Monday, September 24, 2007

Iran keeps great art in the basement

Fascinating: Iran keeps art in the basement.

Training Ground for Democracy

I know this is old news, and the folks that follow art happenings are probably sick of it, but I'm fascinated by the debacle that was to be the Mass MoCA “Training Ground for Democracy” exhibit. I think this quote from Roberta Smith in a dialogue in Artl!es applies to the curators for artist Stephen Buchel's work: "There is a lot of what I would call 'wishful looking' in art criticism these days." I think there's a lot of wishful looking throughout the public art world, and Mass MoCA was caught looking. Smith wasn't referring to criticism of “Training Ground for Democracy”. In fact, I think she views Buchels work as legitimate, interesting art. I think that some art critics look at Buchel's work and wish it was more than it is — not simply mediocre to bad art, but monumental, relevant, major art.

Here's the current state of the Mass MoCA, Stephen Buchel, "Training Ground for Democracy" show: Judge rules. . .

Why Roberta Smith thinks Mass MoCA shouldn't open a show with what's left: Is It Art Yet? And Who Decides?

Tyler Green's latest comments: On the mess. . .

I've recently read criticism of some art museums' tendencies to book big blockbuster events, at the expense of relevancy or artistic merit. “Training Ground for Democracy” is a perfect example. It appears that it was simply going to be a show about how amazing it is that they got a house and some trucks and other big stuff inside a museum. Too much is made of the juxtapositions. Even if Buchel had finished “Training Ground for Democracy”, and approved of the exhibit, it was still just big stuff from the real world moved inside a museum. I think trying to make much of Buchel's environments is an extended example of "wishful looking". In describing them as "bristling three-dimensional history paintings", Roberta Smith explains his environments, but ultimately exaggerates the positive. I doubt that “Training Ground for Democracy” was going to bristle.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

3 Artists from the Affair @ the Jupiter Hotel

I went to my first art fair on Sunday, the Affair @ the Jupiter Hotel. These are three artists that caught my attention.

Amanda Hughen, a San Francisco area artist. I think shown by Swarm, Oakland, CA. Hughen makes complex line drawings repeatedly tracing and abutting some standard template shapes such as hexagon, or ellipses. I believe the drawing I saw was on plywood.

Victoria Haven, Seattle. Shown by PDX, Portland, OR. Haven showed a small drawing or painting of rows of abutting gray planes each in two-point perspective. Her work is reminiscent of another artists whose work I admire: Suzanne Corporeal.

Jeff Keller, a sculpture from Maine. Shown by Richard Levy, Albuquerque, NM. Keller showed a panel with a simple trapezoid shape with a couple of lines, creating a perspective 3-D effect.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ursula von Rydingsvald, Presenting at PAM

I attended the Ursula von Rydingsvald presentation of her work at the PAM this afternoon. I think that without exception the pieces she showed as slides, and there were many, were superior to the kinetic sculpture upstairs at the PAM. This sculpture is only one of two moving pieces she has done. Perhaps kinetic sculpture doesn't really work with her art. It's as if you went to Arches National Park in Utah, and one of the beautiful arches somehow had been made to bounce up and down. The motion is just not necessary to the effect.

Von Rydingsvald's sculptures are beautiful the way that large rock formations are beautiful. (See the entablature jointing at Latourell falls and elsewhere in the Columbia river gorge.) I wouldn't try to think too much about what they mean. I don't think she does. She has simply arrived at a very successful process, that seems to require less design effort than organization and execution. It's as though she's sped up nature's process of erosion or created in cedar the look of columnar jointing produced when lava cools and contracts.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Manufactured Landscapes

Go see Manufactured Landscapes, a documentary by Jennifer Baichwal about Edward Burtynsky's photography, if it comes to your town.

If you're not familiar with Burtynsky's photography, google images here. My favorites are the shipbreaking photos from Bangladesh. They're included in the film, which chronicles the whole effect of modern industrialization from resource extraction, through manufacturing, shipping, and finally recycling.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Arch Rival

Mark Grotjahn has shown paintings and drawings using one point perspective in several major gallerys. MOMA even has a few of his drawings. Like mine, his have multiple vanishing points. I believe he uses one-point perspective where I use two-point, and typically, though not necessarily, he contains the vanishing points within the picture plane taking lines all the way to the horizon. The effect is many abutting planes receding to the vanishing point, creating a radial image.

Also see the Anton Kern Gallery, and Shane Campbell Gallery, or Google him.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Golden Ratio Drawing

Here's a new drawing more or less done within the golden ratio. I don't think the golden ratio (about 1.6:1) makes it look any better or worse than the 1:1 ratio I usually work in. Granted the long dimension is skewed in my drawing.

