Saturday, November 03, 2007

New BCA curator

Jose Luis Blondet, the new visual arts curator at the Boston Center for the Arts, began work on Sept. 17 with a mandate to focus on local art and increase the institution’s community outreach. The 38-year-old arrives from the minimalist art mecca Dia: Beacon, where he says he lead the museum’s education and outreach programming since just after it opened in 2003 in a renovated factory about an hour’s drive north of New York City.

“I was really looking to work at a smaller space,” Blondet says, “where I could have more input in curatorial decisions.”

He replaces Laura Donaldson, who left in August, pushed out by the BCA after serving as director of the BCA’s Mills Gallery since 2003.

BCA exhibitions had already been booked through July 2008 before Blondet arrived.

The main thrust of Blondet's plans would maintain the gallery’s status quo. Blondet expects to curate two shows each year, augmented by two or three guest curated shows. He plans to organize separate exhibitions in the tiny project room off the Mills Gallery’s main room and video presentations in the back room of the gallery.

New programming could include some visual art exhibitions in the BCA’s cyclorama (“It’s a wonderful space and it was built to house art,” Blondet says) and on the plaza in front of BCA buildings. Wendy Baring-Gould, the BCA’s director of arts and community programming, says Blondet will also be involved in programming art for the lobby of the BCA’s artists’ studio building and the theater lobby, and give input on visual art displayed in the Beehive, a restaurant, bar and performance venue that opened at the BCA in May.

“It’s an expanded role in that it’s looking at visual arts programming across the campus,” Baring-Gould says.

Still, the Mills Gallery will remain the primary focus of the BCA’s visual arts programming. The cyclorama is already often booked and the Beehive is leased out to independent operators, so it’s unclear how much additional visual arts programming will happen there.

“The BCA is very committed to celebrating local artists," Blondet says. "I think a very interesting idea to me would be to explore what does it mean to be local.” His initial thoughts include examining what art is blossoming around Boston and comparing it to what kind of local art is blossoming elsewhere, perhaps in particular Philadelphia. “To me the Boston scene kind of reminds me of Philadelphia,” he says.

“I’ve been looking at movies, novels and stories that take place in Boston,” Blondet adds. “In terms of thinking of Boston, it would be interesting to find examples where Boston is a fictive place, where Boston is a stage for things to happen. … To find clues in the representation of the city to see if that has something to do with that idea of being local.”

Blondet hopes to build partnerships between Boston’s art scene and its colleges and universities. He perceives a “disconnection between the [Boston] academic world and the rest of the city. … They have no impact in the local [art] scene.” Baring-Gould hopes Blondet will also be able to set up an internship program here similar to the one he ran at Dia: Beacon in which students from Columbia University, the State University of New York, Vassar College and Bard College became Dia docents.

Rumors began circulating early this year that Laura Donaldson was being pushed out by the BCA. Then in May the BCA began advertising for the newly created position of “visual arts manager.” In June, the institution said a restructuring would “result in the elimination of the position of Mills Gallery Director,” Donaldson’s job.

Blondet, however, was named “curator” and the programming he’ll oversee sounds to some to be quite similar to what Donaldson had done. So speculation arose that the new “visual arts manager” position had been a ruse to push out Donaldson.

“The title changed, but the job description remained the same,” Baring-Gould says. The BCA, she says, was always looking for curatorial experience and expertise, experience and interest in public programming, and a commitment to reach out to new audiences. She says the title became curator because that’s what Blondet preferred.

“Donaldson absolutely professionalized the gallery,” Baring-Gould says. But she says all BCA programming has been examined and restructured over the past two to three years. Out of that, she says, the BCA wanted to bring in someone new to lead its visual arts programming, particularly someone who would focus more on public programming and outreach. Blondet’s background in community outreach – to schools and locals around Beacon, as well as New York City art mavens – particularly interested BCA leaders.

Baring-Gould says the BCA tried to do good by Donaldson, giving her six months notice, a severance package and inviting her to guest curate two exhibitions. “Organizations need to do what they need to do,” Baring-Gould says. She hopes Donaldson will excel elsewhere. “We hope it's all for the best for everybody,” she says. “And we’re delighted to have him.”

Blondet, who now resides in Boston's South End, says he grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, studied literature, taught comparative literature at the National University at Caracas and was director of the education department at the Museum of Fine Arts in Caracas. He got a fellowship from the Cisneros Art Foundation to study at Bard College. He then knew no English, so he spent three weeks in Boston before going to Bard, where he received a master's degree in 2003 from the school’s curatorial studies program. His thesis advisor was Dia curator Lynne Cook, a connection that helped lead to his job as administrator of education programs at Dia: Beacon.

