Friday, February 09, 2007

Norden named advisor to Whitney Biennial

Linda Norden of Newton, Massachusetts, has been named one of three outside advisors to the curators at New York’s Whitney Museum who are putting together its 2008 Biennial.

Norden, who grew up in New York, was associate curator of contemporary art at the Harvard University Art Museums from 1998 to October 2006. She arrived here after teaching for six years at Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies.

The Whitney describes the Biennial as its “signature survey measuring the mood of contemporary American art.” This grand ambition helps make it one of those shows people love to criticize. “No matter what you do people are going to love it and hate it,” Norden tells me. “You’re not going to do it because you’re going to get a lot of acclaim.”

But she’s excited and fascinated by the challenge of trying to put together a survey about the art of this moment when, as she sees it, art is in a “period of transition” with “no sense of clear direction.”

Norden had a hit with a show of Ed Ruscha’s painting that she organized for the 2005 Venice Biennale, which later traveled to the Whitney. Since leaving Harvard last fall she’s been freelance curating and writing (including drafting a catalogue essay for a Roni Horn retrospective in Iceland), in between looking for a more steady gig.

Whitney curators Henriette Huldisch and Shamim Momin lead the Biennial project, scheduled to open in March 2008, with guidance from the museum's chief curator, Donna De Salvo. In addition to Norden, they’ll be seeking outside advice from Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, and Bill Horrigan, director of the media arts department at the Wexner Center in Ohio.

‘iArt’ at Axiom

The opening a month ago of Axiom’s first show after moving from Cambridge into the former Green Street Gallery in a Jamaica Plain T Station was wall to wall people. And everyone seemed to be photographing or videoing everyone else like some crazy surveillance feedback loop. The draw was a six-person exhibit, “iArt,” of works made for iPods – but presented live or on monitors or projected too.

About a half-dozen members of John Herman’s “The Man Who Was Thursday” band (above) performed live – with some more joining in via the Net. Herman rounded up his collaborators on the Internet so this was the first time they met in person, though they’d already worked together on an album. The premise, as he explains on his website, is “Imagine joining a secret band where no one is allowed to know who else is in the band. Imagine only having seven days to write and record tracks for an album that no one is allowed to talk about. Imagine finding out that your bandmates are from all over the world. Welcome to The Man Who Was Thursday Project.” A friend who went with me liked the premise, but quipped that their electronicy jamming performance sounded just like a band that has only met on the Internet.

Bebe Beard’s “Gestures” presented some sort of visual iPod-style shuffle of projected images of student design models (examples were stuck to the walls) that had a warmed-over Russian constructivist feel. There was apparently a chirpy electronic soundtrack by Lou Cohen to go with it, but the imagery was so dispiriting that I couldn’t get myself to put on the earphones. Ravi Jain’s “Drivetime” (above) is a casually witty video-blog – imagine a homemade talk show – that he hosts from inside his car while driving around Boston. But like a lot of film and video stuff, standing staring at a little monitor in a gallery is not the ideal viewing experience. Former Guiding Light actress Lynne Adams presented some sort of survey and vlog about filmmaking (left). Too much of the show felt too caught up in techno geegaws and not concerned enough about saying something with them – which kept me from delving in much more.

I think new media art – all this stuff made with computer algorithms and video and iPods and Internets – is one of things that distinguishes the Boston art scene right now. And “iArt” and Axiom’s last show in Cambridge, “Interactive Cake,” have featured smartish curatorial premises, but, like Herman’s band, the result hasn't been as fun or inventive as the ideas sound when you first hear them.

“iAart: A Selection of New Works Created for PDAs,” Axiom, 141 Green St., Boston, Jan. 12 to March 9, 2007.

Photos by James Manning, Shawn Towne and Steve Garfield. I think.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Update: New ‘Pollocks’?

The crux of the argument of those still supporting the authenticity of the Alex Matter’s “Pollock” paintings, after Harvard reported last week that they were made with paints not available during Jackson Pollock’s lifetime, is that Harvard used the wrong references to date them.

Matter says he found 32 paintings that appear to be by Pollock in his late father’s storage facility in 2002. He and his supporters theorize that Pollock was hanging around with Matter’s dad (it’s well established that they were pals) and used paint from papa Matter’s brother-in-law, who ran an art supply shop in Switzerland.

