Thursday, May 31, 2012

Nostalgia

Gone, Muddy Waters or Keith Moon, gone, the two lovers whose heartbeats were recorded on the audiotape, gone Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, John Coltrane, Archie Shepp... Nostalgia could be the title of the exhibition "The Prelives of the Blues" from the conceptual artist Dario Robleto at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The rooms are quiet but the works are all about music. For example, "The Minor Chords Are Ours", 2010, is made with "vintage mason jars, vintage wooden spools, stretched audiotape, minor chords, linseed oil, willow". Further comments state " The minor chords from a family's 60 year record collection were isolated to audiotape, stretched into thread and spooled." The text along the composition is essential for its interpretation. " Lunge For Love As If It Were Air", 2012, reaches romantic undertones with two symbolic feathers enclosed in a mason jar, like two relics, still for eternity, made of "stretched audiotape of two now-deceased lovers' recordings of each other's heartbeats".
The artist uses other materials to evoke love, death, memory. The stars in the night sky are photographs of stage lights taken from the album covers of deceased musicians' live performances. Muddy written on the wall is made of seashells, each exposed to Muddy Waters' music for 48 hours. A triptych in blue, like an abstract painting, is a ghost image of the original handwritten lyrics of a song.
It turns morbid, with two anatomically perfect pelvises made of " hand-ground and powderized vinyl and shellac records, and carved vinyl records, bone calcium, resin, pigments and dust", tightly bound, music literally in the bones. The artist becomes an alchemist and transforms matter not in gold but memories.
The exhibition goes on with four kitschy wall pieces and more works made from everyday objects, artefact's, even glass produced by lightning strikes or the first atomic bomb. Every piece brings more reflections.
Innuendos, shadows of memories, the work is sensitive, poetic, exudes melancholy, what we call "the blues" in the South.

 photographs by the author
"Lunge For Love As If It Were Air", 2012
"The Sun Makes Him Sing Again (Brown)", 2012


Monday, May 21, 2012

Ugliness


The cover of the book dedicated to the study of ugliness, with an anthology of texts, illustrations and comments by the author, Umberto Eco: " On Ugliness" forebodes the 400 plus pages dedicated to the subject.
Excerpts from ancient texts or Ian Fleming's " Live and Let Die", paintings from Mathias Grunewald or Otto Dix, the concept of ugliness is analyzed, dissected in fifteen chapters, covering the Classical World until today.

Call it morbid, disgusting, horrible, perverse, sickening, gruesome... there are not enough adjectives to qualify the horrors depicted by visuals and texts. The comments by Eco help interpret the significance of these. The author, a scholar with an encyclopedic knowledge gives an aesthetic, historical, scientific and philosophical outlook on ugliness and after digesting this book, the reader will have a grasp on the subject.
It appears that ugliness has a wider range of representation than beauty.
I just visited the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, and found two paintings which could be added to the illustrations.

"History of Beauty" is another book from Umberto Eco.

photographs by the author
"Judgment Day", John McCrady, 1938, permanent collection Ogden Museum of Southern Art
"Two Ladies", Benny Andrews, 1962, permanent collection Ogden Musem of Southern Art

