Friday, April 09, 2010

"Abstraction in Providence" at RIC’s Bannister Gallery

From our review of "Abstraction in Providence" at Rhode Island College's Bannister Gallery in Providence:
For decades, abstraction dominated avant-garde discourse, as painters worked to break art down to its basic elements, stripping away more and more of what seemed necessary to a painting, and then stripping away even more. The all-white paintings and giant steel cubes of the height of 1960s Minimalism signaled a turning point, however. Abstraction continues to dominate sculpture — particularly friendlier, warmer iterations of Minimalism — and major abstract painting continues to be produced by artists from Brice Marden to Elizabeth Murray to Gerhard Richter. But the style has become increasingly pushed out of the spotlight by various flavors of eccentric realism. Once painters split the atom, the experiments that helped them get there just didn’t feel so vital any more.

Yet right on the heels of the excellent Pat Steir abstract drawing retrospective opening at the RISD Museum, the exhibit “Abstraction in Providence” arrives at Rhode Island College’s Bannister Gallery (600 Mount Pleasant Avenue, Providence, through April 22). Director James Montford rounds up five Providence painters for a strong mini-survey that leans toward the brushy, the romantic, the idiosyncratic personal touch.

Lloyd Martin is the only one of the bunch whose work is based on hard-edged geometry — but even that seems to be rusting away. His paintings are inspired rundown mills, patchwork loading docks, and tired, weathered walls. The star of the show is Martin’s "Currant" (2009), which features three abutting vertical canvases divided by horizontal stripes. The predominant hue is a pale blue painted over a rusty orange ground, the contrast between the color opposites upping the wattage of each other. There are also some narrower orange, black, red, and yellow stripes, as well as white blocks, and drips and splatters and things painted out. They channel the charismatic nostalgia of urban decay.
Read the rest here.

“Abstraction in Providence” arrives at Rhode Island College’s Bannister Gallery (600 Mount Pleasant Avenue, Providence, March 25 to April 22, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Lloyd Martin, "Currant"; installation shot of two Irene Lawrence paintings, at left, and a Donna Brunton painting; and Donna Bruton, "The Healing Source."

Thursday, April 08, 2010

NEJAR redesign suggestions?

Dear Reader(s),

Over the coming weeks we plan to tinker a bit with the design of The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research — and hopefully not screw it up. So are things we should leave alone? Are there things you would like to see added or moved around or improved. For example, you might write: "Update the damn 'News Headlines' more than once every leap year." And that would be a very helpful suggestion. But in particular, we're looking for advice on how the site looks and functions, as well as information or features you would like to see added or just more prominently displayed. Please send along suggestions or post them as comments here. As always, thank you, dear Reader(s), for your help and support.

— The Management

‘Artadia Boston’ at the BCA

From our review of "Artadia Boston" at the Boston Center for the Arts:
The stars of the “Artadia Boston” exhibit at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery are Raúl González’s manic-Injun drawings. 'Pelado' is a close-up of the orange face of a fellow with a giant green bull’s-eye eye and blood dripping down his calligraphically rendered hair. 'Weapons we will use against you! Part 1' (pictured above) is a row of spindly, cartoony, Philip Guston–like orange arms wielding a club, knife, axes, broken bottle, and so on. A purposely flickering scratchy old-timey animation that González made with Len White shows a cartoon Indian’s face shot full of holes, with real smoke seeming to pour out.

This Somerville artist draws with ink and paint and old coffee and who knows what else to produce big, bright, sharply rendered, super-catchy images. He even creates stains and seeming corrections that make the drawings appear nostalgically antique. The racist stereotypes and jaunty cartoon violence call up a legacy of war and oppression between Native Americans and, well, Americans. This stops you short, but at the same time, as drawings, they’re lots of fun.

That said, the real news here is that the Artadia show, which features seven local artists who won grants last August from the New York–based non-profit Artadia, confirms that the officially sanctioned style of Boston art is not what González is doing. It’s conceptualism. Other types of art get made here — techno inventions, cartoony escapades, rapturous pattern and decoration — but when it comes to our big local round-ups, like this show or the Institute of Contemporary Art’s biennial Foster Prize, conceptualism wins hands down.
Read the rest here.

“Artadia Boston," Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St, Boston, March 26 to April 25, 2010.

