tag:artopticon.us,2013:/posts ArtOpticon.us 2017-11-02T14:58:43Z Dewitt Cheng tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1202778 2017-11-02T14:58:43Z 2017-11-02T14:58:43Z Joan Schulze: Celebrating 80 at Fresno Art Museum (though January 8)

Joan Schulze: Celebrating 80 
Curated by Michele Ellis Pracy and Kristina Hornback
Fresno Art Museum

The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture—however unreasonable this may sound. The picture, if a picture results, is a by-product and may be useful, valuable, interesting as a sign of what has past. The object, which is back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence. In such moments activity is inevitable, and whether this activity is with brush, pen, chisel, or tongue its result is but a by-product of the state, a trace, the footprint of the state. —Robert Henri1
 
At the heart of my work, whether it be quilts, collages or books, is the transformation of fabric and paper in layered constructions. Improvising during the painting, image-transfer processes and collaging of materials while chasing an idea at hand creates adventure in the studio—Thoughts are made visible. —Joan Schulze, 1999
 
Collage has declared to be the predominant aesthetic strategy of the modernist art of the twentieth century. (A slightly broader term, juxtaposition, might also be claimed for the postmodernist art of recent decades.) A century ago, the Cubists combined drawing and painting with glued printed images in order to depict, with ambiguous wit, modern life’s  new fast pace, jumbling images and sounds.. A decade later, the Dadaists and Surrealists employed collage to create nonsensical or dreamlike tableaux that excoriated the ostensibly rational leaders responsible for the Great War. In America, after the second world war, collage was employed similarly by the Abstract Expressionists and Pop Artists:  in Ab Ex, colors and shapes were combined with painted forms, echoing Cubist formalism; in Pop, real-world elements were painted or printed, or literally incorporated into artworks to both commemorate and satirize mass-culture daily life.

Joan Schulze, the eminent California quilt artist, has made collage the basis of her practice. She “embraces,” says art critic Peter Frank,  “the disjunctive quality of modern life and seeks to discover coherence and harmony within such disjunction. This is no mere demonstration of virtuosity; it is an ongoing display of discretion, a constant matching of medium to material, content to context.”2  It is a compositional method that reflects her creative philosophy of openness, improvisation and experimentation. A lyrical poet as well as an artist, Schulze is a careful observer of things, and, of her reactions to them, both visual and verbal.  Sarah E. Tucker describes Schulze’s “fascination with changing light, the effects of time and weather on the walls of buildings, the passing of time, and laundry (and to travel with Joan is to be ever alert to the cry, Stop! Look at that laundry! And yes, to stop and take photographs at regular intervals along the route.)”3  These photographs, transformed and  combined, make their way into the artist’s beautiful, poetic artworks. Tucker likens Schulze’s compulsive image-gathering to the writing method favored by the eighth-century Chinese poet and calligrapher Li Po (who drowned, apocryphal legend has it, while drunkenly trying to embrace the moon’s reflection), as well as the twentieth-century Beat writer William Burroughs, who labeled his method ‘cut ups’.

Li Po would ride out each morning, his servant walking by his side. Each time a thought came to him, he would write it down and drop the slip of paper and text into the black embroidered bag hjs servant carried. Returning home Po would spend each evening working these scraps of text into a poem.4
 
Method alone does not, however, guarantee the divine madness of art: imagination must be balanced with discrimination —Peter Frank’s ‘discretion’. The sense of form as well as a strong creative drive cannot be taught; they are inborn, as the painter Robert Henri writes (in The Art Spirit).  Schulze is a self-taught artist, an ‘outlier,’ to use her term, who never attended art school, but always apparently had a prodigious commitment to the art life. She remembers visiting Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Grande Jatte” at the Art Institute of Chicago, alone, at age seven, pretending to be part of a group in order to evade scrutiny.

…I grasped their patterns
Made by dots,
Those Morse Code messages
That reached out to me…
—From Morse Code, by Joan Schulze

Shulze waited until her late thirties, after becoming an accomplished poet and photographer, to focus on art quilt-making, or, to use the more exact and inclusive term, fiber art.  In the 1970s, she learned embroidery at a local stitchery guild; in the 1980s she explored traditional quilting materials and formats (though not traditional imagery); from the 1990s to the present she has expanded her scope to include nontraditional methods and materials (glue transfer, acrylic paint, Velcro, plastic fabric, monotype, cyanotype, creative photocopying, reverse printing, layering, metal foils, machine and hand stitching, mass-market printed imagery) and unusual formats (double-sided quilts; scrolls; and sequences of images either sewn together or affixed to wide strips of tape,  resembling filmstrips or contact sheets). Tucker sees this experimentation—which includes transforming old works into new ones— as akin to improvisation in jazz, one of the artist’s enthusiasms, demanding both technical virtuosity and perfect visual ‘pitch’5. Schulze also ventures at times from the lyrical into sociopolitical commentary with a feminist slant, proving that art engagé can combine visual beauty and even a wry sense of humor.  Schulze’s fashion-themed collages (Tango, Fast…Faster) celebrate youth, beauty and glamor, while hinting, with their distressed, faded surfaces, at the flip side of fabulousness, evanescence. Schulze’s affinity for wabi sabi, the Japanese appreciation of imperfect beauty. i.e., marked by weathering or age, or ‘living a life.,”7  is captured in four works depicting Japanese tea bowls, which the artist collects. These works collate multiple views of each cup at various sizes and seen from different angles, cubistically; some of the cup portraits are distorted by photocopy-machine manipulation; others recall photographic negatives, with their light and dark values reversed. Three of the collages—a long time ago, not so long ago, and the unknowable future—are accompanied by poems that ponder the mystery and miracle of enduring artworks “made to last through time.”

once upon a time, not so long ago
this bowl, this precious object
cared for, used, and admired
passed from one to another
then given as a gift
to one who received it
with delight and surprise
—Joan Schulze, not so long ago, 2017

Schulze’s restricted, delicate palettes, her elegant drawing in thread, her use of written or printed characters as semi-abstract visual forms, and her airy, open compositions suggest the nature philosophy of Asian art. In several recent works, however, Schulze confronts the racial divide in American culture in tape-strip collages that suggest the pervasive imagery of the digital era. Interior Lives and Vertical Daydreams suggest private reveries, while Opus: White and Opus: Black and Brown, subtly show how skin color is still unfortunately the filter through which we perceive each other.

While previous writers have focused on Schulze as the creator of extraordinary art quilts, it is a disservice to her art to relegate it to the craft domain. Schulze’s vernacular, everyday images taken from a variety of sources, mysteriously and miraculously synthesized through color and composition into compelling, hypnotic works—that, in Whitman’s words, “contain contradictions”—are fine-art collages comparable to any. Schulze acknowledges the assemblagist Robert Rauschenberg as a kindred spirit whose work influenced her, and both artists combine curiosity about the world and a passion for materials and experimentation. For both, the process and the experience are of equal importance with the resulting product, or ‘by-product,’ to use Robert Henri’s 1923 term. Fortunately for us viewers, both are consummate artists who magically and intuitively transform the diaristic stuff of daily life into universal visual experience; Schulze calls this quality that lifts a work beyond design and composition ‘the sixth dimension.’ 6 Henri, again: “It beats all the things that wealth can give and everything else in the world to say the things one believes, to put them into form, to pass them on to anyone who may care to take them up.”8

 
1 Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (1923), p. 159
2 Peter Frank, “The Collage Aesthetic,” in Deborah Corsini’s Poetic License: The Art of Joan Schulze (1999), p.113
3 Sarah E. Tucker, “Schulze: The Artist Who Dances,” in Joan Schulze’s Quilts (2005), p.9
4 Sarah E. Tucker, “A Poetics of Cloth, Paper, Stitch and Line,” in Deborah Corsini’s Poetic License: The Art of Joan Schulze (2009), p.85
5 Sarah E. Tucker, “A Poetics of Cloth, Paper, Stitch and Line,” in Deborah Corsini’s Poetic License: The Art of Joan Schulze (2009), p.90
6 Schulze, quoted in Dyana Curreri, “ A Life Without Limitation,” in The Art of Joan Schulze (1999), p.58.
7 Schulze, quoted in Jette Clover, “Looking for Beauty,” in The Art of Joan Schulze (1999), p.110.
8 Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (1923), p. 142

 

 

 
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1201976 2017-10-30T15:53:39Z 2017-10-30T15:53:40Z Martin Wong Retrospective at Berkeley Art Museum (reprinted from East Bay Monthly, November 2017)

Martin Wong Paintings Revisit 1980s New York

In 1985, three years before his death, the Puerto Rican playwright and actor, Miguel Piñero, wrote “Lower East Side Poem”:  Just once before I die / I want to climb up on a / tenement sky / to dream my lungs out till / I cry / then scatter my ashes thru / the Lower East Side....  That tragic lyricism also characterizes the paintings of Martin Wong (1946-1999), Piñero’s friend and lover, who moved from San Francisco to New York in 1978 to pursue his art career. Trained in ceramics, Wong taught himself to paint while living in a rundown hotel, where he worked a night watchman, and later in an area blighted by heroin dealers and addicts, while working in a museum bookstore. Wong: “Everything I paint is within four blocks of where I live and the people are the people I know and see all the time."

Wong’s urban landscape paintings (pointedly devoid of greenery) document the graffiti and hip-hop era, now generally associated with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and others. They combine gritty reality— brown and gray building facades, the brickwork and graffiti meticulously rendered in somber reds, grays and ochers—with the Romantic excess of gay street culture in all its outrageously colorful theatricality. The cowboy-hatted Chinese-American artist from San Francisco who had once earned his living as the Human Instamatic, making $7.50 portraits at art fairs (with a personal record of twenty-seven fairs in one day!), and designing sets for the hippie-radical street-theater commune, The Angels of Light, found the subject that combined his various interests—gay culture, graffiti, an updated social realism, and even autobiography of sorts—in the vibrant, polyglot, multiracial bohemia of Loisaida.

A roundtable discussion on Wong’s New York work will take place 1pm, Saturday, November 11; a talk on Wong’s use of American Sign Language will take place 3:30pm, Saturday December 9. Martin Wong: Human Instamatic runs through December 10; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2120 Oxford Street, Berkeley, 510/642-0808; bampfa.org. —DeWitt Cheng

Note: Not all the jpegs posted here may be included in the show. Will revise after I’ve seen the show. The piece was written in mid-September
 
 

 
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1198321 2017-10-14T23:02:33Z 2017-10-14T23:02:34Z Walker Evans at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com, 10/13/17)

   


Editors' Roundtable
DeWitt Cheng
"The secret of photography is, the camera takes on the character and personality of the handler." —Walker Evans 

The painter (and Depression-era photographer) Ben Shahn wrote, "Style is the form of content," meaning that in the best art, the visual and conceptual (including political) elements reinforce and amplify each other. To the degree that there exists a schism between the optical/sensuous and conceptual/intellectual realms is, in my view, attributable to doctrinaire neophilia, love of the new, accompanied by art-historical amnesia about Dead White European Males. The heartlessness of much contemporary art, with cerebral PC propaganda on one end of the spectrum and escapist eye candy on the other, reflects the lack of an ethical center in American culture. 

