Saturday, September 29, 2007


Back in December and again in March, we wrote about the influence of the late Chicago outsider artist Henry Darger on contemporary art:
Darger’s influence is easily detected in all the high-school-notebook-doodle-style art around these days. ... But it’s not just Darger’s look. He’s also a touchstone for the return of narrative art – especially the growing body of invented (and often inscrutable) personal mythology art.
It turns out we weren’t the only folks noticing Darger’s influence. The American Folk Art Museum in New York has scheduled an exhibit to open in April 2008 called "Darger-ism: Contemporary Artists and Henry Darger.” The museum reports:
Curator Brooke Davis Anderson will explore how Darger's artwork has influenced and inspired young, contemporary artists working within the academy. Approximately 8 to 12 artists from the United States and abroad will be featured in a visual dialogue with a number of Darger's narrative watercolors from the museum's permanent collection.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Museum of Jurassic Technology’s David Wilson talks

David Wilson, the creator of Los Angeles’ wondrous Museum of Jurassic Technology and a 2001 MacArthur “genius grant” winner, gives a free public talk about “The Wonder of It All,” and in particular super-teensy sculptures and mosaics, on Oct. 5 at Providence’s Rhode Island School of Design. According to the museum, the pictures here show a micromosaic made from the scales of butterfly wings by a 19th century gentleman named Harold Dalton and microminiature sculptures of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves crafted by the late Hagop Sandaljian.

RISD Auditorium, Canal Walkway at Market Square, Providence, 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5, 2007, free!

Check It Out: Honk Festival

The Honk Festival returns for the second year with musical events in Somerville’s Davis Square and Cambridge’s Harvard Square during Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 5 to 7. The festival rounds up “activist brass bands” from across North America for symposiums, free public performances, and a giant parade on Oct. 7 that is expected to feature 20 marching bands, performers from Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theater, “Car Talk”’s Click and Clack, and (full disclosure!) me.

The organizers are looking for more folks to march in the parade from Davis Square to Harvard Square. No experience or nothing required, though costumes and decorations are encouraged. Just show up at 11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, at Dilboy Hall, 371 Summer St., Davis Square, and be prepared to walk. Parents with children are welcome.

“Honk! Festival,” Somerville and Cambridge, Oct. 5 to 7, 2007.

“Global Feminisms” at Wellesley

I write at the beginning of my review of “Global Feminisms” at Wellesley College’s Davis Museum that it:
could be one of the most important exhibits of the year. It rounds up nearly 80 artworks by 63 women artists born since 1960 from nearly 40 countries to consider the present state of feminist art in the West and provide an overview of some of the cool stuff women are making elsewhere. The spotlight is on a biting critique of sexism and its ugly permutations around the world. And there’s lots of video, a sign of feminist art’s long-time focus on (recorded) performance — something that’s come to have a major place in the art world.

But “Global Feminisms” is a depressing experience. When I first saw it — in March, at the Brooklyn Museum, where it originated — one piece stuck in my head as epitomizing both the best and the worst of the exhibit. Israeli artist Sigalit Landau’s 2000 video “Barbed Hula” shows the artist naked and mangling her belly by hula-hooping with a ring of barbed wire on a beach. “The object of pain,” the catalogue explains, is “a symbol of the geographic barrier created along the West Bank to delineate land between Palestine and Israel.”

At the Davis Museum, which is reopening after more than a year of building repairs, the violence is toned down a bit because Davis curator Elaine Mehalakes gives the art (three-quarters of what was shown in Brooklyn) more room to breathe. But the exhibit still puts a dispiriting emphasis on self-mutilation.
Read the rest here.

“Global Feminisms,” Davis Museum, Wellesley College, 106 Central St., Wellesley, Sept. 19 to Dec. 9, 2007.

Pictured: Ryoko Suzuki, "Bind," 1002, lambda print, courtesy of Zeit-Foto Salon, Tokyo.

Readings: Video games as art

While discussing the new video game “Halo 3,” Daniel Radosh writes in today’s New York Times that video games are poised to enter a golden age, but they ain’t yet art. He suggests that a return to the narrative complexity of interactive text adventure games of the 1980s could be “a starting point for an artistic revolution of the future”:
A handful of popular games, like the recently released BioShock, flirt with moral ambiguity or pose questions about the nature of identity. But their ambition has always exceeded the result. The games that come closest to achieving artistry tend to be non-narrative: manipulable abstractions of light and sound, whimsical virtual toys or puzzle adventures that subvert the gamer’s sense of space, time and physics.

