Archive for August, 2011

“Not About Paint” at Zevitas

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

From our review of “Not About Paint” at Boston’s Zevitas Gallery, which closed Aug. 20:

“Not About Paint” is a bright, buoyant survey of New York abstraction today, poised at the intersection of painting and assemblage, and looking longingly back to the color bars painted by Morris Louis in the ’50s and by Frank Stella in the ’60s from the other side of the absurdist scatter-art assemblages of the past decade. It’s one of the best local exhibits of the year.

Jessica Stockholder, a scatter-art star, offers one of her trademark collections of random shit on the wall — Wiffle balls, a yellow ladder, a toy shovel, a scouring pad, a green triangle of carpet, a lamp and, on the floor, a coffee grinder and a fan (on). Scatter art has undercurrents of America’s cornucopia of mass-produced, disposable plastic Walmart stuff or the Internet’s glut of data, but for Stockholder the point is using the various objects for their textures and colors, like daubs of paint. It doesn’t do a lot for me. Or rather, I can’t help picturing a future of overflowing landfills, which leaves me sad.

Curator Evan Garza, an editor-at-large for Zevitas’s publication New American Paintings and a past Boston Phoenix contributor, seemingly includes Stockholder to mark where we’re starting from….

Read the rest here.

“Not About Paint,” Steven Zevitas Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., Boston, June 17 to Aug. 20, 2011.

Pictured at top: Cordy Ryman, “Reverse Scrap K,” 2010.

Bootleg YouTube video of Alex Hubbard’s “Annotated Plans for an Evacuation,” which was featured in the 2010 Whitney Biennial.

Alex Da Corte, “Soda Painting No.11 (Pleasure Principle),” 2011

Jessica Stockholder, “carpet, framed leather, yarn, plastic parts, place mat, shelving unit part, hardware, plaster, fabric, push pins, acrylic paint, coffee grinder, fan, lighting fixture,” 2010

Cordy Ryman, “Shadow Tempest,” 2010

More hate for Salem’s “Bewitched” statue

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Worst Public Art update

The “Bewitched” statue in Salem, Massachusetts, which was one of the nominees for our Worst Public Art in New England Project, has been named the tenth worst work of public art in the world–or something–by the folks at

“The 9-foot (2.7 meter) bronze makes actress Elizabeth Montgomery look almost greasy,” The Toronto Sun notes, while relaying the news. “Interestingly criticism of the piece ignited long before it was installed as Salem residents objected to a statue of a witch being erected in a place where people were once killed for purported witchcraft.”

“Bewitched” was beat out at number one by Seward Johnson’s “Forever Marilyn” (pictured below) in Chicago, a 26-foot-tall statue of Marilyn Monroe with her dress flying up to reveal her underwear.
All photos copyright by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

Brattleboro Museum escapes flooding

Monday, August 29th, 2011

The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center in Vermont survived unscathed from flooding in that city from Tropical Storm Irene, the museum reports. Torrential rains caused Whetstone Brook to spill over into Brattleboro neighborhoods yesterday. “Thankfully, the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center has not sustained any damage whatsoever,” museum director Danny Lichtenfeld says via e-mail. “Many of our neighbors, however, have not been as fortunate, and we will be brainstorming in the coming days ways in which the museum can contribute to the recovery effort that has just begun to get underway.”

Poor Yokelist’s Almanack: Upcoming Events

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Saturday, Sept. 10, 7:10 p.m.
WaterFire lights up 80 bonfires along the three rivers of downtown Providence.

Saturday, Sept. 10, 2 p.m.
Quang-Tuan Luong speaks about “Treasured Lands,” his exhibit of photos of 58 U.S. national parks, at National Heritage Museum, 33 Marrett Road, Lexington, Massachusetts. Free.

Saturday, Sept. 10
“Time, Body, Space Objects,” 12-hour performance marathon at Proof Gallery, 516 E. 2nd St., Boston.

MFA patron Bank of America struggles

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Warren Buffett’s firm Berkshire Hathaway has announced plans to invest $5 billion in struggling Bank of America, a major patron of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, according to The New York Times. The bank, which received a $45 billion government bailout in 2008, has its name on the MFA’s Huntington Avenue entrance thanks to some $15 million in donations in recent years, and the MFA notes that its October blockbuster exhibition “Degas and the Nude” is “made possible by Bank of America.”

