Friday, February 27, 2009

I have been fighting whatever illness has been working its way through everyone I know; spent Tuesday and Wednesday in bed. So my apologies for a slow week here, and for having to put off the audio interview I wanted to put up today--need to have a fully functional voice to actually interview someone.

Everything on my calendar has moved back a week. So come back Monday and we'll try again, OK?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The WPA announced yesterday that they've finally picked a new director: Lisa J. Gold.

To which I said: Who?

Lenny has the details on his site. Ms. Gold seems like a fine choice, with plenty of relevant experience, but I was frankly surprised that they didn't pick someone local. True, you can meet everyone you need to know in the D.C. art world in about a day and a half...but in a fish pond this size, I think connections really matter.

Gold is, in fact, from D.C. originally, but I wonder how much catching up she'll have to do before she can really start to be effective. I know of a couple of folks in town who were being considered for the position and definitely would've been able to hit the ground running...anyway, I'm hopeful for the WPA, and will be excited to see what happens next.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hey, what am I doing? Well, I've been working on a piece for the CP on the Morandi show that just opened at the Phillips. Expect that to run next Thursday, barring anything unforeseen. (Spoiler alert: The show features a lot of little paintings of bottles on a table.)

I will also have a new audio interview for you--non-AAC related!--by week's end, so stay tuned for that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I posted this first over on the AAC blog: Last week, I sat down with D.C. artist Lisa Blas and talked about her recent foray into performance art--video documentation of which is currently on view through Saturday, April 4 in PUBLIC/PRIVATE at the AAC.

Apologies for the fact that this mp3 isn't downloadable. I'm working on it. In the meantime, you can listen to our discussion in the player below:

Pictured: Installation shot of Lisa Blas's K Street Projects, vol. 1-4, 2008
Another late addition to the blogroll: You're probably already familiar with ArtPark, written in Charlottesville, Virginia by Rob and Laura Jones, who also run Migration: A Gallery. Well, now they're in the column to the right, where they belong. Visit them often.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Brandon Morse's current show at Conner Contemporary, This Shape We're In, paints the walls of the front room with large scale projections of his digital animations--in which skeletal, boxy structures in shades of black and grey are shown buckling, collapsing, and reforming. It's a dramatic use of Leigh Conner's gorgeous Florida Ave. space. Definitely worth a trip--the show remains up through March 21.

Morse lives and works in the D.C. area, and teaches at my old alma mater, UMDCP. I asked him a few questions about scale, abstraction, and his relationship to sound:

Hatchets & Skewers: How do considerations of scale enter into your work? I ask this because Leigh's new space is obviously so much larger than her old digs in Dupont...and your new pieces all definitely look like they're meant to be shown as large, wall-filling projections. Will this group always be shown at this scale? How do you determine that/how flexible are you with your presentation?

Brandon Morse: With the pieces currently up at Conner, I knew I had a big box to play in, so that helped determine where I went with the things I was doing when we committed to the show. I had set up some structures, and put them through their paces…the base idea of working with the degradation of architectural forms was there, but the final product had not yet been determined. Having a set space to work within helped in determining where I went with the systems.

I think this is clearer with the work in my previous show at Conner. That work would not have taken on that final form if it were not for the spatial confines of the old venue on Connecticut.

As far as future presentation, I'm not terribly concerned…I do hope that my original inclinations towards presentation are kept in mind. That may be more attainable for institutions rather than collectors. I suppose it's a rare collector who can set aside an entire room for the projection of a two-channel piece that wraps around a corner.

H&S: I don't know that I've seen enough shows of your work in the past few years to make these sorts of generalizations, but it seems to me that the forms in your pieces have become more and more linear, involving architectural forms that behave organically--whereas in earlier pieces, I felt like you were trying to emulate the look of organic phenomena: clouds, sunsets, etc. Would you agree or disagree? How would you characterize this progression?

