Thursday, March 20, 2008

“Birth of the Cool” at Addison

From my review of “Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design and Culture at Midcentury” at the Addison Gallery:
In the photo it is night, and two women in cocktail dresses sit — perhaps chatting while jazz plays in the background — in a spare modern living room. We can see in from the patio because the walls are glass, making inside and outside one. The horizontal slab of the roof seems to hover in the warm California air. A lounge chair sits at our feet — which means a swimming pool must be behind us. The house is perched high in the Hollywood Hills, and we gaze down across the Los Angeles valley, a sprawling grid of twinkling streets that seems an extension of the sophisticated geometry of the house.

Designed by LA architect Pierre Koenig, the house, “Case Study House #22” (1959-’60), was one of 36 prototypes commissioned by the LA magazine Arts & Architecture between 1945 and 1966. Publisher John Entenza hoped the designs would be models promoting dashing, affordable modernist architecture. And the key is the photo. Julius Schulman sells the dream in his 1960 shot, an ideal of sleek, stylish, efficient, glamorous, utopian, future-present living.

This dream glows from the heart of “Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design and Culture at Midcentury” at Andover’s Addison Gallery. The minimal modern style fell out of favor in the 1970s and ’80s as its legacy of glass-and-steel box skyscrapers and brutal hunk-of-steel public sculptures came to seem cold, austere, and alienating. But the show arrives surfing the crest of the mid-century modern revival. Organized by the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, California, it is a terrific, thrilling exhibit, likely one of the best of the year, and part of its charm is its refreshingly non–New York focus.
Read the rest here.

“Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design and Culture at Midcentury,” Feb. 15 to April 13, 2008, and “Stollerized,” Jan. 19 to March 23, 2008, Addison Gallery, Phillips Academy, 180 Main St., Andover.

Pictured from top to bottom: Julius Schulman, “Case Study House #22 (Pierre Koenig, Los Angeles, 1959-1960),” 1960; James McLaughlin, “Untitled Geometric Composition,” 1956; Karl Benjamin, “Small Planes: White, Blue and Pink,” 1957; and William Claxton, “Sunday jam session at Terry Gibb’s house, North Hollywood,” 1960.

Allston Skirt to close

Allston Skirt Gallery on Harrison Avenue, one of the best galleries in the region, plans to close after nine years in Boston. Big Red broke the news earlier this week. More details to come.

Erin Rosenthal, Leif Goldberg, Barkley Hendricks

From my review of “Sound Beings: Erin Rosenthal and Leif Goldberg” at Stairwell Gallery:
In the front window of Stairwell Gallery sit Leif Goldberg’s life-sized coyote-man marionette, which itself is operating a snake marionette, and some of Erin Rosenthal’s “Garbage Dancers,” little bird or tree rod puppets inside pulped-paper shells that she calls “primitive toys for modern times” and “worry dolls.” “Sound Beings,” the exhibition by the Providence couple and Fort Thunder alums (through April 3), is filled with magical, mystical rainbow-bright visions of and for a worried world.
Read the rest here. It also talks about Barkley Hendricks’s landscape paintings at Rhode Island College’s Bannister Gallery, plus Hannah Barrett’s paintings (which I wrote about previously) and “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals: 1933-1945,” at the University of Rhode Island.

“Sound Beings: Erin Rosenthal and Leif Goldberg,” Stairwell Gallery, 504 Broadway, Providence, March 15 to April 3, 2008.
Barkley Hendricks, Bannister Gallery, Rhode Island College, 600 Mt. Pleasant Ave., Providence, March 6 to 28, 2008.
Hannah Barrett “Selections from ‘The Secret Society,’” March 4 to 30, 2008, and “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals: 1933-1945,” Feb. 14 to March 29, 2008, Fine Arts Center Galleries, University of Rhode Island, 105 Upper College Road, Kingston.

Pictured from top to bottom: Erin Rosenthal, “Nap Rain Nap Bow (Bloks),” Leif Goldberg, “Shinjuku Alley,” and Barkley Hendricks, “Storm Heading My Way,” 1998.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

New DeCordova director named

Dennis Kois, the executive director of the Grace Museum in Abilene, Texas, has been named the new executive director of Lincoln’s DeCordova Museum. He is expected to begin work on June 1, and acting director Nick Capasso will return to his usual role as the museum’s curator.

Kois has lead the Grace – a combo art, history and children’s museum – since November 2006. According to a resume provided by the DeCordova, he was the chief designer and head of publications and digital media at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Sackler Gallery from 2001 to 2006; an adjunct professor of museum studies at George Washington University from 2002 to 2007; and design assistant to the chief designer and subsequently assistant chief designer at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1997 to 2001. While at the Met, he was the institution’s internal art director for a complete redesign of its website.

The DeCordova announcement mentions: “He completely revamped the Grace Museum’s exhibits program with new museum-organized solo shows of David Bates, Vernon Fisher, James Surls, Margarita Cabrera, and others.” At first glance, this suggests that this hire is a status quo move for the DeCordova art-wise. The artists all have local Texas connections (the DeCordova has a local focus) and produce fairly conventional painting, sculpture or photography. Surls exhibited at the DeCordova in 2006. Perhaps the most challenging of the bunch is Cabrera, who has been making Claes Oldenburg-esque soft sculptures of Humvees.

It will be interesting to see what effect Kois’s exhibition, graphic and web design background may have on the DeCordova. His 1999 NYU master’s thesis – “Disney and Museums: Simulacra, Education, and a Blueprint for Competition” – seems a promising sign. Last May, he organized the Grace’s “first-annual KidzFest, which attracted nearly 6,000 attendees to the museum in a city of only 110,000,” according to the press release. Among the highlights was a performance by Dan Zanes. Can he organize such events and generate such community interest here?

The DeCordova announcement says Kois helped the Grace develop a “collecting strategy while initiating the museum’s first-ever acquisitions program for contemporary art. Kois also led the design and construction of a renovation of the Museum’s children’s education facilities, including the creation of a new 4,500 square-foot green-design education center with classrooms, offices, a resource library, and an Internet-based distance learning studio in previously unused space.”

He is married to Stacey Schmidt, who has done curatorial work at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and New York’s Whitney Museum. They have two children: Olin, 2, and Violet, 1 month.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Bad at Sports

In the new edition of Bad at Sports, the weekly Chicago-based podcast series, I ramble on about the 2008 AICA New England Awards, the ICA, and other stuff with Big Red & Shiny’s Matt Nash, James Nadeau and Christian Holland.

Listen here.