Friday, October 03, 2008

Joel Sternfeld photographs Northampton

I’m always fascinated when artists from elsewhere make work in New England. So I took interest in New York photographer Joel Sternfeld’s “Oxbow Archive” at New York’s Luhring Augustine gallery, which features landscape photos he shot in Northampton, Massachusetts, from 2005 to 2007. The gallery says the series “documents weather and atmospheric effects in a field in central Massachusetts over the course of a cycle of seasons. Sternfeld's new work represents a break with painterly notions of the Picturesque and the Sublime.” True. In reproduction, the large (5 by 7 feet) deadpan photos are kinda bland.

“Joel Sternfeld: Oxbow Archive,” Luhring Augustine, New York, Sept. 6 to Oct. 4, 2008.

Pictured: Joel Sternfeld, "March 13, 2006, The East Meadows, Northampton, Massachusetts” and “August 19, 2006, The East Meadows, Northampton, Massachusetts.” Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

New owner for Harvard Bookstore

Jeff Mayersohn and Linda Seamonson, a married couple from Wellesley, are the new owners of the landmark Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, the business announced today. Mayersohn, who will serve as president, takes over from Frank Kramer, who has owned the store for 46 years. The shop had been in his family since his father opened it in 1932.

The announcement explains: “Originally from New York City, Jeff Mayersohn has been a resident of New England for nearly four decades. He graduated from Harvard College in 1973 and received an M.Phil. in physics from Yale in 1977. He has worked at several high-tech companies in the region, including internet pioneer Bolt, Beranek and Newman. For the last ten years, Mr. Mayersohn has been an executive at Sonus Networks, a market leader in IP communications infrastructure. Mr. Mayersohn and Ms. Seamonson are married and have three children: Andrew, a sophomore at Yale, and Rebecca and Anna, who attend the Wellesley public schools.”

Today, Kramer wrote in an email to customers: “I look forward to remaining a prominent member of the Cambridge business community, steering the Cambridge Local First campaign, and working as an industry consultant. I also plan to travel and, when time permits, learn Italian.”

A previous report.

Boston Children’s Museum chief to leave

Louis Casagrande, the president and CEO of Boston Children’s Museum, plans to step down on June 30, 2009, the institution announced today. He has lead the museum for 15 years, including during its lauded “green” renovation and expansion, which opened in April 2007.

Chris Frost

Somerville sculptor Chris Frost’s applies grown-up rumination to childhood play in his show at Boston Sculptors Gallery. “Fort,” 2008 (pictured above), is a jury-rigged plywood tree rising to the gallery ceiling. Aluminum “planks” form a ladder up the trunk to aluminum “boards” that create a shelf fort between branches. On the floor nearby is “Trap,” 2008 (pictured below), which resembles one of those traps seen in old cartoons. A boulder is held up by a stick, which can be yanked away by a rope when someone takes the bait – in this case a sandwich, the perfect lure for hungry guys or Yogi Bear. There’s a jaunty playful charm to these pieces, but Frost gets serious with his craftsmanship and materials, which often masquerade as something else.

In “Trap,” the stone is actually stone, but everything else is bronze. The effect is to make manifest boyhood dreams and pranks, but give them an adult twist via the more sophisticated materials that slow us down enough to think about what we’re really playing at. And I think what we’re playing is war.

“Chris Frost: New Work,” Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Ave., Boston, Sept. 3 to Oct. 5, 2008.

“Black Womanhood” at Davis Museum

From my review of “Black Womanhood: Images, Icons and Ideologies of the African Body”:
“Black Womanhood,” the exhibit at Wellesley College’s Davis Museum and Cultural Center, must have seemed like a sharp idea when it was being put together. It examines the ways in which “contemporary artists are challenging historic and often stereotypical images that present black women as the alluringly beautiful Other, the erotic fantasy, or the super-maternal mammy.” By now this is familiar, if still urgent, stuff; what makes this outing special is that it gathers more than 100 objects — traditional African art, Western colonial photos and postcards, and contemporary art — that connect today’s dissectors with the origins of the ugly stereotypes they’re working to take apart.

Barbara Thompson, who organized the show for Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art in New Hampshire, does a good job of mapping the territory. But it’s an uneven show with a dour vision that leaves a mediciny taste in your mouth — and, I think, offers signs of a generation gap among curators.
Read the rest here.

“Black Womanhood: Images, Icons and Ideologies of the African Body,” Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, 106 Central St.., Wellesley, Massachusetts, Sept. 17 to Dec. 14, 2008.

Pictured: Wangechi Mutu, “Double Fuse,” 2003, courtesy of Hood Museum of Art.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lynda Barry speaks in Brookline Thursday

Lynda Barry of Wisconsin, who is speaking at Brookline Booksmith Thursday, is one of our greatest artists. Her comics describe the thrills and loves, the silliness and yearning and loneliness of growing up better than practically anyone else. Maybe only E.B. White’s pitch-perfect, heartbreaking 1952 novel “Charlotte’s Web” surpasses her.

