Saturday, May 09, 2009

Virtual Berlin Wall wins top Cyberarts award

"Virtuelle Mauer/ReConstructing the Wall" (pictured) by Teresa Reuter and Tamiko Thiel” at the Goethe-Institut Boston won the $3,000 Grand Award, the top prize, in this year’s Boston Cyberarts Festival.

The awards were announced (pdf) last night at the 2009 Cyberarts Gala at IBM Research in Cambridge. Two $1,000 Merit Awards went to “Inherent Tendencies Toward Disorganization” by Daniel Phillips at Judi Rotenberg Gallery and "Children of Arcadia” by Mark Skwarek, Joseph Hocking, Arthur Peters, and Damon Baker at the Cambridge Arts Council Gallery.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Samson Projects moving

Samson Projects, which opened in 2004, is moving from its dungeon location in the gallery building at 450 Harrison Ave. in Boston to an upstairs storefront in the same building.

Owner Camilo Alvarez says he’ll be occupying a third of the space that had been Restoration Resources (the other two thirds have been taken over by Tour de France). The main gallery will be about 100 square feet larger than his current 1,200, but he’ll also have a basement “viewing room” and office. “The sexiest part is its 13-foot-high ceilings and that’s really important for work,” he says.

Alvarez planned to move in by May 1, but construction delays by building owner GTI Properties postponed that. “They’re now saying Aug. 1st,” he says. He hopes to present work in both the old and raw new space in June, before formally moving into the new spot with a show by New York artist Michael Phelan at the start of September and Bostonian Matthew Rich in October.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Yokelist Manifesto Number 2

Montreal case study

How well do our institutions present art made here?

That’s a question that came to mind a few months back when I visited the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal (pictured above), which had given most of its museum over to a five-decade retrospective of Montreal abstract painter Claude Tousignant.

He’s best known for his eye-popping, op-art target paintings from the ‘60s that are like Kenneth Noland on LSD (see below). But before I saw the show I’d never heard of him.

The museum touted the show as “the largest exhibition devoted to a single artist ever presented” there. It was evidence of Tousignant’s stature. “A leading light of abstraction,” the museum said. “Encompassing the range of modernist expression, Tousignant’s pictorial practice is unique in the history of Canadian art.”

A Boston gallerist gave me a blank look when I asked if he’d heard to Tousignant. Web searches of The New York Times and New York’s Museum of Modern Art archives turned up nothing.

Can you imagine Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts or Institute of Contemporary Art devoting “six of the museum’s eight galleries as well as the atrium” to a local artist that doesn’t exist as far as New York is concerned?

“There’s almost a lack of confidence and people don’t really fully appreciate what they have right under their noses,” Mark Lanctôt, who co-curated the Tousignant show with Paulette Gagnon, tells me.

He could be describing the Boston art scene, or numerous other “second cities,” but he was talking about Montreal. I called him to talk about showing locally-made art when your museum is outside the major international art centers – which for him are Paris, London and New York.

“We try to make sure what we pick and how we present it is at par with anything else,” Lanctôt says. “We don’t pick somebody because they’re here. We pick somebody because the level they’re working at internationally.”

But a significant difference between the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal and major Boston museums is that it is a government-owned institution with a mandate to exhibit the best of Quebec art and the best Canadian art, as well as the best art from anywhere.

Lanctôt notes that when local artists show at the Musée it doesn’t open all the doors to, say, New York. But he finds that local artists “up their game” when they show there, the museum often acquires work from these exhibits, and the institution tries to produce more substantial catalogues for these shows.

Montreal – along with Toronto and Vancouver – is one of three major cultural centers in Canada. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec, and the second largest in the country. This dictates Montreal’s stature, influence and responsibility to its own artists. “In your country, you’re a capital, no matter what happens elsewhere,” Lanctôt says.

Perhaps that’s a lesson for the Boston art scene. Maybe our curators need to try acting like we’re a cultural capital.

Because of Boston’s geographical proximity to New York, our art scene often feels like a tiny satellite orbiting that bright star. Our curators are obsessed with its light. And, of course, they ought to be.

If you work in a Boston-area museum, your next job most likely won’t be around here. You climb the curatorial ladder by moving Away. And Away doesn’t give a shit about art made in Boston. In fact, Away thinks curators who pay much attention to Boston-made art are crazy.

All curators like to claim to have discovered artists, given them their first museum shows. But mainly what that entails these days is curators showing work by artists on the Circuit of jet-set art fairs and biennials and Chelsea galleries – art that everyone Away already agrees is worthwhile. If a Boston-area curator shows art made here, they’ll have to convince Away bosses that this local stuff is worthwhile. And championing an artist from scratch like that is a skill few seem to have.

Or perhaps it’s just too risky to a curator’s career.

Previously: Yokelist Manifesto Number 1.

Pictured from top to bottom: Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal and Claude Tousignant’s “Rythmique stochastique 2,” 1965, acrylique sur bois, 80.7 x 96.1 cm, collection Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, don de monsieur Michel Touchette, photo by Richard-Max Tremblay © Claude Tousignant, 2005.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Andrew Mowbray

From The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research's archives, our review of Andrew Mowbray's now closed February exhibit "I know Now" at LaMontagne Gallery:
Dorchester sculptor and conceptual artist Andrew Mowbray turns LaMontagne's back gallery into an austere white-on-white cell filled with artifacts (that he's made) displayed with museum-style labels.

