Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Just a quick note: my old art school friend Kirstin has a blog, Forgone All Custom of Exercises. She used to do these neat, drippy quasi-abstractions; now she appears to be focusing on tightly rendered, satirical-absurdist still-lifescapes like this one. But the work still partakes—in its own wayin that dense, layered, clustering aesthetic that we both love so. (Also see Tracy Miller's paintings.)

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touch me

One aspect common to painting and drawing, but relatively lacking in photography, is an attention paid to a work's texture and tactile qualities. Smooth glossy sheets of paper, neatly matted and placed behind glass and tasteful, minimal frames can be off-putting. Even photos depicting textural details can appear too smooth and too distancing. Not that that can't also be good in its own way of course, but still. Some of the most compelling work in the State of the Art Gallery's "18th Annual Juried Photography Show" breaks this mold.

In this light, it shouldn't come as a surprise that my favorite piece is K.C. Englander's Antibiosis, a gathering of rough birch bark scraps imprintedvia inkjet transferwith aerial views of cities and roads. A pair of shallow transparent boxes on a raised platform and leaning up against the wall, each hold three irregular pieces. The scratchy, mottled brown and white bark bits are artificially tinted in the middle: warm blue, dull purple or an ever so slightly greenish gray. The largest, a purple one dominating the left box, shows a spaghetti-like tangle of highways. According to The American Heritage Dictionary (fourth edition, 2004), the term "antibiosis" can refer in ecology to "an association between two or more organisms that is detrimental to at least one of them." Indeed, the visual effect, along with a rudimentary understanding of urbanism, suggests a tangle of roadways at war with a city-organism. Its aesthetic suggests old maps, despite the modern technology so obviously employed.


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Saturday, March 17, 2007

survival of the fittest

I'm not sure if I fully agree with this, but it has a sensible sound to it. Umberto Eco, in a Wired interview cica 1997:

You publicly supported Italy's new center-left coalition government when it was campaigning for election in April 1996. After the victory, it was rumored in the Italian press that your payoff was the new post of Minister of Culture - but you turned down the job before it was even offered. Why?

Because before you start talking about a Minister of Culture you have to decide what you mean by "culture." If it refers to the aesthetic products of the past - beautiful paintings, old buildings, medieval manuscripts - then I'm all in favor of state protection; but that job is already taken care of by the Heritage Ministry. So that leaves "culture" in the sense of ongoing creative work - and I'm afraid that I can't support a body that attempts to encourage and subsidize this. Creativity can only be anarchic, capitalist, Darwinian.
Andrei Codrescu also has an interesting idea.


Friday, March 16, 2007

travel, abstraction, links

Sorry things have been so slow around here. But this blog is almost always best when I'm actually looking at art that really engages me and there hasn't been so much of that going around here. More generalized ponderings need to follow from that, usually. I have pretty broad taste and can appreciate a lot of things on a rational level, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm jumping out of my seat. Also, reviewing often mediocre shows for the papercurrently near-weeklythis whole art-writing business begins to look just a little bit mre like actual work, and a little bit less like the uncoerced, unalienated activity I like to imagine that I started with. Not that I'm complaining really; I enjoy what I do.

Anyways, its a pleasure to report that I'll be spending the majority of next week hanging out in the Boston area, with art-viewing at the top of my agenda. I'll be writing up "Big Bang! Abstract Painting for the 21st Century"
currently up at the DeCordova in Lincolnfor Big Red & Shiny. Silly, hyperbolic title aside, it looks like a promising show. Franklin Einspruch of has an ably written and cautiously enthusiastic review here. I'll reserve full judgment until I've seen it in person, of course. Nevertheless, much of the work appears to embody what I find most encouraging in the art of today: a combination of formal daring and the willingness to reconcile abstraction with the concerns of everyday life in the modern world. That probably sounds both vague and pretentious; elaborations to follow soon.

