Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Louise Bourgeois at Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum has a major retrospective of Louise Bourgeois on through September 28. Bourgeois is the grande dame of contemporary art, at 96 years old still working and holding regular salons at her Chelsea townhouse. She was the first female artist ever to be given a large survey show at the MoMA, in 1982 when she was a sprightly 70. Since then she has continued to produce provocative sculptures and drawings, which employ both abstraction and figuration and which focus on the darker psychological impulses contained within human relationships.

Femme Couteau, 2002 (click for attribution)

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Bourgeois' oeuvre, which spans all the major contemporary art movements of the 20th century, is her outstanding ability as a sculptor in marble, bronze, wood, fabric and assemblage. Bourgeois is a master marble carver, able to evoke subtle variations in the surfaces of her stone works. She is a professionally trained seamstress who began working with fabric as a small child in her family's textile business. Though her forms are often deliberately rough, exposing seams and innards, everything she makes is exquisitely crafted. Her level of technical skill is rare among today's artists. Mand more remarkable still is that she was able to hone it while raising three children from the 1940s through the 1960s, in a time when expectations for women were very different than they are today.

The Blind Leading the Blind, 1947-49 (click for attribution)

Bourgeois' story is an inspiration to artists of both genders, and a reminder that artistic excellence can be achieved regardless of personal challenges. The range of styles and methods she's employed throughout her career is staggering, and its impact is enhanced by its presentation within the Guggenheim's spiraling central gallery. The artwork and the architecture are in constant conversation, and Bourgeois' installation has the effect of rendering Frank Lloyd Wright's dominating architecture gracefully feminine. This coupling is a ballet of space and form, really something to see.

Couple IV, 1997 (click for attribution)

Bourgeois is a living treasure, and I am hopeful that her 100th birthday on Christmas 2011 will be the cause for great celebrations at museums around the world. It's largely because of her that women are making gains within the art market, and whenever we feel frustrated by ongoing iniquities it would be wise to recall her fortitude against challenges this generation could not even imagine.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Studio Visit with Christian Nguyen

Today I met New York artist Christian Nguyen. Christian's work spans drawing, painting and sculpture, and is equally influenced by mathematics and by social and spiritual concerns. Christian works in many interconnected ways, ranging from process-oriented abstraction to figurative proposals for monuments, but his primary body of work is a series of images based on a concept of the Tower of Babel, which he imagines to be an architecture of homogenizing totalitarianism. The structures of these fragmented interiors may be benignly controlling, allowing for perceived freedom of movement within their strict parameters. The spaces are often embedded within mountainous landscapes that suggest a contrast between nature and culture. This formal language is an allegory for the choices we make to participate in society, straying from the state of nature and exchanging freedom for protection.

Terraced Fields, 2006

In this work, the focal point is usually placed centrally so that the architectural spaces recede, pulling the viewer into a psychological labyrinth. Christian draws with charcoal on stretched, unprimed canvas, allowing drips of pigment from the raw landscape areas to stray into the rigid and precise architectural spaces. He is beginning to introduce color into the newer works, so that the spatial void doubles as both a symbol and a raw wound inscribed into the canvas.

Poliarcopolis, installation at Wave Hill, 2008

The project was inspired by his 2000 residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's World Trade Center studio, and the subsequent destruction of those buildings which resulted in an awkward marriage of sacred and corporate spaces at the site known as Ground Zero. This began an inquiry into the parallels between civic, economic and social structures of control, manifested through depictions of regimented and closed architectures. He draws inspiration from mandalas, cathedral plans, ziggurats and other such examples of mathematical order in the service of larger systems of thought. Fundamentally, his subject is the means we humans have imposed throughout our history to understand and order the chaotic realities of our world.

Christian shows with Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco, where I was originally introduced to his work.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Part 2 - She's So Articulate: Black Women Artists Reclaim the Narrative at Arlington Arts Center

Contemporary art exhibitions must be judged on two fronts - the quality of the art included, and the soundness of the curatorial argument and its *articulate* defense. As we've already seen, much of the art included in the Arlington Arts Center show She's So Articulate: Black Women Artists Reclaim the Narrative is quite impressive, and the show introduces some younger talents to a broader audience while paying homage to deserving pioneer Faith Ringgold. Nonetheless, the curatorial strategy is problematic for several reasons.