A couple of photos show him pouring wine onto the sidewalk outside the Museum of Fine Arts, "paying tribute to the objects contained within the museum collections." His re-creation of an iconic, spare Arts and Crafts Morris Chair by Gustav Stickley stands on a lit-from-within pedestal. A couple of lit-up cases on the wall display remarkable re-creations of ancient arrowheads and stone tools.

These and the chair are fashioned from cut, carved, and routered white polyethylene. (Think: synthetic kitchen cutting boards.) Mowbray is a master craftsman, but his content doesn't always live up to his formal chops. His hair-cutting-and-fishing-fly-tying performance inside an Art Nouveau diving bell (that he'd beautifully crafted) at Space Other in 2007 was a mysterious meditation on masculinity, and one of the best local shows of that year. But his focus here on museum culture feels insular and dull.

Still, there's potential in his ruminations on handcraft via the chair and arrowheads. The Arts and Crafts Movement was a 19th-century return to craft as a rejection of the dehumanizing Industrial Revolution. Our current crafty movement (which includes traditional knitting or embroidery turned to fine-art ends) reflects a similar effort to come to terms with all our digital, synthetic, manufactured stuff. Mowbray's sculptures nod toward both sides of this split; they're so expertly handmade, they look like something extruded from a machine. Big ideas are lurking here, but the sculptures don't yet embody them.
Andrew Mowbray, "I know Now," LaMontagne Gallery, 555 E. 2nd St., South Boston, Feb. 21 to March 28, 2009.

Previously:Andrew Mowbray's "Bathyscape" at Space Other in 2007, and "Bathyscape" in our "Best of 2007" list.

Pictured from top to bottom: Andrew Mowbray, "I know Now" installation shot; "Morris Chair," polyethylene, synthetic rope, fluorescent light, attributed to Gustav Stickley, 1905, American white oak, caning; "Ritual and Ceremonial Stone Tools," 2009, polyethylene, fluorescent light; "Stone Projectiles/Arrowheads from the Americas," 2009, polyethylene, fluorescent light; "20 years, 20 minutes, $26.02," 2009, sea Glass, glass jars, photographs, receipt, fluorescent light, polyethylene.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Misaki Kawai

From The New England Journal's archives, our review of Misaki Kawai's now closed February exhibition “Kung Fu Forest” at LaMontagne Gallery:
Wherever the Japanese-raised, Brooklyn-based artist Misaki Kawai goes, she seems to trail twinkling pixie dust. For her previous Boston show, in 2007, she filled the Institute of Contemporary Art with her exuberant dollhouse space station. In "Kung Fu Forest" at LaMontagne Gallery, she offers a dozen endearing Cute Brut paintings and three sculptures of lumberjacks, birds kissing, people and a dog paddling down a green river, and guys kicking each other in the groin. I can't decide whether my favorite is the one of the two kids walking and holding hands with the bear in the green tank top and shorts or the one of the wall-eyed, gun-toting green Rambo guy in an orange jumpsuit. Kawai adopts a faux idiot-savant style — her characters look like something a second-grader scrawled, done up in bright acid colors on dumb-ass expressionist backgrounds. Her people and critters remind me of Gumby and his pals — blank-eyed, bizarre, stretchy, and wonderful.
Misaki Kawai, “Kung Fu Forest,” LaMontagne Gallery, 555 E. 2nd St., South Boston, Feb. 21 to March 28, 2009.

Previously: Misaki Kawai's "Space House" at Boston's ICA in 2007.

Monday, May 04, 2009

William Pope.L

From The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research’s archives, our March review of Maine artist William Pope.L’s (now closed) exhibit at Harvard:
On February 19, Maine artist William Pope.L spoke and organized a performance at Harvard's Carpenter Center, where he's also having an exhibit called "Corbu Pops." I'd seen an exhibition of his annoying doodles of worms and rockets (lots of penis references) at the Art Institute of Chicago in late 2007 and thought it was a total waste of time.

But I'd decided to give Pope.L, the self-described "friendliest black artist in America," another try. His performance The Great White Way, 22 Miles, 5 Years, 1 Street, in which he crawled along New York's Broadway in a Superman costume, sounded interesting. Also in his favor, in 2001, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts overturned a recommendation by the NEA's advisory panel to fund an exhibit of his work. And, hey, he was in the 2002 Whitney Biennial.

But it's difficult to describe how excruciatingly, irritatingly tedious and vacuous his stuff at Harvard is. The show is dominated by a long table that has pots brimming with black paint and cast models of the Le Corbusier–designed Carpenter Center building. The models are stuck on sticks, like popsicles. "Corbu Pops," get it? At the opening there was a performance: people in ugly baby-face rubber masks and black Corbusier-style glasses moaned and cried and laughed and spoke gibberish.

For a number of years now, it's been trendy for artists to create new site-specific projects that tap into the history or the nature of the sites where they're exhibiting. Too often, these artists engage with the place in a shallow, cursory way that feels worse than if they hadn't bothered at all. Here Pope.L combines the worst of empty site-specific art with the worst of neo-Dada. The year's still young, but this one leads the field for Lousiest Show of 2009.
William Pope.L, Harvard’s Carpenter Center, 24 Quincy St., Cambridge, Feb. 19 to April 5, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: William Pope.L at work on “Corbu Pops,” 2009, and William Pope.L, “Corbu Pops,” 2009; both images courtesy of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts and William Pope.L, photos by Shiloh Cinqueman.