Saturday, October 03, 2009

Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off at Topsfield Fair

“This one’s heavy,” the men said with some awe as they loaded Joe Jutras’s pumpkin onto the scales at the All New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off at the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts this morning.

Jutras, who resides in North Scituate, Rhode Island, arrived as the world record holder of giant pumpkin growing, for a 1,689-pounder he brought to the Topsfield Fair in 2007. And just after 11 a.m. his entry took the lead in this year’s Topsfield competition at 1,187 pounds.

Giant pumpkin competitions have become a phenomenon over the past quarter century. About 70 weigh-offs will take place around the world this year – including 27 this weekend – that are sanctioned by the officiating body, Great Pumpkin Commonwealth. The contest at the Topsfield Fair, started 26 years ago, was one of the originals.

Over the next hour, Jutras fell behind the competition. The lead passed to a 1,258.8-pounder grown by Glen Peters of Billerica, Massachusetts; a 1,273.4-pounder (pictured second below) by Jim Kuhn of Goffstown, New Hampshire; a 1,373.6-pounder by Art Kaczenski of Erving, Massachusetts; a 1,409-pounder (pictured first below) by Bruce Whittier of Henniker, New Hampshire.

The last pumpkin to be weighed was a pale white-orange beast that Bill Rodonis of Litchfield, New Hampshire, started from a seed back on April 19. “I had a [world] record in 2007,” he recalled, “but then Joe Jutris came on 20 minutes later and broke it.” The crowd watched as the forklift lowered this year’s entry onto the scale. The pumpkin registered 1,471.6 pounds, winning the competition.

By the Bye: Wes Dwelly of Oakham, Massachusetts, won the long gourd competition with a world record length of 129.38 inches.

The Topsfield Fair, Route 1, Topsfield, Massachusetts, Oct. 2 to 12, 2009. Bill Rodonis’s winning pumpkin can be seen in the Fruits and Vegetables Barn through the end of the fair.

Photos by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

Below: Bill Rodonis's pumpkin is lowered onto the scale.

Below: Bill Rodonis and his wife Linda pose with his winning 1,471.6-pound pumpkin.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Administrative exodus from Brandeis

Brandeis University President Jehuda Reinharz’s announcement of his resignation last week is part of an administrative exodus from the Waltham school – including the school’s top financial leader. The departures come in the wake of a financial crisis at the university and international criticism of school leaders' January threat to close Brandeis’s Rose Art Museum and sell off its collection.

“It would be inaccurate to suggest that they are somehow related, or should be tied to the global financial situation or to the museum issue,” Brandeis spokesman Dennis Nealon tells The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. “These are situations where people were ready to retire or found opportunities that built on their work at Brandeis and were just more of personal career type decisions.”

The departures were previously reported in the school’s student newspaper The Justice.

Peter French (pictured here), Brandeis’s chief operating officer for the past 12 years is retiring this month, though he is expected to stay on in an advisory role through December. French has been a key public spokesman for Brandeis about the financial crisis facing the school.

He is being replaced by Jeff Apfel, who was vice president for administration and chief financial officer at Rutgers University until 2007 when he took a job as chief operating officer at the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray.

Vice President of Financial Affairs Maureen Murphy left the school in August after 12 years at Brandeis to become an associate vice chancellor and chief financial officer at New York University’s branch in Dubai.

Dean of Admissions Gil Villanueva left Brandeis in July, where he has worked since 2005, to start as dean of admissions at the University of Richmond on July 15.

Senior Vice President of Communications Lorna Miles left over the summer, after working at the school since 2003, to become chief marketing officer at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., in July.

