Thursday, July 26, 2007

“I was looking for a job, and then I found a job…”

I’ve been waiting to make this announcement all week: Starting in August, I will be taking over as the new Director of Exhibitions for the Arlington Arts Center.

What does this mean?

For starters, it means that I won’t be teaching at Maryland anymore. My Alma Mater has been more than kind to me. They’ve kept me busy with two or three theory and/or studio classes every semester for the past four years…but it seems like the right time to say goodbye.

Besides, the idea of commuting from D.C. to Arlington to College Park seems more than a little kooky.

It's not inconceivable that I might eventually pick up some adjunct work again—provided it’s closer to home, and I can fit it into my schedule.

It also means that I will be drastically cutting back on the amount of writing I do for the Washington City Paper.

I’ve talked it over with both Mark Athitakis and Matt Borlik, and the consensus is that I simply cannot write about artists and curators with whom I’ll be working closely for my day job. It’s an obvious conflict of interest. So, I won't be covering emerging artists and contemporary gallery culture in D.C. anymore. No more picks or artifacts for Jeffry.

The good news is that I will be able to continue writing longer reviews of museum shows featuring artists who are thoroughly established—or thoroughly dead. Stars and corpses are beyond my influence.

Presumably, this means that fellow CP contributor Kriston Capps will be busier than ever. Luckily for you, he’s a terrific writer.

And who knows? Maybe someone else will step in to fill the gaps, adding his or her voice to the mix, too.

As for the blog: Will I change the name to Curators and Administrators? Hmm.

If anything, I hope to expand the amount of informal coverage I give to gallery shows here. My posts on A.B. Miner and Kathryn Cornelius were test cases; once things settle down a bit, I hope to be able to offer more of that sort of thing, as well as original audio and video content. I know, I've been promising podcasts for awhile. Soon, soon...

Obviously, I’ll also talk about what’s going on in my new digs across the bridge--we’ve got a lot of great resources for artists and curators over there, and I’ll be pushing to get the word out. I sat in on the jurying for 2008 solo shows on Monday and Tuesday, and I’m convinced that we selected some really dynamic work for the coming year. Can't wait to start studio visits.

So there you have it. I'm looking forward to my new role. It already seems like a good fit.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Never mind the Wall Street Journal: In case you didn't hear, The Washington City Paper has been sold. Here's an excerpt from an e-mail I received today:

As you may have heard by now, Washington City Paper has been acquired by the company that runs the Creative Loafing papers of Atlanta, Charlotte, Sarasota, and Tampa. We are pleased with this development and have had great discussions with our new owner, Ben Eason. The obvious question that people have been asking is, how does this affect the paper and what we've been doing for so long? There will no doubt be changes in how our product is generated, distributed, marketed, and so on. And our new owner will keep us on the path of editorial budget cuts that we embarked upon earlier this year. That is a simple fact of life in this industry.

You might think this sounds ominous, or wonder how it bodes for the future of arts coverage in the City Paper.

As it turns out, there are significant changes coming in the nature of my writing for the CP--but those changes have nothing to do with the new ownership. I hope to be able to make an announcement here in the next few days.

Friday, July 20, 2007

My story on Kathryn Cornelius is in this week's WCP.

Read it here.

Last week, I described her Art Services (Waste) performance here.

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Kathryn's work. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing her solo show at Curator's Office this fall.

What are you doing tonight? Why, that's obvious: Tonight, my band will be playing at The Red and The Black.

We go on first, so come early!

Pictured: Kathryn Cornelius tidies up Transformer.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Lenny takes issue with my assessment of line in A.B. Miner's paintings (and seems to be talking about me rather a lot over at Mid-Atlantic Art News. Potential stalker alert!)

But he seems to miss the point that I actually liked Miner's drawing--as drawing, mind you, not painting. I did note an exception: the very stark, simple painting I described at the end of my post, From There to Here. That's the one piece in which the paint application and linear language seem to be most in sympathy with one another, not at cross-purposes.

Generally speaking, though, how should line function in a painting?

Short version: There's the way Degas hits a curve, and the way Toulouse-Lautrec does it.

I'm a fan of the former, not the latter.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My good friend Sean Tubbs over at the Charlottesville Podcasting Network rightly pointed out that the Kojo Nnamdi podcast I linked to isn't really a podcast at all:

Possibly geeky, but the links on WAMU's sites aren't technically podcasts because they're streaming. Or are they? What does this word podcast mean and is it worth keeping if it doesn't do what it was intended to do? I saw podcast and expected an mp3 I could download. While this doesn't stop me from listening
to it, it does mean I will record it so I can take it with me, during transportation time, where I'm more likely to listen to a radio show. I'm usually doing something with sound most of the time I'm in front of a computer. Can't wait to listen.

I stand corrected. Thanks, Sean!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

In the art world, why is there such a pervasive stigma regarding galleries that are also frame shops, or frame shops that are also galleries?

