Friday, May 30, 2008

I've been in NYC for two days picking up artwork. I reacquainted myself with the limitations of mapquest, met a dog named Afrothunder, and somehow managed not to scare off our new intern, Kendall--who, on her third day on the job, spent something like 12 hours hauling artwork out of buildings, calling ahead to gallerists and artists, and acting as navigator.

Deinstallation of Spring Solos and prep for She's So Articulate starts Sunday. Don't expect much from the blog for the next week or so--though I will try to keep you updated.

My only bit of news for you: Randolph college sold Rufino Tamayo's The Troubador for $7,209,000.00. College spokeswoman Brenda Edson told the Lynchburg News and Advance that Randolph students can have an educational experience that "will still include a wonderful art collection."

Albeit a smaller one, sans a few choice pieces.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Re: tributes to Robert Rauschenberg.

In the local press, Blake Gopnik claimed that Rauschenberg's best moments happened well before he created his first combine; Gopnik prefers the white canvases, the Erased deKooning drawing, and the scroll imprinted with a long continuous line courtesy of the tire treads on John Cage's Model A Ford.

These are all marvelous pieces, but I've always thought of them as a point of departure--bold, formative works by an artist whose career would culminate in his discovery of silkscreening and his subsequent relationship with printmaking. Moreso even than the combines, it's the silkscreened pieces of the early 1960s that I think of as Rauschenberg's high point. In that body of work, images of everything from athletes, to random urban flotsam, to Velazquez's Rokeby Venus are endlessly shuffled and recombined, framed and punctuated by random expressive (or not-so-expressive) stabs of brushwork. These pieces best embody Leo Steinberg's description of the new sort of pictorial space in which Rauschenberg was operating:

The flatbed picture plane makes its symbolic allusion to hard surfaces such as tabletops, studio floors, charts, bulletin boards—any receptor surface on which objects are scattered, on which data is entered, on which information may be received, printed, impressed—whether coherently or in confusion. The pictures of the last fifteen to twenty years insist on a radically new orientation, in which the painted surface is no longer the analogue of a visual experience of nature but of operational processes.
I was pleased with Tyler's corrective, drawing attention to Rauschenberg's homosexuality--something that so many of the obituaries and appraisals that have appeared did seem to touch on lightly. But I do wonder about reading an artist's works through her or his own biography too much. Christopher Knight did a wonderful job considering the artist's career; when it came to Monogram, Rauschenberg's infamous goat-and-tire combine, he chose to draw clear parallels between the man's life and his work:

Like Rauschenberg rummaging on the streets of the city, the goat is grazing in a field of ordinary debris, prepared to consume just about anything...The outrageous interlace formed by the goat and the tire astride a landscape of cast-off debris dates from the conformist social atmosphere of the Eisenhower years, when an anti-Communist "Red Scare" was accompanied by an anti-homosexual "Pink Scare." Critic Robert Hughes described the unforgettable "Monogram" as "one of the few great icons of male homosexual love in modern culture"--the complement to Meret Oppenheim's famous Surrealist sculpture of a phallic spoon in a fur teacup.

That's a nice image--of the goat as the artist himself, both picking his way through the random stuff of the urban landscape and declaring his own sexuality. Jerry Saltz said something along those same lines back when he was assessing the combines show at the Met:

A sort of gargoyle or ravaging scavenger guarding over and also destroying art, this cloven-hoofed creature is a shamanic manifestation of Rauschenberg. In early Christian art goats symbolized the damned. This is exactly what Rauschenberg was as a gay/bisexual man and an artist, at the time. A dingy tennis ball behind the animal suggests it has defecated on painting. Allegorically, Rauschenberg is a bull in the china shop of art history, a satyr squeezing through the eye of an aesthetic/erotic needle.

