Friday, April 06, 2007

Abelardo Morell

Abelardo Morell of Brookline has a show up at Danziger Projects in New York that the gallery proclaims to be his first New York exhibit devoted exclusively to his camera obscura photos of the past 15 years. As a group, the photos are a record of Morell’s travels during that time – Havana, London, New York, San Francisco, Florence, the Grand Tetons. But these pictures are best seen one by one, rather than in a bunch like this. You need the time to drink them in without distraction.

Morell seals up rooms of houses, offices and hotels and turns them into giant pinhole cameras, with the scenery outside seeping into the room through a hole, upside-down. You have to marvel at Morell’s ability to find rooms with just the right views. Then he sets up a camera inside the room to photograph the outside scene projected atop the inside scene in black and white. They’re generally shot with extremely long exposures, eight hours at a pop.

If you’ve followed Morell’s work at all a number of these photos will be familiar – like the 1991 shot of the houses of his neighbors across the street projected onto his living room wall, which remains a wonder, a neat-o photographic trick and at the same time a rumination on the relationships in neighborhoods.

But there’s also a pair of new photos from last year.

“Sunrise Over Atlantic, Rockport, MA, July 14, 2006, 5:20-7:05 AM” (at left) depicts a plain room, looking head-on at a wall, a door, electrical outlets, a rug. The upper half of the wall is covered with the upside-down image of the polished steel Atlantic Ocean outside. And just to the right of the doorknob, the rising sun scorches a white diagonal down the wall, over the molding and across the floor. This photo, like much of Morell’s work, is about the basics of light, looking and optics – but here the image is too plain for my taste.

But check out “Santa Maria della Salute in Palazzo Bedroom, Venice, Italy” (at top). It shows a lavishly furnished bedroom, with floral-patterned wallpaper, an ornate framed mirror atop a vanity, and a disheveled bed. On the wall is a framed print of the landmark church. And then – wow – the image of the church itself appears upside-down on the wall, swallowing up the print, big and awesome like the shark in the poster for “Jaws.” But, you know, not menacing like a shark, more like a stately leviathan.

It’s such a neat pairing – a photo of the image of the church projected atop another image of the church – like mirrors within mirrors. And it speaks to the memory of the place – or rather the place’s memory. Morell’s best camera obscura photos always seem to be about the walls speaking about what they’ve witnessed, whispering about their long, patient looking.

By the by: Allie Humenuk’s documentary about Morell, “Shadow of the House,” has its world premiere at the Boston Independent Film Festival at 7:45 p.m., Saturday, April 28, at the Coolidge Corner Theater.

“Abelardo Morell, Camera Obscuras: 1991-2006,” Danziger Projects, 521 West 26th St., New York, March 3 to April 7, 2007.

'Creatures' at Stairwell Gallery

Stairwell Gallery in Providence has up a fun show of Cute Brut art-dolls. The furry freaky dolls seem like the demons of childhood made manifest and cuddly and manageable. Or maybe they represent a retreat from the scary monsters of adulthood into the conquered fears of youth.

Providence artist Brian Chippendale’s plastic honey bear bottles are morphed and melted together. They’re like weird dream mutations – and stick in my mind.

Jessica Ciocci of the Easthampton, Massachusetts, collective Paper Rad hangs a selection of heart pillows with alien faces and Cabbage Patch doll bodies with mutant rainbow heads. They’re like feral interlopers from some ‘80s happy-happy-joy-joy kiddie galaxy, and harbor a buried threat: Are they cuddly like the Gremlin Gizmo or dangerous like Gremlins fed after midnight?

Many of the pieces seem like Uglydolls, but more punk. Providence artist Joan Wyand’s black beaver stands 7 or 8-foot-tall on its hind legs, with two rows of red plastic nipples (from squeeze bottles) running down its belly. Jacob Berendes of Worcester presents a collection of charming little beasties including a worm in a tuxedo and a hairy cyclops. Yvette Koch of Providence offers a two-headed bunny monster.

Providence artist Jill Colinan’s ladies in party dresses have Frankenstein’s Monster-patchwork faces with big creepy toothy smiles made of beads. There’s also some screenprinted Victorian goth chic dolls by Xander Morro of Providence and a tiny bead bug by CF of Providence.

“Creatures,” Stairwell Gallery, 504 Broadway, Providence, through April 8, 2007.

Louise Bourgeois

Here's my review of the Institute of Contemporary Art’s other new show, “Bourgeois in Boston,” a satisfying, career-spanning selection of 20 works by Louise Bourgeois borrowed from Boston-area collections — nearly half from Barbara Lee of Cambridge, an ICA trustee and a major contributor to the institution.

It’s another opportunity to contemplate the question I asked when I reviewed the sharp Bourgeois show at the Worcester Art Museum last fall: “Is there an old geezer artist making better work than 95-year-old Louise Bourgeois?” At left is an untitled 1999 sculpture, one of the fabric sculptures (dolls) the French-born, New York-based artist has been producing in the past decade.

“Bourgeois in Boston,” Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave., Boston, March 28, 2007, to March 2, 2008.