Regarding the threats to the Rose, Nealon insists, “While that decision and the process back in January has been much publicized, people have to remember that nothing has changed.” This seems to overlook, for example, that Rose Director Michael Rush and an administrative manager were forced out. But Nealon continues, “There has been no ultimate decision to close the museum or part with any of the artworks there. … Lost in all of this is we’re talking about an initial decision process, but not acted on as a result of that decision. Which was retracted and reviewed, and is still being reviewed. But nothing has happened, nothing has changed. The museum is fully open and functioning. And there is every intention to have exhibits. … There are no plans to sell work. No one is saying that would never ever happen. That issue is entirely the jurisdiction of the board of trustees. And it will not say that it is never going to happen, or it will happen.”

Sept. 28, 2009: Brandeis’s Rose Museum: Where to go from here?

“Pixilerations” in Providence

From my review of “Pixilerations,” the sixth-annual digital art festival in Providence:
Strapped into Erik Conrad’s electronic vest, I stood waiting for the personal digital assistant, attached by a wire to the outfit, to make a GPS connection. Conrad, who resides in Buffalo, New York, GPS-tagged several Providence buildings, converted their images into sound, and “then optimized for vibrotactile playback,” which I was supposed to be feeling through the vest.

The project, titled Bark Rubbings: City As Forest, is the artist’s contribution to the First Works Festival’s “Pixilerations [v. 6]” (through October 11), the sixth annual roundup of digital art and music. When I picked the outfit up at RISD’s Sol Koffler Gallery (169 Weybosset Street, Providence), Maya Allison, “Pixilerations” director as well as gallery director at 5 Traverse, advised: “If the vest gets too intense you can loosen it up or turn it off.” This sounded promising.
Read the rest here.

“Pixilerations,” RISD’s Sol Koffler Gallery, 169 Weybosset St.; 5 Traverse Gallery, 5 Traverse St.; and various other locations in Providence; Sept. 24 to Oct. 11, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Clement Valla, “McDunco,” 2008; Paul Myoda, “Glittering Machine,” 2009; Christa Erickson, “Debt Reducer,” 2007-8; Andrew Ames, “Space Invader Returns Home,” 2009.

Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger Museum seeks curator

The Harvard Art Museum’s Busch-Reisinger Museum is seeking a new curator after its Daimler-Benz Curator Peter Nisbet (pictured here) left the Cambridge museum June 30 after more than 25 years there. He began work as chief curator at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Ackland Art Museum on Oct. 1.

“There is no set timetable for the search,” a Harvard spokesperson writes. “The museum's assistant curator, Laura Muir, has assumed the role of acting curator in the meantime.”

Anna Hepler

The showstopper of Anna Hepler’s show “Intricate Universe” at Montserrat is her sculpture “Arrest, Array” (2009). From the side, it looks like some sort of digital model of a stomach and the parts – a web of black plastic joints and wiry aluminum and steel rods – seem commonplace. But head on it resembles a map of some galaxy, hovering in mid air, and all the fine metal lines and plastic dots array like a burst of energy. Three dioramas display models for larger wire sculptures.

Web, molecular chain, or ball-of-yarn motifs reappear in abstract woodcuts from her “Wolfecut” series. She says she’s inspired by insect swarms, electronic circuitry, tangles of thread. Hepler, who resides in Portland, Maine, makes much of woodcuts’ bold lines as well as they way inks softly overlap when woodblocks are printed one atop another. My favorite is a light blue oval, sort of like the silhouette of a rounded beach rock, pocked with lines of white dots. A rounded gray dotted cap-shape overlaps the blue at the top. There’s something charming about the large shapes, the layered colors, the dots, the grain of the wood. The effects are calm and modest, but satisfying.

Anna Hepler, “Intricate Universe,” Montserrat College of Art Gallery, 23 Essex St., Beverly, Aug. 22 to Oct. 17, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Anna Hepler, “Arrest, Array” and woodcuts from her “Wolfecut” series.

Haunted Happenings Grand Parade in Salem

The annual Haunted Happenings Grand Parade in Salem, Massachusetts, last night, as photographed by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

Order copies of these photos and additional parade shots here – but be warned that some of these photos will appear less sharp than they do here when printed because nearly all were shot using only ambient light.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Creative Economy Council: "Is MA sexy?"

