Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thanksgiving parade in Plymouth

Pictured here is "America's Hometown Thanksgiving Parade" in Plymouth, Massachusetts, today as photographed by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. One of our favorite moments was watching the "dinner turkey" float roll by the Plymouth Rock portico, as seen above.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gallery Z's history of Providence video art

From our review of “Video Art Exhibition,” a mini history of Providence video art at Gallery Z in Providence:
In May 1978, Providence police raided the exhibition “Private Parts” at the Electron Movers loft on North Main Street to enforce a then-new state obscenity law. Officers seized dozens of artworks, including — an earnest local TV news anchorman told viewers — “exhibits of human genitals termed ‘horrible’ by Chief Angelo Ricci after two detectives visited yesterday.” I’ll never again question the heroism of our local law enforcement.

All this is recounted in a 1978 Laurie McDonald documentary screening in “Video Art Exhibition” at Gallery Z. The electronic time capsule exhibit showcases 1970s recordings by McDonald and other members of the Electron Movers, a taste of early ’90s video from Joshua Pearson and Gardner Post’s Emergency Broadcast Network, plus recent works. It’s a rough draft of local art history that hopefully will inspire a larger local institution to more deeply plumb Ocean State tech art.
Read the rest here.

“Video Art Exhibition,” Gallery Z, 259 Atwells Ave., Providence, Nov. 4 to 28, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Electron Movers (Philip Palombo, Dennis Hlynsky, Alan Powell), “Floating Hands,” 1976; Laurie McDonald, “Dying Swan,” 1975; Philip Palombo & Dennis Hlynsky, “Casey,” 1978; Philip Palombo, “Spaminator Speaks,” 2009; and Raphael DiLuzio, “Seventh Veil,” 2009.

David Cole wins Rappaport Prize

Providence sculptor David Cole has won this year’s $25,000 Rappaport Prize, a collaborative initiative of the Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Foundation of Boston and DeCordova Sculpture Park + Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. The prize aims to “recognize the achievement and potential of an artist who has already demonstrated significant creativity and vision” and “encourage the artist to continue in a career of art making.”

“We are thrilled to award this year’s Rappaport Prize, and particularly this tenth prize, to an artist of such high caliber, ambition, and creativity,” DeCordova Director Dennis Kois said in a prepared statement. “The way Dave so fluidly crosses boundaries of medium, style, and subject in his work puts him at the forefront of art-making in a time of changing cultural, personal, and media landscapes.”

Our review of Dave Cole’s 2008 show at Boston’s Rotenberg Gallery, which won a critics’ award for sculpture in the 2008 Boston Art Awards organized by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.
Our thoughts of Cole’s work in 2006.

Pictured: Dave Cole's "Knitting Machine" at MassMoCA in 2005.

Grohe named museum educator of the year

Michelle Grohe, director of school and teacher programs at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, has been named 2010 Museum Art Educator of the Year (pdf) by the Massachusetts Art Education Association.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Yokelist Manifesto 4: We need coverage of our living artists

The state of mainstream media coverage of Boston art may be revealed by one telling fact: over the past six months, the lead critic for The Boston Globe has written as many reports about art in Venice as he’s written about living Boston artists.

If New England aims to be a major art center, our institutions need to feature local artists – and that includes the local press.

But the Globe’s lead art critic Sebastian Smee – a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for “his fresh, accessible and energetic reviews of the New England art scene,” and the only staff writer fully devoted to visual art coverage in Boston – has written about just four shows featuring living New England artists since the start of May: Cambridge/New York/Warsaw artist Krzysztof Wodiczko’s installation at the ICA, Maine’s Robert Indiana at the Farnsworth Museum, the Portland Museum of Art Biennial, and the Boston Cyberarts Festival (which only mentions Boston folks in passing). This amounts to 10 percent of the 41 articles and reviews he’s published during this span.

Smee’s tally of local coverage doubles if you include dead artists with New England ties like John Singer Sargent, Maurice Prendergast, Hans Hofmann and his students, Norman Rockwell, and Hyman Bloom, who died in August.

During that same time, Smee has published four pieces on shows outside the region – Kandinsky at the Guggenheim, Francis Bacon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and two reports on the Venice Biennale.

Would New York tolerate that little coverage of local living artists from writers at the New York Times? Would it tolerate its art critics spending as much time covering shows outside the region as writing about living local artists? Why should Boston tolerate it?

Smee’s seeming disinterest in local living artists may be more a symbol than fully representative of the Globe’s art coverage. Regular Globe freelancer Cate McQuaid may write more about living Boston area artists than anyone else around in her occasional profiles and weekly local gallery reviews. Over the past six months, 30 percent of the visual arts reports by staffer Mark Feeney, who won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for criticism, have been about living New England artists. But staff culture reporter Geoff Edgers’s only coverage of local visual artists in the past six months seems to have been his Oct. 15 report “Boston recruits local artists to help ward off graffiti.”

The Phoenix’s visual art coverage in Boston and Providence is mainly by me, so I’ll leave that for others to analyze (see below). (Note: I’ve written for the Globe in the past as well.)

