Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A visit to Mass MoCA

Had a brief but memorable visit to Mass Moca up in the Berkshires last Saturday. The day started out with me driving up to Amhurst to pick up best girl Katie Winston and off we went into the wild and rainy mountains for a day of art browsing and iced coffee swallowing.
Best best best of the mega-huge gallery space was Jenny Holzer. The large scale projection was awesome on three could lie on an immense bean bag chair on the gallery floor and not only stare up at the projection, but you actually become PART of the whole installation. This experience was very quiet and restful. Two, standing at the back you could "shadow play" with your body on the wall which would intermingle with the text. Three, on the balcony above, we could objectify the work as observers, and not participants. From that vantage point we were able to read the passages, and experience quite a different feeling than when we were lying on the floor. Jenny's text was a soliloquy to the Iraqi war. On the whole, the event was completely satisfying.

Now, as promised per our LAST visit in October with team members Justin and Keri, the Anselm Kieffer exhibit had finally opened. Better late than never, I guess. The monster-sized mixed media pieces were, as expected, awesome. 'Nuff said. The big surprise was the unbelievable paintings. Huge things with the paint so thick and juicy I wanted to caress and squeeze the things. All were interpretations of post-apocalyptic landscapes. YUM. Go see. That is all I need say about that.

One more piece of note...sorry, artist unknown. A projection of a tree that undulated and changed colors was mesmerizing. The Katester and I watched this image from 2 levels. Balcony, and up close and personal. Simple and beautiful.

Worth the trip north, Mass Moca never fails to please.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

What's Happening in Boston?

Hmmm...just when I thought it was safe to return to my old stomping grounds.......

Went to the highly touted SOWA (South of Washington) arts district Friday night for the "First Friday" art crawl and open studio event which happens (you guessed it) the first Friday of every month. Well, to put things into a nutshell, I was disappointed. In this writer's/artist's opinion, the work was either forced, stilted, or just plain "boooor-ing" (to quote that famous one-liner from the 60's Odd Couple television series).

To be fair, though, I will say that we made the rounds in the Harrison/Thayer alleyway only, due to the weather being a bit on the "monsoon-ish" side (heavy rain, high winds). There are two floors of gallerys in the alley, and although we could not even see into the Bromfield Gallery it was so crowded, we looked in every one and were mostly disappointed. Suffice it to say we saw a lot more interesting things in the floors above the gallerys where the artists opened their studios to the public.

There were a two artists of note, however, that I did want to give mention to. The first being Janet Kawada, who is presently showing her a collection of new work entiltled "Talisman" at The Kingston Gallery. The Kingston is an artist run co-op that never fails to deliver. Janets new collection of sculptures are both powerful and playful. Very different from her previous work, this fiber artist was mind-weary of the serious nature of her usual wall sculptures, and decided to play for a while. The result is a series of small sculptural forms that bring to mind "fetish-toys", and several larger free standing pieces that evoke a sensualness that draws you inside and plays with your imagination. The main ingredient in Janet's work has always been handmade felt and these are no different, although this time around there is the unusual addition of tiny beads. The beading is thankfully subtle and adds to the quirkiness of the smaller pieces. I say, BRAVO !Janet. This show made our trip into Boston worthwhile.

Michael Costello is a painter whose latest creations grace the wall of Gallery XIV. What can I say about this work? Hmmm. They made me think, for sure, because I am still thinking. So I'll say the work was thought provoking. I will not pan the work, nor will I praise it, except to say that this man is a talented draftsman. His realist painting is on the mark, if a bit overdone. Forced. Loud. The drawings were another matter, however. Beautifully rendered, these gesture drawing with just a hint of color were gorgeous. Fantastic. Now, for the subject matter.

Couples at play...intercourse, intimacy, and...Elmo? (as in "Tickle Me") Oh, yes.

Largely strange. Weirdly different. Hmmm. The paintings made me giggle out loud when I first entered the space. Not a reaction I normally give while looking at art. But on closer inspection, I was bothered by them. Really bothered. Sesame street characters in bed with a couple in the throws of intimacy evoked horrific thoughts of child molestation! ICK! My first instinct to laugh was purely that...instinct. I believe now it was a gut reaction to something that made me extremely uncomfortable.

The drawings were another matter entirely. "The Queens Private Diary" was a series of intimate sketches where the man is portrayed as wearing a pig snout and a court jesters hat. Weirdly grotesque. Reminiscent of an circa 1800 circus of freaks. Putting myself in the woman's place under the man made me want to run from the gallery.

I didn't. I calmly turn and walked out, taking with me a feeling that I had been exposed to someones nightmarish fantasys. According to Colstello's biography on the work, he is "exploring the relationships between the classical figure, Pop Culture, and our cultural anthropomorphism".

Well, Michael, I guess I am one of those folks who find "ugly meanings in beautiful things".