If games are to become more than mere entertainment, they will need to use the fundamentals of gameplay — giving players challenges to work through and choices to make — in entirely new ways.

Like cinema, games will need to embrace the dynamics of failure, tragedy, comedy and romance. They will need to stop pandering to the player’s desire for mastery in favor of enhancing the player’s emotional and intellectual life.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

MFA confirms appointment of Saywell as director of west wing

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts sent out a release today formally announcing the appointment of Edward Saywell as director of the museum’s west wing, confirming The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research’s Sept. 15 report. The move, combined with building plans, seems a signal that the MFA is gearing up for an increased emphasis on contemporary programming.

“The potential for the West Wing to be one of the most ambitious venues for special commissions and contemporary installations in the United States is enormous,” Saywell, who assumes the new job on Oct. 9, said in the press release. “We plan to create one of the most inviting public spaces in Boston, an exciting and welcoming place where audiences of all ages can engage with our growing contemporary collection and vibrant programming.”

The west wing will be devoted to contemporary art as part of the museum’s renovation and expansion, which is scheduled to be completed in late 2010. The MFA says the West Wing will offer 23,000 square feet for “the display of contemporary and late 20th century art.” I’m checking if this number represents just gallery space or other uses as well. But if it’s just exhibition space it is a major move: The MFA would offer 27 percent more space than the 18,000 square feet of galleries at the new ICA, which tripled the exhibition space that institution had.

Saywell, the announcement says, will “increase the cross-departmental dialogue about what it means to collect contemporary art in an encyclopedic museum” by linking contemporary art acquisitions in the museum’s departments of prints, drawings and photographs; textile and fashion arts; musical instruments; art of Asia, Oceania and Africa; art of the Americas; and art of Europe. And he will “facilitate the display of the museum’s collection of contemporary art in the renovated west wing.”

Saywell joined the MFA in September 2006 as an assistant curator of prints and drawings. He spent the previous nine years working at the Harvard Art Museums, where he was a curatorial associate of drawings. While there from 1999 to 2005, the MFA says, he guided the drawing department’s acquisitions of modern and contemporary art. At Harvard, Saywell organized exhibitions of the sculptor Christopher Wilmarth, the painters Alfred Jensen and Forrest Bess, and “a number of group shows of contemporary drawings.” He received his MA at the University of St. Andrews in art history and modern history as well as an MA in combined historical studies from Warburg Institute, University of London. He is currently working on his Ph.D at the Open University in the United Kingdom.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mass MoCA removing Buchel materials

Mass MoCA announced this evening that it has begun removing Christoph Buchel’s unfinished installation “Training Ground for Democracy,” despite a federal judge’s ruling Friday that the museum could publicly display the work.

The museum's press release says:
Ever since the artist left MASS MoCA in December 2006, the museum explored every possible avenue in an effort to re-engage the artist, and when those efforts proved futile, the museum offered him the opportunity to retrieve the materials from the museum galleries (reimbursing the museum for its costs), which he declined to do. In late May 2007, MASS MoCA sought a declaratory ruling in the U.S. District Court, Springfield, Massachusetts, to rule on its and the artist's rights in regards to the unfinished work. Even after bringing suit, however, MASS MoCA sought on numerous occasions to reach a mutually acceptable resolution of the dispute. None of those efforts were successful.

"With several hundred tons of materials and thousands of objects and partial constructions sitting abandoned in our galleries, we carefully considered what we could do," said Joseph C. Thompson, MASS MoCA's director. "We obviously cared a great deal for the work and had expended extraordinary effort and energies to try to bring it into existence; we did not want to act precipitously in either dismantling or displaying it. With no other options, and wanting to move forward as the situation continued to draw resources away from other artists and public programming, we sought a declaration of our respective rights by an impartial party - a federal judge."

Judge Michael A. Ponsor of the U.S. District Court Second Circuit ruled on Friday, September 21, that MASS MoCA could exercise its curatorial discretion with respect to the materials, including making the assembled materials available for viewing when accompanied by signage explaining that it was an unfinished work.

