Friday, August 31, 2007

Addison Gallery expansion

The Addison Gallery at Phillips Academy in Andover is planning a renovation and expansion that could begin as soon as next summer.

The spring 2007 Andover Bulletin reported that the project “would expand the building by approximately 60 percent and renovate the existing structure. Also, a new education center would be constructed within the Addison to provide a multi-purpose space in which classes and individual scholars could study art.”

The Bulletin said that charter trustee Thomas C. Israel (class of 1962) had pledged $1 million toward the expansion of the Addison, a project then in the “design phase.”

It's rumored that the museum will close next summer for the renovation and expansion. The museum’s publicists have declined to provide me details in recent months, but (as the Addison’s blog noted yesterday) the Addison’s home page teases with a new button “Building for the Addison’s Future,” which isn’t yet operational. I expect it will offer official information soon.

Update: No building plans seem to have been filed yet with the town of Andover. And a publicist for the museum tells me this morning that officials don't plan to reveal project details until mid or late September.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Fitz Henry Lane and Mary Mellen

Here's my essay, "What's in a Name? Why it’s Fitz Henry, not Fitz Hugh, Lane — and why it matters." It discusses the exhibition “Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries," organized by Lane scholar John Wilmerding at Gloucester's Cape Ann Historical Museum, which examines Lane’s artistic relationship with one of his chief students. My piece also considers new research into the 19th century Gloucester marine painter, including that Lane's middle name was actually Henry (see detail below) and not Hugh as long thought, and questions that the correction of this and other errors raises about the accuracy of previous Lane scholarship.

But regarding the Lane-Mellen show itself ... A great deal of the exhibition's fun comes from comparing Lane’s seascapes and Mellen’s copies, hanging side by side (see below). Lane is generally crisper, more specific. Mellen is mushier and softer; her paint tends to be a bit thicker. His rigging is precise; hers is suggested. His boats float convincingly in the water; hers sit unnaturally high. But this isn't surprising when comparing a teacher and apprentice.

Fitz Henry Lane, "A Smart Blow (Rough Sea, Schooners)," 1856, Cape Ann Historical Museum.

Mary Blood Mellen, "A Smart Blow," 1850s, collection of Mary Jane and John McGlennon.

Mostly Mellen comes off as a copist – the show doesn't make it clear whether this is a full picture of her work. But Mellen’s mysterious "Moonlight, Gloucester Harbor" (above), which seems to be an original composition, is better than Lane’s nearby paintings on the same theme. Here her technique is distinguished by a folksiness that feels charming, vulnerable, human.

“Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen,” Cape Ann Historical Museum, 27 Pleasant St., Gloucester, July 7 to Sept. 16, 2007.

At top: Fitz Henry Lane, "Clipper Ship 'Sweepstakes,'" 1853, from the Museum of the City of New York, with a detail of the "Fitz Henry Lane" signature in the waves at the bottom right. At bottom, Mary Blood Mellen, "Moonlight, Gloucester Harbor," 1870s, Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont (which was founded by Wilmerding's grandmother).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Eagle Square and Fort Thunder

Ian Donnis of the Providence Phoenix reports that there's a community meeting tonight in Providence to discuss “what is the neighborhood impact of the Shaw’s Supermarket departure from [Providence’s] Eagle Square.” Eagle Square, you’ll remember, was the home of Fort Thunder, before they tore it down to build the Eagle Square strip mall, anchored by the Shaw’s. It was already a tragic loss. Now it ain’t even got Shaw’s. Pathetic.

Projo: “Slow sales stall Shaw’s.”
Fort Thunder at MySpace.
The Comics Reporter's typically thorough and thoughtful take on Fort Thunder.

Pictured: Brian Chippendale’s screenprint poster urging people to come to a November 2000 public meeting to save Fort Thunder: “13 acres of historic mill complex to be destroyed to make way for strip mall. Support the mills and the art community by coming to the public hearing at City Hall … It may be our only chance.”

Collision Collective at Axiom

“Collision: technomorph,” a 10-artist show organized by Jackbackrack and William Tremblay at Axiom, assembles works from past Collision Collective exhibitions that address the themes of anthropomorphism and technomorphism, the tendency to describe human behavior and emotions in metaphors drawn from technology. Or something like that. Mostly it's an occasion for a sort of greatest hits show.

