Saturday, January 12, 2008

Marjorie Henderson Buell

“Little Lulu Lives,” a tiny lobby exhibit at the Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library which I wrote about here, honors the work of a pioneering female cartoonist. Marjorie Henderson Buell created Little Lulu, a spunky rascally cartoon girl who was a precursor to the more curmudgeonly cartoon star Nancy. (Buell, who died in 1993, was also the mother of Harvard lit professor Lawrence Buell, who with a brother donated the items seen here to the library.)

“Little Lulu Lives,” Schlesinger Library, Harvard University, 10 Garden St., Cambridge, Oct. 9, 2007, to March 28, 2008.

“20th Drawing Show: Drawing the Line” at BCA

From my review of the recently closed “20th Drawing Show: Drawing the Line” at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery:
A man with an ax walks out onto ice crusting over part of a pond and proceeds to chop a wavy line. In Virginia artist A. Jacob Galle’s 2004 black-and-white video “4.11.04 ice cutting,” the fellow — the artist himself, it seems — straddles the crack as he works backward. He sheds his coat or sweater as he heats up. The sunlight fades from the pond and the surrounding birches and evergreens as the day passes. Galle stands in the water in his tall boots and hacks apart bits he missed. At last he pushes the floating sheet of ice free. It spins slowly, magisterially, out toward the middle of the dark water.

It is a curious and simple and magical performance. And it’s one of the highlights of the Boston Center for the Arts’ “20th Drawing Show: Drawing the Line.” Brookline artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons served as guest juror, working with the BCA’s Mills Gallery, to narrow down 480 applicants to 26 participating artists.

Galle’s performance is clearly inspired by the 1960s and ’70s earthworks of folks like Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson, right down to their macho-nature-boy destructiveness — though in this instance the destruction is a very temporary scar. And like those works, “4.11.04 ice cutting” speaks of artists’ elemental desire to make their mark on the world.

Drawing has taken a central place in art over the past decade, particularly among artists asserting the handmade and human in our synthetic digital age. And there’s been some great local drawing produced in recent years — work by Somerville’s Mary O’Malley, Cambridge’s Todd McKie, and Providence’s Brian Chippendale, among others. Providence’s is devoted to presenting prints by artists whose work is driven by drawing. Sharp drawing has begun to emerge from students at Vermont’s Center for Cartoon Studies.

But “Drawing the Line” is one of those genre-busting exhibitions aimed at “rethinking the traditional approach to drawing as a medium.” The show offers embroidery, videos, sculpture, wall paintings, knitting, wires wrapped in colored thread to resemble veins or tree branches, and — oh, yeah — some drawing. We get a snapshot of the Boston scene (with some outside guests); that’s a worthy project in itself, but it’s not so much about drawing. Moreover, the focus on emerging artists, many of whom are still working things out, means that the art is very hit-or-miss.
Read the rest here.

“20th Drawing Show: Drawing the Line,” Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery, 539 Tremont St., Boston, Nov. 16, 2007, to Jan. 6, 2008.

Pictured from left to right: Yasemin Kackar-Demirel’s “Unnatural Habitat,” A. Jacob Galle’s “4.11.04 ice cutting,” and, uh, a third artist at right. I’m sorry but I don’t have the info handy anymore. Ugh.

“Sounding the Subject,” “Video Trajectories” at MIT

From my review of “Sounding the Subject” and “Video Trajectories,” a pair of often tedious exhibitions surveying the history of video art which were at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center from October to December:
The best piece is Nam June Paik’s exquisitely simple “TV Buddha” (above), a re-creation of an installation Paik first made in 1974. A video camera stands behind a monitor recording the image of a bronze Buddha sitting across the room; the result plays on the monitor. The footage is live, but unless someone walks between the statue and the camera, you wouldn’t notice — it might as well be a still picture. Paik short-circuits a basic element of video — it records things happening over time — while suggesting a sort of mystical eternally present instant. The piece is by turns funny, eerie, and mind-blowing.
Read the rest here.

