Monday, July 2, 2007

Judy Chicago - Brooklyn Museum

Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” is the main focus for the newly opened Elizabeth E. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The Sackler space is quite small and is almost completely engulfed with the monumentally sized “Dinner Party”. You can’t help but feel as though this is another publicity stunt perpetrated by the Brooklyn Museum on the American public, attracting viewers more for the “car wreck” presence of the art work rather than for some sense of historic, cultural or educational purpose, all things that are expected from such a devoted organization such as Sackler.

Chicago, a nickname given to her by a gallery owner for her distinctive accent, has been working on this dinner party concept for years. While the concept has many strengths and opportunity for historical statement and the celebrating of “women’s crafts” as profound, dignified and distinctive artist techniques, Chicago decides instead to make her visual communication tool be the female genitalia.
To pay tribute to historical female figures of great significance through an example which is literal, idealistic, pretentious and demeaning in a bourgeois setting such as a “dinner party” is by no means bringing women any closer to their goals of social status in our contemporary society or international cultures.
Chicago’s concept of these accomplished female figures and bringing them together to honor and share their “struggling out of containment and being eaten alive” as Chicago puts it, is not where the work fails. It fails in its repetitive, familiar and redundant execution of these grossly reliefed, dressed and dolled up plates. One could hardly imagine Virginia Woolf feeling honored by her namesake plate’s nonsensical depiction of who she was and stood for, much less an honorable visual representation of her achievements, and cultural remembrance of her. Would she want to be equated with the domesticity that this plate represents, as well as forever being associated with female genitalia?

This entire piece, from the triangular table to the bathroom tile floor it sits upon, is not worthy of being associated with these women’s. The gold signatures on the white tiled floor do nothing for the work, and are more of a back-up method for where the work lacks. These gleaming white bathroom tiles under the entire piece acting out as the floor in the center, leaves you empty and waiting for a disco ball to drop and light up possibly for obscenely groomed poodles to perform a circus act. The personalized embroidered runners under each table setting would have almost made this worth the trip if they weren’t completely overshadowed by the hideous plates and generic ceramic cups and utensils. The only time you actually feel a presence of these women is when Chicago manages to briefly break away from her orthodox and entirely predictable forms.

The Brooklyn Museum as well as some reviewers from the Dinner Party’s past appearances rave about the perverse crowds it creates, which as I stated before, these same crowds form around a car wreck. The raving of this should be re-evaluated and they should also reconsider this being a permanent exhibit and make room for some Feminist work that actually utilizes its philosophy and demonstrates its historical significance, accomplishments and reasons for it still being a movement that contemporary female artists feel the need to revisit and continue using as a catalyst for their work.

April 11, 2007

Scope Art Fair, NYC - Lincoln Center

Scope, an International Contemporary Art Fair showing contemporary art by emerging artists came to New York’s Lincoln Center. Being set up in a big white tent, somehow adds to the surge of contemporary when you walk right into live art. A man lies on the floor, dressed all in silver attached to a falling chandelier like object, also all silver. You don’t realize he’s alive until you find him later running through the tent. Walk towards the elite V.I.P. line and approach the line for “others” all while avoiding stepping onto a black cloth that is moving in and out of the pathway as if being blow by wind. I’m excited to get in and feel the vibrations inside me and see the explosion of art from around the globe.

Once inside you have various dealers with their cubicle like set-up, ironically corporatized, displaying artwork from the gallery they represent while also representing their country. Surprisingly there is an abundance of photography in the fair, which one can debate even belonging here. Not to mention the “trend” of patterns in various mediums from various countries, as if it matters. Not a lot of large works or powerful paintings to grab your senses. When you go to an INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR one would think to be over stimulated by talent, and works overflowing with concept. But I walked and walked, waiting and waiting for it to get better while continuing to see work not much out of range with students studying at an art school. These trends so to speak of little crack head cartoon like figures acting out or cartoon like woman from maybe a japananese animation movie and horribly rendered patterns are not of great intellect or aesthetics.

One of New York’s galleries Mike Weiss was showing work again giving me the art school flashback. There was a series of work consisting of cigar bands and found drug bags, which were threaded together in a grid-like pattern. From a distance you can see the clear vs. colored squares and might be lured in to look close, only to find out that it’s basically nothing significant to anyone but maybe a junkie.

Overall Scope, the INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR of emerging talent was a very unpleasant event. The more I thought of my expectations of the contemporary art world and the excitement of what the other side of the globe has to offer, the more disappointing the fair was. One can only hope that it was the fault of the event itself that was “uneventful” and not the contemporary art world that was so substandard and quite empty.

March 6, 2007

Muniz - PS1

Vik Muniz, a Brazilian born New York artist makes you think twice about photography. Upon entering Muniz’ Reflex at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center you may say, “not another bland photography show.” When you get up close you encounter much more than photography.

Muniz uses found materials in a different way from the found object assemblage you may have seen by artists before, he draws with his materials. Whether it’s dirt, ashes, chocolate, sugar, caviar, string or paper remnants made by hole punchers, each material is carefully composed to create tones, values, areas of light, shadow and color brilliantly. Some pieces are art history based, specifically an image of Jackson Pollack dripping paint, which is totally drawn from liquid chocolate. Another of a Mark Rothko, which is a photograph of square papers, put together to resemble Rothko’s painting.

The most irresistible series in the Reflex show are prints of pictures of wire consisting of 12 photographs of wire formed into various objects; shirt, suitcase, shoes, Van Gogh’s bed etc. Made to resemble pencil drawings when photographed, these wire sculptures have visual reward that one may not have gotten from the wire sculptures alone. Although such a simple subject when alone, the photos offer the illusion of drawings, which is far more engaging. This applies for all of Muniz’ works in the show. Muniz’ use of everyday material is used so intelligently and with a humor where the viewer feels gifted rather than cheated by maybe having wanted to see a photograph, painting or drawing.

