Archive for December, 2011

Goldsworthy ‘Snow House’ at DeCordova?

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

The DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is proposing to have Andy Goldsworthy dig a cave into a hillside there and build a stone room inside to store giant snowballs each winter and then, come summer, the room would be opened to reveal this bit of winter. How are things coming with the plan? “We are still in the process of fundraising for ‘Snow House,’” DeCordova spokesperson Susie Stockwell told us on Dec. 15. “The installation timeline has not been confirmed yet.” Below is our review of Andy Goldsworthy “Snow,” an exhibit of the proposal plus other Goldsworthy wintery work at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum:

A sign explaining Andy Goldsworthy’s proposed “Snow House” for DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is propitious. It asserts, “The project represents the next and most ambitious in a series of new sculpture acquisitions aimed at advancing DeCordova’s goal of becoming one of the nation’s premier sculpture parks by 2020.”

Goldsworthy straddles land art and environmental art. The British artist turns the materials of the natural landscape into delicate nebulas of autumn leaves, stick huts, icicle stars, and fieldstone walls or cairns. His outdoor installations are often temporary, washed away by weather or the sea, and speak movingly of natural cycles of creation and rot.

In “Snow,” a small exhibit at DeCordova of Goldsworthy’s sketches and photographs of past snow works, he proposes to dig a cave into a hillside on the museum’s 35-acre property and line this “Snow House” with stones like a sort of stone igloo or cairn or tomb. Each winter after a “considerable snowfall,” DeCordova staff and local community groups would fashion a nine-foot-wide snowball and shut it up inside until summer, when the cave would be opened to visitors and the snowball inside would melt over a week or so. The design acknowledges the local climate, whispers of global warming, and reflects the region’s history in the ice industry (though Goldsworthy’s design more resembles ice houses of 18th century English estates rather than 19th century American ice warehouses). And it offers a sort of magic — a giant snowball appearing during the peak of summer.

But Goldsworthy is known for being a hands-on artist, and it feels —as least on paper — like a letdown that he’ll set this thing running and then will no longer be involved. DeCordova frames this as an exciting extension of Goldworthy’s practice: “Throughout his career, this artist has been happy to relinquish control, but to nature alone as sun, wind, and water erode, efface, and ultimately reclaim his work. Now, for the first time, the artist will engage in a partnership with an institution and its local communities, who will be responsible for a work of art that must be perpetually tended and re-created.”

Since Dennis Kois became DeCordova’s director in June 2008, he’s made it clear that his mission is to make the institution a major player in sculpture. He’s landed millions in funding to make it happen. And you can see how the Goldsworthy project checks a number of boxes. Goldsworthy is a major name in sculpture (though he doesn’t quite live up to DeCordova’s description that he “may well be the world’s best-known and most beloved contemporary artist”). “Snow House” would be an outdoor installation that emphasizes DeCordova’s sculpture park. It would make DeCordova the “only institution in New England to have a major site-specific installation by Andy Goldsworthy.” Done right, it could begin to make DeCordova an art-world destination.

Andy Goldsworthy, “Snow,” deCordova, 51 Sandy Pond Road, Lincoln, Massachusetts, May 29 to Dec. 31, 2011.

This review originally appeared here.

Best of 2011 by Steve Locke

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Boston artist Steve Locke offers the following “Top 10″ list for 2011. He adds, “These aren’t ranked in any order except in how I remembered them.”

“astatic” at Bakalar Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, curated by Lisa Tung A gorgeous survey of contemporary animation that foregrounded all the best things about the medium. It contrasted the digital and the handmade, the grotesque and the glorious, and made a case for the screen as a site of possibility instead of passive entertainment. Nathalie Djurberg (video clip above) makes moving maggots repulsive and sublime. (It’s true, I do work at MassArt. This show made me very proud of that fact.)

“Betty, Charlie, Francesca, George” at Samsøn This group exhibition of the Woodman family (pictured above) was historic, contemporary, cross-disciplinary, gender balanced, packed, and exciting. This is the first time this major family of American artists showed together and the layered installation of the work made for profound connections (and disconnections) among the works. It posited a notion of family life as an extension of art making—divergent, haptic, challenging, and exuberant. (Yes, I exhibit at Samson. No, I wasn’t paid to plug this show.)

Stan VanDerBeek, “The Culture Intercom,” MIT, organized by Bill Arning, director, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and João Ribas, curator, MIT List Visual Arts Center This show revealed that the overstimulated, media saturated, image culture of today is not all that new. After seeing the VanDerBeek’s work I realized that today’s media culture is a lot less interesting. The reach and scope of the “Movie Drome” idea (pictured above) is with us in the various windows that are open on my computer. It was great to see a moment when interconnectivity, the stream of images, and communal viewing were evidence of a possibility of a new kind of togetherness. It also made me miss Bill Arning a great deal.

