Wednesday, February 29, 2012

crisis on infinite earths

I started this blog out of desperation. At the very end of 2006, I saw blogging as possibly a way to get out of a perceived dead end in my writing practice—I was turning in quite a bit of copy for the Washington City Paper, but couldn’t seem to get a foot in the door anywhere else, and was struggling to figure out how to do more.

I wasn’t sure that blogging was the answer, and I was afraid of the powerful immediacy of the platform. At the City Paper, my very first editor Leonard Roberge and I had long, sometimes contentious discussions as we shaped and re-shaped reviews to make them ready for print. I've had many fantastic editors over the past few years, but I credit Leonard for re-teaching me how to write. (You can read what I think was the last review I wrote during Leonard’s tenure—about “Dada” at the NGA—here.)

For Hatchets and Skewers, I was flying without an editor, and could publish with a keystroke, whether or not my content was really fully cooked. Posts were pretty much instantly accessible to anyone who cared to subscribe or stumble by.

I began by putting up a weird mix of actual reporting, half-baked opinion or posturing, and over-sharing. I had no idea how to properly interact with people leaving comments. There was definite, established etiquette for writing online, but I only dimly understood it. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

Other than writing, I was teaching classes as an adjunct at the University of Maryland, and trying to figure out how to have a career as a painter—despite my ever-increasing suspicions that sitting in a little room with pots of pigment for hours on end did not suit my temperament. My interests are way too varied—and I, frankly, am way too distractible.

Reading now what I wrote in those early months, a little shudder of self-mortification passes through my body. Still, actually doing something is always preferable for me to doing nothing, and the blog became an opportunity to learn—and fail—in public.

Nine months into the experiment, my life took a weird left turn: I took a full time job as an art curator.

There were immediate perks, aside from, you know, actually getting a paycheck--I got to go to Germany, for one thing, which I documented here, here, here, and here. But suddenly the idea of writing interviews or arts journalistic pieces about DC artists became a conflict of interest. At the WCP, I restricted myself to only writing about big museum shows and historical surveys.

This seemed to confirm that I was at my best writing about dead people, anyway: I subsequently won a couple of Altweekly Awards, which was kind of a surprise. I don’t think of my art reviews as sexy or clever; I just try to be thorough and informative and aim for some kind of clarity, making definite arguments about successes and failures.

I eventually (last year) had the opportunity to write about museums for the Washington Post, and that was pretty satisfying, while it lasted...and then my editor moved, and the types of shows I could write about got really constrained, and I basically stopped taking assignments.

Once I was working at AAC, the blog became a place to catalog whatever I was working on at the moment as a curator or an artist. I had stopped painting, but I kept making art—or at least I played practical jokes that looked an awful lot like art.

Most of my blog entries from that point on consisted of install shots, or links to press releases or reviews of my projects as artist or curator (or both); or half-baked reflections on zombie movies, or rock music, or whatever.

Still, every now and then I’d put something up that I was proud of, or that I felt I wouldn’t have written anywhere else. Occasionally I created silly parodies that got more hits than they deserved--see here, here, and here.

Four years later I had yet another career shift. Now I’m full-time faculty at MICA, working in a fantastic brand-new grad program under George Ciscle and helming Exhibition Development Seminar, a two-semester class that has produced some really great shows over the last fifteen years.

Above: One of many walking tours of Central Baltimore/Station North Arts and Entertainment District with my Curatorial Practice grad students. Below: At a MICA Parents Council meeting with some of my Exhibition Development Seminar undergrads.

I only do things if I think there’s an opportunity to learn from them. Working with George has already taught me a lot—about how to include as many voices in a conversation as possible; how to better serve and engage your audience, and gauge your own successes (and failures) in that endeavor; how to navigate the pathways of large institutions and (hopefully) win people to your cause.

In case you haven’t noticed, the blog has been pretty quiet since then.

I haven’t been writing much, but I’ve kept on reading: One of the nice things about blogging is having a diverse peer group, people all with different ways of working and thinking. Looking at the blogroll over there in the right hand margin, I see journalists, friends, philosophers, and artists who occasionally have had really good things to say, and with whom I’ve felt like I’ve been having a conversation of sorts.

