Saturday, December 19, 2009

MAASH staffers leave to start consulting firm

The two staff members of the Massachusetts Advocates for the Arts, Sciences and Humanities (MAASH) are leaving the Boston-based nonprofit to launch their own creative economy consulting firm, departing MAASH Executive Director Dan Hunter announced in an e-mail today.

Beginning in January, Hunter (pictured above) and MAASH Director of Development Hathalee Higgs are forming Hunter Higgs to “provide political strategies for cultural organizations and groups [across the country] to effectively tell their stories to the political world and the broader community.”

Hunter, who has lead MAASH since 2002, has been a major figure in arts advocacy and booster of creative economy initiatives in Massachusetts. In his e-mail, he notes his role in helping get the state to form its cultural facilities fund and the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development.

Hunter and Higgs departure would seem to leave MAASH without any staff. Hunter reports that “the MAASH Board of Directors will be reaching out to the cultural community to continue our advocacy and valued relationships and to forge new alliances, new directions and new initiatives.”

More to come.

Photo by Amy Beecher Kawa.

Kathleen Bitetti

For years, Boston conceptual artist Kathleen Bitetti has explored the distance between the myth and reality of womanhood in contemporary America. After getting deep into health reform advocacy in the past few years, her just-closed exhibit “Containment 2009” at Emmanuel College in Boston (where she is gallery director) catches her at the beginning of a new project investigating historical connections stretching out from her hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts.

Bitetti’s 2005 to ‘08 “Royal Traveler: The Barbie Project” included “Sewing for Abigail” (pictured at left), which involved sewing three white slips based on the measurements of Abigail Adams, Barbie dolls, and Bitetti’s alter ego Princess Sophia. It speaks of how the artist herself – as a stand-in for ourselves – literally measures up to these two American role models. Bitetti’s 1992 to 2002 project “He Was Prince Charming at First…” is a collection of romance novels, Disney “Cinderella” and “Snow White” books, a rules sheet from a battered women’s shelter, a toy “magic mirror,” and the books “Ideal Marriage” and “The Frailty Myth: Women Approaching Physical Equality.” The objects add up to questions about the power and security of women. “Most princesses in fairy tales,” Bitetti, as alter ego Princes Sophia Solar Michalski, notes, “are on the run, are targets of assassination, or being stalked, and/or are victims of domestic violence.”

“Diplomat” (2008-09) aims to turn her tireless advocacy for artists and state healthcare reform into art by moving it into a gallery context. Grip-and-grin type photos show Bitetti as her alter ego Princess Sophia meeting with politicians, state health care boards, artists and curators – though there is no obvious difference here in how Bitetti and her alter ego look or act. Her 2008 to 2009 “Health Care for Artists: A Fairy Tale Scrap Book” retells the story of her health care advocacy as a stereotypical fairy tale.

A key antecedent for artists exploring their day jobs as art is Mierle Landerman Ukeles’s feminist performances of the 1970s, which recontextualized her labors as a housewife into art. When Ukeles, who will be speaking at Smith College in February, washed the grand front stairs of Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum or set up house in museums, the move of her housework from the private sphere of the home into the public sphere of the museum made what is often hidden labor public. This combined with the change in scale pointed to the way housework is undervalued. But when Bitetti recontextalizes her political lobbying, the reframing is not yet enough to push our focus on the day job into more expansive thinking about the philosophical implications of it all. In the ’60s, Jasper Johns wrote a recipe for art: “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.” What might be missing for Bitetti is the second step. Ukeles changed both the venue and scale of her work, Bitetti just shifts venues.

Bitetti’s latest project “Royal Traveler – Crossings: Malta” (2009) comes out of a residency she had this October on the Mediterranean island of Malta. She delves into historical connections between Malta and Massachusetts. Concord’s Ralph Waldo Emerson sailed to Malta from Boston in 1832. And in 1945, President Franklin Roosevelt steamed to Malta aboard the USS Quincy (as in Quincy, Massachusetts) and then flew from there to Yalta to plan the end of World War II with Britain’s Winston Churchill and the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin. Bitetti presents a map of the routes (left) and a vintage suitcase packed with some of the stuff she carried along to her residency – wood, coffee beans, sugar, etc. – inspired by the cargo carried aboard the ship Emerson sailed on. Bitetti’s projects often are built upon rich research, but here it feels like she’s grasping for connections rather than discovering existing resonances in the histories that reveal new insights. But Bitetti is just beginning the project, so perhaps the connections will grow more resonant as she continues on.

