Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New Hampshire native George Condo at New Museum, New York

Concord, New Hampshire native and UMass Lowell alum., George Condo is now showing at the New Museum in New York City in a solo exhibition titled Mental States.  Known for his portraiture of invented characters that often depict as he says, "composites of various psychological states painted in different ways."  
George Condo, “Jean Louis’ Mind,” 2005. Oil on canvas 45×38 inches. Courtesy of Luhring Augustine Gallery.
My first experience in seeing Condo's work was at a Pace/Wildenstein exhibit in January of 2000 when the gallery was still in SoHo.  The show was titled 'Jazz Paintings' and included large square formatted paintings of what seemed to me to be 'interpretations' of various musicians like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Jimi Hendrix to name a few.  At first approach, my impression was that it seemed an easy endeavor, but on second glance and in conceptualizing the notion of each artist's music, I saw and felt each of the paintings' lyrical qualities that encapsulated the music beautifully.  At the time I had fallen in love with Miles Davis' classic album Kind of Blue, listening to it and letting it ease our late night car rides back to New Hampshire from New York with my newborn son and wife quietly sleeping.  So I was keenly aware of the smooth sounds of Davis' trumpet of which Condo eloquently managed to capture. 
Kind of Blue album cover.

Cheers to a New Hampshire son for a bountiful career, painting with his heart on his sleeve.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Frank Stella, Irregular Polygons, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH

Chocorua IV
Fluorescent alkyd and epoxy paints on canvas, 120 x 128 x 4 in.
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College: Purchased through the Miriam and Sidney Stoneman Acquisition Fund, a gift from Judson and Carol Bemis, Class of 1976, and gifts from the Lathrop Fellows, in honor of Brian Kennedy, Director of the Hood Museum of Art, 2005-2010
© 2010 Frank Stella/ Artists Rights Socety (ARS), New York. Photo by Steven Sloman.

     In December, I visited Hanover to see the Frank Stella exhibit at the Hood.  The exhibition, Irregular Polygons, is a fantastic display of minimalist painting, or 'hard edge painting' at its finest and yet this internationally known artist's works, in this series, also has a unique connection to New Hampshire.  
     First, a little background.  Stella was born in 1936, raised in Malden, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, and attended Phillips Academy in Andover.  During his summers he would vacation in New Hampshire, with his father, a wealthy gynocologist,  climbing Mount Chocorua, or fishing in a favorite stream just east of Conway.  
     Stella attended Princeton University, graduating in 1958, hitting the New York art scene like a rocket.  He befriended Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, married art critic and then Columbia University student, Barbara Rose, and within a year was one of several artists featured at the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition, Sixteen Americans.  This exhibition is thought to have launched the Minimalist movement and really signaled the final blow to the end of Abstract Expressionism.  Stella's first acclaimed pieces were his 'Black Paintings', which once sold for 75 dollars per painting and now garner around 5 million.
     After his 'Black Paintings', Stella started experimenting in a number of different directions that echoed some of the work Rauschenberg was doing with his combines, but it wasn't until he started his shaped canvases, large fields of color and play with illusion that he really hit his stride.  The Hood's, 'Irregular Polygons' exhibition really documents his thinking during this time period (1965-66) in a wonderfully curated show of the series, of which have never before been seen all together.
     For us Granite Staters, this show is unique in that all of the titles in this series are of New Hampshire locations.  Chocorua, Conway, Effingham, Moutonboro, Ossipee to name just a few.  It was his first of the series, Chocorua that inspired him to title the rest of the series after locations he visited while vacationing as a child here.  It was the upright triangle emerging from the square below that made him think of the mountain in Albany.  
     This show could not have come closer to home for me on many levels.  Having painted abstract/non-objective pieces for a number of years, I have always appreciated Stella's work.  This series as well as his Moby Dick series I feel are his best.  So to see the breadth of the Irregular Polygons series all together in one location is a special treat for me and any viewer.  But I also feel, having admired many of the locations cited in his titles, especially Mount Chocorua (we used to meet my grandparents at White Lake State Park, where when sitting on the beach, one can see Mount Chocorua across the lake, a beautiful sight), that this work strikes another nerve in me.  
Ellis, my son, sitting in front of one of Stella's Moby Dick paintings at the Metropolitan Museum in NY.
     Formally, I find the paintings play with spacial illusion.  Harkening to a time of Hans Hoffman's notions of push and pull in the way some of the paint's brilliance is juxtaposed with darker or less intense colors, making those high chroma shapes emerge off of the canvas.  I also find these paintings have an object-like quality about them, as they are not rectangular windows into which the viewer finds illusionistic space but that the space is created by the shaped object/painting itself.  Also lending to its object-like quality is the massiveness of the paintings themselves, with a depth that borders 4-6 inches and height and widths around 120 inches.   
     If you find yourself in the Hanover area or want to make a day trip, I highly recommend heading to the Hood.  The exhibition is up until March 13.  You will not be disappointed.  While you're there check out my favorite burrito place, Gusanos Taqueria (this is not a paid advertisement, I just like the place), directly behind the museum.  However do not order the habinero sauce with the description that says, 'barely edible' thinking like I did, 'yeah, yeah, I've heard that before', as you will find yourself drinking more than your bladder can hold and sweating profusely from the intense heat the sauce holds.  


