Saturday, July 05, 2008

"Jackals and Jerks" at Stairwell

From my review of “Jackals and Jerks” at Stairwell Gallery:
Jo Dery of Providence has erected a red, black, and white tent, screenprinted with a pine needle pattern, in which she offers tarot readings on Thursdays from 2 to 4 p.m. Around it and inside are wicked charming cartoony screenprints, drawings, and embroidered sashes depicting stylized evergreen trees, rams, mating crickets, a blue hand reaching down from the sky, snakes, and bearded men. They feel like glimpses of old folktales — maybe from some clan of nomadic reindeer herders.
Providence artist Jung Hong’s installation, “Box,” resembles a mutant photo booth decorated with a pattern of green-and-black stripes and diamonds. It’s a sort of machine, but powered by old magic. Crawl inside a low arch on the front and you find an array of colored lights, a weird chain mail head, and a wall of bird legs, skulls, and doll heads in glass-fronted niches. A sign invites you to put 50 cents in a slot. If the machine’s operator is present (i.e., hiding inside a compartment in the back), a chain mail hand may emerge from a pair of small doors holding fried ice cream.
Read the rest here.

Ms. Dery recently updated her website and it's worth checking out.

“Jackals and Jerks,” Stairwell Gallery, 504 Broadway, Providence, June 12 to July 13, 2008.

Pictured from top to bottom: Jo Dery’s “Tarot Tent,” interior with Ms. Dery preparing to give a reading, and exterior; Dery’s “Head”; and Jung Hong’s “Box,” detail.

Cal Lane

From my review of “Cal Lane: Sweet Crude” at Judi Rotenberg Gallery:
Beauty is back.

Twentieth-century Modernism’s main line wound up in a final march toward Minimalist and Conceptualist asceticism. But by the 1990s, the art world was buzzing with talk of a return to beauty. It was mainly a reserved Minimalist beauty — think Félix González-Torres. But now we’ve got lush, bubbly, decorative, rapturous beauty.

You can see it in Ranjani Shettar’s bubbly hoops dangling from the Institute of Contemporary Art’s ceiling. Or in Mary O’Malley’s drawn fantasias of birds and flowers and cascading dots that look something like jellyfish. Or in the work of Boston graffiti artist Pixnit, whose stenciled spraypainted mural of a chaise longue, birdcages, and chandelier was on view at Judi Rotenberg Gallery last month. Or in Cal Lane’s current show at the Rotenberg, which gets its oomph from one majorly neat trick: she uses a blowtorch-like-thing to slice I-beams and oil drums and shovels into lacy designs. The upstate New Yorker has called them “industrial doilies.” It’s beauty for beauty’s sake.
Read the rest here.

“Cal Lane: Sweet Crude,” Judi Rotenberg Gallery, 130 Newbury St., Boston, June 5 to July 6, 2008.

Pictured from top to bottom: Cal Lane, installation view of “I-Beams” and “Wheeelbarrow”; "Wheelbarrow”; "Untitled, American Map”; and "The Pug and the Proposition.”

“Self and Others” at Brown

From my review of “Self and Others” at Brown University’s Bell Gallery:
“Self and Others” is this year’s version of the Bell Gallery’s annual regional survey. These photos are about pretending as a route to understanding and questioning what’s usually taken for normal. The beauty and conceptual meatiness of the six photographers’ work — mostly portraits of people performing in one way or another — is a testament to the quality of Bell director Jo-Ann Conklin’s eye as well as of the art being made hereabouts.
Read the rest here.

“Self and Others,” Bell Gallery, Brown University, 64 College St., Providence, June 7 to July 8, 2008.

Pictured from top to bottom: Amy Lovera of Providence, detail of “Girl & Bird Detective Co”; Linn Underhill of New York state, untitled from “No-Man’s Land.”

Harriet Casdin-Silver

From my review of “Harriet Casdin-Silver: Self Portraits” at Gallery NAGA:
Harriet Casdin-Silver’s self-portrait show at Gallery NAGA was scheduled before she died from complications of pneumonia in March at age 83, but now it serves as a memorial. The Brookline artist began making holograms in the late 1960s, and she was called “America’s foremost art holographer” (are there others?) by DeCordova Museum curator Nick Capasso when the museum mounted a retrospective of her work in 1998.

Casdin-Silver was part of a tradition of Boston-area artists — including Harold Edgerton, Berenice Abbott and, today, the Collision Collective — who push science toward art. For her, techno razzle-dazzle was a means to an end. “A lot of people use light to get technical effects,” she told me last year. “That was never my mission. My mission was to help women grow in every way — psychologically, sociologically, and in belief in themselves.” This feminism helped drive her work of the past two decades, which focused on coming to terms with and celebrating aging and the body, and particularly aging human female bodies in all their imperfections.
Read the rest here.