"nuff said.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Pulp Function

It's a bit overdue, but here we go....

The three of us went to the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton Massachusetts before Christmas, and as usual, this tiny museum delivered the goods. Our main focus, of course, was the all-fiber exhibit, "Pulp Function". This was actually my second visit to the was worth another look, for sure.
When we first entered the space, I thought Keri was going to have a heart attack. She displayed all the symptoms...shortness of breath, a look of overwhelming shock, and she was holding tight to her she was in pain. This kind of reaction is a good indication that the splendor of the work was unsurpassed. Keri needed space, air, and time in which to recover from her swoon.

My favorite pieces (of course) were the articles of women's clothing. Wedding gown, ball gown, party dress, cocktail dress, business suit et. al. Everything for a modern woman on the go.
The artist Mia Hall displayed 2 such pieces of finery in her "Domestic Expectations", which were my absolute favorites. "The Bride" is a wedding dress made entirely with paper towel and toilet paper. AMAZING. The back of the dress form was even better...a hidden space in the back was opened to reveal cleaning supplies! Very clever. Her second piece, "The Mother" was a business suit made out of disposable diapers. Very cool. The opened back compartment of the form displayed diapers, baby products, and of course, a changing table! WOW. We were all so blown away. The craftsmanship was absolutely was top notch. The concept, however, was what really shook us. The work is a perfect commentary on the state of affairs for so many women in our present day. We do it all. We get married, have babies, and continue to work at a full time job! Being a wife and mother IS a full time job. We brake for sleep only!

Cat Chow's "Not for Sale" evening gown was an eye-popper as well. Made of 1000 shredded $1.00 bills, this incredible piece of work was (to me) a commentary on the shifting values in America. Again, the craftsmanship was unsurpassed. It looked as if it were crocheted, although Justin seemed to think it was assembled another way, and I do believe he is correct. This artists made tiny chain links with the fibers and somehow managed to assemble this dress seamlessly. Again...WOW.
Another favorite of mine was "Mary Jane", by Shelly Hodges. Sewn together and made entirely from Mary Jane candy wrappers, this piece brought me back in time to when I was a little girl.
It's sweetness came from more than just the idea of candy for me.

Everything in this show offered us a banquet of luscious eye candy, amazing skills and well thought out concepts. The show is gone now, but I know that the next installment at the Fuller Craft Museum will be as much a delight as "Pulp Function" was. For information on what's happening there now, visit

Friday, December 21, 2007

David Simione at Floating Art Project

Justin & I made our way to the latest installation of the Floating Art Project here in Pawtucket tonight. We were pleasantly surprised at the caliber of work and presentation in the space. It had a nice, casual approachability with a compositional sensibility that was both professional and thoughtful.

My only "complaint" about the exhibit is due to my own particularity: I am not hip on hand-written labels. I'm much more fond of a numbering system and with a corresponding typed information sheet and here's why: Labels give too much attention to the commercial aspect of galleries (which there has to be in order for galleries and exhibits to happen). I don't suggest getting rid of the commercial aspect; I suggest the numbering system because it weeds out the lookie-loo's from the prospectors and can help a gallerist to know when someone is genuinely interested in a piece of work and thus earn their commission (which should always be paid, gratefully). Even if a viewer can't (or doesn't want) to purchase a piece, their effort to seek more information (which just happens to be near a comfort station >>> beer/wine/cheese) shows that they possess more interest in the work, the artist or the gallery, all of which are important to an artist or a gallerist. I'll step off the box, though, because that's one of those things that is a detail, not an end-all for me.

I spent some time talking with David Simione, a young photographer whose photographs were especially haunting and lovely. All the displayed work was beautiful, but his was especially nice because of the subject matter combined with some harmless obstruction of law and a lack of formal training that invites experimentation.

Mr. Simione documents abandoned mental facilities. The images are lovely in several ways: they comment on the human's desire to "walk away" from things and nature's desire to "take it back." Lichen and moss envelop radiators and chairs; bedframes rust under the weight of the open windows; paint flakes from the walls as if it's looking to escape. What's most interesting though, is the stillness. These items were simply left and years later found by Mr. Simione's and his medium format camera.

The Floating Art Project is a one-night deal. If you hear about an opening, make sure you go because you'll miss out on it three hours later.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Bird is the Word...

It is Thursday, November 29, 2007 and I have just had an art-of-body experience.

Justin & I made our way to Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel in Providence to see Andrew Bird, violinist extraordinaire, and his experimental band of gypsies perform. I'm writing about it here because I believe what I experienced tonight was less of a concert and more of a witnessing of event, never to be replicated; fully autonomous.

We arrived on time to make sure we got a great spot, and we did. We were about 10 feet from the stage with a perfect view of everything. Just slightly off center to the right, one could say we were in the Golden Mean of stage viewing.