H & F Fine Arts would do well to ask themselves that question...and then take a long, hard look at their floorplan. The exhibition space is actually quite nice--except for the fact that it's more or less open-ended; gallery traffic flows easily into a frame area on the lefthand side of the space. Follow the contours of the current A.B. Miner exhibition, and you'll suddenly find yourself facing a couple of undistinguished, unrelated paintings--samples, presumably, positioned directly across from the framing counter. A display rack with illustrated books sits in the corner.

Whoops! Where did my show go? Oh, it's back there.

It may require only a small mental set adjustment to tune out this part of the room and focus on the opposite end--but it's definitely still a distraction.

Context and considered intervals between works: They mean everything in clean exhibition design.

I'm not suggesting that the frame counter spoils the place with some whiff of unwelcome commerce. That's just silly. Commercial galleries are all obviously commercial concerns. They do business; they have offices, and those offices may or may not be fully segregated from the artworks.

Sometimes the constraints of a space mean the office is the venue--Andrea Pollan certainly manages to make that conceit work. Then again, a desk is a tad less distracting than a floor-to-ceiling display of molding samples.

But usually there needs to be a clear delineation of these spaces, even if they open onto one another. I'm thinking of Conner Contemporary, where exhibitions often do spill into a little back room. But to enter that room, you have to pass through a little S-bend. It's not really a different space, but that bend does provide a real, defining psychological limit.

So how about it, H&F? One more well-placed freestanding wall could do a lot.

On to the exhibition. Chimera is a mix of early/emerging artist career survey and self-contained project. Though it includes paintings dating back to 2001, the show essentially narrates painter and Hirshorn assistant curator A.B. Miner's recent journey through gender confusion and self-mortification to eventual transgender transformation--from she to he.

A typical Miner painting is smallish--five, six, or eight inches square. It's invariably a self portrait, in which Miner's face and nude or partly nude body are grotesquely distorted, pushed into the foreground to fill the limits of the square format. Only a few patches of negative space are left, typically filled with flat sap green or glossy black enamel. It's a non-strategy, as far as composition goes, but given Miner's singular pusuit, it makes sense.

Miner has evidently always had a strong grasp of both color harmony and the physical properties of paint. In his paintings, he uses the sort of choppy facture one expects to see cascading across one of Cezanne's apples. Miner models his face with greasy rectangular dollops, each placed with certainty and evident relish. Invariably, light is broken down into a neo-Fauvist patchwork of complementary accents: a bit of washed-out reddish-violet here; a cool yellow-green there.

Despite the Thiebaud-esque color and creamy paint film surface, these images are invariably flat--thanks to the compressed pictorial space and the use of clearly delineated, over-determined line. This has usually been my first misgiving about Miner's work in the past: That cartoonish line, those exaggerated meandering curves. Certainly Thiebaud used that sort of hyper-real illustrator's clarity in his work. But in this case, the line sometimes detracts from the power of Miner's content. The loopy flourish of a red vein, making its transit across a smooth, perfectly white eyeball; the incised dark curve of a wrinkle running across his forehead--these overstatements seem at odds with the sculptural paint stroke, the keen sense of what light and color do in space.

This exhibition may have changed my mind, but not because of any particular painting. The best pieces here turn out to be the ones I assumed I'd have the least use for: the drawings.

Denuded of that familiar academic lusciousness, Miner's line becomes a kind of reportage. I'm not suggesting that Miner is--or should be--a cartoonist, but as I examined the four hair growth studies (each titled They told me to work there, a funny dig at the giant white mat surrounding each 6" by 4" ink sketch) I began to think about Joe Sacco's powerful comic book journalism. In these drawings, little red apostrophes designating hair follicles march their way across balooning expanses of belly fat, thighs, and crotches, which are described by wavering black ribbons of ink.

The two untitled, uncharacteristically large charcoal drawings presented here lack a certain amount of modulation--all of the looming dark shapes and dramatic plunging arcs are resolutely vigorous--but the rubbing out and restatements of thick defining contours and the definition of space through a few large verticals and diagonals are both pretty wonderful.

And so it turns out that the best painting here is also the most dependent on line, and possibly the flattest--in more ways than one. From There to Here is a long, thin rectangular study of Miner's chest, post-op. Clouds of angry red dashes follow fresh incisions across the chest and around each niipple; scratchy, thin black lines indicate patches of recently emerged chest hair. All is framed by white bandages being pulled apart in the left and right hand margins. If Miner continues to find ways to harness this sort of immediacy and directness, he's really on to something.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Thanks to everyone who called or wrote in on Thursday, both during the show and afterwards. I've received some wonderful feedback, and I really appreciate it.

You can find a podcast of the show in the online archive. When the file was first posted, it was accidentally split in half. But the link has been fixed, and you should be able to hear the entire hour now.