Today's political situation has, however, awakened many to the spiritual crisis engulfing us. It is heartening, amid all the doom and gloom, to note that the social documentarian photography of the Depression is once again on our minds. The images of Dorothea Lange — her "Migrant Mother" never lost its power or relevance — resonated with viewers at the Oakland Museum's retrospective a few months ago. Across the bay, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has just opened a large exhibition of Walker Evans which promises to inform and elevate today's huddled masses. 





Evans is best known for his photographs for the Farm Security Administration of the rural South during the Depression. I have always gravitated to that work for its acute observation of the small-town American scene; its sympathy with the people portrayed (without sentimentality; and its elegant, sometimes witty compositions. Evans idolized French writers like Baudelaire and Zola, dating to his 1926 stay in Paris, and adopted the modernist detachment of the flaneur, or stroller; his curiosity about social reality is thus never strident or programmatic. One writer described his work as "stoic, reserved and minimal." Evans, who saw himself as an "untethered eye" and a "social historian," aspired to make images that would be "literate, authoritative, transcendent." 

Evans and FSA colleagues like Lange and Shahn inherited the earlier progressive documentarian tradition from Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine, and developed it according to the new social conditions, technological capabilities, and even career opportunities for photographers. Evans, for example, was the first photographer accorded an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art; he was also active in publishing books: "American Photographs" in 1938, and "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" in 1941. He worked for Fortune magazine as an independent editor/photographer from 1945 to 1965, before leaving to teach at Yale. 




But back to the photographs. In contradistinction to contemporary art, which generally declaims its timeliness, Evans's photos of the 1930s, are immersed in the past, saturated by memory, documenting the gradual disappearance of small-town America as mass culture penetrated even the lowly shanties of Appalachia. And so he preserved it, photographically. One critic, noting Evans's debt to Eugene Atget (transmitted by Atget enthusiast and Evans's friend, Berenice Abbott), characterized his work as "social fact[s], suspended in time." Lloyd Fonvielle, in one of two Aperture magazine monographs on Evans, wrote: 

"He appropriated the potent, head-on style of naïve vernacular photography and transformed it into an instrument of conscious elegance … The visual incongruities of the American landscape — rusted auto bodies in a pastoral farmyard, rows of factory workers' houses built up next two rows of tombstones, crude hand lettered signs tacked on to gracious (and crumbling) old buildings … This particular evidence of American innocence might almost be said to constitute the core of Evans's vision; it's certainly accounts for the disquieting, melancholy aura of his best images …" 

In the second monograph, David Campany cited Evans's interest in 

"… the poetry of the street, vernacular architecture and design, the way the past persists in the present, and the anonymity of modern citizens … He was on the side of the genuinely popular, but against the populist (and often patronizing) manipulations of the mass media, with its love of product turnover, consumerism, easy stories, and celebrity.” 





These two writers sum up, with their evocative descriptions of the photos, Evans' enduring appeal as both fine-art photographer and social documentarian: as an artist who perfectly merges style and content, and bringing to life the vanished past. The claims implicitly made by these photographs — for connection with the world; for high standards; for aesthetic independence; for cultural curiosity; for transcending mere artiness — seem to me to be a necessary correction to an art world too awash in a false sense of the new. I concude with a couple additional quotations: first Evans' translation of "Mad," an essay by the French poet Blaise Cendrars, which might almost serve as the photographer's credo, echoing William Carlos Williams: "no ideas but in things," and is included in the SFMOMA show; and second, Evans's Dutch-uncle exhortation to fellow artists: 

"About this time, I was taken with a violent passion for objects, for inanimate things. I do not mean the utensils and the art objects with which the palace was stuffed, and which, by a sort of intellectual or sentimental exaltation, invoke, suggest, recall an old civiilization, some period of the past, some faded historic or family scene; objects which charm you and captivate you by their distorted shapes, their baroque lines, their obsolete refinement, by all that places them and dates them, names, and so curiously reveals the stamp of the mode which imagined them; no; my fancy was for unaesthetic objects exclusively; unfashioned objects of coarse and elementary material. I surrounded myself with the most uncouth things. A biscuit tin, an ostrich egg, a sewing machine, a piece of quartz, a bar of lead, a stovepipe. I spent my days handling and fingering and smelling these things. I rearranged them a thousand times a day. They were my amusement and my distraction; they were to make me forget the emotional experiences which had so tired me out. This was a great lesson to me." 

Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.




]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1197577 2017-10-11T14:06:36Z 2017-10-11T14:06:36Z Kirk Crippens: California Plates at SLAC


CALIFORNIA PLATES
Documentary Photographs by KIRK CRIPPENS at SLAC Building 52

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is proud to announce an exhibit of works by the acclaimed Bay Area photographer, KIRK CRIPPENS. California Plates features large-scale color photographs taken from several separate bodies of work shot in northern California over the past nine years.

Documentary photography began at the turn of the 19th century with Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis, recorders of the grim lives of the American working class in the Gilded Age. It received further impetus in the 1930s, during the Depression, when government agencies hired young photographers to capture the plight of migrant laborers and tenant farmers in the American South in order to generate support for New Deal programs. Two of the photographers associated with New Deal agencies—the Farm Services Administration and the Resettlement Agency—were Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, who have been given recent retrospectives in the Bay Area, at the Oakland Museum of California and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, respectively. While these photographers were given subject assignments by their bosses, the works vary with the artists’ personalities. Lange was more polemical and political than the reserved Evans, for example. The works of both succeeded, however, because of their striking aesthetic form (informed by abstract painting and sculpture) and powerful, dramatic storytelling, qualities that make them succeed with contemporary viewers experiencing a renewed empathy for the “forgotten man” of eighty years ago.
 
Kirk Crippens’ work derives from the documentary tradition, but it operates as well as pure photography, as form and color orchestrated into memorable, even inevitable configurations. Understated elegance and an occasional bemused, dry humor are “the general note,” to use a phrase of Walker Evans, as is interest in the people who agree to pose for the photographer; indeed, Crippens has much in common with Evans, who lived with his subjects and was accepted by them almost as family. The nine landscape-format photographs shown here come from Crippens’ The Great Recession series, depicting hard times in the San Fernando Valley town of Stockton, due to its foreclosure crisis; from the Mary Elizabeth Moves series, beautiful domestic-interior slices of life; and from The Point series , with a semi-bucolic view of “CIty Goats” through a grid of cyclone fencing and an arabesque of dead vines.  Seven portrait-format photographs come from Crippens’ 2011-12 The Point series: formal, posed views of San Franciscans from the Bayview-Hunters Point area. Crippens: “My life changed that Sunday morning.  I was adopted by the congregation of Providence [Baptist Church].... The Point is a collaboration with and celebration of ... the kings and queens of Bayview-Hunters Point.” KirkCrippens.com

SLAC’s Building 52 is not open to the public except during receptions by reservation. For more information, please contact Curator DeWitt Cheng at 415-412-8499 and acdcmr@earthlink.net.  Artopticon.us is the successor program to Stanford Art Spaces.

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1197180 2017-10-10T01:34:56Z 2017-10-10T02:02:05Z LAINA TERPSTRA and TAMA HOCHBAUM @ George Lawson GGallery





LAINA TERPSTRA: Departures
TAMA HOCHBAUM: Bi Series
George Lawson Gallery

Two artists look at the great mystery, time, through painting and photography in this provocative curatorial matchup. Laina Terpstra’s small to mid-sized oils on canvas at first appear to be elegant., curvilinear abstractions in muted palettes of brown, ocher, black and white, but it soon become clear that they represent the motions of absent actors, like the blurs in long-exposure photographs. Motion became a subject for artistic interpretation at the dawn of modernism with the influence of photography. The most famous example would be Duchamp’s 1912 “Nude Descending a Staircase,” but also in the running would be the lesser-known but equally memorable contemporaneous oil by the Futurist Giacomo Balla, “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash,” with lady and pet dachshund endowed with a panoply of rotating legs, as if photographed under strobe lighting. Terpstra joins this witty tradition by making works—all visually satisfying by themselves—as variants or homages to Old Master paintings by Pieter de Hooch, Jan Steen, Jacques Louis David, and, the master of chiaroscuro and tenebrism, Caravaggio. If the monochromatic “Room of Resistance” suggests, with its ectoplasmic white veils floating in darkness, Max Ernst’s grattages set into a Redon noir, “From Caravaggio’s Seven Acts of Mercy” seems to depict the swirling Baroque draperies of that painting minus the actors of the sacred drama, Raptured to a better place? Don’t miss the small and large versions of “From Pieter de Hooch’s Man With Dead Birds and Other Figures in a Stable,” compelling mashups of Old-Master gravitas and modernist abstraction: postmodernism worth its salt—and, wonderful to relate—such contrapuntal pairings can be done!—worth hanging with the originals.

In the smaller gallery are four nocturnal-landscape photo mosaics by Tama Hochbaum, a former painter and printmaker, who now uses a camera to depict “an unfolding of time, a story told.” Shown here are four 48”x48” squares composed of eight 16”x16” prints, with the center squares absent. Hochbaum’s centerless square polyptychs, featuring shots of the night sky in various locations, and shot presumably forty-five degrees apart, are based, I am told by gallerist George Lawson (thanks for the memories!), on the neolithic jade bi, a carved circular disc with a circular hole at the center, representing heaven. —DeWitt Cheng

 

 

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1195027 2017-09-30T22:19:41Z 2017-09-30T22:19:42Z Gay Outlaw: Ozone at Anglim Gilbert Gallery, San Francisco (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com, 9/29/17)


GAY OUTLAW: Ozone
Anglim Gilbert Gallery

 The Bay Area conceptual artist Gay Outlaw infuses her inquiries into epistemology—what makes something a work of art, or not—and the properties of varied materials, some unusual, like the caramelized sugar of a few years ago, with craftsmanship and wit. Her current show, entitled Ozone—a reference to the damage wrought by global-climate change?—comprises work in bronze, clay, wood, aluminum, encaustic, digital photography, cast glass, and pâte de verre, or glass paste, made from firing colored pigmented glass powders in a mold. While the works explore different ideas, and do not obviously come from the same artist, a spirit of experimentation and discovery pervades all. (By the way, everything is officially untitled, but the pieces are given humorous parenthetical designations.)

