Friday, July 25, 2008

Gallery XIV closing at Harrison Ave.

Gallery XIV, which created a national media splash with it’s outdoor “Abraham Obama” mural by street artist Ron English earlier this month, will be closing its space at 450 Harrison Ave. in Boston, gallery director William Kerr tells me today.

Kerr says he plans to move out “as soon as possible, by the end of August if we can. We’re bankrupt. We got zero [financial] support from Boston.”

But he adds, “We’re definitely not closing. We’re just not carrying on our lease at that space. … Gallery XIV has too much momentum to fade away.”

This would make it at least the 11th Boston-area gallery to shutter since March. Closed (at least temporarily) are: Allston Skirt, Bernard Toale, Space Other, Rhys, Judy Ann Goldman, Pepper, MPG Contemporary, artSPACE@16, Julie Chae, and Beth Urding. Some additional galleries are restructuring.

Gallery XIV, which opened last fall, has struggled to generate sales. Kerr, an painter himself, says he stopped renting a studio for his own art and sold his car to help afford the gallery’s rent.

The gallery primarily exhibited realistic or fanciful painting, and some sculpture. In the spring, it tried to reach out with public talks and a community-building event and exhibition called “The Canvasation Project,” which invited groups of artists to team up to paint canvases together (the results were rudderless mishmashes). But the current exhibit, “A politic," showed the gallery beginning to find its footing with a politically-themed group show and English’s mural. “Abraham Obama” (and smaller versions of the poster illegally plastered on private property around the neighborhood) attracted prominent media attention – including mentions in the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix (by me), and WHDH Channel 7 television news. Street art (and I don’t mean this as an endorsement of vandalism) seemed a promising aesthetic and financial direction for the gallery.

But all the attention did not alter the immediate hard fiscal reality. Kerr says of the current exhibit: “For this whole show, the gallery has made something like $300.”

“You walk around on First Fridays,” Kerr says, “and you just think it’s a healthy vibrant scene. And it is. But it’s not a healthy vibrant market. … I think everyone’s closing for the same reason – it’s money.”

He hoped an auction of the “Abraham Obama” mural would keep the gallery financially afloat through the fall. But he says that after someone(s) plastered street art posters on the mural last week the auction fell through. “They ended up really pissing off Ron [English]. And the investors, the auction participants, pulled out,” Kerr says. If so, it’s a sadly ironic what-comes-around-goes-around turn of events.

Kerr says he hopes to present the gallery’s current show, “A politic,” at the Massachusetts State House after he moves out of Harrison Avenue and he’s looking into opportunities to curate in New York and Europe.

Photo above by William Kerr.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Interview: Lynda Hartigan of Peabody Essex

Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, became the Peabody Essex Museum’s chief curator in 2003, just before the Salem museum opened its expansion and renovation five years ago this June. An expert on Joseph Cornell and folk art, among other things, she arrived from the Smithsonian to play a key role in the curatorial revitalization of the Peabody Essex (as I wrote about here). Part of that, since last year, has included Hartigan and Peabody Essex director Dan Monroe traveling to museums around the world to actively cultivate partnerships that they hope will help lead to significant loans for Peabody Essex exhibitions. I interviewed her at the museum on July 16. Below are excerpts:
  • “We live in a global world, far more so than any other point in history, at least particularly in how this country sees itself in the world. The legacy of the museum and the extent and diversity of its collection, the global reach of the collection and the ideas that that really enables us to deal with, is what has emboldened us, frankly, to really be much more actively engaged in the concept of global dialogue. And it’s also one of the reasons why dealing with contemporary art for this museum is extraordinarily important going forward, because the contemporary art scene has gone far more global than it has ever been.”

  • “Inherently we see ourselves as an environment in which we can offer experiences. And I think that sometimes people can look at a museum environment and think that it’s solely intended to be instructive or educational. All of that is important to us, but nonetheless, dare I say, we want people to have fun, to have their minds sort of activated in a much more direct way. Because obviously within the history of the museum there is this concept of the temple of learning. And our museum is straight off the street. So there’s direct entry into our museum environment. And that was a very deliberate design ploy on the part of the director and the building committee in concert with the architect. I think you enter our museum really quickly and understand that you’re starting off on an adventure. I mean we don’t stand at the door telling anyone you’re starting on an adventure. But from the feedback that we get from our public, the visitors, there’s definitely something about what we’ve done overall with the layout and the path that gives people the sense that they are being invited to explore.