My report on Harriet Casdin-Silver’s March 2007 show at Gallery NAGA.
My obituary for her when she died in March 2008.

“Harriet Casdin-Silver: Self Portraits,” Gallery NAGA, 67 Newbury St., Boston, June 6 to July 11, 2008.

Pictured from top to bottom: Harriet Casdin-Silver,“70+1+2,” 1998, and “Corpse with Weeds,” 1992.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Jesse Helms dead at 86

Jesse Helms died today in his home state of North Carolina at age 86, according to news reports. ''America lost a great public servant and true patriot today,'' White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

In fact, the conservative former Republican senator was a bigot who fought against the United Nations, gay rights, art and helping AIDS patients. I can’t say I’m sad to see him gone.

Here are some of his worst hits (from the NY Times' archives):

"It is interesting to note that the Nobel Peace Prize won't be awarded this year. When one recalls that Martin Luther King got the prize last year, it may be just as well that the committee decided not to award one this year. Perhaps it was too difficult to choose between Stokely Carmichael and Ho Chi Minh." – television commentary, 1966.

"Think about it. Homosexuals and lesbians, disgusting people marching in our streets demanding all sorts of things, including the right to marry each other. How do you like them apples?" – campaign speech, quoted in The Los Angeles Times, October 28, 1990.

“Nothing positive happened to Sodom and Gomorrah,” he said, “and nothing positive is likely to happen to America if our people succumb to the drumbeats of support for the homosexual lifestyle.”

On seeking to reduce the amount of federal money spent on AIDS sufferers in 1995, because, he told The New York Times, it is their "deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct" that is responsible for their disease: “We've got to have some common sense about a disease transmitted by people deliberately engaging in unnatural acts."

URI rejects proposal to restore art galleries

At a meeting Wednesday, University of Rhode Island administrators rejected an appeal to reverse their decision to end the university’s Fine Arts Center Galleries program and lay off director Judith Tolnick Champa, according to the advocacy group Friends of the Fine Art Center Galleries.

During the meeting with gallery supporters in the president’s conference room, the Friends say, university leaders reiterated their position that they didn’t have the funds to continue the galleries program. University officials have said they’re facing at least a $17 million shortfall in the school’s budget for the current fiscal year, which began July 1. (Note: This article is based solely on the Friends’ account; with the holiday I don’t expect to get in touch with URI leaders until next week.)

URI administrators said at the meeting that they were interested in keeping the gallery open in some capacity under the management of the art department, the Friends said. There has been talk of the art department mounting student and faculty shows there.

“I’m going to actually be connected to URI till mid September in a kind of consulting capacity,” Tolnick Champa told me today. “And I’m very actively on the job market. … At this juncture they’re all [jobs] outside Rhode Island.”

Attending Wednesday’s meeting were URI President Robert Carothers, Provost Donald DeHayes, Vice President for Business Robert Weygand, Dean Winifred Brownell, URI Foundation President Glen Kerkian, and Associate Dean for Development Tom Zorabedian. Representing Friends of the Galleries were Center for the Humanities Director and Honors professor Galen Johnson, Honors Program Director Ric McIntyre, studio art professors Annu Matthews and Bob Dilworth, alumna Alanna Green (’08) and from the community artist entrepreneur Marc Levitt and businessman Grant Metts.

Tolnick Champa, who has run the galleries for 17 years, was informed by the university on June 2 that she would be laid of effective July 4 and that the galleries program would close. During the following week or so, she talked of moving on, finding new work.

But galleries supporters rallied to restore the program, with letters of support, a Facebook page that has attracted 557 members, and a public meeting in the galleries on June 10 which was attended by many major art players in the state, including Randall Rosenbaum, executive director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, Barnaby Evans of Providence’s WaterFire, Alexandra Broches of Wakefield’s Hera Gallery, and curators from RISD and Brown.

The following week, a note of optimism was coming from Tolnick Champa that the galleries program might be restored. “It’s not over yet. We’re not necessarily beating a dead horse,” she told me on June 19.

But she remained skeptical that URI administrators would reverse their decision because of the university’s financial crisis. “I’m prepared to leave. I’m prepared to stay,” Tolnick Champa said. “I’m really of two minds. It’s really hard for me right now. There’s a lot I’d like to do elsewhere because here’s got to change. I’d like to help with that change. I feel like the living dead.”

Now that university administrators have reiterated their decision, she’s focused on moving on. And she remains moved by the voluminous support for her and the galleries program. She said today, “I just feel I touched way many more people than I ever dreamed I had.”

