Category Archives: art

Photography on Photography at the MET

Photography on Photography

Photography on Photography

With a show title like “Photography on Photography,” I walk into the Joyce and Robert Menschell Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art expecting to see photographs of people taking photographs. Instead, I’ve been deceived. They are photographs, but nothing like I expected. They don’t seem to have sort of relation to each other either. There is a photo of Castro, photos from the Depression era, photos of Jackie Kennedy and these two figural sculptures which must have been misplaced. The show has only been up since April but the labels already look worn. The gallery walls are an off-white color and I can see the undercoating of beige paint where the new layer has peeled off. I’m feeling color deprived and it is very difficult to want to give this gallery a chance. The wall text doesn’t suck me in but I when I give reading the labels a try, I finally get the joke. Yes, they all may be photographs but they’re all photos about undermining photography.

I have to giggle about Sherrie Levine’s series After Walker Evans. Levine has taken photographs of Walker Evans photographs and is claiming them as her own. As they are technically hers, it gives me so much joy to see Levine’s name listed as the artist on the label. Moving on I come to photos of a park scene with text captions below each image. These are reprinted photos originally taken by paparazzi photographer Ron Gallela and reproduced by Lutz Bacher. The label is at the end of the story, so one has to take a moment to read these pieces in order. I have to wonder if this is intentional! The story unfolds that these photos were taken as Gallela chases Jackie Kennedy through central park, realizing only later that she wanted him to chase her – she had fooled the photographer. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Castro piece also acts subversively. In reading the label, I found out that the picture is of a wax sculpture from Madame Tussaud’s wax museum! The photograph is so good it’s still hard to believe that the man in the photo isn’t Castro himself. Likewise, the figural sculptures by Karin Sander aren’t what they seemed to be either. They’re models made by inputting photographs into a 3-d model making machine. It’s spectacular!

Making the whole experience even better, the security guard is constant bellowing “No photography!”. I can’t help but break out in laughter, which I’m sure is also not allowed. In the same gallery where Sherrie Levine’s work is displayed, we visitors are told we can’t take pictures of the artwork. The irony of the situation sends me over the edge and causes me to embrace the show – security guard and all. Working from the museum’s collection, it isn’t a bad display. Not every piece is amazing as a visual or a story and some bring less to the show than the security guard (who is now letting people photograph the labels). However, I give this exhibit credit for making me laugh. As an individual who loves humorous art, this show gets a thumbs up on the condition that next time its shown, the gallery space better reflects the invigorating nature of the artwork.


Standing Next to the Spider: Louise Bourgeois’s Retrospective

Waiting outside the Guggenheim in the “pay what you want” line, the woman behind me made conversation: “Is that spider sculpture hers?” The “her” she was referring to was Louise Bourgeois. My ignorance about the show and artist was evident in my answer: “Those spiders? I see them all over: Montreal, Bilbao, Ottawa, Beacon. They can’t be hers.” This would be the way I was first formally introduced to Louise Bourgeois’s work.

I had been to the Guggenheim only once before when most of the main spiral gallery had been closed. In looking at Bourgeois’ work, it seemed that nothing else would have fit the space better. The retrospect of Bourgeois’ art stretched from floor to ceiling, winding its way from early to later years. It was a perfect way to walk, uninterruptedly, through someone’s life. The width of the ramp made the show intimate and accessible; one could walk around the sculptures and get up close to them. The show became a personal interaction between you and the artist.

On each level, wall text aided visitors, guiding them through each phase of Bourgeois artistic style. One started with her paintings and personages, phased into her phallic forms, walked around the cells of her later life and came out at the end among her soft human-esque sculptures. Somewhere in the middle, I realized that I knew the woman’s work. It finally made sense why at DIA Beacon the spider had been exhibited next to the marble phalluses. Her style of work had changed immensely!

The large changes in Bourgeois’ style could have made it difficult to curate the show, but instead the worked flowed well. Having gone from bottom to top, as one was suppose to if they wanted to see the work in chronological order, I decided to turn around and go back through Bourgeois’ work. I had had my preview, now it was time for a closer look.

Unlike many of the visitors in the sardine style packed spiral, I had opted out of the free audio guide. Though it would have given me a fuller background about the artist and her work, I wanted to experience the art on my own terms. Which pieces did I like? Which did I think were terrible? What sort of questions did I have about the art? One of my immediate questions, left unanswered, was how did the museum know how to arrange Bourgeois’s cells? In walking through the exhibit again I found that the work that I most liked was Bourgeois’ personages. These sculptural totem poles of tumbling wood or spiky sticks were simplistically beautiful and I wanted a garden of them.