Another astonishing series in the show was “Individuals”, a set of 52 photogravure prints. The prints were originally photographs of a clay-like material from which Muniz creates an unconstrained and spontaneous sculpture and photographs it allowing it to be destroyed and a new one created from the same material over and over. This repeated process of creation from the same matter is a freeing from itself, material, size and space while creating a claim to everything belonging to the same matter, which is changeable, an idea which originated from the ancient philosopher Parmendies.

After having experienced the Reflex show, which consisted solely of photography, one leaves with the feeling that they were exposed to a wide variety of artistic mediums including paintings, drawing and collage, not just photos.

MArch 6, 2007

Kiki Smith - Whitney Museum of Art

Kiki Smith has proved her talents once again with an exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of Art, showing her work from the past 25 years. Daughter of an opera singer and well-known architect and sculptor, Smith settled in New York in 1976.

One familiar with Smith’s work will be captivated instantly, falling head over heels with the immense space filled with Smith’s work. The space is dripping with materials and humanism, which evokes an immediate awareness of one’s self and our relationship to the world.
Evident in this exhibition appropriately titled “A Gathering”, Smith uses various materials, that illustrate her exploration of experience with our environment and ourselves. Through this gathering of materials, items and imagery, she joins them ensuing in complement or juxtaposition of one another. This mixture allows for various interpretations from the viewer, allowing for individual understanding and experiences, making the complexities of our feelings and emotions enlighten or quiver. It is this engulfing sensation, which Smith’s work whether technically eminent, or humanly graceful clearly accomplishes its purpose.

Smith’s use of history, science, literature and human nature is her gift to us. She uses these humanities, which are accessible to us but easily misunderstood or ignored and she brings them forth in ways that are unavoidable to reaction. Her handling of materials is raw and unpretentious, allowing each work and technique to be genuine and honest.

In the piece, All Souls (1988), Smith displays her concerns with life and death. The piece is composed of a fetus image, which she has found and screen printed numerous times and glued the paper together into one curtain-like sheet. Often mistaken for an antiabortion rant, this work is meant to note, “Every individual must undergo the process, of being born.”
The work Flock (1998) which is comprised of multiple bronze reliefs, that she traced from preserved bird specimens, examines the relationship between humans and animals through science, religion and literature. The bird has been used as a symbol in religious art representing the Holy Spirit. Smith also brings this from her Catholic upbringing.
Pieta (1999) is a lithograph on paper showing a woman mourning her dead cat on her lap. This image is a comparative to the Pieta of the Virgin Mary weeping over her dead son. Pieta referring to pity was originally designed for private devotion. Although this story was never mentioned in the bible, it is a popular image from the 14th century. Once again Smith references from art history and religious tale.
Blue Girl (1998), a female figure kneeling with a backdrop of starfish evokes the connection to our oceans and earth. Untitled (1987-1990) consisted of 12 glass bottles with words marking various bodily fluids is one of her pieces almost throwing you into a mode of discomfort. This is one of those relations to ourselves, which we have come to ignore or be repulsed. Smith displays this to remind you that it is there, real, human and should not cause you discomfort but relieve you from the vulgarities of our human nature.

Smith engages the human body, its beauty and flaws, and allows it to be just that….. human.

Feb. 13, 2007

Walton Ford-Brooklyn Museum

Walton Ford is an American artist with an immense awareness of literature, culture, science and history. There are no mistakes in his current exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum, Tigers of Wrath consisting of more than 50 large-scale watercolors using a style of natural history artists, one more powerful than the next.

At first approach you may think you are in the American Museum of Natural History viewing life size studies of animals in their natural environment. But soon you come to realize that Ford’s world, although based on science, culture and our natural world, quickly becomes a surreal realism or a dream gone wild. Ford draws inspiration from nineteenth century artists, particularly John James an Audubon illustrator known for a collection of life size prints of birds. He also is very interested in telling untold stories, which he finds fascinating. One such story is depicted in The Starling. This piece first viewed as astoundingly executed, is an untold story he simply wanted to tell, the origin of the bird and its particular invasive personality. In the painting, birds from all over the world are coming to feed the starling acting out a metaphor for its overwhelming and destructive nature.

This theme of beauty vs. distress is seen over and over again. And although it continues in multiple pieces, the strange and bizarre actions of the animals keep you wanting more. Even among the vigorous events there is elegance that complements the execution of the work as art. Exploring the work becomes a fun pastime being that the pieces are on a large-scale and are so intensely detailed. The scale of the work offers a realistic sense and scientific justification when viewing animals as one would find in a zoo, enhancing the overwhelming reality of the animals in such actions. Ford’s work can force you to wonder if art is teaching nature or vice versa. You continue to battle between what is real and what isn’t.

Fords work at first glance may be seen as classical from afar, but his pieces are definitely contemporary and modern through twists, play with the absurd and its relationships with its viewer’s morals and values. The paintings stand on their own and although he tells a story one may not know, the viewer can look at this body of work and relate to each piece through the animals and naturalistic settings, as well as relation to beauty, power, horror, fear and farce. While the animals are acting out metaphors and unusual events, the paintings remain sincere in that these acts provoke emotions that one can connect to.

Ford’s Tigers of Wrath is unmistakably moving and through its flowing continuum of emotion and rhythmic forces of beauty and grace or astonishing balance of purity and grotesque, it always brings a charge to our senses.

January 24, 2007