Kathy Bitetti, “Containment 2009,” Lillian Immig Gallery, second floor of the Cardinal Cushing Library, Emmanuel College, 400 the Fenway, Boston, Nov. 4 to Dec. 18, 2009.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Brandeis looks for new Rose staff

Over the past week, Brandeis University has begun advertising two jobs at its Rose Art Museum – director of education and collections manager/registrar. On the face of it, this seems to be adding one position to the decimated Rose staff. (A Brandeis spokesman did not respond today to requests for clarification.)

After Brandeis announced plans to shutter the Rose and pawn its collection in January, it pushed out two Rose staffers – including Director Michael Rush – and another left on her own over the summer. Meanwhile other positions – including curator – had been left open for months. From a staff of six or seven, the museum was left with a staff of two: Director of Museum Operations Roy Dawes and Collections Manager Valerie Wright. The Rose website still lists both as employed by the museum (but Update Wright is leaving to be registrar at the art museum that West Virginia University plans to open in 2012.)

Brandeis leaders have given conflicting statements on the future of the Rose – pronouncing that the Rose has been saved while never specifically renouncing plans to sell the collection – so where it’s headed remains uncertain. In September, the Future of the Rose Committee, an 11-member advisory board sanctioned by Brandeis leaders, recommended that the school keep the Rose open as a public museum, better integrate it into the school’s educational mission, and return to pre-Rose-crisis staffing levels. The apparent restoration of the Rose’s director of education seems to be a step forward in acting on this advice.

Stewart Martin

From my review of Providence artist Stewart Martin's exhibit "Photographs Personal Favorites, 1975-2007" at AS220 in Providence:
The art star Keith Haring cameos in Martin's "Personal Favorites 1975-2007." Haring is young and energized, in leopard print eyeglasses, a tank top, and jeans, as he chalks a picture of a person with snakes wiggling out of his head onto a blacked-out billboard at New York's 23rd Street subway stop in the mid-1970s.

It's a dash of celebrity amidst Martin's black-and-white documentary photography of unknown folks populating the old, weird America. He photographs a road cutting through a snowy rolling Vermont mountain valley, as seen through the frosted windshield of a bus, or children crowding around a car under the spray of a fire hydrant opened up on a summer Brooklyn street. These are iconic, radiant moments.
Read the rest here.

"Stewart Martin: Photographs Personal Favorites- 1975-2007," AS220, 115 Empire St., Providence, through Dec. 6 to 27, 2009

Pictured from top to bottom: Stewart Martin, "Fire Hydrant Kids-Brooklyn New York," "Keith Haring #1 23rd St. subway NYC," "Vermont Bus view RT. 30-VT," "Ode to Robert Frank Rt 80 Wyoming," "Whirling Dervishes-St. John the Divine NYC,""Beautiful Trailer Rt. 7-VT,""Most popular activity #1-VT," "Hot Dog Castro St. Halloween SF Ca," and "Doll Face Salesgirl - Burlington,VT."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Yokelism update: Dangers of Provincialism

I recently posted Boston Globe critic Sebastian Smee’s response to my criticism of the lack of coverage of living Boston artists by our local mainstream media – and in particular in his writing in the Globe. Among his points was mention that in his native Australia “my experience working as a critic whose jurisdiction was the whole country rather than just a city or region, made me alert to the dangers of provincialism.” It struck me that concerns about provincialism might be the heart of the matter, so I asked him to elaborate, and below he kindly has. (I’ve also got some comments that I’ll post soon.)
Sebastian Smee: Gosh, the “dangers of provincialism”… I would say one symptom of provincialism in art (let’s assume for now it’s a negative condition) would be failing to realize that a kind of art you consider to be of great interest/special/unique is being done elsewhere, and better, and earlier. Another, related, symptom might be failing to acknowledge that something you are being congratulated for at home is in fact derivative of work done elsewhere. And yet another – reversing the terms – might be the assumption that the kind of work everyone is talking about in the big art centers is, ipso facto, better than the work being done where you are. Often it is not. (We call this “cultural cringe” in Australia.)