 The stars of the show were the eleven pâte de verre Meatloafsunset sculptures, life-sized renditions of those familiar ingots of mystery meat, arrayed on a tabletop, as if posed for a Wayne Thiebaud painting. Each is given a glazing or topping of an unusual color e.g., teal, cyan, yellow, pink, amber, etc., suggestive of sweets rather than savories. A pair of abstract folded-metal sculptures adorned with paint—Kitchen Sink and Bent Box—and a quartet of bronze or glass sculptures, idiosyncratically evoking vessels, modelmaking and hats, are dispersed throughout the gallery. Outlaw’s strangely funny, memorable mixed-media wall pieces pair color photos of street photography with blobs or ‘flows’ of colored glass paste, as if someone had flung colored mud onto the picture-frame glass, and the artist had found the desecrations to be  mprovements (as Francis Bacon sometimes flung oil paint onto canvases that he wanted to save or improve, gambling with destruction). The glass blobs, or lava flows, also recall the free-form poured urethane sculptures of Lynda Benglis. Outlaw’s titles are as droll as the idea of the works playfully tantalizing the viewer (or spy), but, like Hamlet, pointedly retaining their mystery: Untitled (Spring Green Flow with Artist Hair), Untitled (Orange Flow with Waders), and Untitled (Navy Flow with Wistful Poodle).— DeWitt Cheng

 

 

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1194856 2017-09-29T18:39:04Z 2017-09-29T18:39:04Z Joan Brown Works on Paper at Richmond Art cobbler (from East Bay Monthly, October 2017)

RAC Exhibits Works on Paper by Painter Joan Brown

In 1958, the twenty-year-old Joan Beatty, about to marry, was ill and bedridden; art books provided by her fiancé, the painter Bill H. Brown, changed her life. She later recalled: "I'd never seen any of this stuff”—i.e., on Rembrandt, Goya, and Velasquez—“and I felt this tremendous surge of energy.” Enrolling at the California School of Fine Art, she was encouraged by her mentor, the painter Elmer Bischoff (later a colleague at UC Berkeley), to find her own artistic way, and she worked through Bay Area Figuration, beat and funk toward her mature style, which combines a refined lyricism with the kind of eccentric-outsider outlook which the Bay Area nurtures.

In San Francisco galleries in the 1970s and 1980s, Brown was, if not ubiquitous, at least highly visible; some of us young know-it-alls found her simplified drawing, flat modeling and bright colors a bit too easy to like, Matisse for the masses; and the autobiographical element too sweetly northern California and even New Age, Kahlo without the angst. However, when the painter died in 1990 at age fifty-two in an art-installation accident in India—she was a follower of Sathya Sai Baba—her thirty-four year long creative life assumed a retrospective gravitas that had always been in the work, just not foregrounded. You can see the depth of her emotion in the early Abstract Expressionist works of the late 1950s, caked and crusted with oil paint. The artist Wally Hedrick said of her: "There was the innocent child, sort of flowing through time, and there was the mature artist, and they just happened to be in the same body at different times." He also remembered Bischoff’s non-judgmental judgment: “I have this extraordinary student. She's either a genius or very simple.”

Is that a false dichotomy? The art world is quick to move on to the eternal new, so fans of Brown as well as those unfamiliar with her work are well served by Joan Brown: In Living Color, a selection of works on paper borrowed from private collections. Through November 18. Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Street, Richmond; (510) 620-6772; www.therac.org. —DeWitt Cheng

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1191825 2017-09-17T18:26:59Z 2017-09-21T04:10:57Z Is Nothing Sacred? Sarah Lucas at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco


A few months ago, I wrote about the new curatorial strategy in effect at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor, of showing contemporary artwork interspersed with the permanent collection of traditional European art. The artist was the sculptor Urs Fishher, and I had mixed feelings about the exhibition, which was installed both in the French neoclassical courtyard dominated by Rodin’s iconic  TheThinker, and inside, amid the works of Rubens, Rembrandt, Poussin, and other dead white males of lesser note.

 It’s at http://www.visualartsource.com/index.php?page=editorial&aID=4169.

The current sculpture show, entitled Good Muse, by Sarah Lucas, is stylistically similar, hip and ironic, apparently geared toward attracting younger viewers unable or unwilling to confront the boring, passé art of politically incorrect creators. While Fischer achieved a certain piquant charm by juxtaposing his large bronze casts of amateurish clay sculptures with the columns and courtyard, and Rodin’s pensive colossus, Lucas’s soft figurative sculptures merely disrupt whatever contemplative atmosphere may remain in the museum in this year 100 or so of Our Duchamp.

But first, a quick tour d’horizon. A large pair of women’s boots cast in concrete, Jubilee, stands at the center of the foyer gallery, with its permanent Rodin residents now flanked by translucent cast-resin toilets placed atop small refrigerators and pedestals. The visual discontinuity is enough, but the pretentious banality of the curatorial notes is in my opinion excruciating. Jubilee is presented as a contemporary riposte to Rodin’s Gates of Hell (placed, as it is, amid details from that monumental work): the material, we’re told, conjures up the cement boots of gangster lore, “and thus aligns a woman’s sexual power with ... renegade violence.” The seven Floppy Toilet works, cast in urine yellow, and seemingly melting or dissolving, “serve as a reminder of our servitude to the biological needs of our bodies,” with their “unexpected and often comical grace ... contradict[ing] their scatological implications in favor of more existential considerations.” Two abject, dolllike sculptures made from tights stuffed with cotton fluff, and entitled Tit Teddy (Gates of Hell), are ignominiously placed atop the pedestal for Rodin’s The Three Shades, while two similar stuffed-tights figures, sit in adjacent galleries. Titti Doris, a cluster of balloonlike breasts with long spindly legs but no torso, arms or head, slumps in a chair, “a fertility goddess wrapped up in the insecurities of a little girl.” Washing Machine Fried Egg, a pair of flaccid legs surmounted by sunny-side-up eggs for breasts, “simultaneously iterates and lampoons the patriarchal idea that a woman’s purpose is ... serving a husband’s sexual appetites and domestic needs.” The monumentally ithyphallic Innamemorabiliumumbum “combines the iconic tropes of the reclining odalisque or harem girl with that of the predatory satyr eternally ready and on the hunt for love.”

Even more appalling is a trio of nude female figures, truncated at the waist and sprawling or reclining suggestively. Cast from life in white plaster, they derive from the Greco-Roman marble-statue tradition, but they’re the anithesis of classical dignity and gravitas: the supine Margot has a cigarette inserted in her anus; the sitting Pauline has one in her buttocks; the prone Michele, legs spread, has a cigarette placed in her vagina. The explanatory labels discuss female exploitation and empowerment—you go, girl, victim!—but how can any self-respecting woman, especially an enlightened, educated one,  see these as anything but deeply offensive and, yes, misogynistic? To be fair, Lucas trashes the male gender as well, as we’ve seen, but are people really as contemptible and mindless as portrayed here? (Rodin’s portrait of Camillle Claudel and hers of him stand, by the way, near the entrance to the toilet-rich gallery.) The classic tradition, with Rodin as its Romantic culmination, often ennobled man, and we live in an antiheroic and sometimes misanthropic age—for out anthropogenic sins?— but it was also cognizant of madness and tragedy, none of which is on display here.

These two shows, Fischer and Lucas, purport to honor the work of Rodin. Want to do that, for real? Tolle et lege (take up and read): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Burghers_of_Calais

(Reprinted from VisualArtSource.com)
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1190047 2017-09-09T23:42:34Z 2017-09-09T23:42:34Z Jessica Hess "Less is More" at Hashimoto Contemporary, San Francisco (reprinted from VisualArSource.com)


JESSICA HESS: Less is More
Hashimoto Contemporary

The San Francisco painter Jessica Hess, who mixes a realist vision, photorealist technique and a bent for conceptualism and even social comment, is back, with fifteen new hyperrealist works depicting slices of architectural life of urban America, from New England to Alameda, and from Portland to Detroit.  Her decidedly unglamorous views of dilapidated or graffiti-enhanced buildings attain a kind of poeticization of the everyday and banal —what most of us walk right past and overlook—but without politics or pathos: most exude a kind of wry humor, delight in the idiosyncratic, an attitude that one associates more with Pop art than with visually punctilious photorealism, which tends to glorify and memorialize its subjects. Hess’s use of photographs is actually closer to David Hockney’s multiple-perspective Polaroids than to the measured classicism of, say, Robert Bechtle’s views of suburban California.

Hess shoots up to a hundred photos of each site and constructs from the 4x6 prints a collage, altering color and even weather and time of day to suit the direction that evolves during the painting process. If her previous show, More is More, in 2015, focused on capturing the abstractions that graffiti glut could create on abandoned buildings’ walls, Less is More (with its implicit reference to the functional Bauhaus architecture, sans ornament, of Mies van der Rohe) examines the mostly unadorned structure—except for the “buff” painting made by building managers covering up graffiti with irregular rectangles of tan and gray paint, suggesting Hans Hofmann canvases with the saturation levels nearly zeroed out. Hess: “I love weathered surfaces, faded colors, decay. The older I get, the more I appreciate subtlety.”—DeWitt Cheng

 

 




 

 
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1189547 2017-09-07T19:20:58Z 2017-09-07T19:20:58Z Christian Maychack's "Reciprocals" at Gregory Lind Gallery, San Francisco (reprinted from Artillery magazine)

CHRISTIAN MAYCHACK: Reciprocals
Gregory Lind Gallery
By DeWitt Cheng

In Kafka’s “The Cares of a Family Man,” we meet a small, strange creature lurking on the narrator’s stairway and in his foyer. No animal, but a spool affixed to wooden crosspieces, trailing bits of thread, it’s a “broken-down remnant” composed of scraps, an animated bricolage. When asked its name, it stops rolling, and replies, in a voice “like the rustling of fallen leaves,” Odradek.

Some of Kafka’s absurdist humor—gentler in this story than elsewhere—informs Christian Maychack’s mixed-media artworks. The artist combines painting, sculpture and installation into bricolages that seem almost animate, and playfully subversive. Maychack studied art in the San Francisco Bay Area, and absorbed its traditions of assemblage, trompe-l’oeil illusionism, and personal mythology; but also the post-minimalist interest in imbuing emotion and presence into abstract structures; he cites the personal, idiosyncratic work of Jessica Stockholder and Martin Puryear as major influences. While working as an art installer and preparator, Maychack began using the skills and materials from that job to go beyond traditional painting and printmaking. One might describe his weirdly humorous works as a quest to “re-enchant” art (to use the term employed in 1991 by the then-disenchanted art critic Suzi Gablik), although the work achieves its effects abstractly, through the interplay of wood, steel, and pigmented epoxy clay.

