Friday, July 03, 2009

Kelly Sherman

Boston conceptual artist Kelly Sherman continues to plumb the disconnect between our consumerist culture and our craving for human connection in her new show “Success & Happiness” at Boston’s Barbara Krakow Gallery.

Sherman won the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art’s $25,000 Foster Prize in 2007 for her exhibit at the museum featuring floor charts documenting the changing arrangements of her family’s home as her parents went through a divorce and print-outs of anonymous wish lists culled from the Internet. In the wish lists, Susan wants “a grave to put my father to rest (for my father),” while Virginia hopes to “remodel my house” and “find my father." Sherman seemed to be looking at how we hope our stuff will help us make connections – though it may often just signify the distance between us.

Advertisements for wedding gowns are the central focus of “Success & Happiness.” “Brides Horizontal,” 2009, is a magazine bridal spread reproduced twice, joined foot to foot and turned sideways, to create an image more than 12 feet wide. It shows a woman in a long, lacy white bridal coat standing looking over her shoulder under a hedge arch decorated with butterflies. Elsewhere Sherman uses white enamel to paint out dozens of images of brides cut out from wedding and fashion magazines. “There’s no need to rein in your instinct to go all out for your wedding,” one advertisement cajoles.

Sherman’s ICA show was rigorously devoid of visual and sensual allure as she addressed emotional subjects via detached data processing that kept deep feelings at a (safe?) distance. This show is rife with allure. It comes from the appropriated original images, which start out dazzlingly sexy. But Sherman cools things down with her conceptual approach. Her primary action is changing the context of the originals via anthropological cataloguing – plus a little painting.

Bridal imagery can churn up thoughts of love, marriage and the wedding-industrial complex. It can get you thinking about the anxiety generated by consumerist culture. At our acquisitive society’s heart is a question: Will buying this thing make me happy? Will buying this thing make me attractive? Will money buy me love? For how long?

Sherman mulls a particular lady version of this: the wedding racket, with its Cinderella dreams and aspirations. A (straight) guy version might be beer commercials that suggest that if you drink the right beverage busty blondes will throw themselves at you. It’s a powerful subject – but it floats around Sherman's art rather than in it.

Ultimately Sherman is riffing around the imagery of brides, tossing them out like lures, hoping they'll hook big concepts. “Brides 1-5,” 2007, are woodcuts in white, gray and black of mirrored silhouettes of people in wedding gowns. This duplication unmoors the silhouettes from their origins. And they lose their meaning too, becoming simply curious shapes. They resemble maps of Africa or South America. Or maybe they’re wedding-themed Rorschach ink blots for us to project onto. This art doesn’t so much embody ideas, as wave hopefully in their direction.

Kelly Sherman, “Success & Happiness,” Barbara Krakow Gallery, 10 Newbury St., Boston, May 30 to July 3, 2009.

Feb. 12, 2007: Sherman wins ICA’s Foster Prize.
March 7, 2007: ICA Foster Prize exhibit.

See also: At “The Hub Review,” Thomas Garvey criticizes Sherman’s use of appropriation in his post “The plagiarist generation.”

Pictured from top to bottom: Kelly Sherman, “Bride 38,” 2009; installation view of “Brides,” 2009; “Bride 8,” 2009; “Brides Horizontal,” 2009; and “Brides 1-5,” 2007.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Joni Sternbach

From my review of “SurfLand: Photographs by Joni Sternbach” at the Peabody Essex Museum:
What's the difference between art photography and fashion photography? That's the question I kept wondering about at Joni Sternbach's "SurfLand" exhibition at Salem's Peabody Essex Museum. It features 19th-century-style tintype shots of surfers posed on New York and southern California beaches — sun-dappled bikini babes, sinewy dudes, athletic ladies and gentlemen squeezed into wetsuits, and grizzled old coots. They're all beautiful and sexy, even the gawky youths and the grizzled guys.

The Brooklyn photographer's old-timey technique makes them seem straight out of the mists of the past. Only the fashions — those wetsuits — betray that these shots were made from 2006 to '08. It's wicked cool and gimmicky, all at once — and not much different from leafing through an American Eagle or Urban Outfitters catalogue.

What makes these photos feel that way? Secondly, is that okay? And, thirdly, why can't I get over my critical self and just give these photos some love?
Read the rest here.