But is the goat really Rauschenberg? How personal was the artist's work, anyway? Rauschenberg, after all, had little or no patience for the alienation and tortured self-analysis that the AbEx method seemed to demand. His slashes of dripped, marbled paint seldom expressed anything interior; they were more parodic references to an earlier generation of heroic painters. This was an artist who wasn't interested in his own preferences or aesthetic judgements; in his work, he didn't particularly want to favor one color over another, preferring a sort of "pedestrian color" or chance operations.

So I've always bought into the idea that Rauschenberg didn't believe in Romantic notions of the artwork somehow revealing or embodying the artist's subjectivity. For that reason, I've always preferred Berkeley English professor Charles Altieri's guess as to the identity of the goat in Monogram: It's Jackson Pollock.

Here we have the fundamental expressivist ideal, Pollock's "when I am in my canvas...," caught in all its pathos. Our goat either eats the canvas or paints with its nose, so hungry it is for the direct presence that the painting promises the repressed psyche. But the more the artist figure manages to enter the canvas, the more it is confronted with the passivity and loneliness of whatever achieves that immobility...The artist's subordination of the canvas to his or her own needs and demands transforms the fluidity of the real into the eternal halo of self-mockery that may attend all postures of self-possession, so stylizing is the fantasy life that establishes identity on these theatrical terms.

Monday, May 19, 2008

We're gearing up at the AAC for She's So Articulate: Black Women Artists Reclaim the Narrative, a show I'm co-curating with collector Henry Thaggert.

The show features: a fantastic installation by Torkwase Dyson, four large photos by Renee Cox, room-filling installations by Nekisha Durrett and Renee Stout, videos by lauren woods and Stephanie Dinkins, sound pieces by Nadine Robinson and Djakarta, a story quilt by Faith Ringgold, paintings by Erika Ranee (one of her pieces, Succubus, is featured on the card), and paintings and tissue paper collages by Maya Freelon Asante.

Also featured: In our Wyatt gallery, we'll have work by two resident artists, sculptor and Georgetown professor Evan Reed, and painter/animator, Scott Hutchison...and I'm pleased to say that downstairs in our community space, we'll have a charming show of works from Transformer's flat files project with an equally charming title: Flat Mates.

See the postcard below.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

For the second time, I'm a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies award for Arts Criticism.

This feels a little strange since I haven't been doing much writing lately...but mostly, it's just a pleasant surprise. Read the announcement (and scroll down to see my competition--from the LA Weekly, the Chicago Reader, and the Austin Chronicle) here.

I was nominated for my pieces on Hopper, the Corc's Modernism show, and Wolfgang Tillmans (and Mingering Mike).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It's been a busy week thus far, and it's only getting busier, so things may be quiet, posting-wise...

I need some time to process it, but I wanted to make sure to note Robert Rauschenberg's passing last night. He was 82. Read the NYT obit by Michael Kimmelman here. Tyler has more links (he's keeping his post at the top of the page) here.

For more on the man and his career, buy Calvin Tomkins's lovely, indispensable book, Off the Wall, here.

Also: Lenny has an entertaining (if not entirely illuminating) account from Rosetta DeBerardinis of the doomed Corcoran Art Anonymous exhibition here. At least they finally managed to sell a few more offering to give some of the art away. Ouch.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Things to do tonight: Two shows around Chinatown are vying for your attention. First, head over to 406 7th Street for the 7:00 - 9:00 Civilian Art Projects opening of Jason Zimmerman's first solo show (at Civilian, anyway), featuring installation, drawings, and video (also featured: works by Miami artist Jen Stark).
Split your time between there and 923 F Street , where Reyes + Davis is opening a show of recent paintings by Janis Goodman--artist, Corcoran instructor, and WETA arts reviewer. That reception runs from 6:30 to 9:00.
Once you're done with that: If, like me, you're a '90s indie rock refugee, the only place to be is the Black Cat for the reunion tour of former Chapel Hill based Touch and Go/Merge records artists, Polvo. Doors open at 9:00; tickets are $13. Quick! Stare at your shoes! Detune those guitars! Sing inscrutable lyrics quietly!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Why does it always seem like if something can go wrong at the Corcoran, it will? (Remember this piece by Kriston? If at some point a giant asteroid struck the building, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.)