“The Workers” at MassMOCA, co-curators MASS MoCA curator Susan Cross and artist Carla Herrera-Prats An amazing and visceral experience. This show includes some of the best artworks I’ve seen in a long time, most notably Santiago Sierra’s “Veteran of the Iraq War Standing in a Corner” (pictured above). The engagement of labor, patriotism, regret, and dignity mesh together in this work so tightly that I felt the pressure in my body. This is no pithy examination of “globalization” instead it looks at what has happened to work and shows us how separation from labor is separating us from each other and ourselves.

Nari Ward, “Sub Mirage Lignum,” MassMOCA, curated by Denise Markonish Nari Ward resists the moniker of “found object sculptor” and it is easy to see why. His work is so overwhelming powerful in its visual and auditory effect that you cannot begin to fathom how it is made. His sculptures, videos, sound work and incredible craft are all on remarkable display here (and the installation takes advantage of the space brilliantly). It was astounding to see someone deal with the weight of history, place, and diasporic body with such seeming ease. The work seems less sculpted than willed into form by a higher intelligence. (Pictured above: detail of Ward’s “Nu Colossus.”)

Whitfield Lovell, “More Than You Know,” at Smith College Museum of Art, curated by Aprile Gallant, Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, SCMA This show brought together a series of works and made for an interesting look at the development of this artist. The “Tableaux” works from the ‘90s, charcoal drawings on found wood with objects were shown with the more recent “Kin” series of drawings on paper with collage elements. Seeing the changes in texture and touch over the years reveals not just Lovell’s improvements as a draughtsman, but shows the way that the simple act of drawing, combined with a strong sense of composition, can change a picture into a portrait and quicken someone long dead to immediate and breathing presence. (Pictured above: Lovell’s “Remember Me,” 2004.)

Sheila Hicks, “50 Years,” at Addison Gallery of American Art, co-curated by independent scholar Joan Simon and Addison curator Susan Faxon I didn’t know anything about Sheila Hicks. To be honest, it was a nice day and I wanted to go for a drive. This exhibition brought together a diverse practice in painting, design, fibers, sculpture (not to mention armature making and rigging) that I could not believe I knew nothing about this woman. The museum presented not just a range of objects, but a historical and material investigation of the studio practice, influences, development, and finally, Hicks’s stellar achievements in public sculpture, design, and theories about color. (Pictured above: Hicks’s “Bamian (Banyan),” 1968/2001.)

“Dance/Draw” at ICA Boston, curated by Helen Molesworth David Hammons, William Forsythe, and Fred Sandback are all in the same show. Do I really need to say anything else to you? This is incredibly rich and important work that some people have never seen (“Trio A,” by Yvonne Rainer, for example). The Trisha Brown “Floor of the Forest” (pictured above, photo by NEJAR) turned a bunch of people into dancers WITHOUT THEM KNOWING IT! Watching the crowd maneuver into positions to see the work was an added thrill to the piece. The standout in the show is a clip from Jérôme Bel’s “Veronique Doisneau.” The portrait of the dancer as worker as mother as patient as technician is sublime. The attendant live performances of Brown and Bel’s works should have been promoted more by the museum. They were jewels to witness.

Jack Schneider at Anthony Greaney I may be an optimist (and I’m proud of that) but for me there was something life affirming about a larger than life sculpture of a game of Jenga with the word “BELIEVE” attached to it. I think that the work affirms the taking of chances, celebrates risk and reminds us that the possibility of collapse may be omnipresent but it is so human to be tempted to try the impossible. I had a smile on my face and some additional courage in my heart after seeing this show.

“The Civil War: Unfolding Dialogues” at Addison Gallery of American Art With the “end” of the war in Iraq and the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War upon us, it seems that this could be a hackneyed presentation of artifacts in the Addison’s collection. While the show does show some of the amazing objects and images held by the institution it courageously places those things in resonance with the work of contemporary artists. There is a video by Kara Walker that has to be one of the most horrifying and beautiful things I’ve witnessed. I walked out of the room where it was playing and was face to face with Alexander Gardner’s portrait of Abraham Lincoln. The closeness and the distance, of theme, time, and materials, is wonderfully laid out in this show. (Pictured above: Kara Walker, “National Archives Microfilm Publication M999 Roll 34: Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands: Six Miles from Springfield on the Franklin Road,” 2009, video.)

More posts from The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research’s Best Art of 2011 series: Rachelle Beaudoin.