First report by Massachusetts Creative Economy Council

Massachusetts needs to be rebranded as a “leading creative economy state,” according to the first report from The Massachusetts Creative Economy Council, which was submitted to the state legislature on Aug. 27. “Is MA sexy?,” the report asks. “People see us as conservative. This needs to be ‘the’ hot place to be.”

Much of the 22-page report (pdf) from the committee, billed as the first such state-level council in the nation, reads like boiler plate from a group just getting its bearings since it began meeting on Jan. 29. More interesting are specific proposals floated by the committee, like tax credits for the video game industry and perhaps live performing arts, or developing “a hot new creative signature event like SXSW” for music and/or interactive technology. Though I can’t tell how much folks from Away will be impressed by our creativity in staging copycat events.

In addition to rebranding the state, council priorities include:
  • Support for entrepreneurship.
  • Continued state-provided financial support for cultural organizations, artists and tourism efforts, both in operating and capital funding.
  • Clarify the state’s definition of what makes up the Creative Economy into measurable data points. Hope to finalize this by end of this year.
  • Coordinated workforce initiatives to retain talent and support future job growth.
The group says a focus for the next six months will be to put together legislative proposals to lay the groundwork for creative economy growth as the general economy recovers.

Proposals floated for reaching the council’s various goals include:
  • Gather seed funding for creative entrepreneurs – such as an independent film fund “as raising money is the most difficult part of the process”
  • Organize a Massachusetts Creative Economy Association
  • “Need to be a place where people can bounce ideas off each other.”

Maine traditional arts masters announced

Thomas Cote, an Acadian woodcarver from Limestone; Susan Barrett Merrill, a weaver and spinner from Brooksville; and Paula Thorne, a Penobscot basketmaker from Exeter, were among the five “traditional arts masters” announced by the Maine Arts Commission Monday. They will each will receive a $4,000 stipend to train an apprentice during the coming 12 months. The program is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Folk and Traditional Arts program.

This year's “traditional arts masters” – including fiddler Greg Boardman of Auburn and Quebecois accordionist Normand Gagnon of Rumford – are scheduled to perform and demonstrate their crafts during the free Maine Arts Commission's Fellowship Showcase at Rockland’s Strand Theatre on Oct. 23.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thomas Sgouros

Providence artist Thomas Sgouros’s show at the Providence Art Club offers 30 paintings – uptight still-lifes from the mid-1980s to mid-90s, and brand new soft-focus, impressionistic “Remembered Landscapes.” The simplified landscapes, which he continues to paint despite losing more and more of his sight to macular degeneration, sometimes turn generic. But the rusty-hues and great clouds billowing over marshes and slivers of shiny water can still evoke a strong autumn mood.

Thomas Sgouros, Providence Art Club, 11 Thomas St., Providence, Sept. 13 to Oct. 2, 2009.

Previously: Our review of Sgouros's 2006 show at Gallery Agniel.

Pictured: An untitled 1992 untitled still-life painting by Thomas Sgouros.

MFA contemporary curator update

In July 2008, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts announced that its contemporary art curator, Cheryl Brutvan, would leave before the end of the year. Now, more than a year later, the job remains unfilled.

“The search for the contemporary curator is underway,” MFA spokesperson Kelly Gifford told me last week when I inquired about the status of the job. “The position is the Beal Senior Curator for Contemporary Art (it was not a senior curatorial position before) and the focus remains building the MFA’s contemporary collection of art, organizing exhibitions, etc.”

How about we promote MFA Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art William Stover?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Haunted Happenings Grand Parade is Thursday

The annual Haunted Happenings Grand Parade is Thursday, Oct. 1, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. in downtown Salem, Massachusetts. This is the townie, family event that opens the annual Halloween shenanigans in Witch City, a smaller, quieter appetizer to the crazy mobbed events later in the month. It features costumed kids and marching bands and masked politicians marching from at Shetland Park to Salem Common.