BM: This seems like a fair assertion. At some point I realized that what I was really interested in depicting were systems, and behavioral activity—massive amounts of singular action and reaction coalescing into recognizable behaviors and forms. Weather seemed the most common example of this, and that was where I most immediately saw it. But after a while it seemed that the representational nature of the video was getting in the way of what I was really attempting to depict: There was a lack of fidelity to it that I was never happy with; I couldn't coax the computer into giving me the detail and complexity of the real thing, and it raised questions as to why I didn't simply shoot the real thing on video and be done with it. So, I decided to do away with the representational elements and focus on the structural, systematic and behavioral.

Of course, having said that, the work that is at Conner right now is fairly representational: abstracted a bit, and brought down to its platonic state, but still certainly depictive of architecture. This work I think is the most specific I've been about subject matter. It's about collapse, and there are currently a lot of things collapsing, so the building metaphor seemed to fit.

H&S: Right--though your pieces are abstract, they do bring to mind all sorts of ominous associations. The current show resembles giant skyscrapers buckling, collapsing in on themselves, or being ripped from the earth and assumed into the heavens. How do you think about the relation of your pieces to recognizable subject matter? Are you actively thinking about 9/11, or architectural excess, or apocalyptic visions of the world...or are you more or less disconnected from those sorts of associations when you design these pieces?

BM: Neglect and the consequences of neglect are what I'm more directly interested in. It's a passive form of the destruction, as opposed to events such as Sep. 11.There were specific events that got the work rolling in a certain direction--the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis happened at right about the time I started working with these pieces. It seemed a perfect symptom of the present moment, and a kind of harbinger of the many collapses that came after.

H&S: I was interested to hear you describe how you arrived at the soundtrack for these--how each originally had its own individual score, but now that you'd shown them all with this one soundtrack (slow, ominous thrumming; continuous cricket-like noises) it seemed like you were suggesting that they would all be shown with that sound from now on. How do you see the link between the soundtracks you create and the projections? And how does your process for recording sound differ from creating the animations?

BM: I did create audio that was specific to some of the pieces at Conner, but all of the pieces are in the same room together, so there was no way that would work. When it came time to decide on audio, I used a piece that I had made during the time I was making the videos…but I hadn't assigned it to any particular one. It seemed to be a unifier and work most cohesively with all of the pieces. They will all henceforth be attached to the audio that is currently in the show.

As a procedural side note, I will usually only listen to one album and occasionally one cut on an album while making a series of works. This time it was the great 'Timeline' by Edith Progue. That's still the audio I associate with the pieces. I suppose that I think of audio as being less associated with specific works, more as being relevant to a time of making.

Pictured: Brandon Morse, Achilles, 2008, 2-channel video, dimensions variable, copyright the artist, courtesy Conner Contemporary Art.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rachel Kaufman wrote about PUBLIC/PRIVATE in yesterday's Express--read that article here.

Over on the AAC's official blog, you can read about the show's closing party, which will feature a special guest lecturer: Mel Chin. On Tuesday, March 24, Mel will give a talk about his current Fundred/Paydirt project. It's free, and open to the public--just like Mel would want it.

Below is some Fundred video courtesy of Art:21.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Over the weekend I also saw Andrea Zittel’s current show at Andrea Rosen Gallery, Single Strand, Forward Motion. I am undeniably a huge fan of Zittel and her work..but I have to admit, it’s a little strange encountering a gallery show with such a modest premise from an artist I associate with her recent traveling museum show—highlighting her utopian modern high end designs and the absurd branding of her personal corporation, A-Z Administrative Services.

Rather than offer sleek, slightly ridiculous solutions for modern living, Single Strand, Forward Motion consists of two slightly underdeveloped ideas for studio practice. Part one is a series of energetic accumulators: irregular handmade hooks that have been cast in bronze and mounted to the gallery walls.

The shape and functional associations of the hooks draw a range of objects to them. Though placed in casual and sometimes random and/or temporary arrangement, the accumulated objects are organized into a regulated system by the supporting armatures (digits). It is difficult if not impossible to hang a hook on a wall without soon thereafter placing something on it. They become a magnet for the detritus of life and living - and therefore an energetic accumulator.