Barry favors the short form – usually comic strips a single poetic page in length. And even when she’s told longer tales they’ve rarely been as long 20 pages. But these pieces accumulate into an expansive story. The place to begin with her work is her 2000 collection “The Greatest of Marlys!” (I’ve reproduced a couple strips here – click on the images to enlarge.) It selects out some of the best of her epic serial tale – told over three decades and hundreds of pages – and like all great serial fiction, part of the attraction is returning to characters you’ve followed for years and come to love.

Her comics of the late 1970s had a prickly patterned style that recalled Chicago’s Hairy Who gang. But by the early 1980s, she found her great subject: growing up. And her style shifted accordingly – her writing looking and reading more like a (fictional) diary, her drawings appearing more childlike. This careful balance of form and content made her art feel more true, more intimate, more alive.

Though her comics were widely published in alternative papers in the 1980s and ‘90s, the comics world only began to accept her in the past decade or so. (The art world has yet to really even notice her.) Many misread her drawing as cruddy and unsophisticated, and complained that her words too often overwhelmed her pictures. It didn’t help that she was one of the lone ladies in what is still a boys’ (and the emphasis is on boys) club. One of the major curatorial disgraces of recent years was when she was left out of the 2005 “Masters of American Comics” traveling exhibit (in fact, the curators didn’t include any women). And she’s one of the many contemporary cartoonists who could have (should have) spiced up the DeCordova Museum’s current “Drawn to Detail” show.

Barry is in town to promote her latest book “What It Is,” which is part memoir, part scrapbook and part how-to workbook, explaining her art/writing process. The overture of the book is a melancholy story about Barry and her husband going for a walk and ruminating on the worries and humiliations that play endlessly in their heads – and ultimately are the wellspring of memory from which her greatness flows.

“There’s a kind of K-Tel collection of my 25 greatest screw-ups of all time. I play that one a lot,” her husband says. “Man, I know,” Barry replies. “I’m still cringing about stuff I said when I was nine.”

Lynda Barry speaks at Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard St., Brookline, Massachusetts, 7 p.m. Oct. 2, 2008.

A profile of Barry in The New York Times in May.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Christo and Jeanne-Claude speak

New York artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude spoke about how they negotiate permission for their large public artworks during a panel discussion at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art on Sept. 23 that was organized by Harvard Law School, which gave the couple its 2008 Great Negotiator Award. Below are some excerpts.

On winning support from California property owners to use their land for the 24.5-mile-long “Running Fence,” which was erected in 1976.
“Ranchers are very pragmatic people. They are hard workers. And they understood we are hard workers. And they are simple. And this one day, I had just finished another cup of coffee with Mr. and Mrs. –- … He say, ‘Well, I don’t know. When is your husband coming?’ And he was taking me to the door. And outside the door, right and left on the ground, I had an idea. Because inside the kitchen he had told me, ‘What good is it for, that fence? What does it do?’ And I say, ‘Well, it’s joy and beauty, it’s art for the pleasure.’ He said, ‘Well, it’s good for nothing.’ So there at the door I looked and I see something that I pretend I don’t recognize and I say, ‘Oh, what will come out of those leaves? Radishes? Potatoes?’ He say, ‘Oh, no, no, no, these are flowers.’ And I say, ‘Flowers? What are they for?’ And he say, ‘Honey, I got the message.’”

On winning French government support for “Pont Neuf Wrapped” in Paris in 1985.
“In March ’85, we have a call from the city, to fly back to Paris. They had a very, very serious problem with us. Not the mayor, it was a deputy mayor … she take us to lunch, we have a private lunch in a very fancy restaurant, special room. And she said to Jeanne-Claude, speaking in French, ‘For the good of France and the good of Mr. Chirac [then mayor of Paris], we should not do that project.’”
Jeanne-Claude: “And I say, ‘But the fabric has been sewn all for the 12 arches, the steel, everything is ready, and we have the permissions now, we have been waiting.’ And she said, ‘No you can’t.’ And I said, ‘Then it’s war.’ And she say, ‘What do you mean war?’ And I say, ‘Oh, very simple. We have a letter here, signed by Monsieur Jacques Chirac. We will show it to the media so they see that the signature of Jacques Chirac is worth nothing.’ That’s not negotiation. And so we did wrap the Pont Neuf. And, of course, guess what, Jacques Chirac was in the middle of the bridge kissing all the babies.”

On winning German government support for “Wrapped Reichstag” in Berlin in 1995.
“Over 600 parliamentarians, we have to meet them one by one in the office for the permit. But our big enemy was the chancellor of Germany, Helmut Kohl, who would not give us an appointment. He never answered out letters. And we did not know Mrs. Kohl, his wife. But we knew he had a girlfriend, Johanna, and we tried to find the address of her hairdresser.”

My review of "Christo and Jeanne-Claude: The Würth Museum Collection" at the Portland Museum of Art in 2005.

Photos by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.