The Times reports that Buffett’s investment in Bank of America comes amidst fears that it again “lacks sufficient capital.” The newspaper adds: “Its troubled mortgage division has racked up billions of dollars in legal bills, and the financial firm faces a nationwide investigation into its foreclosure practices. Last quarter, Bank of America reported an $8.8 billion loss, owing in large part to a settlement with mortgage investors. [Chief executive Brian] Moynihan has taken steps to cut costs and improve its capital cushion. He put the European credit card operation up for sale and sold off the Canadian card division, making it clear non-core assets would be on the block. Last week, the bank announced plans to cut 3,500 jobs.”

As Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes has noted, as the financial industry goes so often go the art museums. Even though much of America is suffering through the Great Recession, much of the financial industry came roaring back after nearly destroying the economy in 2008, and its success has meant renewed patronage for art museums. When New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art announced expansions in May, Green wrote, “This is trickle-down economics at work: Big banks and real estate executives are pulling down big profits and big salaries (all of which are little-taxed under America’s increasingly bizarre tax code). A little of that money — a very little — is trickling down to MoMA and the Met.”

Historic photos of Hiroshima, found in Watertown trash

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Don Levy, owner of the Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown, was out walking his dog one rainy night in 2000, when he came upon a pile of trash left on a Watertown curb. Amidst old lamps, cardboard boxes and matresses, he found a suitcase. Inside was a trove of old photos of bent stairways, ruined vehicles and crumbled buildings. He carried the collection home, where he examined it again.

“This time he shuffled through the contents with more care. After a few minutes he was convinced of what he had suspected out on the street. He was looking at something he had never seen before: the effects of the first use of the atomic bomb. The man was looking at Hiroshima,” Adam Harrison Levy (no relation), a documentary film producer and director, writes in the catalogue for “Hiroshima: Ground Zero 1945,” an exhibit at New York’s International Center of Photography, which bought the collection in 2006. [Pictured at top: Distorted steel-frame structure of Odamasa Store, Hiroshima, November 20, 1945.]

The photos were marked on the back “Hirosho” and with distances from ground zero, Levy tells us when reached by phone at his diner today. All together the some 700 photos seem to be the most comprehensive photographic record of the atomic attack. He says, “Realizing these photos were taken within a month after we bombed was very impressive.”

[Pictured above: Ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall (A-Bomb Dome), October 24, 1945]

Levy, the filmmaker, first learned of the photos when he happened upon the catalog for the exhibit “Before and After,” which featured them at Roth Horowitz Gallery in New York, while he was working on a documentary about Hiroshima in 2003. (That exhibit also included stop-motion photos of 1950s government nuclear bomb tests by Harold Edgerton of MIT.) He tracked down Levy, the diner owner. The filmmaker’s catalog account of how he found more of the photos, and figured out where they came from, reads like a detective story, as well as a harrowing examination of the morality of war.

Researching who had lived at the address, lead the filmaker to Marc Levitt, who had apparently accidently discarded the photos Levy, the diner owner, found around 2000. Levitt, who still had some of the Hiroshima photos, seems to have acquired them when helping a woman clean out her home in the early ‘70s. And she had had them—and apparently accidentally discarded them as well—because her late father, Lt. Robert L. Corsbie, was part of the U.S. military Physical Damage team sent to examine Hiroshima shortly after its destruction.

Levy found her via an article about the photos he’d posted at the “Design Observer” website in 2008. When asked to contribute a catalog essay to the current exhibition, he checked the website again in 2010 and found this comment:

“Robert L. Corsbie was my grandfather. I have a picture of him in his naval uniform with his wife and daughter (my mother) on the wall in my dining room. His involvement in the testing of the bomb was based on his knowledge of engineering and architecture. His connection to this testing was not something he was proud of, and he kept the records of his involvement hidden away from his family. He went on to design railroads, bridges, and terminals which are now longstanding historical structures.

“It’s interesting to learn that his records have recently surfaced. He died (along with his wife and son) when his house [in Ossining, New York] burned down in 1967. How these photographs and the trunk were overlooked when the relics of the fire were sorted out I have no idea, but I’m glad to see that some of our personal history lives on.”

Through the granddaughter, Levy tracked down Crosbie’s daughter, Nancy Mason, who was born the day after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.

Pearl Harbor brought the United States directly into the fighting of World War II, which concluded not long after the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb used in warfare on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Some 140,000 people were killed by the initial blast, and thousands more would die from radiation sickness. Relatively few photos survive to document the devastation because of U.S. censorship of information out of Hiroshima. As Levy reports, “The edict read, in part: ‘nothing shall be printed which might, directly or by inference, disturb public tranquility.’”

