Wednesday, February 28, 2007

artists i like: gerry bergstein

Do You Come Here Often?, 2004-2006

What Should I Paint?, 2004-2006

What Should I Paint? (detail)

Gerry Bergstein
as some of you may already knowis one of my favorite living artists. I wrote an excitable (if not altogether approving) review of his recent show This Is Your Brain on Art at Boston's Gallery NAGA. I've learned a lot of things from him, although not so much from taking his painting class at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (also in Boston). Rather, I've learned by absorbing his thoughtful and intoxicating images over the last eight or so years.

In response to a post by Colin Jago on religious art, I once spat out that "the role of art is to present compelling fictions" (comment #23), further claiming that "internal coherence is more important than any resemblance the work might have to something outside of it". Later (#31), I added the following clarification:
By “fiction”, I don’t mean necessarily a conventional narrative. I mean that works of art create their own worlds, with their own rules.
I don't consider this to be a "real" definition of art, a statement of necessary and sufficient conditions for arthood (I don't believe such a definition is possible). But it does point in the direction of what I find most valuable in art. My guess is that many other people feel the same way (but do let me know if otherwise).

I like a broad variety of styles and approaches. Categories and oppositions like "abstraction vs. representation" or "modernist vs traditionalist" are useful signposts, but they appear to have little to do with artistic value. On the face of it at least, Bergstein's work couldn't be more different from that of Syau-Cheng Lai's. Bergstein's is representational, implicitly narrative and "literary", whereas Lai's is abstract, deliberately analogous to music. His are often loud and bombastic, while hers tends to be quiet and delicate. He works primarily with oil on canvas, she with a variety of media on paper. I don't want to paper over (pun intended) such differences or suggest that all art is fundamentally t
he same. But I do think that both artistslike most others that I admireare talented and ambitious world-builders.

The world-building in question is at root visual. Bergstein's work cites or alludes to a generous (excessive?) assortment cultural debris: stylistic borrowings and iconography from popular culture (e.g. The Simpsons) as well as from art history (Magritte, Bruegel, Pollock, Philip Guston, Ivan Albright...). Lai's work refers to the real world as well; colors, tones, textures and patterns have the feel of familiar things. In both cases, what first draws you into the work is a internally consistent feel for space
both real and implied. If they don't stand up at this level, they don't stand up at all.

Gerry's paintings make a particularly strong case for art as fiction, because they areto a large extentartworks about fictionalizing (art about art). His work in recent years has focused on images of mounds or towers. In the foreground of many of these stands a figure, facing away from the viewer. In This Is Your Brain:
The figure is Gerry himself, but he also acts as a stand-in for the viewer, a way of penetrating these forbiddingly dense vistas. In some pictures, he holds up a map or canvas, contemplating the scene before him. In others, he takes a more active role, interacting with the material of the cities themselves. In both cases, he is an explorer, trying to find a sense of place in world composed of dislocations and nested (ir)realities.
I'll add that in addition to being an explorer, the Gerry figure is also a creator. The "map or canvas"—often depicted as a blank white rectangle—conflates the two. To make art is to explore its terrain.

Also posted today at Art and Perception.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007


Here's what happens when I don't get out enough (or when I do get out, but fail to see any art that grabs my attention).

*More on Syau-Cheng Lai: A review of her recent concert performance and more incessant recycling on my part. Some interesting comments on the latter.

*I've been browsing through the Johnson Museum's 1998
collection handbook. The introductory essay is online, along with a selection of pictures (with accompanying text). Many exciting and familiar images; this one, by George Inness, is among my favorites. (I don't know what the deal is with the overall greenish tint on the online version.) The linked essay gives a interesting if brief history of the museum and of art at Cornell in general. The tone is optimistic and self-congratulatory, which is entirely understandable. But it makes me want to know some of the dirty details. In particular, I'd imagine that their commitment to modernist art (since at least the early fifties) has generated its fair share of controversy. The same goes, of course, for the starkly contemporary look of the building itselfone of I.M. Pei's earliest museum designs. Another essay, by Pei employee John L. Sullivan III, details the building process. The inclusion of diagramsfloor plans in particularwould have helped elucidate the often technical discussion.

*On art criticism and the art criticism debate: Charles Giuliano and Kriston Capps.

*Three online samples from Umberto Eco's endlessly entertaining book of short satirical essays, How to Travel With A Salmon: the title essay (scroll down through the Chinese), "How to Eat in Flight", "How to Use the Coffepot from Hell".

I'll be at the museum on Saturday, doing volunteer work for their Chinese New Year festivities. Hopefully I'll get to see some art as well.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

got rhythm

"The Rhythm Thief", from Sparks' fine 2002 album Lil' Beethoven. More on local art happenings coming this week.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I've been playing around with my sidebar links again. Generally, I don't write anything when I do this, but I thought it might be useful to start keeping a record (if only for my own sake). Changes include:
*I've added a self-explanatory "Other Places I Write For" section, which includes links to three sites, along with lists of things I've written for each.

*Dividing the "Blogs" list into local and non-local lists. The individual sections looked a bit skinny, so I added a few new ones just for the fun of it.

*Putting in some new links and taking others out, just to keep things fresh.
I try to balance concision and thoroughness (or gratuitousness) in putting together a links list, which is why I keep dropping and adding links. Don't take it personally.


times review archive

An ongoing archive of my local art reviews and other pieces from the Ithaca Times. The titles link to the article as it appears on the Times' website. The asterisks link to on-site versions.

