Saturday, February 03, 2007

Kara Walker

Here's my review of Kara Walker’s print series “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)” at the Addison Gallery in Andover. Above is “Alabama Loyalists Greeting the Federal Gun-Boats” (2005). The whole portfolio is reproduced here.

In my review, I also touch on Walker’s “The Rich Soil Down There” (detail below, entire piece at bottom), which hangs in the Upper Galleria of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ West Wing. It’s a stenciled paint version in black and white on gray of the RISD grad's 2002 cut-paper mural, which the MFA owns.

William Stover, the MFA’s assistant curator for contemporary art, tells me that when one buys a Walker cut-out nowadays one receives (a) her hand-cut piece, (b) a template made from this original and (c) an exhibition copy made from the template. In other words, the template provides a master guide for making reproductions of the original that can be displayed instead of the original to save it from the wear and tear (literally) of being repeatedly pasted walls and then ripped down again.

The MFA got permission to use the template to create a painted version of “The Rich Soil…” for the high-traffic Upper Galleria. The result is an officially approved copy of Walker’s work in a different medium – and an example of the compromises made to preserve contemporary art featuring inventive uses of delicate materials. As well as a sign of what happens when an art star becomes an art factory.

“I think the piece is more like a Sol LeWitt,” Stover says, in which the artist provides the instructions to create the artwork and then others execute them.

Kara Walker “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated),” Addison Gallery, Phillips Academy, 180 Main St., Andover, Massachusetts, Jan. 9 to April 15, 2007.

Bread and Puppet Theater

Bread and Puppet Theater of Glover, Vermont, is coming to the Boston Center for the Arts during the week of Feb. 12 to perform a couple of their signature puppet and mask pageants as well as present an art show and symposium. If you'd like to perform with the landmark troupe, they're seeking volunteer performers for the shows. To participate either on stage or behind the scenes, call Mary Curtin at 617-470-5867 or email her.

Todd McKie

Here's my brief essay on Cambridge artist Todd McKie’s show of white pencil drawings on black paper at Victoria Munroe gallery.

During a week in which Boston was freaked out by some corporate advertising graffiti masquerading as guerilla art, it’s worth remembering one of the great Boston guerilla art events of the past 50 years, the “Flush With the Walls” exhibit.

McKie was part of a gang of local artists, including Bob Guillemin, Kristin Johnson, Martin Mull, David Raymond and Jo Sandman, who secreted their art into the men's room at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts on June 15, 1971, for the notorious exhibit. Their slogan: "When you gotta show, you gotta show."

The exhibit was part joke, part protest that the MFA ignored contemporary art. Word of mouth brought a large turnout, before the cleaning crew removed everything that night. The MFA responded to the artists with a wonderfully deadpan institutional letter, saying it could not "accept any responsibility for works of art that enter the building in such an irregular way," and future proposals should be submitted to the new curator of contemporary art. (Rachel Rosenfield Lafo’s essay in the 2002 catalogue “Painting in Boston: 1950-2000” is my source for some of this.)

“People say it affected their policies in terms of contemporary art, and maybe it did,” McKie told me recently, “but the one thing that happened is they immediately revamped their security system because they didn’t want this to become a weekly event.”

Todd McKie “Misadventures in the Lace Trade,” Victoria Munroe Fine Art, 179 Newbury St., Boston, Jan. 18 to Feb. 20, 2007.

From top to bottom: “The Great Outdoors,” “What Are You Looking At?” and “Down Along the Border #2” (all 2006).

New ‘Pollocks’?

The folks organizing the “Pollock Matters” exhibit, scheduled to open at Boston College’s McMullen Museum on Sept. 1, report that Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is also “conducting scientific research” on four of the now infamous disputed “Jackson Pollock” paintings, which I wrote about here. The show is expected to present 25 of them.

The MFA examination of these “Pollocks” is apparently focused on increasing “understanding of the place of scientific research in the art world. … The research is for scholarly purposes and not for the authentication of the works.” Results are scheduled to be released in September as part of the BC show.

Monday, Harvard researchers released their findings (the link includes some of the images) on three of the 32 paintings attributed to Jackson Pollock that Alex Matter says he found in his late father’s Long Island storage building in 2002. As I explained in Thursday’s Boston Phoenix:

The Harvard team compared the materials in three paintings to their patent dates. The first used brown paint “developed in the early 1980s.” The second was made with paint “most likely not available until 1962 or 1963.” The third used orange paint “not available until 1971.” Unfortunately, Pollock died when he crashed his convertible near his Long Island home in 1956.

Ellen Landau, who’s a key organizer of the BC show and affiliated with Alex Matter, attributed Matter’s cache of paintings to Pollock before Harvard released its results – and hasn’t backed off.