Faith Ringgold, Who's Bad?, 1998

To begin with, the show's curators Henry Thaggert and Jeffry Cudlin cite the influence of Kara Walker as a crucial impetus for this show, which was prompted by Walker's mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum earlier this year. Walker, they propose, has a lock on the discourse surrounding black female experience and creative output in the contemporary art mainstream. Her work hinges on caricature and the grotesque, and for this reason it is a palatable discussion of race within an art market unwilling to engage more nuanced or positive images of blackness. They cite as precedent the very public critique of Walker lodged by Betye Saar nearly a decade ago, calling the younger artist out for perpetuating rather than challenging racist assumptions held by the larger public. A cogent point of view -- but is it true today?

Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, installation view, 2007 (Photo: Sheldon Collins)

In 1997 when she became the youngest artist ever to win the MacArthur Fellowship, Kara Walker was a lone black woman in a predominantly white and male art market. Though the dominant paradigm has yet to be smashed, today Walker is not the only African-American female artist to succeed in the commercial art world. Wangechi Mutu, Renee Green, Mickalene Thomas and Shinique Smith are a few of the African-American women leading in the arts these days. Black curators like Okwui Enwezor, Franklin Sirmans and Thelma Golden have tremendous influence, and are able to introduce young black talent at a very high threshhold of exposure. To be sure, there is a long way yet to go, but the argument that Walker's voice alone is heard seems outdated in light of these facts.

Wangechi Mutu, Magnificent Monkey-Ass Lies, 2004

Furthermore, is the best way to increase the prominence of black women in the art world to create a show that puts a group together based solely on the fact that all are black women? Many artists today would be reluctant to participate in such a project, and those who did would likely insist that their ambivalence about that grouping be made known. When Taraneh Hemami and I curated East of the West this past spring, we met a lot of resistance to the premise that artists of Middle Eastern origin should show together. Only by framing the exhibition in other terms -- with respect to the politics of image, media critique and the immigrant experience -- were we able to assuage their concerns. She's So Articulate touches on contemporary issues, but ultimately it feels dated by a one-size-fits-all identity politics approach.

Renee Cox, Raje for President, 1998

This is especially jarring because the artists in the show don't seem very interested in identity politics. The exceptions are Ringgold and Renee Cox, both of whose included works are already ten years old. Most of the work, if about race and gender at all, is about the subtleties of identity and the difficulty of pinning down a right or wrong approach. I am thinking of lauren woods, Erika Ranee, Renee Stout, Nadine Robinson and Stephanie Dinkins. Other work seems to be only indirectly about race -- Torkwase Dyson, Nekisha Durrett and Djakarta seem to have other things on the forefront of their minds.

Beyond this, shows that group by category risk further marginalizing rather than promoting the artists included. Only viewers who are already interested in black female perspectives will see such a show, while the inclusion of African artists in major contemporary art surveys such as Documenta 12 and the 2007 Venice Biennale or of African-American artists in the National Portrait Gallery show Recognize exposed those artists to a mixed audience who might otherwise not have sought them out.

Since I am interested in these points of view, I enjoyed She's So Articulate and welcomed the chance to learn about artists with whose work I was not yet familiar. I enjoyed the debate this exhibition prompted, and hope for it to continue. The exhibition design and installation were strong, the work looked good, and the text was well-written and low on obfuscating artspeak. However, an exhibition framed as a critique of another artist's work is challenged by its very premise, and in this case that context detracts from rather than enhances perceptions of the work included.

I welcome further discussion in the comments!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

She's So Articulate: Black Women Artists Reclaim the Narrative at Arlington Arts Center

Arlington Arts Center in Arlington, VA, has a controversy-stirring exhibition up right now called She's So Articulate: Black Women Artists Reclaim the Narrative. The title instantly provokes discussion, as the word "articulate" has been particularly abused this election season. This term is often lobbed as a means of backhandedly complimenting African-Americans who excel in professional and social arenas for, in essence, not being too black.

Further debate is prompted by the curators' invocation of Kara Walker, a major artist by any measure and one who is not represented in the exhibition, as a foil against whose influence the artists in this show have been assembled. The argument they make is that Walker's rapid and prolonged success within the international art market has caused her dystopic vision of the sublimated racial assumptions that drive American society to become the only point of view on race admitted by contemporary art gatekeepers, and that she is therefore in possession of a power that ought to be subverted.