“Sounding the Subject” and “Video Trajectories,” MIT List Visual Arts Center, 20 Ames St., Cambridge, Oct. 12 to Dec. 30, 2007.

Charles “Teenie” Harris

From my review of “Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris: Spirit of Community,” a survey of work by the late African-American photographer which was at Gallery Kayafas in November and December:
In one magnetic photo, black and white boys and girls play together in an integrated swimming pool, probably in the 1950s. The Carnegie Museum’s description of this photo suggests it depicts the very day the pool was integrated. The scene is charged by the ambiguity of the relationship between the black lifeguard at its center and a white boy who’s learning to swim. Is this young African-American subservient to the white kid he’s cradling, or does he enjoy the authority of a teacher and guardian? Are we seeing racial differences bridged, or the same old hierarchies? The photo seems to embody the very moment of transition, with all its hope and nervous uncertainties, from one era to the next.
Read the rest here.

  • The online Harris Archive at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art.
  • A PBS interview with Harris.
  • A good 2006 article on Harris from the National Endowment for the Humanities’s aptly named magazine “Humanities.”
  • A 2001 New York Times profile of Harris.
“Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris: Spirit of Community,” Gallery Kayafas, 450 Harrison Ave., Boston, Nov. 14 to Dec. 29, 2007.

Félix González-Torres

From my review of the recently closed Félix González-Torres installation at Harvard’s Carpenter Center, though you can still see a version of it at the Williams College Museum of Art through March 23, 2008:
Félix González-Torres’s 1993 sculpture Untitled (Placebo — Landscape for Roni), a single-work exhibition in the lobby gallery of Harvard’s Carpenter Center, is a floor-filling sea of hard candy in gold wrappers.

González-Torres, a Cuban-born, Puerto Rican–raised, New York conceptualist minimalist sculptor who died of AIDS at age 38 in January 1996, provided few instructions for how the work was to be installed: an “endless supply” of candy in gold wrappers, arrange it however you want, visitors can take pieces, but the gallery must replenish them so that it maintains a weight of about 1200 pounds. He liked leaving things open to interpretation. . . .

González-Torres’s work is usually marked by a soft, polite, gentle, generous beauty. He would install blue curtains to change the tone of a room, or strings of white lightbulbs that evoke the romance of old cinema marquees. His modest style was a tonic for the macho minimalist sculpture that began in the 1960s. But here [Helen Molesworth, contemporary art curator for the Harvard Art Museums,] works in that earlier mode. Her placement of the candy disrupts foot traffic through the room, forcing people to walk to the left, around the bench and the candy, to get to the office doors at the right. In classic minimalist fashion, it makes us notice our surroundings and our physical relationship to them, which we often ignore. It just doesn’t feel like González-Torres.
Read the rest here:

Felix Gonzalez-Torres “Untitled (Placebo-Landacape-For Roni),” Carpenter Center, Harvard, 24 Quincy St., Cambridge, Nov. 8, 2007, to Jan. 4, 2008.

Please forgive me for posting this review after the show closed – other obligations and the holidays got me behind on posting, and I’m just now finally getting around to catching up.

Cliff Evans

From my review of Cliff Evans’s “Empyrean," which closes at the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum tomorrow:
Brooklyn artist Cliff Evans’s video installation “Empyrean,” up now at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, is a Web-induced digital fever dream of celebrities, war, sex, and religion straight out of Hieronymus Bosch’s late-15th- and early-16th-century paintings of temptation and Hell. When you watch it, the end feels very near.
Read the rest here.

Compare the form and content echoes between Evans’s work and Martha Rosler’s 1960s Vietnam war photo collages and recent Iraq war photo collages, which are on view at the Worcester Museum of Art through tomorrow.

