Friday, June 19, 2009

“Staff reduction” at Worcester Art Museum

The Worcester Art Museum is making cuts as the financial crisis continues to take its toll across the New England art scene. Spokeswoman Allison Berkeley tells me:

“The Worcester Art Museum, like many cultural institutions across the nation, has experienced a loss in the value of its endowment due to the economic downturn. While the Museum remains financially strong, it was necessary to trim operating expenses including a small staff reduction. The Museum is fully committed to providing access to great works of art, and chose cost-cutting measures that would have the least impact on the public and on programs that are vital to the Museum's mission. There will be no changes to admission prices, hours of operation, or major programming. This year, the number of visitors to the Museum has steadily increased.”

If you happen to have additional details please pass them along.

Helen Miranda Wilson

Helen Miranda Wilson of Wellfleet has a breezy exhibit “Halos” at Victoria Munroe Fine Art in Boston of loose, lite, fun gouaches that resemble cockeyed targets or the blurred motion of spinning wheels. “Antigua” is a rainbow oval on mottled green. “Phoenix” is a spiraling cartoony galaxy with a red and yellow eye at the center. “Thali” features ovals eyeing you menacingly. Their charm comes from their sunny, candy colors and their wobbly handmadeness.

Helen Miranda Wilson, “Halos,” Victoria Munroe Fine Art, 179 Newbury St., Boston, May 14 to June 20, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Helen Miranda Wilson, “Antigua,” “Phoenix,” and “Thali,” all 2008 and gouache on paper.

$9.7M for MA cultural council?

The Massachusetts Cultural Council would receive a budget of $9.7 million under the compromise state budget just released by the state’s Joint House and Senate Budget Committee. The House and Senate are expected to vote today on this budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. If approved, Governor Deval Patrick would have 10 days to sign off on it.

The proposed cultural council budget would be down 23 percent from the current year’s MCC budget of $12.65 million – and roughly $2 million less than what the state House of Representatives approved in April – but not the 57 percent cut that the Senate Ways and Means Committee threatened in mid May.

Last night MCC Executive Director Anita Walker released a letter saying: “The MCC faces a cut to its budget between 10 and 24 percent. This is, of course, deeply disappointing to all of us who experience the tremendous value of arts and culture to our economy, our communities, and our schools every day. It’s especially hard to know that if the larger cut prevails, MCC’s budget will sink back to half of its size before the state’s last fiscal crisis in 2001.”

Senate votes $9.7M for MA arts council.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Westfield kids make Obama mural from 2,420 dominoes

Tuesday, students at Franklin Avenue Elementary School in Westfield, Massachusetts, unveiled a mural of President Barack Obama that they had constructed from 2,420 dominoes.

The project was done in collaboration with nearby Westfield State College, and based on a design developed by mathematician Robert Bosch of Oberlin College in Ohio. The school’s kindergarten to fifth-graders, with help from some Westfield State students, worked on the 4-foot-tall, 6.5-foot-wide mural from March until this month. The “Obaminoes” artwork depicts Obama giving a thumb’s-up during his inauguration in January. The project was somehow related to learning math.

Pictured from top to bottom: The grand mural itself; the June 16 unveiling; and Franklin Avenue first-graders working with volunteer Kris Hedblom on a panel for the mural. The students are, from left, Abigail Parker, Kimberly Otting, Amaya Grabowski and Tim Yurovskiyh.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

“Odysseus Project” talk on war art tomorrow

Plus: Some notes on art about war

Tomorrow night I’ll be speaking on a panel at the “Odysseus Project” exhibit at Art @ 12, 12 Farnsworth St., Boston. The exhibit features recent work by artists – some war vets, some not – who focus “on issues of war and the experience of veterans returning home.” The free talk begins at 7 p.m. and features Ken Hruby, associate professor of sculpture at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts; Ethan Berry, Gabrielle Keller, James O'Neill, and me.

In preparing for the panel discussion, I’ve been thinking about art about war. And I assembled the pictures here (none of which are in the show) and the following nine notes about war art:

1. From page six of Anthony Swofford’s 2003 book “Jarhead”:
“There is talk that many Vietnam films are antiwar, that the message is war is inhumane and look what happens when you train young American men to fight and kill, they turn their fighting and killing everywhere, they ignore their targets and desecrate the entire country, shooting fully automatic, forgetting they were trained to aim. But actually, Vietnam war films are all pro-war, no matter what the supposed message … [Servicemen and women] watch the same films and are excited by them, because the magic brutality of the films celebrates the terrible and despicable beauty of their fighting skills. Fight, rape, war, pillage, burn. Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man.”