Friday, May 18, 2012

Low Art at the High



"Companion Passing Through", 2010, from KAWS is sitting on the Sifly Piazza at the entrance of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, an introduction to the exhibition "KAWS: Down Time". According to the artist, the gigantic grey fiberglass character is inspired by "The Thinker" from Rodin. The hybrid figure, with the iconic XX on the hands, appears miserable. Lonely and self-centered, he covers his eyes to escape reality, indifferent to his surroundings, lost in the courtyard.
Now 38 years of age, KAWS or Brian Donelly became famous a decade ago. Then a graffiti artist, he has moved on, from the street to the museum, where his work is represented with a large mural, paintings, drawings and toys for an exclusive exhibition curated for the High. Upstairs, CHUM, another well-known character inspired by The Michelin Man is standing high, inhibited, proud, like a modern Kouros (in keeping with the reference to Rodain). The museum proceeds with two large paintings bright and flat, directly inspired by graffiti. One cannot forget the background of KAWS. The paintings are aggressive in their colors, the subjects are benign and distracting inspired by a world of onomatopoeia "Splash", "Zoom", "Beep"... A room is filled with smaller paintings lined up along the walls, toys and small sculptures. Our inner child is satisfied, the well-known characters are just KAWSed and get a fresh look. But it is not a game anymore, in an adult world this is business: logos, limited editions, shoes, T-shirts, lightbulbs... Last time I checked the website, the items were sold out and I got alerted "protection, warning, do not copy the link to the site..."
Like Takashi Murakami and others, the pop artist has become a businessman.


The weird giant character is growing bigger and has been selected to float above the next Macy's parade, fourty feet long.


photographs by the author

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Story Sketching

Bill Traylor at age 85 drew his childhood's world from memory. A slave on a plantation, later emancipated, he grew up on a farm in Alabama. It is not surprising that his drawings represent mainly farm animals or the occasional elephant from the circus coming through town. They also include local people and "exciting events" to quote the artist who eventually moved to Montgomery and spent time observing the crowd on Monroe Avenue. He declined to give a title to his productions or explain the scenes which leaves room for interpretation. Some see festive events, others racial attacks and violence. Why are the works of the self-taught artist so important?

An exhibition of Bill Traylor's work just took place at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta with more than sixty drawings, executed between 1939 and 1942 ( the artist produced more than 1200). The visitor plunges in a world seen through the artist's eyes with the first room dedicated to animals, the second room people and last room "exciting events". The works of small size, well protected by frames are made of cardboard, colored pencils and charcoal. The result is a succession of barking dogs, angry cats with red eyes, fighting with threatening teeth, rabbits and elephants, people in their best clothes, men with top hats, women with fancy handbags and upside down compositions. The stories are lively, like cartoons, represented by humorous scenes, with dogs chasing people chasing dogs or more serious subjects with men carrying guns hunting...what or who? The bird is trying to catch a fly of disproportionate size, already reaching the edge of the cardboard. This creates tension: will the fly escape? will the bird catch its prey?
Looking closer, the drawings are built from simple shapes silhouetted with a pencil, rectangles, triangles assembled like a puzzle and colored with mainly red, blue sometimes green or brown. Profile is usually the preferred angle for faces. The technique is simple and the result is a flat composition without perspectives. The subjects appear weightless, floating on the background. 
Why is it called art? Because it transcends the daily world.

The artist did not know how to write. Shapes and colors were his ABC's. Plunging into his visual memory, he was able to talk about a world he knew, with his own language. Some people are story tellers, he was a great "story sketcher".

photographs by the author

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Gallery Next Door

A random walk in my neighborhood brought me to a local art gallery, less than two blocks from my house. I usually make plans well in advance to visit exhibitions at galleries, museums or attend fairs. Art is always far away and implies driving or flying ...Paris, Miami, Houston...

The day of my visit, Octavia Gallery was filled with Sheila McInerney's works. The abstract artist from New York City creates a Jungian world made of stained, bleached paper, fabrics, threads, watercolors.
Her dreamy compositions represent the collective history of our subconscious.  

The next exhibition features Jeffrey Pitt, an artist who, with  graphic mastery, creates hypnotic paintings using sometimes a cartographic language, sometimes oriental motives or a simple primitive language with colored stones. He engages the viewer to look closer to discover embedded symbols. For example in Animals and Ecosystems, what appears to be a maze from afar is a complex interaction between shapes of animals, vegetation and water.