The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research broke the story on June 4. I followed up with this longer report on June 6 and by posting the official URI response on June 7.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Draft MCC budget up, facilities fund down

The Massachusetts Cultural Council’s budget would grow by 3 percent while the Cultural Facilities Fund would fall by nearly 50 percent for the fiscal year which began July 1 in a final budget compromise that came out of the state Legislature's joint conference committee late last night, according to the Massachusetts Advocates for the Arts, Sciences & Humanities.

The full state House and Senate are expected to vote to approve these numbers today, then Governor Deval Patrick has 10 days to approve or veto the fiscal year ’09 budget or veto individual line items.

If the compromise is approved, the MCC budget would increase by $400,000 to $12,658,827, while the Cultural Facilities Fund would fall to $6.5 million, down from $12 million budgeted for the just completed fiscal year. That puts the Legislature higher than Governor Patrick’s recommended budget for the MCC (a $100,000 increase to $12.4 million), but somewhat below his proposed budget for the Cultural Facilities Fund ($7 million).

The MCC announced around 1 p.m. that the state Legislature has approved the budget.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Carroll Dunham

In the early ‘90s, I heard Carroll Dunham talk about his work. The badboy painter and Philips Academy alum mentioned the struggle of artists, like himself, who came of age during the height of Minimalism to figure out what the hell to do next. The loudness, the brashness, the messiness, the boorishness of American art in the ‘80s – painting in particular – was a big Bronx cheer in the face of Minimalism’s ascetic academy. And Dunham’s gleefully “bad” painting is part of that.

Through July 13, the Addison Gallery is presenting a survey of more than 100 prints by Dunham, who recently donated copies of his entire print output to the Andover museum. The exhibition, which includes lithographs, etchings, drypoints, linocuts and screenprints, arrives with a catalogue raisonne of Dunham’s prints that the museum has produced.

The earliest prints here, dating to 1984, are animated by scrawls and splashes and scratches. His best stuff comes in the late 1980s, with works like the intaglio “Point of Origin," 1988-92 (above), in which a red hammerhead form blasts into the air as if spewed from a volcano. In this period, Dunham’s colors are rich, the compositions bright, kinetic, a bit bawdy. But Dunham subsequently simplified his style until it became a simplistic hieroglyphics of blockheads and penis-nose characters. Imagine the most dull witted adolescent bathroom graffiti – it’s probably not quite as interesting as that.

“Carroll Dunham Prints: A Survey,” Addison Gallery, Phillips Academy, 180 Main St., Andover, April 12 to July 13, 2008.

Pictured from top to bottom: Carroll Dunham’s “Point of Origin,” 1988-92, and “Stove Pipe Hat,” 2000.

DeCordova Director Dennis Kois interview

From my interview with new DeCordova Museum Director Dennis Kois:
“The sculpture park is a resource that nobody in the immediate region has something quite like. We need to build more of our identity around sculpture and the sculpture park. I think in some ways it’s one of the few areas in the museum world left where a museum still could take a leadership position.”
Read the rest here.

Related (sorta):
Kois talks to New York magazine about a terracotta sculpture that recently fell off the wall at his former workplace, NYC’s Met:
“I am surprised nobody heard it, though — it would echo incredibly through the institution. But everyone always forgets how big the Met is! Like ten years ago a worker fell through a shaft and died and nobody knew where he went for several days.”

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Prince designs Martha’s Vineyard Museum logo

Prince Carl Philip of Sweden, while studying anonymously at RISD in spring 2007, developed a lighthouse design (at left) that the Martha’s Vineyard Museum is developing into its new logo, according to RISD.

The prince, who seems to be second in line to the Swedish throne, was one of nine students studying with adjunct faculty member Ootje Oxenaar in RISD’s graphic design department who spent several months developing new “visual identity schemes” for the museum. The museum, which is an outgrowth of the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society, has partnered with RISD to help it rebrand itself as it launches a capital campaign to fund a new facility.

St. Peter’s Fiesta in Gloucester

Over the past weekend Gloucester held its 81st annual St. Peter’s Fiesta, a giant amazing fishing, Italian, Catholic festival. It includes people carrying statues and icons through the streets and shouting blessings, a carnival, rowing races, lots of drinking, and the greasy pole competition, which involves costumed men trying to walk the length of a greased horizontal telephone pole and snatch a flag off the end.

Gloucester, as I expect you know, has been at the center of a media frenzy of late because of reports of 17 girls at the high school supposedly entering a “pact” to get pregnant together this year. (The girls are pregnant – yikes – but a lot of questions have been raised about whether there really was a "pact.") And the greasy pole walkers came up with a wicked response to the brouhaha – dressing up as a knocked-up Gloucester High School cheerleader, young mothers with beer-swilling babies, and the reporters who chase them.


More Fiesta photos here (click on each picture to advance) and here.

Images copyright 2008 Greg Cook.