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On the Apartheid between "art" and "craft". By Jerry Saltz

Jerry Saltz just posted this today.  I consistently hear from our young students/artists this notion that the medium they work in is better than another medium, usually not outright but in a subtle, 'higher than thou' kind of way.  As Mr. Saltz puts it, it is 'what you make- no matter how you make it.  It just has to work.'
Here is his entire posting from Facebook:

 - The differences between what is called “art” and what is called “craft” are 100% totally bogus. They are maintained to keep things simple, stupid, and limited.
There is no distinction between the two. None.
I only care about what you make - no matter how you make. It just has to work.

Painting is no better or worse than ceramics is no better or worse than photography is no better or worse than woodworking … all the way down.
It’s all part of the same Ball of Wax.

However, in this regard, the art world may be the most limiting sphere on earth.
Artists are terrified of the word craft; so-called “craft-people” crave the title “artist.” It is all absurd. Who’s asking who’s permission for what here, my Huckleberry friends?

This just closes things down, keeps them neat, simple, and known.

It is absolutely pathetic. And, at its deepest roots, sexist.
It’s the way men didn’t want women reading novels in the 19th century. As if women would get nasty thoughts about sex, life, romance, or other things. Of course this is precisely what novels did. The same as they did for men.

Either way, today craft is considered “girly.” Why people still believe this is a sick mystery. But it’s time for it to end. It was never really true in the first place.

But wait. This is the art world. We only like mainly Painting and Sculpture and Photography. I'm sorry. For a second I thought we were all free to do what our demons demand us to do.

I never care if an artist has someone else make his/her work. You can have all the people you want help you make it; they can make it entirely without you ever touching it; or only you can touch it yourself. It is all absolutely unimportant to me. As I am sure it is to everyone. All we care about is can this object create an opening for us, can it take us to another dimension, go deep, create a new set of ordinances and coordinates?  I could give a crap if one or fifty people worked on something.

Yet, people still enforce these old idiotic clich├ęd barriers between mediums and processes. Yet, Duchamp was as much as "artisan" as an artist. Ditto Rubens, Morandi, Eva Hesse, George Ohr. A lathe is no less 'important' a tool as a paint brush. A potter’s wheel is no less ‘important’ or useful than a camera. If you have a vision I don’t care what path you take to the vision. Be it painting, embroidery, sewing, sculpture, weaving, knitting, quilting, glassblowing, ivory carving, cut-out silhouettes, ceramics, photography, scrapbooking, metalwork, or adding glitter and/or sequins to a pair of pumps.
Then again, I’m the same person who believes that his Second Self can create openings and schisms in a medium as odd as ‘Facebook.’ The same person who thought going on a reality TV game show about art might also create avenues to otherness to some who might otherwise just think art is a bunch of junk.

Either way, it’s time to set aside this insipid separation between art and craft.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Don't do it for anyone else

This letter comes from a fascinating website titled Letters of Note that features letters from or to, famous or infamous people.  Hours of fodder here.  Enjoy.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Palmer Hayden, Born January 15,1890