Best of 2011 by Rachelle Beaudoin

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Raindrops on Roses

Greetings from your neighbor to the North! Believe it or not, despite our weird libertarian streak (Live Free or Die people!) subsequent limited state funding, over the past year, New Hampshire has produced some interesting cultural events and is home to very talented artists. Here are some of the best NH artists and events of 2011 according to me, an artist, an educator, and a native Granite Stater. Many of the events and people are from the Monadnock region, which is where I live, but is also an area of the state known for its arts and cultural activities. Generating this list made me realize how many great things happen here. Hopefully this list can serve as an example that art can exist outside of cities. Yokelism lives! —Rachelle Beaudoin

Joseph Keckler at MacDowell Downtown
MacDowell Downtown events are held monthly in Peterborough from April to November and range from traditional artist talks, musical performances and poetry readings. I have not had a chance to be a fellow at the Colony, as you can imagine, it is kind of a tough sell on the application as I try to explain to the committee that I need “to get away from it all” when I live on the same street as the retreat. The events they host keep me feeling connected to other creative types and bring some fascinating artists from all over the world to the Borough (Short for Peterborough.) The Downtown talks are mostly attended by sweet white-haired townspeople but the events can be avant-garde, challenging and are always interesting.

Keckler’s work [pictured above performing at MacDowell] is hard to describe—he’s part humorist, part opera singer, sometimes animator and story-teller. He put on a show that was truly unlike anything else I had ever seen. Really I can only suggest that you attend a performance of his because I don’t think watching the videos really do his work justice. At the local bar after the talk, he was mobbed by middle-aged women in wool sweaters who wanted to stare longingly into his eyes and hear more stories. Although the talks are popular, that was the first time I witnesses so many audience members become so engaged in the performance and so blatantly enthralled by a Colony fellow.

*broke! and The Thing in the Spring
Organized and founded by a group of young artists and musicians including Mary Goldwaithe-Gagne, Eric Gagne (who also happen to be my friends), and Ryan Wilson, these events make our little town cool, even if just for a short while. An influx of young people, often bearded, wearing tight jeans and various styles of nonfunctional boots come to the town to hear music in a 3-day-long festival that includes events like performances by Thurston Moore and J. Mascis, along with lesser-known but still awesome bands like Cokeweed, film screenings, and an outdoor picnic with live music and live animals.

*broke, the affordable arts fair, brings together ceramicists, painters, textile artists, illustrators etc. to sell their wares at reasonable prices. At *broke, there is always a huge range of items and styles and each artist has agreed to sell the majority of their work for under $50. I always find several things to buy. In the past at *broke I have picked up a cute stuffed owl, a logger print, a small painting of my hometown, arm warmers, a hacked steam punk broach and some really tasty cupcakes.

Anna Von Mertens
Anna Von Mertens is an artist who is originally from NH and has returned to the state with her family to live and work here. She is the most sweet and unpretentious person in the world, which is why you wouldn’t know that she was recently awarded a United States Artists Simon Fellowship unless I told you.

Her work is incredibly labor intensive and it clear that she loves what she does. Her work manages to combine the traditional craft of hand quilting and concept in surprising and successful ways. [Pictured above: "Kurt Cobain's aura (Zoe's), after Elizabeth Peyton," 2009, hand-dyed, hand-stitched cotton, 13 3/4" x 11"] The hand-dyed colors are fantastic and the stitching is equally well done but I always like the pieces even more when I read the titles and a whole other level of the work is revealed. She will be exhibiting her work this January in the Decordova Biennial.

Beth Krommes
Beth, a gifted New Hampshire illustrator, is coming off of a 2009 Caledcott win for her work in the book “The House in the Night” by Susan Marie Swanson. Her most recent illustrations do not disappoint and focus on a subject I personally find fascinating—spirals. “ Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature” by Joyce Sidman, with scratchboard illustrations by Krommes investigates that amazing shape that appears so readily in nature from fiddleheads to galaxies. The detail is impressive and each page is really a joy to look at. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Gwarlingo is a blog by Michelle Aldredge, a local writer and a friend, who is interested in all forms of art. The entry on Sol Lewitt’s letters to Eva Hesse is a must-read for any artist who feels like a complete loser from time-to-time and is in need of some sound advice. “Don’t worry about cool. Make your own uncool.” Noted. She also includes music reviews, writing about her own travels, a Sunday poem, and studio visit interviews with artists. The site is filled with great links and high quality images.

“iImage” at Portsmouth Museum of Art
Saving us a from ubiquitous landscapes and paintings of sheep one show at a time, the Portsmouth Museum of Art is doing a lot of interesting things and has programmed shows that are focused on contemporary art for a young audience. Because of this they are a unique venue and are filling a void in New Hampshire. The space is unusual because it is connected to an office park so it doesn’t feel like a typical museum and the scale is much more like a gallery. The “iImage” show featured a variety of work by some well-known artists including Laylah Ali, Do Ho Suh and Robert Wilson. Even more exciting was the number of new media artists included in the show like Daniel Rozin, R. Luke Dubois, Evan Roth and Aram Bartholl. PMA is not afraid to take risks and that is desperately needed in the NH art scene.