At any rate, in all three cases, it is good to have an idea of what is going on elsewhere to avoid the trap. But of course there is a difference between being provincial and making art that is rooted in a specific locale, a specific time, a specific way of life. This kind of art is in fact my favorite kind. But it can be from Australia, China, or New England, and I will probably like it just as much. (I dislike the idea of “international style,” in whatever form.) Obviously art from New England has no inherent virtue just because of its place of origin. But I think what you are asking is whether I have an inherent responsibility, as a Boston Globe art critic, to favor art made by living New England artists over other forms of art.

I would put it this way: I think I have a responsibility to attend very closely to what is going on here, and to find as much interesting work by New Englanders as I can – without, however, becoming a cheerleader for New England art just because it is made in New England (and there’s no dig at you here; I think what you are doing is fantastic and don’t think you are even remotely guilty of “cheerleading”).

I would also repeat, from my earlier response, that I am dependent on the kinds of work New England museums put on. And as you know, that work is by no means overwhelmingly by New Englanders. Nor should it be. One of the great strengths of New England museums (many of which are college collections) is the sheer scope of art they contain and choose to exhibit. As well, New England is not physically isolated: it is an incredibly cosmopolitan, well-educated, “connected” region. The art that is shown here reflects that connectedness.

And yet I am also fascinated by its native traditions, both recent and centuries-old, and that is why I have done as much as I can to write about, for instance, the Boston Expressionists. I am always trying to learn more and I realize that, even after 18 months, I have barely scratched the surface.

Finally, you noted in your first posting that I had written twice about Venice. It was actually three times if you count a small piece on Shepard Fairey in “Names.” But the Biennale there is the most important contemporary art event in the world, and so naturally there was a lot to write about. One of the things I did was to seek out and do a long interview with Krzysztof Wodiczko because I knew he had a show coming up at the ICA in Boston. The Shepard Fairey interview was another thing that had relevance for Boston readers, given the brouhaha at the ICA earlier in the year. Wodicko is an interesting case in point. You categorize him as a New England artist, which I suppose he is. But he was representing Poland at the Biennale (he represented Canada at a previous Biennale), and he lives much of the time in New York.

Isn’t it a bit arbitrary to describe him as a New England artist? It reminds me of Australia, where booksellers have taken to placing the novels of J.M. Coetzee, the South African writer, in the “Australian Literature” section, because he moved to Australia a few years back. But who is going to look for Coetzee’s novels under “Australian literature”?! Similarly, why should Wodicko’s abode/academic post in Boston be the thing that determines our interest in him? For me, it’s enough that he’s an interesting artist.
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.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 4: We need coverage of our living artists.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 5: We need local retrospectives.
Yokelism update: Coverage of our living artists: Sebastian Smee responds.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rachel Berwick

From our review of the installation "Zugunruhe" at Brown University's Bell Gallery by Rachel Berwick, who chairs RISD's glass department and resides in Killingworth, Connecticut:
Rachel Berwick's art is concerned with conjuring ghosts — in particular the spirits of creatures or peoples near extinction or already died out. Her conceptual art installations — like her new piece "Zugunruhe" at Brown University's Bell Gallery — hover somewhere between monument and séance and Jurassic Park-style resurrections of the disappeared.

"There's a common theme that runs through all of my work," Berwick tells me, "and it is working primarily with the notion of loss and our desire to recover that which is lost. And then following that through, the impossibility of that, but the importance of the attempt to recover even in the case of probable failure."

In one past work, Berwick has produced 3D renderings of a Tasmanian tiger based on a brief film of one of the critters before the species went extinct. Another time, she taught parrots the language of an extinct Venezuelan native people, a language said to have only survived to be recorded by a German naturalist in 1799 because when a neighboring tribe's raid wiped out its last human speakers, the attackers took their victims' parrots, which remembered their language.
Read the rest here.