A website browsing cannot replace a walk to the local art gallery. The visit guarantees to "wash the dust of daily life off our souls", to quote Picasso.

photographs courtesy Octavia Gallery
"The First Night of Sleep", Sheila McInerney
"Spontaneous Generation" Jeffrey Pitt
Picasso's quote: "The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls"

Monday, May 7, 2012

CAC Opening, Missing Artists

The opening of NOLA NOW Part II: Abstraction in Louisiana at the Contemporary Art Center is crowded. The first floor is filled with works  from Louisiana artists, most of them well known in New Orleans, many of them represented by galleries just one block away. The exhibition is one chapter of a project started in October 2011, the first part composed of installations was located on the third floor of the building. This time, the space is tight and the artists represented (more than sixty) are mostly painters and a few sculptors, creating abstract works. The evening is a great occasion to meet the artists.

In contrast, the second floor dedicated to another exhibition titled Spaces: Antenna, The Front, Good Children Gallery feels empty: blank walls scarred with nails, left over tape, few pieces of art, silent computers, dismembered installations and a few pamphlets left over. The artists withdrew their works to manifest their disagreement with the CAC's administration. The third and fourth floor of the building are empty.


Walking down the ramp allowed me to discover the installation from Morgana King starting with a flower-like composition or a new planet floating in the air surrounded by the sculpture from Martin Peyton. From above, I caught a great view of the "oval room" with its ceiling looking like a beehive. Downstairs, the visitor plunges in a cave with stalactites hanging low, decorated with a few objects constructed to match. Like a process often seen in nature, the artist used an accumulation of units to build the structure and created a magical world where size is relative.
 Upon leaving, I took a last look at Cynthia Scott's installation, in sync with the site and the preoccupations of the city. Photographs from  previous disasters (Love Canal, Three Miles Island, Exxon Valdez, BP Deepwater Horizon... the list is too long) are printed on fabric and installed hanging from the ceiling on inverted broken umbrellas. The result is a soaring colorful composition climbing the four stories of the building. The height of the ceiling creates a cathedral effect which is inspiring and each print is like a page of history, ecological disasters fading in our memory, a reminder that we do not learn.

Missing are all the artists who withdrew from the exhibition of the second floor. The triangle artist, artwork and viewer needs a place to thrive. Art viewers are always ready to discover another artist and will go where it happens in the city.

photographs by the author
"The Spiders From Mars Are Not Amused", Cynthia Scott
"Pointless: Not to capture a fleeting moment but to create one" Morgana King

 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Abstract for All

Group exhibitions are a challenge to evaluate and "Today's Visual Language: Southern Abstraction, A Fresh Look" at the Mobile Museum of Art is no exception. Thirty-seven artists are represented with two works each displayed in one large room. The space has been divided efficiently by temporary walls and the visitor can concentrate on looking at two artists at a time (four works).
 My visit started in front of two colorful paintings from Herb Jackson followed by two dark compositions from Donna Mintz and ended looking at two paintings from Larry Walker. As described in the Spring issue of Fine Lines, the quaterly magazine published by the museum, the goal of the exhibition is to give an overview of abstract artists in the Southeast since 1990 and due to the large number of artists represented, I will not be able to comment on each of them.
 It includes artists born in the South like Valerie Jaudon living in NYC, or Alejandro Aguilera born in Cuba living in Atlanta, Rick Horton  deceased in 1990 or Baker Overstreet born in 1981. I recognize artists like Anastasia Pelias, James Little or Shawne Major, others I am discovering. Abstract, their common language is a loose connection. Abstract is minimalist or expressionnist and all the gamut in between, it is purely aesthetic or cerebral or both. Lines, colors, geometric or blurred shapes challenge the viewer. The eye gets educated and a style emerges for each artist. The exhibition is a celebration of abstract art, born about a century ago (for Western art), however its title is misleading. It implies that Southern Abstract is an entity but is unable to show a common style between the artists (because there is none) and the selection of artists appears random.

The museum offers also an exhibition of lithographs from Chagall, Dali, Goya, Matisse, Calder...
"Masters of Graphic Art from the Collection of Gerald Swetsky"

no photographs were allowed