Muppet-like puppet Proposal
To be fair, this happened in December of last year but it was at the tail end so it didn’t have a chance to be included in a “best of” list like this. Local artist and photographer Sid Ceaser created an elaborate short film preview starring Muppet-style puppets (I am pretty sure we can’t use the M word here) in the likeness of he and his girlfriend. He lured her to the Red River Theater to see a movie but the theater was filled with family and friends and the preview that played was this strange little film. This is wonderful and is every nerdy girl’s dream. Who doesn’t want a Muppet-style puppet of themselves acting out the most romantic moments of your courtship? It is so frickin cute (although there is an off-color joke about littering that I really can’t understand and can’t get behind because in my opinion littering is always wrong) and is so sweet that it, of course, went viral and was featured on several national News shows last year.

Fred Marple “Yoga for Yankees”
In the grand tradition of New England “Bert and I” humor, Fred Marple (Ken Sheldon) took NH by storm this year with short videos to promote his live show, “Frost Heaves.” This video is hilarious. The yoga poses themselves aren’t necessarily that funny on their own but the extras in the background are so New England—taciturn, plaid-wearing, folks who somehow got roped into being in this video with their neighbor, probably in exchange for some zucchini or a half a cord wood, that you can’t help but laugh. Their expressions are priceless.

Best art of 2011

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

What was the best art presented in New England this year? We’ve solicited views from a handful of folks across New England and we plan to post their lists over the next week or so. Today list is from New Hampshire artist Rachelle Beaudoin. She’ll be followed tomorrow by Boston artist Steve Locke. We’ll eventually post our own list too.

Holy Land USA

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

The arched, cement entrance gate of Holy Land USA (pictured below) in Waterbury, Connecticut, is made to look like Jerusalem circa 33 AD or so. Except for the chainlink fencing blocking the central arch and the printed signs warning: “No trespassing or loitering on this property. Violators will be prosecuted.”

But the gate is more for show than to keep people out, so you can just walk around one side or the other and get in. The place is quiet, and in the spring when we visited, hot and deserted, except for birds.

The 17.7 acre site was opened in the 1950s by an attorney and Roman Catholic by the name of John Greco, apparently as a cross between an amusement park and a shrine. During the 1960s and ‘70s, some 40,000 visited each year. But it was shut down for renovations in 1984, and never reopened. Greco died two years later and left the property to an order of nuns, the Religious Sisters of Filippi. Over the years, there has been talk and even the beginning of some efforts to restore and reopen the park, but for now it remains a ruin.

To the left of the entrance, is a pair of stone arches labeled Jeusalem and Holy Land (pictured above). Pass under arches and walk into the trees. Running up the shady hill are signs and mini, broken down buildings made from plywood, wire and concrete that create models of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. It’s hard to decipher the original layout as so much has been broken by vandals and the weather and been overgrown by bushes and trees.

What remains of the Bethlehem section hints at the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus. Here is Herod’s Palace (pictured above), the plywood walls now falling down and its red paint flaking off. Nearby is a concrete arch bearing the statement: “There came wise men from the East.”

But the much of the park tells the Easter story of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. Follow the signs up the hill, past a cave with jail bars on the front, past broken down mini temples and a smashed relief that depicted the Last Supper (pictured above), past an empty concrete tomb to a chainlink fence and the sign “Jesus is nailed to the cross” (pictured below). So far the displays have all been miniatures, but beyond the fence stand three life-sized wood crosses. The modern chainlink fence clashes with the historical tone, but the hike up the hill to the surprise of the large crosses (a couple graffitied with red paint, which from a distance suggests blood) remains solemnly affecting.
If you head back down the hill and follow the paved path that rings the park, you find a graffiitied Christ the King statue, a Holy Land USA sign (composite photo below) that recalls the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, and a giant cross at the top of the hill, a landmark that is visible from Route 84.
Holy Land USA is a haunting, ruin. It prompts thoughts on merging of religion and entertainment in America. And it becomes eerie in as a ghost town. In July 2010, a teenage girl was reportedly murdered near the giant cross (pictured below). We didn’t know that when we visited, but even without that knowledge we’ve watched enough movie thrillers that end in spooky amusement parks that even on a sunny day the abandoned, overgrown ruins sparked dark imaginings.

Roadside America‘s description of Holy Land USA

A report on the 2010 murder.

A 2001 report on plans to revive the park.

Photos copyright by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

The giant cross as seen from Route 84.

Katrine Hildebrandt

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

The exhibit “circulate//accumulate” by Katrine Hildebrandt of Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood at Hallway Gallery is a quiet, sharply designed, dreamy collection of modest-scaled abstractions.

“White Bleed” (pictured at top) is a U-shaped piece of white paper perforated with dozens and dozens of teardrops that seem to be rushing to the edges. It all sits in contrast against a mottled india ink background. “Inflate” (below) features cutout paper and vellum teardrop shapes, layered over each other, and sitting in relief atop a spotted gray india ink background paper. The paper teardrops, in white and black, are themselves perforated with teardrop shapes. There’s a cartoony charm to all these teardrop shapes, as well as a sense of bubbling growth or motion.

“Stack Up” (below) is a wall assemblage composed of recycled wood, half moons, rectangles, vertical bars. A half moon of vellum fogs a cutout silhouette of a tree. A plank across the middle of the construction becomes a horizon line. Below rough, salvaged wood slats radiate out. The wood is worn with age and freighted with life.