Upon entering the space of the stage we noticed an *insane* drum kit. I don't even know how to explain it. All of the cymbals were altered. Several of them were cut, welded together, spiraled, shaped and reshaped. One of the spirals was probably five feet high. This was the kit of percussionist Glenn Kotche.

He was a one-man army of sound. He had several different items with which to strike things and a profound number of items to strike. He had no bass drum, but he did have what I believe to be a series of crickets in boxes. I can't do it any justice by trying to explain it. See it for yourself here.

And while Kotche was a pleasant and welcomed surprise, even more so was Andrew Bird's brilliant performance. Nothing short of rich and lively was this man who has been sent by heaven's holy messengers to create performance art masked as music. If you're not familiar with his work, visit his website and download a couple tracks from Armchair Apocrypha.

First: the set. He has these awesome altered Victrolas. One of them is oversized and on a decorative stand with antiqued wallpaper and these gorgeous little drawing/paintings coming from its darkest parts and spilling outward. Both traditional and progressive, it really spoke to me as an object and as a metaphor of *everything* that should be. The other Victrola (or gramophone?) was hooked to another one much like what I could accurately describe as a Siamese Victrola which with a pedal he could make it spin really really fast.

The drummer played keyboard, too, and the guitarist used some sort of space-age (handmade?) object on his guitar to make special sounds. At one point, Mr. Bird used a child's pull toy (A is for Apple or C is for Cow - I couldn't see the front) for some sort of strange effect. All in all there were three men performing the tasks of at least 9.

And the songs were expertly progressive and altered for live performance. While they were still recognizable on some levels and the lyrics remained mostly untouched, the melodies and delivery were bounced around, toyed, altered and - at times -felt even impromptu - yet somehow still cohesive and dedicated.

And it was good they didn't strictly adhere to the Armchair Apocrypha set. While this album is really great, AB has a long history of experimental, exploratory, and extraordinary music that can fit into almost anyone's tastes at one point or another.

He didn't perform "Dr. Strings" but the video is super cute if you haven't seen it yet. There were some requests for it, and I hadn't heard of this venture, so when I got home I looked it up and it's pretty much fantastic. It makes me love him even more (insert big, pulsating hearts in place of eyeballs). If he comes to your town, run to your venue and buy all the tickets you can afford, then give them away to people you love.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Using a Rembrandt as an Ironing Board

At long last, I have finished reading the book "Dada- Art and Anti-Art" by Hans Richter. It was a well written and very informative book by someone who had actually "been there, done that", which makes the book all the more believable since the information was first hand...a very rare thing indeed in the history of art.

The first thing that caught my notice were the ongoing explanations of just what Dada is/was. Every new section of the book has a new meaning, and though they are all different, they pretty much say the same thing. "Dada means nothing...thought is production of the mouth". (Dada Manifesto, 1918)

The second thing I would like to point out is that Dada seemed to be an excuse to exercise bad behavior, since Dada gave the group the freedom to not give a damn about anything. It was the "absence of opportunism", in an age without reason or future...which seem to bring about a kind of wild abandon within this group of artists. This was the "central experience of Dada" (p. 50)
Since the emphasis on Dada was "chance", then absolute spontaneity was called for. Hence, the importance of living in the moment was emphasized. These behaviors brought about monumental changes within the art world. (P.91)

The Dadaists valued personal freedom and independence- a concept that has been in existence in our (USA) country since its inception. This new idea of total freedom from pre-conceived
ideas and relationships opened up endless possibilities within the sphere of creativity.

The "pure chance" of Dada led the author (and visual artist) Hans Richter to begin experimenting with ways in which to paint. Working in twilight, he began to create "Visionary Portraits". As the light began to fade, he would continue to paint until he was working in the dark. Working in this manner, free of conventional methods, Richter found himself painting with his "inner eye". The experience had a profound effect on him. Creating though sheer instinct showed him a freedom he never before experienced in his work.

I would like to take this moment to draw a comparison between this method of working, and my "Blind Sewing" performance. The action is the same. Pulling the threads with a practiced hand while envisioning where the stitches will land and what they will look like was a completely freeing experience for me. All Dada is pure chance. The portraits and the sewing began as the random actions of the artists, and turned into a process of working with innate intuitiveness.

The most wonderful aspect of Dada is having the freedom to discard preconceived notions about process and techniques. Dada went beyond the tried and true methods of creativity. The lines between the individual categories of art became blurred. Painters became writers, and poets, dancers. Artists no longer felt tied to convention, but blossomed under a new-found freedom that enabled artists like Marcel Duchamp to conceive what he called "reciprocal ready-mades"....hence the idea of using a "Rembrandt as an ironing board." (p. 89, 109)

Thank God for Dada.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

This is the first long-hand video of Red Square Diaries. I have some ideas I might like to employ to create a more finished and sincere end result for future performance recordings, but this is definitely a start. Comments and/or suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.