Because it is late and there are many intriguing artists in this show whose work you should see, I will divide this post into two parts. Tonight's post will cover the artists in the exhibition, while tomorrow's will address the curatorial strategies behind the show as well as include my commentary on Walker's perceived impact.

Torkwase Dyson, Oil and Fauna Don't Mix, and What Will Happen if I Don't..., both 2008

Torkwase Dyson tops my list of exciting local discoveries on this trip to the DC area. Regrettably I have not been able to see her concurrent two-person show at Meat Market Gallery in Washington, but her two installations at AAC knocked me out. Dyson employs the popular strategy of creative reuse in her work, using leftover parts of mass-produced commodities such as the plastic cards on which earrings are sold. The objects she selects connect the experiences of people of color with the global movement of goods, while drawing attention to wasteful practices and promoting eco-political engagement. Meanwhile, the visuals she creates are epic monster fantasias, their rich, glossy surfaces suffused with glitter. The seductive energy of her imagery and its comic bent prevent Dyson's material politics from overwhelming the work.

lauren woods, The Teenth of June, 2006

San Francisco-based filmmaker and artist lauren woods contributes two works to the exhibition. The Teenth of June commemorates the selection of Shilah Phillips as the first African-American Miss Texas in June 2006, with a title that is a play on "Juneteenth," a celebration of the legal end of slavery in its last vestige, Galveston, TX, in June 1865. woods views herself as a researcher, seeking out the spaces within images where the preconceptions of viewers come into play and create meaning. Without historical context, one might read the slowed-down pageant footage with its incongruous science-fiction soundtrack as foreboding, noticing the moments when Phillips seems isolated or obscured on the stage of otherwise white Texan beauty queens. An understanding of the title or of the racial history of Texas might lend the work a more joyous feeling. woods does not direct these interpretations.

lauren woods, (S)Port of San Francisco, 2006

(S)Port of San Francisco is a three-channel projection of original footage woods shot of performers at waterfront tourist spots in that city. The performers, all black men, weave in and out of frame, dancing with shirtless fury for the benefit of a mostly white audience. Their exuberance is unmatched by the stodgy observers, who watch politely but with visible discomfort. This dynamic can easily be read as that of a contemporary minstrel show, or it might simply be a movement study of these skillful dancers in action. The unacknowledged akwardness of the tourist experience also comes into play. woods' work is included in Bay Area Now 5 at San Francisco's Yerba Buena for the Arts, which I will attend and report on in August.

Renee Stout, The Thinking Room, 2005/08

Photographer and installation artist Renee Stout has created a body of work that explores the biography of her alter ego Fatima Mayfield. Fatima is a community healer steeped in the traditions of Caribbean herbalists, a "rootworker" who cures ailments and tells fortunes. Her place within her urban black neighborhood is contentious, her neighbors alternately enticed by her skills and resentful of their un-Christian origins. Stout tells Fatima's story in a slideshow of black-and-white stills and text, installed within an environment constructed from the trappings of Fatima's world. DC-based Stout has had a substantial career including a mid-career traveling retrospective in 2002, and is represented by Hemphill Fine Arts.

Nekisha Durrett, Jeri in the Woods, from Their Eyes Were Watching Everything, 2008

Finally (for now), Nekisha Durrett's manga-inspired paintings mounted behind shaped plexiglas were among my favorite objects in the show. Durrett's installation is derived from Japanese scrolls known as the Choju-Jinbutsu-Giga Emaki (“Frolicking Animals and People”), which date back roughly 1000 years and are credited as the origins of Japan's comic art tradition. Durrett draws as well on contemporary art and animation, showing the influences of master animation director Hayao Miyazaki and Neo-Pop art superstar Takashi Murakami. Her characters are drawn from people and animals important in her own life. Though her installation promotes a linear reading of the images within, the cheerful ambiguity of her work upends its narrative qualities. Also, it is just plain ridiculously cute. Durrett shows with Charles Guice Contemporary.

A complete set of images from the show can be seen here.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Recognize: Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery has taken a bold step into the 21st century with the exhibition Recognize: Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture, on view through October 26. Six visual artists and one poet were invited to present their interpretations of hip hop's legacy through the medium of portraiture, characterized as the representation of recognizable figures, in media including photography, video, painting, installation and graffiti.