  • Exhibition “design is one way, a very important way, of really being able to deliver on that invitation to participate. Design is a very emotional kind of thing and I’m not sure a lot of people associate museums with emotion unless you’ve had some kind of epiphany in front of a painting. But emotion is very important as a means for people to learn. And there’s more and more cognitive research that’s being done about how significant it is for people to be able to access things through an emotional response. It’s one of the most important ways people remember things, or form opinions about things.”

  • Before the renovation and expansion: “Things were much more crowded, a little dimmer, things were sort of mixed together in a much more ethnographic way. And there were very deliberate strategic discussions here about getting the museum to open up. Part of the interpretative strategy would be to create more space around objects, even as you’re trying to pose conversations, as opposed to cacophony because you have too many things in the midst of each other.”

  • “We’re at an evolutionary turning point, again based on what I would call the grand experiment of this interaction of the old and the new or the historical and the new. Recognizing that people respond to that as a dynamic. I think it’s the combinatory approach that we take that is different from what many strictly contemporary art focused institutions do, even in terms of how they interpret the art. It’s about the context in which the art is made.”

  • "'Artifact’ is not a word that figures into our vocabulary. We’re dealing with art objects. ‘Artifact’ takes us into the realm of being a history or technology museum. And many things that might have been a functional object at a particular moment in time have indeed been redefined as art objects. And we’re very much part of that conversation.”

  • “We believe in the power of art writ large. And inevitably because we’re human beings, we are the classifying creature on the planet, so, yes, those kind of distinctions have been made, will continue to be made. But there’s just as much been a movement, really since the 1920s, to question why you create that hierarchy. It’s a very Western canon approach to art history. But there is also a movement afoot, there are art departments in different universities either in this country or elsewhere that are called the department of world art. Principally oriented towards really debunking the hierarchy. Yes [we’re part of that]. Not to say we’re not making evaluations and analyzing and all that sort of thing.”

  • “There’s a very deliberate duality in much of what we’re trying to do. We are saying, ‘Culture is part of art, art is part of culture.’ It’s not an equation per se, but it’s a conversation.”

  • Building loan shows: “It really is about the interpersonal networking and basically how people work their relationships and how they are respected for their scholarship or their creative thinking. For example, as we hire a curator of contemporary art, I’ll be hiring someone who’s got a long track record of doing great exhibitions. And that’s bankable, in really direct terms, in that that person represents a known quantity for the quality of the shows. The assumption that I’m making and that others out there would be making is that if that’s what that person has been able to do in the past then coming here and actually building an exciting new program of contemporary art means that person would be doing that same level of quality here. If not greater” – Hartigan laughs – “based on my motivational capabilities.”

  • “I fully expect our curators to be hungry for good ideas and opportunities.”

Boston Contemporary Group forms

A new gallery coalition, the Boston Contemporay Group, has formed. As I write in this week’s Boston Phoenix:
After a brutal spring in which each week seemed to bring the depressing news of another Boston art outlet shuttering, a new consortium of galleries announced its formation with the launch of a Web site this past week. It was a quiet but clear signal of an effort to jumpstart the local scene.

The straightforwardly named Boston Contemporary Group aims “to support an environment in Boston for critically relevant contemporary art.” Just what that means is under discussion, but the group hopes to cultivate new clients, generate excitement about art, spur dialogue, and bring in much-needed revenue.
Read the rest here.

The charter members are LaMontagne Gallery, Proof Gallery, Samson Projects, and Steven Zevitas/OSP Gallery, all based in Boston.

Arthur Dion, the director of Gallery NAGA and president of the Boston Art Dealers Association since its founding in 1989, says of the new group, “It’s wonderful. And it’s an expression of growth and vitality in the Boston art ecosystem.”

“It’s like when the ABA developed to expand professional basketball beyond the NBA,” Dion added. “Look what happened: we got Dr. J. These are talented young guys. It should be good for the community. They’ve got energy. How small can the scene be if we’ve got a proliferation of professional associations. That’s fabulous.”

This fall, BADA plans to publish and distribute its second map of Boston-area galleries. And it continues to offer its Paine Scholarship to local art school students (three $4,000 grants and up to five $500 grants annually). This year's winners will be invited to exhibit at New England School of Art & Design at Suffolk University in Boston.