The most satisfying piece is “Tantalus Mackerel” by Chris Fitch of the Boston area. It invites you to turn a crank that sets visible gears in motion. In a picture frame above the gears, a wiggly metal puppet fish repeatedly leaps above a spinning wire wave trying to swallow a fly, but never gets it. I love old timey mechanical cranky animations like this. And your cranking links you to the fish – physically as its engine, but also psychologically. As the head of our research oversight committee notes, the fish seems to be swimming upstream, against the corkscrew wave, and your cranking seems also to be working against the current.

Boston-area artist Daniel Paluska’s “The Holy Toaster” (above) is a real toaster modified so that it grills the visage of Jesus into slices of bread – like one of those homey miracles that you always seem to hear about. It’s a dry joke on faith and manufactured miracles. Also fascinating was William Tremblay and Rob Gonsalves' robot wave in a box, articulated by long spidery arms.

Western Massachusetts artist John Slepian’s “Caged” (above) features a video of some spiny critter mewing and breathing heavily behind the real cage wall of a real box. It appears that a sensor above the caged video screen monitors visitors and causes the video creature to hurl itself forward, at which the real cage rattles. The shift from video to physical violence – like Roger Rabbit bridging cartoon and reality – is startling. But after the initial shock fades it feels like a gimmick.

“Organ Organ” by Eric Gunther of greater Boston invites you put on headphones and lie down on a bed of pink cylindrical cushions resembling furnishings from a ‘60s sci-fi flick that vibrate in time to breathy beeping digital sounds. It’s a neato technical effect but never rises to something more formally or conceptually substantial.

Too many of the pieces fall into this familiar new media trap of gee-wiz gadgetry trumping substance. The Collision Collective’s shows are often exuberantly hit or miss, more laboratories for ideas than smoothly functioning art. The participants come at art from a different angle than what you usually see in galleries, where artists often master a craft (painting, sculpture, photography) and then use it over and over to make their point. This can lead to intellectual ruts, which the Collision folks mostly avoid because of their laudable dedication to invention, to engineering new machines and software. Their results are often thrilling and surprising, and even failures are frequently interesting. But the investment in invention can also suck up the time and energy needed to make the work meaningful.

“Collision: technomorph,” Axiom, 141 Green St., Boston, Aug. 10 to Sept. 8, 2007.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Barnett Newman’s summers in Massachusetts

New York painter Barnett Newman destroyed nearly all of his early work, so that the surviving record of his career seems to begin with a series of crayon drawings that he started making in Gloucester during the summer of 1944.

Newman (1905-1970) had summered on and off in New England since at least 1936, when he and his new bride Annalee spent their honeymoon touring sites associated with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne in Concord, Massachusetts, and then spent the rest of the summer in Ogunquit, Maine.

In the early 1940s, as Ann Temkin of New York’s Museum of Modern Art reports in her 2002 book “Barnett Newman,” Newman seems to have stopped making art for a while (some blame it on his disgust at World War II), but he was studying natural science. In 1940, he and Annalee studied birds and ocean life at an Audubon Society camp in Newcastle, Maine.

The summer of 1944 was Newman’s third summer in Gloucester. The biomorphic abstractions he produced feel like a hybrid of Arshile Gorky, Joan Miro and Wassily Kandinsky, with a marine flavor to his forms. By the time he summered in Provincetown the following year, he seems to have already begun to develop the vertical stripe or dagger motifs that would evolve into his trademark “zips.”

Images from top to bottom: “The Blessing,” 1944, oil crayon and wax crayon on paper; “Untitled,” 1945, watercolor on paper; and “Untitled,” 1946, ink on paper. All courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, © 2007 Barnett Newman Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Laurence Hyde’s ‘Southern Cross’

Montreal art-comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly has just reprinted Laurence Hyde’s 1951 wood-engraving novel “Southern Cross.” It’s an angry visual lament of US nuclear bomb testing in the south Pacific at the end of World War II. (See sample here.) I mention it here for Greg Cook completists, because the cover text is a linocut by me.