“Reciprocals,” Maychack’s fourth show at Gregory Lind, comprises eleven assemblages, all from 2017: nine wall-hanging reliefs, with two small sculptures mounted on pedestals. They’re small- to medium-sized, but charged with energy and humor, reflecting the artist’s interest in interchange and interchangeability “between painting and sculpture, front and back, an object and its surroundings, etc.... I often use color to create moments of seeming flatness. Pastels and tinted whites interact with negative space, the pieces’ irregular shapes, along with shadows and the whiteness of the wall, to create a disoriented object.” That phrase may suggest Harold Rosenberg’s term, the ‘anxious object,’ used to describe the experimental works that came after Abstract Expressionism’s existential drama, but did not denote work deliberately provoking viewer anxiety. Rosenberg imagines the works pondering, “Am I a masterpiece, or an assemblage of junk?”

Well, maybe both, such is the dichotomous magic of art. Eight of the works—untitled, but numbered—belong to Maychack’s Compound Flats series, begun in 2011, all employing pigmented epoxy clay pressed into the apertures of chair caning, like fossils in a clay matrix. Some viewers saw the clay-embedded caning as photographic, so the pieces had a provocative ambiguity. (Art history mavens will remember that one of Picasso’s 1912 Cubist still lives employed a printed textile of chair caning to similarly playfully discombobulating ends.) The new works forgo the chair caning but without loss of complexity. Compound Flat #62 is composed of a rectangle and triangle fashioned from wooden sticks suggestive of stretcher bars that have been combined or superimposed; ridges and fields of red, gray and whitish epoxy clay transform this patched scaffolding into deconstructed painting; Manolo Valdes’ heavily impastoed (and faceless) takes on Renaissance portraiture come to mind. Compound Flat 50, 52, 59, and 58 (subtitled Pink Dropout) are based on stacked double rectangles, suggesting open sash windows—or, again, stretcher bars—divested of their glass or canvas, with swaths of fabric (actually pigmented epoxy) inserted into the mechanisms, holding them in place, or together; the window idea is borrowed, of course, from traditional painting. Perpetual Climber and Compound Flat 60 deviate further from rectangularity into idiosyncratic shapes that perfectly balance the centrifugal, expansive  accidents of the creative process with the centripetal, contractile shaping of the organizing aesthetic sensibility.

 

 

 

 

 
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1187150 2017-08-28T22:12:03Z 2017-08-28T22:12:03Z Claire Colette Re-Enchants Geometric Abstraction at Johansson Projects

Claire Colette Re-Enchants Geometric Abstraction at Johansson Projects
(reprinted from East Bay Monthly, September 2017)

Geometric abstraction is usually considered to have originated in the United States in the 1960s, with innovative painters like Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland, Lawrence Poons, Ellsworth Kelly and others, whose ostensibly took the modernist painting to its logical conclusions. Perhaps the art-critic and prophet of that era’s formalist analysis, Clement Greenberg, was unaware of it, but geometric abstraction actually originated a half century before, in Europe—with Kasimir Malevich’s revolutionary Suprematism, and it was anything but an exercise in formalist pure visual aesthetics. Malevich was utopian without reservations or embarrassment, a Christian mystic from the Ukraine who found in the black square (a motif which adorns his grave) an icon for a new age; Mondrian, similarly, now known for his primary-colored stripes, was deeply influenced by Theosophy, the alternative religion of disaffected fin-de-siècle intellectuals.

 Claire Colette’s abstractions in Monument Eternal continue this lineage of spiritual abstraction. The show’s title is borrowed from Franya Berkman’s creative and spiritual biography of Alice Coltrane (the wife of John Coltrane in the 1960s), a brilliant musician and composer who fused gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz, bebop, Hindu devotional hymns and European classical music, and, as Swamini Turiya Sangitananda, performed with other musicians pursuing “spiritual aesthetics.” Colette’s paintings depict the sacred architecture and the creation myths of various cultures, along with the astronomical phenomena studied throughout human history, but they’re filtered though a minimalist, modernist sensibility. Without titles like The End is the Beginning, or The First Hour of the World, or Adityas, referring to the offspring of Aditi, mother of the Hindu gods, one might not discern the spiritual dimension, still problematic for those raised on the outworn creed of dogmatic materialism yet capable of suspending considerable disbelief in art, fashion and politics. Monument Eternal runs through October 28. Reception Saturday, September 9, 3-5pm. Johansson Projects, 2300 Broadway at 23rd Street, Oakland; open Thursday through Saturday 1-5 and by appointment, (510) 444-9140; johanssonprojects.com. —DeWitt Cheng

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1185796 2017-08-22T21:35:07Z 2017-08-22T22:01:10Z Fall Picks 2017 (reprinted from Oakland and Alameda magazines, September 2017)

STATE OF THE ARTS

Garry Knox Bennett at Transmission Gallery, 770 West Grand Avenue, Oakland, www.thetransmissiongallery.com. Oakland’s master of witty and immaculately fabricated art furniture (including hippie-era Art Nouveau-ish roach clips) returns to the East Bay gallery scene, twelve years after his 2005 Oakland Museum show at the large lobby at 555 12th Street. Details on the show are sketchy at the moment, and might includes lights and lamps, but however things evolve, the show, which might include chairs, desks, clocks and tables, will be amazing, delightful, and a testament to old-school craftsmanship, freewheeling imagination and irrepressible humor. Bennett: “Some people call me an artist. It’s flattering, but I’m not. I have friends that are artists, but I’m a damn good furniture maker.” Reception Friday, December 1, 6-9pm. December 1 - January 20.


About Abstraction: Bay Area Women Painters at Bedford Gallery, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. www.bedfordgallery.org. The recent regressive turn in American politics points up the fact that the social progress many of us foolishly took for granted was never safe from attack. It’s no surprise, either, that women artists are still under-represented; some change has taken place since the 1970s, but too little, and too late. Still, shows like this one, focusing on local living artists who happen to be abstractionists—and women, Reg!—are valuable in keeping things moving forward. The seventeen painters are Lorene Anderson, Eva Bovenzi, Donna Brookman, Heather Day, Amy Ellingson, Linda Geary, Rebekah Goldstein, Danielle Lawrence, Naomie Kremer, Michelle Mansour, Alicia McCarthy, Mel Prest, Cornelia Schulz, Ema Sintamarian, Michele Theberge, and Canan Tolon. September 24 - December 17.


August Muth: Tactile Radiance at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary, 480 23rd Street, Oakland, www.chandracerritocontemporary.com. Muth is a Santa-Fe-based artist who has been working with holograms, those three-dimensional projections (now familiar from Star Wars and other movies) for thirty years. He creates his own works (with a proprietary emulsion) as well as assisting other artists; the James Turrell holograms shown recently at Pace Gallery in Palo Alto are collaborations, I presume. Muth’s holograms convey not desperate appeals to Jedi knights, but geometric forms floating in color fields, hovering almost tangibly in the viewer’s space. Muth considers light to be a tactile medium, and these holograms are not illusions, but “photonic truth.... Through my work, I strive to record with precision the perceptible light-space-time phenomena.  As these three elements intertwine, a three-dimensional topography of pure light is formed, revealing a window into the elusive realms of the light-space-time paradox.  Luminous veils of light invite the viewer into a multi-dimensional journey.... Light is the faithful archivist of time.” First Friday reception, September 1, 6-8pm. August 4 - September 28.


Earth, Wind and Fire at Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Avenue, Richmond, www.richmondartcenter.org. Remember when postmodernist art theory declared nature dead a decade ago, and long live culture? It’s not worked out exactly as we in the fact-based universe would have hoped, but maybe the sullen kid at the G-20 meeting in Hamburg will take a hike.  This show, Earth, Wind, and Fire, explored the reality of our place in the natural world through the artifice of — art, made by the social landscape (for lack of a better term) painter Chester Arnold, the conceptual artist Paul Kos, the figurative glass sculptor Clifford Rainey, and the painter Abel Rodriguez, a member of Colombia’s Nonuya people, now in exile, who shares his intimate knowledge of the Amazon ecosystem entirely from memory: "I had never drawn before, I barely knew how to write, but I had a whole world in my mind asking me to picture the plants.” Reception Saturday, September 9, 5-7pm (probably). September 12 - November 18. —DeWitt Cheng

 

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1185012 2017-08-19T21:43:04Z 2017-08-19T22:31:59Z Chad Hasegawa: Wall Colorings @ Andrea Schwartz (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com)

Chad Hasegawa
Andrea Schwartz Gallery, San Francisco, California  
Recommendation by DeWitt Cheng  
Continuing through August 31, 2017

The San Francisco satirist Ambrose Bierce defined painting as “the art of protecting flat surface from the weather and exposing them to the critic.” San Franciscan Chad Hasegawa, known for his mural work, has created a body of abstract paintings on canvas that focuses on the issues of working outside (although, curiously, there is no mention of exposure to sidewalk critics): i.e., dealing with “wind, dust, and all angles of direct sunlight of all hours of the day.” Hasegawa aims for long-term survival “as if [the works] were outside in heavy conditions” — as well as for the immediate visual impact necessary for the street. 

These large latex (“bucket paint”) and acrylic works, with their geometric shapes, eccentric and sometimes complex, suggesting three dimensions; their taped edges; and their textured paint, are monumental, in accordance with the artist’s admiration for the abstract expressionists Franz Kline, Phillip Guston, Joan Mitchell and Robert Motherwell; yet they’re also personal, befitting their inspiration in the traditional quilts of the artist’s native Hawaii, where these handmade objects are regarded as serious artifacts (as some of us continue to regard paintings). Hasegawa’s palette derives from the “royalty colors” of Hawaiian kings and queens, as do his high-contrast graphic compositions, which derive not from the natural world, as do traditional quilts, but today’s cultural world, and personal associations. Four small paintings, “Kahuku,” “Waianae,” “Haleiwa” and “Kapo Lei,” aligned vertically, constitute a symbolic map of four districts of Honolulu. The large works from the "Lean On & Against" series exemplify Hasegawa’s aesthetic of harmony through contrast, of painterly intuition layered into dynamic equipoise.


]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1183856 2017-08-15T13:33:32Z 2017-08-15T16:48:39Z Beth Fein. When Words Fail," at Transmission Gallery, Oakland (until Sept. 26)



Beth Fein: When Words Fail

Last year, Beth Fein—then a resident artist at Women’s Studio Workshop, in New York—created, during that particularly heated election season, “When Words Fail Me,” a mixed-media work composed of pyramids printed with typographical fragments that are mounted magnetically to a galvanized steel sheet; the pyramids suggest word fragments, but their message indecipherable and, since the pieces can be moved, random, indicative of the artist’s desire “not to make more words.” In a recent interview, Fein criticized the plethora of fake news and alternative facts in our current national discourse: “Words aren’t working.” At such times, art, including abstraction, can provide an alternative commentary. The artist’s work both as a dancer and creator of dances and as a multimedia artist working in prints, sculptures and installations investigates how movement and flow combine in art and life: in the real time and real space of dance; and in artworks dealing with impermanence and metamorphosis both thematically and, in the case of open-ended works with multiple configurations, literally. Fein embraces experimentation and chance: growing up in the New York, she absorbed the expansive ideas of 1960s avant-gardism: “I have this John Cage influence about chance and choice. It is a way of looking at our lives—responding to chance and making choices. It is a balancing act.”