Lenny has the story on the cancellation of the Art Anonymous party--and some shuffling around for the artist attendees.

Yesterday C-Monster linked to this story in Time magazine by Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson. The piece examines the misunderstood patriotism of the black community, and the difference between genuine patriotism and simple nationalism—of the type the current administration espouses. (President = nation = good.) It also offers some surprising facts about Jeremiah Wright’s bio.

Is a serious discussion on race going to happen at some point in this election?

In the media, Obama’s comments on the bitterness of poor folks in rural areas were treated as a sign that the candidate is out of touch with blue collar white guys—which is silly. Having grown up in a small Southern town, I can tell you from first-hand experience that, yes, many poor young men living in the sticks are plenty bitter, and fond of both firearms and the late Rev. Jerry Falwell—who may not have suggested that the U.S. government designed the AIDS virus, but did seem to think that homosexual cabals caused hurricanes, the terrorist attacks on 9/11, etc.

Unfortunately, as the Pennsylvania primary illustrated, some folks cling to something else, too. Dana Milbank touched on it in his article in the Washington Post a few weeks ago:

"I don't care too much for Obama," Maria Norgren, the daughter and granddaughter of steelworkers, said in the parking lot of the Giant Eagle shopping center here, near the Obama rally.

"I don't even think he's American," added her husband, Edward, who lost his job when the steel mills closed and now mans the counter at the Puff Discount Tobacco and Lottery shop next to the Giant Eagle.

"His father's from Nigeria, right?" asked Maria, wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers T-shirt.

"I think he just wants to be president because he's black," said Tim Hetrick, smoking a cigarette as he waited for a bus among the crumbling structures of downtown McKeesport. A Democrat, he's thinking about voting for McCain in November.

Your random art video moment for the day: John Cage performing Water Walk in 1960--for the studio audience of I've Got a Secret. What better forum for avante garde music than a TV game show?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I'm off to do crits at the Corcoran this morning; this evening, I'll be in College Park for the opening reception for their MFA thesis shows. Now you know.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Kriston announces that the City Paper has given him the boot.

I still technically work there, even though I seldom write anything these days (I should have a piece on the Martin Puryear show in June--my first time in print in '08), but I haven't talked to my editor or anyone else there about the situation.

So I only know Kriston's side of things...but my gut feeling is that unless Capps was stealing giant bags of money, or stabbing staffers with a letter opener, they should've kept him on board. And I get the feeling that they'll be receiving a number of letters to that effect.

Seriously, folks, there's a dearth of smart, ambitious visual arts coverage out there, and Kriston's one of the very few in a position to offer it. I may have complained here on this blog about his piece on Collectors Select--but it was still the most thorough and considered piece of coverage the show received, and it afforded a welcome opportunity for some dialogue.

And, of course, the correction from that piece--one of the stated reasons for the end of his tenure--is a little silly: Kriston wrote that the show featured five collectors; but then he proceeded to describe each of the six collector exhibitions. To me, that's not a factual error; that's just a typo.

Luckily for Kriston, he has plenty of other outlets vying for his talents.

Elsewhere out there: J.T. takes a trip to see Spring Solos at the AAC, and returns with this report. I know I can always count on J.T. to focus on big picture issues--like, say, the placement of electrical outlets in our building, which he finds troubling. (Hey, how many great visual arts reviews haven't started with reflections on air vents, duct work, or stray bits of wiring in the venue?)

Seriously, though, I'm pleased that J.T. expresses something I've been insisting: You need to come see Laure Drogoul's piece in our experimental gallery downstairs. It's such an outré assemblage--featuring vintage military uniforms, music from Pinocchio, and lots of glitter--yet it's really powerful, and a bit of a balancing act.