The prints on view at the International Center of Photography are the size of family snapshots, and have a dry, clinical, scientific tone. Their focus is on matter-of-factly recording and measuring twisted and collapsed buildings throughout the city. The primary concern seems to be the workings of the atomic device. The images are devoid of people, or signs of people—except for some shredded clothes [pictured above: charred boy's jacket found near Hiroshima City Hall, November 5, 1945] and, here and there, haunting shadows burned into pavement and walls. Shadows isn’t quite the right word. They are bare spots where people’s bodies shielded things behind them from being directly scorched by the blast. The photos become dramatic as they accumulate in our minds, recreating a city full of people, an unexpected blast in the sky, a wave of atomic death sweeping out over the buildings and people.

Crosbie arrived in Hiroshima on Oct. 8, 1945, and worked there through the end of that November as part of a classified U.S. survey of the devastated city. Levy reports that this Physical Damage Division team was composed of 150 entineers, ordinance experts, interpreters, photographers and draftsment, sent into the city to trace blast paths and measure bomb damage. They photographed and analyzed the destruction to understand the effects of the atomic bomb—and by examining the reinforced concrete structures that survived, perhaps figure out ways that the United States itself might survive future atomic attacks. Crosbie ended up working with U.S. government nuclear bomb testing in the ‘50s, researching shelters that might withstand nuclear blasts. And Levy suggests that a contributing factor in his death in the house fire may have been that his home was unusually sturdily constructed, which held in the fire and hampered regular firefighting techniques.

“I was too young to really know what he felt about it when he came home,” Crosbie’s daughter, Nancy Mason, told Levy, “but I know that he was traumatized by what he had seen. During the survey, he went through a bombed-out school in Hiroshima. That got to him, I know it. It transformed him.”

“Hiroshima, Ground Zero 1945,” International Center of Photography, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York, May 20 to Aug. 28, 2011.

All photos reproduced here are by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, gelatin silver prints, from the collection of the International Center of Photography.

Buckle of north wall of wing number one of Funairi Grammar School, Hiroshima, November 20, 1945.

Cemetery with debris, on the grounds of Kokutai Temple, showing sacred camphor tree charred by blast and Bank of Japan in background, Hiroshima, November 5, 1945.

“Shadow” of a hand valve wheel on the painted wall of a gas storage tank; radiant heat instantly burned paint where the heat rays were not obstructed, Hiroshima, October 14– November 26, 1945.

Ruins of Chugoku Coal Distribution Company or Hiroshima Gas Company, November 8, 1945.

Interior of Hiroshima City Hall auditorium with undamaged walls and framing but spalling of plaster and complete destruction of contents by fire, November 1, 1945.

Remains of a school building, November 17, 1945.

Rooftop view of atomic destruction, looking southwest, Hiroshima, October 31, 1945.

Steel stairs warped by intense heat from burned book stacks of Asano Library, Hiroshima, November 15, 1945.

Complete destruction of wooden floor and telephone switch and relay racks of Hiroshima Telephone Company, Central District Exchange, October 28, 1945.

Springfield art museum gets $320K grant

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, which is part of the Springfield Museums group in Massachusetts, announced that it has received at $320,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to help fund the installation of climate control in the 115-year-old institution. “The G.W.V. Smith Art Museum is the only one of the Springfield Museums that has no air-conditioning,” the museum reports, “resulting in excessive heat and humidity in the summer. It is sometimes necessary to close the building on the hottest days. The successful completion of the project will protect and preserve the collections and the structural integrity of the historic building, as well as provide a more comfortable environment for visitors.”

“Close Distance” at BCA

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Our review of “Close Distance” at Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery:

“Close Distance,” curated by Liz Munsell, rounds up six local Latino artists to plumb the art that has come to the fore as Boston has become a minority-majority town over the past decade.