I’ve seen blogs that (to me) seemed like landmarks when I started this venture eventually fold: Looking Around ended, gracefully. J.T. Kirkland scaled his blogging way back and turned to documenting his studio practice. Kriston Capps unceremoniously stopped writing grammar.police, and seems perfectly happy on Twitter, or contributing to the WCP’s Arts Desk—which, in my completely biased but essentially correct opinion, is hands down the best local media outlet for that sort of thing.

Lenny Campello continues to be Lenny Campello, of course: an elemental force, unaffected by tides or trends or anything, god bless him.

There are people who’ve tried to make a living at it, and have doubled down—like Tyler Green, who moved to ArtInfo and has a podcast that I enjoy listening to on my commute to Baltimore; or Paddy Johnson, whose ArtFagCity continues to be indispensable even as she is published all over the place; or Hrag Vartanian, who started Hyperallergic, which is great, thoroughly linkable, and often very funny. Beyond being blogs, these are hubs of arts reflection and news that are actually useful to me, regardless of how or where the content is delivered.

Compared to these people, I know I’ve been little more than a sporadically active blog hobbyist over the years.

So: How can I go forward with Hatchets and Skewers? Does this platform still make sense? And does the title of this post shed light on either of those questions?

I just broke one of Leonard’s big rules for good writing: Never ask questions in print. It’s sort o
f like throwing your hands up and surrendering. “If you absolutely must write a sentence in the form of a question,” he used to tell me, “at least have the decency to answer it straight away.”

So I’ll start with the title of this post and work my way backward: “Crisis on Infinite Earths” was a DC comics gimmick from back when I was in high school. DC had this daffy concept called the “multiverse,” which basically meant that writers could bend the rules of time, space, and common sense by setting their storylines on any number of parallel realities that operated in different ways.

“Crisis” was a miniseries that bled into the storylines of lots of then-running DC
titles. There’s way too much to explain, but suffice to say that all of creation was threatened, folks died, and all of the separate worlds merged into one. DC used the storyline to clean house, killing off a few inconvenient or ridiculous characters and streamlining their brand.

The Flash died! So did Supergirl. All in the name of continuity.

At this point in my life—gainfully employed in academia; raising two kids; about to turn 40; trying to envision what my next big projects will be—I feel like I need to start merging or eliminating my competing storylines, too.

And if that’s what I’m going to do…well, then this blog is starting to look a bit like Supergirl.

Honestly, I don’t see how this space can continue to be the right sandbox for me. If I’m just going to give you updates re: whatever I happen to be working on, that probably ought to be an extension of my personal website, right? Right. I’ll get to work on building that.

I’ve made some tentative use of Twitter—I started an account for my Triathlon of the Muses project with Kathryn Cornelius; since that ended, I’ve continued occasionally tweeting about this or that…but I don’t think I’ve found a way to use it consistently/effectively yet.

So, here we are: the final post for Hatchets and Skewers.

I will try to maintain this site as an archive because, of course, I’m sentimental like that. Hey, I might even clean up the sidebar or update a few things going forward. But I won’t be putting up any more new entries.

If you’ve come here over the years, thanks for reading, and for being a part of my life in the arts. It’s been a pleasure sharing it with you.

And now, a little song and dance:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

she continues to possess athleticism

Below are some shots from the weeks leading up to the opening of SHE GOT GAME--including Cory Oberndorfer hard at work on his mural; the arrival of Unreasonably Large Photos by Martin Schoeller; prep work for Kristina Bilonick and Holly Bass's installations; and Tara Mateik's space helmet-esque vintage video sphere.

Thanks again to everyone who came out for the opening reception on January 13! Your next date to save: Feb 11, when
Kristina Bilonick will give a DC CHEER workshop (you need to register to participate!), and Amber Hawk Swanson will rock out CrossFit-style.

You can read my curatorial statement
here. Read more about the show at the AAC site here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

me, me, and somebody else

This past weekend I had a review of the American Visionary Art Museum's current show, "All Things Round," in the Washington Post. Read that here, if you haven't already.

Tomorrow I review entries for "
Utopias," a juried show I'm doing for Anne Arundel Community College. I'll meet the artists who make the cut at the juror's talk and opening reception on November 10.