Ellen Landau, a Pollock scholar, former member of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation’s now disbanded Pollock authentication board and the key authority still contending that the Pollocks may be authentic, argues that Harvard researchers dating the paintings by comparing their analysis of the paintings’ materials to paint patents may have overlooked European patents. “Just because a pigment wasn't patented in the USA, doesn't mean that it was not available in Switzerland or Germany,” Landau writes. “We don't know the answer to that yet.” But it seems we do.

The Harvard team reported that the first of three Matter “Pollock” paintings they studied 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.

After a quick initial take on this last week, I delved into Harvard’s footnotes for these claims and found they reference several European patents.

Harvard folks say a medium (the thing mixed with the color pigment to make it flow and stick) used in two of the paintings was “most likely not available until 1962 or 1963.” That assertion is based on patent applications in Canada in 1959, the United States in 1961, Belgium in 1962, and the Netherlands Antilles (a Caribbean territory of the Netherlands) in 1963 (see Harvard footnote 18).

Harvard cites books that I don’t have ready access to for a 1971 orange found in one of the “1963 or 1963” medium paintings and a 1980s brown found in a third painting. Harvard conservation scientist Narayan Khandekar tells me these recent books are by European authors and address “all the relevant patent and reference information from around the world, not just the US.”

The painting with the orange paint also includes a white paint for which patents were sought in Canada in 1959, the U.S in 1960, Germany 1961, and Great Britain and Netherlands Antilles in 1963 (see footnote 21). And the painting with the brown paint includes a silver paint for which patents were sought in the Soviet Union in 1967, Netherlands Antilles in 1972 and Canada in 1976 (see footnote 22).

The 1978 catalogue raisonee of all of Pollock’s then-known works (edited by two guys who also served on the Pollock-Krasner Foundation’s Pollock authentication board and who’ve argued for months that the Matter “Pollocks” are phony) has a whole section on fake Pollocks.

Pollock’s poured abstractions are so iconic – and seemingly easily imitable – that they inspired many admirers to copy his work, as well as less savory fakers. The catalogue raisonne identifies paintings copied from reproductions in Pollock catalogues and a whole raft of false Pollocks coming out of California. There also seems to be a group of paintings claimed to be works Pollock left behind or gave away as gifts during a trip to Europe that he apparently never took (at least that’s what my too quick gloss of the catalogue raisonee seemed to indicate).

The editors of that catalogue dubbed many as false based on their provenances, but ultimately many assertions of whether the “Pollocks” were authentic or not were based on gut feelings. That has long been the way authentication has worked. Khandekar says some of the techniques the Harvard team used have only been applied to art in the past few years.

Assuming Landau’s claims are made in good faith, perhaps she’s just not adapted to the new authentication science (which is what a New York Times report on Sunday suggested). Maybe the Harvard science itself is somehow faulty, but at this point I doubt it. The Globe’s Geoff Edgers hints that Matter has an explanation that “might make more sense that you would expect.” We’ll see.

At the heart of all this is a fascinating paradox: what makes Matter’s “discovery” most convincing – his father’s friendship with Pollock, the uncle’s paints, etc. – is also what makes them potentially wonderfully elaborate fakes. Either way it’s a great tale. Of course, these paintings don’t have to be Pollocks to have merit. I can’t really tell if the paintings are much good from the reproductions I’ve seen. I guess we’ll have to wait until Boston College’s McMullen Museum exhibits 25 of them in its “Pollock Matters” show in September.

Jaime Hernandez and ‘Love & Rockets’

I spoke to Los Angeles cartoonist Jaime Hernandez at the opening Monday night of the exhibit “Sex, Love & Rockets” at Brown University. (I reviewed the show here.) Jaime and his brother Gilbert are the creators of the great, long-running comic “Love & Rockets.” Here’s a couple outtakes from the interview:
On his 2006 comic serialized in The New York Times Magazine:
“That was a learning experience. This was the first time that I had to deal with a million readers instead of a thousand. First off, I got really intimidated. What will they want to see? … And then I said, ‘Fuck that, I can’t give them that. They want me, I’ll give them me.’ But I still couldn’t get it out of my head that I was doing it for a million people who didn’t read comics.” On top of that Times style restrictions meant he couldn’t cuss in the comics – which is a key aspect of his characters. “I had to think of a character to use that wouldn’t cuss so much so it wouldn’t seem so strange.”