Kehinde Wiley, Ice T, 2005

Kehinde Wiley is a contemporary portraitist using traditional techniques and imagery to create canonical images of present-day black men, some celebrities and others regular folks. Wiley has a keen grasp of the history of Western painting, and his pictures contain layers of commentary on race, power, masculinity and self-image. By turns, Wiley samples precedents from the Dutch Old Masters, Italian Renaissance, Rococo, Pre-Raphaelites and even Socialist Realists. Unsurprisingly, his work has drawn both praise and criticism for replacing white kings, saints and Christ himself with young urban black men. At the National Portrait Gallery, the paintings feature hip hop pioneers such as Ice T, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, each of whose portrait is derived from one of a historical figure with whom the contemporary subject identifies. Wiley's work is also on view at the Studio Museum of Harlem through October 26.

Jefferson Pinder, Mule, 2006

Jefferson Pinder creates performances out of long-held stereotypes regarding the African-American experience. These are exhibited as videos in which the artist performs loaded actions that exaggerate and question our assumptions about the place and value of black people in American society. In Mule, Pinder drags a heavy load through a desolate urban landscape. He plays the part of an enslaved man, shackled to the past and to poverty, but his suit and sunglasses connote a conflicting image of upward mobility. Pinder's films are often accompanied by energizing music of his own composition, which enhance their emotional resonance and rhythmically punctuate the action. Pinder's work is also included in the exhibition After 1968: Contemporary Artists and the Civil Rights Legacy at the High Museum in Atlanta, GA, a major exhibition featuring seven young black artists whose projects respond to the history of civil rights in America.

Shinique Smith, No Thief to Blame, 2007-08

Shinique Smith, whose sculpture at Yvon Lambert in New York I covered earlier this week, has created a site-specific installation at the National Portrait Gallery as a response to poet Nikki Giovanni's commissioned poem for the exhibition, It’s Not a Just Situation: Though We Just Can’t Keep Crying About It (For the Hip Hop Nation That Brings Us Such Exciting Art). Giovanni is a hugely influential poet and a major contributor to the civil rights movement, and her writing has had an enormous impact on women of color in the United States. Smith's installation weaves together her signature calligraphic line with collage elements including images of hip hop's dearly departed -- tragic figures such as Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez and Easy-E whose deaths too young represent the darker side of the lifestyle celebrated in the exhibition. Smith informs her references to black urban culture with a deep current of Eastern philosophy. In this work, she may suggest that the suffering of her community could be alleviated by a lessened emphasis on self-inflicted injury in the name of authentically representing an oppressive past.

The National Portrait Gallery's 2007 renovation presented an opportunity for the NPG and its sister institution, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, to rethink how they present their historic collections of art objects to reflect the cultural values of today. They wisely chose not to preserve a monolithic view of American history, but also have avoided the politically-correct strategy of eliminating the more onerous figures within their galleries. Instead, the NPG presents a multifaceted view of American history in which portraits of famous slaveowners hang beside those of ex-slaves, and Native American and Latino heroes are presented alongside generals. The point is to engender a dialogue about the past which our country desperately needs. For this alone, it's worth a visit, but if you can get there before Recognize ends, you will really be in luck.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Radialvedic at Johansson Projects

The excellent Oakland gallery Johansson Projects, which I have covered here before, has just opened a new show, Radialvedic, featuring Ohio-based Jill Gallenstein and Bay Area-based Kristina Lewis and Kana Tanaka. I have been working with gallerist Kimberly Johansson since June to help bring this year-old gallery, with an exceptionally talented stable of emerging artists and a large, complex space with many intriguing sight lines, to a new level of reputation and success.

Jill Gallenstein, seeding the clouds detail, 2008

Jill Gallenstein is a multidisciplinary visual artist based in Columbus, Ohio, who has for the past year been creating intensely detailed, intricate drawings in pen and ink on paper. These dense clusters of ornamentation mutate and propagate across the negative space of the page, evolving as they spread. Titles such as Chemlawn and Smoker's Cough reflect the toxic elegance of Jill's compositions, betraying the beauty of their surfaces. Jill was an artist in residence at Headlands Center for the Arts this past spring, where I had the pleasure of getting to know her and recommended her to Kimberly. I am hopeful that theirs will be a long and fruitful partnership.

