Saturday, April 22, 2006

Live Art

Cornell is hosting a number of horticultural art events, so let me mention those, if only to remind myself to attend and write about them (at least the ones I can get to). Enviromental artist Paul Cooper will be giving two seminars. One will be this coming Monday, from 11:15 (am) to 12:05 in Cornell's Plant Science building, Room 404. He will be speaking the following day at the Johnson, from 12:20 to 1:15. From the promotional material:
Artist and garden designer Paul Cooper has gained an international reputation for his innovative and often radical approach. His highly acclaimed and sometimes controversial portfolio includes private and commercial garden designs, show gardens, sculpture and environmental art. He is the author of four books: Gardens Without Boundaries, Interiorscapes, Living Sculpture and The New Tech Garden.
Also, at the Mann Library, you can see the self-explanatory "Art in Horticulture: Exhibit of Work from Hort 201".

On a related note, the Science Cabaret will be holding a art-science-entertainment event entitled "A Curiosity Cabinet of Fantastical Fungal Freaks" next Tuesday. Speakers will be mycologist Kathie Hodge, photographer Kent Loeffler and artist Tim Merrick. This takes place in downtown Ithaca's Lost Dog Cafe, starting at 7pm.

Yes, this is promotion (albeit selective promotion); I'll tell you what I I think about all of this later. Also, anybody interested in avant-garde landscape architecture should check out the blog Pruned. Enjoy.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Geyer on the ParkeHarrisons

Nancy Geyer has a piece today on "The Architects Brother" in the local paper. She finds the photographs compelling, but cumulatively overwhelming in their mythic character. Fair enough, but surely this comes with the territory. And the ParkeHarrisons' sophistication and irony obviously places their work miles above the kind of hippie nature-worship kitsch for which Ithaca is regretably renowned (and that even creeps into art museums once in a while). All of this goes without saying if you're familiar with the work. She also finds the wall texts distracting, probably because she reads them more dutifully than I do.

Geyer also sketches an interesting comparison between the ParkeHarrisons and the work of Robert Misrach, up at Pace/MacGill in NYC through this Saturday. She writes:
I felt a keener sense of sorrow while under the aesthetic power of Richard Misrach's photos of the American West desert... Behind their beauty (Misrach, like the ParkeHarrisons, doesn't skimp on beauty when portraying disaster) lurks the misuse of that landscape by government and industry. Misrach's methods are nothing like those employed by the ParkeHarrisons (he doesn't create the environments he photographs, for one thing), but they share a refusal to ignore the violence that humans inflict on the earth, to which so many landscape artists still turn a blind eye.
More about the ParkeHarrisons coming. Just don't hold your breath or anything.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Some Notes on a Lecture by the ParkeHarrisons

I attended a lecture by Shana and Robert ParkeHarrison on the 30th of March. (This was over two weeks ago; sorry for not writing it up earlier). The wife and husband team gave a lively perfomance, discussing (among other things) their influences, their working process, and the development of their oeuvre. They were both dressed entirely in black. Their show of staged composite photographs, The Architect's Brother is up at Ithaca's Johnson museum through June 11. I hope to eventually write more about it and some of the other excellent exhibits currently up there. The show will also be traveling around the country through next year.

Briefly, the show consists of hazy dream-like monochrome images, depicting the exploits of a dapper, dark suit-clad Everymanplayed by Robertas he struggles and works with a ruined, post-apocalyptic landscape. To this end, he uses a variety of fanciful technology, variously suggesting primitive magic, Da Vinci drawings and post-industrial refuse. "Brother" is divided into five series: "Exhausted Globe," "Industrial Landscapes," "Promisedland," "Earth Elegies" and "Kingdom", each showing different episodes in a vaguely defined ongoing narrative. The show is also split between small framed pieces and larger unframed works on panels. You can read more about it in this Cornell Daily Sun article as well as in this piece (and another) from the Boston Globe. Modern Kicks weighs in on the show here.

The ParkeHarrisons began their talk by discussing the wide-ranging nature of their backgrounds and the eclectic influences they thus brought to their project. They consider themselves to be interdisciplinary artists rather than photographers. Aside from Shana's dance background and Robert's studies in photography, they mentioned sculpture, theatre and performance art as aspects of their work. At one point, Robert mentioned "being scared of performance art", but also fascinated by it, as an entry into staged photography. (As a former art student, intrigued by the freedom and inventiveness of the genre, but too nervous to actually perform in front of people, I am sympathetic.) They also mentioned being inflenced by literary sources such as Samuel Beckett (one slide they showed was of a work entitled "Harvesting Godot"), Franz Kafka, Bruno Schultz and Octavia Butler, as well as the films of Andrei Tarkovsky.