2. You might say Robert Rauschenberg found art while serving in the Navy from about 1943 to 1945 without seeing combat. When he was sent to Camp Pendleton near San Diego for training, he visited the Huntington Art Gallery in San Marino and saw original oil paintings for the first time, including Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy” which he recognized from reproductions on the backs of playing cards. He had been making pencil portraits, but seeing these canvases he realized that art was something someone could do for a living.

3. Since the German Expressionists, almost no Western combat veterans have been recognized as major visual artists and addressed war in their art.

4. Some of the most interesting artworks to come out of the Iraq War are the videos posted to YouTube by combat vets. While in Iraq, service men and women swap digital photos and videos (which is part of why things like Abu Ghraib surface). These videos get mixed and matched into new works. You can usually tell the difference between war videos by combat vets and videos by stateside war cheerleaders in the music. Country Western for the homebodies, and metal for the vets.

5. The dearth of significant American art about war in the past century can be traced to two developments. First, American Modernism took as its inspiration French Modernism – its abstraction and its Dada. While major German Dadaists – the Expressionist branch anyway – was intensely critical of political and government leaders in the wake of World War I, French Dada was all about formal issues and art theory (see Duchamp). So American Modernism took off from an art that was decidedly abstract and non-narrative, which removes the core attributes of much political art. Second, American Modernism pursued a decidedly apolitical art – so that art that did touch on political themes was relegated to the margins. Even today while the politics of race, gender and sexuality are common themes in the art world, art that addresses national politics – like war – is generally discouraged and largely invisible.

6. Some of the most tender art about returning home from war is Norman Rockwell’s paintings about vets coming home from World War II. Notice how young the Marine home from the Pacific is in Rockwell’s painting “The War Hero” (above), which appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on Oct. 13, 1945. All the men and boys gather around to hear his stories, curious and solemn. But the Marine is silent.

7. When 1960s Pop artists picture war, it doesn’t come across as a serious engagement with the subject but rather a fascination with the glamour of war imagery. Think of the jet fighter paintings of Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist.

8. War art tends to be narrative and/or realist to confront the real stories of what went down. Most of the great post-World War II war art is in books, theater, documentary photography and fictional movies. See Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film “Apocalypse Now,” Oliver Stone’s 1986 “Platoon” and 1989 “Born on the Fourth of July,” Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 “Full Metal Jacket,” Stephen Spielberg’s 1993 “Shindler’s List” and 1998 “Saving Private Ryan,” David O. Russell’s 1999 film “Three Kings,” Errol Morris’s 2003 “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara,” Michael Moore’s 2004 film “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Paul Greengrass’s 2002 verite-style film “Bloody Sunday,” a recreation of the infamous 1972 Derry massacre of Irish protesters by British soldiers, and 2006 film “United 93.” Besides Oliver Stone, are any of these artists combat veterans?

9. Just months after the bombing of the Spanish city of Guernica by German and Italian warplanes at the request of Spanish Nationists forces during the Spanish Civil War, Pablo Picasso’s painting about the attack, “Guernica" (pictured above), debuted at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. Subsequently the painting traveled widely before finding a home, at Picasso’s request, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. (After fascist rule ended in Spain, the painting finally moved there in 1981.) In the 1960s, the MoMA gallery where it was on view attracted anti-Vietnam War protests. In 1967, 400 artists called on Picasso to remove the painting from the U.S. until the end of the war. In 1969, the Guerrilla Art Action Group spilled beef blood in MoMA’s lobby. In 1974 Tony Shafrazi, who would go on to become a swanky New York art dealer, sprayed “Kill Lies All” in red paint across “Guernica” in apparent protest of U.S. massacre at My Lai.

Pictured from top to bottom is art by Leon Golub, Peter Saul, Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, American soldiers at Abu Ghraib, Norman Rockwell, Martha Rosler, Pablo Picasso, Saul Steinberg, Art Spiegelman, Peter Saul, Joe Sacco, Norman Rockwell (three paintings), Marsden Hartley, Steve Mumford, Jenny Holzer, George Grosz, Leon Golub, various artists including me (fake NYTimes), Otto Dix, Sister Corita Kent and Fernando Botero.

Dartmouth given $50M for arts center

Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, has received what it is calling the largest gift in the school’s history – $50 million from an anonymous family – to help fund construction of a new visual arts center, the school has announced. “Initial estimated construction cost” of the center is $45 million, the school spokesman tells me.

Machado and Silvetti Associates of Boston – which has worked on the Getty Villa in Malibu and an addition at Bowdoin College – is completing construction documents for the 99,000-square-foot structure. Construction is expected to begin in 2010 and be finished in fall 2012.

