Friday, May 15, 2009

The end of the Rose?

From my report on Brandeis's Rose Art Museum:
Is one of New England's great regional museums about to bite the dust, its storied collection scattered to parts unknown? Back on January 26, Brandeis University administrators provoked international outrage when they announced their intention to close the Rose Museum and sell its art in order to bridge university budget deficits stemming from the worldwide economic crisis. That deadline is now upon us, with the current exhibitions scheduled to end this Sunday, May 17. But the future of the Rose — and its collection, which includes a blue-chip roster of post–World War II American art by the likes of Philip Guston, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol — is still murky.

"As far as I'm concerned," says Rose director Michael Rush, "the historical Rose Museum as we have known it closes May 17." With it will go a tradition of groundbreaking programming that was launched when the museum opened 48 years ago.

Museums sell off art all the time, but professional standards dictate that the proceeds be used to build the collection — not to cover institutional operating costs. Institutions of higher learning — especially at the Brandeis level — are supposed to be above sacrificing their academic reputations for ready cash. And they're expected to observe the spirit of the agreements by which they receive donations of valuable art.

Brandeis administrators have since made noises about not closing the Rose. Shows from the collection are in the works for July and the fall. Then, who knows? The administrators say they're awaiting recommendations from the Future of the Rose Committee; those are expected this fall. But Rush and museum administrator Jay Knox will definitely be leaving, and parts of the collection may yet be sold, though it's unclear what or how much.

We Americans are still having trouble understanding the scope of our financial crisis. As layoffs mount, as newspapers shut down, as major banks and auto manufacturers collapse, as even Harvard makes cuts because its $36.9 billion endowment has lost a third of its value, we still tend to view what's happening as a recession (difficult but manageable) rather than something scarier (bedrock institutions croak). The Brandeis decision may be an early sign of panic.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Scott Lapham

From my review of Scott Lapham's show "Sea Song" at 5 Traverse in Providence:
Lapham's "Sea Song" is six alluringly sensual black-and-white landscape photos from 2000 to '06. Here low tide reveals rocks covered with a rubbery shag rug of seaweed, rotting pilings sticking up from glassy water like strange teeth, while water slurps mysteriously around a submerged rock. In one image, a grove of cypresses blurred as they shivered during the exposure, creating an effect resembling a traditional Chinese ink drawing.
Read the rest at the end here.

Scott Lapham, "Sea Song," 5 Traverse, 5 Traverse St., Providence, April 3 to May 16, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Scott Lapham, "Bog, Maine," 2003; "Sea Wall, Maine," 2003; "Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island," 2000; "Hermit Island, Maine," 2003; and his sculpture "Perfectly Preserved Seashore #6," 2009.

Jonathan Bonner

From my review of Jonathan Bonner's exhibit "Pooms" at 5 Traverse in Providence:
Bonner's "Pooms" — his term for single-syllable words that he turns into a punning sound poetry — are dorky cerebral goofs. A series of letterpress prints makes concrete poetry of simple words — mud, bee, do, pig. In "Mom," for example, the arms of the Ms stretch and cradle an O between them.
Read the rest at the end here.

Jonathan Bonner, "Pooms," 5 Traverse, 5 Traverse St., Providence, April 3 to May 16, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Jonathan Bonner, "MUD," 2009; "MOOT Hat," 2009; and "PIG," 2009.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jon Laustsen

From The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research archives, our review of Jon Laustsen's now closed February show at 5 Traverse in Providence:
Jon Laustsen's sculptures are like a contractor's dreams rendered in miniature. In the Woonsocket sculptor's exhibit "How to Hold On" at 5 Traverse Gallery, concrete foundations seem to have gone feral, slithering around, not ready to support anything. Tiny cinder blocks shore up the fractured side of an actual cinder block. Almost all the room inside the wood framing for a doll-house-scale rectangular tower has been given over to an empty central shaft, for a heating and ventilation system. Instead of being subservient to the occupants' needs, the HVAC system has become the building's primary reason for existing. The sculptures are about the nature of building — and surreal mutations.

Laustsen mates model-making with minimalism. Like a good modeler, he's true to form and construction techniques, but at 1/8-scale. His craftsmanship is routinely superb. Minimalism comes in via his simple forms, often placed right on the floor, and the way his mini-towers approach our own height and so challenge our sense of space and scale.