Cliff Evans, “Empyrean,” Isabella Steward Gardner Museum, 280 The Fenway, Boston, Nov. 9, 2007, to Jan. 13, 2008.

Kari Percival

My pal Kari Percival's work at Magpie in Somerville. (Click on picture to see it larger.)

“Glorious Prognostications, Resolutions and Tidings of Good Fortune for 2008: An exhibition of picture scenes and amusements by Kari Percival and Greg Cook,” Magpie, 416 Highland Ave., Somerville, Jan. 5 to Feb. 3, 2008.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

De Montebello retiring from NY’s Met

Philippe de Montebello, director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art since 1977 (and a 1958 Harvard grad), announced yesterday that he plans to retire by the end of this year. Coincidentally, he’s scheduled to give a free talk entitled “Museums, Why Should We Care?” at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23.

Related: The New York Times reports: 1, 2, and 3.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard

From my review of "Consuming Passion: Fragonard's Allegories of Love,” a small, slight exhibition at the Clark Art Institute focusing on Jean-Honoré Fragonard's late work. It presents 26 works; just 16 are by Fragonard.
Fragonard (1732-1806) was one of the leading figures - along with François Boucher, his teacher, and Jean-Antoine Watteau - of the French rococo style that came to prominence after the death of King Louis XIV in 1715. Under the Sun King, French art favored weighty religious and historical themes, but rococo's flirty pastoral, mythological, and boudoir scenes were as light and bubbly as champagne. …

By the 1780s, though, Fragonard had begun to take on a new tone that comes across even in the titles of the paintings, drawings, and prints (by other artists copying Fragonard's original compositions) here: "The Oath of Love," "The Warrior's Dream of Love," "The Invocation to Love." The work remains sexy, but the characters change from friends-with-benefits to mythic soul mates.
Read the rest here.

Related:“Consuming Passion: Fragonard’s Allegories of Love” and “Printed Love,” Clark Art Institute, 225 South St., Williamstown, Oct. 28, 2007, to Jan. 21, 2008.

Pictured from top to bottom: “The Sacrifice of the Rose,” c. 1785-88, black chalk, graphite, brown, red, yellow, and gray washes, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Centennial Fund, gift of funds from Mr. and Mrs. Clinton Morrison; “The Sacrifice of the Rose,” c. 1785-88, oil on canvas, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Los Angeles.

Campaign 2008: Vermin Supreme

I am happy to report that Vermin Supreme (above) has won 34 votes in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, with 91 percent of precincts reporting at 12:27 this morning according to the Associated Press. That amounts to, roughly, 0 percent of the votes cast.

Supreme, a lovable screwball political satirist-artist-activist-dreamer, who, last I knew, was based in Rockport, Massachusetts, is once again running for emperor of the United States. He is known for campaigning in armor and wearing a boot on his head. He says he has run in the New Hampshire presidential primary since 1988. I can attest that he’s been running since I first met him in the mid 1990s.

“I stand for all that is good,” Supreme recently told the Concord Monitor. “My opponents stand for all that is evil. I'm generally most recognized for my mandatory tooth-brushing campaign. I believe that is truly one of the top issues of the day. Of course, I am very well-known for promoting time travel research and zombie preparedness.”


Related: Click here for more Vermin news.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Best of 2007

Note: This list combines best of Boston and best of Providence art lists that I wrote for the Boston Phoenix and Providence Phoenix. With some additions and subtractions.

“The Apartment at the Mall.” On September 26, artist Michael Townsend was stopped by security as he left an apartment he and seven collaborators had secretly created inside neglected storage space in Providence Place’s parking garage. And so was announced to the world one of the most audacious and awesome underground art projects Rhode Island has ever seen.

“The Apartment at the Mall” was a delicious, trenchant, outlaw joke that colonized a bit of the mall to reconsider the place of consumerism and real-estate development in our communities. A recreation of the place was exhibited at 70 Eddy Street in December. For those who have only experienced the original via photos or video, it was an uncanny copy, a kind of proof of the mall apartment’s existence, and simultaneously like walking into a mirage.