Kristina Lewis, Nurse, 2008

Kristina Lewis' sculptures appropriate mass-produced plastic products as the building blocks of new, abstracted life. She works according to systems and processes, attempting to avoid a predicated outcome. In this way she approximates the natural recombinations of amino acids, molecules and cells, which create life according to process rather than plan.

Kana Tanaka, Glass Drop, 2008

Kana Tanaka's installations of hot-formed glass interact with light to create atmospheric conditions within the gallery. These objects, integrated with the architectural features of a site, extend their phenomenological space to encompass viewers' bodies and movements.

Radialvedic is on view through August 30, with an Oakland Art Murmur party on August 1 from 5-9 pm (which will also mark my return to the Bay Area after this lengthy East Coast jaunt). If you're in the neighborhood, come in and say hello to the lovely ladies of JoPro.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

2007 Joan Mitchell Foundation MFA Grant Recipients at CUE Art Foundation

Each year, the Joan Mitchell Foundation awards grants to ten recent MFA graduates from US colleges or universities. The candidates are nominated by invitation, and their award year culminates in a summer exhibition at CUE Art Foundation in Chelsea. This year's show is on view through August 2.

Shay Church, Elephant, 2008

This year's highlights include Shay Church (San Jose State University), whose reclining elephant made from scavenged clay is cadaverous and yet strangely emotive. Though representational, Church's sculpture is mainly a form of land art, made from raw earth that the artist has labored to transport into the gallery in the tradition of Smithson's non-sites.

Stephanie Beck, Dencity, 2008

Stephanie Beck (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) uses cut paper as an architectural material to build monochromatic landscapes that reflect the complexity of urban space. Some of her surfaces are built up to approximate buildings, while others are cut away to suggest the spidery lattices of our patterns of movement.

Vitus Shell, No More Afro Wigs, 2008

Vitus Shell (University of Mississippi at Oxford) conflates past and present in paintings that take pages from history as their ground. Shell collages images from newspaper advertisements that belie attitudes about race from the recent past, over which he paints portraits of contemporary African-Americans on whom the influence of those assumptions are seen.

Other artists in the exhibition include Laura Adams (Carnegie Mellon University), Natasha Bowdoin (Tyler School of Art, Temple University), Dara Louise Engler (Indiana University), Asuka Goto (Tyler School of Art, Temple University), Peter Gregorio (School of Visual Arts), Mayumi Komuro (Queens College, City University of New York), John McAllister (Art Center College of Design), Lydia Musco (Boston University), Andrew Patterson-Tutschka (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts), Sara Pedigo (University of Massachusetts at Amherst), Ryan Pierce (California College of the Arts), and Rosemary Taylor (Brooklyn College, City University of New York).

More images from the show can be seen here.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Stranger at Yvon Lambert

In what's become a Chelsea tradition, Yvon Lambert has a group show up this month that features old stalwarts (Anselm Kiefer, George Segal) and new recruits (Shinique Smith, Patricia Piccinini). The theme of the show is The Stranger, Albert Camus' 1946 novel of disconnection, apathy and murder. Perhaps this explains the show's coldness and lack of a cohesive thesis, or that may simply be a reflection of Chelsea and the current trends in the international art market.

Patricia Piccinini, The Long Awaited, 2008

Individual pieces within the show do resonate despite the gallery's staid atmosphere. The craftsmanship of Patricia Piccinini's sculpture The Long Awaited is outstanding, and the emotional resonance of her work is quite powerful. A child and a withered old creature, part monster and part grandmother, dream together in a loving embrace.

Shinique Smith, and, she has a bowl of lilacs in her room, 2008

Lambert has recently picked up Shinique Smith, a Brooklyn-based artist whose star is rising fast. In 2008 alone, she has been in shows at the New Museum, Socrates Sculpture Park, National Portrait Gallery, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, The Rubell Collection, Deutsche Guggenheim, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, and had a solo show at Saltworks in Atlanta, GA. Smith uses found and recycled clothing in sculptures which comment on nostalgia, international commerce, romance and female self-image. Her drawings incorporate calligraphic and graffitti writing, sumi ink painting and collage, and are often integrated into her sculptural installations.