* "Drawing Ideas" * 11/12/08
* "MOTE Hosts Barbara Page Exhibition" * - 10/29/08
* "Adding New Blood" * - 05/29/08
* "Ancient Wonders" * - 05/07/08
* "Portraits of Music" * - 04/30/08
* "Rising Above The Ashes * - 03/26/08

* "Shutter to Think" * - 03/12/08
* "A Surplus of Ideas" * - 02/20/08
* "A Fine Line" * - 02/06/08
* "A Born Identity" * - 01/16/08
* "Reflections on Art" * - 01/09/08

* "Small Achievements" * - 12/19/07
* "Print Remains" * - 12/05/07
* "Photo Finish" * - 11/28/07
* "Terrain Art" * - 11/20/07
* "Hewn from the Earth" * - 11/14/07
* "Out of Focus" * - 11/07/07
* "Home, on Canvas" * - 10/17/07
* "Out of this World * - 10/03/07
* "Paper Play * - 09/06/07
* "An Abstract Appeal" * - 09/12/07
* "Looking Back in Art" * - 06/20/07
* "Progress, in Sculpture" * - 06/13/07
* "A Meeting of Two Ithaca Institutions" * - 05/30/07
* "A Pair of Printers" * - 05/16/07
* "Transformations" * - 05/09/07
* "Two of a Kind" - 04/18/07
* "Group Effort" * - 04/11/07
* "Photographic Prowess" - 03/21/07
* "A Woman's Mark" - 03/14/07
* "Finding Home, In Art * - 03/07/07
* "Here, A Stony Irony" * - 02/07/07
* "Highlights in Winter" * - 01/31/07
* "Science and Art at Once" * - 01/10/07
* "Print Matters" * - 01/03/07

* "Sketchy Retrospective" * - 11/08/06
* "So-So Surrealism" * - 10/25/06
* "Force of Nature" * - 10/11/06
* "Recent Works by Stan Bowman and Elisabeth Gross-Marks" - 06/21/06
* "Inter Act Tion" - 05/10/06


syau-cheng lai pictures: part four

Monday, February 12, 2007

syau-cheng lai pictures: part three

syau-cheng lai pictures: part two

From section two.

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syau-cheng lai pictures: part one

All images are from the first section of Visualizing for Bunita Marcus, a site-specific drawing installation by Ithaca artist Syau-Cheng Lai. More about the project here. More pictures.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

eye wide shut

So, its been one year since my inaugural post here; I've no profound reflections to offer, but I did want to mark the occasion in some way. While my Eye hasn't exactly swelled to enormous size, I have made some friends (and no doubt some enemies) out there in the art blogosphere. And while I haven't been as prolific or as consistent or as with it as I would have liked, I'd like to think that I've written some informative, productive or at least entertaining material. I'd like to think as well, that I've put my my humble town (with its exaggerated artistic pretensions) as it were on the map. Thanks to all my readers for bearing with me. I hope to keep going for years to come, hopefully learning and growing and getting better.

I started this blog with the vague intention of becoming an "art writer". Although I studied studio art (at Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts) for four years, I've long felt tha
t my natural talents laid more in the realm of words. So, writing about the visual arts seemed like a obvious move, despite my lack of relevant credentials or experience. While I don't discount the import of blogging for its own sake, I'm glad that my writing here has lead to a semi-regular gig at the Ithaca Times (my local alt-weekly), as well as the opportunity to contribute occasionally to Boston's fine online magazine Big Red & Shiny. Thanks to both. Thanks as well to Karl Zipser and the other fine contributors at Art & Perception, a group blog to which I have contributed the infrequent post. Honestly, they're great; check them out if you haven't already.

To conclude this largely aimless post, I'd like to solicit some sort of feedback from my readers. I know that the proper way to do this to post constantly with timely, relevant things to say. All due respect to those out there capable of this. I beg your indulgence, all. But I'd love to know what's on all your minds.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

wenda gu

From this week's Times:
Born in 1955 in Shanghai, Wenda Gu is today one of China's leading artists on the international contemporary art scene. He works (and supervises the work of others) in both Brooklyn and his native land. His art - which often involves the manipulation of language - aims to be literary and philosophical as well as visual. Currently up at the Johnson are two of his installations: Forest of Stone Steles: Retranslation and Rewriting of Tang Poetry and United Nations: We Are Fortunate Animals. Both are samplings from larger projects which have been displayed in different configurations.

Note that I'm not responsible for "stony irony".

Related Links:, "Between Shanghai and Manhattan", installation pictures, opening pictures.

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Monday, February 05, 2007


I just attended an opening for the site-specific work on paper installation Visualizing for Bunita Marcus by local painter-pianist Syau-Cheng Lai. I had high expectations based on what I'd seen (in reproduction) and read about her work and was not disappointed.

Made up of four long sheets of unframed Rives BFK paper pinned to the walls, it covers nearly the entire perimeter of the gallery (minus windows and doors). It contains a rich variety of abstract markings in ink, pencil, pastel, and (oil and acrylic) paint. She uses strong colors
red, orange, gold, bright pinkwith considerable restraint. The piece unfolds in a temporal sequence and employs pauses and empty space. I was delighted.

The installation accompanies Lai's recent performance of composer Morton Feldman's quiet, subtle, spacious solo piano piece For Bunita Marcus. I had the pleasure of listening to it last Saturday. A CD recording can be found in the gallery.

The show is up in Cornell's Olive Tjaden Building through this Friday; I highly recommend going to see it if you're in the area. Gallery hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.. You can learn more about the project and see some lovely pictures in this Times article, and in this piece, from the Urinal.

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