Saturday, July 11, 2009

Reithoffer carnival at Brockton Fair

Is there anything more astonishing than the deployment of plastic arts, light and motion in Reithoffer Shows’ carnival at the Brockton Fair? It offers a mix of speed and danger and sex that comes electrifying alive on a warm summer night. The Florida-headquartered Reithoffers are a carnival dynasty dating back to 1896 when Julius Reithoffer founded his show with the purchase of a steam-driven carousel.

We happened to be at the fair yesterday for some unrelated research. Thanks to the folks at the Brockton Fair and Lynch’s Towing in Brockton for their kind welcome.

Brockton Fair, 600 Belmont St., Brockton, Massachusetts, July 1 to 12, 2009.

Photos by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fairey pleads guilty to three graffiti charges

Shepard Fairey pleaded guilty today to three Boston graffiti-related charges, according to Jake Wark, press secretary for the Suffolk County District Attorney. Eleven additional graffiti-related charges were dropped by prosecutors, that’s in addition to 14 such charges dropped in June. This concludes the Boston case against him.

“Shepard is very pleased to have the Boston case behind him and return his attention to making art,” Fairey spokesman Jay Strell writes. “As an artist with a traveling exhibition surveying two decades of his work, which includes many examples of public art and the iconic Obama ‘Hope’ poster, Shepard believes that it is important for artists everywhere to have access public spaces to display their work, but do so in a respectful manner. … Shepard looks forward to continuing to bring his art to people everywhere whether it is inside a museum or in publicly available spaces.”

The Los Angeles artist, who is the subject of a major retrospective at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, pleaded guilty to a charge of defacing property by postering an electrical box – while being witnessed by Boston police – in Brighton in 2000, and two counts of wanton destruction of property for postering a condo on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston’s Back Bay and putting a sticker on a traffic sign on Atlantic Avenue in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood in 2009.

Fairey was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay $2,000 to a Boston-based graffiti clean-up service. He also must notify the Department of Probation in advance when he plans to visit Suffolk County, and while in Suffolk County must not possess any stickers, posters, wheat paste or other graffiti materials “except in connection with legal and authorized art installations,” Wark said.

Wark said Fairey agreed to make a public statement to the media today – though this was not specifically ordered by the judge – apologizing to Boston residents and promoting respect for private property.

“It’s the appropriate resolution to the case,” Wark said, explaining that it takes into account the facts of the matter and the property owners. “Private property is private and it should be up to the owners what to do with it. At the same time, the graffiti exemplars were not egregious or hateful in their content.” He added, “This is not your average tagging case.”

The ICA immediately sent out a press release saying: "As reported in the news media, Shepard Fairey's court case involving the Boston Police came to a close today. His legal battles in Boston over, Fairey can finally celebrate the success of his first museum exhibition currently on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art. On July 31, Fairey returns to the ICA for Obey Experiment REDUX, a spectacular evening of art and music on the Boston waterfront."

The ICA announcement included this statement from ICA Director Jill Medvedow: "We are thrilled to learn that Shepard Fairey's legal issues with the Boston Police have been resolved. With this matter now behind him, the focus of the conversation can return to where it belongs: on Fairey's artistic accomplishments, his outstanding exhibition at the ICA, and the meaningful contributions he has made to our visual and political culture.”

Oct. 20, 2008: Shepard Fairey in Cambridge.
Nov. 3, 2008: Shepard Fairey in Cambridge.
Feb. 7, 2009: Shepard Fairey arrested in Boston.
Feb. 9, 2009: Shepard Fairey court update.
Feb. 11, 2009: Review of Shepard Fairey's ICA show.
April 7, 2009: Caleb Neelon: Fairey's arrest hurts Boston.
April 15, 2009: Fairey could face jail for Boston graffiti.
May 10, 2009: Art criticism in Providence.
June 2, 2009: Prosecutors drop some charges against Fairey.

Pictured above: Fairey photographed by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research at the press preview for his ICA show in February, and a mug shot from his Feb. 6, 2009, arrest by Boston police.