Listen to Lenny, Claudia, and me here.

On Friday I interviewed Kathryn Cornelius for an Artifact in this week's WCP. I'm finishing that piece now; once I'm done, I'll be heading across the bridge to Arlington.

But I still do plan to post about the shows I visited last week--specifically, the A.B. Miner show in Mt. Ranier, and the Academy show at Conner. Expect something by tomorrow morning.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I ended my day of gallery hopping yesterday at Transformer, waiting for the promised Site performance from Kathryn Cornelius.

Oddly, no one else was there. When I asked the gallery attendant he confessed that he hadn’t heard anything about it—except for a mysterious phone call he’d received earlier in the day, informing him that he should expect to “receive services” around 5:30.

I stood alone in the gallery. I began to wonder if the point of the project was to promise something free for art gallery owners, then leave them hanging. I suppose that could work.

But, no, at 5:45, Cornelius appeared, small entourage in tow.
She wore a black baseball cap and an orange jumpsuit emblazoned with the words ART SERVICES. She also wore a surfeit of protective gear: safety goggles, a dust mask, knee pads, bright blue rubber gloves. She brought along a large rolling trash can full of cleaning products—paper towels, lots of plastic bags, mop, bucket, etc.

She began by cleaning the front window. Her actions seemed labored and methodical--ineffectual, really, more for show than for actual cleaning. Her squeegee made preposterously loud, stuttering high-pitched sounds, sticking and slipping as it was dragged across the glass. She kept walking in and out of the gallery, fetching handfuls of paper towels, then wrapping them in plastic bags, and disposing of them.

I took a few pictures. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay to the end of the performance—I left while she swept the floor.

My first thought about the piece: Is every performance in the SiteProjects DC series going to involve bright orange jumpsuits? Janis Goodman, Peter Winant, and Tom Ashcraft wore similar outfits for their birdhouse debacle.

Granted, the jumpsuit is an indispensible component in most pranks--say, defacing billboards. People respect uniforms, even bogus ones, and you're less likely to be questioned or disturbed while wearing one. "Too busy to talk!" the jumpsuit says. "Official business!"

But does a piece like this require that sort of cover? Really, both Workingman Collective’s bird habitat piece and Cornelius’ Art Services (Waste) seem like gentle, civic-minded projects. Whether or not they're meant to, both play to the popular conception of contemporary art as more or less unnecessary—an inscrutable but harmless addition to public life. Hang that orange fabric between two 16-foot uprights and you've got the general idea.

What I like about Cornelius’ project, though, is that she’s essentially infiltrating these spaces. From what I’ve read, she sends faxes and messages to the gallerists, telling them to “expect services”—but it doesn’t seem as though she asks for permission. The galleries are dupes, not willing accomplices: They validate her actions whether they intend to or not.

Seems like a model for other young D.C. artists to follow.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

It's time again for the Jeffry and Lenny show on WAMU. I'll be on Kojo Nnamdi this Thursday at 1:00 p.m with Lenny Campello, discussing current gallery shows and the state of the visual arts in D.C.

If there's anything you'd like to hear addressed, you can call in--(800) 433-8850--or write to the show:

Or feel free to e-mail me directly sometime today.

This afternoon I'll be doing a little gallery crawling--and dodging some thunderstorms, I suspect.

Tonight I'm planning to check out Kathryn Cornelius' Andrea Fraser-esque performance, Art Services (Waste) at Randall Scott Gallery and Transformer. She's scheduled to be at Randall Scott from 5:00 to 5:30, and at Transformer from 5:30 to 6:00. Presumably she'll be climbing into some sort of teleporter shortly after 5:29.

The performance is part of Welmoed Laanstra's SiteProjects DC, which got off to a troubled start with Janis Goodman's aborted Workingman Collective piece.

Kathryn will be doing performances every night this week, including one at Curator's Office this Friday, where there will be a closing reception for their current drawing show with the alliterative title.

Read faxes that Cornelius sent to the galleries participating in her performance here.

Monday, July 09, 2007

I'm back in D.C. after a week on Lake Ontario.

I had a pick in last week's City Paper for Re-Presenting the Portrait at Irvine Contemporary--featuring Brooklyn artist Kerry Skarbakka's Falling Man routine.
Read it here.

Nothing in this week's issue, sadly--I wasn't available to check out the opening for A. B. Miner at H & F Fine Arts, or for the latest installment of Conner's annual Academy show, featuring recent College Park grad/architecture nerd/all-around clever guy, Brian Sykes.
I think it's about time for H & S to do a little gallery crawl. Look for a report here later this week on what's being exhibited around town.
Pictured: Kerry Skarbakka, Croatia, C-print, 2006

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy July 4th! I am in upstate New York--with spotty internet and phone access--until the end of the week. Expect some new posts on Monday.