Is Peabody Essex the most exciting Boston-area museum?

From my essay on the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem in this week’s Boston Phoenix:
Could the Peabody Essex Museum be the Boston area’s most exciting art museum right now? It’s a question nobody would have asked five or 10 years ago. But a string of excellent shows — in particular this past summer’s landmark Joseph Cornell retrospective, but also the current “Wedded Bliss” — has placed the Salem museum squarely in the same league as the Museum of Fine Arts, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and other top-rank museums around the country.

The transition, which Boston is only beginning to recognize, has been some 15 years in the making, including a merger, a building expansion, more exhibitions, and increasingly ambitious shows. The Cornell show, Peabody Essex chief curator Lynda Roscoe Hartigan told me this past December, “really is about signaling, in as direct a way as we could think of, that we mean business about doing work in the modern- and contemporary-art arena.”
Read the rest here.

Pictured from top to bottom: The Peabody Essex's atrium; chief curator Lynda Roscoe Hartigan and director Dan Monroe.

Ron English in Boston

Here are some more photos of New Jersey street art hero Ron English’s “Abraham Obama” mural and related posters on a construction fence across the street from Gallery XIV in Boston. They’re being presented in conjunction with the gallery’s “A politic” exhibit, which I reviewed here.

Check out English’s website. And here are photos of them installing the mural and a random video.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

“A politic” at Gallery XIV

From my review of “A politic” at Gallery XIV in Boston:
There’s nothing like a brouhaha to make art feel relevant. And the Boston art scene has just been blessed by two. First, Gallery XIV caused a stir with its “a politic” show, the first thing it’s really done to turn heads since it opened last fall. Let’s hope that’s the beginning of something. …

The Gallery XIV show has 40 artists exploring political themes. That didn’t freak anyone out. What got people in a tizzy was an appearance at the July 2 opening by New Jersey’s Ron English, who’s (in)famous for (illegally) pasting over commercial billboards with his own slogans: “Jihad is Over! (If you want it)”; “Jesus drove an SUV/Mohammad pumped his gas/The new H2 Hummer”; “Support our CEOs.” (An outdoor video screening at the gallery on July 25 will include Pedro Caravajal’s documentary “POPaganda: The Art and Crimes of Ron English.”)

That evening, on a construction fence across the street from the gallery (with permission from the landlord), English pasted up 11 13-foot-tall reproductions of his painting “Abraham Obama,” [pictured at top] which merges the features of President Lincoln with Barack’s.
Read the rest here.

“A politic,” Gallery XIV, 450 Harrison Ave., Boston, July 4 to Oct. 4, 2008.

Pictured from top to bottom: Ron English, “Abraham Obama” mural; Joseph Woolfolk, “Basrah to Baghdad”; and Remedios Rapoport “Gentle Revolution Mobile.”

Urdang Gallery seeks new space

Beth Urdang Gallery is looking for a new home after its lease on space at 129 Newbury St. in Boston expired and Urdang was unable to get a renewal. (The landlord had other plans for it.)

“I moved out on June 30 and my destination is unknown, though I am committed to Newbury Street and hope to announce the address soon,” she writes. “In the meantime, I exhibited at Art Santa Fe from July 10 to 13 and am working out of my home in Wellesley.”

Monday, July 21, 2008

Clark to focus on curating at Carle

Museum transitioning from start-up

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is seeking an executive director to free up founding director H. Nichols B. Clark to focus on organizing exhibitions and events, according to the museum. (See my initial report here.) The move represents the Amherst museum, which opened in 2002, moving out of start-up mode.

“As far as we’re concerned, Nick is a lifer with this organization. He’s not going anywhere at all,” Christopher Milne, chairman of the museum’s board, said this morning.

“We just feel at this point that we want to take this job that he had and separate the curatorial and programming functions, which are the heart and soul of the museum, from the executive administrative functions. No one person can effectively handle all those responsibilities in an organization of our size and with our scope of mission.”

“We’ve simply taken the position of founding director and split it in two. So we will now have a chief curator and executive director as the two most senior management positions. Nick is going to be the chief curator, because it’s important that he’ll be able to spend 100 percent of his attention in this area.”

Asked when the new executive director might come on board, Milne said, “Nick is still functioning as he’s always functioned. There is no vacancy. So we’re going to hire the new person as soon as we can find the perfect person for the job.”