What’s next? The artists are creating a book about the project. Townsend says they sold contents of the original apartment — still at the mall — to a Providence collector. The owners of the mall, he says, have made rumblings about suing the artists to seize the intellectual property rights to the whole project and possibly bar them from discussing it. They plan to fight any lawsuit. In the meantime, Townsend hints that he has a couple more off-the-radar spaces under development.

Musée Patamécanique. Word of mouth has turned the Musée Patamécanique, which opened in the fall of 2006, into a cult hit. Hidden on a Bristol estate, curator Neil Salley has built a collection of apparitions and marvelously curious mechanical inventions that beg questions about art, science and the very nature of reality. A garden expansion is next.

“Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination,” Peabody Essex Museum, April 28 to Aug. 19, 2007. The Peabody Essex’s Cornell retrospective was a thrilling surprise from a museum best known for focusing on New England, the cultures Salem touched via the China trade, and Native American life. Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, a Cornell expert who came to the museum from the Smithsonian in 2003, assembled the best blockbuster exhibit in the region this year, a breathtaking, comprehensive, once-in-a-generation retrospective of Cornell’s dreamy shadow boxes. Is it a sign of what to expect from the Peabody Essex in the future? “It really is about signaling,” Hartigan tells me, “in as direct way as we could think of, that we mean business about doing work in the modern- and contemporary-art arena.” Another signal: plans to hire curators of photography and contemporary art in 2008.

The Institute for Infinitely Small Things’ “New American Dictionary.” For Christmas 2006, the Boston collective The Institute for Infinitely Small Things auctioned off the rights to redefine key terms of the “War on Terror” on eBay. “If we live in a society where a bunch of lawyers can get together and redefine torture,” Instituter Savic Rasovic said, “why not sell it to the highest bidder?” This year they published the revised definitions in “The New American Dictionary: Interactive Security/Fear Edition,” which they spirited onto commercial bookstore shelves in a delicious act of reverse shoplifting.

Jennny Holzer, “Archive,” Barbara Krakow Gallery, April 28 to June 6, 2007. For “Archive,” at Barbara Krakow Gallery, Jenny Holzer took declassified government documents from the “War on Terror” and reproduced them straight-up in screenprints, blacked-out passages and all. The texts — especially the testimony of prisoner abuse — were a devastating, and depressing, indictment of the callousness and carelessness of the Bushies.

“El Anatsui: Gawu,” Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Jan. 6 to March 4, 2007. Nigerian sculptor Anatsui has mastered a magical alchemy in which he transforms junked milk can lids, printing plates and caps from liquor bottles into giant dazzling monuments. They often resemble West African ceremonial kente cloth, and speak of the legacy of colonialism and African life today.

Bruce Chao in “Natured Anew,” Brown University, June 9 to July 8, 2007.
Providence sculptor Bruce Chao has been erecting temporary sculptures high in the canopy of a forest in Seekonk, Massachusetts, for six years, but photos and videos of his boardwalks, webs, and false tree limbs that were exhibited at Brown University’s Bell Gallery in June were his first public presentation of the work. In Chao’s art, treetops became places of visions and dreams.

Rachelle Beaudoin in RISD MFA Thesis Exhibition, May 17 to June 2, 2007. For her MFA graduation show at RISD, Rachelle Beaudoin presented photos of herself wandering Providence in Cheer!Shorts with custom slogans across the butt: “Unusually Wet Pussy,” “Totally Waxed,” “Cock Sucking Queen.” It was funny, rascally, smart, discomforting feminist art that asked essential questions about women, beauty, and sexuality in America. She’s since moved back to her home state of New Hampshire, where she’s teaching and keeping up a busy schedule of exhibitions.