Fein balances impulses that are inherently in conflict: a conceptual, abstract approach to subject matter and a curiosity about the possibilities of materials. Included in When Words Fail are sculptural installations and mixed-media sculptures from her Voices Project that ironically both subvert and assert the power of language.

The installation, “Around Again,” is composed of thirty-six circular eight-inch discs of paper, suspended and seemingly floating, mid-air, like water lilies. The discs are printed in color on both sides, from deep red or black lightening gradually to white, so they suggest (using a symbolic, non-naturalistic palette) the daily solar cycle as well as the monthly lunar cycle. In past performances, dancers moved between the discs, gently displacing them and causing them to oscillate gently before returning to a new equilibrium. “Betrayed,” from several years ago, featuring printed cones suggesting teeth or stalagmites, indicts the pursuit of money and power, carried, in the absence of moderating influences, to toxic or even self-destructive levels.

Two printed sculptures combine traditional woodblock and letterpress printing with modular compositional structures, reflecting the distortions of advertising, political slogans, and other forms of official persuasion.  Conjunctio means, in Latin, the marriage of opposites; in alchemical lore, it refers to the ‘marriages’ or conjunctions between cosmic pairs of opposites: the active, masculine, sulfurous principle symbolized by the sun, Sol, and its complement, the passive, feminine, mercurial principle symbolized by the moon, Luna; in psychology, it refers to psychic balance between the self and others, making possible “three dimensional relationships [devoid of ego illusions] in the real world.” Fein’s “Conjunctio (Marriage of Opposites)” is a set of eight-inch-square prints placed upright in a radial configuration on a semicircular wooden rack.  Six abstract images in black on white (woodblock) are placed back to back with their negative images in white on black (photopolymer letterpress). Alternating with these are seven woodblock prints of the words chance, change, choice, yang and yin; square cutout windows afford views of the abstract images, which suggest hieroglyphic symbols or pictorial road signage.  The pieces can be rotated into different orientations, and the sequence, too, can be altered, making this work a kind of philosophical game board.  Fein’s pendant wall piece, “Conjunctio II (Marriage of Opposites),” arranges sixteen eight-inch square woodblock prints, eight in black on white, eight in white on black, within a 4x4 grid that suggests, again, a game board, a tray of movable type, or a manuscript; the sequence of verbal units, or morphemes, can be altered, creating different implied ‘messages,’ Fein’s comment on the slippery meanings of contemporary Newspeak. (In 2016, Fein sent prints from a similar series to pairs of opposite personalities: to Michelle Obama and Roger Ailes, of Fox News; and to Pope Francis and Donald Trump.)

The large wooden wall relief accompanying these abstract images, “Speak Truth to Power,” echoes the words of activist Kerry Kennedy, addressing the Center for Justice and Accountability on various civil-rights abuses; and, further back in history, the mandate of eighteenth-century Quakers. Fein creates a kind of international monument or manuscript, laser-cutting the dictum, translated into twenty-four languages, into a stele-like panel honoring “those who have had the courage to speak out,” with the letters emerging from the matrix and fallen and scattered, below.

Words can fail, if we abuse rational discourse; but, imbued with meaning and urgency, they can also succeed. The same holds for images. In 1861, as the Civil War began, the landscapist Frederic E. Church painted “Our Banner in the Sky,” a small oil at San Francisco’s de Young Museum depicting a spectral Stars and Stripes waving from a bare tree, stripped of its foliage by shot and shell. The stripes merge with the red clouds of sunset; the stars dissolve into the deepening night sky.  Fein’s new version of the American flag, “Distressed,” is on white silk, with the edges unraveling, the stars replaced by printed eyes, and the red and blue leached from the flag, and fallen to the ground; the flag’s familiar pattern are printed upside-down, denoting (United States Flag Code, Title 4, Chapter 1) “dire distress ... [and] extreme danger to life or property.”—DeWitt Cheng






 
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1183845 2017-08-15T12:55:53Z 2017-08-15T12:55:55Z Trudy Myrrh Reagan retrospective at Peninsula Museum of Art
Trudy Myrrh Reagan
Physical/Metaphysical: Mixed Media Works

Science, the patterns found in nature, and sociopolitical commentary have been the abiding concerns to Palo Alto artist Gertrude Myrrh Reagan for fifty years. The Peninsula Museum of Art is proud to exhibit a small selection from her varied oeuvre. Reagan, who grew up as the daughter of a geologist, and married a physicist, shows that visual art can be a compelling and beautiful way to explore scientific phenomena from biology, geology, botany, anatomy, mathematics, physics, and even philosophy and metaphysics. She has been active in bringing together “the two cultures” of art and science, founding, in 1981, YLEM: Artists Using Science and Technology, which served as a forum for the then developing field of computer graphics. Reagan is also a reader of sacred texts from both eastern and western cultures, and her artistic practice (which has a political component, represented in the show by a pair of satirical drawings) informed by Quaker and Buddhist teachings. Sadly, the breadth of Reagan’s career can be represented only with twenty-five paintings, drawings and sculptures, but her website (www.myrrh-art.com) is a rich resource for those interested in further pursuing the  connections between science and art.

Among the show’s treasures is a sizeable selection from Reagan’s Essential Mysteries series, developed over almost two decades (and available as digital prints); these abstract paintings in acrylic paint on large (45”-diameter) plexiglas discs zoom spectacularly from the microscopically small to the cosmically large, from subatomic particles to galaxies, affirming the aesthetic beauty of the laws of science, and warning us of the dangers of transgressing beyond natural limits.  “The World of Small and Large,” “Energy Becomes Matter,” “Life Creates,” “Intertwingled,” a portmanteau word combining intertwined and mingled,  and “Catastrophe” might almost sum up the human adventure on earth., not forgetting our cultural contributions, nicely intertwingled in “Brains Imagine,” a depiction of the brain’s convoluted twin lobes, composed of Michelangelo nudes—the universe inside our heads, externalized as art. 

Also shown are works from Reagan’s Patterns in Nature series, spanning more than three decades, exploring how physical laws generate aesthetically pleasing form in geological landscapes, in the veins of leaves or insect wings, and acoustically generated wave patterns; and exploring collage, batik, and even traditional realist landscape painting. — DeWitt Cheng

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1183043 2017-08-12T19:35:16Z 2017-08-12T19:35:16Z A new Book Captures the Legendary Art Curator Walter Hopps in His Own Words (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com, August 4, 2017)

Editors' Roundtable
by DeWitt Cheng

Some years ago I became aware of the art curator extraordinaire Walter Hopps. He was the subject of Ed Kienholz's affectionate assemblage portrait of 1960 (now in the Lannan Collection, Los Angeles), "Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps" which captures his dual aspects: the mild-mannered, bespectacled scholar, Clark Kent, and the indefatigable (if often drug-enhanced) Art Superman. Then there is the art pusher, opening his overcoat to display avant garde wares such as deKooning postcards. Hopps was in fact not much of a salesman, more an enthusiast and champion. By his own estimation, he was a guy who found a painting in a cave and held up the illuminating torch. 

Hopps' role in developing the Los Angeles art world of the 1960s as gallerist, curator and tireless proselytizer is well detailed in Morgan Neville's excellent documentary "The Cool School" (2008), narrated by Dennis Hopper. In 2015, Robert Berman E-6 Gallery in San Francisco replicated the famous 1963 Marcel Duchamp Pasadena Museum of Art show that had been curated by the then thirty-one-year-old Hopps, a show that would have massive repercussions in the art world. One of the photos by Julilan Wasser depicts the curator and artist playing chess; it's not as memorable as the shot of Duchamp playing chess with a nude Eve Babitz, but reflective of Hopps' rapport with and unwavering support for interesting artists. 

When Hopps died, in 2005 of pneumonia at age seventy-two (while in L.A. to see a George Herms retrospective), it was as if an era had passed. Paul Richard of The Washington Post ("Walter Hopps, Museum Man With a Talent For Talent") wrote: "Most museum men are smooth. Walter Hopps wasn't. He was sort of a gonzo museum director — elusive, unpredictable, outlandish in his range, jagged in his vision, heedless of rules. That's if you could find him, which wasn't always easy. But Hopps, who died Sunday in Los Angeles at the age of 72, had a peculiar gift. He found artists, wonderful artists, and he found them first." 

The roster of artists that Hopps showed in a hundred exhibitions over forty years at galleries (notably his Syndell Studio, and his and Kienholz's Ferus, both in L.A.), museums (Pasadena Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery, Smithsonian National Collection of Fine Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Menil Collection) and in other venues (São Paulo Biennial, Venice Biennale) is astonishing. To name just a few: John Altoon, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Wallace Berman, Llyn Foulkes, Robert Irwin, Ken Price, Ed Ruscha, Richard Diebenkorn, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Frank Lobdell, Roy DeForest, Jay De Feo, Bruce Conner, George Herms, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, Ellsworth Kelly, Yves Klein, Wayne Thiebaud, Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, Max Ernst and Robert Crumb. I could go on. 

If Spinoza was a "Gott betrunkener Mensch," a man drunk with God, Hopps was, Hopps was, after his epiphany following a high school encounter with the modern art collection of Walter and Louise Arensberg, the pluperfect "Kunst betrunkener Mensch." Substitute art for God. Paul Richard again: "Hours, sometimes days, would pass before one heard his low, rich voice, often on the telephone in the middle of the night. It was always worth the wait. He was the best art talker I have ever heard. His speech was like a Jackson Pollock drip painting, swooping, swelling, doubling back. He mesmerized. He taught." Yet little of that mesmerizing talk survived — until now. A few years before his death, Hopps taped a hundred hours of interviews with artist, critic and editor Anne Doran; those interviews have been edited by The New Yorker Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman, who had known Hopps for years, into "The Dream Colony: A Life in Art," just published. 

I attended a reading in late June at City Lights Books, in San Francisco, with its bohemian, free-speech history, a singularly appropriate venue for such an iconoclast. (Digression: Hopps had seen the paintings by City Liights' founder, the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in the 9 Mission Street warehouse during the late 1940s, as a teenage cultural tourist.) While organizing that quantity of recording must have been a herculean task, Treisman notes that Hopps, who seems to have never forgotten anything, was an accomplished and practiced storyteller and lecturer. Some of his anecdotes had been clearly polished by repetition into memorable prose. Whatever the degree of editorial reshaping, the book reads smoothly and conversationally, detailing the adventures and passions of a remarkable eye and intellect driven by passion and imbued with so little of the bureaucratic spirit — the San Francisco art critic Mark Van Proyen calls it art administrativism — prevalent today that Corcoran Gallery colleagues made gentle fun of his perpetual tardiness with a pin reading, "Walter Hopps will be here in 20 minutes." Hopps' story makes for welcome reading in our current floundering art scene, with its aesthetic claims and counter-claims, and, always at our back, the wingèd chariots of money, power, glamor and fashion. 