Katrine Hildebrandt, “circulate//accumulate,” Hallway Gallery, 66a South St., Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, Dec. 1 to 23, 2011.

Jungil Hong, Brian Chippendale

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

From our review of Jungil Hong and Brian Chippendale’s exhibit “In Habitat” at Buonaccorsi + Agniel in Providence:

Brian Chippendale and Jungil Hong were at the center of the gang of artists who pioneered the rascally psychedelic art that boiled out of Providence’s screenprinting/postering/comic book/puppet show/wrestlemania/noise rock underground in the late 1990s and early 2000s. So any show by the couple is an event. Their vivid exhibit “In Habitat” at Buonaccorsi + Agniel shows how their styles have evolved — his increasingly abstract, hers more minimal (her “Petrified Forest” is depicted above) — as they’ve entered their late 30s.

Chippendale continues to make eye-poppingly manic collages out of his own cut-up drawings and screenprints. “The High Castle” (pictured below) depicts a rotting shack atop a melting hill featuring a cat-man sitting on a drum, decayed fences, a mushroom, jack-o-lanterns, and Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Newman. A radioactive rainbow fills the spray-painted sky. In “Red Sky At Morning,” a dog- and demon-faced guy stands in a boat as fish leap down a stream. A cat-man runs down a green camouflage shore under an exploding yellow, pink, and orange sky.

Read the rest here.

Jungil Hong and Brian Chippendale, “In Habitat,” Buonaccorsi + Agniel, 1 Sims Avenue, Providence, Nov. 18 to Dec. 23, 2011.

Brian Chippendale interviewed in 2008: part one and two.
Photos of Chippendale’s studio in 2008.
Review of Chippendale’s exhibit “Human Mold” at Stairwell Gallery in 2008.
A review of “Wunderground,” a 2006 survey at the RISD Museum of the Providence underground scene which starred the Fort Thunder and Dirt Palace collectives.

“Miniatures” at UForge

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

“Have you ever imagined being shorter…perhaps only an inch tall?” Uforge Gallery asked in the open call for submissions (or “assignments,” as it calls them) for its current show “Miniatures.” The venue, which photographer Rob Festa and painter Brian Crete opened in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood in February, sends out open calls on themes that change each month. This time it sought art no larger than 3 inches in any direction. “Fit for a doll’s dream house!”

The highlight is “Black” (pictured above) by Jesse Whipkey of Freeville, New York. It’s an ornate pitcher that’s maybe three inches tall. It might bring to mind Charles LeDray’s multitudinous collection of tiny black porcelain vessels that was included in his 2010 ICA show. But Whipkey’s single pot has more individual character than the ones LeDray churns out. It’s made of black borosilicate glass, which absorbs light like a black hole. It’s fit to trap a genie.

The rest of “Miniatures” is mainly tiny assemblages and paintings. Many of the works feel like one liners. Or cutesy.

A show like this does raise an important question about art. In the big time art world of the circuit of jet-set biennials and fairs, bigger seems to have been defined as always better. Literally. Everything is giant sized. Even LeDray, who’s known for making teensy, tiny things, makes lots of them and gangs them up so that they become big in aggregate. Museums today are designed to featured supersized contemporary art, making smaller works look piddly if curators aren’t careful, and many aren’t because they don’t recognize that size is an issue. So is it possible in that art world to make good, small art anymore?

UForge, 767 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, Dec. 1 to 23, 2011.

Mitchell Lunsford, “Beatrice,” mixed media.

Marnie Jain, “Traveler,” colored pencil, watercolor, pen and ink.

Erin Bennett, “Hammer Time,” wood burning.

Center for Cartoon Studies to expand

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

The Center for Cartoon Studies says it has acquired a former post office that will allow the six-year-old comics school in White River Junction, Vermont, to expand. Renovation is expected to begin this winter so that the first classes can be held there in fall 2012.

The school reports: “The Old Post Office building will provide core instruction space, faculty offices, and will be the new home to The Schulz Library, a one-of-a-kind cartoon collection that was forced to vacate the old firehouse after Hurricane Irene. The building purchase complements CCS’s historic campus buildings in downtown White River Junction, which include its founding headquarters at the Colodny building on South Main Street, and studio space in FairPoint’s generously donated Old Telegraph building on Gates Street. … Located in the heart of White River Junction’s downtown, the old post office (built in 1934) is a Colonial Revival style design, two stories in height with a flat roof, brick masonry construction and a cut granite block foundation.”

Center for Cartoon Studies 2011 thesis projects.
Our visit to CCS in 2009.
Our visit to CCS in 2007.