Architecture has become a prominent theme in art in Providence, with the city's highway projects and redevelopment boom, which has forced artists out of studios in old mills. Laustsen's works reflect the local landscape rife with concrete, rebar, wood framing. They're always under construction. There's something about "Untitled (Corner Install)" (pictured above) with its curving featureless wall that makes me think of Providence Place — but maybe I'm just imaging things.

The pieces here are smaller, more isolated than work he has exhibited over the past year. His elaborate room-filling installation of mini-buildings, including a charred structure, at AS220's Project Space last February drew you in with its sense of ritual and mystery. You wanted to decipher what the purpose of all these structures was. His installation in the show "New Obstructions" at AS220's Mercantile Building last October was a roller coaster-like construction, rising taller than a person, that you could walk through. Its power lay in how it engaged with you physically by taking on your dimensions.

In comparison, his structures at 5 Traverse feel like fragments. They don't grab me in the same way, but they seem to speak more about the nature of building itself.
Jon Laustsen, "How to Hold On," 5 Traverse Gallery, 5 Traverse St., Providence, Feb. 13 to March 14, 2009.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Inappropriate Covers" at Brown

From my review of "Inappropriate Covers" at Brown:
One way to keep dry, academic art theorizing from getting too, well, dry and academic is to inject some rock and roll. So it's a relief that "Inappropriate Covers" at Brown University's Bell Gallery, the 11-artist exhibit about "appropriation, reconfiguration, and erasure" as ways of unlocking hidden meaning, includes smashed guitars and goofball album cover mash-ups.

The show was put together by Brown grad students — conceived by Braxton Soderman and Cynthia Lugo and curated by Soderman and Justin Katko. The bad news is that the team's wall labels and catalogue read like a parody of grad-school speak. A sample: "Brian Dettmer's surgical interventions into the book expose topographies of hypertextual juxtaposition, retrieving singular reliefs from a vast array of combinations latent within any one volume."

The good news is that the show includes Dettmer's amazingly altered books. "Wonderland of Knowledge" (2008) is two stacks of vintage children's encyclopedias cut up, but still holding their shape, to reveal black-and-white illustrations (Egyptian sculpture, zebra, tires, eye, butterfly, buildings, elephant) like strata uncovered by an excavation of dreams.
Read the rest here.

"Inappropriate Covers," Brown University's Bell Gallery, 64 College Street, Providence, through May 29, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Brian Dettmer, "Wonderland of Knowledge," 2008. Altered vintage Children’s Encyclopedia Set. Courtesy of Kinz + Tillou Fine Art; L. Amelia Raley, "Marrying you was my 9-11," from the series "I should have never ever ever did those things," 2007. Vintage handkerchief with embroidery phrases spoken by guests of a popular daytime psychiatric television show, 12” x 12”. Lent by the artist; Kelly Heaton, detail of "Live Pelt — Portrait of the Fashionista," 2003. Digital c-print, 25” x 25”. Courtesy of the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York. Photo: Tom LeGoff; and John Oswald, "Plunderphonics 69/96," 2001. Cover art, 12” x 12”. Courtesy of the artist and Edward Day Gallery, Toronto.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tribute to Rose team tomorrow

Concerned faculty and students in collaboration with the Rose Art Museum Board of Overseers are gathering at the Brandeis museum from 2 to 4:30 p.m. tomorrow, May 12, "to celebrate and reflect upon the extraordinary accomplishments of the Rose Art Museum team under the leadership of Michael Rush."

Where Brandeis is going with the Rose is unclear since school leaders announced in January that they would close the museum this summer and sell the collection. Current exhibits are scheduled to close on May 17. Rush, who is being forced out of his job as Rose director, and others are expected to leave the Rose at the end of June. But Brandeis administrators now say that exhibits from the Rose collection are scheduled for June and (tentatively) the fall.

Organizers of the public tribute say, "We also gather to discuss the future of the Museum; how can we work together to honor and carry on the remarkable legacies associated with this remarkable, precious institution?" Speakers are to include MIT List Visual Arts Center director Jane Farver, artists, and Brandeis students and faculty.

Previously: Brandeis to close Rose, sell art.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Art criticism in Providence

Shepard Fairey's graffiti on AS220’s Mercantile Block building on Washington Street in Providence has been “vandalized.”