From The Atlantic, how performance art, essentially, helped save lives in World War II. Talk about art mattering.
When it comes to photography, I’m a Gary Winogrand kind of guy. I like it spontaneous, fleeting, and unpremeditated. Like a good haiku. But I love Gregory Crewdson, whose shots are as artificial as a movie full of FX. Go figure. I first encountered him, without knowing anything about him, when I bought the Yo La Tengo album whose cover appears above, more than a decade ago. What looks like a great documentary about him was making the rounds this year and is now available on demand from Netflix.
Seniors wearing nature on their heads. Some great shots.
Thomas Insalaco’s new painting, on view at Oxford through June 1, is a beauty. It feels like a step into a new frontier for him, an advance toward something even more intriguing than what he’s done up until now. I’d walked through most of the show before I finally paused in front of this large oil, and I was stunned by it before I even realized who’d painted it. So much of Insalaco’s career draws from his love of Caravaggio, so the ambiguous complexity of this painting’s composition and color threw me off the scent. It’s not a bright image—much of his work looks and feels dark—yet the baroque murk that always lurked behind so many of his foregrounds doesn’t swallow any detail here. Even in the darkest passages, he has spent a great deal of time lovingly rendering significant and beautiful detail.
I have a lot more to say about it, but first some praise for the exhibit as a whole. Jim Hall has assembled an especially strong invitational show, built around Galen’s philosophy of the four humors: sanguine (pleasure-seeking and sociable), choleric (ambitious and leader-like), melancholic (analytical and thoughtful), and phlegmatic (relaxed and quiet). The ancient four elements—earth, air, water, and fire—can be aligned with the humors as well, and some paintings in this show take advantage of that. I liked the theme from the start, and, with the notion of earth/melancholy in mind, I painted Skull Unearthed Circa 1930—which will also be on exhibit in the Rochester-Finger Lakes exhibit at Memorial Art Gallery this year. Not everybody warmed up to the show’s theme as quickly as I did: I encountered some head-scratching about it at first from Brian O’Neill, for example who ended up contributing a fine abstract to the show. It’s clearly a stretch to see the connection between some of these paintings and the four humors, but that’s part of the fun with Jim’s themes: how, and if, you can connect the dots. Matt Klos submitted a tiny, pleasingly muddy painting of jars, which I actually like for its enigmatic brevity, yet to entitle it Air seems a bit like giving it an alias in order to smuggle it through the door. (Glad he did.) Some personal favorites: Evening of the Cold Heart, Fran Noonan; MORE
Give her a strand of your hair and she’ll do your portrait.
Susan Sills has a delightful solo show of her work from the past two decades at Viridian Artists, perfectly titled Cutting Loose. It’s really two different shows in one, based on her cut-out portraits and figures—life-sized, enlarged pastiches of people lifted from paintings by modernists and Old Masters, painted on birch plywood. The main installation is really a single scene populated with close to twenty of her three-dimensional paintings, arranged as if each of the figures were loitering on the steps of the Metropolitan. An Ingres odalisque reclines in front of a Norman Rockwell girl playing marbles and a bather by Degas. Michelangelo’s Adam reaches for Manet’s guitarist, rather than God. Behind all of them is an enlarged photograph of the Met’s façade, created with wide-format engineering printers, on long three-foot-wide scrolls hung side by side. On the opposite and adjacent walls are shelves displaying the smaller portrait work—Van Gogh, Gauguin, Vermeer and others.
The show does exactly what it’s meant to do: it draws you into the lives of the original sitters while making you feel as if you’re living inside a painting rather than looking at one. It’s all about love and companionship, the love of art history, love of painting, and the love of people in general. Years ago, when I wrote for Buck & Pulleyn, a boutique ad agency in Rochester specializing in marketing for tech companies, on Fridays we often put together something called a “stair party.” It involved pinball. It involved ping-pong. Mostly, though, we hung out on the staircase in our mezzanine/atrium, drinking beer and congratulating one another on getting through another week. The “cutting loose” feel of that cocktail hour is exactly what Sills captures, yet with creatures you would find, normally, in captivity inside the Met, not milling about on the steps out front. The installation embodies for me the sense that painters I love, and even some of their individual works, have been, more than anything else, a source of friendship. Yes, past work and past artists serve as teachers, idols, source of inspiration, models for how to see the world, but mostly remain faithful good friends. My relationship with favorite paintings has all the complexity of feeling and understanding that friendship entails. When I walked into Cutting Loose, my first reaction was, hey, these are my people.