"We are deeply appreciative of the Court's thoughtful scrutiny of this matter. After giving careful deliberation to the interests of many constituents, including the artist's own views, and factoring in the limited time window available given our normal exhibition cycle – together with other considerations both logistical and philosophical – we have decided to begin removing the materials immediately without placing them on public display. We are eager to return to our core mission to serve as a experimental platform for art-making, and we look forward to commencing work immediately on the previously announced installation by Jenny Holzer, Projections, which will open November 17, 2007.”
Mass MoCA, with help from the Clark Art Institute, plans to host a symposium later this fall “devoted to the issues raised by this case,” the release said.

Landau argues “Pollocks” are for real

Jackson Pollock scholar Ellen Landau, who organized the “Pollock Matters” exhibit at Boston College, argued in a public speech Sunday that the disputed Pollock-look-alike paintings that Alex Matter says he found in his father’s effects in 2002 are likely real, according to a report yesterday by Steven Litt of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:
The scholar [Landau] said Sunday that despite the scientific data [showing that many of the Matter paintings contain pigments and binding agents not patented or commercially available - according to current knowledge - during Pollock's lifetime], the preponderance of evidence leans heavily toward the authenticity of the works brought forward by Alex Matter.

"If I took a piece of paper and drew a line down the page, and put on the left-hand side all the things that point to the veracity of the story told on the wrapper, there would be seven or eight things on the left-hand side - whereas on the right, there's only one thing, and it's patent dates," she said.


When asked by a single questioner in the audience about the authenticity issue, Landau said, "I think there's a lot in those paintings that point to Pollock." She called the conflicting scientific data, confirmed by laboratories at Harvard University, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and a private forensic firm in Williamstown, Mass., "an interesting conundrum."
Landau has declined to talk to Litt and The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research about the subject. For some of my previous reports on this issue, see here, here, here and here.

Video Game Canon wins federal funding

The Library of Congress has approved funding for preservation of what has been dubbed the “digital game canon,” a founding list of 10 canonical video games – including two that were developed by MIT students more than 25 years ago. The fledgling digital game archive is part of the “Preserving Virtual Worlds” project that the Library of Congress last month awarded $590,000 under its “Preserving Creative America” initiative. The grant funds two years of preservation work by four American colleges and one game developer, slated to begin at the start of 2008.

The “Preserving Virtual Worlds” project, as I’ve noted in the past, is another sign marking a shift in our view of digital games: that we are beginning to seeing them not just as raw entertainment but as innovative art, much the way major film, television and comic books have come to be seen as art.

The “Preserving Vitual Worlds” project is a joint effort of the University of Illinois, Stanford University, the University of Maryland, Rochester Institute of Technology and Linden Lab (the makers of "Second Life"). Stanford, Illinois and Maryland will provide matching funds. The project aims to develop methods for archiving digital games, electronic literature and virtual worlds like “Second Life,” and to begin preserving examples of each by the end of the project’s two years.

Stanford University professor and curator Henry Lowood and associates proposed the initial list for the digital games canon during a panel discussion at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in March. They modeled it on the National Film Preservation Board’s annual selection of films to be added to the National Film Registry. Their slate of 10 games, which are now expected to be archived in the “Preserving Virtual Worlds” project, include “Spacewar!” (1962) and “Zork” (1980), which were developed at MIT, as well as “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 archiving project will include figuring out what data needs preserved, how to preserve it and what components beyond the data someone in the future might need to experience the game in a manner simulating its original form. Lowood, the curator of history of science and technology collections at Stanford, says they hope to get much of this preparatory work done during the project’s first year and preserve examples of digital games and electronic literature by the end of the two years. Preserving “Second Life” is expected to be more complicated, but Lowood says they hope to preserve some islands of the game by the end of the second year to demonstrate how it might be done.

Another key aspect of the project will be addressing the legal issues of preserving these digital works, and how much public access to the archive will be feasible without infringing upon the developers’ and manufacturers’ rights. Lowood says ideally they would seek to provide full public access – even Web access – to the preserved works, but legal constraints may limit archives of the digital works only to institutions that own physical copes of them.

Lowood says the Library of Congress funding shows that the federal institution has “recognized that right now very little has been done to make sure people have access” to these works in the future. “There’s a real danger that all this stuff will disappear and no one will be able to investigate the cultural history of this period.”

In the meantime, Lowood and company are assembling a list of a second 10 key games in need of preservation, the “digital game canon II,” which they hope to announce at the 2008 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in February.

Related: Check out Lowood's fun blog post about “Teaching in ‘World of Warcraft.’”