Walton Ford

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Three giant—let’s call them “life-sized”—head and shoulders portraits of King Kong fill the first room of Walton Ford’s show of watercolors “I Don’t Like to Look at Him Jack. It Makes Me Think of That Awful Day on the Island” at Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York. At left, below the handwritten line “I don’t like to look at him, Jack,” a startled-looking Kong begins to cry (pictured below). The center painting (pictured above) shows an angry Kong crying with his mouth open, baring fierce fangs and roaring. “It makes me think of that awful day,” is written at the top. The right painting shows the movie ape with tears falling from his eyes, drool spewing from his nose, and bloody drool dripping from his closed mouth. In the previous paintings, Kong looked us in the eye; now wounded, he looks away.

Ford, who lives in West Barrington, Massachusetts, has made the central subject of his career humanity’s conquest and colonization of the earth’s wilds, and the tragedies that seem to inevitably occur when people and animals meet.

The original 1933 movie “King Kong” tells of a movie crew sailing to a wild, prehistoric island to film a project, but there black “savages” kidnap the project’s actress (played by Fay Wray) to sacrifice her to the giant ape. However Kong becomes enamored by the woman and carries her off. The movie men recover the actress and in the process capture Kong, and ship him to New York. There they put him on public exhibit, but he escapes, grabs the actress, and climbs the Empire State Building. Military planes shoot at him until the great ape falls to his death.

Ford’s paintings are monumental, the scale of 18th and 19th century Western history painting—or movie screens. And they continue Ford’s signature vivid realism, which imitates the 19th century natural history paintings of John James Audubon, complete with faux aging. These are the largest watercolors Ford has painted to date, measuring 9 by 12 feet on a single sheet of paper. They aren’t particularly finely painted. Their power is their awesome scale physically and psychologically confronting you. But Kong makes a curious subject. Ford paints him as he was depicted in the 1933 movie—mainly via a stop-motion animated puppet. Kong is a cartoon of an ape (and perhaps of blackface?). His rubbery features give him the look of a sad clown. Which adds a curiously comedic tone to the tragic tale of the destruction of a magnificent beast.

The Kong series is accompanied by a six smaller watercolors (pictured above) depicting monkeys attacking and killing a parrot in the beautiful light of sunset. They’re inspired by Audubon’s childhood recollection of his mother’s pet monkey attacking one of her parrots. In Audubon’s memoir, he recalled the monkey “walking deliberately and uprightly toward the poor bird, he at once killed it with unnatural composure. … the monkey was forever afterward chained.” They’re fine paintings, but the subject is sensational—and made more so by Ford’s depiction, which includes the monkey ejaculating amidst the killing.

Walton Ford “I Don’t Like to Look at Him Jack. It Makes Me Think of That Awful Day on the Island,” Paul Kasmin Gallery, 293 10th Ave., New York, New York, Nov. 3 to Dec. 23, 2011.

Walton Ford’s 2007 survey at the Brooklyn Museum.
Ford’s 2009 exhibit at Paul Kasmin Gallery.
No Walton Ford in MFA?

Ford, “Du Pain au Lait pour le Perroquet Mignonne,” 2011, watercolor, gouache, pencil, and ink on paper.

Ford, “It makes me think of that awful day,” 2011 (left) and “On the island,” 2011 (right). Both 108 x 144 x 7/8 inches.

Greg Cook’s Art of War

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

A note from our custodian Greg Cook of Malden, Massachusetts, who moonlights as an artist:

For months now I’ve been thinking of the famous question John Kerry—then a new Vietnam vet, now a senator from Massachusetts—asked when he spoke to Congress about Vietnam in 1971: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” I keep wanting to turn the phrase into a poster.

Then this week, news reports appeared identifying Army Specialist David Hickman, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad at age 23 on Nov. 16, as the last American killed before the official announcement that the Iraq War would end and American troops would be out of the country by the end of this month. Hickman was reportedly the 4,474th member of the American military to die. More than 100,000 Iraqis are said to have been killed, perhaps many more than that. And for what?

It brings to mind an article I anonymously co-authored in the fake New York Times, headlined “Iraq War Ends” (pictured above), that was organized, written, published and distributed in New York and elsewhere in November 2008 by Anne Elizabeth Moore, Steve Lambert, Code Pink, Improv Everywhere, Anti Advertising Agency, the Yes Men and a bunch of other folks. My article was an acid satire titled “Last to Die in Battle Remembered, American and Iraqi.” It imagined the last deaths of the war and monuments that would be erected in the victims’ memories in Firdos Square, where coalition troops famously toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

War, memorials, torture, flags, banners, and the definition of victory have been central subjects for my art of the past decade. My fake New York Times report was fiction, but I’ve written dozens of true accounts of the war for Boston area newspapers, starting even before the fighting began in March 2003. The war, one local vet told me in late 2003, “changed me in some ways because I can connect with people who have been through a war and understand what they’ve been through emotionally and physically … the physical fatigue, the stresses, the pressure that’s on you and the mental aspects. There’s so many things about seeing bodies on the ground. Nothing you can do can prepare you mentally for seeing that on the ground.”