Bourgeois’s best known work, of course, were her phallic forms. Her mid-career style must have shocked the art realm. I remember feeling the same ping of surprise when viewing slides of her marble and bronze cast pieces for the first time in my undergraduate freshman art history class. Looking at this work, I imagined Bourgeois as a man-eater. I could not decide whether she fit the shocking, seductress category or the outspoken feminist – in either case, she had a targeted subject matter.

The work most familiar to me, though, was Bourgeois’s spiders and cocoons. I had seen them all over the world and had not known what to make of them. Years ago, in my first encounter, I had walked under the one outside of the Bilbao Guggenheim. Through its webbed abdomen, one could view the large glass eggs the spider carried. In this experience, there were two entwined spiders whose relationship could have been seen as either threatening or embracing. They were placed perfectly within the space, on the main floor within direct view via the outside windows. The cocoons hung from ceiling, large and metal, creating an environment where I felt insignificant to the scale of the insect and arachnid world.

Standing next to Bourgeois’ intimidating spiders, I felt total embarrassment from not connecting them with the artist. Clearly a household name, Louise Bourgeois, should have been one I recognized – everyone else in the Guggenheim had. This was an important show for the newly refaced museum as the retrospective had brought in a crowd. The Guggenheim had met expectations at every step, with film screenings of Bourgeois’s performance work and an excellent presentation of her oeuvre. I could not have imagined the retrospective exhibited in any other space.

Ohio+Karma = Beam Me Up.

Its the end of your day and you’re pondering if you actually want to be social anymore. Do you head over to a student group hang out or do you go see some art on your own? If you’re me, you go see the art.

The art exhibit of the day – according to your ArtCal newsletter – is Andrew Gellatly & Hannah Hughes, See-through at Stonefox Gallery. You have to work to get to this gallery. Its on the 4th floor of building 611 on Broadway and there’s now way you’d know that from the street. Its a good thing you bother to write things down! When you get up there, you head for the wine as it suggests that you are a somewhat social being. Then you take a look at the artwork. Its a little frustrating that you spent all that time trying to find this exhibit, now that you take a look at the pieces. You read the press release, because you hope that illuminates something, but the only thing that sticks out is the adjective “dead pan.” This makes you think of your own film screening adventure: there’s a clear line between creative and bad, and you walked either side. So did this show. Sure, the artists are talented, but you can’t get it up for canvas wrapped in fabric or cut pieces of metal. You’re just wondering how these artists arrived at making this their art.

And thats when the wine kicks in just enough that you hear a person next to you remarking that they were born in Ohio. You turn, because as a girl from Ohio, its nice to hear those words. “Where in Ohio are you from?” the wine says, and you’ve now officially met Jon D’Orazio, artist and fellow Youngstowner. You talk about the show and you learn new things about your home town like that the DUMBO carousel is actually from the now closed Idora park. Jon tells you about the next open he’s going to and you plan on meeting him over there. You can’t pass up Chuck Close.

Arriving at Le Poisson Ruge at 158 Bleerker St, the address written on the back of Jon’s card, you realize that you’re not on the invited list and you’re not a member of the press. You pull out Jon’s card and say you’re meeting him and all the sudden you have a red wristband of unlimited hopes and dreams. You go down the steps and find that this is the bar/lounge that you’ve been looking for. Red walls scream sex like Lola’s thigh highs in the film Kinky Boots. And then there’s the second glance, the glance at the artwork. Oh my god, is this karma or what? It almost better you didn’t know what you were going to see,  because it couldn’t have been better. Its funny, its perfect and it was made for you: mixed media representations of still images from the original Star Trek tv series made out of (get this) pipecleaners. Anyone who ever knew you would know how you felt standing there looking at artist Devorah Sperber’s Starship Enterprise. You tell Jon about it and conversation rolls out at warp speed. They’ve got two unhappy looking kids up way past their bedtime playing Philip Glass in the cozy stage off the bar, the same stage where They Might be Giants and Hot Chip play in a few weeks and where Chuck Close himself had been before you got there. Servers are bringing food and that red wristband means free liquids of any sort. Pumpkin ale suits your taste. The night becomes a whirlwind of red walls, repetitious cords of Philip Glass and the desire to go touch those treky pipecleaners. You embrace your full inner geek and have the night of your life.