Andrew Mowbray “Bathyscape,” Space Other, May 18 to June 30, 2007. Bostonian Andrew Mowbray’s show “Bathyscape” at Space Other gallery this spring presented a video (exhibited with exquisitely crafted props) in which he climbed into an Art Nouveau diving bell, shaved off his hair, tied the locks into fishing lures, and framed them. Mowbray let the mysteries stew, and the gorgeous strangeness seeped under your skin. Another highlight of Space Other’s year was Erik Levine’s haunting, horrifying “More Man” video, which studied high-school football to plumb rituals of American manhood.

“Cameron Jamie,” MIT List Visual Art Center, May 5 to July 8, 2007. The charms of the “Cameron Jamie” survey at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center were apparent: videos that showed Jamie wrestling a Michael Jackson impersonator, Halloween spook houses, a hot-dog-eating contest, and Austrian Christmas monsters. Jamie recalibrates your vision with his loving anthropology of the weird, messy rituals that squirm under the middle class’s neat social veneer. And did I mention the monsters?

“Picture Show,” Boston University’s Photographic Resource Center, March 30 to May 6, 2007. “Picture Show,” organized by Leslie K. Brown at Boston University’s Photographic Resource Center, went low-tech to mull motion pictures. The best stuff seemed teleported straight from some fabulous 19th-century inventor’s lab. Deb Todd Wheeler offered a magic picture wheel (above) and hand-cranked light-up illusions. Steve Hollinger adapted old-time amusement hall flip-book animation technology to create visions of an atomic apocalypse. And a strange pedestal contraption by Hans Spinnerman of the terrific, hallucinatory Musée Patamécanique (see note above) in Bristol, Rhode Island, somehow made a giant bumblebee appear to hover inside a bell jar.

January’s Mooninites invasion is best “art” mistaken for terrorist attack . We’re still thanking our lucky stars that we survived its Lite-Brite-style corporate advertisements colonizing public and private property without permission, the shutdown of Route 93, the bomb-squad heroics, the arrests, the “hairstyles in the ’70s” press conference, and the $2 million corporate apology. Runner-up: September’s arrest at gunpoint at Logan Airport of an MIT student sporting a button that featured harmless LED lights, a circuit board, and a nine-volt battery.

Museum of Fine Arts surveys. The Museum of Fine Arts repeatedly, splendidly demonstrated why its arts are so fine. “Edward Hopper” brought together many of the painter’s lonely film noir masterpieces (above). The museum drew exclusively from its own collection of ukiyo-e paintings of performers, escorts, and high-end prostitutes for the terrific “Drama and Desire: Japanese Paintings from the Floating World 1690-1850.” And “Symbols of Power: Napoleon and the Art of the Empire Style, 1800-1815,” on view through January 27, is a magnificent survey of the French style of design — by turns spare and opulent, revolutionary and imperial — that spread across Europe during the reign of the great dictator.

“Philip-Lorca diCorcia," Institute of Contemporary Art, June 1 to Sept. 3, 2007. This was a handsome, smart, thorough mid-career survey of a major American postmodern photographer. The best part: moody, lovely “Hustler” photos (above) of real prostitutes posed in manufactured set-ups. It looked like a documentary about prostitutes; in fact it was a documentary about Hollywood myths of prostitutes.

James McLeod in “Selections ’07,” MassArt, 621 Huntington Ave., Boston, Jan. 30 to March 10, 2007. McLeod stole the show at MassArt’s faculty exhibit “Selections ’07” with a shrine to TV, uh, legend David Hasselhoff. Ingredients: red velvet ropes, a carpet printed with photos of Hasselhoff dashing through surf and reclining naked, and plaques inscribed with weighty pronouncements from, it seemed, the man himself. (These included the claim that “Baywatch” “is responsible for a lot of world peace.”) Certainly the installation plumbed something important about our national psyche. But analysis dims its brilliance. The title: “Don’t Hassle the Hoff.”