Dartmouth’s visual arts center is expected to offer teaching and production studios, classrooms, exhibition space, a 50-seat screening room, an auditorium theater for film projection, and faculty and administrative offices. It will be located on Lebanon Street near Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts and Hood Museum of Art, creating an arts hub on the campus. Plans call for the visual arts center to be erected on land that has been occupied by a parking lot, residence hall and a building mainly used by the visual arts departments.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

DeCordova announces 2010 Biennial roster

The DeCordova Sculpture Park + Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, has announced the roster for its 2010 Biennial, which opens in January:
Greta Bank of Maine, Ross Cisneros of New Hampshire, Georgie Friedman of Massachusetts, Paul Laffoley of Massachusetts, Phil Lique of Connecticut, Xander Marro of Rhode Island, Christopher Mir of Connecticut, Liz Nofziger of Massachusetts, Oscar Palacio of Massachusetts, Otto Piene of Massachusetts, William Pope.L of Maine, Randy Regier of Maine, Ward Shelley of Connecticut, Laurel Sparks of Massachusetts, Mark Tribe of Rhode Island (though these days mostly of New York), August Ventimiglia of Massachusetts and Karin Weiner of Maine.
In the past, the exhibit had been an annual put together by a team of DeCordova curators. With Dennis Kois becoming director off the institution in June 2008, the show has switched to a biennial with a single curator, in this case DeCordova assistant curator Dina Deitsch, plus an advisory board, in this case Portland Museum of Art Director Mark Bessire, CyberArts Festival Director George Fifield and Yale University Art Gallery curator Jennifer Gross.

Zombie Kickball IV in Portland

The undead come out to play during the fourth annual Zombie Kickball game at 2 p.m. June 28 on the Eastern Prom in Portland, Maine. (Love this poster above!) Participants and spectators are encouraged to bring canned and dry goods to be donated to Good Shepherd Food Bank. (A representative from the food bank is expected to be at the event to collect donations.) Zombie HQ reports that an all-ages after-party will to follow the game at Space (though Space doesn’t list it in its calendar as yet) at 4:30 p.m., featuring music by Covered in Bees, Ghosthunter and others.

Krzysztof Wodiczko in Venice Biennale

MIT prof Krzysztof Wodiczko’s video projection “Guests” is on view at the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale through Nov. 22. MIT reports that the Polish native, who now splits his time between Cambridge, New York City, and Warsaw, “transforms the space of the Polish Pavilion into a place where viewers watch scenes taking place seemingly outside, behind an illusion of windows, their projection on the pavilion’s windowless walls. The projections of scenes show immigrants washing windows, taking a rest, waiting for work, exchanging remarks about their tough existential situation, unemployment, and problems getting their stay legalized. Wodiczko plays with the visibility of immigrants, people who are ‘within arm’s reach’ and, at the same time, ‘on the other side’, referring us to their ambivalent status, their social invisibility.”

Monday, June 15, 2009

“Pirate Rendezvous” in Damariscotta

Pirates rampaged through Damariscotta, Maine, during the "Pirate Rendezvous" on Saturday. Here are a couple photos that Darlene Terry of Bristol took at the event (and kindly allowed us to reproduce) – the one above is particularly striking. (Many more of her shots are here.) The marauding pirates arrived by boat, then visited the “Pirate Bazaar,” and took in children’s games and the like.

The event was organized by Greg Latimer of the Mystic Pirates to raise money for the Lincoln County Family Holiday Wishes food and gift drive. Will it be long before we see giant pirate extravaganzas catch on widely?

Boston held its annual Pride Parade that same day, but as you can see in Andrew from Boston’s photos here the level of creativity exhibited didn’t hold a candle to the Maine pirates.

Zombies rampage in Portland as well as Cambridge and Somerville.

Providence art books: Monster

Above is a selection of Providence comics of the past 15 years from The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research archives. One of the anthologies printed by Fort Thunder was “Monster” (reproduced below). Each issue was a loosely edited (and the editors switched off each time) selection of monstery comics (a major subject of Fort Thunder works) and goofs. Among the highlights were the Garfield tribute issue (Garfield was a major influence) and the 1998 glow-in-the-dark issue, which is pictured at bottom. It had a black velvety cover and then inside the comics by Brian Ralph, Leif Goldberg, Mat Brinkman, Ron Rege Jr., Jim Drain (pictured from top to bottom below) and others were screenprinted with glow-in-the-dark ink. Which sounds like a brilliant idea – and it was – except that each page had to be separately charged with light before it would glow. So the book was never something you could sit down in the dark and read through. But that was part of its messed-up genius.

New England Lowbrow?
“Book As Post Modern Medium” at 5 Traverse.
Print the legend: Providence’s ‘Wundergound.’