Raúl González, "Weapons we will use against you! Part 1," courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons Art Gallery; Caleb Cole, two photos from his series "Other People's Clothes," courtesy of the artist and Gallery Kayafas, Boston; Raúl González, "Pelado"
Joe Zane, "Time Enough to Last," courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons Art Gallery; Claire Beckett, "Marine Lance Corporal Nicole Camala Veen playing the role of an Iraqi nurse, Wadi Al-Sahara, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, CA," 2008, courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons Art Gallery.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Mark Wethli interview

A couple years ago, Mark Wethli of Brunswick, Maine, began a new series of paintings. He started with a set of old wooden tables – 30 inches wide and 10 feet long – that Bowdoin College, where he teaches, was getting rid of. “For a long time Bowdoin used them for large dining, things like picnics,” he says. “Then they used them for many years in our sculpture program.”

Wethli was intrigued by the way the table tops resembled walls cut out of old barns, all scratched and scuffed and pocked with holes left behind by bolts that had held legs on. He began by painting the planking with washes of pale mint green, coffee and cream, and lilac. Then on top, he painted opaque black or brown crosses and pinwheels and blocks, kind meandering but particular, in a way that might call to mind hobo signs. They feel warm and human and imbued with a sense of history and nostalgia.

In February, Wethli won both the people’s choice and critics pick awards for painting in the 2009 New England Art Awards, which are organized by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. He spoke with us about his work when we visited his studio on Jan. 16, 2010. Below are excerpts from our chat:
“From 2001 to about a year ago, I was doing geometric abstraction, but of a regular sort – stripes, grids. … I liked what Jasper Johns said. Maps and numbers and alphabets, he chose them because they’re so neutral. That’s why I chose stripes and grids.”

The tables: “They had such great patina. … I took them not knowing what would happen to them. I just couldn’t let them go. They sat in my garage for two years.”

“The designs come from sketches. I’ll just sit over here and fiddle with ways of dividing up spaces.”

“I wanted to divide the rectangle in a way that wasn’t so regular. A lot of them have a cross. It seemed to open up a field-ground relationship.”

“I remember making a sketch – I think a wheel with spokes. It had this rectangle and I painted an oval here and I had radiating lines. And somehow the oval and the rectangle were fighting, so I got rid of them and all I had left were spokes.”

“All I’ve added is color. The scratches, the nicks, the dents, I haven’t done any of that. I wanted to let them be. … I wanted these to look like they have a lived past, not just an artistic past.”

“I love the way that farm signs are painted … very practical sign painting.”

“A thing that’s been on my mind for a long time is the windmills of Majorca, and of course Spanish windmills go back to Don Quixote.”

“I was actually partly raised on a farm. And my grandfather has a wind-driven water pump. You have to sometimes wonder if everything you do isn’t trying to reclaim what you did when you were 5.”
Photos by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

"Virtuoso Illusion" at MIT

Fantasy is the subject of "Virtuoso Illusion: Cross-Dressing and the New Media Avant-Garde," which closed Sunday at MIT's List Visual Arts Center. (This review appeared in the Fb. 16 Boston Phoenix.) "What is emerging among today's artists is cross-dressing as part of a larger experiment in language and perception" to create "a perceptual jolt to traditional ways of viewing," writes curator Michael Rush, director of Brandeis's Rose Art Museum until last June.

The 17-artist show offers photos of men and women posing as the opposite sex and four and a half hours of videos. Much of it is the usual guys dressed up as gals, from Andy Warhol in lipstick and wig in 1981 to Kalup Linzy's over-the-top 2005 soap opera to John Kelly's deliciously loopy 1993 film "Vander Clyde Becomes Barbette," in which a guy answers an ad to fill an open spot in a nightclub act. But it's a sister act. "Would you be willing to wear a wig?" the ladies ask.

Rush's thesis begins with a 1925 optical-illusion film attributed to Marcel Duchamp's alter ego, Rrose Sélavy. The idea is that taking on this new character provided one more way for Duchamp — and his descendants — to open a trapdoor under what had seemed the sure footing of what art and artists are and what it all means.

This work coincides with a growth of theatricality in art since at least the '70s, from Cindy Sherman to Gregory Crewdson. Rush highlights the gender-bending end of the trend, such as Matthew Barney's epic filmic ode to testicles, The Cremaster Cycle — represented here by a single photo of Barney as a natty satyr drenched in Vaseline. But it all may reflect a general Hollywoodization of art and a return to narrative, with ever bigger budgets and special effects.

Take Katarzyna Kozyra's 20-minute live-action video "Summertale" (pictured here). Once upon a time, five dwarf ladies lived in a cottage in the woods. One morning, they found a giant mushroom, which hatched a gentleman in a suit, a hussy, and a lady in white. The white lady helped the dwarves in their garden. The man sang. The hussy was revealed to be a man when s/he peed standing up and made a mess on the floor. So the dwarves chopped the drag queen and the singing man to bits with axes. The white lady was tied to a chair and forced to watch. Later, she watched the dwarves tend their garden. Then the dwarves turned into giant mushrooms. The end. Is this about gender? Is it about new experiments in perception? Is it a lavishly produced gothic fairy tale in which cross-dressing is just part of the vivid show(wo)manship?