Susan’s been an artist with Viridian since 1979. I spent an hour at the gallery MORE
A great reflection on how an artist statement can actually help, without sounding pretentious, obscure or condescending from Hyperallergic:
“I challenge artists to stop looking outside for language and to start digging on the inside for why they do what they do. No one else knows what gets you up in the morning and makes you finish a painting on the way to your day job, or what problems you’re trying to solve in the world by depicting characters a certain way, or why you found that imagery compelling.”
I found out yesterday that I got three paintings, including the one above, into the Memorial Art Gallery’s 64th Rochester-Finger Lakes Exhibition, which is the museum show for central and upstate New York artists. It will run from July through September.
“Flowers from Another Year” has been accepted for Butler Institute of American Art’s 77th Midyear Exhibition, from Sunday June 30 through Sunday, August 18. This will be the first time I’ve shown work in the annual show.
My wife is completely remodeling the bathroom upstairs, so for weeks we’ve had a steady traffic of foot-soldiers bearing drills, tile, dry wall, sinks, and all the other needed weaponry, up and down the stairs beside my studio, so I’ve been reading and doing other work, rather than painting. Which means I’m delving again into Donald Kuspit, circling around an idea of writing something in response to an excellent column about Warhol the New York Times published months ago. I came across this interesting footnote in The End of Art, about artists who crave a following:
David Aberback, Charisma in Politics, Religion and the Media: Private Trauma, Public Ideals (New York University Press, p. ix) He notes that the charismatic gains power over the public by craving to be loved by it and even belong to it, “though hurt and disillusioned in private life.” Thus, the charismatic becomes a kind of helpless baby and brings out the helpless baby in everyone. As Aberbach writes . . . the baby seeks “charismatic union” with a parent–the public at large in the case of an artist like Warhol, whose charismatic appeal was so great, that is, whose “craving for relation” (wish to belong and to be unconditionally and uncritically loved) was so intense, that it rubbed off on his possessions. One helps Warhol by believing that everything he touches is aesthetically significant.
Parquet Courts play in Buffalo on June 26. Learning this an hour ago made my day. I can’t remember the last time I had a chance to hear a perfect set of music, as I expect it to be. I would have been willing to pay far more than $10 to get in. I think my favorite line from all of their songs so far is, “We all know what happened to Socrates.” They make me feel the way Nirvana made me feel when they emerged: there’s still hope.
“I might lean towards a pantheistic view of the world. The lessons of Color Field Painting and Abstract Expressionism, of not reporting on the visible but revealing the unknown, could also be brought into the discussion. I think, however, that wanting to depict/relate images of hard facts needs to be balanced by an awareness of what lies beyond the boundaries.” –Jennifer Riley, Hyperallergic
Her current show of paintings and drawings: Memory from Sight, at Allegra LaViola
Well I guess this puts me in my place (re: my previous post). This was taken from the summit of Mt. Fuji. Small detail: Yu Tamauchi lived near the top of that famous mountain in a hut for five months, taking photographs. At the risk of sounding way, way too much like Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney, let me just say . . . what an awesome idea. Two shots from this series appear in the current issue of Harper’s, and they were on view in December at Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery. I would wager a fairly unwieldy sum of money that Mr. Tamauchi was not using an iPhone. On the other hand, would it matter if he had?
The more I use the iPhone to take photographs, the more I like it. It’s limited, like a Polaroid–that probably won’t last–but sometimes that makes what you get more interesting, also like a Polaroid. (I didn’t do anything to this one: no Instagram filter.) But what I like most is how it turns a camera into an appendage. I see; I shoot. There’s no planning. This was taken from my Southwest Airlines window and the sun was low, but not setting.
“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; dream of it; think of it; live on that idea. Let the brain, the body, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone.” –Vivekananda
Artists and dealers are as passionate as ever about creating good shows, but fewer and fewer people are actually seeing them. Chelsea galleries used to hum with activity; now they’re often eerily empty. Sometimes I’m nearly alone. Even on some weekends, galleries are quiet, and that’s never been true in my 30 years here. (There are exceptions, such as Gagosian’s current blockbuster Basquiat survey.) Fewer ideas are being exchanged, fewer aesthetic arguments initiated. I can’t turn to the woman next to me and ask what she thinks, because there’s nobody there.