Ed Ruscha, in his introduction to the volume: "There was such vitality to the things he said. He had the ability to rhapsodize ... He didn't just talk about famous artists and preach their success, He talked about artists who were obscure, oddballs who were out in the sticks, not necessarily accepted by the mainstream of the art world ... the dust bunnies. He was very catholic in his tastes, and he had real respect for every bit of it." Hopps' memoir would make a fine one-person stage show (with slides), or perhaps the serious, passionate, funny movie about art and artists that we've all been waiting for. But the book, almost universally praised, will probably have been better.



]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1183041 2017-08-12T19:27:13Z 2017-08-12T19:27:13Z Richard Misrach, "The Writing on the Wall," Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco




Richard Misrach,  "The Writing on the Wall," Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
(published in  fttp://www.visualartsource.com/index.php?page=editorial&pcID=17&aID=4211 without the intro paragraph on Bible lore)

RICHARD MISRACH: The Writing On The Wall

Fraenkel Gallery

‘The writing on the wall’ refers to the story in the Book of Daniel of the end of the reign of the Babylonian king Belshazzar (son of Nebuchadnezzar, conqueror and enslaver of the Israelites during the Babylonian Captivity) in 539BC. Belshazzar is interrupted at his impious feast by a terrifying disembodied hand writing fiery letters on the palace wall. Mene mene tekel upharsin is decrypted by the Jewish sage Daniel as a warning that Belshazzar’s reign has been divinely weighed and found wanting, and is thus forfeit, and prophecy is verified that very night when the kingdom is overthrown by the Medes. The story is the subject of religious, moralizing paintings by Rembrandt (1635), Washington Allston (1817) and John Martin (1821).

Richard Misrach, who has been documenting the environmental damage of America’s capitalist culture for decades—“these cultural manifestations in the natural landscape, ... the collision between nature and civilization”—may not be assuming the role of prophetic doomsayer per se, but the signs of incipient collapse are there for anyone to see and decipher: the government environmental-damage report asserting that climate change is real, leaked on Wednesday in order to evade death by redaction; and, of course the ongoing comic tragedy and tragic comedy in Washington. Misrach began working on this series of ruined houses in the American Southwest bedecked with anonymous graffiti during election year, and found in the swastikas and racist comments (as well as some rejoinder a compelling record of “the dystopian side of the American dream” now familiar to everyone: desperation, despair and vicious scapegoating. Misrach: “These are the hieroglyphics of our time.”

Five large photos depict abandoned houses seemingly invaded by malefic spirits. Swastika, Barstow, California presents three layers, or registers: the dry gray-brown dirt; the blue sky dotted with clouds; and, separating them, a beige wall of a building, with a sky-blue door decorated with a swastika. A similar tripartite composition structures “Trump Loves American People,” North of Reno, Nevada, with a crudely lettered. misspelled sign the only evidence of human presence. Shotgun practice, "he will return," Nevada shows a trio of cinder-clock walls crowned by rebar stems, with a crucified Jesus serving as target, all but obliterated by bullet craters, only his limbs still recognizable.

Also included are smaller-format graffiti shots taken with an iPhone, and grouped in clusters, from the Obama years: ‘premonitions’ (to use Misrach’s term) of the current culture war; and Tagged Boulders, Lucerne Valley, California, a thirty-two piece grid of medium-sized photos of rocks upon which messages have been written: $, thug life, We color the world! —DeWitt Cheng

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1180094 2017-08-03T13:47:27Z 2017-08-03T19:12:44Z Chris Antemann at Crocker Art Museum (reprinted from Artillery magazine, July 2017, http://artillerymag.com/chris-antemann)





CHRIS ANTEMANN: Forbidden Fruit

Crocker Art Museum

By DeWitt Cheng

The term forbidden fruit nowadays refers to mere guilty pleasures, but it once designated the fatal, tragic fruit of knowledge — knowledge of sex, or course, being a discovery that every generation makes defiantly, with mingled trepidation and delight. Chris Antemann’s Forbidden Fruit sculpture installation depicts that pleasure principle in action, minus moralizing; the tiny porcelain youngsters, dining and dallying, are charming and seductive, like Bosch’s naked figures in the central panel of his great triptych, but without a lost heaven or future hell waiting, so to speak, in the wings. Antemann wrote her master’s thesis on the porcelain figure tradition, and made figurines in the style for fifteen years before being offered, two years ago, the use of Meiseen’s facilities and skilled artisans, resulting in an inspired collaboration.

The Rococo art of the mid-eighteenth century, succeeding the religious dramas of the baroque era (e.g., Caravaggio) and preceding the political moralizing of the later neoclassic era (e.g., David, Ingres), is witty, decorative and aristocratic, and commonly associated today with the artifice and pomp of Louis XV’s court. If one later critic mocked its "jumble of shells, dragons, reeds, palm-trees and plants," we in the late capitalist era can accept and admire its light-hearted fantasy and fanciful profusion. The Rococo painters Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard depicted fêtes galantes, with costumed figures lounging and flirting in manicured gardens, often endowed with mythological or allegorical themes. Watteau’s Embarkation for Cythera (1717), a mythological land of love and youth, epitomizes the style and worldview.

Antemann updates the elaborate, symbolic dinner settings, or surtouts-de-table, created by Johann Joachim Kändler (1706-1775) for Ancien Régime festivities. At the center of the gallery—which is decorated with pink Rococo wallpaper, created digitally— sits, atop a large pedestal, Forbidden Fruit Dinner Party (2013), a multi-part installation. The central Love Temple ((2013), is a circular Roman temple or pavilion housing doll-like banqueters in various states of erotic abandon, the structure festooned with allegorical figures: three Graces and four personified seasons. Two flanking works, Tempted to Taste and Fruit of Knowledge (2014), depict pyramids of fruits associated with the Temptation—pomegranates from Asia; figs from Italy; and apples from western Europe. Surrounding the fruit pillars are four small sculptures, Pursuit of Love, Secluded Kiss, Coronation, and Love Letter (all 2013), based on paintings that Fragonard made for Louis XV’s mistress, tracing romantic passion from vernal urgency to autumnal nostalgia. Around this central feast table are related works: Covet, Trifle and A Taste of Paradise (all 2013); and A Strong Passion, Little Maid, Ambrosia, A Delicate Domain, and Chandelier (all 2014).

Antemann’s meticulous craftsmanship and obvious affection for this tradition make for an interesting commentary on our times, beset byf economic hardship and ruling-class denial: Apres moi, la déluge. In the wake of much postmodernist agitprop flattering today’s aristocrat colletors with ironic winks, Antemann’s elegant, humorous, girl-power updates of this pre-revolutionary tradition manage, improbably, to hit a cultural nerve. They may appear a mere spoonful of sugar, tiny cousins of Kara Walker’s gigantic sugar sphinx, but their subtlety and ambiguity are seductive, and, I would say, like Kändler’s fruits, which were once made from sugar but later metamorphosed into porcelain, more lasting.


 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1177934 2017-07-28T02:39:25Z 2017-07-28T02:39:25Z Charles Howard,abstract surrealist painter, at Berkeley Art Museum (reprinted from East Bay Monthly, August, 2017)



Charles Howard, abstract surrealist painter, at BAM

The Berkeley Art Museum looks back to the 1940s, when modernism was making its way to California, with a re-examination of the painter Charles Houghton Howard (1899-1978), who came from an illustrious family of Berkeley artists and architects. His father, the architect John Galen Howard, supervised the design for UC Berkeley’s campus; brothers Robert and John were renowned in sculpture and painting, respectively; and Robert’s wife, Adaline Kent, became a prominent sculptor. Howard, who was shown in New York in the 1930s with the likes of Man Ray and Joseph Cornell, along with the European Surrealists, deserves to be remembered nearly seven decades after his Legion of Honor exhibition. This large retrospective of some 75 drawings and paintings on canvas celebrates a local talent (Berkeley High School, class of 1917; UC Berkeley, class of 1920; 1940s Bay Area art star and shipyard worker) who contributed significantly to the modernist tradition.

Despite his famously artistic family, Howard was educated in journalism at UC, becoming a convert to art only after graduating, in a 1924 epiphany over a Giorgione painting in Venice. Moving between New York, London, and the Bay Area he absorbed a host of influences, developing his trademark style of complex geometric constructions or environments suggestive of stage sets, carefully designed and immaculately rendered, and brightly lighted or deeply shadowed, with caravaggesque drama and mystery. The ex-journalist described his paintings with deliberate ambiguity and bohemian understatement as “portraits of the same general subject, of the same idea, carried as far as I am able at the time.”  Elsewhere he characterized his work as “a balance between reasoned construction and free intuition.” Howard’s biomechanical forms—reminiscent of Mirò, Picabia, and Duchamp—always appear (despite their tendrils, whiskers and buds) designed for construction, and oddly palpable. A catalogue written by Curator Apsara diQuinzio and others, including artist Robert Gober, is available. A Margin of Chaos runs through October 1; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2120 Oxford Street, Berkeley, 510/642-0808; bampfa.org. DeWitt Cheng








]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1175151 2017-07-19T18:28:03Z 2017-07-19T18:28:04Z Stuart Davis "In Full Swing"at deYoung Museum, San Francisco, through August 6 (fromVisualArtSource.com) STUART DAVIS “In Full Swing”





 


"… realism doesn't merely include what one immediately sees with the eye at a given moment. One also relates it to past experience, … to feelings, ideas and … the totality of the awareness of it … By realism I don't mean realism in any photographic sense. Certainly not." — Stuart Davis 

San Francisco is fortunate this summer to host three exemplary museum shows: the young Claude Monet at the Legion of Honor; and, less heralded but no less important or inspiring, or revelatory, Stuart Davis at the de Young. Davis may be less well known than the others, but his dazzling work deserves the red carpet treatment, too. Donald Judd, not someone who might be suspected of maximalist tendencies, after seeing a Davis show, suggested that an appropriate reaction might be applause: "Stuart Davis has more to do with what the United States is like than Hopper." 

