Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spent a long day in Philadelphia yesterday.

It's Halloween, and I thought about finding something both creepy and artworld-related that would appropriately mark the occasion...but, nah: Have some Return of the Living Dead instead.

Not for those made squeamish by cheap visual effects--or happy, tail-wagging demi-dogs.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Brooklyn-based artist Beau Chamberlain sticks to a familiar recipe for contemporary abstract painting. In the nine pieces that make up This Is Forever, his current show at Project 4, delicate brushstrokes and marbled patches of color wander across flat monochromatic backgrounds. Biomorphs looking like exotic horticultural specimens, glistening internal organs, and strange many-legged bugs all float together in an indeterminate space.

Though this compositional strategy is by now more than a little stale--really, how many more painters do we need spreading tangles of semi-abstract marks over flat backdrops?--Chamberlain's undeniably a meticulous craftsman. Over the satin-smooth ground of each panel, he applies countless tiny dots of thin acrylic paint--giving each piece a sort of enamelled perfection. His palette is saturated but beautifully balanced. If you're looking for unapologetially decorative stuff done right, this is it.

For Chamberlain, though, bigger is definitely not better. The least convincing piece here is Everybody Broke Me Up, an 11' X 13' foot site specific monster applied directly to the wall's surface. The piece falls flat, looking a bit like a mural in a child's nursery gone awry. No, Chamberlain's at his best when he's thinking like a miniaturist, making small precious things.

D.C. artist D. Billy's show at Transformer, Sink Sank Sunk, is a near-perfect match between venue and artist. Like so much of the 2-D art and installation that ends up at the alt-non-profit venue, Billy's work is small in scale, occasionally rough around the edges, and reveals a private obsession with junk culture and images from childhood.

The best part of Billy's work is his off-beat sense of humor. It's hard not to love an image of a little white bunny rabbit being gently propelled into the air by a cartoon explosion--one that inexplicably reads, "TYPHOON!"

In Billy's world, loud unlikely sounds are constantly being emitted by bits of black and white clip art--including cartoonish drawings of furniture, animals, and dancing teeth.

In addition to his collages, Billy also shoots photographs of playful interventions in the physical world around him: In Crackle (Speaker) (2007), the word "Crackle" appears to emanate from an actual loudspeaker jutting out of a window--Billy has rendered the text on the wall using jagged strips of yellow tape.

The only difficulty with this work is what to do with it. It's irreverent without ever being really subversive; it's design-oriented and recalls classic Pop art, but without ever being handsome enough to be thought of as a luxury commodity, either.

Billy has a winning sense of humor and a distinctive graphic sensibility, but to me, he seems to stop short of committing to making either an argument or an object. Still, the irreverent fun of Sink Sank Sunk certainly offers a nice counterpoint to the perfected confections on view in This is Forever.

Next: Lori Nix at Randall Scott; Kahn and Selesnick at Irvine.

Pictured: You First, Beau Chamberlain, acrylic on panel, 16" X 16", 2007; Aaaagh, D. Billy, latex, graphite, china marker, tape, rubber stamping, and collage on panel, 8" x 8", 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

This Saturday, November 3rd, Kathryn Cornelius kicks off her first solo show at Curator's Office.
If you're accustomed to thinking of Cornelius as an artworld interventionist--staging faux red carpet events at art fairs, or posing as a one-woman janitorial service for art galleries along the 14th street corridor--then Common Ground may surprise you. In this exhibition, instead of using the art world as her stage set, Cornelius ventures out into the natural landscape, posing questions about our relationship with not just the environment but also spirituality and the invisible other.
As you probably know, I'm a big fan of Kathryn's work--so I'm more than a little pleased that I was able to contribute an essay for the exhibition brochure.
I made the rounds on Saturday--saw Lori Nix at Randall Scott, D. Billy at Transformer, Kahn and Selesnick at Irvine, and Beau Chamberlain at Project 4. Check back tomorrow for thoughts on each show.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Last week, I failed to mention this October 11 letter from the Virginia Association of Museums to Randolph College--in which Randolph rightly gets slapped around a bit:

The purpose of this letter is to convey the position of the Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) concerning the recent decision made by the Randolph College Board of Trustees to remove George Bellows’ Men of the Docks; Edward Hicks’ A Peaceable Kingdom; Ernest Martin Hennings’ Through the Arroyo; and Rufino Tamayo’s Troubador from the collection of the Maier Museum of Art, and to place them at auction to expand the College’s operating endowment. It is the position of the Council (board of directors) of VAM that the removal and sale of these paintings constitute a grievous blow to the professional integrity and ethical standards of the Maier Museum of Art, and by extension to Randolph College.