“6th Annual Juried Summer Exhibition” at Tufts

From my review of the “Sixth Annual Juried Summer Exhibition” at the Tufts University Art Gallery:
Tufts University Art Gallery's "Sixth Annual Juried Summer Exhibition" is one of those summer sampler shows that's got about a million people in it. But a generous spirit suits this hyper-local survey, making it seem like a big community get-together. Gallery director Amy Ingrid Schlegel and her staff selected 37 artists from Medford, Somerville, and Grafton (Tufts's host communities). It's a mixed bag — how could something so populous not be? — of traditional media and photography. New media and conceptual art, which often dominate Boston's art discourse, are absent.

The payoff is the inclusion of two Somerville artists who have made breakthroughs in the past couple of years: Resa Blatman and Raúl González (who is a friend of mine). Both are ripe for major one-person shows — like, say, an ICA "Momentum" exhibit.

Blatman had been making paintings of flowers, birds, and arabesque patterns for a while, but the compositions felt awkward, flat. The realist flora and fauna seemed too separate from the decoration. I wonder whether she was just holding back. Last year, something clicked and her paintings became sharper, lusher. Suddenly they were over the top — in a ravishing way.
Read the rest here.

“Sixth Annual Juried Summer Exhibition,” Tufts University Art Gallery, 40R Talbot Ave., Medford, June 4 to August 2, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Resa Blatman, “Flux,” 2009; Raul Gonzalez, two untitled works, 2008-2009; Resa Blatman, “Lemon Spray,” 2009; Jeffrey Ellse, “Basement in Medford,” 2008; Catalina Viejo Lopez de Roda, “Letter to Hans Hoffman,” 2008; and Xiaowei Chen, “Self-Portrait,” 2008.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Edward Weston and Mexican Prints at MFA

From my review of “Viva Mexico! Edward Weston and His Contemporaries” and “Vida Y Drama: Modern Mexican Prints” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts:
In August 1923, photographer Edward Weston left his wife and three of his four sons in Los Angeles and headed to Mexico City. He took his eldest son and went "to start life anew" with his lover, the Italian-born actress Tina Modotti. Many argue that there he developed the crisp, clear, detailed, lyrical style that made him one of the pioneering masters of Modernist photography.

Weston's Mexico sojourn is the subject of the Museum of Fine Arts' exhibit "Viva Mexico! Edward Weston and His Contemporaries." The title prompts the hope that curator Karen Haas might dig into the juicy territory of Weston's Mexico circle and how these artists influenced one another, but this ain't that show. The handful of photos by his peers — Modotti, Paul Strand, Manuel Álvarez Bravo — provide only a smidgen of context, and they tend not to show these photographers at their best.

"Viva Mexico!" amounts to a small (43 black-and-white photos in one gallery), quick, delightful showcase of works from the renowned Modernist trove of the Lane Collection, which, on long-term loan to the MFA, includes some 2000 Weston photos acquired from his sons. But any reason for a Weston show is a good reason — and Haas rounds up some of his most iconic shots.

Weston was just beginning to break from the soft-focus, romantic Pictorialist mode championed by New York photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. The transition is apparent in the shots of monumental chimneys at an Ohio steel plant that he made while on the way to New York to meet Stieglitz in 1922. There he met others in Stieglitz's orbit — like Strand and Charles Sheeler, who were already exploring similar industrial (read Modern) subjects and styles. Weston seems also to have been inspired by paintings he saw by Georgia O'Keeffe (Stieglitz's lover), works that got up close and personal with still life subjects, focusing on detailed (to the point of abstraction) parts rather than on the whole.

"Here I am in romantic Mexico, and willy-nilly, one is influenced by surroundings," he wrote in his daybooks. "Life here is intense and dramatic."
Read the rest here.