Vela Phelan’s Deviant Idols in the Black Divine is a black room decorated with well-made, but kind of cliché, gothic icons assembled from Ninja Turtles and Simpsons toys, fur, bricks, antlers, and gold paint. Ricardo De Lima arrays 50 (false) security cameras, with blinking red lights, on a wall, to eerily speak of surveillance in general and America’s obsession with Mexican border security in particular. The most striking work is Raul Gonzalez III’s sepia ink cartoons (pictured at top) of roosters or a dog shot with arrows and wearing a crown of thorns. Wall texts explain that Gonzalez aims to speak of Mexican factory workers, drug war murders, and old family tales, but the drawings seem more focused on where reality meets stereotypes, from cockfighting to Gonzalez’s big-lipped Speedy Gonzales knock-off. What holds us is Gonzalez’s terrific draftsmanship, blending hand-painted advertising, faux antiquing, and gorgeous calligraphic lines.

Originally published here.

“Close Distance,” Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St., Boston, July 15 to Aug. 28, 2011.

Photos by Carla Osberg.

Ricardo De Lima “There’s always a crack.”

Vela Phelan’s “Deviant Idols in the Black Divine.”

Daniela Rivera’s “Fatiga material.”

MFA temporarily evacuates due to quake

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts was temporarily evacuated after the 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Virginia shortly before 2 this afternoon shook Massachusetts as well.

MFA spokesperson Amelia Kantrovitz writes: “Due to this afternoon’s earthquake, visitors to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), were evacuated, and the museum’s collections, services and infrastructure were examined. No damage was found and visitors were allowed reentry into the building.”

Update:At Boston’s Gardner Museum, spokesman Matt Montgomery writes, “Conservators did walk through the galleries immediately after the earthquake to check on objects. There was not any apparent damage and all seems well. They will continue to review and check for objects which might have shifted some but it is hard to know whether or not an object which has shifted an inch or less if that is from the earthquake or just regular activity. As you may know, most objects even in cases are secured. It appears that all’s well here. Construction continues.”

Institute of Contemporary Art spokeswoman Kelly Gifford writes: “The building was not evacuated. We checked the collection and everything was safe, and the building was fine as well (as a new building it was built to new codes which include measures for earthquakes).”

At Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum, spokeswoman Whitney Riepe says, “Nothing major to report of BUT we do have a lovely collection of 18th-century nodding-head clay figures on view in our Asian Export Gallery that we can speculate were bobbing their heads in time with the earthquake’s 5.9 rumbles.”

“Remembering the Ladies” at Newport Art Museum

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

From our review of “Remembering the Ladies: Women and the Art Association of Newport” at the Newport Art Museum:

Rhode Island is one of the preeminent places for art-making in America, thanks in great part to the Rhode Island School of Design, but what would it be without its pioneering women? RISD itself was founded by women in 1877, and led by Helen Adelina Rowe Metcalf and then her daughter Eliza Greene Metcalf Radeke for its first five decades. And “Remembering the Ladies” reminds us that the museum was founded as the Art Association of Newport in 1912 by a group of four men and three women, led by Maud Howe Elliott.

Elliott was the daughter of Julia Ward Howe, the abolitionist and author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, the first director of the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. She was a suffragette and, with her sisters, author of a 1915 biography of her mother that won a Pulitzer Prize. And, as Newport Museum curator Nancy Whipple Grinnell notes, Elliott’s “belief that art was a civilizing influence informed her lifelong crusade to ‘cultivate and promote artistic endeavor and interest in the arts.’ ”

“Remembering the Ladies” surveys the art made by the women of the association. More than half its 142 charter members were women and, from its first exhibitions, women artists were featured a bit under half the time. This show begins in the late 19th century Gilded Age, with American artists still looking to France for inspiration. A particular influence is the gold-hued realism of late French Academic style of American painter William Morris Hunt, who taught in Newport in the late 19th century and whose former Newport studio became the first home of the Art Association.

Read the rest here.

“Remembering the Ladies: Women and the Art Association of Newport” at the Newport Art Museum (76 Bellevue Avenue, June 11 to October 16, 2011.

Pictured at top: Helena Sturtevant, “Up On The Ridges Of The Paradise Hills,” c. 1925.

Catharine Morris Wright, “Beaver Tail Light,” 1936.

Marion Carry, “Looking Toward Sachuset Point,” c. 1955.

Art world populism: MFA edition

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Art world populism: Complaining about the $200 ticket prices for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ party to open its new Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art on Sept. 17, but ignoring that the MFA’s regular daily admission prices have long been among the most expensive of any art museum in the world.

