Saturday, March 31, 2007

Second Gallery to close in July

Rebecca Gordon, the director of Second Gallery in South Boston, plans to close the gallery this summer and head west to study art-making and art criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This sounds like a good move for Gordon, but sad news for the Boston art scene as the gallery had quickly become one of the most interesting exhibition spaces in town.

Gordon, who is 23, grew up around Boston, graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst in 2005, moved back to Boston that September, and opened the gallery in the Distillery building in South Boston, which is owned by her family, at the end of January 2006. (The photos above and below depict past openings.)

The gallery has featured a bunch of cool weird shit, including work by Paper Rad, Liz Nofziger, Saya Woolfalk and Eric Shaw. The current show, “Personal Computer,” brings together three artists to succinctly and elegantly cover the trend of people taking apart familiar websites and rejiggering their components into web-based art. As I wrote in this week’s Phoenix: "It leads me to wax philosophical about how we interface with the Web, about all the computer detritus that we take for granted."

Two more shows are planned before Second Gallery closes in July. And Gordon plans to publish a book on the gallery’s 12 shows with a retrospective essay about her experience running the gallery.

In an intriguing move, Gordon hopes to find someone else to start his or her own gallery in the space – rent free – beginning this fall. She writes:
I seek a curator, gallery, project space, or alternative business to move into the space that Second Gallery currently occupies and not pay rent. Second Street Associates, the company that funds Second Gallery cannot continue to fund the operations of the establishment, but they will donate the space. So, this could be the perfect opportunity for someone or something that has its own source of funding or has a sustainable business model to operate out of a wonderful free space in the best art building in Boston, The Distillery. The new thing could be here for a year or indefinitely into the future if it is working out. The space is commercially zoned, and so it is legal to do business out of the space. It would not keep the Second Gallery name, but would be announced and introduced in Second Gallery's last press release. I would also give the new thing my mailing lists and press contacts.

The only requirement for this opportunity would be that the space would continue with Second Gallery's founding mission of exhibiting and making available new experimental work with a good representation of installation and video art and a supportive attitude toward emerging artists.

It occurred to me that people without a ton of funds would think it would be impossible, but actually, at the rate that Second Gallery spends, it can cost less than 6,000 dollars to operate the space for a whole year.
Contact her here if you’ve got a good idea.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Umberto Crenca

Umberto Crenca, the founder and artistic director of Providence’s landmark community arts center AS220, winds up his month-long exhibit with the Basque artist Detritus at Firehouse No. 13 by camping out at the gallery all this week (stop by to chat around lunchtime) and a performance at the closing party beginning at 8 p.m. March 31. Here's a bunch of video of the action.

As the Phoenix’s Bill Rodriguez notes, Crenca has long been one of the great benevolent spirits of artistic inspiration and generosity in Providence. So it feels like sacrilege to admit that his stuff here didn't float my boat. (Above, selection of Crenca works. Below, installation with Detritus paintings in right background.) It’s mostly old school surrealist images – breasts becoming the eyes of a face, melting heads, that sort of thing – with a dash of graffiti styling.

“Umberto Crenca & Detritus: Just and Artist/Not an Artist,” Firehouse No. 13, 41 Central St., Providence, March 3 to 31, 2007.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Video Game Canon and MIT

Two landmark video games that were developed by students at MIT – “Spacewar!” (1962) and “Zork” (1980) – have been recommended for a founding list of 10 games deserving preservation as part of a proposed national digital game registry.

What is particularly interesting to me about this proposed archive of a digital game canon is how it marks a shift in our view of digital games – a shift from seeing them as raw entertainment to seeing them as innovative art.

The list, proposed by Stanford University professor and curator Henry Lowood and associates, and announced during their panel discussion at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on March 8, also includes “Star Raiders” (1979), “Tetris” (1985), “SimCity” (1989), “Super Mario Bros. 3” (1990), “Civilization I/II” (1991), “Doom” (1993), the “Warcraft” series (beginning 1994) and “Sensible World of Soccer” (1994). The proposal – modeled on the National Film Preservation Board’s annual selection of films to be added to the National Film Registry – was submitted to the Library of Congress last fall as part of the Library’s Digital Preservation project. A response is expected soon.