Science and ecology were also mentioned as sources of ideas, although I don't see their work as being informed by a detailed knowledge of these fields. C
ertainly during the talk, these were only discussed in the most cursory way. This isn't necessarily a criticism; much of what goes under the labels of "political art" or "science based art" is overly didactic or simply dull. Whether this is simply a front for political apathy or a principled stand for the autonomy of art, I'm not sure.

The two showed slides of a several visual artists they considered influential or like-minded. Most were well-known contemporary figures. They stressed their interest in "contemplative" artists (not exactly sure what that means), and work that can be interpreted at multiple levels. Artists shown included Louise Bourgeois, Dorris Salcedo, Robert Rauschenberg (especially his collaborative work with Merce Cunningham and others), Joseph Beuys, Wolfgang Laib, Anslem Kiefer (not a favorite of mine), Christian Boltanski, Fransciso Clemente, Annette Messager, Michael Rovner, Anthony Gormley, Casper David Friedrich, Philip Guston, Robert Wilson, and William Kentridge. They mentioned being increasingly interested in painting.

I was a little surprised that they didn't mention the work of Mark Tansey, whose monochromatic paintings also combine the mythic with the deadpan. In particular, "Passage" reminds of me Tansey's iconic image of Jackson Pollock walking on water (which I can't find a picture of, sorry). Both pictures depict a heroic (or mock-heroic) figure lost in concentration, wrapped up in his own ridiculous endevour. Everyman even resembles Pollock in these photographs.

From there, the ParkeHarrisons delved into a chronology of their work. I'll be writing that up, hopefully later today (sorry for the abrubt ending here).

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Just Wondering

Does anybody know what happened to Iconoduel? It used to be my favorite artblog and I still enjoy digging through the archives (well, usually).


A news item for interested local readers (if any): The Tompkins County Public Library is hosting a group exhibition of interactive art entitled INTER ACT TION (love the pretentious wordplay, but where did the extra "T" come from?). The curator is local artist-designer Pete Rush. There will be a reception next Thursday, from 5 to 7pm. You can meet the artists and participate in an activity directed by "expressive artist" Armelle Lefebvre. I noticed that interesting and talented local artist David Estes is involved. Also, strictly speaking, isn't all art interactive?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Writing Pedigree Zero

In talking with Barbara Mink at her opening last Monday, the subject of my art blog came up. (Also blogging more generally, but who cares about that?) Mink likes my writing, comparing "The Thinking Eye" favorably to the general glut of online journaling. Somehow during this discussion, the notion of "pedigree" (her term) came up.

I'd like to make it clear, if it isn't already, that I don't have much of one. I have an undergraduate degree in studio art from a credible institution, which is about it. I've never written about art for money in my life, (although with any luck this will change soon). I don't have a degree in art history or art theory or anything like that. That may change as well, but not soon at all. I've also never formally studied writing beyond the usual college freshman level.

It may be worth pointing out that Mink herself lacks much of a pedigree when it comes to painting, at least according to this sketch of a resume. On the other hand, her formal qualifications as writer are considerable. Among other things, she lectures in management communication at Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management. Many (perhaps most) of the pe
ople at the opening were her students or collegues. She has also been involved in a wide variety of local politics and other social organizing. More interesting for me at least is her job as director of Ithaca's yearly "Light in Winter" festival. (Last January's festival included the lovely Laurie Anderson.)

So anyway, I was wondering about the relative value and merits of a (strong) pedigree in the visual arts and writing (critical, journalistic, etc.). How do we know when to take artists seriously if they don't have a BFA or MFA? If these credentials are unnecessary, what (if anything) is their significance? On the other side of the fence, what is the value of "uncredentialed" writing in this age of specialization and expertise? The internet, and blogging in particular (I didn't want to bring this up, sorry) seems to be a hotspring for the do it yourself ethos. I think that this is largely a good thing; (how) do we get this across to ivory tower communicators? Finally, how symmetrical are the two sides of my metaphorical fence? Is writing inherantly more formal or technical or serious than painting? Or is it just a matter of entrenched institutional habit?

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Main Street Reviewed

Here's a Ithaca Times review, by Karen Gadiel, of the current group show at the Main Street Gallery. For comparison, you can also read some of my own thoughts about the same exhibit (the following post links to pictures of the opening). For what it's worth, the review is descriptive and interpretive, not critical. I see that Buzz Spector is a "minimalist" now; how did that happen? Gadiel also talked to the owners, Adrienne Bea and Roger Smith. She quotes them on their mission as gallery owners. Mr. Smith tells us:
"We're not interested in people banging out stuff. We look at everything but we're not market-driven. We sell paintings but we don't put in a certain type of painting just because it's popular."
That's good to know.