What is it like to still be doing this comic, to still be working with these characters after 25 years?
“It’s kind of tough, but I try to let them grow alongside me.” He sometimes wishes he’d had his characters have kids, families (“Gilbert handled that very well”), but it never quite felt right for his characters, and he didn’t know how to integrate it well into the strip. And now it seems too late. “I wanted Maggie to have a kid, but I’ve got to wonder, she’s in her early 40s now. Where does that leave her? Maybe she’ll try. I just know in the past when a character has a kid that character is over.”

“Sex, Love and Rockets: The Comix World of Los Bros Hernandez,” John Nicholas Brown Center, 357 Benefit St., Providence, Feb. 5 to March 2, 2007. Note that the show includes no original Hernandez brothers artwork; it’s all reproductions.

Edward Burtynsky

Here’s an excerpt of my review of Toronto photographer Edward Burtynsky’s exhibit “The China Series” at Tufts University:
The standout photo here is "Manufacturing #17, Deda Chicken Processing Plant, Dehui City, Jilin Province" (2005). Thousands of factory workers in pink raincoats, blue aprons, and white masks and boots stand at row after row of long tables cutting up chickens in red tubs. The people seem cooped up, but the pattern of the bright colors of their outfits, seemingly repeating to infinity, gives the image a cheery tone, as if it were some odd musical — maybe a more upbeat, cast-of-thousands version of the Björk-starring "Dancer in the Dark."

“China is the most recent participant to be seduced by Western ideals — the hollow promise of fulfillment and happiness through material gain,” Burtynsky wrote in his 2005 photo book "China." “The mass consumerism these ideals ignite and the resulting degradation of our environment intrinsic to the process of making things should be a deep concern to all.”

Burtynsky’s scenes, however, don’t exactly fill me with concern. Instead I’m dazzled by the ravishing kaleidoscopic patterns, the romantic lighting, the vast scale, and the profusion of detail captured on his large-format film. The 51-year-old often shoots from far away and high above, like a god watching impassively from the heavens. The world may be going to shit, but isn’t it pretty?

Edward Burtynsky’s “The China Series,” Tufts University Art Gallery, Aidekman Arts Center, 40R Talbot Ave., Medford, Massachusetts, Jan. 19 to April 1, 2007. Burtynsky speaks at the gallery at 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 1.

From top to bottom are “Manufacturing #17, Deda Chicken Processing Plant, Dehui City, Jilin Province, China,” (2005); “Urban Renewal #1, Factory Construction, Outside Shenzhen,, Guangdong Province, China,” (2004); “Recycling #20, Cankun Aluminum, Xiamen City, Fujian Province, China,” (2005); and “Manufacturing #7, Textile Mill, Xiaoshan, Zhejiang Province, China,” (2004). Images courtesy of Charles Cowles Gallery, New York.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Center for Cartoon Studies

I spoke to a class at the Center for Cartoon Studies in tiny White River Junction, Vermont, Thursday, as a visiting artist. The school opened in September 2005 and is perhaps one of only two schools solely dedicated to cartooning in the country. Now 36 students are enrolled in its two-year program and its first class is slated to graduate this May.

The place is thriving. (Full disclosure: A close friend teaches at the school, I was paid to speak there, and I have other more distant associations.) Students are producing accomplished work – quiet personal narratives recalling John Porcellino, Seussian poetic fantasies, super hero parodies reminiscent of “The Incredibles,” historical tales as Dupuy and Berberian might render them, dark surreal adventures with echoes of Dan Clowes. Here are some samples: 1 2 3 4 5. These are students and so they’re still figuring things out, but there’s lots of promise here.

The school feels like an alternative comics think tank, as co-founder James Sturm (above drawing with students) describes it, a place where best practices are taught, fresh ideas thought. What will the school’s influence be, say, ten years out? What new approaches will come just from bringing the cream of our young cartoonists together? Based on what they’re doing now, many of the students who keep at it will be doing great work. And they’ll spread the school’s ideas. This can only be a good thing.

Mooninites invade Boston

Here’s my take on the Mooninite-art-bomb-scare-brouhaha. Summary: Stupid marketing ploy horribly and humorously misinterpreted; knuckleheads; tells us something about state of art and fear in Boston; but it’s not art, just corporate graffiti; why should we put up with this corporate defacement of our public buildings?

Here and here are links to the local perpetrators’ (in action above) own documentation of the thing. Here and here is video of their “’70s hair” press conference – which had, uh, Dadaist potential, but turned out to be a dud. Here are the Boston Police Department's and the Attorney General's reviews.