Nick Cave “Soundsuit” dance

When Chicago artist Nick Cave spoke at RISD on Oct. 10, he had a dancer (pictured here) perform in one of his “Soundsuits” while video played behind the performer of dancers in other Cave “Soundsuits.”

Photos copyright The New England Journal of Blurry Research.

Kari Percival

Here’s some Halloween window decorations by my, uh, pal, the Boston artist Kari Percival.

Carolee Schneeman speaks

Carolee Schneemann spoke about her life and work at Harvard on Oct. 9. Here’s some things she said:
  • The importance of “Maximus at Gloucester” [pictured above] is not just that it incorporates lobster traps and debris collected while taking a walk with the poet Charles Olson. … The poet had been such an immense influence to [my lover] James Tenney and to me in relationship to his concern for deep imagery, sustained metaphor, and also that he had been researching Tenney’s ancestors that landed at Cape Ann [Massachusetts], which Tenney, generations removed, hadn’t even known about. So that was very magical. We went on my birthday, Oct. 12, in the ‘60s. And Olson had welcomed us. He was happy that we were there. We slept in what was the Tenney graveyard, near Gloucester. And walking with the great man he asked me what I did. And I said, “I’m a painter and I’m using dimensional elements and even movement and speech.” And Olson, who was about 6’ 6”, hulking, shook his head, and said, “Well, you probably don’t remember, but when the Greeks let the cunts begin to speak, theater was destroyed.” And I thought, “Oh, this is something important.” Amid all the other resistances, here’s my cultural hero telling me again, “You can do whatever you imagine you should do, but don’t expect us to respect it. And maybe, maybe you have to shut up.”

  • My sense was to use the body, my body, as a collage element, entering into the constructed, built material. But what happened was the reverse: the body began to dominate. … It always tended to escape its position as a collage element and to dominate what I was building.

  • My question at the time was: Can I be both image and image-maker?

  • When photographs of my body were taken to curators that I thought might be interested or sympathetic I was told without exception, to a man, they were all men, that the work was exhibitionist and narcissistic, and, if I was really a painter, to get my body out of there.

  • When I was teaching at New Paltz, when I was teaching film, a guy came in from buildings and grounds and handed me a mop and said, “The hall out here’s messy. We want you to mop it up.” I said, “I’m the film teacher and I’m in the middle of a class.”

  • I have to accept my own lack of technical precision and that keeps opening things for me.

  • I work very hard to shake my own didactic impulses because they’re very strong. And often I have to make something funny to escape the sense that I have to hit the audience over the head with this nightmare. Of course the exception to that is “Terminal Velocity,” which is a 10-foot grid of the bodies being blown out or falling from the World Trade Center towers. And I made that piece because I had to get close to those bodies, those images that I was able to have access to. And they could only work from newspapers because I was blowing them up, getting closer and closer and closer, in a kind of memoriam. So that’s a very unrelated work. But with the rest, I go for the taboo and I go right into it and then I have to make it somehow malleable.
Pictured from top to bottom: “Maximus at Gloucester,” 1963, construction on board, paint, photos, fabric, lobster trap, nets, glass; and “Portrait Partials,” 1970 photos.

Carolee Schneeman

Here’s the opening of my review of the Carolee Schneeman exhibit at Cambridge’s Pierre Menard Gallery:
Carolee Schneemann is one of the grandes dames of the ’60s and ’70s feminist art revolution. In her landmark 1975 performance "Interior Scroll," she stood naked and read about sexism from a three-foot-long strip of paper that she pulled out of her vagina. The action was visceral and elemental. Also unforgettable.

Despite her pioneering role, her work is not often seen. Which is why her mini career-spanning survey at Cambridge’s Pierre Menard Gallery is a must, even though it’s a mixed bag. ("Interior Scroll" isn’t presented.) Schneemann, who’s based in New Paltz, New York, has long favored a let-it-all-hang-out Abstract-Expressionist-assemblage-happening style; this can build to affecting moods, but sometimes it feels like a pointless jumble. What sets her apart is the way she puts her body into the middle of her work, and her political and feminist subjects.
Read the rest here.

Carolee Schneeman, Pierre Menard Gallery, 10 Arrow St., Cambridge, Oct. 12 to Nov. 25, 2007.

Pictured from top to bottom: Still from “Fuses,” 1967, 30-minute color silent film, and “Devour,” 2003-04, 8-minute video loop.

Center for Land Use Interpretation talk

Matthew Coolidge, who founded the Los Angeles-based Center for Land Use Interpretation after graduating from Boston University with a degree in environmental science, gives a free talk at MassArt at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6.