Monday, September 24, 2007

Steel Yard's “The Artist and the City” forum

The Steel Yard gang in Providence hosts “The Artist and the City: Politics, Public Art and Community,” a free public form tomorrow night at 6. The discussion will address “various ways that artists build relationships with the cities and their citizens through public works of art whether bought by patrons, commissioned by organizations or installed by the artists themselves.”

Ian Donnis at the Providence Phoenix has more details from the Steel Yard:
As a case study, we will consider the Steel Yard's recent experience with commissioning artwork for its Urban Furniture line (one of a kind, custom- produced street amenities designed and built by RI artists). In this scenario, our client took issue with the content of one artist's set of four unique garbage cans. The Steel Yard was obligated to uphold the client's right to reject the product but also felt a strong responsibility to the artist we hired.
“The Artist and the City” forum, The Steel Yard, 27 Sims Ave., Providence, 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007, 401.273.7101.

End of Summer catch-up

Here’s excerpts from some reviews I wrote over the summer that I didn’t get around to linking to here:

Global Warming Art
“Human beings just can’t affect climate that much,” David Arnold remembers Bradford Washburn telling him in 2005.

This was no ordinary global-warming doubter. Washburn — who died in Lexington this past January, at age 96 — was the founding director of Boston’s Museum of Science and a renowned mountaineer and photographer whose images had appeared in Life and National Geographic. Beginning in the 1930s, he shot stunning black-and-white photos of mountains and glaciers by hanging out the sides of airplanes with his camera. And he amassed a collection of some 8,000 photographs. But when Arnold asked him in 2005 how global climate change might have affected his old haunts, Washburn figured things would look pretty much the same.

He was wrong.

Arnold, a long-time Boston journalist, had begun wondering what changes global warming might have wrought on these icy landscapes. In June of 2005, he traveled from his home in Milton to Alaska. He hired planes and helicopters to fly him and his 4x5 view camera over the same rocky vistas Washburn had scouted decades before — Hugh Miller Glacier, Nunatak Glacier. What Arnold found astonishes. Only mud was left where Washburn had seen the great frozen river of the Hugh Miller Glacier in 1940. The Nunatak Glacier that Washburn shot in 1938? “Here it is dead. It’s just withered away.”

Arnold’s project, which partners Washburn’s before photos with his own after photos, provides powerful evidence of how global warming is changing the planet. “Unless you look at Washburn,” he tells me, “you really don’t have a benchmark for what this ice looked like three-quarters of a century ago.”

Now, Arnold’s juxtaposition of before and after is one of the standout projects of the new and burgeoning territory of global-warming art.
“New Art Collective: Emerging Curators Select,” Montserrat College of Art, Beverly, June 8 to Aug. 10, 2007, and “New Art ’07,” Kingston Gallery, Boston, July 6 to Aug. 4, 2007.
One of the great dreams of any art aficionado — whether your passion is painting or performance or books or music — is the dream of stumbling on a new, unheralded talent and then telling your friends all about it to prove how cool and in-the-know you are. …[At Montserrat,] the artist to rave to your friends about is Somervillian Mary O’Malley, who was nominated by Watertown’s Kristen Zeiser, an assistant director of the Clark Gallery in Lincoln. O’Malley draws elaborate, intricate designs of birds and flowers in cascades of silver and gold ink lines and dashes on black paper.

Bonnie Donohue, “Vieques: A Long Way Home” (one of the photos is pictured above), Center for Latino Arts, Boston, through July 25, 2007.
Bonnie Donohue looks at how little people can effect big changes in her exhibit “Vieques: A Long Way Home” at the Center for Latino Arts. The Jamaica Plain resident, who has taught at the Museum School since 1979, first visited Vieques in 2000, when demonstrations were heating up over the Navy’s use of the Puerto Rican island as a live-fire training range. “My interest,” she tells me, “is how people who have apparently little power can use their power to face an overwhelming power.”
Books: “Ice Cream,” by Sergio Edelsztein, Jens Hoffmann, et al., Phaidon, and “Burning Man: Art In The Desert,” by A. Leo Nash, Abrams.
The folks at Phaidon Press proclaim that the 100 emerging international artists surveyed in their new book Ice Cream “will be the stars of tomorrow.” It’s depressing enough to see this round-up of dull, dour uptight art as a snapshot (and, to be fair, a pretty accurate one) of what’s young and hot in the upper echelons of the art world today. But to imagine a future dominated by much of what’s contained here is enough to make one want to defect and burn one’s beret.