cards, as soon we opened the doors we split to opposite ends of 13FOREST. We would each walk around the gallery, separately, and write down our top picks—no peeking, no cheating, be brutally honest: write down only what you can imagine on the walls. Then we’d see where there was overlap and decide among those pieces.

As we are apparently spiritually linked our lists overlapped to a great degree (and have every time we’ve done this). That first time we looked at our lists we quickly agreed on our first real piece of art, and being in a romantic mood, that it would be for our bedroom—a print by David Colombo of a kind of cartoonish spooky trellis with slightly creepy bug things with both eyes on the same sides of their heads. Now that’s art, we both knew.

Think of it as vow renewal via ink and oil.

-- Andrea Campbell and Allen Feinstein, Arlington

A fine choice: David Colombo's Flora and Fauna #2, etching, aquatint

Friday, July 16, 2010

artist talk roundup

Last night was all about encaustic when Taleen Batalian, Anne Cavanaugh, and Tracy Spadafora spoke about their work exhibited in Preserve. The event was well attended as the artists attracted past students, fans, friends, family, and general art appreciators.

Tracy Spadafora spoke about her current work incorporating DNA code - a new direction that evolved from past work using Big Dig blueprints. She spoke of her fascination with text as image - when strings of letters aren't read from left to right but absorbed as a pattern.

Taleen Batalian described her love for the conversation between medium and artist - the immediacy of heated wax, each layer demanding impulsive decisions.

Anne Cavanaugh compared her process to needlepoint, acknowledging an orderly personality, and describing herself hunched over a piece with a needle and magnifying glass laying poppy seeds down with care.

An audience member astutely pointed out that all three women started out as oil painters and later moved on to encaustic - whereas historically, encaustic was used only up until oil was discovered.

Encaustic attracts new fans, artists and art-appreciators alike, all the time. There's something seductive about its surface - the transparency, the depth. The way the medium almost speaks for itself, but lends itself to great manipulation.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

bravo's work of art - negating this male's gaze? no way

as some of you may have figured out, jimk is the intellectual in the family. that's why i'm always tickled when we sit down with dinner in our laps to a rollicking night of reality tv - i can hear the eye rolling from across the room.

dutifully though, the stereo goes off and the idiot box goes on. last night we were served bravo's "work of art" followed by "top chef: dc" - crits and quickfire challenges, the "gallery" and the judges' table - it's all basically the same and all kinda fun.

the artists, however, are quite unlike the clothing designers, drag divas or would-be pop stars. they're all a little bit too-cool-for-you and can barely work up a head of steam for the various challenges. watch them the next time they receive their assignments - you can practically see the crew poking them with cattle prods to force them to show the slightest bit of enthusiasm. perky they ain't.

jimk: "the winner is someone who's pleased the greatest number of people the most times - is that really any way for an artist to work?" well, no...but if you're going to be an artist, don't you sometimes have to be concerned with what else is out there? not to mention what's been done before? artists are constantly competing for wall space, buyers, prizes. from our end, curating is the name of the game.

what makes the show fun, i think, is that not everyone who thinks they're good at this stuff actually is. from the judges to the judged, it's really up to the guy with the remote contol to decide.

anyway, enough of that - i gotta run. bethenny is getting married!?

Friday, June 11, 2010

artist talk

Strata comes down tomorrow! For one last tribute to the printmakers, here are some pictures from the Third Thursday artist talk on May 20.

Here's Ellen Shattuck Pierce speaking about her linoleum prints. She exhibited two series in the show, her "puzzle" series along with the "kitchen follies" series. While the kitchen follies cheekily depicts violence in the kitchen, the puzzle series is a more subtle contemplation on collage.

Susan Jaworski-Stranc brought visual aids to describe her process of reduction linoleum printing:
Each sheet shows a step in the reductive process as the colors and image complexity accrue.

And here she is explaining it as Ellen Shattuck Pierce and Marc Cote, fellow Strata exhibitors, and Marco Athie, another 13FOREST artist, listen attentively.