Uhura and Sulu (The game has rules)

"Uhura and Sulu (The game has rules)+

“Mirror, Mirror” at Margaret Thatcher Projects

Steve DeFrank

Steve DeFrank

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the prettiest of them all? In the case of Steve DeFrank’s show, “Mirror, Mirror,” the question may not have ended in “prettiest”, maybe the words “most fabulous” would have seemed more appropriate. Referencing a Disney theme, DeFrank’s show is a glossy beauty with a underscore of much more serious theme. For instance if we were to follow through with the Disney comparison, DeFrank’s show would have depicted a gorgeous Cinderella dress that somehow asked the viewer “Where did all the Disney mothers go?” Instead, DeFrank’s show took on a much more personal voice.

DeFrank’s “velvety” paintings, as described by his artist statement, used a main trope of unnaturally colorful wood with wonderfully delicate grain lines. Wood is the major theme. Think Austin Powers for a moment with me as we come up with all the meanings the word “wood” could have. Now you’re on the right track. Many of DeFrank’s painting depicted  wooden boards with words inscribed in them – not your average love notes but rather stereotypical slang stabs at homosexuals.  Words like “back door” come to mind as I mentally review the pieces. It is an imagery of wood, painfully inscribed with insults. It is the artistic recreation of the personal experience.

The beauty of DeFranks show does not solely come from the complexity of his references or for the blunt nature of the works included. Although this certainly adds to the meaning of the show, what captured me immediately was the style of painting. It was soft and indescribable. Velvety is the closest word one can get to it, the next being a visual image. His canvases were not canvases, of course, but wooden board. I told you that wood was the major theme. And the paint lay upon them as if it was begging to be stroked. The images rested on their mat backgrounds like sun tanners on the beach, leaving a mouthwatering sensation equivalent to looking at bikini tan lines.

And while my fellow viewers may have been caught up in the bikini beach land, I found myself jaw-dropped at the wooden planks that DeFrank had created. I do mean created. These beams, which looked like trompe l’oeil two by fours with a more colorful wood grain scheme, I do love the subtle references, were actually not two by fours at all. Though painted on wood, one would not have expected these pieces to have been hand constructed, not beams in the least. This attention to detail and artistic mastery sent me over the edge. As I described to my friend Sean, it was like hitting your elbow except that it was a good pain.

I had not expected to care about the show. In fact, many of the things that I liked were the realizations that came to me only after I had left. This show works its way into the back of your mind and only when you’ve fully developed a consciousness of it, can you really appreciate it. You see the artist has painstakingly thought out the process, that there was intention behind each and every detail and that’s when you start to appreciate. I urge you to go and see it for yourself, to appreciate it for its conceptual and technical mastery. “Mirror, Mirror” will be on view until October  18th and you can find out more about the exhibit at the Margaret Thatcher Projects website.

Briefly On Art

I was asked to attend the annual SU senior art history majors’ trip down to NYC as an alumni of the program and also to represent going on to get your MA. I was able to sit next to Chris. Note to self: I was suppose to call him and didn’t, do so, also call relater. Chris and I had classes together years ago, he was two years ahead of me but we must have had at least 4 classes together during those 4 years. I had mentioned to him that I had been overwhelmed by the Chelsea art openings on Thursday night. I felt much better when he assured me that that was the craziest night of the whole year…. and I thought it had been normal for NYC. I’m glad its not, frankly. There were more openings that I could have gone to on Sunday, but I ended up staying home and reading. If you read the next post, you’ll understand that. Chris may also have a job for me and that would be amazing.

In other art news, today was the first day at my internship. It began by me getting lost. Finding out that my supervisor was going to a meeting. Killing an hour and a half watching bicycle polo and having a very good male poloist chat me up. Then I actually went to White Box. I would say, “went to work” but I didn’t really. It was disappointing. That could have something to do with my high expectations of myself, the people around me and the places that I work for. Or it could be because all the staff is rather new, they just switched locations and they don’t have a real office yet. Out of the 6 hours of time that I was there I did 1 hour of real work. What I did was research belly dancers.

They picked the right girl to research belly dancers and frankly it was my idea to do it. White Box is hosting a big fund-raising dinner (sound familiar?) for their Iraqi photographer that I’ve mentioned prior. So their dinner is all about Iraqi food, music and other entertainment. As a fan of belly dancing, one who has been getting weekly press releases about the NYC belly dancing scene for the last two years although I didn’t live here at the time, I knew what I would have wanted at that dinner. So I looked up local belly dancers and compiled an email listing of them, then used a prior press release or two in order to write up a “please donate your time, talent and belly to us” statement.