By the bye: People criticizing the MFA’s $200 party pricing seem upset that this will prevent them and others from seeing all 24 hours of Christian Marclay’s video “The Clock” or seeing it at 3:04 a.m. or something. In our observations, most museum goers spend a minute or less with any single work of art. And who’s really going to be watching after, say, 3 a.m. (when admission to the party falls to $50)? So if the pricing is prohibitively expensive for this one-night event how much does this really affect viewers? Who will be able to see all 24 hours of “The Clock” for free during an MFA screening on Columbus Day weekend according to MFA Director Malcolm Rogers–though, uh, that event seems not to be mentioned on the MFA’s website.

“Shifting Terrain” at Currier

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Seven New England video artists looking at the land today are the subject of “Shifting Terrain: Landscape Video” at the Currier Museum of Art, which was organized by assistant curator Nina Bozicnik.

Boston artist Liz Nofziger’s “Chocorua” (pictured above) hangs amongst the Currier’s 19th century New England landscape paintings, making a direct comparison with Hudson River School art. The video is a stationary 18-minute shot of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, which seem still as a painting, but their reflections ripple in the blue waters in the foreground. The soundtrack features airplanes, loons and traffic. The point seems to be the disconnect between the pretty scenery and encroaching civilization. Once you figure it out, you can move on.

Boston artist Mary Ellen Strom’s “Dead Standing and Selva Oscura: Drawing of Dead Standing” (pictured at top) is side by side video projections of a camera gliding along a wooded hillside and a blonde woman wearing deer antlers drawing lines with charcoal that resemble the trees. Fourteen tiny bugs are pinned in frame on the wall. A curator’s sign explains that it’s all about beetles that have fatally infested the Rocky Mountain woods, though this isn’t apparent from footage of tree trunks that aren’t obviously ailing. Like much art today, the videos are meant to have a pretty straightforward, didactic point but the art is designed to be intriguingly indirect, so the point only becomes clear via the curator’s explanation. Couldn’t there be a way to just say it in the art?

Louisa Conrad’s “Chores” (pictured above) is a lyrical half-hour video diary of her and her poet husband working a Vermont sheep and goat cheese farm that they incorporated this year. As the video meanders through the seasons, moments stick with you: a man leading goats through a snowy field, a goat licking her newborn baby’s fur clean, shearing sheep, young goats sucking milk from plastic Coke bottles turned into baby bottles. While most of the videos here seem more like formal experiments or illustrations of prefab concepts, Conrad’s video draws you in with its pastoral rhythm, its deep engagement with nature, and its willingness to follow where it leads.

“Shifting Terrain: Landscape Video,” Currier Museum of Art, 150 Ash Street, Manchester, New Hampshire, July 2 to Sept. 18, 2011.

Suara Welitoff, “Red Landscape” [video still], 2008

Poor Yokelist’s Almanack: Upcoming Events

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Monday, Aug. 22, 5 p.m.
John Wilmerding, a curator, collector and art historian, speaks about “The Modern Realism of Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth” at the College of the Atlantic’s Gates Community Center, 105 Eden St., Bar Harbor, Maine.

Saturday, Aug. 27, 1 p.m.
Boston Caribbean Carnival Parade on Blue Hill Avenue to Franklin Park Zoo.

Tom Wolfe

Friday, August 19th, 2011

From our review of Tom Wolfe’s “In Our Time” at the National Museum of American Illustration in Newport:

Tom Wolfe is famous for authoring the nonfiction books “The Right Stuff” and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” as well as the novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” And for wearing white suits, sometimes with matching homburg hat and gloves.

Mostly forgotten is that, from his first job as a reporter at a newspaper in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1956, he drew illustrations to go with many of his essays. “In Our Time” rounds up cartoons that he drew for Harper’s magazine in the late ’70s and that were eventually collected in his 1980 book of the same name. Lo and behold, they’re actually quite good.

Wolfe’s talent for drawing is apparent in sharp caricatures of presidents Reagan (friendly oaf dwarfed by suit collar), Johnson (pinched, craggy guy with giant ears and tie), Carter, and Ford. Favoring a scratchy pen line, Wolfe’s style seems a cross of David Levine’s caricatures with Jules Feiffer’s classic Village Voice strips, though Wolfe is not as sharp a draftsman as those masters. But Wolfe is an acute observer of social mores…

Read the rest here.

Tom Wolfe, “In Our Time,” National Museum of American Illustration, 492 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island, through September 5, 2011.

Pictured at top: Tom Wolfe, “Success Stories: The Anchorman,” 1980, ink on paper.

Tom Wolfe, “The Evolution of Species: Growing Old Gracefully – 1879,” 1980, ink on paper.