Thanks to all who spoke and listened.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Printmaking processes

Since we opened Strata, a show featuring four printmakers using four different printmaking methods, we've gotten a lot of questions as to the different processes the artists use. So here we go, a brief introduction to the printmaking processes featured in Strata:

Linoleum printmaking - surprise! - starts out with a sheet of linoleum. The artist draws or transfers an image onto the sheet, and then uses a carving tool to scoop away the negative space in the image. That leaves a surface resembling a stamp, with a raised image. Then the artist applies ink to the raised surface of the block using a brayer (hand roller). The inked linoleum is then pressed on to a sheet of paper through a press or by hand with a rolling pin - or anything else that gets the job done.

To create multiple layers of color and add detail to an image, one can create multiple linoleum sheets to press onto the paper in a specific order according to color and shape.

above: Cold Shoulder, Ellen Shattuck Pierce, linoleum print, 24" x 30"

This is the method that Ellen Shattuck Pierce uses. In her "puzzle series," she creates different linoleum puzzle pieces that she'll combine onto one sheet, and then print.

Reduction linoleum printing - Susan Jaworski-Stranc's technique - uses just one sheet of linoleum to create all the different layers. This is also referred to as "suicide printing" because with each layer, you carve more of the block away - so once a layer has been printed and you start carving for the next layer, there's no going back.

above: Coastal Forces at Sunset, Susan Jaworski-Stranc, reduction linoleum print, 9" x 12"

Anne Silber creates serigraphs - a process also known as silkscreening or screen printing. You apply ink on top of a mesh screen and use a squeegee/hand-roller to press the ink through the mesh onto the paper. To define the image, you create a stencil that is placed on top of the mesh, so that the ink only marks the page in the negative space of the stencil. Once the ink dries, you create more stencils to make multiple layers of color and add complexity to the image.

above: Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, Anne Silber, serigraph, 18" x 21½"

Marc Cote's pieces are woodcuts, which is the same process as linoleum printing, except with a block of wood. Two of Cote's prints in Strata are monotypes, meaning that he only made one print of each image. The other prints in the show are limited editions - the artists made a set of each image, and each individual print is labeled within the set, say "1/25" or "7/50". This helps keep the price down (compared to one-offs) as the artist's time and labor is distributed amongst the set.
above: Colossus, Marc Cote, woodcut, 11 1/4" x 14 1/2"

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

San Juan, Part 1: National Expression in the 20th Century

The people of Puerto Rico know their history and culture, and have justifiable pride in both. A longtime colony of Spain and then of the United States, the island is now the latter's “unincorporated territory.” Having a constitution and the right to elect their own governor and local officials, Puerto Ricans are still subject to American law but paradoxically ineligible to vote in U.S. federal elections unless they move to one of the fifty states. Given this somewhat confusing status, during a recent trip to Puerto Rico Marc and I were not surprised to read local newspaper debates on whether the island should maintain the political status quo, petition to become the 51st U.S. state, or seek full independence. Central to the debate is nothing less than the island's long-developing sense of self.

Expressions of Puerto Rican culture are found everywhere across the capital city of San Juan. Walking through its streets, you will see many people with the national flag prominently inked into their skin, and hear music influenced by 400 years of interaction between the island and Spain, Africa, Latin America and North America. Rhythm-driven and highly expressive music forms such as bomba, plena, and reggaeton emanate from neighborhoods near San Juan’s ancient city wall (above) and from clubs around the corner from the Museo Pablo Casals (Pablo Casals Museum). Itself a national treasure, the museum contains a trove of the cellist’s manuscripts, recordings and photographs of performances at San Juan's annual Casals Festival, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious classical-music events.

Around the corner from the museum is the Galeria Nacional (National Gallery) of Puerto Rico. Sun drenched atop the oldest part of San Juan, it was built in the 16th century to serve as a Dominican convent. Off its central courtyard are four rooms in which art from Puerto Rico’s original colonization to the 20th century is thematically hung. The collection is solid throughout and might leave you wondering how popularly accepted canons of great paintings could possibly exclude the work of so many of its artists. Of particular interest to me were paintings in the museum’s third and fourth galleries. Produced mostly after Spanish colonialism was swapped out for American colonialism in 1898, they document an evolution in Puerto Rican cultural and political identity.