I think this is a fine concept, and could provide an interesting interface with the artist’s life, consumption, and, well, detritus. Except that these accumulators have failed thus far to accumulate much of anything. There’s very little currently hanging on these hooks, aside from a few loops of long, crocheted strands, one of which wanders off the wall to diagonally bisect the gallery floor; a pair of her grandmother’s scissors; and tea bags, bundled together into little clusters and hanging only in a handful of places in the room.

Now maybe I’ve just been attending too many grad and undergrad crits lately, but the whole tea-bags-in-my-art schtick—turning a ritual of consumption into fodder for artistic production—is way, way familiar. I’ve seen it several times in the last two years, in different contexts, but always boiling down (ha!) to the same premise. Which is fine, but it’s surprising to see such a readily available, consistently exploited idea popping up in a show by a major established artist.

The other part of the show consists of the Single-Strand Shapes—crocheted, boxy, abstract pieces, framed and punctuating the room here and there. Some are hung well above eye level, along the zone where the dark grey color that has been hastily applied to the gallery walls irregularly breaks, leaving the usual white that continues up to the ceiling. (Imagine painting the lower half of a wall, but not masking off the line where you plan to stop, and instead letting the paint roller wander across that boundary. It’s a nice, offhand-looking effect, but it’s almost more present to the eye than the artwork it’s supposed to be complementing.)

These pieces are fine; they recall Zittel’s own single-strand clothing, and her experiments with modern fashion a la Alexander Rodchenko in the Uniforms project. They also walk the line between rule-based conceptual art practice and earlier European avante-garde abstraction. But they’re basically a body of small works after the fact, offering opportunities for collectors to consume more manageable pieces that relate to an idea the artist has pretty thoroughly mined by now.

So the show basically misses. It could, however, suggest a new direction for Zittel’s production, something much more open, less object-based, more performative. In the last paragraph of her statement, Zittel indicates that she’s thinking that way, as she writes about postmodern dance, line dancing, and marching bands—referring to Walking Patterns, a performance that occurred in the gallery as part of the show. I didn’t get to see that performance, but I’m guessing it might have helped me with some of my misgivings about the objects on display.

The show remains on view through March 7.

Monday, February 09, 2009

One of the shows I saw in NYC on Saturday was Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla’s prepared piano piece, Stop, Repair, Prepare, currently on view through February 21 at Gladstone Gallery. Originally created for and shown in the Haus der Kunst in Munich last year, the piece consists of an early 20th century Bechstein piano through which the artists have cut a circular hole just large enough to accommodate a human body standing in the instrument’s center.

Concerts are given with the piano hourly, Tuesday through Saturday, with one of a rotating cast of six pianists basically wearing the piano and leaning forward across it, straining to reach the keys—which obviously must be played backwards and upside down. Additionally, two octaves in the middle of the piano’s range have been excised in order to make room for the performer, making for an effortful performance, interrupted by occasional quiet plunking, odd percussive sounds. As they lean forward, the performers can walk the wheeled piano through Gladstone’s circuit of spaces. (When no performer is present, gallery goers wander from room to room, a little mystified until they finally manage to locate the piano, or take the time to read the gallery statement.)

The piece each performer is directed to play is the Fourth Movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—the “Ode to Joy”, which, in addition to being the European Union’s current official anthem, was also favored by the Nazis, and was notably once performed for the Fuhrer on his birthday. Adding to the music’s strange pedigree is the element of Turkish music that crops up in this movement, as ArtDaily noted last August:

The lively beat and the unusual instrumentation (bass drums, triangle, cymbals) in the "Turkish style" was popular with composers, who found inspiration in the marching janissary military band of the Ottoman Empire that went to war against European armies. "Turkish" music was so popular at the turn of the 19th century that piano manufacturers made pianos with a "Turkish stop", also known as a military or janissary stop. The musician would step on a pedal that then rang a bell and/or caused a padded hammer to hit the sound box, imitating a bass drum… Literally mobilising this famous melody, the performance sets into motion a sonic journey from modernity’s beginning towards an uncertain horizon, where the emblem of European brotherhood resides; a brotherhood to which, strangely enough, Turkey’s status within this universal embrace remains uncertain.