"In Full Swing" features some seventy-five of the artist's works, mostly oils on canvas, but also preparatory drawings and smaller paintings in gouache and casein. The show originated at the Whitney Museum last year, and is accompanied by an excellent short film tracing Davis's evolution from Ashcan-school street realism; through Cubism, which the artist encountered as an exhibiting young watercolorist at the famous 1913 Armory show, and in more concentrated form on a 1928 yearlong stay in Paris; to his mature style, dating from the 1930s, which derived from American-scene observation but transformed it utterly into joyous, electrifying visual music.  Davis's ebullient syncopations of bright colors and interlocking shapes are uniquely his own (despite occasional resemblances to Picasso, Matisse, Léger, and Miró). Peter Schjeldahl characterized Davis as "a polemicist and a happy warrior for modernity as the heart's blood of what he called, invoking the nation's definitive poet, the thing Whitman felt — and I too will express it in pictures — America — the wonderful place we live in.” 

     

Occupying several meandering galleries on the museum's second floor, the works are hung for the most part chronologically (although the careful viewer will need to look at dates, as the direction of pedestrian traffic flow is not always clear). Deviating from this progression are several groupings of paintings and drawings showing Davis brilliantly reworking themes, sometimes from decades past, like a musician riffing on old standards. Jazz was one of Davis' longtime passions, beginning in his youth, when, "hep to the jive," he frequented  the rough bars of Newark, and he continued to do so throughout his life.  

A playful but telling inscription from Duke Ellington in "American Painting" (1932/1942-54) makes this clear: "It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing." The painting also features stylized renderings of Davis and Federal Arts Project colleagues Willem deKooning, John Graham and Arshile Gorky. Gorky's cavalier attitude toward politics ended his friendship with Davis, who for a time abandoned painting for organizing, before becoming disgusted with lefty kowtowing to Stalin. Davis: "I took the business as seriously as the serious situation demanded and devoted much time to the organizational work. Gorky was less intense about it and still wanted to play."  Gorky, who killed himself in 1946, when the painting was yet unfinished, may be the figure who has been canceled out. 

     


If Davis' paintings are timeless, they are also historic windows into the art of the early twentieth century, combining aspects of Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, and, with their playful deployment of the everyday imagery of commercial America, Pop. To follow Davis' career is to recapitulate the phylogeny of American painting (except for Surrealism, which had no appeal to this son of artists, high-school dropout and student of real life). Davis died in 1964 at the age of seventy-one, of a stroke. His final, unfinished painting is here, still bearing the masking tape that he used to achieve the crisp lines that contrast so well with his pastry-chef paint surfaces. Its title, "Fin," or End, inspired by a French movie's final frame, is the last thing Davis painted.  

Holland Cotter wrote:  "What Davis got right was belief: the belief that he was doing the one sure, positive thing he could do, and that he would keep doing it, no matter what, in failure or success, in sickness or in health. That's the lesson young artists can take away from his show ..." In our faithless, feckless times, governed by academic learned helplessness and commercially induced moral slackness, these are lessons worth learning or relearning.—http://www.visualartsource.com/index.php?page=editorial&pcID=22&aID=4096



     
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1174512 2017-07-17T22:06:48Z 2017-07-17T22:06:49Z Ricardo Mazal @ Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery, San Francisco (from VisualArtSource.com)
 
Ricardo Mazal
Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery, San Francisco, California
Recommendation by DeWitt Cheng

Continuing through August 12, 2017

Ricardo Mazal, a Mexican painter now living in New York and Santa Fe, might be said to absorb the contradictory impulses of his environs: monochrome abstraction and a feeling for landscape. He combines photographic studies of sites that he has visited, many of them endowed with spiritual meaning, brought together through his love of the painting process and its materials. The spiritual element, given relatively little attention in the hurly-burly art world, lay at the center of Mazal’s 2013 show, "The Kora Dialogues." That show featured paintings inspired by the artist’s kora, or circumambulation, of Tibet’s sacred Mount Kailash, in the summer of 2009 (which included witnessing a rare traditional sky burial, in which the body of the deceased is ritually cut up and fed to scavengers).
Current works include oil on linen or oil on aluminum dibond paintings, which are rectangles of a single color or abutted rectangles of different single colors, reading as landscape and sky, all inflected with seismographic-looking ‘drawing’ made by applying and scraping paint with long foam-rubber blades scored at irregular intervals. If the method suggests Gerhard Richter’s high-key squeegee apocalypses, Mazal’s paintings, which suggest the strata exposed by land cuts are more subdued, suggesting a meditative calm and underlying the geologic formations and deformations.
These paintings are pure abstractions made graphically powerful with their swirling black and white ribbons and banners. The artist metaphorically examines the geology of high mountains. Inspired by high-contrast photographs of the escarpments, and directed to excellent spiritual ends, Mazal deploys painterly sedimentation to suggest the forces of mountain-building in layers of red, violet, blue, gray and white oil paint.
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1173544 2017-07-14T17:35:40Z 2017-07-14T17:35:42Z Urs Fisher and Art-show Mashup Trend at Legion of Honor (reprinted fromVisualArtSource.com



From time to time, articles appear, proclaiming the death of painting, or the death of art; both are, to use Mark Twain’s word, premature, and easily ignored. However, the strange state of American culture in the Trump era, with its worship of money and its mingled fear of and contempt for creative expression calls for occasional reflection. We have been living and working for the past four decades or so in what is termed the postmodernist era. Preceding that was the modernist revolt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, against a by-then debased Renaissance realism. To quote Wikipedia:

...its chief general characteristics are often thought to include an emphasis on "radical aesthetics, technical experimentation, spatial or rhythmic, rather than chronological form, [and] self-conscious reflexiveness" as well as the search for authenticity in human relations, abstraction in art, and utopian striving....

Postmodernism arose after World War II as a reaction to the perceived failings of modernism, whose radical artistic projects had come to be associated with totalitarianism or had been assimilated into mainstream culture.... Salient features of postmodernism are normally thought to include the ironic play with styles, citations and narrative levels, a metaphysical skepticism or nihilism towards a “grand narrative” of Western culture, a preference for the virtual at the expense of the real (or more accurately, a fundamental questioning of what 'the real' constitutes) and a “waning of affect” on the part of the subject, who is caught up in the free interplay of virtual, endlessly reproducible signs inducing a state of consciousness similar to schizophrenia.

George W. Bush’s administration touted ‘faith-based reality’ over old -fashioned ‘fact-based reality,’ so W was seen by some as the first postmodern president. ne could argue that today’s alt facts and fake news are now new, but legacies. Nowadays, we read increasingly, however, that PoMo itself is no more. The philosopher Daniel Dennett: Postmodernism, the school of 'thought' that proclaimed 'There are no truths, only interpretations' has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for 'conversations' in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster."

In the post-postmodernist age, we are invited to forsake the intellectual skepticism we imbibed in school (some of us) , the old-time irreligion, and to find new faith in ... something. Cultural critic Eric Gans posits a ‘post-millennialist’ rejection of politically correct ‘victimary thinking’ in favor of ‘non-victimary dialogue’ that will “diminish […] the amount of resentment in the world.” Alan Kirby, a British critic, is less sanguine assessing our current condition as ‘digimodernism or ‘pseudo-modernism’; he enumerates our faults: "In pseudo-modernism one phones, clicks, presses, surfs, chooses, moves, downloads," excoriating even —is nothing sacred?—"the drivel found […] on some Wikipedia pages.”

This confusion about the intersection of philosophy and aesthetics came to mind as I absorbed the current Urs Fischer show at the Legion of Honor.  Fischer is a skilled artist in the conceptual mode, i.e., intellectual and provocative , but not emotionally engaging  The museum is displaying two bodies of his work: large bronze sculptures made from amateur-artist clay models, dispersed in the entrance courtyard, surrounding Rodin’s Thinker; and mixed-media paintings and sculptures, installed at various points within the Legion’s traditional galleries, surrounded by Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical paintings, sculptures, and furniture. The juxtaposition of old and new is so striking that I went back twice to look. I can’t say that the mashup effect was entirely pleasant or, for that matter,  unpleasant; it did, however, reflect our current confusion about art’s meaning and how it is affected by context,  The exhibition, which celebrates the centenary of Rodin’s death, is a mixed bag.

 The Legion of Honor, you may recall, is a slightly reduced-scale replica, erected in 1924 on a hill overlooking scenic San Francisco Bay, of Pierre Rousseau’s 1782 neoclassical Palais de la Légion d'Honneur in Paris,  If the original Legion celebrates military valor or other meritorious service on behalf of the French nation, the San Francisco museum seems the very model of a traditional museum; its Greco-Roman architectural style (so often copied for banks and treasuries) connotes—unlike contemporary museums—stability, substance and endurance. A 1923 plaque mounted on the archway leading into the colonnaded courtyard commemorates “comradeship with the dead” of America’s  Great War, and Rodin’s Thinker seemingly broods over “Patrie et Honneur,” Country and Honor, engraved on the entrance pediment.

 Sixteen bronze sculptures made from clay models by amateur artists have been placed within this classical patriotic setting in what can be described only as, depending on your tastes, a genius coup de théâtre or a backhanded slap to patriotism and self-sacrifice, once considered virtues, but now regarded by most Americans, rightly or wrongly, with skepticism and even scorn. The juxtaposition between these lumpy antiheroic works and the classical columns surrounding the spacelike disciplined soldiers seems odd, but in a good way. Only steps away from George Segal’s Holocaust memorial, and encircling Rodin’s masterpiece, these bronze turds are inept, funny and weirdly endearing. Louis xiv is a sagging ornate throne; napoleon, a tricorn-hatted head perched atop a column of slumping mud; boy in chair depicts a enervated, splayed protagonist; man on pile is a comic version of the Greek hero Prometheus, awaiting his daily evisceration by eagle; pietà boasts a monstrous Madonna instead of the eternally young Queen of Heaven; and column two is a saggy, baggy architectural support member worthy of Dali, an ironic Ionic.

 Less fortuitous are the works installed within the museum — the aesthetic holy of holies—surrounded by familiar European masterworks. Here, the juxtapositions become jarring to anyone with affection for Old Master art or historic artifacts. Fischer’s oddball sculptures, mixtures of hardware-store fixtures and digital technology, are odd and eccentric, but not with the dopey, excremental appeal of the works outside. Invisible Mother, a partial skeleton lying in a chair, and irrigated by water run though a hose, looks, with its gold coins in the fountain, like a prop from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Fiction, a sculpture of a table with a few objects, vibrates, apparently (I did not notice), symbolizing “a mental state of blurriness,’ but there’s nothing tentative about the dramatic Dutch portraits and landscapes behind it.  Dazzled, a pair of large sculptures of disembodied eyes, is described as critiquing the artificiality of socially constructed ideals and objects; they look away from a trio of English portraits and toward a pair of Scottish ones, unseeing, unblinking. Kratz is a sculpture composed of a single bed filled with a disastrous amount gravel or cement and close to collapse; it is an intriguing piece, but the Rodin bronzes around it come from different worlds (despite the stone-like bases of some of the Rodins) and, like competing optical illusions, cannot be ‘seen’ simultaneously; they suffer from the poor chemistry

 I recently ran across the Japanese word tokonoma, an alcove dedicated to a single work of art. Artworks should be displayed either in isolation, to encourage contemplation, or in visual conversation with sympathetic works; pairing antithetical works should be avoided without very compelling reasons to do otherwise.