Costumbrista (traditionalist) painting developed in Puerto Rico during the first half of the 20th century when colonial transition threatened longstanding traditions and social order. Typically works of this type depict the everyday manners and customs of people who lived across the island. Ramón Frade (1875-1954) became one of the most famous of the costumbrista by sincerely elevating countryside laborers into symbols of Puerto Rican self-reliance and patriotism. In his 1905 painting titled El Pan Nuestro de Cada Dia (Our Daily Bread) an elderly farmer walks barefoot and upright while carrying a heavy load of freshly cut plantains. Nearly life size, the painting is considered one of Frade’s best works and one with which Puerto Ricans would identify through approaching decades of poverty and upheaval. Other notable costumbrista included Oscar Colón, Juan Rosado and Rafael Ríos, the last of whom gained fame as a muralist.

In the middle of the 20th century, Puerto Rico’s economic base began a radical transition from rural agriculture to urban manufacturing and service. With it a great population shift occurred and the island’s artists turned their gaze to new socio-economic concerns. Loosely consolidated under the title of generación del cincuenta (the fifties generation) many of these artists worked for the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (Institute of Puerto Rican Culture), a government agency established in the 1950s to develop policies to enrich and preserve the cultural values of Puerto Rico. Despite the conservative ring of the institute’s mission, its artists often depicted urban life through harshly realistic eyes.

One of the most recognizable names of the period was that of Rafael Tufiño (1922-2008), who was born in Brooklyn to Puerto Rican parents and then moved to the island at the age of 10. In the National Gallery hangs Goyita (above), a 1953 portrait of Tufiño’s mother that, with its determined but weary gaze, introduced psychological complexity to Puerto Rican portraiture. The national sense of self was still strong, but here it is shown with the correlating fatigue of the time. Urban landscapes took on a similar psychological edge, particularly in works depicting streets and their inhabitants in tangles of movement and the accoutrements of modernity. Among Tufiño’s peers were artists Lorenzo Homar, Julio Rosado del Valle and José Antonio Torres Martinó.

I left the National Gallery pleased by what I had seen and learned. But my mind kept returning to a few objects that at first I thought had been discordant with each other. They were a mid-century oil painting calling for war against colonialism, and a dozen primitively carved wooden santos (saints) silently standing in a display case. In what way were they complementary aspects of 20th-century Puerto Rico?

[to be continued]

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

nyc art fair roundup

Going to the Armory Show (not to be confused with going back in time) is like walking through the ads in ArtForum. The place is packed with the highest of the high end galleries from New York, London, Berlin, etc. Some stuff was good and some stuff was weird, but much like ads, everything had to compete to break through the clutter before your eyes.

Marc and I spent Thursday and Friday scoping out "armory week" around the city. We went to the Armory Show, VoltaNY, Scope, Red Dot, and Verge. This way we saw a range of exhibition spaces, from hotel rooms (bathroom art! art in sock drawers!) to a booth showing only one painting.

VoltaNY and Scope are great antidotes to the exhausting competition of the Armory. They attract similar crowds, though - combination of the museum-going-public with real deal collectors. They show some edgier high end stuff, fostering more of a fun-vibe than an impress-you-to-pieces vibe. But this still isn't art buying for amateurs - everyone is in the business of art stardom.

Red Dot was pretty sleepy early Thursday afternoon. Seemed like the gallerists exhibiting there made a last minute decision to jump on the armory boat, figuring that being anywhere in NY would present opportunities that don't exist in their home cities (including Boston). That's got to be the idea that fuels a lot of these small offshoot fairs. At Verge, each gallery set up in a hotel room. There was a lot of Brooklyn art, and I was often distracted by the creativity in space-usage.

