Saturday, December 12, 2009

Axiom and Cyberarts Fest merge

The Boston Cyberarts Festival and the Jamaica Plain gallery Axiom Center for New and Experimental Media are merging under the banner of Boston Cyberarts, according to a spokesperson for the two entities. The two new media art nonprofits formally announced the news – pending the approval of their two boards in January – at Art Technology New England’s Spark fund-raising gala at MassArt tonight.

Axiom gallery is expected to retain its name and continue its programming while Boston Cyberarts will continue to produce its biennial festival. In anticipation of the merger, Kayser has been appointed assistant director of Boston Cyberarts. The merger makes sense as Axiom, which was founded in 2004, and the 10-year-old Cyberarts Festival are both focused on new media here and have long shared personnel. And it fits in well with Axiom’s expansion of programming over the past year or so.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Infinitely Small Things skips Copenhagen

On Monday, the Institute for Infinitely Small Things sent out this witty invite: “Don't Join Us in Copenhagen Because We Are Not There. Contribute photos of yourself not in Copenhagen! in conjunction with UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.”

The point, as the Boston-based art collective noted, was “to not release at least 38,575 kilograms of CO2 into the air by not traveling to the UN Climate Conference. The amount of energy we are saving in fuel could feed 150 people for a year or power 325 60w lightbulbs turned on continuously for a year. Not to mention that the Institute for Infinitely Small Things really likes to stay home and drink tea or beer (depending on which members you talk to).”

The Institute makes some of the most interesting – and acidly funny – art in New England, but at times, as here, it adopts a disappointing nihilism. In this case, the Institute skewers the absurdity of people burning up so much fossil fuels to go to a conference about the dangers of burning fossil fuels. But the logical conclusion of this thinking is that the conference shouldn’t happen at all. Is that what the Institute is proposing?

Another example of this nihilism was the Institute’s report on a disaster drill that simulated a suicide car bombing for firefighters, police and other first responders in downtown Providence in November 2006. “While most of production’s special effects and props were very well done, spectacular even, I would not recommend seeing a Disaster Drill for the mere performance of a disaster,” Instituter Jaimes Mayhew’s reported at Big Red & Shiny. “The acting was terrible, which completely ruined the somewhat convincing art production values of the performance.” The idea of reviewing the drill this way is funny and brilliant – hallmarks of the Institute’s work.

But Mayhew went on to complain that the area for the drill was closed to non-participants. “For a disaster, this idea of a secure area defeats the purpose; it completely negates the chaos that is an essential part of a disaster under the presumption that practicing for disaster will make us more secure. It is, in fact, this brand of security as control in the Drill that perpetuates insecurity and fear.”

After the joking, the Institute is saying that drills like this are not only ineffective but part of government propaganda to promote fear among the citizenry. Certainly the Bush Administration – which was in power when this drill occurred – made efforts to stoke fear among Americans. But to argue that preparing first responders for disaster is primarily a propaganda exercise shows that the Institute has trouble distinguishing between jerks and imperfect efforts by people working to do good within a flawed system. By the Institute’s logic, for example, surgeons should never train because training would (1) not stop people from getting sick and (2) scare people into thinking that they might somehow one day become ill enough to require surgeons. In other words, doing nothing is better than doing something well-intended but not perfect.

Back to the UN Climate Change Conference. I suppose people could get to the conference by sail boat. Or walking. Or the event could instead be a giant teleconference. And I suppose nothing may come of this conference anyway, so bothering to go may be pointless. But just because the people traveling to the conference are part of the problem – because really we’re all part of a society that is the problem – doesn’t mean the conference is just a joke.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Romare Bearden

New York artist Romare Bearden’s (1911-1988) first show of his collages in 1964 startled viewers. Visitors said they “were a bit too stark; showed people in their worst or poorer circumstances,” he recalled in a 1968 interview. “An interviewer for a magazine felt that it was a show of head-hunters. … it was frightening to her. Here were Negroes with big heads and something within her reacted to this, you know. They were frightening; they were after her. I told her head-hunters are in the Solomon Islands and these are the people that you must deal with, that live in Harlem.”