“Spacewar,” an early example of a competitive multi-player game, and “Zork,” an early text adventure game, or interactive fiction, evidence the importance of university research in the early development of digital games, as well as how games have pushed the capabilities of digital technology.

Lowood, the curator of history of science and technology collections at Stanford, tells me, “’Spacewar!’ was the first moment when people really said this game really shows what computers can do and how we can interact with them,” beyond just crunching numbers.

There’s a growing body of fine art that borrows from or mimics the look of video games (think Cory Arcangel’s rejiggered “Super Mario Bros.” games), but the video game canon proposal suggests seeing the games themselves as art, much the way major film, television and comic books have come to be seen as art. The distinction is somewhat like the difference between 1960s pop artists swiping comics imagery for their work versus the acknowledgement of comics as art in their own right in the past few decades. The canon proposal points to the artistry and maturity of the medium, as well as our growing awareness of its influence throughout our culture.

By the by: Stanford has an archive of more than 22,000 games, a significant percentage of all the games produced from the early 1970s to 1993, that it acquired in the late 1990s. The collection was donated by the family of Stephen Cabrinety, a Fitchburg guy who began hoarding video games when he was just a wee lad, later attended Stanford, and died at age 29 in 1995. His father worked at Digital Equipment Corp. of Maynard, Massachusetts, which gave him opportunities to buy games when they first appeared at tech industry trade shows. Lowood says that while Cabrinety was still in college he formulated an idea for a museum telling the history of digital game culture.

Spring Preview

“Momentum 7: Misaki Kawai” presents work by a Brooklyn sculptor whose crafty dioramas (above) have featured dolls colonizing outer space planets, surfing giant waves, etc. They are what the Barbie Dream House would be if Barbie’s taste wasn’t all plastic, manufactured and bimbo. Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, March 28 to July 8.

Influential Village Voice critic Jerry Saltz and New York painter and installation artist Matthew Ritchie talk about “the ways in which artists build their worlds, both from the inside out and from the outside in” – whatever the hell that means – at the Boston University School of Management Auditorium, 595 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 28. Free.

Photographer Stephen Shore talks about his work and new book “The Nature of Photographs” at 7 p.m. April 5 at Boston University’s College of General Studies, Jacob Sleeper Auditorium, 871 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. Free.

“William Wegman-Funny/Strange” at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts, from April 7 to July 31 insists there’s more to the Holyoke native and MassArt alum’s art (above) than Weimaraner jokes.

“Ed Ruscha/Raymond Pettibon: The Holy Bible and THE END,” presents work by two of the cool cats of the Left Coast scene, including a series of lithographs that they collaborated on, at the Worcester Art Museum from April 7 to May 27.

Get snapshots of the art being produced hereabouts in the Portland Museum of Art’s 2007 Biennial, which assembles work by 61 New England artists from April 12 to June 10; “Connecticut Contemporary,” featuring eight Connecticut artists at Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum from April 19 to Aug. 12; and the DeCordova Museum's 2007 Annual Exhibition in Lincoln, Massachusetts, from May 5 to April 12.

Just in case you’re wondering, the DeCordova’s 2007 choices are: Sandra Allen (MA), Sarah Amos (VT), Ria Brodell (MA), Samantha Fields(MA), Jungil Hong (RI), Anne Lilly (MA), Nathalie Miebach (MA), Elke Morris (ME), Robert Taplin (CT) and Jeff “Jeffu” Warmouth (MA). Pictured above is Hong's "Miami Haze" (2004), screenprint collage on wood, and below that is Warmouth's installation "Spudnik" (2007).