Can we talk for a minute about whether galleries are better places for video art than movie theaters or viewing at home? The running time of video exhibitions prohibits most viewers from taking it all in. Also, art-world style is to present videos in endlessly repeating loops. Invariably, I arrive somewhere in the middle and spend a long time piecing together what's going on. When it ends, I watch the beginning part that I missed. Or I catch a bit, leave, come back, catch a bit more. The result is that most videos are experienced as Pulp Fiction–like puzzles. Whether that's the intention or not, video art has become mainly about experimental chronology. I'm just sayin'.

“Virtuoso Illusion: Cross-Dressing and the New Media Avant-Garde," MIT, List Visual Arts Center, 20 Ames St, Cambridge, Feb. 5 to April 4, 2010.

Pictured: Katarzyna Kozyra’s video "Summertale," 2008.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Saya Woolfalk performance at Tufts

New York artist Saya Woolfalk gave a talk/performance at Tufts University on April 2 as part of her “The Institute for the Analysis of Empathy” exhibit. Dressed in a burgundy velvet sportcoat with a rainbow tie – Charles Darwin crossed with Willy Wonka – she gave a dry slide lecture about finding bones of a No Placean, a future human-plant hybrid race in woods in upstate New York. She described how contact with the skeleton mutated her DNA (“a human one fused with a No Placean”) causing her body to glow green when near the skeleton and to sprout leaves. As Woolfalk talked, a woman in a form-fitting red bodysuit performed yoga poses, representing, if I understood it correctly, someone transformed by closeness to Woolfalk after she’d been mutated. Then Woolfalk lead the audience among her soft-sculpture costumes in the gallery, explaining, “Each No Placean becomes all of these different forms over the course of their lifetime.”

These costumes remain strikingly original and strange – because of their cartoony, crafty inventiveness, because they so often obscure the wearer’s face with numerous stuffed pods that resist our attempts to read a face into them. But as Woolfalk explains more of her invented mythology and switches from the charismatically odd ritualistic dances of her earlier work to more familiar yoga, she loses some of the mystery that has made her art so compelling.

At the end of her talk, a man in the audience asked what would happen if we had contact with the skeleton? “You would experience all of the benefits of becoming a No Placean without any of the physical changes,” Woolfalk answered. How would you know, the man asked. Woolfalk answered: “That’s what we’re trying to determine now: What would it be for a human to be more like a plant?”

March 19, 2010: Our review of Woolfalk’s "The Institute for the Analysis of Empathy” installation at Tufts.
Jan. 15, 2010: Our interview with Woolfalk.

Photos by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

Schneider Enriquez named Harvard curator

Mary Schneider Enriquez, an advisor on Latin American art to the Harvard Art Museum since 2002, has been named the Cambridge museum’s new Houghton Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Harvard has announced.

This is basically the same position that Helen Molesworth had as she served as Harvard’s Maisie K. and James R. Houghton Curator of Contemporary Art from 2007 until becoming chief curator at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art in February. A Harvard spokesperson informs The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research that the “difference between a curator and an associate curator is that an associate curator does not have a PhD.”

Harvard offers additional information about Schneider Enriquez’s background:
“Currently visiting lecturer in fine arts at Brandeis University, Schneider Enriquez (Harvard A.B. ’81, A.M. ‘87) is also completing her PhD in Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture. She has served as a member of the Advisory Committee for Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies since 1995 and has been a member of the Board of Trustees at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, since 1999. She is also a member of the Harvard Art Museum’s World Visuality Committee, a group dedicated to addressing societies and their artistic traditions that have previously been underrepresented at Harvard. … An independent art critic, Schneider Enriquez has written extensively over the last sixteen years for ARTnews, ArtNexus and Art in America magazines. She has also written for the Mexico City daily newspaper Reforma. Her past independent curatorial work includes co-curating an exhibition of Chilean artist Roberto Matta’s work in 2004, “Matta: Making the Invisible Visible,” at the McMullen Museum at Boston College. In 1999 she curated “Gerardo Suter: Labyrinth of Memory,” a retrospective of photographs and video installations by the Mexican artist, at the Americas Society and the Sculpture Center, New York, which traveled nationally. She also curated “Mexico: A Landscape Revisited” with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. The exhibition, which focused on the tradition of landscape painting in Mexican art, opened in Washington DC in 1995 and toured internationally.
Jan. 13, 2010: Molesworth named ICA chief curator.