My newspaper articles led to a plan to report and draw a documentary graphic novel about local veterans of the war, tentatively called “Nothing Can Prepare You.” It includes a story of a Navy pilot’s first flights into Iraq at the start of the war (pictured above) and one soldier’s first drive into Iraq months later. After I moved to Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood in 2006, I published “My Dorchester Neighbors,” a documentary comic based on condensed newspaper accounts of wounded and killed soldiers from Dorchester. I published “What We So Quietly Saw” (pictured below), based on FBI reports of Guantanamo prisoner interrogations and suspicions of torture, in the anthology “Syncopated” in 2009. The Onion’s A.V. Club called it “harrowing.” But I’ve gotten sidetracked from book by day jobs and it remains far from finished.

In 2005, I drafted a series of improvised edits of the Declaration of Independence, noting the echoes of the original’s phrase: “The history of the present King George is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations.” I signed each one multiple times, and titled the series “Army of One.”

For that year’s Gloucester New Arts Festival in Gloucester, Massachusetts, (where I was living at the time), I painted flags (pictured above and below) about the 17th century wars between colonial New England settlers and Native Americans and flew them from outdoor flagpoles around town. I was struck by War on Terror echoes, especially in a note left by Native raiders centuries ago (quoted on flag below): “Thou English men hath provoked us to anger & wrath & we care not though we have war with you this 21 years for there are many of us 300 of which hath fought with you at this town. We have nothing but our lives to lose but thou hast many fair houses, cattell & much good things.” The flags were subsequently exhibited at the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Festival, Lake Erie College in Cleveland, Magpie and the Nave Gallery in Somerville, Librairie Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal, Green Lantern Gallery in Chicago, and the Fourth Wall Project in Boston.

For the anniversary of the start of the Iraq war in March 2006, I printed woodcut banners depicting a red American eagle above the words “Declaration of Victory” (pictured at left and at top) and hung them from highway overpasses along routes 93 and 90 in Boston. I wondered how we would end the war. It seemed that there wouldn’t be a clear victory or more “mission accomplished” banners. What if we just declared victory and came home?

Then I began building monuments. “Study for a Monument to the Massachusetts Dead of the Iraq War” (pictured above and below) is three crude, 6-foot-tall plywood obelisks that I displayed on the lawn of the Gloucester Moose Lodge, across from the Cape Ann Museum, during the Gloucester New Arts Festival in August 2006. Each one featured wooden plaques carved in the style of 18th or 19th century New England tombstones with texts from the soldiers’ newspaper obituaries. One read: “Erected in Memory of Cpl. Paul N. King of Tyngsboro who lived Beloved and died universally Lamented on June 25, 2006, at age 23.” “He met the girl he would marry when he was 15 and she was 14 and they shared a pizza her mother bought to thank the neighbor boy for helping her move into a new condo. Rebecca found him ‘instantly cute.’” A quote from his widow Rebecca: “He always reassured me he was safe and everything was fine and he couldn’t wait to come home to his cats and his PlayStation and stuff.” The everyday things their loved ones spoke of pointed out how young many of the soldiers were when they died, how they had hardly even begun adulthood.

For a two-person show with Kari Percival called “The Hall of Natural and Despicable Wonders” at Green Lantern Gallery in Chicago in 2008, I sewed “A Monument to the Glorious Victory of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq, 2003-2008” (pictured above and at top surrounded by “Declaration of Victory” banners). It’s a slumping, white fabric obelisk standing about 6-feet-tall and hand-embroidered with the title and a 2008 statement by Iraq Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki: “Iraqis have earned the result of their patience and victory on terrorists, criminals and outlaws. The success of our forces to enforce the law is helping in the return of thousands of Iraqis to their country and homes. There is progress in security and peace.”

This Oct. 7, I marked the tenth anniversary of the Afghanistan War by organizing ten talented artists, including myself (pictured above), to display banners about the war on highway overpasses around greater Boston. My hand-painted banners were memorials to local folks killed in Afghanistan in recent months. And I curated a screening of YouTube videos from Afghanistan at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts, and at AS220 in Providence, Rhode Island.

Now the Iraq War has apparently ended. It feels like we just declared “good enough” and are coming home. It’s a moment of sadness and exhaustion and anticlimax. And I’m planning a new monument.

Laurel Nakadate

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Our review of Laurel Nakadate‘s exhibit “Say You Love Me” at Harvard’s Carpenter Center:

Laurel Nakadate (pictured above, left) has danced to Britney Spears with lonely strangers and traveled the country photographing herself in fake pin-ups. In her 2000 video “Happy Birthday,” she pretends to celebrate her birthday with middle-aged guys who’d tried to ask her out. One man tries to make conversation, but the others are uncomfortably silent, avoiding eye contact, except when, at her request, they sing “Happy Birthday” or mumble about having another slice of cake.

