Friday, April 13, 2007

John Guthrie, ‘Absolute Abstraction’ at Goldman

“Absolute Abstraction,” which closes at Judy Ann Goldman on Newbury Street tomorrow, is a four-person exhibit of bright, charming contemporary abstract painting that reflects the current trend of kinder, gentler minimalism.

The standout is John Guthrie of Boston. Two insistent 2006 acrylic abstractions, “Siri” (at top) and “Vega” (below), feature four-pointed stars with their points nestled in the square canvases’ corners. The stars are patterned with webs of radiating crisscrossing lines, like nets or the elegant interwoven lines of a Spyrograph design. The effect is an optical illusion in which the center and the sides of the canvas seem to bow outward, as if straining to contain some force inside.

And then the colors really make the paintings pop. Guthrie contrasts hues in similar ranges (reds and golden-browns) with opposites (turquoises) of similar value wattage so that they vibrate against each other and glow like hot coals.

These compositions recall mid-20th century modern designs – that flat, sleek, cheery, optimistic “Right Stuff” futuristic abstraction. In particular, they echo 1960s Frank Stella – if Stella (a Malden native by the way) wasn’t such a cold, dull bastard. Where Stella designs leech out energy like black holes, Guthrie pumps it up with hot color combos.

The flat abstract 2005 paintings that he showed at Goldman last year, which looked like diagrams for candy boxes or maybe 1980s video game screens, were also groovy.

Santiago Hernandez of Boston paints flat blocky grids, targets and hot-roddy flames. My favorite is “Hibiscus” from 2006 (left), a grid of burnt orange versus baby blue overlaid by red racing stripes. His tactic seems aimed to jazz up minimalism with the pop vigor of sports car stylings, but for me they’re still a bit too sedate.

Bostonian David Kelley’s “Seems Seams” from 2007 (left) is a 7-foot-wide canvas of gray blobs (they look like blow-ups of ripped-out scraps of paper) and dotted cartoon word balloons in yellow, lavender, green, pink and blue atop a white ground. It’s jaunty fun, but kinda thin.

There are also paintings by New Yorker Carrie Moyer.

“Absolute Abstraction,” Judy Ann Goldman Fine Art, 14 Newbury St., Boston, March 15 to April 14, 2007.

Extra credit: Compare and contrast “Absolute Abstraction” with DeCordova’s “Big Bang” and Genovese/Sullivan’s “Other Abstraction.”

William Wegman

I ain’t too hot for Holyoke-native, New York-based William Wegman’s “Funney/Strange” retrospective at the Addison Gallery in Andover. (Here's my review.) The recent stuff like 2003’s “The Tilted Chair” (above) is interesting – a fantasyland of collaged vintage postcards with linking sections painted in between. It begins to tap something deep: saccharine middle class easy-listening American notions of paradise and civic pride. You have to see it in person, at 16 feet wide there’s no way to get it in reproduction.

But a lot of the exhibit is just artsy fartsy ruminations on perception and semiotics. The jokes mostly aren’t funny – except in the mildest, safest, lamest sitcom way. And the Weimaraners are as schmaltzy as you remember.

Like the Addison’s recent shows of Chuck Close and Jennifer Bartlett, the Wegman show is most interesting for how it traces a 1970s artist leaving the fundamentalism of minimalism and conceptualism and returning to representation – though he never totally abandoned the faith.

Note: Wegman gives a free talk at the Addison's Kemper Auditoriaum at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 29.

“William Wegman: Funney/Strange,” Addison Gallery, 180 Main St., Andover, April 7 to July 31, 2007.

Pictured from top to bottom: “The Tilted Chair,” 2003; “Man Ray Contemplating the Bust of Man Ray,” 1978; “Contemplating Art, Life, and Photography,” 1979; “Dock Scene,” 1985; and a detail of an untitled 1998 photo.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Global warming protest … art?

Global warming is the hot subject in art these days – and I can’t help being fascinated by what one might call the performance art part of the big “One Earth, One Climate” Global Warming protest planned for Boston Common from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 14.

It begins at 1:30 p.m. with people – snorkels, life jackets and water rings are encouraged – forming a human chain across Boston Common along a line 20 feet higher than the current sea level, where the Atlantic could reach if polar and glacial melting continues unabated. (There will also be music and speeches by politicians, scientists, ecologists and such.)