It is VAM’s view that the sale of artworks from the Maier Museum collection, while appearing to offer the prospect of immediate financial gain, will ultimately do more harm than good,both to the Museum and to the College. Reputable museums, including the Maier, operate as stewards of artistic,historical,and scientific collections, held in the public trust. When any part of a museum ’s collection is disposed of in an unprofessional or unethical manner, that public trust is violated. Further, the precedent set by such an action may be prejudicial to the efforts of other museums, in Virginia and elsewhere, to secure donations of objects for their collections.


I wonder if another bogus bomb threat would help.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

They announced it on Friday: Harry Cooper is the new head of the department of modern and contemporary art at the National Gallery. You can read the NGA press release here.

Cooper comes to us from the Fogg museum at Harvard. He's taking over for Jeffrey Weiss, who left D.C. this spring to take over as the director of the Dia Art Foundation. Weiss's last project for the NGA was the Jasper Johns show earlier this year. I think Cooper has big shoes to fill.

As Tyler noted last month, we've had a serious talent drain this year. We said goodbye to not only Weiss, but also Olga Viso at the Hirshhorn, Jonathan Binstock at the Corcoran, and--also at the NGA--Leah Dickerman, who brought us last year's big Dada show.

And, of course, we have a chief art critic in our daily paper whose fondest hope for the District seems to be for it to never have a flourishing contemporary/avante garde gallery culture. From a live web chat a couple of weeks ago:

It's the museums that are so crucial to the rest of the art scene -- to the making and the selling and the buying. Museums are (or should be) enough above the fray that they can attend to one thing, and one thing only: Looking for the best and most interesting art out there, and putting it on display. That's how the rest of us -- artists, dealers, collectors, critics (ESPECIALLY critics!) -- are most likely to learn what really good art is. So then we can go about our business of making/selling/buying/writing with a better sense of how high the bar can be set for art. Washington is unbelievably lucky to have the museums that it does -- there's not another city its size that can come close. Art scenes where the "Washington model" gets flipped, with a hot market LEADING the museums -- as maybe in New York right now -- get in

Reading this, I just have to assume that Blake doesn't understand how new works of art actually end up in museum collections. Also, as much as I appreciate and enjoy D.C. art galleries, not once have I walked down 14th street and thought to myself: "Thank God this isn't Chelsea."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Luster, the Project 4/Pink Line "art happening," took place Saturday night from 7:00 pm to midnight and Sunday from noon to 5:00 pm. The event was held at the Lee Jensen Brake Shop on 14th Street, a site that's apparently destined to become some sort of high end design firm.

I missed the Saturday night portion, but I managed to swing by on Sunday to take a look.

The theme for Luster is admittedly a little flimsy: Hey, look! Gold and other shiny stuff! The work is something of a mixed bag, and not all of it profits from being shown in a broken down brake shop--although the space is certainly not without its charm.

Kate Hardy is an obvious choice for inclusion. Her American Idolatry installation at DCAC earlier this year explored commodification and the seemingly arbitrary nature of pricing in the art world. That project makes a return appearance here: Little plastic figurines--collected intentionally or accumulated absently by the artist over the years--have been covered with gold leaf. Each figurine sits in a clear acrylic presentation box. The boxes are lined up along a narrow shelf, arranged by price point, from low to high, and the prices are clearly displayed next to the pieces. The pieces are pretty affordable, ranging from a few dollars to a few hundred; the prices are apparently assigned purely according to sentimental value. The idea is that viewers should purchase works on the spot, dropping payment into the boxes and freely taking the figurines.

It's nice to see this again, but the encore seems a little unnecessary. I thought the presentation at DCAC was pretty strong; the scaled-down group show version doesn't really add anything. Really, the piece begs to be shown in a more traditional white cube gallery atmosphere--for the sake of the punch line, anyway.

Geoffrey Mann's Shine wins the gee whiz award: If I understand the piece correctly, it's designed and constructed electronically--a computer generated sculptural rendering of the light glinting off of a candleabra. Spiky protrusions indicate relative amounts of glare and reflection. Apparently there was a video component for this too, but it only ran Saturday night, and was absent when I visited.

Trevor Young is a talented painter, though I can't quite figure out what he's doing in this particular show. Apparently he's recently moved back to the area after being away for a few years; the last show of his I saw was Trevor Young Goes Postal at Flashpoint--his mail art show, which I think was back in 2004.

His Untitled oil painting here is a stripped down rendering of some piece of industrial equipment--still-visible underdrawing and thinly applied oil paint float on a field of raw, unprimed canvas. I have to assume that the pricing is a dig at the show's whole commodity shtick: It was originally set at $13,000.00--but then reduced to $1300.00 for "one night only", for quick sale.