That was then. Now what Bearden’s collages are is obvious – striking depictions of 20th century African-American life and among the best art of the century. “Collages by Romare Bearden” presents a selection of 10 works at Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine, through Dec. 20. The school is also offering a complimentary exhibition “From Process to Print: Graphic Works by Romare Bearden,” featuring 75 prints through Jan. 3. The art depicted here is all prints from the graphic works show since Bowdoin has no collages available for reproduction, but 1974's "Heavy Freight," at top, gives you a sense of what the collages look like. (I should note there that I'm quite familiar with Bearden's work but unfortunately have not seen the Bowdoin shows.)

The African-American artist was born in North Carolina in 1911, and moved with his family to Harlem, New York, when he was 3, though he also spent significant time with his grandparents in Pittsburgh. He was a child of the Harlem Renaissance. Friends of his parents who dropped by their home on 140th Street included Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Aaron Douglas. Beginning in 1930, he studied at Boston University (where he pitched on the varsity baseball team and was art director of the student humor magazine "Beanpot"), New York University, with George Grosz at New York’s Art Students League, and the Sorbonne in Paris. When he set up his first studio, on New York's West 125th Street in 1940, it was in the same building as Jacob Lawrence.

During the 1950s, Bearden (pictured during that time at left) painted in an abstract expressionist mode, but in the early 1960s, as he became involved with black artists engaged with the civil rights movement, his art was transformed. It was the era of 1963’s March of Washington, with Martin Luther King Jr.’s landmark “I Have a Dream Speech,” and that spirit infused his work. He was already in his 50s, but he began making the work for which he would be best known: collages about black life.

Bearden’s sharpest collages riff off images cut out or photocopied from newspapers and magazines. “I chose some of the photographic materials for a certain reason,” he once said. “I wanted to give an immediacy, like a documentary movie.'' At the same time his collages reveal his roots in Modernism, beginning with Cubism and its inspiration, traditional African sculpture. Bearden adds striking shifts of scale that give his work a boppy jazzy rhythm.

His best work can be considered a visual analogue to August Wilson’s celebrated “Century Cycle” of plays dramatizing African-American life in the 20th century. His masterpiece may be his 1978 six-panel drawing and collage “The Block” (not in the Bowdoin shows), an amazing portrait of a Harlem street, which is in the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. It includes glimpses of a funeral, into tenement windows, of a barber shop and a giant mouse trap and a lovers in action. Like all his best work, it is a vivid, gritty, kinetic distillation of life.

“Collages by Romare Bearden,” Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 9400 College Station, Brunswick, Maine, Oct. 1 to Dec. 20, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Romare Bearden, "Heavy Freight," 1974 from the "12 Trains Suite," photo etching with hand coloring; Romare Bearden in Harlem, ca. 1950, unidentified photographer, from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art; Bearden's "The Family," 1975, etching and aquatint; "Home to Ithaca," 1979, from the "Odysseus" series, screenprint; "Jamming at the Savoy," 1980-81, etching and aquatint; and "Falling Star," 1980, lithograph. The Bearden art is copyright the Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Ivan Albright in Vermont

“Make [the head] great; eye sockets that tell the years, folds that bespeak flesh, eyes that bring pity … that have seen better.” – from Ivan Albright's notes on his painting “The Vermonter.”
One of the most extraordinary artists ever to work in New England was Ivan Albright (1897-1983). The painter was born in suburban Chicago and spent much of his career there, but in 1965 he moved to Woodstock, Vermont, where he would live until the end of his life. Albright was a visiting artist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, from 1969 to ’74, and his style obviously parallels Boston Expressionism, but is generally overlooked in histories of those artists. This may have to do with the fact that Albright usually worked slowly and his most celebrated works were created before his time in Vermont. Though “The Vermonter (If Life Were Life There Would Be No Death)” (1966-77), one of the first works he began after moving to New England, as well as an extraordinary series of portraits he painted of himself as an old man in Vermont in the early 1980s rank among his best work.