Personally, I thought the piece was brilliant, though it's an odd fit for a slick commercial space in Chelsea: It must've made a heck of a lot more sense--and had a lot more historical resonance--in the space in Munich. Below is a video of the mobile Ode, via YouTube:
Spent part of the weekend in NYC. Dropped by Winkleman Gallery for Things Fall Apart, and saw Andrea Zittel's show at Andrea Rosen. More on both of those later.

J.T. stopped by the Arts Center just in time for us to have an equipment failure on Saturday morning. Oops. Just after he left (understandably frustrated), we had all of the exhibits up and running, save for one video projector. Sorry, J.T.--come back anytime for a personal tour, and maybe a drink, too.

Looking for a tax write-off? The AAC is a 501(c) feel free to send us your lightly used LCD or plasma TVs, surround sound stereo systems, laptops, HD projectors, cameras, and/or DVD players, headphones, etc., etc. A new media-minded curator can dream, right?

I have an announcement to make at some point this week about a special guest speaker we'll be having for the PUBLIC/PRIVATE closing party on Tuesday, March 24--and about the public art project we'll be kicking off in Arlington that same night. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Today Lavanya takes a look at Street with a View, the Google Street View-based project by Pittsburgh artists Ben Kinsley and Robin Hewlett that's currently on view in PUBLIC/PRIVATE at the AAC.

Read all about it here.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Of course I've heard lots of good things about Clint Eastwood's performance in Gran Torino...but I don't know if it can match my favorite Eastwood role: his portrayal of art historian Jonathan Hemlock.

What's that? You don't remember Clint's double duty as director and actor in 1975's The Eiger Sanction? A killer who gets paid in stolen artworks? With an albino ex-Nazi boss named Dragon, an African-American love interest named Jemimah Brown (it was 1975, wasn't it?), and assassination by mountain climbing?

Here, let me remind you:

Monday, February 02, 2009

I'm back, after two weeks spent putting my new show at the AAC, PUBLIC/PRIVATE, in order. I will have installation shots/clips for you this week; in the meantime, you can read all about the show here. (Yes, the website needs to be updated.) Thanks to everyone who came to the preview and to the reception!

Among the things I missed: John Updike died last Tuesday. In the wake of obits and appraisals, I've read plenty about Rabbit Angstrom and Henry Bech, but not so much about Updike's art criticism, which appeared in the New York Review of Books, and was mostly gathered into two books, Just Looking and Still Looking.

Updike's criticism was informal, and not without its limitations: He did better with representational art, particularly by Americans. And when he could weave the artist's biography into the consideration--particularly if, like the best-known characters in his fiction, that artist was a flawed figure, having experienced disappointment, failure--then the piece inevitably worked.

I always enjoyed his 1986 appraisal of John Singer Sargent from Just Looking, and had the first paragraph in mind when I saw the show that came to the NGA back in 1999:

Americans like in their artists a touch of the hermit crank, of the ascetic; Homer and Hopper had it, and Eakins and Pollock. But not John Singer Sargent: he was too facile, too successful, too professional, too European. The most fashionable of artists in his portrait painting prime from 1887 to 1907, he turned to murals as a path to higher realms and instead covered his name with a certain polite dust. His death in 1925 (like his life, apparently painless) prompted two large retrospective shows the following year, at the Royal Academy in London and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but no tribute as generous has been launched for sixty years...the [Whitney Museum] show is not apt to change people's minds about Sargent, or to secure him a place higher than his present honorable position as the creator of some spectacular canvases yet a man who, in the statement formed by his total career, somehow misses. "Yes," Henry James wrote to Thomas Bailey Aldrich in 1888, "I have always thought Sargent a great painter. He would be greater still if he had one or two little things he hasn't--but he will do."