“CLUI's projects involve diverse realms," the press release explains, "from geography and tourist practices to contemporary photography, installations, and conceptual artworks. Through online resources, such as the Land Use Database, and collaborations with exhibition venues across the United States, CLUI encourages the extensive study of human interaction with our natural surroundings.”

Matthew Coolidge, MassArt, Trustees Room, 11th floor, Tower Building, 621 Huntington Ave., Boston, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007.

LA Weekly’s Doug Harvey reviews the Center for Land Use Interpretation book. Plus a post from Harvey’s blog.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Advertising Napoleon

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has been advertising its Napoleon show with an ad on WBUR radio that concludes: “Centuries after his rule he still has the power to hold thousands captive.”

Considering Napoleon actually did hold thousands of people captive – and ordered the death of thousands of captives – is this really the right way to advertise this show?

Pictured: Robert Lefevre’s 1812 oil painting “Portrait of Napoleon I in his Coronation Robes,” in the MFA’s collection.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Chuck Close speaks at BU

New York artist Chuck Close spoke at Boston University tonight. Here’s some of what he said, with the order slightly shuffled:
  • I think I’ve always been as interested in artificiality as reality.
  • Everything in my work is sort of driven by my learning disability.
  • One of the characteristics of my disability is a sort of face blindness that I’m sure drove me to make portraits in the first place.
  • When you’re there making stuff it keeps you off the streets and out of trouble. I like stuff. I like to make stuff. I like to be there a long time and see what happens.
  • The activity itself is what interests me. Almost every idea I ever got I got from working. It’s a good way to keep from getting stuck.
  • Tapestries [that I’m working on now], like everything I do, are made up of lots of little pieces. … How do you build something out of a bunch of threads? How do those threads stack up to look like something? … This has been the basis of everything I do.
  • I was a junior abstract expressionist in the third grade or something. All the angst had been removed. … We came along and we imitated the surface of the thing. We got pretty good at imitating the surface of the thing.
  • Sometimes you don’t know what you want to do, but you sure as hell know what you don’t want to do.
  • We tried to back ourselves into our own corner where no one else’s answers would fit.
  • Far more interesting than problem solving is problem creation. If you ask yourself an interesting enough question you will put yourself in a space where no one else’s answers will fit.
  • My generation was hell bent to purge our work of every possible reference to every other artist.
  • When I made the first big head I wanted to rip it away from the convention in which we usually see it.
  • I wanted to try to make a face almost as a kind of landscape.
  • We don’t see that kind of detail [in faces]. The only time we see that kind of detail is when we’re making love.
  • I wanted to paint anonymous people because Andy Warhol was painting superstars. So I painted my friends. And they all got famous. And screwed it up on me. So I painted my family.
  • I tried to get rid of expressive mark-making. But I realized a face is a roadmap of your life.
  • An artist’s career is a continuum. Things happen, interrupt it. But it didn’t mean I’m one person before [I went into the hospital] and one person after.
  • Painting is the most transcendent of all mediums, I think, because it denies its physical reality. … Colored dirt on a flat surface. It can make you cry. That’s an amazing thing.
  • Now I’ve gone to paintings that are gestural, but they’re dumb gestures. … It’s only clusters of these marks that make it something expressive, not the marks themselves.
  • I don’t do art for therapy. I do therapy for therapy.
  • Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us show up and get to work.
Pictured: Chuck Close’s 2000 “Self-Portrait/Pulp/Pochoir,” paper pulp and pochoir, in the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. © 2007 Chuck Close.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Malcolm Rogers hearts National Gallery?

Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes reports today that “Anthony Haden-Guest says that MFA Boston director Malcolm Rogers is a top candidate to lead London's National Gallery.”

Before taking over the MFA in 1994, Rogers was a deputy director and then deputy keeper at London’s National Portrait Gallery.

In March, the Globe’s Geoff Edgers asked Rogers if he had eyes for the National Gallery gig and was told: "The National Gallery was my dream job … until I came to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston! … I am honored to be at the MFA and this is where I want to be. I’m here for the long haul."

The Guardian listed Rogers as a probable candidate in July, but called his chances: “Unlikely.”

Haden-Guest reported Friday that Rogers’s name was floated as one of the “names under discussion” to become the National Gallery’s director, but that “the shortlist is rumoured to consist of three names.” And Haden-Guest says Rogers ain’t on it.

We’ll see.

MFA officials are sticking by Rogers’s March statement to Geoff Edgers.

A spokesman for the London’s National Gallery tells me:
The interviewing process for the National Gallery directorship is ongoing and we expect to have a decision towards the end of November.

There has been a good deal of press speculation regarding “top candidates” and several names have been mentioned in the press, purely as speculation. I'm afraid that I have no further information on the interviewing process or which individuals are in the running.