“Fernand Leger: Contrast of Forms,” at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum from April 14 to June 10, 2007, is a tiny show examining Leger’s tinkering with cubism and abstraction between 1912 and 1914.

Tech art or new media art or cyberart (nobody has found quite the right name for this stuff yet) is one of the most distinctive characteristics of the Boston art scene these days. And the Boston Cyberarts Festival, now in its fifth edition, is the big sprawling powwow for local art techies from April 20 to May 6. Highlights include new work by Bostonian Brian Knep and Kanarinka of iKatun; dance performances that explore new technologies; interactive installations by Camille Utterback; talks, music, video screenings, etc.

“John Armleder” presents work by a Swiss guy whose recent stuff includes absurdist riffs on late Modernist art, pop culture décor and disco balls. Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum, Waltham, April 25 to July 29, 2007.

Andres “Piss Christ” Serrano speaks at BU’s Photographic Resource Center on Thursday, April 26.

"Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination,” the first major retrospective of the late New York dreamy poetic sculptor and collagist in 25 years, is at Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum from April 28 to Aug. 19, 2007. Organized by PEM chief curator Lynda Hartigan, this should be the big spring historical blockbuster hereabouts.

“Cameron Jamie” presents 20 years of Jamie’s films, photographs, sculptures and drawings about teen wrestling, Halloween spook houses, eating contests, and what he calls “the different types of ritualized social theatrics in America” at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center, May 3 to July 8, 2007.

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts presents its first big blockbuster of the year, “Edward Hopper,” from May 6 to Aug. 19. Renowned for moody (and often clunky) city scenes that hint at stories of urban loneliness and modern exhaustion, the late New York painter also produced major work while summering on Cape Cod and at Gloucester. “Anderson’s House” (1923), pictured above, is from one of Hopper's Gloucester trips.

“Origami Now!” at the Peabody Essex from June 16, 2007, to June 8, 2008. At left, Giang Dinh’s “Bodhidharma” (2004).

Fluxus at Harvard

One of the great karmic justices of recent years is the growing fame and influence of the Fluxists, the long obscure band of 1960s philosophical jokers. They’re the focus of a cool show at Harvard right now called “Multiple Strategies: Beuys, Maciunas, Fluxus,” which I review here.

One of my favorite pieces at Harvard is Ben Vautier’s wicked antiestablishment joke “Total Art Matchbox,” a box of matches labeled (I’ve retained his spelling): “Use these matchs to destroy all art – museums art library’s – ready-mades pop-art and as I Ben signed everything work of art – burn – anything – keep last match for this match[box].”

Shown here are, at top, a box of various Fluxus puzzles, films, toys and trinkets – including Vautier's matchbox in the foreground – organized by George Maciunas for the “Flux Year Box 2” (late 1960s) and, below, Ay-O’s “Finger Boxes” (1964), which are filled with foam or feathers that one could finger if the boxes weren’t safely secured in museum vitrines.

The influence of this stuff is apparent locally in The Institute for Infinitely Small Things (right down to George Maciunas’ 1966 “Fluxworker Lab Coat”), Harvey Loves Harvey, and Andrew Mowbray’s 2005 performance “Just for Men” at the Boston Center for the Arts.

There’s a bunch of Fluxus video and audio on the Web (though I can’t vouch for all its authenticity). Check out:
  • Sonic Youth performing George Maciunas’ “Piano Piece No. 13 (Carpenter’s Piece) for Nam June Paik” (1962), which I reference at the beginning of my review.

  • Yoko Ono performing her seminal “Cut Piece”, which may or may not be part of her Fluxus work depending on how one defines such things. This purports to be her 1965 performance at Carnegie Hall.

  • Nam June Paik’s “Zen for Film” (1964). A strip of clear film leader from the film is included at Harvard.

  • What seems to be a couple George Maciunas films exploring the formal properties of the medium.
“Multiple Strategies: Beuys, Maciunas, Fluxus,” Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University, 32 Quincy St., Cambridge, Feb. 24 to June10, 2007.