The piece draws connections between military rituals of immortality and the trappings of the parlor séance: On the far wall, Drogoul projects video footage of the guards at Arlington National Cemetery--who live in a bunker underground, in the cemetery, and are out and on duty in all weather, at all hours--counting off their supremely controlled movements. On the floor, against a black pentagon, she projects video of a ring of hands clad in white gloves (echoing the gloves worn by the guards in the cemetery), making synchronized movements around a flickering candle. All the while, a loop of When You Wish Upon a Star (sung by the artist herself) plays in the background.

It's strong stuff, but not didactic--just expressing a sort of sadness over the deaths of young men and the weird, persistent power of American magical thinking.

Friday, May 02, 2008

There's a nice review by Roberta Smith in the NYT today--of Action/Abstraction: Pollock, De Kooning and American Art, 1940-1976 at the Jewish Museum. Smith points out that the show hinges on the rivalry between critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg--and that though Rosenberg managed to change a bit with the times (unlike many of his contemporaries, for example, Rosenberg was able to see the value in Philip Guston's switch from lyrical abstraction to scruffy paintings of cartoonish eyes, shoes, and klansmen), both were eventually left behind by the art world, unable to understand or approve of works that would seem to fulfill their prescriptions for the trajectory of advanced art. Smith sums up the waning of Greenberg's power and judgement this way:

Greenberg more or less squandered his reputation in his relentless promotion of Color Field painting and related sculpture, giving formalism a bad name while writing less and less. His blinkered view is represented by the homogeneity of Helen Frankenthaler’s breakthrough stain painting “Mountains and Sea,” of 1952, as well as works by Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Anthony Caro and Anne Truitt.

In this town, of course, it's awfully easy to say too much about the Color School. Yesterday I mentioned Jim Mahoney's piece in AiA...which starts off with a page or so on the Color School Remix, facing another page of images of works by Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, et al. (More on that, including some corrections by the author himself, on Philippa's blog.) Jim points out that contemporary DC artists tend to feel ignored and more than a little overshadowed by the movement that ever-so-briefly made DC art matter.

But I tend to find that outside DC, if I bring up the Color School in conversation with artists, they have no idea what I'm talking about. I'll mention Helen Frankenthaler or Gene Davis and they might eventually get a sense of what period of art history I'm referencing...but as a movement, outside of this city, I find that the Color School's a bit of a non-entity. I was talking with an artist last night who recounted just such an experience in Germany. She was asked the inevitable question, "What's DC art like?" and had to first explain what the Color School was--to people who otherwise had a pretty clear picture of the history of postwar abstraction...then she had to follow up with her best guesses as to why anybody working in the present feels the weight of what's regarded by many as an art-historical footnote.

Elsewhere out there: Kriston's got a fascinating, somewhat digressive post on images of the story of Leda and the Swan, featuring references to Keifer, Yeats, and Cy Twombly.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Whoops! Lost a week there. Was either working hard or hardly working.

I should've noted the passing of Bay Area painter Paul Wonner last week. I've always been a sucker for the whole Bay Area Figurative thing--Richard Diebenkorn, Wonner, David Park, etc. If you like modern painting, you like these artists. (As Tyler notes, there aren't many good Wonners online.)

Tonight you should make your way to Arlington--no, not for an AAC event: The Ellipse will be opening The Thread as Line: Contemporary Sewn Art. The artists' talk is from 5:30 to 6:30; the reception coninues to 9:00. Go back on May 15th to see Sondheim Prize winner Laure Drogoul's Knitting Jam with Apparatus for Orchestral Knitting. Knitting needles + contact mics + PA system = fabulous.
Finally, Jim Mahoney said some really nice things about the AAC and Ian and Jan in the May issue of Art in America. Of course there's no content online to link to--quaint!--so you'll either have to pick up a copy or just take my word for it.
Pictured: Paul Wonner, Figure on an Indian Rug, 1961