New York is always packed with art. During Armory week, it's packed with even more. Experiencing the range - from $95k paintings at the Armory, to $10, 2" x 2" drawings in a cramped hotel room - is the best way to take an accurate snapshot of the art world. Big events like this offer art lovers who frequent museums, but shy away from galleries, to cross over into the commercial world. I hope people don't get scared off by the high end atmosphere and price tags though, because the art world extends far beyond that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

To the Guggenheim With Love

Last week Marc and I went to New York for a short vacation made affordable by the fact that his mother’s apartment was vacant as she and her husband spent time in Florida. Our goal was to spend four days working remotely and to take advantage of as many arty opportunities as possible. This led us to see the big, blinking musical Next to Normal and to luck into free tickets to the David Letterman Show with guests Paris Hilton (who looks like a Christmas ornament in person) and comedian Sara Silverman (who knows how to work an audience). Kicking around the city, I found some most excellent, semi-free used vinyl records to add to the collection that's already sagging one of our floors at home.

Then there was the Guggenheim. We had an unencumbered view of the museum's interior because its spiraling rotunda walls were empty and had just been patched, sanded and repainted white. This sparseness was the backdrop for two “constructed situations” by artist Tino Sehgal. The first, which took place on the floor of the rotunda, was a three-hour session between a man and woman who, in choreographed fashion, hugged, kissed, rolled around and generally simulated third-base sex with each other. (Had they been someplace else, someone might have looked twice.) When I asked one of the museum guards what he thought of the performance, he was pragmatic. “Well, man, it’s not such a tough way to make a buck.” Looking at another V-shaped guard standing next to us, he added, “I’d do it with him if the money were right.” My imagination soared. “I’d have no problem with it,” replied the second guard, “no problem at all.”

The second Sehgal situation couldn’t be ignored. Marc and I walked onto the rotunda ramp with the intention of seeing an exhibit titled Paris and the Avant-Garde: Modern Masters from the Guggenheim Collection on the top floor. As soon as we were on the ramp, however, a cherubic little girl skipped over to us and said, “Can I ask you a question? What is progress?” As she led us to the next floor, we gave answers that we thought a 10-year-old would understand and then she disappeared. “Hello,” said a 20-something woman who appeared from out of nowhere, “so what do you think progress is?” Walking upward, we talked about the night sky, technology, alienation and I’m sure other topics within a span of four minutes, before she too disappeared and was replaced by a bearded Upper East Side type in his thirties. Marc got a little flustered when the conversation with our new “constructed situation” pal took on an anti-technology edge. And so it went with new companions - one older than the next – appearing and disappearing and any hope for an acceptable definition of “progress” fading with time.

Finally just outside the top-floor painting exhibition, Marc and I figured that the purpose of Sehgal’s serial conversation had been to make us think about a complex subject. Yes, but what else? Since so many people are intimidated and silent in museums, maybe the overall purpose of the exercise was to loosen people up and make them talk, period. We shrugged our shoulders and looked down to the bottom floor of the rotunda. The two performance lovers were still going at it - anonymous and alone.

Paris and the Avant-Garde was a small recap of some of what was going on in Western European art between the end of World War I and the onset of the Great Depression. Prominently featured were the topics of Cubism as expressed by Picasso, Georges Braque, Albert Gleizes and Juan Gris; and Surrealism, as expressed by Yves Tanguy and Joan Miro. The work was solid but I didn’t fully engage with the show until I came upon a small selection of Calder mobiles stuck on the opposite side of the exhibition space. Cordoned off so as not to be touched, Calder’s intentionally playful works stood still in the vacuum of art history. When the guard left the gallery, I walked around the mobiles like a doctor and determined they needed exercise. Two big breaths to the mobiles’ arms and they bobbed up and down, biomorphic shapes drifted across each other’s paths and then, once again, fell into a slumber.

For 15 seconds they were beautiful, more beautiful than any cherubic girl, bearded conversationalist or demi-lover I had encountered during the ascent.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Alone|Together Haikus

you want solitude,
but stay near so we can be
alone together.

Every day I work -
making, thinking. But I need
outside perspective.

Alone | Together