George Segal, Seated Woman Reading, 1999

The novel of the title appears in George Segal's sculpture Seated Woman Reading, in which the woman in question sits at a table and ponders Camus' text. Her skin is International Klein Blue instead of Segal's signature Hydrocal white, possibly as an homage to the creative contributions of the French in the 20th century. Her surface is slightly worn, as though she has sat with her thoughts there a long time.

Anselm Kiefer, Asche fur Paul Celan, 2006

Kiefer's contribution is a beached rowboat made of lead, weighted down with leaden books. Surrounding it are concrete fragments shot through with twisted rebar. The effect is that of a quest for knowledge thwarted by the brutality of urban life, which the seeker has abandoned in search of some more hopeful goal.

Koo Jeong-A, Soo-I, 2004

Koo Jeong-A's quirky sculpture Soo-I perches high above the Kiefer, a cute and childlike figure utterly incongruous with the physical and psychological heaviness below. He seems to make a joke of despair and hopelessness, and so becomes the stand-in for a summer visitor. The moroseness of the show evaporates in the hot sun outside, the hustle of the city and the ephemerality of Chelsea.

For more images from this show, click here.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Victory Garden 2008: The Ark

One of the projects I'm most proud of from my time at Headlands Center for the Arts is the Victory Garden, a site-specific commissioned artwork that was the first new permanent installation on the Headlands' campus in 17 years. The project by Amy Franceschini and Michael Swaine is a 25' long "boat" moored at the Headlands' kitchen entrance, both a sculpture and a planter in which fresh herbs are grown for use in dinners made nightly for artists in residence and visitors. The artwork, at once a functioning garden and an aesthetic object, literally nourishes the artists and their community, and so is a metaphor for the mission of the Headlands.

The project was realized with the assistance of Headlands staff sharon maidenberg, Chris Doyle and Gary Sangster, and permiculturist Arcangelo Wessels. A public program and launch party on June 26 featured a reading by Cooley Windsor, whose short story Epios: a Sculptor is a melancholic tale of the artist who fashioned the Trojan Horse. Cooley's rumination on the sometimes torturous creative process was an inspiration for Amy and Michael's work. A talk by curator Clare Haggarty contextualized the project within 20th century Conceptualism, participatory art projects and social practices.

More images of the Victory Garden can be seen here.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

A few friends of note

Yesterday was my birthday, so I took the day off. Today I would like to introduce some terrific New York artists who also happen to be good friends of mine:

Abigail Feldman photographs the intimate and overlooked details of daily life. Her work deals with intimacy and alienation, the fear of knowing too much about others and of being known. Vulnerability and detachment characterize the work, which focuses on the clues people leave within their surroundings that provide insight into their inner lives. Abigail got her MFA from the School of Visual Arts and her BFA from Bard College.

Damaso Reyes bridges photojournalism and fine art in his work, which examines cultural specificity and universal connections around the globe. Damaso has photographed in Africa, Europe, Asia and all over the Western Hemisphere. His current project, The Europeans, chronicles the changing face of the new, multi-ethnic Europe in the wake of the European Union. Damaso got his BFA from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

Linda Draper is a singer-songwriter known for sweet and haunting melodies woven through with intense emotion. Linda's soft voice and unassuming demeanor draw listeners into a dreamlike state, while the fearless honesty of her lyrics can be a sharp wake-up call. She has written and recorded several self-published albums on her own, and recorded with The Voices, Major Matt Mason and other downtown/antifolk characters on the scene. She studied Music Composition at SUNY Purchase.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Joseph DeLappe: The Salt Satyagraha Online—Gandhi’s Salt March in Second Life

Eyebeam is a non-profit in Chelsea dedicated to research at the intersection of art and technology. The exhibition on through July 19 features commissioned work by Joseph DeLappe and Taeyoon Choi.

Joseph DeLappe has recreated the Salt Satyagraha, a seminal moment in contemporary non-violent political protest organized by Mohandas K. "Mahatma" Gandhi in 1930, as a march through Second Life. The Salt Satyagraha was India's version of the Boston Tea Party, a civil disobedience action in which citizens reclaimed their right to produce salt directly from the sea, thus avoiding British commodity taxes which the Raj had imposed by law. The ban on salt-making, like most protectionist legislation, adversely affected the poorest people the most, as they were unable to afford refrigeration and were denied their traditional means of food preservation. Gandhi was arrested following the Salt March and remained in prison for about a year, during which time his status as India's preeminent civil rights leader was cemented. The Satyagraha campaign of non-violent protest against British colonial rule had a major international impact, and was one of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s main inspirations.