What I had hoped from my internship was that the place would be organized. That I would have a ready task set before me and the training and means to be able to complete that task. My tasks are not the ones I’m use to and I suppose thats why I’m interning. Researching, soliciting donations, writing press material. These are not the things I feel comfortable with. And while I thought, how much easier would it have been if I had worked on the database for the artist studio, I surprisingly think I made the right choice. I don’t think I’m looking forward to going back tomorrow. Especially as there will be no computers. But we’ll see how it turns out.

Asia Society

Meeting Kristin in NYC, I had expected to sit back and enjoy tour. But shortly into our conversation, the words “I have a plan” came out of my mouth and she said to me, “You always have a plan.” It was a brief moment of self-realization. But she’s right I always have a plan and several back up ones or inter-changeable ones at that.

So we stop by White Box which is a bit of an unnecessary stop and I cleared up my internship hours. I’ll be beginning on Monday.

We looked around the city. We’re both tired from walking – I took us way far out of the way trying to get to White Box.

So we sat in Union Park for a while while we waited for Anne so I could return things to her.

Then we went over to the Asia Society. My very first assignments for the Intro to Museums and Galleries of NYC was to go to the Asia Society and write a review of a show there. It was an opening night and it was free, so we went.  Today I finished writing my review. It may get changed a bit for professionalism’s sake but here it is:

Art and China’s Revolution at the ASIA Society

Walking into the ASIA Society on the opening night of their long awaited exhibit, “Art and China’s Revolution,” was an experience with crowd density, one possibly comparable to being in China itself. Having to squeeze through the social sporting event, I made my way to the main gallery. The cramped space reminded me of that morning’s New York Times review of the show: “if their installation is uncomfortably tight, it evokes the claustrophia-inducing social atmosphere that produced them.”[1] Not surprisingly though, the main gallery was rather sparse in patrons, but not in artwork. One was immediately greeted by the large scale paintings of a smiling Mao Zedong leading a crowd of laboring workers – and this was to be the major theme of the exhibit.

Navigating the exhibit was difficult, not due to its labyrinth like layout, but in the tightly enclosed space between the walls of work. This made it difficult to step back and fully take in the massive paintings of Mao leading workers, Mao on a boat or Mao upholding the ideals of red China. Luckily, if you could see one – you’d have seen them all. For, similarly to the recent show of Cuban artwork at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, this exhibit was not necessarily about the talent of specific painters or the showcasing of a new artistic style. This was an exhibit dedicated to exploring the cultural history of the Chinese Revolution – the effects that the political war had on artists and the future of Chinese artwork. This was an educational show.

As I wandered through the gallery, careful not to get stuck behind slow moving docent tours unless they proved inspiring, it became apparent that the show was organized thematically. A section on the social-realist works with Mao as their subject, one on the ink paintings of senior artists who were persecuted under the socialist regime, one on a series of small landscapes which would have been hidden due to the subject matter’s lack of socialist support and another on the works inspired by those artists who were forced to live in the peasant conditions under the socialist government. Though the feature topics were clearly outlined, the organization of these sections within the gallery seemed random.

The large Mao pieces were located in the front – most likely for the immediate impression they make upon the viewer. However, the other sections seemed out of place. Examples of ink paintings by senior artists were in the back of the gallery. Instead it may have been beneficial to place them nearer to the entryway and organize the themes chronologically. In this way, patrons would see how the artwork changed as socialism was introduced and became China’s formal government.

In continuing to tour the gallery, I began to suspect from the layout of the work and the number of pieces included, that the Curator had been faced with a major decision: does one include the most work possible for the educational content of the exhibit and therefore sacrifice the work’s breathing space, or does one eliminate pieces from the show in order to present the artwork more clearly? With the headache that the ASIA Society must have encountered from working with the Chinese government to secure artwork for the show, it would have been counter-productive to remove pieces from the exhibit. Therefore, while the gallery appeared a little over-crowded, each piece remained integral in the gallery’s educational program.