Photos here copyright Jerrie Hildebrand.

Camille Utterback gets “Genius” grant

No artists living in New England were named 2009 MacArthur “Geniuses” last week, though a bunch of Boston-area scientists are honored. But it’s worth noting that "Genius" Camille Utterback, a 39-year-old digital artist in San Francisco, grew up near Boston. You may remember her work at Art Interactive in Cambridge during the 2007 Boston Cyberarts Festival. Cameras turned visitors' shuffling through the gallery into abstract doodles projected on the walls. (Pictured: Utterback’s “Untitled 6,” 2005.)

“I was born in Indiana, but my folks moved to the Boston area when I was 3,” Utterback tells me by e-mail. “I lived on the North Shore (Lynnfield) until leaving for Williams College out in western Mass. After college I moved back to Jamaica Plain where I stayed for almost 4 years until I moved to New York for grad school.”

Related: Last October, Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art opened a survey of New York sculptor Tara Donovan just after she won a MacArthur “Genius” grant. Her ICA show overlapped with the end of the ICA’s spring exhibit “Street Level: Mark Bradford, William Cordova and Robin Rhode,” which was organized by Duke University’s Nasher Museum. Bradford, who lives in Los Angeles, was among this year’s MacArthur winners. So for about nine days last fall, the ICA had two official “Geniuses” on the walls.

Maxwell Mays

From my review of a show by Maxwell Mays of Coventry, Rhode Island, at the Providence Art Club:
Mays’s paintings of quaint olden days in Rhode Island mix the folksiness of J.O.J. Frost of Marblehead, Massachusetts, or Grandma Moses with the easygoing appeal of New Yorker covers. (Mays’s paintings have graced the cover of Yankee magazine two dozen times.) In 44 works from the 1950s to this decade, his main subjects are bustling Main Street USA intersections and bird’s-eye historical panoramas of Ocean State towns in which he seems to have carefully noted every leaf, every brick.
Read the rest here (at the end).

Maxwell Mays, Providence Art Club, 11 Thomas St., Providence, Sept. 13 to Oct. 2, 2009.

Pictured: An untitled 1949 painting by Maxwell Mays.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Brandeis’s Rose Museum: Where to go from here?

With the announcement of Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz’s resignation and the release of a Rose advisory committee’s final report last week, it’s time to look at where to go from here.

1. Brandeis Board Chairman Malcolm L. Sherman should depart too.

When Brandeis University announced plans in January to close its Rose Art Museum and pawn its collection, it immediately set up a question of which would go first: the Rose or Brandeis leaders pushing the death-to-the-Rose policy? Because you can’t just fight a toxic policy, you have to fight the people backing the policy. As long as they remain in power you don’t know if their plan is actually defeated or just dormant.

So Reinharz’s slo-mo resignation (he won’t be leaving until the end of the school year, at the earliest) is a victory for those working to preserve the Rose and its collection. But it’s just a first step, because the board and everyone else who backed the policy remains in place. And they don’t seem to have changed their minds. The board loudly proclaims its intentions with what the school calls an “unprecedented vote” to keep listening to Reinharz's advice even after he quits.

If that’s their plan, then Sherman must go too. The move would be symbolic as well as practical. He’s the guy who turned his experience running the Zayre discount retail chain into the ground in the 1980s into a lucrative career as a business crisis manager/liquidation specialist. Not the sort of guy you want safeguarding an irreplaceable art collection.

2. Brandeis must promise – in writing – to not sell off the Rose’s major treasures. Because what is a museum that sells off the treasures it was built to museum? It’s an untrustworthy institution and a failure because it doesn’t fulfill its fundamental purpose. And besides, Brandeis leaders have not demonstrated that this is the sort of do-or-die situation that requires the sale of legacy capital assets to fund operating costs.