I think it must be a myth that the golden ratio contributes anything to beauty, proportion or harmony.

Ursula von Rydingsvard at PAM

I saw the Ursula von Rydingsvard sculpture and drawings on my way to first Thursday. I thought the huge cedar sculpture was comical. Though it is so massive, it's also playful, and puts me in a mood to respond accordingly. It brought to mind a few reactions, none that have much to do with art.

For one, I thought about the commercial from Ren and Stimpy:
"It's log, it's log,
It's big, it's heavy, it's wood.
It's log, it's log, it's better than bad, it's good."

I wanted to put walnuts, jawbreakers, or snaps under the massive lid that rises and clunks down every few seconds. I don't necessarily think these are silly reactions, because the sculpture begs for help from the viewer, to make it something more than it is. Sensing that its action falls short of the promise of its mass, I want to give it another purpose.

A giant beaver coffin? Is he prematurely entombed, and trying to get out?

I think the motion suggests not so much a human back bending, but a box lid trying to open, but failing for lack of strength. It's as though the effort to overcome the massive weight is just too much. I'm so used to seeing hydraulic cars that bounce, a big pile of logs that barely get up seems anemic.

Remember the Log Lady from Twin Peaks? I plan to see von Rydingsvard give a presentation on 9/16. We'll see what I think, then.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Camouflage at PAM (I can't stand the slaughter, but still I patronize the arts.)

I eat chicken, so I can't get too upset if a few hundred butterflies are sacrificed for art. I do find it odd that the Portland Art Museum web site describes the butterfly wings on the new Damien Hirst art as "naturally-shed".

The Portland Art Museum is showing Camouflage, an exhibition of eight paintings exploring the use of pattern. This is a rare exhibit at the PAM that disappoints me. Before its opening, Jeff Jahn called it "Portland's must see contemporary group show of the summer." (Update, 10/17/07.) I had similar expectations, but I wasn't impressed by most of the pieces, least of all the Warhol and Hirst. My reaction is that with the exception of the Philip Taffe paintings, the show is somewhat banal.

I've been searching for artists that have used pattern to see if I can find any that I like. Michael Kidner may be one; also, early Larry Poons paintings with the little ellipses. Otherwise, I'm having trouble coming up with any.

The Warhol that gives the exhibit its title is the least consequential Warhol I can think of. It's a 37-foot long painting of a camouflage pattern, from 1986. It's both banal and ugly. On a good day, camouflage doesn't do much for me. John Motley, in the Portland Mercury says, "Certainly, it's a kind of final statement of irony for an artist so obsessed with repetition and color. But it also embodies the exhibition's central tension, straddling a line between self-signifying decorum and sublimated expression." Thinking along those lines, maybe I didn't like the show because the works are either decoration or they sublimate expression to the point that little is left but banality.

Then there's the new Damien Hirst, a tacky collage of butterfly wings. This is among the many horrible ideas that come from one of our most overrated artists. It's certainly not ugly, thanks to the butterflies, but coming from Hirst it's banal, or at least trite, in my opinion. So the wings are stuck to cathedral window shaped boards. Supposedly they are "naturally-shed" butterfly wings. Hmmm. Did Hirst didn't spend the last couple of years collecting dead butterflies? This is the same artist that had the bad idea to create an installation of caterpillars and canvases covered with sugar solution and glue. The caterpillars turned into butterflies, and then stuck to the canvases. Here are a couple of links to more on Hirst butterfly art, with no reference to the "naturally-shed": Gargosian Gallery, "Hirst accused of sadism. . ." The Gargosian site says the butterflies symbolize the "inherent fragility of life." Yes, to a wingless butterfly, life is certainly fragile.

Also, there's some evidence that this isn't an original idea. L.A. artist Lori Precious has been doing stained glass butterfly wings for ten years. Should she be in the show instead of Hirst? Personally, I'd like to see Portland declare that they've fulfilled their quota of Hirst showings for the next half-century or so. Also, in 1988, Tom Marioni created The Golden Wing, a collage of butterfly wings on wood.

There are a couple of Christopher Wool paintings, and Agnes Martins. I want to like Agnes Martin's work, being a proud fan of minimal art, but I think her work usually drains all the excitement out of minimalism.

The only work that I didn't find either banal or ugly is the snake painting from Philip Taaffe. Still, his other contribution is not particularly appealing.

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly appreciate the effort by PAM (curator Bruce Guenther) to gather small but relevant shows like this. Pattern painting is what it is. It deserves to be seen, and a small grouping such as Camouflage is at least representative. Besides, there have been numerous small but excellent shows at PAM since I arrived in Portland: Leonard Baskin, Wes Mills, Minimalism/Post Minimalism, The Drawn Line. Read more from Jeff Jahn about PAM's new exhibition philosophy here.