“It’s a function of our growth and our success that, wherever possible, we need to move away from people having to do multiple functions – which is so common in a start-up operation – to allow people to focus on their strengths and areas of expertise.”

Ernest Morin and the future of Gloucester

One of the debates rumbling through Gloucester right now is what will be the future of a ramshackle neighborhood there of tenements, hard factories and crooked streets that they call the Fort. The mayor is leading a charge to rezone it and transform it, build condos and a Marriott hotel.

My pal Ernest Morin of Gloucester, who has been intensely photographing the city for seven years, is skeptical. He proposes shoring up the fishing businesses, and preserving the character of the neighborhood. “Businesses all have a niche,” he wrote in a letter to the Gloucester Daily Times. “Gloucester's niche is that it is a real place, that is what we have to offer and it is of real value.”

Lately he’s stepped up his documentation of the neighborhood, roaming its streets and haunting the factories, fearing they’re now endangered, recording what he can before the mayor and the hoteliers get their way. But he’s not giving up yet. At Gloucester City Hall at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 24, he’ll present a slide show of 155 of his black and white shots of the Fort (some seen here). He’ll be joined by a couple painters and an anthropologist to talk about what the Fort means to the city and how that might be saved.

The Fort sits on a peninsula that shelters the fishing city’s inner harbor. The name comes from fortifications erected at the end during the Revolution then War of 1812 (Fort Defiance) then Civil War. It seems as if it has always been one of the centers of the city’s fishing industry – now wharves, fish processing plants, an ice factory. Here is where they invented frozen fish. Here is where the immigrants settled, the Irish and Portuguese and Sicilians. Here is where poet Charles Olson watched the harbor from his second-floor apartment and wrote.

Morin is an excellent photographer, in the classic, gritty, crisp street shooter mode. (Check out his astonishing, eerie photo of a synagogue that burned in a fatal fire in Gloucester one icy night last December.) But what’s especially interesting is how he’s yoked his art to his activism.

When Morin presented the first big public slide show of his Gloucester photos at Gloucester City Hall in 2006, several hundred people attended for what turned out to be one of the best art events in the region that year. “Somehow Morin turned a PowerPoint slide show into a ravishing aria to the hardscrabble glory of the great seaport – followed by a sobering public discussion of what can be done to preserve it and how to adapt to remain vital,” I wrote that December. “Too often artists pay lip service to community engagement, but here an artist sparked a real community dialogue.”

Thursday he aims to do it again. Don’t miss it.

“Four Perspectives on the waterfront : an educational and art presentation.” Gloucester artists Ernest Morin, Jeff Weaver, and Matthew Rose present their work. And lawyer and anthropologist Sarah Robinson will give a brief talk on “A Short History of New England Groundfish Rebuilding, 1993-2008.” Gloucester City Hall, Kyrouz Auditorium, 9 Dale Ave., 7 p.m., July 24, 2008.

Ernest Morin describes his project:
Sight Lines

Is a slide show of the Fort section of the Gloucester waterfront, an area that was predominately inhabited by Sicilian fisherman in the 1920s and retains its Mediterranean feel. It is a mixture of Fisheries related business and fishing boats and a real neighborhood with a beach front. It is also perhaps the most original and unique neighborhood in America.

Clarence Birdseye set up his frozen food factory there in 1916 and it is now slated to become a Marriott Hotel. The area is facing a major rezoning and inevitable changes. Changes that will forever alter the social fabric of this working-class neighborhood, as the Marriott stated to the Gloucester Times they want their "Sight lines cleared" because "when their guest arrive, they expect to arrive ‘somewhere’"... so why are they interested? Million dollar ocean views 45 minutes north of Boston.

I felt it was important to take the proverbial snapshot of the area before the Marriott moves in, their gentrification takes place. I thought the town should understand what is there right now has a real value and will be forever lost.

Change is not always progress, the world doesn't need another Newport, Rhode Island, or seasonal resort in the middle of a fishing port. The problem with such developments is they drive out the very character of a Place.

This work is about the nature and value of Place, something that has never been highly valued in America. We do not need to look like one huge shopping mall from sea to shinning sea... a veritable wasteland of dunkin donuts and Abercrombie and Fitch and Car dealerships as far as the eye can see.

I'm just trying to document what I see as a vanishing race, the American working class, or now, the working poor. The Fort is a microcosm of Gloucester and Gloucester is America.

Ernest Morin