See it this weekend: Evan Reed at GRACE in Reston. Evan is one of those artists who stays in his studio and quietly develops a really kick-ass, technically excellent, idiosyncratic body of work...and gets very little of the recognition he deserves for it.

Read the press release
here; see some of Evan's sculptures on his website here.

Evan was our visiting resident artist at AAC for much of my tenure there; I had the pleasure of bringing a
Very Large Sculpture of his with me to Germany in 2007 for a show we did at the Ludwig Forum in Aachen.

Evan's a master craftsman and draftsman--and, hey, if someone wants to buy me one of his
retro-modern drawings (the website images really don't do them justice) as a Christmas present, that'd be very nice, thanks.

The show--"until every shape has found its city"--is accompanied by a catalog, featuring an essay by Phillips Collection curator Vesela Sretenovic.

The reception is this Saturday, October 15, from 5 - 7 pm. For more info, visit the gallery website

Pictured: Evan installing "Arlington House" in Aachen, 2007.

Thursday, October 06, 2011


My review of "30 Americans" at the Corcoran Gallery of Art is in this week's Washington City Paper. Read all about it here.

Also: read Philip Kennicott's take on the show in the WaPo here. I don't disagree too much with Phillip--except for the bit about how inherently difficult it is to persuade the museum-going public that found objects can be transformed into art. Let's all just catch up with the 1920s, shall we? OK.

Lenny takes issue with Kennicott's Rubell ruminations (he's probably not gonna care for my piece, either). Read all the militating that's fit to electronically disseminate here.

Pictured: Nick Cave, "Soundsuit," 2008, fabric, fiberglass, and metal.

Monday, September 26, 2011

tri a little tenderness

Well, the fight is over. The tent has been taken down; the balloons have all been popped; the podiums have been carted off; the fitness equipment has dried out and been moved back to the gym (without anyone getting electrocuted, thank goodness).

There's a champion and there's a loser...and that loser is me!

Which leads me to say this: Thank you everyone for making the first annual (will there be others?) Triathlon of the Muses a rip-roaring rain-free, electrocution-free, vomit-free success!
Kathryn and I could not have done it without you.

Huge thanks to
Helen Allen, Leigh Conner, and Jamie Smith for organizing a kick-ass art fair--it looks like (e)merge was a hit, and will definitely be back next year--and for accepting and allowing us to completely overhaul the original design of the performance ("Weren't you supposed to be doing a fake food and wine reception or something?"), and offering fabulous support all the way through.

Thanks also to
Philippa Hughes for championing the performance, letting us crash her condo for our promo fight video, and, as referee, calling all sorts of entertaining technical fouls that we completely ignored as we continued to pant and sweat our way to the finish.

Thanks to
Jonathan Fischer and Maura Judkis for being our fabulous color commentators! If I didn't laugh at all of your jokes, it was only because I was Hurting Deeply.

Thanks to
Andrea Pollan for, uh, representing one of us, anyway, and for promoting the big fight.

Lenny Campello, for posting our press release on your blog (albeit with insulting references to my physique and penchant for ladies' wear inserted here and there); thanks, Bridget Sue Lambert, for being the fantastic master of the printing studio; thanks Svetlana Legetic for saying nice things about us; thanks to Jeremy Flick and Patrick McDonough for facilitating, getting passes for my MICA crew, and being extremely patient with all of the chaos in the run-up.

Thank you
Capitol Skyline Hotel staff and management for moving your fancy electronic gym equipment out to the pool deck and for letting us pump obnoxious metal/bad pop over your PA system for two hours. Somehow you thought these were good ideas.

Thanks to our documentarians--so-stellar-he's-interstellar photographer
Max Cook, who always seems to be there when I'm embarrassing myself; Anthony Smallwood; Rob Parrish, and Bruno Venini.

And I save my personal biggest thanks for last: Thank you, thank you, a million times thank you to my
MICA Curatorial Practice crew! Deana Haggag, Matt Spalding, Gabrielle Buzgo, Chloe Helton-Gallagher, Catherine Akins, and Emily Clemens: I guess this means I owe you extra credit?

Below and at the top: Photos of the triathlon by the amazing Max Cook. Underwater shots by Anthony Smallwood--he jumped in the pool and shot us while lying on the bottom! I call that commitment to your craft.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

all the news that's fit to copy and paste

They're gonna throw down!