Landau is a bigwig Pollock scholar and former member of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation’s Pollock authentication board, which broke up about a decade ago. “If someone other than Pollock did do these paintings, he or she had an amazing knowledge of Pollock's working methods,” Landau argues. “This includes knowing exactly how Pollock made corrections as he went along (information not publicly available until the MoMA conservators reports published it in 1999).” I’m not sure how this is supposed to establish them as genuine since the paintings didn’t turn up until 2002, according to Matter’s claim.

Landau notes that Harvard dates the cardboard the paintings were done on to Pollock’s lifetime. Another piece of evidence she cites is a photo (provided to the Harvard team) of the brown paper wrapper that Alex Matter says he found the paintings in. It’s inscribed: “Pollock (1946–49) / Tudor City (1940–1949) / 32 Jackson experimental / works (gift & purchase) / Bad condition. / 4 both sides. All / drawing boards. / Robi paints. / MacDougal Alley, 1958.” Landau says a handwriting expert says this writing “is [Alex’s father] Herbert Matter’s handwriting.”

The crux of Landau’s argument seems to be that Harvard focused on North American patents – but the paint in these paintings may have come from Matter’s brother-in-law Robert (Robi) Rebetez, who ran an art supply shop in Switzerland. “We are planning to do further research in Switzerland on patent dates for pigments there,” Landau writes. “Just because a pigment wasn't patented in the USA, doesn't mean that it was not available in Switzerland or Germany. We don't know the answer to that yet.”

Tuesday, I asked Harvard conservation scientist Narayan Khandekar what patents he and his colleagues used to date the paintings and he said they looked at patents in the U.S., Canada and, uh, somewhere else that he couldn't remember right then. (Other projects have kept me from following up.) But assuming the Harvard folks didn’t check European patents, what we’re being asked to believe is that paints (pigments, binding media) were available in Europe 9, 18, even 27 years before they were patented in North America. This isn’t my area of expertise, but was there really that much of a patent lag?

Above: Jackson Pollock’s “Autumn Rhythm (No. 30)” (1950), from the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, as it appeared on the cover of the September 2005 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. I just love this pairing: Pollock art = disease.

Free art

One of our guiding principles here at The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research is that art should be freely (or at least cheaply) accessible to all. As Vermont's Peter Schumann has written in his “Why Cheap Art? Manifesto”: “People have been thinking too long that art is a privilege of the museums & the rich. Art is not a business! It does not belong to bankers & fancy investors. Art is food. You can’t eat it but it feeds you. Art has to be cheap & available to everybody…” In this spirit, we have added a list of free days at New England museums to the sidebar.

Note that the Boston Museum of Fine Arts' free admission evening does not give you access to their special exhibits – and tickets to see these shows are among the most expensive visual art admission fees in the nation. There is much debate about Malcom Rogers and company’s so-called populist shows (we’re in favor of the MFA’s exhibits of animation, cars, guitars, Herb Ritts, sailboats, Paris fashion), but affordability is the true test of a museum’s populism.

If there are free days that we’ve overlooked, please let us know.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Update: Workshops on state health care for artists

The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, in partnership with the new Arts Health Care Coalition, has announced the rest of the free workshops they'll be holding to help art-types figure out Massachusetts’ impressive but bewildering new state health care system. (I wrote about this before here.)

The schedule is:
Sunday, Jan 28, West Barnstable, Cape Cod Community College, Science Building, Lecture Hall A, Parking Lot 7, 2240 Iyannough Road, 3 to 5 p.m.

Monday, Feb 12, Lowell, Richard K. and Nancy L. Donahue Center, Merrimack Repertory Theatre Rehearsal Hall, 132 Warren Street (Bagshaw Mill), 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb 28, Worcester, Mass College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Auditorium 1, 19 Foster Street, 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. – employers and human resource managers, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. – general session

Saturday, March 3, Berkshires, Unicorn Theatre, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Rt. 7 & Rt. 102, Stockbridge, MA , 10:30 am to 12:30 p.m. – employers and human resource managers, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. – general session

Wednesday, March 7, Lynn/North Shore, Lynn Arts, 25 Exchange Street, Lynn, MA 01901, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 14, Boston, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, 3 to 5 p.m. – employers and human resource managers, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. – general session

Wednesday, March 28, New Bedford, New Bedford Whaling Museum, 18 Johnny Cake Hill, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Sessions in Boston, Worcester and the Berkshires "will have a special session available for specific issues related to arts-related employers and cultural institutions. Every other session will cover the healthcare legislation for all parties, including individual artists and employers."