Joseph DeLappe, Reenactment: Gandhi at Dandi, 2008
"This image, of MGandhi at Dandi in SL was made several weeks after the end of DeLappe's performance/reenactment, just as the original photograph commemorating Gandhi's arrival at Dandi on April 6, 1930 was staged several days later, and at a different location altogether."-Eyebeam

DeLappe's Second Life Salt Satyagraha was conducted in real time using a specially modified treadmill. The artist walked the same distance as Gandhi on each day of the march, while his Second Life avatar traveled simultaneously through the virtual landscape. Along the way, he met landowners, warriors and political activists, whose comic-book style avatars typically dwarfed "MGandhi Chakrabarti." The avatar was created using a 3D digital scan of a plaster miniature model, which DeLappe upscaled into a 17-foot-high cardboard monument inside the gallery. Directions on how to make your own 17-foot cardboard Gandhi are available here.

The project serves two important functions - to remind us of the significance of the original Salt Satyagraha and Gandhi's non-violent mission, and to seek out and connect with political activists using Second Life as a forum for discourse and organizing. My own feelings about Second Life are generally that it fails to be anything more than a bloated web browser using weak animation technology to crudely approximate the world. However, I appreciate DeLappe's efforts to turn the media of our times (especially video games and the like) into usable political platforms.

More images from the show can be seen here.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Seher Shah

Seher Shah is a New York-based artist of Pakistani descent, who grew up mostly in London and Brussels. She trained as an architect, perfecting skills in perspective drawing and line work that are fully evident in her drawings and prints. In her work, Shah references Islamic iconography, appropriated images from the history of India and Pakistan, and American and European conceptual art, blending these influences into her own unique language.

Projective 2, 2007

Shah began her transition from architecture to art shortly after 9/11, when she found herself considering her Muslim faith and Pakistani identity afresh in the wake of the tragedy. She felt compelled to create a body of work which she titled Jihad Pop, in which the Qaaba, the holiest site in Islam, took on a second identity as a Minimalist black cube. As she continued to draw a series of progressions, this cube form expanded, collapsed and multiplied. As the work evolved formally, she began to broaden her visual cues beyond her own personal points of reference, incorporating the Christian cross and the Hindu lotus, for example.

Form Studies, 2007

More recently, Shah has begun to incorporate photographic records of the British colonization of India/Pakistan, which ultimately led to those two countries' separation during the shared national trauma referred to as Partition. This line of inquiry resonates strongly with me, as my own grandparents were displaced by Partition due to religious violence which affected Hindus and Muslims equally. The new project has led her to research the period both in England and in India, where she will spend much of this fall.

Seher Shah's work will be shown at Green Cardamom in London later this year.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Wackness: a film by Jonathan Levine

"The Wackness," an independent film written and directed by Jonathan Levine, is an appealingly honest and simple film set in New York City in the summer of 1994, which tells the story of recent high school grad Luke Shapiro's (Josh Peck) transition from child to man. Luke is a dopey pot dealer with a drawling hip-hop affectation characteristic of the wealthy white city kids I knew at NYU around that time (it seemed like every Jewish kid on the Upper East Side fancied himself a Beastie Boy that year). He's a shy and thoughtful boy who hides behind a wall of nonchalance and drugs.

Luke's home life is falling apart, while his social life is nonexistent. His customers include a spacey hippie girl (Mary Kate Olsen, adequate in a tiny role that has garnered huge attention for the film), an agoraphobic former pop star (Jane Adams), and his psychiatrist, Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Sir Ben Kingsley). Squires trades Luke pot for therapy, although it's often hard to tell which is the doctor/adult and which the patient/child. Bereft of suitable role models, Luke reluctantly latches onto the drug-addicted, megalomaniacal and miserable Squires. At the same time, he begins to make inroads in his pursuit of Squires' stepdaughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), a popular, jaded classmate whose affection for Luke may or may not be genuine.