Instead, the blood sport of taste is playing out in circles of hedge-fund billionaires and professional curators, many of whom claim to be anti-market. There used to be shared story lines of contemporary art: the way artists developed, exchanged ideas, caromed off each other’s work, engaged with their critics. Now no one knows the narrative; the thread has been lost. Shows go up but don’t seem to have consequences, other than sales or no sales. Nothing builds off much else. Art can’t get traction. A jadedness appears in people who aren’t jaded. Artists enjoying global-market success avoid showing in New York for fear any critical response will interfere with sales. (As if iffy international art stars could have their juggernauts stalled by a measly bad review or two. A critic can only dream.) Ask any artist: They’re all starting to wonder what’s going on. –Jerry Saltz
A great piece from Mr. Saltz at New York magazine, though I think he’s partly transposing onto current events the lack of a feeling he would have gotten decades ago when people thought art was historically progressive and something novel was afoot. What he’s saying is all true, at least from the view I get through my tiny, inefficient portal into the economic wasteland as it looks from out here in the hinterland. In terms of how money gets spent, obviously, something is replacing the gallery show but it isn’t friendly and it’s more about investment than any sort of passion for what art can do. “The whole middle is being pulverized.” In other words, the art world follows the money and the money is all in the hands of people who just want to protect and increase it. On the other hand, maybe this is the sort of collapse that happens before something new and vital and more democratic emerges? As in France and America a couple hundred years ago (Not that anybody has a good idea how to replace an entire system that’s driving this country through yet another bubble toward another precipice.) Meanwhile, people talk about how to control assault weapons and whatever nutty thing Korea is doing to distract us from the fact that everything has ground to a halt. Depressing and sad.
Can I please be the Hopi shaman who got to wear this helmet? Ah. OK. I didn’t think so.
On April 12 the Néret-Minet auction house in Paris will auction many sacred Hopi artifacts, over the objections of the tribe. Above, a helmet representing the Crow Mother, made from leather recycled from a Mexican saddle and feathers, is among the artifacts up for auction. Others are shown in this NYTimes slide show.
“The Hopis, who number about 18,000 in northeast Arizona, believe the objects in the Paris sale, which they call Katsinam, or ‘friends,’ are imbued with divine spirits. The brightly colored visages and headdresses, often adorned with horsehair, sheepskin, feathers and maize, are thought to embody the spirits of warriors, animals, messengers, fire, rain and clouds, among other things.”
Embodying the spirits of fire, rain, and clouds sounds like my idea of art, actually. Sacred or not, most of these look as if they were created right now. Paul Klee would have loved them. And Picasso.
Back in 1987, here’s how the New York Times described the work that won Wally Gilbert the Nobel Prize:
In the mid-1970′s, Walter Gilbert developed with Allan Maxam (then a lab technician) a technique that, by chemically cutting DNA into segments of varying lengths, vastly simplified the reading of DNA messages. This rapid-sequencing method, together with a similar one developed by the British scientist Frederick Sanger, increased by a thousandfold the rate at which DNA information could be read, accelerating the pace of genetics research – and also earning both Gilbert and Sanger the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1980.
In 1986, at a conference sponsored by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Gilbert inspired scientists to undertake the quest his work had helped make possible: to decode the human genome. Now, a quarter century later, that work has been done and science is able to look DNA as a laboratory, not just a code that governs biological reproduction and evolution.
As Gilbert told me recently, “We discovered very rapid ways of deciphering (the genetic code) and the world began to sequence DNA and genes. Twenty-five years later the first human genome was sequenced–three billion bases long (actually a yard of DNA long). Today, hundreds to thousands of genomes have been sequenced. This ability to decipher DNA underlies all of the biology one does today and all of molecular medicine.”
A dozen years ago, Gilbert closed his lab, though he’s still involved in some small biotech companies and does venture capital involving medical devices. Meanwhile, as he puts it, “I do Art.” His work is on view for a few more days at Viridian Artists in Chelsea and a month-long show just began at Khaki Gallery in Boston.
Specifically, he creates photographic images, using a computer to print MORE
Big tubes of cheap paint. Time to get to work.
When I was in Manhattan a couple weeks ago, I spent a couple hours at Viridian asking Vernita Nemec about her experiences as an artist in the 70s. She talked about how it felt and still feels to be a woman in the art world, and also what life was like for an artist back then. In other words, how has the scene in lower Manhattan changed over the past 40 years. (Long story short, it was friendlier, more informal and ridiculously more affordable. To wit, the young Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith.)
It’s pretty clear, from what she recalled, that walls have arisen between the successful and the struggling that simply didn’t exist back then. Art careers have become more professionalized, compared to a far more bohemian life in the early 70s. A New York artist’s life was less like something involving a career plan than an ongoing exclusive party, but with extremely lax security.
One thing wasn’t better back then: it was far more difficult to be a female artist. Vernita told me she and a friend conceived and organized what has never been recognized as the first all-woman art show in 1969. It was called X to the Twelfth Power: an exhibit of work by a dozen women, with X standing for their obscurity. None of them were known at the time—being a female artist meant, first and foremost, being unknown. By choice. most women artists, at that point, hesitated to identify themselves as women.