I'm a fan of Project 4, and I'm happy to have gotten the chance to see this installation. But I have to assume that by missing the party, I missed the show. Saturday night was apparently well attended--several hundred people came by. Sunday was definitely a different sort of experience: Without the revelry and the jostling, the viewer was left to focus on the art and the dilapidated space it occupied. Which were both respectable, but definitely lacked something--say, a gorilla mask or two.

Friday, October 05, 2007

DCist selected the AAC's opening tonight as its Arts Agenda pick of the week. They also included a photo of pieces from Laurel Lukaszewski's installation, Kaminari, for your enjoyment.

So it's official: Cross the bridge, already!

Also: My review of the Edward Hopper show at the NGA is in this week's CP.

Read it here.

Pictured: Edward Hopper, Hotel Room, oil on canvas, 60" X 65 1/4", 1931

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I posted shots yesterday of the artwork outside our it turns out, we've got art inside, too. Who knew?

It's a happy coincidence that Claire Sherwood is in this show. She was picked a year ago, long before I worked here. Claire and I both got our MFAs at Maryland; we were even in the same thesis show. It was obviously a pleasure to see how her work has developed--and to see her new baby.

Her work sits in the Smith corridor. Blast (pictured) consists of objects printed with coal dust that's been sifted through lace. Claire has been living and working in West Virginia for a few years now, so her choice of materials reflects the local landscape and culture.

Mike Martin makes lean, reductive paintings, relying on hard lines and edges, flat, unmodified colors, and glitter. Yes, glitter. The signifiers that float around in his work tend to relate to constellations, architecture, and sci-fi.

The scale and ambition of a piece like Chawky Frenn's Missa Pro Pace, a 96" X 96" wooden altarpiece, painted inside and out, makes it pretty much a show stopper. It was a hell of a thing to install and light, though.

Heidi Fowler paints images of man's casual interventions in the natural world--telephone poles, errant shopping carts, remote railroad crossings. Underneath the paint, though, are all sorts of collaged materials--junk mail envelopes, clothing, rulers. Find her show in the Tiffany gallery.
I think Alessandra Torres' show downstairs in Truland Gallery A exemplifies the AAC's mission. Alessandra's a young emerging artist who's done some terrific performances and installations. Her show here, Figure Study, feels like a transition into a new body of work. Her new pieces feature magnetic poseable figures in hinged steel frames, and playfully reference dance, Zen painting, and body art. Over the course of the show, each piece will be rearranged and reconfigured.

I couldn't take very good pictures of Gillian Brown's video pieces--need my tripod. So as you examine this blurry photo, you'll have to take my word on the inherent coolness of these little mixed media pieces: Video loops are projected onto and through tiny translucent objects in a darkened room.

Sorry, no shots of Laurel Lukaszewski's installation, Kaminari--there was a meeting being held in that gallery as I was taking pictures. A detail of one of her sculptures appears on the front of the postcard for this show. Kaminari consists of dozens of dark grey tangles of porcelain curlicues, mounted from floor to ceiling in a continuous undulating band, and occasionally spilling across the floor, into the viewer's space, too. If I can, I'll add some shots here later.
The reception for Fall Solos is tomorrow--Friday, October 5th, from 6:00 to 9:00. There will be outdoor performances in conjunction with the 0 Project--and plenty to see all around.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Lenny wrote yesterday about the installation of The 0 Project at the Arlington Arts Center--and posted some shots of me suspended twenty feet in the air. Cherry pickers: I highly recommend them. Derek, our driver, was very patient and helpful, and only made me feel that death was imminent a couple of times.
Anyway, after some false starts, and about a week of hard labor and vertigo, we pulled it off. Aside from a few minor nips and tucks, the piece is finished, and ready for Friday's reception and performance.

Pictured: Installation views of Rosemary Covey's 15' X 300' printed Dupont Tyvek banner.

They did it: Randolph College is putting their famous George Bellows painting, Men on the Docks--the first purchase of the Randolph-Macon art association, made back in 1920--up for auction.

From Lucy Hooper, President of the Board of Trustees:

The paintings to be sold are George Bellows' Men of the Docks, Edward Hicks' A Peaceable Kingdom, Ernest Hennings' Through the Arroyo, and Rufino Tamayo's Troubador. These four paintings were chosen to provide an infusion into the College's endowment while limiting the impact on the coherence of the collection. These paintings were not purchased with funds drawn from the Louise Jordan Smith Trust, have no restrictions on sale, and in
some cases were purchased by the College itself. The results of the auction will determine whether the College must revisit the sale or sharing of additional paintings in the coming year.

The Bellows, purchased by the College in 1920, has deep roots in our history. Its loss is the most difficult for many of us. However, as the most valuable piece in the College's collection, its sale will allow the College to keep more of the collection intact.