Monday, April 10, 2006



I attended an opening for the local artist Barbara Mink earlier tonight at the Willard Straight Hall Art Gallery. Mink showed twelve pieces from a series of layered, richly textured, drippy oils she calls "Interior Landscapes". While these paintings have titles like "Delta" and "Estuary", this literalness often seems a bit forced. Which isn't to say that they don't evoke natural landscape. They do. They're also reminiscent of Michael Mazur's paintings. You can see more of these interior exteriors on her website.

Unfortunately, the gallery space was too dimly lit to see the work clearly. The austere neo-Gothic interior was however, in a way, a great place to see these paintings insofar as it offset their lush romanticism with something sterner. I saw similar (indeed I believe much of the same) work by Mink last fall at downtown Ithaca's Sola Gallery and liked it quite a bit a less. In part, I think the work is simply growing on me. But I also think I was put off by their presentation there as decorative art, beautiful objects for upper middle class interiors (click on the link above and you'll get the idea). Here they remind me of stained glass windows (albeit without backlighting).

My favorite piece, "Marsh" (see above), felt the most resolved in its balance of different colors and textures. With most of the pieces, the details were more interesting than the wholes. They're often dominated by a single overall color range: green, or in the case of "Desert Sea", yellow-orange. Others introduce fiery red, giving them a dissonant quality which I find over-dramatic. This is most interesting (not necessarily successful) in "Portal" which is also notable for its gridded structure. Red makes an appearance in "Marsh", but the effect is more muted (though not as much as the reproduction would lead you to believe.)

I mentioned Mink's name in a previous post, citing her as one of the few local artists doing innovative, alternative landscape work. I want to promote that. Given my mixed feelings about Mink's actual pieces, I may have been a little bit too generous here. Still, these are pleasurable paintings.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Local Art Media Links

*An Ithacan article describes an installation piece by artist Mary Zebell, literally tallying the costs in human life taken by various wars and natural distasters. I can't from the article how long its supposed to be up (permanently?), but apparently "its going to be constantly growing".

*In other Ithaca College art news, on April 13, there will be an opening reception for the "Senior Student Show". It will take place at IC's Handwerker Gallery. More information and events here.

*Ilana Papir, of the Cornell Daily Sun, has fairly straightforward review of the ParkeHarrison's "The Architects Brother". She stresses the ecological aspects of their work, which I think are a bit overplayed. Indeed, when I heard them talk about a week ago, they were pretty vague about the concrete political and ecological issues supposedly addressed in their work. The photographs are more on the order of fantasy and absurdist drama (which are all right by me). I hope to write more about all of this in the next few days.

Pretty slim pickings; can't more people around here write about the visual arts? Or if you do, and (you think) I don't know about it, let me know. Thanks.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sylvester on Klee

"Legends of The Nile"

Today I picked up a remaindered copy of David Sylvester's About Modern Art, a retrospective (as he puts it in his preface) of his long career. Sylvester died in 2001; the pieces within date from between 1948 and 2000 and are arranged loosely in chronological order. The book opens with two lucid, perceptive essays on Paul Klee, focusing on the late paintings. Some quotes from the first one:
These are pictures without a focal point. They can not be seen by a static eye, for to look at the whole surface simultaneously, arranged about its centreor any other point which at first seems a possible focal pointis to encounter an attractive chaos. The eye must not rest, it must allow itself to be forced away from the centre to find a point at which it can enter the compositionthere are usually many such points, most of them near the edgeand so journey through the pitcture, 'taking a walk with a line'

On the difference between Klee's work that of the Renaissance tradition (conceived broadly):
A Renaissance picture is a building, an established and complete entity. A Klee is an organism in growth. A building cannot develop of itself; it can only be changed by outside forces. An organism has a future as well as a past. Likewise, a picture by Klee goes on becoming not only while he cultivated it but while you cultivate it...To look at a Klee over a period of time is not to acquire a deeper understanding of the finished thing but to observe and assist in its growth.
In the preface, Sylvester admits a distaste for Klee's "fantasy and humour", finding them "rather heavy". While I must respectufully disagree (and isn't levity a strength of his best work?), his focus on phenomenologyas opposed to symbolism and narrativeis enlightening and fun to read.

Klee, whom I've mentioned before, is the subject of a current exhbit at New York's Neue Galerie. You can read more about it in this New York Times piece. I'll have to go down and take a look, won't I?

In other art-bookery, sociologist Howard Becker, author of the classic Art Worlds, has edited a new book entitled "Art from Start to Finish: When Is An Art Work Done?" A table of contents and three essaysincluding a feisty one by Becker himselfcan be found online. Here's another sample. The book, to be released in May according to amazon, looks intriguing.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Son of Small Worlds

Philip Guston, The Ledge

Gerry Bergstein, Mound#4

Rene Magritte, Castle in the Pyrenees

Sorry, I seem to have writer's block right now. I think its interesting that many (if not most) people would rather read about art than look at it, which isn't so great for blog purposes. Oh well, try to enjoy anyway.

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