Sunday, May 31, 2009


Exhibition = Art Form

It ought to be, if it's not already, a truism that art exhibition functions conceptually as a larger art work in itself, one that comes apart with de-installation, its impact left to word of mouth and documentation.  
Art objects take on, perhaps jettison, different meaning and aesthetic value in relation to their neighbors.
The driver can be the willy nilly of slapping work onto the wall in an old school salon style group show, where each piece fights its perhaps "unlike" neighbor for attention.
Or the meaning of exhibition can be an overt, or less overt, calculated attempt to define.  In the New York Times (May 29, 2009),  Holland Cotter takes on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of how "Picture Generation, 1974-1984", a current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, writes cultural history, relatively recent art history specifically, and underscores how picking and choosing when packaging "history" turns historical record into invention. Similarly, accordingly to the description, "From A Position" at the Evanston Art Center conceptually explores "the relationship between figures and the grounds which contextualize them," setting artworks as "figures referring back to the social and historical fabric they represent" and as "grounds in and of themselves creating microenvironments" for viewers.  Ground is jargon for background or surrounding space in a piece of art; in the context of "From a Position," ground is better understood in my view as the space and context of presentation.
Still, exhibitions ought to enlighten, last in memory, haunt, without regard to conceptual trappings about the role, natural or directed, they play in commenting on historical record making or in commenting on viewer reception.

Friday, May 22, 2009



Some Targets

Inhabit the space.

Hold the wall.

Stand still and move.

Negotiate entry to the object and space: open or deny.

Spot the representation and reconsider the abstraction.

Thoughts on Cerebral Understanding of Art

With art, including old master works and much of modern art, cerebral understanding of art history, mythology, iconography, context, critical theory, etc. reveals more from the work than is available to those who lack that understanding.  But the master work, for example, offers something visual, experiential, and emotional that draws in and holds the viewer without requiring information based revelation.

Current conceptual art that tries only to visualize someone else's theory, the "idea" based art needing the company of  theoretical explanation to hold up, hides the ball, all that privileged information the viewer needs to "get" the work, in plain sight (for the a-ha, clever moment reserved to the special few who come in with the privileged information) or not.   This artistic strategy may be visualized by concealing important, interesting aspects of art behind actual pieces presented for viewing, with no encouragement to the viewer to uncover the "real" art.

If purposeful concealment/obfuscation included some visual encouragement or clue in the work to cue the viewer to seek and find and uncovered something as resonant upon discovery as the cave paintings that through nature were hidden for centuries, perhaps concealment /obfuscation as a strategy would be useful.  But if the reveal is never encouraged and never occurs, or the revealed offers only further obfuscation or is wholly uninteresting, the dialogue between artist and viewer is non-existent and the experience for the viewer seems pointless. Though, the artist may chuckle.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pic-A-Day: Dancers

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Installation: Ritual

Installation shots and a detail shot from the installation I installed this week at Peter Jones Gallery, 1806 W. Cuyler, Chicago, IL, up through May 17 (closing reception from 3 to 6 pm on Sunday, May 17.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Forms and Planes?


Can a failed artwork still succeed as good, perhaps even great, art?  A work that falls short of an artist's intentions may still find receptive audiences. 

Strategies of an artwork, if the singular focus of the artwork and the aspect that differentiates and elevates is the strategies, ought to relay themselves without explanation.  Or the strategies ought not be singled out as the differentiating aspect, as they may not be successfully employed, unless failure of the strategies, even if only partial, is conceded or is the point of presentation, and the experimenter continues to try for positive results. 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Superimposition: Possible States

Superimposition has been around since rock painting.   Layers make up digital graphics.  

As a strategy, superimposition engages how we make sense of visual input?  How much disparate information can we rationalize into a whole?  A line is the accumulation of points, one right after the other.  I am reminded of tendencies to connect dots, to see the line between two points unless the gulf between the points is too wide.  One can interfere with or reaffirm that line.  

Image A on Layer A, space (perhaps infinitesimally small), Image B on Layer B, space, Image C on Layer C, etc..,  perhaps using illusion of depth within one of more of the images to suggest that an image is occupying space below or above its physical (or virtual) layer such that the illusions and the real marks can appear to occupy overlapping space.

Here's an erudite, quite detailed analysis of superimposition by Rob Van Beek: Multiverses: Painting Has a Problem with Superimposed Images.   The focus is a series of paintings, by Geoff Diego Litherland, paintings which superimpose disparate images and set up two dominant layers -- a background and a foreground -- with a gulf in between.