Brandeis leaders have backpedaled from their January plan to “sell the art collection.” Now they’re considering selling just “some artworks if necessary.” Most threatened are the most treasured works since in this case they mostly correspond to the biggest potential price tags.

Many observers rightly complained that the report released last week by Brandeis’s Future of the Rose Committee sidestepped the issue off the sale of artwork – though this was not news as the committee announced it would do just that in the spring.

3. Brandeis should adopt the recommendations in the Future of the Rose Committee report to (a) maintain the museum as it was and to (b) better integrate it into the educational mission of the school. The report calls for a return to pre-Rose-crisis staffing levels to achieve these goals – from supervising interns to developing Rose-related curricula.

“Announcements will not be enough,” the report correctly notes. “Some will be suspicious about the University’s intentions no matter what the Administration announces; we hope that the University will quickly embark on the constructive steps for reinvigorating the Rose that we recommend throughout this report and put such suspicions to rest.”

The committee has produced a thoughtful and levelheaded report. But when the committee announces “our intention has been to use this opportunity to rethink the role of the Rose with the intent of strengthening it” remember that the Rose was attacked because it has major assets, not because it was poorly managed. But the attack has now become the impetus for a management critique and eating into the Rose’s autonomy. You can’t help wondering if, say, there will be a similar call for a mathematics class to be sent out to the athletic fields during games to develop wall labels and iPod commentary that address the question “Is Soccer Math?”

The report reveals an alienation of Brandeis academic departments from the Rose. The alienation likely reflects a mix of long-held views and the piling on that’s common when people/departments are under attack. The divide between the Rose and other Brandeis departments has not been helped by a “perceived competition for donors” observed by the committee.

Rose leaders were shortsighted in not recognizing and addressing this alienation. They didn’t take advantage of faculty talents – rarely inviting faculty to help curate or even consult on exhibits. “The Rose has sponsored one short-term faculty group exhibition during the past fourteen years,” the report notes. And no Rose director, it adds, has taught a Brandeis course since the departure of Carl Belz “over a decade ago.”

There is at least one flaw in the report’s observations (as differentiated from analysis). It says, “A greater effort should be made to have major representatives of the permanent collection on view regularly albeit on a rotational basis if necessary.” It’s a no-brainer recommendation, and would help enlarge the constituency for the threatened collection. But it shows that people haven't been following the Rose, because more than half of the Rose’s exhibits since ousted Rose Director Michael Rush arrived in December 2007 has been from the collection. Andy Warhol’s 1964 painting “Saturday Disaster” (pictured above), which is perhaps most in danger of being sold, was rarely off the walls during Rush’s tenure.

Dec. 23: Rose freezes curator search
Jan. 26: Brandeis to close Rose
Jan. 27: Update: Brandeis to close Rose, sell art
Jan. 27: Brandeis president’s e-mail on Rose
Jan. 27: Brandeis’s money
Jan. 27: AG on Brandeis's plans
Jan. 29: Brandeis’s liquidator-in-chief
Jan. 29: The first painting Brandeis should pawn
Jan. 29: Question: Brandeis financial management?
Feb. 5: Brandeis won’t close Rose?
Feb. 5: Will defunct Rose replace defunct Safra Center plan?
Feb. 9: Open discussion at the Rose tomorrow
Feb. 11: How do you solve Brandeis’s budget crisis?
March 16: Rose family objects to closing Rose museum
March 16: What is the Rose family saying?
May 15: The end of the Rose?
May 20: Voices from the Rose.
May 20: Rose collection treasures.
July 27: Rose overseers sue to preserve museum, stop sale of art: If museum can’t be saved, they say give art to new Rose Preservation Fund.
July 31: Key weaknesses in the Rose suit.
Sept. 15: Brandeis seeks dismissal of Rose lawsuit.
Sept. 25: Brandeis president announces resignation.