The fight is on! After weeks of intense training—and even more intense Twitter trash talking—performance artists Kathryn Cornelius and Jeffry Cudlin are ready to throw down. Their two-person sprint triathlon kicks off THIS SATURDAY, Sept. 24 at NOON, at the (e)merge art fair.

Who are these lunatics?

The competitors could not be more physically different: Nearly a foot in height and 50 pounds in weight separates them.

Cornelius is, of course, a woman; stands 5' 6 3/4" tall; and weighs somewhere between 118 and 121 lbs--depending on whether or not she's had her daily constitutional.

Cudlin, meanwhile, is male (usually); stands 6' 4 1/2" tall; and weighs between 171 and 180--depending on his cupcake intake.

The two also sit on opposite ends of the food chain: For the past 14 years, Cudlin has eaten a strict vegan diet, eschewing meat, dairy, eggs, and all other animal products in favor of grains, legumes, and vegetables. Cornelius, meanwhile, eats a strict Paleo diet, avoiding grains, legumes, and dairy in favor of meat, nuts, seeds, some fruit and little sugar.

In addition to totally dominating one another, Cornelius and Cudlin aim to counter the stereotype of artists as weak, non-athletic sensitives who are notoriously bad at sports.

Triathlon of the Muses from The Pink Line Project on Vimeo.

Who's in charge of this monkey farm?

But who’s going to keep these two bloodthirsty artists-turned-athletes honest? Leave that to color commentators Maura Judkis (Washington Post) and Jonathan Fischer (Washington City Paper), as well as MC Philippa Hughes (Pink Line Project)—who will also be donning the black-and-white striped shirt and officiating the faceoff.

Maura Judkis, Producer for the Style Section of the Washington Post, knows a thing or two about responding to hard-charging sport spectacle: In a previous life, she was captain of her high school cheerleading squad.

Prior to serving as Arts Editor for the Washington City Paper. Jonathan Fischer cut his teeth on the Brandeis University squash courts. Though he claims he’ll only watch a game on TV if sriracha buffalo chicken dip (actually a thing) is present, don’t be fooled: Arts editing is a blood sport.

And Philippa Hughes, DC Arts Commissioner and founder of the Pink Line Project, was the only girl on her 8th grade soccer team—her school didn’t have a girls team, so she had to play with the boys. As a result, Hughes developed a highly competitive killer instinct…and firsthand knowledge of the forces unleashed in any battle of the sexes.

What is a sprint triathlon?

At the Capitol Skyline Hotel, Cornelius and Cudlin will engage in three very real tests of physical and mental stamina: They'll both swim 750m in the very short hotel pool (that’s approximately 20 laps), pedal 20k on stationary bikes, and run a 5k race on treadmills.

Why are Cudlin and Cornelius doing this?

The Triathlon of the Muses attempts to insert the conventions of popular sporting spectacle into the structure of the art fair—replacing one form of competition, costume-wearing, and role-playing with another. In this way the piece provides a more clearly legible analog for transactions both prior to and within the fair. It also presents a symbolic battle between artists of opposing genders for the same limited resources of audience, patronage, and cultural capital.

Where’d that odd title come from?

The performance's title is a nod to Pierre de Coubertin's Pentathlon of the Muses, a series of art competitions typically held at the Olympic games during the first half of the 20th century. In the Pentathlon, the sport-inspired work of amateur artists would be judged by arts professionals and other dignitaries. Gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded.

Friday, September 16, 2011

writing, or something like it

Well, that was a refreshing nap, wasn't it? Yes, after two months of getting settled in my new gig at MICA, it suddenly dawned on me that I have a blog, and that my readership--spammers, family members, people arriving here by accident--might want to know what the heck is up.

The answer is: quite a bit. We have some catching up to do.

For now, I'll just note this: The WCP 2011 Fall Arts Guide is out. Pick it up on your way into or out of the metro...or read all the news that's fit to download here.

In the guide, Louis takes sneak peeks at a couple of important upcoming shows--"Harry Callahan" at the NGA; "30 Americans" at the Corc--and I ramble a bit about "Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories," which comes to the NPG via the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco starting October 14.

Just for fun: See the checklist for the show with thumbnails here.

More updates on the way, but for now, a question: Why am I exercising so much?