Other major media outlets in Boston tend to be worse when it comes to covering art made here. The Boston Herald’s visual art coverage has been terrible in recent years, but it includes a Nov. 15 profile of Cambridge artist Louisa Bertman, who makes celebrity portraits, and a Nov. 11 report on Wodiczko’s show at the ICA. Local public radio station WBUR’s website lists five visual arts stories that is has produced since July 29 – only one featured a local living artist, a Nov. 10 report on Wodiczko at the ICA. The website of WGBH television’s Greater Boston show suggests it has produced six art segments during that time, and the only time it touched on local artists was an Oct. 14 piece on DeCorvdova, which noted the museum’s focus on “artists living and working in New England” but included maybe just one image of a locally-made work but didn’t mention anyone by name.

The upshot is that Boston art reporting is heavily driven by what’s at the MFA and ICA, so if local museums don’t show locally-made art the local press doesn't much feature it either. Which may be a factor for Smee as well, since he seems to have covered just one gallery exhibition since he joined the Globe in May 2008. (This seems to reflect a division of labor at the Globe, with Smee focusing on museums, McQuaid on galleries, and Feeney on photography, among his other duties.)

To its credit, the Globe, despite rounds of staff cuts over the past couple years, has maintained its stable of visual arts reporters. Though when David Beard, editor of the Globe’s website, recently spoke at a Pennsylvania college about what “essentials” newspapers will maintain as they adapt to changing technology and the erosion of their financial model, he left out arts coverage. “As newspapers shrink,” he explained, “the better ones are thinking deeply about who remains. The city hall reporter. The police reporter. The education reporter. The local gossip columnist, the obit writer and sports reporters.”

Beard tells me, “It was an oversight that I didn’t include arts reporting. Of course, we have to do arts reporting. And maybe arts reporting is so important that it could be in the same category as some of the investigative reporting, where we get a foundation to fund it too.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I said I’d let others analyze the Phoenix’s visual art coverage in Boston and Providence, so here are some critiques of my recent reports in those publications:

Megaera commented on Sept. 25:
“What I find remarkable — not to mention annoying and disheartening — is that so few writers reviewing art in the newspapers or on the internet are talented or perspicacious enough to write actual art criticism. In fact, as regards Mr. Cook's "Gang of Six", I could get more in-depth analysis from a fourth-grade art appreciation class. Mr. Cook seems qualified only to speak about what suits his taste. Obviously, he likes "paintings of quaint olden days", "Grandma Moses with the easygoing appeal of New Yorker covers", "rusty hues and great clouds billowing over marshes and slivers of shiny water" and paintings as "charming as a toy train set." He shows his ignorance of and, I think, antipathy toward the edgier, less traditional, more courageous forms of contemporary art. His prejudice is revealed when he seems to focus on the "naked lady" and "topless lady" of the work of Angel Quiñone[z] rather than confront the deeper motivations behind Quiñone[z]'s use of the 'naked female form', or even 'naked woman'; his casual use of the word "lady" is a cultural, social, and masculinist presumption for which Mr. Cook takes no responsibility, though his bias clearly colors his view of the work. His monotone description of Bain's work as "cute, bright, graphic, patchwork dreamscapes" reveals Mr. Cook's inability to go deeper than the first glance. Because Anna Shapiro's juxtaposed forms and use of color don't "add up" for him, he assumes they won't "add up" for anyone, though he never acknowledges his own location in relationship to the art, nor his obviously limited visual, philosophical, and theoretical vocabulary. It's as though thinking about the meaning of the work within an informed cultural context hurts his head, and he is unwilling to make himself uncomfortable by doing so. Mr. Cook's flaccid, inarticulate, uninterrogated review reads like a book report from a bored student rather than meaningful criticism from a curious observer who is passionate about art and artists. I think the readers of the Phoenix deserve better.”

Boston photographer Robert Castagna wrote on Sept. 5 that I'm the cause of, and solution to, all of Boston art criticism’s problems:
“Art criticism in Boston is often simply cronyism or paid for advertising, and the aspiring artists will take it any way they can get it. Believe me I understand that it is not easy to keep a magazine or newspaper going these days but lets face it, integrity must come first. ... The Boston Phoenix recent review of a Tufts University group show touted one particular artist as deserving an ICA one-person show. The author was good friends with the artist. Where’s the professionalism, the integrity? … So we must turn to the internet and online magazines and blogs. Here we have Big, Red and Shiny, The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research and .... ? … Obviously this is where the Boston art scene will get its due.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Yokelist Manifesto Number 1: Boston lacks alternative spaces?
Yokelism at the 2008 Boston Art Awards.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 2: Montreal case study.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 3: Hire locally.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Photography = New England’s greatest art?

The other day I argued that “Photography has been New England’s greatest contribution to art of the past century” and included a list of names: Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind at RISD; Gregory Crewdson in western Massachusetts and Joel Meyerowitz on Cape Cod; Eliot Porter in Maine; Harold “Doc” Edgerton, Berenice Abbott, Nan Goldin, and Nicholas Nixon in Boston.

