Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I woke up this morning to hear that close to a million people appeared to be on the mall just after sunrise. Good morning, Washington! So I guess it's a lock: I'll be watching our new president take the oath of office from home, on TV.

When was the last inauguration that felt like this? Eight years ago, I mostly remember a lot of anger, thousands of outraged protesters, and riot police hauling folks away. (I also remember being disconcerted when I got home by how little of this was reported in news coverage of the day.)

If the inauguration sets the tone for the presidency that's to follow--and that certainly seemed to be the case with the previous administration--then I think we're in a good place right now.

This week and the next may be light or erratic here at H & S. It's installation time again at the AAC, and there's plenty to do, as usual. I'll have more here and on the AAC blog by this weekend, I hope, on what we're showing in PUBLIC/PRIVATE--exciting projects by Anissa Mack, Matthew Sutton, Lisa Blas, and a bunch of other folks.

Happy inauguration! If you're here in town, stay warm!

Friday, January 16, 2009

It's freezing out there, and the city is bracing for 1,000,000+ tourists, road closings, and harrowing conditions on metro. Sounds like the perfect time to transport yourself out of this physical plane with some mandala-like, metaphysically minded art at Curator's Office from visionary architect and artist Paul Laffoley (looks trippy!), young artist and maze enthusiast Jason Hughes (I'm a fan!), and ex-artist Simon Gouverneur (he's dead!).

According to the press release, an "anonymous art connoisseur" (probably Phil Barlow) said that these paintings "take an hour or more to absorb, but a lifetime to understand." (Not to be confused with the popular Mattel board game, Othello, which takes only "a minute to learn," but "a lifetime to master".)
Lucid Dreaming opens tomorrow night, January 17, with a reception from 6:00 to 8:00 pm.
Pictured: Jason Hughes, Mind Games, ink on rice paper, 20.75" x 18", 2008

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Some long overdue additions to the Other Blogs, Other Worlds column: Boston's Geoff Edgers, Seattle's Regina Hackett, Bad at Sports, local busy bee Rachel Fick's new Microwave Project collective...and what, you might ask, is The Other Edward Winkleman? Why, that's the LA Times art blog, which unfortunately chose the name of an arleady established art blog a few months back (C-monster), and never got around to correcting the mistake. (Which I joked would be like calling your new blog The Other Edward Winkleman, and feigning dismay when people inevitably noticed that your name was, y'know, a little familiar.)

Tonight: Go to McLean Project for the Arts from 7 - 9 pm and see Patrick Craig and Betsy Stewart. Patrick is the head of the grad department at UMD, a heck of a painter, and a good friend.

Pictured: Patrick Craig, Foil, acrylic on canvas, 60" x 60", 2005

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Above: Renee Cox, Yo Mama's Last Supper, 1996

Yesterday C-monster linked to a Jan. 8 story in the Times online about the creation of a national pavilion for the Vatican in a future Venice Biennale. In 2007, the Vatican initiated a program to start collecting contemporary religious art, and there had been noises about a Vatican pavilion in this year’s show…but it’s apparently too late for that, and we’ll just have to wait until 2011 for Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, to realize his dream: “…that the Holy City will find a place in Venice where it can begin a dialogue with contemporary art in front of an international public.”

And, really, why wouldn’t the Vatican want to sign on for an event that in the past they’ve called “the breakdown of art in modern times”? I have to confess (ha!) that the list of artworks that previously have sent the Holy See into a tizzy makes me chuckle:

Modern artworks which have offended the Vatican include several by the Paduan artist Maurizio Cattelan, such as "Nona Ora", which portrays Pope John Paul II crushed by a meteorite…Gran Fury, an artists' collective formed in New York in 1988 as the propaganda arm of the gay activist group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) exhibited a billboard depicting a two foot high erect penis next to an image of the Pope at the Venice Biennale in 1990…Last year Catholic churchmen objected to an art exhibit entitled "The Madonna Cries Sperm" at a local summer arts festival in Bologna and a work by the Austrian artist Alfred Hrdlicka in Vienna depicting Jesus and the Apostles fondling each other in what the artist called a "homosexual orgy".