“The Vermonter” (pictured here) is a portrait of his neighbor Kenneth Harper Atwood done in Albright’s typically deliciously creepy style of person as decaying flesh. The painting is in the collection of Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art, and featured in the museum’s current exhibition “Modern and Contemporary Art at Dartmouth.” Atwood, a 76-year-old member of the Vermont House of Representatives and retired maple farmer, posed for Albright two hours a day for the first few years of work, according to the catalogue for the 1997 Albright retrospective organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In Albright’s notebooks, he set out his objectives:
“Make the eyes literally move, make mouth tremble. … Make left hand act as if it would rise up … right hand as if it would craw around stick. … Have end of nose literally wiggle. … Have him as spiritual as I can make him but also flesh.”

“Make this painting closer than ever … more real than real so reality seems by comparison a misty dream, an untruth against a truth.”
"Modern and Contemporary Art at Dartmouth: Highlights from the Hood Museum of Art," Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Wheelock Street, Hanover, New Hampshire, Sept. 26, 2009, to March 15, 2010.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Berwick’s Bumpkin Island Art Encampment

If you (like me) didn’t make it to the Berwick Research Institute’s Bumpkin Island Art Encampment out in Boston Harbor last summer, you can sort of experience the installations and performances via documentary videos now posted at the Berwick website. Pictured here from top to bottom are Gabriel Cira, William McKenna and James Sannino’s “Orchitecture”; “Dragonflies and Angelwings,” an installation of dragonfly drones by Sharon Dunn, David Tamés and Alice Apley; and “Ebb and Flow” in which Kate Dodd “claimed” the islands intertidal zones by marking the peak tides with surveyor’s tape. The encampment is an idea rich with inspiring possibilities, but watching the videos, I’m disappointed by the shallow thinking, the casual colonial-type mindset and the traditional American junking-up the place (even if the artists insist they removed their junk when they left).

The most interesting idea was Gabriel Cira, William McKenna and James Sannino’s “Orchitecture,” which proposed introducing a new species of apples to the island by scattering apples around and, as one of the fellows explains, using “our bodily processes as kind of a vehicle for encouraging the apples to germinate.” Another of the guys elaborates, “like the seeds passing through our systems directly, but surprisingly, the apples seemed to go in, but not really come out.” It brings up a theme lurking in several of the works, an elemental theme of colonial exploration: of bumpkins struggling in unfamiliar places and things not quite working out. One of the guys notes, “I’ve been feeling kind of weak because of just eating apples, but it usually passes and you get your energy back.”

Monday, December 07, 2009

Sand T included in National Art Gallery Malaysia

Congratulations to Sand T of Malden, Massachusetts, who reports that some of her art – including her her painting "K-2 Orange" (above) – has been added to the permanent collection of the National Art Gallery Malaysia.

Kurt Eidsvig wins art writing mentorship

Congratulations to Kurt Eidsvig of Boston, who has won one of the slots in the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation's Art Writing Worshop, which gives "practicing writers the opportunity to strengthen their work through one-on-one consultations with leading art critics."

Deborah Bright, David H. Wells

From our review of David H. Wells of Providence and Deborah Bright of Boston at the the Wheeler School's Chazan Gallery in Providence:
During trips to Israel between 2005 and ’08, Bright, who is dean of fine arts at RISD, adapted the aloof formal style of much of today’s art photography to the charged subject of the ruminants of Palestinian communities that were driven out by Jewish forces during fighting that bracketed the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. ... David H. Wells groups photos — as in midcentury magazine picture essays or medieval altarpieces — looking for telling juxtapositions in his series “Concurrence: India march-ing backwards into the future.” The photos were taken during visits to India between 1995 and 2008 and then grouped in 2007 and ’08 to show how old Indian traditions are meet-ing the global economy.
Read the rest here.

David H. Wells and Deborah Bright, Chazan Gallery at the Wheeler School, 228 Angell Street, Providence, Nov. 19 to Dec. 9, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Deborah Bright, "Yehudiyya Gate," "Al-Omri Mosque," and "'Ajami"; David H. Wells, "Workers — New & Old" plus two additional photos from his India project.