In a comment to my post, George Fifield suggested adding two more names: “Minor White, who though he moved around the country often, spent the last ten years of his life teaching at MIT and had a profound impact here. And someone, who, though he will not be remembered for his photography, certainly belongs in any who's who of the medium: Edwin H. Land.”

George is absolutely right.

I didn’t mean for my list to be a comprehensive list, just a sampling. But since we’re on the subject …

A major starting place for this topic is the DeCordova’s 2000 exhibition – and accompanying catalogue – “Photography in Boston: 1955-1985.” Then I’d add former Photographic Resource Center curator Leslie K. Brown’s insight that this region represents a sort of photography triangle between Boston, Providence and Rochester, New York.

To keep building a list of New England photography folks you might add: Abelardo Morell, Frank Gohlke, Laura McPhee, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, the Starn Twins, Henry Horenstein, Gregory Kepes, Jules Aarons, Elsa Dorfman, Bradford Washburn, Eugene Richards, and Nan Goldin's "Boston School" associates David Armstrong, Mark Morrisroe, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, and Shellburne Thurber.

Whom would you add and why?

Pictured above: Minor White, “Vassar Street, Vicinty MIT Campus,” 1974.

Happy birthday MFA

This month marks the hundredth anniversary of the opening of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ Huntington Avenue building in November 1909.

The museum first opened in Copley Square in 1876 (pictured at left) in the then recently filled-in Back Bay. But as the enterprise grew and Copley Square grew up around it, the museum looked for a place to expand – and to continue expanding into the future (the MFA’s new American Wing is scheduled to open a year from now) – so it bought land where it now resides on Huntington Avenue.

I’m a bit unclear of the exact date the Huntington Avenue building opened. A 1920 “Handbook of the Museum of Fine Arts” and a 1922 Encyclopedia Britannica say the building opened on Nov. 15, 1909. But a 1999 MFA “Guide to the Collection” says it opened on Nov. 2, 1909.

Regardless, happy birthday.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Maxwell Mays has died

“When I am holding a brush I own the world. Little by little I find I can invite you in too.” – Maxwell Mays

Maxwell Mays of Coventry, Rhode Island, beloved for his quaint olden days portraits of Rhode Island, died today. He was born in the Ocean State in 1918 and studied at Rhode Island School of Design. A retrospective at the Providence Art Club in September showcased his trademark charming folksy paintings of Main Street USA intersections and bird’s-eye historical panoramas of Rhode Island towns in which he seemed to have carefully noted every leaf, every brick.

Pictured above: Maxwell Mays's 1989 "Pawtuxet Village" and a 2004 profile of Mays from NBC channel 10 in Providence.

“Focus on Four” at Newport Art Museum

From my review of “Focus on Four” at the Newport Art Museum:
Photography has been New England’s greatest contribution to art of the past century. The names amount to a who’s-who of the medium — from Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind at RISD; to Gregory Crewdson in western Massachusetts and Joel Meyerowitz on Cape Cod; to Eliot Porter in Maine; to Harold “Doc” Edgerton, Berenice Abbott, Nan Goldin, and Nicholas Nixon in Boston.

“Focus on Four” at the Newport Art Museum samples Rhode Island’s contribution with black-and-white photographs that Gertrude Käsebier, Lewis Hine, Charlotte Estey, and Aaron Siskind made in the Ocean State as well as elsewhere, plus supplementary photos by mentors, followers, and friends like Harry Callahan. This sharp sampler isn’t a comprehensive survey, more like stepping stones across a century.
Read the rest here.

“Focus on Four” at the Newport Art Museum, 76 Bellevue Ave., Newport, Oct. 24, 2009, to Jan. 24, 2010.

Pictured from top to bottom: Lewis Hine, “A beautiful young spinner and doffer in Interlaken Mill, Arkwright, RI. She has worked there 1 year. Looked 12 yrs. old and had a hectic flush caused by warm, close atmosphere. April 17, 1909,” courtesy of Slater Mill, Pawtucket, RI, gift of Mrs. C. Raymond Munson, in memory of Alice Hunt and Edith Woodhead Marshall; Gertrude Käsebier, “Hermine Turner and her Nephew Charles,” 1903, courtesy of Lee Gallery, Andover, Mass.; Gertrude Käsebier, “Happy Days,” 1903, collection of Patrick Montgomery; Gertrude Käsebier, “The Manger,” c. 1899, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., gift of the Holladay Foundation; Lewis Hine, “Housing conditions, Rear of Republican Street, Providence, RI, Nov. 23, 1912,” courtesy of Slater Mill, Pawtucket, RI, gift of Mrs. C. Raymond Munson, in memory of Alice Hunt and Edith Woodhead Marshall;
Charlotte Estey, “Girl in Confirmation Dress, Wickenden St., Providence, RI,” c.1950 and “[Wrought Iron Gate, The Breakers,]” Newport, RI,” both courtesy the Rhode Island Historical Society; Aaron Siskind, “Thames Street,” #3, 1974; “Providence 9,” 1983, and “Providence 82,” 1986, collection of Dr. and Mrs. Joseph A. Chazan.