Palmer Hayden, African-American artist, b. Jan. 15, 1890 (d. 1973):
The Janitor Who Paints, ca. 1930 - oil on canvas (Smithsonian)
“I decided to paint to support my love of art, rather than have art support me.” — Palmer Hayden quoted in Nora Holt, “Painter Palmer Hayden Symbolizes John Henry,” New York Times, 1 Feb. 1947.
“By 1940 Palmer Hayden was known for his narrative scenes of New York’s urban life and the rural South. Like a photographer taking snapshots, he depicted black subjects during unguarded moments in their daily routine. His characterizations-sometimes humorous, sometimes unflattering-are nonetheless caring and proud. Described by Hayden’s compelling use of line, they possess the immediacy of popular illustrations.
Although the artist’s studio is a time-honored theme, Hayden’s intention in The Janitor Who Paints is more provocative than usual because he described it as a “protest painting” in a 1969 interview. An easel, palette, and brushes share space with a bed, nightstand, feather duster, and broom. Is Hayden’s subject an amateur, painting portraits of his family and friends in his spare time at home? Or is he a professional artist, forced to support himself in a modest occupation and to combine his creative and domestic spheres in one setting? Having taken odd jobs including housecleaning to support himself, Hayden experienced the economic hardships of many black artists, and the painting has often been interpreted as both a self-portrait and a statement on adversity.
The most immediate source for the element of protest that Hayden associated with the work, however, was his friendship with Cloyd Boykin, an older African-American painter who supported himself as a janitor:”I painted it because no one called Boykin the artist. They called him the janitor.” Hayden incorporated details such as the beret and the subject of mother and child to reinforce the sense of artistic identity, while the clock alludes to the workman’s schedule.
Initially self-taught, Hayden sought training in New York and Paris, yet his style has frequently been described as primitive. In The Janitor Who Paints, the figures’ oversized hands and intense, cartoonlike expressions, as well as the freely treated space in which shapes are outlined as relatively flat areas of color, recall the simplified forms of American folk art. Actually, these elements owe as much to the broader influences of African and modern art that Hayden encountered in Paris as to his highly personal approach to interpreting the vitality and challenges of African-American life.” - Lynda Roscoe Hartigan. African-American Art: 19th and 20th-Century Selections (brochure. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

MoMA Purchases Censored Wojnarowicz

For those of you following the recent scandal at the Smithsonian Museum's National Portrait Gallery of the David Wojnarowicz piece "A Fire in My Belly", that was removed/censored from their exhibition Hide/Seek- Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, there is welcome news as reported by the NY Times.  MoMA has purchased both the artist's cut (7 min) and the full version (13 min).  While the video has been shown at a number of locations Transformer gallery in D.C. and at the New Museum in New York, the MoMA is the first to announce the purchase of the work.

From the Times article written by Kate Taylor, "Mr. Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS in 1992, made the video in the late 1980s in response to the AIDS crisis. It was included in a show at the National Portrait Gallery, a Smithsonian museum, examining gay themes in American portraiture but was removed after it was attacked by Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, and several Republican congressmen who objected to an image in the video of ants crawling on a crucifix.

The video’s removal has in turn led to an outcry from the art world. The curators of the show have been sharply critical of the decision to remove the video, which was made by the Smithsonian’s top executive, G. Wayne Clough. An artist, AA Bronson, has asked for his own piece to be removed from the show in protest, and on Monday his lawyer sent a letter to Mr. Clough and the director of the National Portrait Gallery, Martin E. Sullivan, threatening legal action if the museum does not comply."

Here is the full version of the video:

As with all controversies surrounding art, this piece, which in its own right is excellent, will now be reduced to 'the video that caused a scandal'.  Remember Chris Ofili's, The Holy Virgin Mary painting from the Saatchi exhibition titled Sensation at the Brooklyn Museum in late '99 to early '00 that caused quite a stir?  The scandal reached national prominence when the then Mayor Giuliani jumped on the band wagon to say what an outrage it was that there was elephant dung on an image of the Virgin Mary and that city funding of the museum should be halted.  Because of the controversy, that piece is now relegated to being known now as 'an art scandal piece' and not a fine work of art.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Welcome to a blog that I have been thinking about for a long time.  I always thought New Hampshire art should be lifted out of the granite quarries of regionalism and so here is my attempt to shed some light on the fantastic art being created by so many talented artists that call New Hampshire their home.  I will attempt to highlight galleries, museums and artists' studios from around the state as well as keep us Granite Staters informed on what the rest of the art world is thinking with links and other tidbits that I may come across.
As an artist myself, I will, from time to time, share with you my thoughts, trials and mis-steps in art, show you some of the work I am making and keep you abreast of some of my travels.  For instance, this June I will be traveling with my family to London and Paris, so expect lots of pictures and lots of thoughts on the state of art in these two great cities.  Then, as I have for the past two summers, I will be living in Beckett, Massachusetts, in the heart of the Berkshires, working as the art director at a summer camp.  While there, I will share with you the joys of creating art in this joyous atmosphere.
So, without further adieu, here it is.  I hope you enjoy it and please drop me a note to let me know about an opening, a must see artist, or just to say hi.