Misaki Kawai

Here’s my review of Misaki Kawai’s cool “Space House” installation at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. As I wrote:
The 29-year-old Japanese-born, Brooklyn-based artist works in an irresistible style called Cute Brut — cute, cartoony pop styles mixed with folkie or Art Brut techniques. You could also use the Japanese term “hetauma,” a marriage of the Japanese words for bad and good. The idea is like punk rock — fucked-up technique plus verve equals great art if you get it “wrong” in just the right ways.
“Momentum 7: Misaki Kawai,” Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave., Boston, March 28 to July 8, 2007.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Carrie Mae Weems

Here’s my review of “The Hampton Project” by Carrie Mae Weems of Syracuse, New York, at Williams College Museum of Art. I tried to put it in the context of a number of other shows happening right now:

In the late 1980s and early '90s, concerns with personal identity, race, gender, and sexuality (think AIDS) were all the rage in the art world, and a group of black women working this territory, including Weems, Lorna Simpson, and Brookline's Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, first gained notice. Though these artists continued to produce strong work, the white-hot spotlight of the art world eventually moved elsewhere. But we're in the midst of a reassessment of this socially concerned style now, with retrospectives of Campos-Pons at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Simpson at New York's Whitney Museum, and Kara Walker at Minneapolis's Walker Art Center. (Walker also has a small show at Andover's Addison Gallery of American Art. )
One could also mention the feminist art shows – LA MoCA’s “Wack!” and the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibitions “Global Feminisms” (which comes to Wellesley College’s Davis Museum in September) and Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party.”

It seems to me that 9/11, Iraq, and the drowning of New Orleans have put us in a serious mood. And so we're ready again to consider the old uncomfortable questions about race, gender, and sexuality.

But maybe it’s just one of those cyclical things.

Note: There’s an error (my fault) in the Weems review. I wrote that “Weems visited Hampton, selecting old photos from the university's archive to scan and print on diaphanous muslin banners that hang from the Williams College gallery ceiling.” That's true as far as it goes, but some of the images Weems uses came from elsewhere.

“Carrie Mae Weems: The Hampton Project,” Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, Jan. 13 to April 29, 2007.

Gregory Gillespie

Gregory Gillespie, the Belchertown painter who took his own life in 2000, was a master of the anxious peculiar painting. His methods, as seen in a just-concluded exhibit at Nielsen Gallery, were traditional – coming out of Northern Renaissance, William Harnett, Indian miniatures, etc. – but his effects were surreal.

“Confirmation Shrine” (1990) is a 10-foot-tall trompe l’oeil still life. The panel becomes the artist’s studio wall and all the depicted objects appear hung on the wall or arranged on a shelf. Gillespie liked to compose pictures by meandering around his picture and adding more images as he went along, often with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink vibe.

Here, a hat and apron are hung up at the right, just as they would be in a studio. But on the left things get screwy. What looks like a painted bust of his topless wife, Peg, is stuck behind a landscape painting, which in turn is behind a floating squash. The squash could be a painting of a painting of a squash – but Gillespie renders it so 3D that it resists being a picture within a picture and insists, disconcertingly, to be a squash hovering in mid air.

From across the gallery, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s illusion. Gillespie sticks a real molding across the top of the picture to screw with our sense of what's what. Perception is further confounded because the sides of the picture step out, matching the perspective lines of the shelf section, even though the shelf and all the stuff on and in it are flat illusion. Except for a board running across the bottom – or so I thought. It looked like a real board, but upon closer inspection I realized it was paint.

It’s all a joke on Renaissance perspective. Gillespie is toying with us. You feel like a mouse, and he’s a cat.

“Portrait of Peg Seated” (1992), rendered in oil on an 8-foot-tall panel, is a life-sized portrait of Gillespie’s wife sitting on a wooden stool in what looks like an empty corner of an artist’s studio. Gillespie’s realism puts her vividly in the same space as us – right down to her tan lines and the freckles on her chest and arms – creating a blushingly personal encounter between clothed-us and this naked woman. And again Gillespie plays trompe l’oeil games. Here, the paint-splattered studio floor shifts around, at once a floor and then turning into a flat drippy abstraction, and in the process falling out from underneath Peg like a trap door.

In “Portrait of an Old Man” (1999), the fellow’s balding head is rendered, like “Portrait of Peg Seated,” with lots of Gillespie’s signature short, nervous brushstrokes. The marks feel creepy – like the flesh is rotting and each brushstroke is a squirmy worm.

Gregory Gillespie, Nielsen Gallery, 179 Newbury St., Boston, March 3 to 31, 2007.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

‘Pollocks’ sold?

The latest dispatch regarding the suspect “Pollocks,” which Boston College’s McMullen Museum plans to exhibit this September, is in today’s New York Times. Randy Kennedy reports that some of the Pollock-look-alike paintings that Alex Matter says he found a few years ago have been “quietly sold.”

Here’s a link to my previous posts about these works.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Trecker leaving Monsterrat

Montserrat College of Art President Stan Trecker plans to leave the Beverly school in June after leading the private institution for five years. According to a press release, he’s leaving to take a job closer to his Boston home.

Trecker ran BU’s Photographic Resource Center from 1980 to 1991, before becoming president of the Art Institute of Boston, which he ran until he took charge of Montserrat in June 2002.