“SurfLand: Photographs by Joni Sternbach,” Peabody Essex Museum, East India Square, Salem, May 16 to October. 4, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Joni Sternbach, “Hawaiian Ed,” 2008; “Kate,” 2008; “Three Girls,” 2008; “Matty + Ingrid,” 2007; “Lily,” 2007; “David,” 2008; “Bettina,” 2007; and “Abbey,” 2008. All 8x10 in., tintype, Copyright Joni Sternbach, Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

“Exposure” at the Photographic Resource Center

My review of “Exposure,” which closed on June 28 at the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University:
The Photographic Resource Center's 14th annual juried exhibit "Exposure" is one of those half-fun, half-infuriating roundups of emerging art that maybe gives you a glimpse of the future. This year the 14 photographers picked by guest juror Russell Hart, executive editor of “American Photo” magazine, hail from as far away as Albuquerque and as nearby as Cambridge. Half of the artists focus on families, children, coming of age — a coincidence rather than a sign of any trend.

The pictures that stick with me include Betsy Schneider's “The Tub,” a shot of a little nude girl curled up fetal-like in a plastic tub of water; Beth Lilly's photos of trees pruned so that they seem to dance the limbo around utility wires; Elizabeth Fleming's “Pink Shoes,” glimpsing, from the back seat of a mini van, the pink glory of a little girl's feet propped up on the back of the seat in front of her; and Kevin Van Aelst's inventive transformations of everyday stuff — hair near a drain becomes the curve of an EKG, sugar packets dumped onto a restaurant table form a giant fingerprint. The highlights are catchy single images — not groups — that plumb mysteries in the quotidian.
“Exposure,” Photographic Resource Center at Boston University, 832 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, May 22 to June 28, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Betsy Schneider of Tempe, Arizona, “The Tub,” 2003; Kevin Van Aelst of New Haven, “Right Middle Finger,” 2007/2009; Louisa Marie Summer of Providence, “Smoking Youngster,” 2007; Lydia Panas of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, “Tony and Maddie,” 2007/ 2008; Brad Moore of Laguna Beach, California, “Kermore Lane, Stanton, California,” 2008; Sarah A. Martin of Jamestown, North Carolina, “Untitled,” 2007/2008; Carolyn V. Marsden of Albuquerque, “Brother and Sister,” 2008; Beth Lilly of Atlanta, “Highland View, Atlanta,” 2007; Phil Jung of Boston, “Verbenas on the Desert,” 2008; Joseph O. Holmes of Brooklyn, “lcd 443,” 2008; Elizabeth Fleming of Maplewood, New Jersey, “Fury,” 2008/2009; Anastasia Cazabon of Cambridge, “Untitled (sink),” 2008; Allen Bryan of Saugerties, New York, “Holiday Setting,” 2009; Rick Ashley of Marblehead, Massachusetts, “Prom Series #6103,” 2006/2009.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Matthew Day Jackson

From my review of Matthew Day Jackson’s “The Immeasurable Distance” at MIT’s List Visual Art Center:
Jackson's interest in Americana turns out to be specific: middle-class American guy taste. He presents a heavy brown spacesuit pinned high on the wall by a wood plank, video of models of the nukes we dropped on Japan at the end of World War II falling forever through a wind tunnel, photos of mountains in each of the lower 48 states that people think look like men's faces, aerial views of Hiroshima and Washington, DC, rendered in lead and burnt wood. He commissioned drag-racing legend "Big Daddy" Don Garlits to build an engine for him; it stands on its own in the middle of the room like a shiny chrome god.
Read the rest at the end here.

Matthew Day Jackson, “The Immeasurable Distance,” MIT List Visual Art Center, 20 Ames St., Cambridge, May 8 to July 12.

Pictured from top to bottom: Matthew Day Jackson “Heart of Prometheus,” 2009, and “The Lower 48,” 2006.

PPAC tech director to chair RI arts council

William Brackett of Coventry (pictured at left), technical director for the Providence Performing Arts Center, has been elected chair of the board of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts by the 13 members of the board.

Also Carrie Zaslow of Providence was elected vice-chair and Mary K. Talbot of Barrington was elected secretary.

Monday, June 29, 2009

23 percent cut for MA cultural council

The Massachusetts Cultural Council will receive a budget of $9.7 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, under a state budget signed by Governor Deval Patrick today. That’s a cut of 23 percent from the MCC’s current budget. Which is no big surprise as the budget Patrick signed today is the same budget that was approved by the state legislature on June 19.

And in the interest of mathematics, we are glad that the Massachusetts Cultural Council has finally stopped rounding the budget cut up to “24 percent” and gone with “23.4% percent reduction.”

June 19: $9.7M for MA cultural council?
May 20: Senate votes $9.7M for MA arts council.

Another Michael Jackson tribute

Three contestants in the Greasy Pole Contest at the St. Peter's Fiesta on Saturday.

Previously:Photo by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.