Squires, whose marriage to Stephanie's mother (Famke Janssen) is slowly dying, indulges in all manner of immature behavior with Luke, including a hook-up with Union (Olsen) in a phone booth that matters little to the story but has set the Internet abuzz. Stephanie, who has inherited her mother's studied detachment, seems to drop the facade around Luke - but keeps it in reserve with the knowledge that her wealthy clique will return at summer's end, and with it her class consciousness. Although Luke lives in the same neighborhood and attends the same school, his position as an outcast is inextricably tied to his economic need. Luke sells pot to pay for college, while his rich peers rip him off and his father (David Wohl) teeters on the brink of losing everything they have. He and Squires are the only people in their world who do any work, however half-assed and wasted, and this as much as their shared desperation is what bonds them.

The film's setting in 1994, with requisite period soundtrack by A Tribe Called Quest, Notorious B.I.G., KRS-One, Biz Markie and more, is intended to trigger nostalgia in viewers like myself who were Luke's age then. It does, but the film could as easily be set in the present day. It's really an indie genre film, blending elements of Harold and Maude, Say Anything, Igby Goes Down and The Royal Tenenbaums.

Josh Peck gives a solid performance, able to express enough intelligence and emotional nuance behind Luke's mask of carelessness to keep Kingsley from running away with the film. Kingsley seems to be having a terrific time with Squires, whom he makes both ridiculous and brilliantly compelling. Janssen, usually a strong actress, does a lot with a minor role, while Thirlby puts herself firmly in the running to be the next Scarlett Johansson. Method Man does his best Buju Banton as Percy, Luke's supplier.

"The Wackness" is about living through disappointment and loss, and as such it's a difficult film for a summer release. Most people would prefer to watch stories of heroism and redemption, peppered by explosions, at this time of year. Nonetheless, it's a worthwhile film and it ends on a high note of sorts. The film is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, and is in limited run in only 31 theaters, but though it's unlikely to be another "Juno"-level hit*, I hope it does well enough that more films of this type can get national releases.

*Addendum: I retract my earlier prediction that this movie will not be a "Juno"-level hit after having seen two consecutive ads for it within one half-hour last night. It looks as though Sony Pictures Classics is following the "Juno" model after all - $100 million in advertising for a $10 million picture. So far "The Wackness" has grossed less than $500,000, but it remains to be seen whether Sony can buy a hit like Fox Searchlight did last year.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Neti Neti at Bose Pacia, New York

Bose Pacia, a gallery in Chelsea specializing in contemporary art from India, has an impressive summer show on now. Curator Peter Nagy started out in New York as an artist and the co-founder of Nature Morte, a seminal gallery in the East Village circa 1982-88. He moved to New Delhi in 1992, and five years later recreated Nature Morte in a city largely devoid of challenging contemporary art spaces. Nagy has organized a show featuring artists from within and outside India, which includes painting, photography, computer-generated art, textiles and sculpture.

Sheba Chhachhi, Ganga's Daughters (Initiation); untitled 3, 2001-7

While visiting the exhibition, I had the pleasure of meeting photographer Michael Buhler-Rose, who is in the process of completing his MFA from the University of Florida and relocating to New York. Michael's photographs in the exhibition focus on a community of Hare Krishnas based in Gainesville, FL, most of whom are of European-American descent but who have embraced the traditions and customs of India to a far greater extent than this Indian-American blogger, for one. The images knowingly reference exoticizing depictions of the East and the Other, found in paintings by Delacroix, Ingres, and later Gaugin.

Michael Buhler-Rose, Kalindi & Prtha, Alachua, FL, 2006

In particular, Buhler-Rose has focused on members of this community who are also students of Bharatanatyam dance, the Indian equivalent of ballet in grace and physical rigor. These models are performers, in control of their appearance at all times, thus retaining subjectivity in the face of the photographer's traditional, male gaze. The work combines classical imagery with strong photographic technique to complicate distinctions of time and cultural ownership. Adding further complexity is the fact that Buhler-Rose is a lifelong student of Indian religion, possessing a grasp of cultural nuance exceeding that of most Indians or Indian-Americans.

Michael Buhler-Rose, The Secret, 2006

Buhler-Rose will be exhibiting another body of work, related to the history of the Dutch East India Company and its relationship to Dutch still life painting of the same era, at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in 2010. Neti Neti is on view at Bose Pacia through August 16.

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