Rachel Berwick, "Zugunruhe," Brown University's Bell Gallery, 64 College Street, Providence, Nov. 14, 2009, to Feb. 14, 2010.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jack Pierson

New York artist Jack Pierson, who was born in Plymouth and became affiliated with the Boston School photographers while studying at MassArt in the early 1980s, exhibited his recent “Abstracts” at Cheim & Read in New York last month. These works continue from his series of sculptures built from the plastic and metal lettering of old advertising signs. In the past, he spelled out words: “Fame” or “Desire/Despair” or “Last Chance Lost” or “the crippled beggar knew a priceless secret.” The new sculptures, some hung on the walls, some freestanding, are dubbed “Abstracts” because the recycled letters don’t spell out anything. Instead resemblances to jewelry, that were always there but less pronounced, come to the fore. Pierson’s materials continue to offer a stylish nostalgic poppy fizz combined with the delicious melancholy of rusty American ruins. You may find yourself developing a crush, though the feelings may not run deep.

Jack Pierson “Abstracts,” Cheim & Read, 547 West 25th St., New York, Oct. 8 to Nov. 14, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Jack Pierson, “Abstract #10,” “Her Ancient Solitary Reign,” “Flourish,”and “Abstract #15.” All courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fischman named director of Wellesley’s Davis

Lisa Fischman has been named the new director of Wellesley College’s Davis Museum and Cultural Center, replacing David Mickenberg, who resigned in September 2008. Mickenberg later said he left to take responsibility after it was revealed (by Geoff Edgers) that the museum lost its 1921 Fernand Leger painting “Woman and Child” on his watch. In September, Mickenberg became executive director of the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia.

Fischman, who is expected to begin work at the Davis on Feb. 1, has been chief curator at the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson since 2005 and was gallery director at the Atlanta College of Art from 2000 to 2005. She was associate curator of contemporary art and education at the State University of New York at Buffalo Art Gallery, where she taught in the departments of art, art history and media study from 1997 to 2000. Prior to that, she worked for the departments of new media and education at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Fun fact: Her doctoral dissertation at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, was titled “Coonskin Fever: Frontier Adventures in Postwar American Culture,” Tuscon Weekly reported in 2005, which “turned a curious eye on the popular Disney TV show ['Davy Crocket'], on the kids who watched it in coonskin caps, on the moms who lined their kitchens with knotty pine cabinets.”

Fischman told the newspaper then, “The things that interest me are the surprising connections between spheres that generally don't intersect.”

(Ms. Fischman please meet DeCordova Director Dennis Kois, author of master’s thesis on “Disney and Museums: Simulacra, Education, and a Blueprint for Competition.")

Wellesley College President H. Kim Bottomly said in a prepared statement that Fischman’s “appointment reinforces Wellesley’s commitment to excellence in the arts – in fact, when we put administrative hiring on hold during the budget crisis last year, this was the one search we allowed to go forward.”

Assistant director Dennis McFadden, who has served as acting director since Mickenberg’s departure, will return to his regular job.

Somerville Illuminations Tours are Saturday

The Somerville Arts Council offers its 13th annual Illuminations Tours, trolley tours of the Massachusetts city's most spectacular holiday home displays, on Saturday, Dec. 19. One of the tour stops is Otis Street (pictured above and immediately below), where, the council reports, one gentleman, John Ragno, decorates three houses. He lives in one, his daughters live in other two. Examining the dazzling displays there and on Preston Road, Bartlett Street, Robinson Street, Central Street, we couldn't help thinking that there are few art shows around here that can match these homes' aesthetic wattage.

Illuminations Tour tickets, which support the council's programs, are $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and children 12 or younger. If you can't make the tour, beginning Dec. 21, the council will sell $3 self-guided tour maps at Blue Cloud Gallery and Magpie.

All photos here by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

Otis Street:

Central Street

Robinson Street

Bartlett Street

Preston Road