From the pictures, it appears the paintings set up to cleave foreground from background, to separate the two enough to preclude the viewer from automatically filling in the space, that is, to undercut the tendency to project an imaginary line into the gap between two close points.  While its hard from photos on a computer to tell the nuances of connections in the lines and implied directions that make up the disparate backgrounds and foregrounds, it does appear the painter wanted to eliminate perception of an occupied middle space much as a dark line across a faux 3-D form drawn on paper is a tool for destroying illusion of dimensionality.

What of the problem of creating a continuum while maintaining the images as disparate layers? Without setting up complete immersion in the middle space, can superimposed images successfully navigate the gulf they set up between the foreground and background and also continue markedly identify the foreground and the background? 

On a similar note, what of progressively reorienting a three-dimension grid (xyz axis), treating the grid as a layer, in stages through a two dimensional space to render a still frame continuum  that relays movement?

Theory Verses Practice

Temple Grandin spoke at Ars Scientia at the Chicago Cultural Center a couple days ago. 

One observation, or at least my interpretation of the observation, sticks in my head.  She compared bottom up thinking and top down thinking, observing that abstract thinkers can lose sight of the ground.  This strikes me as very relevant to conceptual art, which can easily get lost in its own airy logic, loops and associations, while losing sight of materials and play with materials and forms that ground art.
I also particular enjoy her focus on the perceptual lens through which we see.  She talked about getting into cow chutes to see what the cows saw.  As artists, we have to have an awareness of what viewers may see (on a ground level) and may think (on a bigger picture level), and how words and pictures translate through different lens.  It's always a translation -- we are never another person -- but awareness can foster communications in which less is seemingly lost in the translation.

Why 35?

I received an artist residency opportunity ... another opportunity for artists under 35.   It's not unusual to see emerging artists opportunities limited to artists under 35, or sometimes to artists with less than 5 years out of school (a 5 year clock one could restart by entering an MFA program).  Given the impact that external validation can have in developing an artists' reputation and collector base, precluding key opportunities for validation places older artists at a competitive disadvantage.
Why 35?  The cap may be an arbitrary and capricious limiting means, or...
Perhaps it's simply easier to excite people about a young person.  The age cap appeals to the prodigy model, judging that the early genius is more likely than the late bloomer to emerge into artistic greatness and that the late bloomer will slog it out on his/her own whether or not he/she is recognized early on without the art world losing out on him/her.  35, then is a generously late cut-off.
Presume a model in which greatness and breakthrough come earlier rather than later, with later years producing work derivative of the breakthrough work,  and the cap may try to capture the promise of the early years, and to time the exact period in which the art is both fresh and great.
The age cap may presume that older people have more other resources and need less guidance or institutional assistance and validation.   Art is not alone.  It's much harder to get into a MBA program after 35 or 40, and scholarly fellowship programs tend to have similar age caps.   This seems to be a function of judging that careers should begin earlier rather than later.
If you take a kid who finishes his BFA at 21 (USA), add a couple years for getting into an MFA program and then 2 years for finishing it - 25 - the now degree credentialed artist has 10 years in which to emerge via some key emerging artists opportunities, which are very limited in number.  If the artist started straight out of high school.  
Change the starting point -- come to art after other choices -- and that time would be clipped or erased.  Perhaps that is the point -- for art to always be the artist's first choice, a silly romantic notion about the great artists having no choice but to make art.   A cross-disciplinary art world that increasingly borrows from other fields, often weakly, should recognize that people, even artists, do have a choice in whether they make art.  Why not allow for time to gain knowledge through disciplined study of other fields like science?  Why not allow time for the accumulation of knowledge and experiential grounding?  Perhaps the age will rise if  the PhD studio model (gag, likely institutionalizing weak toe dipping into other fields) were to gain ground.
I would like to see the age cap go.  Plenty of artists start later in life and have been producing art work for the same amount of time as a younger person.  One cannot always put a timeline on when all the pieces will come together for a particular artist ... after 5 years of work, after 10, after 15 or 20.  If romantic notions about prodigies and youth are true rather than merely mythic or artifacts of skewing the system by excluding older artists from opportunities, inclusion of older artists in opportunities would not effect who emerges.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In The Works

I am developing dance/movement oriented installation elements from repeatable units  (one identity) to combine with pre-existing installation elements drawn from artifactual icons, such as animals from rock art (another identity).  
For shapes to start with, I am looking to dress forms in Degas' paintings and pastels of dancers, and also based off these paintings, to isolate one body sectional form to serve dual roles as the upper and lower body.  For movement, I am working with flow movements inspired by those in Matisse's Dance, trying to perfect my own flows with limited forms, and continuing as I do to consider ways to employ animation strategies to relay movement in a still frame.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Messy Verses Clean 3-D Models

Is it fair to compare?