There’s a growing body of art that imagines our communities flooded by global warming – see Providence’s Brian Chippendale’s 2005 screenprint “Providence 2047” and the 2004 film “The Day After Tomorrow.” But Saturday’s action takes it a step further by putting people on the very spot where the waterfront may end up. A simple, brilliant, moving idea.

And it’s a much more memorable cross of activist action and art than the Greenpeace global warming rally in Florida last November in which people laid down in a park to create a design that was photographed from the air.

The Boston event, organized by Step It Up Boston, Boston Climate Action Network, the Urban Ecology Institute and the Union of Concerned Scientists, is part of rallies across the country aimed at bringing attention to global climate change and getting Congress to pass legislation requiring an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

‘Personal Computer’ at Second Gallery

If you’re looking for an appetizer for the 2007 Boston Cyberarts Festival, check out the exhibit “Personal Computer” at Second Gallery in South Boston. The festival officially runs from April 20 to May 6, but a number of festival-related visual art exhibits are already up and “Personal Computer,” which closes this weekend, is one of the best. (Here’s my review.) The show involves taking familiar Web landmarks and turning them into abstract art.

It’s worth seeing the installation, but, of course, you can find all the work on the Internets. Here are links to New Yorker John Michael Boling's "Ebay Asteroids" (pictured at top) and "Lord of the Flies." Mark Callahan of Georgia makes "Internet Soul Portraits." New Yorker Charles Brokoski presents "The MySpace Biennale" (one page pictured at bottom) – click on "friends" to see each work.

“Personal Computer,” Second Gallery, 516 East 2nd St., Boston, March 17 to April 15, 2007.

Vigil for Iraq museum looting

Monday night 28 people – mostly Boston University students – gathered outside BU’s College of Arts and Sciences for a vigil (shown in photo above) marking the fourth anniversary of the looting of Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad, according to an organizer, Matt Piscitelli.

In early April 2003, as American forces seized Baghdad, the museum was being looted, with thieves making off with thousands of artifacts, the legacy of ancient Mesopotamia, with some items dating back 3,000 years before Christ. A September 2003 Marine Corps report put the loss at more than 10,000 items.

Monday's vigil was organized by students affiliated with the BU Archaeology Club and was part of three nights of vigils across North America spurred by the New Jersey-based group Saving Antiquities For Everyone, which hoped to bring attention to the artifacts still missing from the museum – more than 7,000, by its count – and ongoing antiquities looting in Iraq.

“It’s a loss of cultural heritage,” Piscitelli, a BU archaeology and anthropology major from Connecticut who is scheduled to graduate this spring, tells me. “It’s a loss of ideas. It’s a loss of past lives.” (Here’s video of Piscitelli’s speech.)

The looting of the Baghdad museum was one early sign of the failure of American and coalition forces to secure the country after they seized it. At the time, then US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld brushed aside concerns, declaring: “Stuff happens.”

"Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," Rumsfeld said on April 11, 2003. "They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things, and that's what's going to happen here."

It wasn’t just history that was disappearing, looters also ransacked hospitals and stockpiles of weapons. It’s those loose weapons that insurgents have turned into jerry-rigged bombs that have killed hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqis.

Vigil organizers here were careful to focus on the loss of antiquities rather than the war or American culpability – which would have made it more difficult to get permission to hold the event at BU.

Looting is a big deal in the art world these days, from Nazi thefts to the looting of antiquities. Museums (including Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts) and collectors have been embroiled in disputes over ancient objects they have but nations like Italy argue are rightfully theirs.

But at the dirt level, Piscitelli says, much antiquities looting is driven by poverty. “If you tackle these humanitarian issues,” he says, “that’s how you deal with looting.”

Monday, April 09, 2007

Dean Snyder

Here’s my review of RISD sculpture department chief Dean Snyder’s exhibit at Providence’s Wheeler Gallery. The most fascinating pieces are a pair of boulders made from epoxy composite and coated with sparkly automotive paint. I feel like they’re not quite there yet, but they seem like gonzo Chinese “scholar’s rocks.” As I rambled: “Snyder’s glittery boulders, contrasting ancient rocky forms and manufactured plastic razzle-dazzle, wave in the direction of a pop culture sublime.” The combo of rock and eight balls, as seen here in “Da_Nazz_z” (beatnik slang for Jesus), is wicked cheesy – which is part problem, part triumph. He’s onto something.

Dean Snyder, Wheeler Gallery, 228 Angell St., Providence, March 30 to April 19, 2007.