Of course art used to serve religion and the state—until it gave up on all of that and became a funny sort of religion until itself, seeking to remake the world around it for its own ends. Modernism has a legacy of provocation—of the need to jar and dislocate the viewer from assumptions, conventions, or even intelligible language—in order to bring about some change in the social order, maybe a future utopia. With postwar abstraction, this simply boiled down to letting the audience know that the artist wasn’t speaking to them, but to some future generation who might actually be capable of receiving heavy aesthetics. As Barnett Newman famously put it, if people were only capable of making the leap necessary to understand his paintings, “…it would mean the end of all state capitalism and totalitarianism.” Indeed!

And generally speaking, while contemporary art may employ less ponderous means, unafraid to embrace vernacular culture, the spectacle, and just plain everyday junk, it’s still about opening spaces in the fabric of daily life for a different kind of interaction, one in which the usual rules of discourse are suspended, and the world as it actually is gradually becomes visible, maybe for the first time. Contemporary art often tries to do this with a wink and a nod (or maybe a few masturbating apostles) but it’s still the same idea.

So my question, and maybe it’s kind of an obvious one, is this: Is the Vatican really interested in suspending typical relations, hierarchies, and commonly held beliefs? What kind of “contemporary art” exactly are they collecting? Do those words mean the same thing to Monsignor Ravasi as they do to the rest of the artworld? I guess two years from now we’ll find out.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

So maybe you were thinking (as I was): What the heck ever happened to Artcade Forum?

Well, ArtCadian Rachel Fick, after getting a little burned out by a very full year of curating, blogging, and artmaking in 2008, now has a great big blogging collective over at The Microwave Project--50 (!) contributors--lots of familiar names; some unfamiliar ones--posting from all over the place.

Rachel does tell me that ArtCade crit nights will continue...but for now, visit her new home often...and expect to see a lot more collectivized D.C. based blogs/sites like this cropping up as the year goes forward.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Yesterday Tyler worried about the Phillips Collection taking a turn toward contemporary art, and bringing in younger artists in hopes of attracting younger patrons. And while I understand the idea that any institution ought to do programming that makes sense in the frame of its already established identity and collection, I'm personally excited about prospects for the Phillips's future--and not just because of recent financial windfalls. As much as I enjoy seeing the Diebenkorns and Bonnards that I can count on finding at the Phillips--and believe me, I do--I'm all for bringing in more contemporary artists.

Sure, the current Christo and Jeanne Claude show isn't an entirely encouraging step forward towards special contemporary exhibitions (although, as Blake noted when he reviewed Over the River for the WaPo, it was conceived prior to new director Dorothy Kosinski's arrival). But I think shows that illustrate the relationship between what art actually is in the present moment and what Duncan Phillips's idea of modern art was--which, after all, wasn't formed all that long ago--could add much needed perspective on the collection, and offer lots of opportunities to revisit familiar work.

It may not have anything to do with contemporary art, but I'm reminded of the traveling exhibition that came to the Phillips back in 2007, Moving Pictures. No, the Phillips is not someplace you would identify with collecting film or video, but that didn't stop them from lining the gallery walls with huge LCD monitors. The show very effectively demonstrated the reciprocal relationships between photography, early film, and painting at the beginning of the 20th century--and how the viewer's expectations for images in all three mediums would be dramatically, irrevocably changed. In this context, several very strong paintings by John Sloan from the collection drew my attention in a way they otherwise never would have.

Of course, it could just be that I'm hungry for somebody, anybody in this town to start putting together smart and ambitious contemporary art shows. And if the Phillips has the resources and intellectual energy to do it, then I say full speed ahead. Still waiting for them to officially announce their new curator...

Pictured: John Sloan, Six O'Clock, Winter, 1912, oil on canvas, The Phillips Collection

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

And a belated Happy New Year to you!

I took a couple of weeks for a mental health holiday. Too bad that didn't work. Anyway, I'm finally back in the office, back on the blog, and gearing up for a new year of exhibitions--yours, mine, and theirs.

Things to do this week: Go see Margaret Boozer talk about her show at Project 4's new-ish space upstairs from Hamiltonian Gallery--on the third floor of 1353 U Street NW. That's this Saturday, January 10th, at 2:00 pm. Margaret's a fabulous sculptor, instructor, and all-around great DC-arts-person-to-know, so go see her show, already!

Unfortunately, I won't be there--I'll actually be at a training for the (also new-ish) AAC website. Yes, posting on the AAC's official blog has been a little slow for the last month or so, but expect that to change once the staff actually knows how to post things to it.

Below: Your moment of Brody Condon's Twentyfivefold Manifestation.