“Viva Mexico! Edward Weston and His Contemporaries” and “Vida Y Drama: Modern Mexican Prints,” Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., May 30 to November 2, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Edward Weston, “Rose Roland (Covarrubias),” 1926; “Tina on the Azotea, with kimono,” 1924; “Mercado, Oaxaca,” 1926; “Galvan Shooting,” 1924; “Chayotes,” 1924; and “Palmilla,” 1926. Tina Modotti, “Worker’s Hands, Mexico,” 1927. Manuel Alvarez Bravo, “El sonador (The Dreamer),” 1931. Paul Strand, “Dia de Fiesta, Mexico,” 1933.

“Vida Y Drama: Modern Mexican Prints” at MFA

Here is a selection of prints from “Vida Y Drama: Modern Mexican Prints” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. I wrote about the exhibit here.

“Vida Y Drama: Modern Mexican Prints,” Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., May 30 to November 2, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Diego Rivera, “Zapata,” 1932; “Self-Portrait,” 1930; “La Mujer (Frida Kahlo),” verso, 1930; and “La Mujer (Frida Kahlo),” recto, 1930. Jose Clemente Orozcos, “The Masses,” 1935. Francisco Dosamtes, “Taller de Grafica Popular: Exposicion 20 Litografias, Galeria de Arte de la Universidad Nacional,” 1939. Angel Bracho, “Victoria!” 1945. Alberto Beltran, “Vida y Drama de Mexico,” 1957.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Artadia announces 15 grant finalists

Artadia, the New York-based nonprofit, today announced the 15 finalists for the seven grants it plans to award in August. They are: Claire Beckett, Cree Bruins, Ambreen Butt, Laura Chasman, Caleb Cole, Margo Cooper, Raul Gonzalez, Eric Gottesman, Wendy Jacob, Erik Levine, Steph Plourde-Simard, Nick Rodrigues, Amie Siegel, Suara Welitoff, and Joe Zane.

Finalists were chosen from 577 applications by three jurors, Sanford Biggers (artist, New York), Dan Cameron (Founding Director, Chief Curator, Prospect New Orleans), and Randi Hopkins (Associate Curator, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston). Now Peter Eleey (Visual Arts Curator, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis) and Rita Gonzalez (Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art) will work with Hopkins to pick two artists to receive $15,000 and five to get $3,000 each.

By the bye: Love Artadia and all, but why bother announcing finalists – except to drum up more publicity for the whole thing? I mean it’s nice to know the finalists, but more than half these people are going to be, uh, not-winners just like the other 562 applicants. Shouldn’t Artadia just make one announcement of the winners and get it over with?

Ria Brodell

Ria Brodell plays a game of dress-up in her show “The Handsome & the Holy” at Boston’s Rotenberg Gallery. The small pencil drawings and gouaches here feature her “Self-Portrait as a Mountain Man,” as Cary Grant, as Curly from the musical “Oklahoma!,” as Freddie Mercury of the band Queen circa 1985, as Gene Kelly, as Don Johnson in “Miami Vice,” as Prince Charming.

Amidst the wit, the Boston artist who self-identifies as queer digs at something close to the bone. “I grew up watching musicals and old black and white movies with my grandma,” Brodell writes. “I went to Catholic school (picture plaid skirts and itchy tights). Cary Grant, Gene Kelly, ‘Curly McLain’ from ‘Oklahoma!’ were handsome men with perfect hair and perfect features. I wanted to dress like them, dance like them and look like them. I played with G.I. Joe and He-Man. My aunt told me stories about the saints. Catholicism was a significant part of my childhood. I collected holy cards. I collected baseball cards. I only ever wanted one ‘Barbie’ doll, and it was Ken.”

Brodell hasn’t quite figured out how to drive these themes home, but she seems close. There are flaws, like the rascally inventiveness of her self-portrait idea is undercut by a predictable, though I trust heartfelt, trotting out of gay icons. (More interestingly unexpected are ideas like “St. Anthony Finds G.I. Joe’s Gun” and “He-Man and St. Michael Find They Have a Lot in Common.") And her renderings feel stiff, flat. Maybe it’s just that, as the gallery says, these are her first experiments with gouache.

