Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ana and Steve at Ventana 244 have done something quietly remarkable.

The Real Estate Show

 Over the past couple of years Ana and Steve have been inviting artists to collaboratively use their storefront space. The first installment was a gathering orchestrated by Dan Walsh. Since then there have been many such incarnations (I collaborated on one last year) and currently there is a massive in-progress/partnership coordinated by Peter Soriano and Philippe Richard entitled Real Estate, an ever-evolving installation, loosely inspired by Kurt Schwitter's Merzbau. At Ventana, through a conceptual twist their Merzbau explores the tension between artists and real-estate developers.  

Soriano and Richard put together an initial working group of artists to take on the various roles of property developer, architect, general contractor, and branding specialist: all the trappings of current high-end development.

 Once they had established their identities and transformed the ground floor space an “Open House” was held on January 24th. This unveiling, with the attendant-overflowing crowd, was more than an “opening”; it was an art world simulation of the Williamsburg condo buying frenzy.

People lined up and packed the inside.

There will be a second phase to this confabulation. A new group of artists, who in the roles of tenants and sub-tenants, will renovate, expand, demolish, and/or subdivide the space. During the run of the exhibit an artist, in the role of a displaced tenant, will stage an independent, parallel exhibition outside the gallery.

Some of the participants:
Peter Soriano, Philippe Richard, Alisdair Duncan, Ward Shelley, Edouard Prulhiere, Sylvie Ruaulx, Bruce Pearson, Tamas Veszi, Olivier Soulerin, Raphaele Shirley, Eve Bailey, Jay Shinn, Kate Shepherd, Michael Scott, Daniela Kostova, Joro-Boro, Milena Deleva, Mario Mohan, Vlada Tomova, Georgi + Nina Tushev (Tushevs Aerials), Meglena Zapreva, Meglena Zapreva, Frederique Lucien, Agnes Barley, Dominique De Beir, Miguel Angel Molina, Pierre Mabille, Michelle Antoine, Kevin Walsh, Jenny Polak, Matt Bua, Peter Dudek, Irina Arnaut, Laurel Sparks, Chris Moss.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Does Art Have to Pee Everywhere?

Art often takes over underused or abandoned industrial spaces. Making or experiencing art in places that have little or no previous art history provides a different context. Uncharted terrain and raw spaces, perfect fits for contemporary art. DIA Beacon took over a former box printing factory, MassMoca a former electronics plant and textile mill. Both in towns that have seen better days and are experiencing economic upticks because of their presence.
I grew up in a town that had no museum, no galleries. It was an art free zone. One had to imagine the art, for it was not there to be seen. When I went away to school it was always refreshing to return home, to be in that neutral zone, a no art district. But that has been changing. Artists seem to be everywhere now, and that means art. There’s no avoiding it. For example to showcase how art is coming to the rescue of Detroit (and propelling the city’s any-day-now comeback), its annual auto show is hosting an event in an artist live/work building that used to be a factory. Yes, culture has the capacity to transform urban environments (check out yet another article in The Times about Hudson) but does art have to pee everywhere?
Creative Time has plans for the Domino Sugar Plant!

The Domino Sugar Plant is slated to be razed. But while it still stands on the Brooklyn waterfront, Creative Time has decided to commission art works for this gigantic former sugar shack.
One would love to visit this space open, unlocked and unadorned. To wander about. Day and night. In a cavernous no art zone.
But, then again, maybe that would be art as well. Funny how wandering about is art these days.

The Great Beauty and American Hustle

The Great Beauty:
It chronicles the days, but mostly nights, of an Italian writer, at home in Rome who instead of working on his next book gets caught up in a decades long party vortex with the accompanying nightlife miasma of good suits and debauchery. Of course the leading man, Toni Servillo, has a great party puss. And I guess an updated Fellini-esque film of Rome was overdue. But how did that stripper die? Midway through the movie the plot seemed ready to shift gears when she and Servillo meet, and then, poof! She’s gone. Dead. One suspects things will soon start to go south but by the time things really get bitingly cruel the fact that the film is running 30 minutes too long has long set in.
Was this a comedy? A satire? In a well-populated theater my wife seemed to be the only person who really laughed (once), although I’m sure many smirked now and then at the absurd antics and posturing of a people spinning their acculturated wheels and banging their heads (literally), against the stoic beauty of Rome.