With so much artwork, such cramped space, and the need to get across a wealth of information, the ASIA Society did an excellent job in making accessible the history of the Chinese Revolution and its relationship to the artistic culture. Docents were leading tours during the opening reception and there was a variety of educational media tools from basic wall texts to a cell phone audio tour. The success of the educational aspect of the exhibit was not just consequential but essential. As there has never been an exhibit of China’s revolutionary art in such scale, the show would be a failure if patrons only looked at the images and were not able to grasp their meaning within the social context of the Chinese Revolution.[2] However, the show’s success is promising. It deeply engages its patrons in artwork brought to life by the history that created it and inspires questions of the relationship art and revolution.

nyc (h)arts shit.

okay so that title line is suppose to be read as “nyc hearts shit” but this is as close as I could get it. I’ll explain the shit part later. Promise.

Today and yesterday have been fun filled art days. And thats a sign that I’m finally getting into the grove of things. Yesterday I was offered an internship at White Box. Which is itself a rather out of the box gallery. For instance, they’re preparing for a show by an Iraqi photographer for which they are converting the gallery into a travel agency. They will show his photographs and sell plane tickets to Baghdad. I am tempted to buy one. Taking the internship means turning down the internship with the artist studio and I hate writing those letters but I wrote one and I’ll see the reply tomorrow. I can’t feel too bad though. I have to do whats best for me.

Speaking of which… I admit rather openly that the best way for me to find out where I am is to go get lost and see some artwork. I’ve done both now.

Yesterday I made the small step of detouring my route home and stopping by a gallery opening on the lower east side. Don’t worry, if your not sure what lower east side is suppose to indicate, I don’t either really. It was a pretty lame show. Most of the artwork was a foam rubber substance hot glued together to make sculptures of rather ridiculous things. While I appreciate the ridiculous more than many people, this just didn’t have the funny edge it takes to be successful.

Today, I made a larger step. Again using which I think was the best Internet find ever… and I do mean ever… I’ve been able to find out what’s opening each night of the week through this website. My initial plan in this was to find an alternative to paying for dinner. I had hoped and expected really that there would be munchies and alcohol at gallery openings and that that would eliminate the necessity of me purchasing dinner between Wednesdays and Saturdays. This was a mistake. An over-estimation if you will. No gallery is going to feed the amount of people who show up at their openings!

Picture this if you will. if you can. I really couldn’t believe it. Armory square, 2-3 am, bar crowd scene. The streets are packed they’ve closed them off. People are rowdy and crowd density is sky rocketing. Now picture that on each block of a 10 block long strip. Okay, so this sounds like Vegas or NYC or Miami. But can you imagine that those 10 blocks of crazy amounts of people are all coming out for the art? I write that in a hopeful tone.  Because I believe most of the people were there for the alcohol or the socializing, but not for the art. It was so crowded that the art was hard to see. That may have been a good thing because I didn’t like a lot of the artwork that I saw. This was slightly disappointing.

(The Ohio senator who is supporting the republican party’s convention is asking the crowd to join him in prayer. I am moaning. Separation of Church and state people. Separation….)

The best show that I saw – and I described this to my brother – was an exhibition of large 5×5′ photos, beautifully and simply framed and spaced, with brightly colored sunset-esqe backgrounds with fashion photo styled close up pictures of shit. Yes. Shit. The advertisements were just as good. Bumper stickers slapped on defaced buildings of the street reading “Shit is coming.” Yes it is. Here’s the link because I have to share, even if no one reads this but me:

The other gallery which I found enjoyable was also related to shit, oddly. I am not on a shit kick, I promise and this is no where near like my obsession with transvestite films. This is just the way it is at the moment. The link to the other gallery is here: Their show “Tickle the Shitstem” was just excellent if not unexplainable. But I’ll try. A large wooden boat like structure. With seating on the edge and covered with aquariums containing glow in the dark plant substances. Not shit. Not glow in the dark shit. No way. Other plant material. And then there were golf balls and they were selling pencils saying “This is not a Pencil” and while I found that funny, I also though it was such a rip-off.

So that’s the scoop on the art scene of NYC. I hope that in the future this blog becomes more of a art review base rather than a art related journal. However, I’m simply not accustomed to the scale of people – and I don’t mean in height, thank you – that visit these gallery openings. Its simply astounding to me. It has also ruined my dream of becoming what Swatt-Swatt would call a gallery whore. I had hoped to go around galleries, look at the artwork, and meet someone because they would be doing the same thing. I doubt that anyone would a. notice me looking at artwork and b. actually be looking at artwork too. Oh well. New fantasy necessary. Tune in next time for the newest art scene revelation and an update on my disillusionment of men, art and nyc.