Brodell has better art chops than this show suggests. She showed flashes of an easy, fluid dexterity in her last body of paintings, drawings and sculptures that were featured at Rhys Gallery in November 2006 and then in the spring 2007 DeCordova Annual. In that work, though, Brodell got bogged down in her subject, an invented fairy-tale world of whales, submarines, Wormbunnies, Birdmen, and Sodmonsters intended as an elaborate (and somewhat opaque) fable about war and our stewardship of the earth.

Her subject in “The Handsome & the Holy” is more clear, more funny, more personal, more vulnerable and correspondingly more powerful. And you know she can draw, paint and sculpt. When will she to put it all together? I’m looking forward to her next show.

Ria Brodell “The Handsome & the Holy,” Judi Rotenberg Gallery, 130 Newbury St., Boston, June 11 to July 11, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Ria Brodell, "Self-Portrait as Miami Vice Dude," 2009; "He-Man and St. Michael Find They Have a Lot in Common," 2008; "Self-Portrait as a Mountain Man," 2008; "Self-Portrait as Freddie Mercury, circa 1985," 2009; "Self-Portrait as Curly, ("Oh, What a Beautiful Morning")," 2008; and “Self-Portrait as Cary Grant," 2009.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Gardner carriage house RIP

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston began tearing down "Mrs. Jack"'s lovely carriage house (pictured above in March) yesterday to make way for a Renzo Piano-designed expansion of the museum. Neighbors, preservationists and even Gardner staff fought the demolition, but with the museum receiving the necessary governmental approvals, Gardner leaders pushed ahead with the destruction.

Katherine Armstrong tells The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research:
"abatement and removal of the carriage house is an ongoing process, part of enabling and site preparation work for the museum’s new building and museum preservation project that is also ongoing this summer. Enabling and site preparation work began in late May. In addition to abatement and removal of the carriage house, and existing greenhouses, this work includes art and architectural salvage work, and the digging of geothermal wells, among other work. This enabling and site preparation work is expected to continue throughout the summer. We expect to break ground on the new building sometime this fall."
March 5, 2009: Court oks Gardner expansion, demolition.
March 9, 2009: Gardner buildings slated for demolition.

Update July 8: Thanks to an anonymous commenter below who offers links to early 20th century photos of the carriage house and video of its demolition. If you have photos of the interior of the place, please get in touch.

Monday, July 06, 2009

St. Peter's Fiesta in Gloucester

St. Peter’s Fiesta, Gloucester’s great annual Catholic-Italian-fishing-drinking festival, is one of my favorite events of year. People parade through the streets carrying statues of saints and shouting blessings. Men dress up like women and clowns and try to step across a horizontal, greased telephone pole to grab a flag off the end. And it is the city’s great homecoming, as friends and family return to Gloucester for the occasion.

The festival ended on Sunday, June 28. I keep thinking about Fiesta Tuesday when men carried the statue of St. Peter to the beach in the rain as a crowd followed behind. There they dedicated this year’s events to Matteo Russo and his father-in-law John Orlando, two fishermen who were lost at sea in the dark early hours of Jan. 3. It’s unclear just what happened, but so far the most likely scenario seems to be that their boat, the Patriot, may have been flipped when it collided with a tug’s towline 15 miles offshore. Russo had owned the 54-foot-long steel-hulled trawler for not quite a year.

The photo above shows that dedication ceremony, with (from left to right) Orlando’s daughter Grace Burbridge, his widow Anna Orlando, his grandchild Alexia Russo, and Josie Russo. Josie lost her father and her husband in the wreck. She was pregnant with their second child at the time, John Matteo, whom she holds in her arms. He was born in mid May.

Related: The photos here are by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. The rest of our extensive photographic coverage of Fiesta can be seen here. For additional perspectives, check out the photos of Jane Cunningham (who writes a lovely Fiesta tribute), Todd Prussman, Sharon Lowe, and, of course, the Gloucester Times and Cape Ann Beacon. A word to the wise for the new North Shore Art Throb: try to avoid writing descriptions of ethnic groups like this: “I feel a bit like a scientist observing chimpanzees at play.”