While watching this movie I couldn’t help but think that if it was about an American writer, instead of an Italian, who had published a successful novel in the 60s and then moved to Rome with hopes that this ancient city would stir his creative juices… that could be an interesting and complex film. The actor of choice would be Christian Bale who in American Hustle transforms himself into an unrecognizably corpulent con artist. This Scorsese-esque comedy features a bunch of good ol’ boys in a laugh-out-loud entrapment farce.  All the actors are beauts. But the movie hinges on Bale, the hustler supreme. And Bale as an expat writer? Supine and adrift, his creativity unmoored by the giddy decadence of Roman vices. Now, that’s a creative thread I’d like to follow.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Motherwell Collages & Chris Wool

Perhaps because I’m very much interested in the hands-on, low-tech sort of things nowadays, I went to the Guggenheim to see the Motherwell collages & Chris Wool paintings.

His significance over the years seems to have diminished; a few have even spoken of him as a lesser Ab Exer. But in the 1970s he certainly could draw a crowd. I saw him speak at the School of Visual Arts (1977?). He had established some cache on the political spectrum of painting primarily because of his “Elegy” series. When asked about them he recalled: “at the time there was a feeling that evil could take over the world”. These days it seems like there are multiple evils hovering about, but on that evening the singular weight of his statement, simple as it was, filled the space with a profound silence. Later asked to further explain some of his work he said to much applause: “if I wanted to use words I’d be a writer”.  Of course he was well read and quite articulate (see Painters Painting), when he chose to be.
Not a large show this. And not just collages either. A couple of sweet paintings and drawings are included in this selection of rarely seen works.  Although there might be touches of Matisse, Picasso or Arp here and there, it’s the connections to his contemporaries that got me.  It wasn’t his working through Surrealism and Cubism; it was his dialog with Gorky and David Smith. It was a painting in homage to John Cage. It was the evocation of the years when American abstract painters were starting conversations with each other rather than looking over their shoulders at the Moderns in Paris.
This was an open notebook sort of show, full of experimentation. Shapes and textures that would come into play in future works scurried about.

Works from the 1940s

I always felt that he and Phillip Taaffe were large-scale printmakers, not painters really.  Nonetheless here was his work spiraling down the Guggy, which is a difficult space for large flat artworks. I remember a Noland retrospective where his wide horizontal paintings seemed to visually warp because of the curvatures behind them. Wool doesn’t have that problem. His verticals hover in front of the viewer, bathed in a light unique to the Guggy. Cantilevered off the curved walls by flying buttresses attached to their rears, a space is created behind the works that is an exhibition in and of itself.
His jokey word paintings aside, looking at his small noirish photographs made me wish that Wool’s early work had visually darker manifestations. Black on black perhaps. Instead he was content with an obdurate, simplistic black on white technique. Later on his work did become much more painterly in a “Goodbye to All That” sort of way. Wiping away imagery with solvent soaked rags. Layering and muddying up the imagery. And in one of the rectangular rooms, a group of four paintings suddenly suggested a Rothko Chapel moment of their own. Now that’s a painter.

Hovering in Space

The Flying Buttress

The Space behind a wall, behind a painting

Since these were not blockbuster exhibits why all the people? Museums are quite full these days. All museums should be open 7 days a week. No? And at least one day a month for 24 hours straight. Yes!
Otherwise we’ll never again have that feeling of being alone with a body of work.
There was also a small Kandinsky show at the Guggenheim. It merited much more time than I could give it. The room was simply way too crowded.