Over and over in her riveting, squirmy, creepy, eight-video survey “Say You Love Me” at Harvard’s Carpenter Center, Nakadate, who was born in 1975 and studied at Boston’s Museum School (BFA 1998) and Yale before settling in New York, is the pretty young thing in tight tank tops and sexy short shorts playing make believe with dumpy, single, middle-aged men in their shabby apartments.

The unscripted situations ring stranger-danger alarm bells. We expect the men (non-actors) to take advantage of her, but Nakadate turns the tables, exposing their desperate, pitiful loneliness and desire. The videos are about the pickup game, about how we talk people into bed, about the ache for human connection.

In “Beg for Your Life” (2006), she asks strangers she met as she traveled across America to pretend to beg for their lives as she holds a gun to their heads and pretends to shoot them dead. If that weren’t unsettling enough, she play-fights with a guy on a bed who pretends not to want to let her go home to her parents. He fake punches her into unconsciousness.

“I was always trying to reference the everyday girl that becomes the sex object, and how do you deal with the everyday girl acting up,” Nakadate said at a Nov. 17 Harvard talk. In the early videos, she said, the guys approached her first, inviting her to hang out. “I don’t think they’re all innocents in this.” But part of the moral queasiness created by her candid camera comes from the sensation that she often seems to be picking on the little guy.

Which may make Nakadate a jerk, but a kinder person probably couldn’t so harrowingly plumb the depths of danger, isolation, sadness, poverty, alienation, desire, youth, aging, arousal, heartache, embarrassment, insecurity, shyness, manipulation, and cruelty.

Laurel Nakadate, “Say You Love Me” Harvard’s Carpenter Center, 24 Quincy St., Cambridge, Nov. 17 to Dec. 22, 2011.

Previously: Nakadate speaks at Harvard on Nov. 17, 2011.

Pictured at top: Nakadate, “Lessons 1-10,” 2002.

This review originally appeared here.

Nakadate, “Exorcism in January,” 2009.

Nakadate, “Good Morning Sunshine,” 2009.

Nakadate, “Greater New York,” 2005.

Nakadate, “Happy Birthday,” 2000.

MIT builds “trillion-frame-per-second video” recorder

Monday, December 19th, 2011

“There’s nothing in the universe that looks fast to this camera,” says MIT Media Lab postdoc Andreas Velten, who along with Media Lab associate professor Ramesh Raskar, chemistry professor Moungi Bawendi, and friends have developed a device able to record super slow-motion video of “a burst of light traveling the length of a one-liter bottle, bouncing off the cap and reflecting back to the bottle’s bottom.” The “trillion-frame-per-second video” recorder documents this journey that MIT says “takes only a nanosecond — a billionth of a second.”

In the video above, researchers say the $250,000 device may have medical applications—“like ultrasound with light,” says Raskar—and could lead to the development of better camera flashes. “An ultimate dream is, how do you create studio-like lighting from a compact flash?” he says. “How can I take a portable camera that has a tiny flash and create the illusion that I have all these umbrellas, and sport lights, and so on?”

Of course, there will be medical applications. But somehow it feels like they’re aiming low when they say their $250,000 “trillion-frame-per-second video” recorder will help us build a better camera flash.

Destroy All Monsters at BU

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Our review of “Hungry for Death: Destroy All Monsters” at Boston University Art Gallery:

The legendary ’70s Michigan art gang and noise-rock band Destroy All Monsters was founded by Mike Kelley, Cary Loren, Niagara, and Jim Shaw at a house party in 1973. They played their first gig at a comics convention — which they were asked to leave after 10 minutes of (in Kelley’s words) their “horrid strains.”

They weren’t exactly influential, but they are an example of a mutation that has independently and repeatedly appeared over the years— in the likes of Ivan Albright, the Hairy Who, Gary Panter, Survival Research Laboratories, and Fort Thunder.

“Hungry for Death: Destroy All Monsters” fills Boston University Art Gallery with hundreds of fliers, banners, photos, ‘zines, Mad magazine collections, toy dragons, monster magazines, thrift-store finds, movie promotional photos, religious cards, and femme-fatale pin-ups.

It’s hung like a teen’s bedroom or an awesome used-record shop, without chronology or explanation. The history (Kelley and Shaw became LA art stars) is a muddle, but you can feel their ecstasy in carving out a geeky, trashy, sort of half-assed, DIY, creature double feature place they could call home.

“Hungry for Death: Destroy All Monsters,” Boston University Art Gallery, 855 Comm Ave., Boston, Nov. 15 to Dec. 22, 2011.

This review originally appeared here.

Pictured at top: Cary Loren and Niagara, Ann Arbor, 1974 credit photo (c)Cary Loren.

BU installation in progress.

“Mall Culture” banner from “Strange Früt” installation, 1998 credit: the Destroy All Monsters Collective (Mike Kelley, Cary Loren, Jim Shaw) (c) 1998

Destroy All Monsters at God’s Oasis, 1975 (from left) John Reed, Jim Shaw and Mike Kelley, credit photo (c) Cary Loren.