The MCA in Chicago currently is exhibiting R. Buckminster Fuller and Olafur Ellasson (as well as drawings and an animation by William Kentridge), and both exhibits include models. Often, I find myself drawn to sketches and models -- the lines and forms have more immediacy than final constructions. But, in Ellason's case, I wish the exhibit had excluded the models, and I wish the Buckminister Fuller had even more models than were displayed. Ellasson's models were sloppy on craftsmanship, while the Buckminster Fullers' models were very well crafted.

I found some of Ellason's larger works (the final constructions were well constructed) to be sublime, particularly the light projected on mist in a darkened room and the circular room in which the light cast on the all white surface of the curved walls changed colors, a change which also caused a color change in the negative space of the open upper plane, where a roof would be if the structure were fully enclosed.

I'm most interested in the way he uses light; so, why would it matter if his models are messy? It mattered to me because the messiness caused the models to be uninteresting objects. Other people perhaps would prefer the messiness. Sometimes, messiness or absence of perfected craft can suggest points of interest, perhaps even lend meaning. Here, for me, it did neither. The models felt awkward and detracted from the sublime experience of the large installations that played with light.

In contrast, the Buckminister Fuller the models were themselves objects of interest, three dimensional realizations with beauty and presence, and have held up well to time; I wanted to see more of them. 

Fuller was prolific, and the exhibition is heavy with writings and drawings.  It takes time to focus in, read and absorb the individual writings and diagramatic drawings or blueprints. Consequently, the exhibition felt like parts, rather than a whole.   This feeling results from the volume of writings and from presentation decisions, not the drawings themselves.  The Buckminster Fuller drawings that were exhibited on a wall at Art Chicago this week-end felt like a whole, rather than parts, because the drawings covered the whole wall.  

Monday, May 4, 2009

Thoughts on Combining Theory and Practice

I have been thinking about the extent to which combining art theory (placing art into a historical, critical context or dialogue) and practice (making art) offers positives and pitfalls.

When theory, in the sense of oral and written critical discourse, advances in its own realm without the experience and understanding developed through the practice of making the art, it enjoys distance from the art work under examination or the art work being created. Likewise, when making of art advances in its own realm, it enjoys distance from the dialogue of the audience who receives the work. Separated feedback loops, I propose, dampen strategic motivation for purely derivative work or for illustrative work that matches oral and written articulation of theory.

But conceiving an artwork is in part intellectual endeavor. Why deprive the person conceiving the work from participating in the intellectual discourse of the work, its predecessors and its successors?

Critical discourse, at least as presently constituted, tends toward institutionalization, which ultimately tends toward reduced dialogue and reduced variance. When theory becomes ingrained, and hence, practically asleep, one hope of jolting it into waking is surprises from practice, from someone not immersed in the ingrained dictum creating something powerful enough to bypass the dictum and illuminates. If practice is part of theory, it would seem to leave less room for eye opening surprise.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Art Fair Viewing

Chicago had its major art fair this weekend at Merchandise Mart. The piece I most remember when asked what I saw -- a giant, green sea creature made of balloons -- probably says something about me and about the fair.

Some intriguing pieces did make me stop, look and think: Jose Cobo's wall crawling babies (these felt somewhat derivative of Juan Munoz), John Saparagena's sampled magazine pages (painstaking labor), and a small installation by Tony Oursler of a talking baby doll on a stack of pillows, with a projection on to the blank face of a doll as the source of talking, come to mind.

There was a little bow to spectacle: an artist encouraging patrons to wrestle in polymer jelly seems to have garnered the most attention in the small number of write ups about the fair; an ice cream truck at least occasionally doling out ice cream (though not when I was there) may come in second for situational bid to grab attention.

Generally, it felt like the galleries played it relatively safe and nothing felt groundbreaking or jaw dropping or overtly profound. Perhaps groundbreaking, jaw dropping, overtly profound are too high an expectation to set. With a lot of art under a giant roof, on multiple floors, even with the much improved, greater sense of open space and air at the fair this year, there's bound to be overload, and subtle work may get lost in the volume. I'm sure I missed some.