On a similar note, I'd like to draw your attention to some related proclamations and discussions online and beyond. Madinkbeard
—a new addition to my sidebar and an all-around enlightening-read—has posts linking the abstract painters Cy Twombly and Pierre Alechinsky to comics and narrative. Intriguing images, especially in the latter case. Birgit Zipser has an interesting, if wrongheaded, post on abstraction and mental illness today at Art & Perception. See the following discussion for an ongoing debate on art versus science, abstraction versus representation, and nature versus nurture. Not directly related to abstraction, but still worthwhile: Stacy Oborn on defining personal aesthetic sensibility. Finally, and turning back to the real world, Linda-Price Sneddon and Mark Schoening have an ongoing experimental project, inFlux, which you can read about here, or go see at Boston's Laconia Gallery. (Yes, most of the names dropped above are acquaintances of mine.)

Anyways, I hope to be blogging every other day or so from Boston, probably starting on Wednesday, and hopefully sustaining me for a while after my return.

UPDATE (3/17): There has been a change of plans, as my traveling companion apparently has come down with a bad case of jury duty. I'll be going down on Thursday morning instead. Perhaps I can arrange to stay beyond Sunday
I'd certainly like to.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007


The Ink Shop is one of Ithaca's best and most consistent art exhibition venues. The level of work shown is generally high. Shows of prints by members or invited artists - as well as the occasional traveling exhibition - are almost always put together with evident thought and care. The latest show, curated the inimitable Christa Wolf (a member) is no exception. Entitled "Her Mark: Works on Paper by Women Artists", it attempts to invoke the spirit of the female artists' collectives of the seventies. In a welcome move, the selection of works goes beyond traditional printmaking to incorporate painting, drawing and collage.


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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

rhythm & blues

In the latest Times:
Nearly all the figures in "Blue Like Me"—a show of figurative paintings at Ithaca College's Handwerker Gallery—have a cyan tint. Although blue skin is traditionally an attribute of the Hindu god Krishna, not all of the figures here are obviously holy. Many are dressed in contemporary clothing or employ modern day props. These images can thus be seen as an attempt to democratize spirituality. The artist is Siona Benjamin and the pieces in the show are all from her "Finding Home" series, a meditation on cultural blending and dislocation. (All of these are titled Finding Home, followed by a number and a subtitle.)

Related Links: Siona Benjamin, Handwerker Gallery, Benjamin at Cheryl Pelavin Fine Arts, Finding Home #49 (Venus).

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Friday, March 02, 2007

hairy gu

So, last night I attended a Johnson museum lecture by star Chinese artist Wenda Gu (useful website with much photo documentation). The talk accompanies a current show of his work there. I'm planning to attend an afternoon symposium dedicated to the artist on Saturday (open to the public as these things generally are), so I'll keep things short and simple here.

Gu showed digital projections documenting his work while fielding questions from the audience. The focus was on his internationally themed United Nations installation series, along with a handful of early ink on paper pieces (featuring landscape and/or calligraphy) and some new "land art" projects. Curiously, he largely avoided mention of his Forest of Stone Steles series, a labor intensive project represented here in Ithaca by twelve elaborately carved stones, each with accompanying ink on paper rubbings. (You can see my not entirely favorable review—which I still stand by—here.) But he did conclude the evening by showing a video depicting some of the work behind the piece. His steles were quarried and carved, largely by hand, by traditional Chinese craftspeople.

Gu's presentation of the United Nations series was similarly (and welcomely) focused on material and technique, along with some of the more straightforward responses generated in his audiences. The installations are notable for being made primarily out of human hair (held together with glue and other materials). He discussed at some length how this made some people uncomfortable, both for general reasons and culturally specific ones—for example a version in Israel inviting the threat of government censure because of Holocaust associations. He talked about the collection process: from his early days going from "barbershop to barbershop" to his current method of getting museums or other organizations to collect local locks. He explained how his use of hair from different racial groups (along with "gay hair"!) was intended to symbolize both diversity and unity. I'm not quite sure that I quite buy this last claim.

Gu also covered the subject of his simplified or invented "Chinese" characters, a trademark of his (and of a number of contemporary Chinese artists, for some reason). Not being able to read Chinese characters, I am probably unqualified to fully evaluate this central aspect of his work. But I suppose Gu would respond that miscommunication (or lack of communication even) is his real central theme, in which case I may be perfectly qualified.
I'll have more on this topic and others after attending the Saturday event and having it all explained to me.

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