 

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1169204 2017-06-30T17:31:25Z 2017-06-30T17:31:26Z Collagist Irwin Kremen at Berkeley Art Museum

Collagist Irwin Kremen at Berkeley Art Museum

The genius-whiz-kid syndrome so dominates the world of contemporary art that exceptions to the rule are surprising and gratifying. The collages of Irwin Kremen, who began his five-decade career at age forty-one, in 1966, make a strong case for the unpredictability, even the anarchy, of the art impulse.

Kremen, a Duke University psychologist, had studied as an undergraduate at avant-garde Black Mountain College (Asheville NC), the American Bauhaus, boasting a unequaled roster of faculty and students: Josef and Anni Albers, John Cage, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Ben Shahn, and Peter Voulkos, among the teachers; Ruth Asawa, Stephen De Staebler, Ray Johnson, Kenneth Noland, Robert Rauschenberg, Dorothea Rockburne and Cy Twonbly, among the students. Kremer’s former writing teacher, the poet M.C. Richards, suggested that Kremen, who had frequented New York art circles before taking up psychology (incidentally, meeting Cage, who dedicated the score of 4’33” to him) try collage; and a later visit to Switzerland, with exposure to the works of Arp, Nicholson, Tobey and others, confirmed the artist, now ninety-two, on his path and vision. After twelve years of working in secret, Kremen was offered a show by the Smithsonian Instuitution.

The twenty-three collages on display, curated by BAM’s Lawrence Rinder, show Kremen working in the scavenging/recycling tradition of Kurt Schwitters and Robert Rauschenberg, transforming found elements into lyrical microcosms of precisely orchestrated color and texture. Kremen tears paper from old posters and flyers pasted to walls in locations ranging from Bruges, Belgium, to Berkeley. (Déchirage, tearing, was the name devised by the Surrealists for this aesthetic sampling.) He prizes papers marked by weathering: “I hunt out unduplicable papers, experienced papers, papers that have been in sun, in rain, in dust, in snows, covered with the dirt of the city.” Indecipherable fragments of writing punctuate the colors and textures of the papers, affixed to tiny hinges of Japanese paper, hinting at their past lives in the public realm of commerce before joining the Yeatsian “artifice of eternity.” Irwin Kremen / Matrix 265 runs until August 27. Berkeley Art Museum, 2155 Center Street, Berkeley (510) 642-0808; bampfa.org. —DeWitt Cheng

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1165420 2017-06-19T14:43:27Z 2017-06-19T14:43:27Z Terry St. John: Figures, Landscapes & Still Lifes: Six Decades of Painting at Dolby Chadwick Gallery, San Francisco (from VisualArtSource.com)



TERRY ST. JOHN: Figures, Landscapes & Still Lifes: Six Decades of Painting

Dolby Chadwick Gallery

 The huge crowds at SFMOMA’s Matisse and Diebenkorn show prove two things: that Bay Area Figuration (BAF) has an enduring appeal, and that, even in our deeply unserious culture, serious artists learn from serious artists, tribal elders whose work speaks across time. The painter Terry St. John has a long history in the BAF tradition, having studied informally in college with his friend James Weeks, a Diebenkorn student; and, after earning an MFA, going on to an illustrious career as painter, curator and educator. Frances Malcolm’s incisive catalogue essay quotes the artist: “Painting somehow gave me an opening to the future and a sense of hope ... it was salutary.”

 This career retrospective features thirty figure studies, landscapes and still lives, mostly in oil on canvas, cardboard or panel, but including eight figure studies made between 2012 and 2017 (during trips to Thailand) in ink wash on paper. St. John’s painterly, expressionist style will remind viewers of Diebenkorn and Weeks, but if Diebenkorn’s lyrical color and refulgent space owe a debt to Matisse, St. John’s heavy, simplified forms, at times almost obscured beneath his rugged, scumbled impastos and high-contrast lighting, suggest to my eye the monumental, archaic figures of Picasso’s Iberian period preceding the invention of Cubism. Thai Woman With Tuba (2016), Chiang Mai Balcony (2016), and Bupha By WIndow (2016), to name only three works, are beautiful paintings, but powerful and sculptural rather than pleasantly luxurious or chromatically melodious: Spanish duende rather than French delectation? In some pieces, you may descry other influences percolating into the creative mix: David Park in Solveig (2014); Guston and Rouault in Lanna Farm Woman (2015); Munch (whose influence can be seen in the landscapes) in the early Uncle George (1956). Don’t miss these wonderful landscapes and still lives: Studio Still Life, Berkeley (1985), Still Life/Studio (1978), View From Holy Cross Church, Santa Cruz I (1985), Berkeley Marina (2004), and the unassuming, delightful Berkeley DMV (2015). —DeWitt Cheng

 

 

 

 

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1165418 2017-06-19T14:36:12Z 2017-07-14T21:28:35Z Kaori Yamashita: "Remote Ancestors" at Bass & Reiner, San Francisco (from VisualArtSource.com)

KAORI YAMASHITA: Remote Ancestors at Bass & Reiner

 

Kaoti Yamashita’s ten sculptures in Remote Ancestors, delicate small to medium-sized structures of ceramics, tile, wood and mortar, take the form of scaffoldings based on quotidian real-world structures: walls, boxes, frames, vases or amphorae, maybe even architectural frameworks. If some of these handmade, untitled constructions recall Minimalist works by Sol Lewitt in their geometric, serial form, their apparent fragility suggests not abstract, timeless mathematics, but vulnerability and transient beauty. Mono no aware is a Japanese term for the pathos of things, or empathy toward things, which are all passing with infinitesimal slowness away (if we choose to look at things sub specie aeternitatis, in the perspective of cosmic time), with some, if one may editorialize, vanishing considerably faster than that—visibly.

 

One pyramidal floor-standing piece invokes architecture, but one quickly realizes that the walls and floors replicate the mortar holding bricks together; it’s as if the bricks had become invisible, or been removed, like the scaffolding beneath completed Roman arches. A trio of vases or vessels is made of mortar skeins as well, not in orderly formations, but in ramose cracks, as if a shattered vase had been glued together, and then the fragments had decayed, leaving only the repairs remaining, in an extrapolated or extreme version of kintsugi, the Japanese aesthetic tradition in which broken objects are repaired with precious metals. A small rocklike ceramic piece is joined by its skeletal double, Yamashita’s structures have a family similarity to postminimalist works by Eva Hesse and others that dramatize and anthropomorphize abstract form. There’s poetic feeling, here, and Zen philosophy about “the contingency of structures in daily life” and the “innate nothingness that persists through continuous change” (to quote the fine Post Brothers essay for a 2015 show in Berlin), for those who look for it. —DeWitt Cheng
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1165064 2017-06-18T15:27:10Z 2017-06-18T15:27:10Z Rex Ray: "We Are All Made of Light" at Gallery 16, San Francisco (from VisualArtSource.com)

REX RAY: We Are All Made of Light

Gallery 16

 The death of designer and collagist Rex Ray two years ago at age fifty-eight was a serious blow to the San Francisco art community. A prolific designer or rock-band posters (counting David Bowie and the Rolling Stones among his clients), flyers, T-shirts; supporter of the gay community; and collagist extraordinaire, possessed of seemingly infinite creativity and craftsmanship, Ray, with that wonderful alliterative nom de plume, was something of a one-man movement. He once declared himself “too feral for a real job” and symbolized for many, with his anomalous career the old freewheeling, bohemian San Francisco, now fading into legend. Fortunately, a great deal of his universally admired work survives. SFMOMA, which owns some forty works by him, just installed a small show, pairing his work with Paul Klee’s (a curatorial match that grates with us purists, but we magnanimously put that aside, yes, we do).

 A larger show, We Are All Made of Light, comprising some thirty works on canvas and paper, along with some archival prints, with one wall-filling work, “Wall of Sound” (1995-2000) comprised of five hundred page-sized individual collages—fills Gallery 16, a few blocks south of the museum. It’s an age of supposed democratization in the art world, where everyone is an artist (or at least everyone who pays art-school tuition), but some of us are clearly more equal than others. Gallery owner Griff Williams praised Ray as “the hardest-working artist I’ve ever met,” and the combination of dedication and talent shines from every work, from the large floral canvases, “Rosathoria,” “Lichina,” and “Clavaria,” with their stylistic hints of Aubrey Beardsley and Friedensriech Hundertwasser—and Spiro-Graph and Spin Art; to “RR 19” and ”Isidia,” baroque-hallucinatory Rorschach tests; to the psychedelic mandala of “Phaedoarubas,” which suggests the drug experience, as Fred Tomaselli’s collages do, but without the actual contraband: just painted, cut paper, exquisitely arranged and assembled. I could go on—“No. 2920,” “No. 3271,” “No. 3444,” “RR 145, ....  If people emit iight, through bio photons, as scientists postulate, artworks radiate, too.—DeWitt Cheng





A profile written for Art Ltd in January 2008 (http://artltdmag.com/2008/01/rex-ray/) follows:

If “he who dies with the best resume” is true, then Rex Ray has already won, and he’s only 51. The San Francisco designer has created a host of distinctive products for major corporate clients; he’s also a fine artist blessed with an enthusiastic fan base, gallery and museum shows around the world, and an upcoming coffee-table book. “Whether we like it or not, we live in a Rex Ray world,” wrote art critic David Bonetti in 1992. Considering the designer’s ubiquitous posters, note cards, rugs, T-shirts, and gourmet chocolates; and the artist’s plethora of collages, digital prints, and paintings on panel and canvas, that sounds like an understatement: it’s his galaxy.

Born in Germany to a military family, Michael Patterson took an early interest in art and design, which developed later in college in Colorado; he adopted his memorable nom de guerre Rex Ray (derived from 1950s Rexall Drugs appliances) while involved with mail art, in which handles were customary. In 1980 he moved to San Francisco with $50, sleeping on lawns or in his VW and showering at Aquatic Park until his Tower Records job allowed him to rent an apartment. Fired from Tower, he walked uphill to apply to the San Francisco Art Institute, where he received his BFA. Graduate work, though, was problematic: it was the height of the AIDs crisis, friends were dying, and Ray’s monochromatic abstract work found little support at critiques that seemed increasingly irrelevant, so he left school a few units shy of an MFA. Clerking at City Lights Bookstore while learning digital graphic design, he made contacts for book and music design work that brought him attention and acclaim. After starting his own company, he created posters and album/CD covers for The Residents, Santana, Joe Satriani, Diamanda Galás, Iggy Pop, and, most prominently, David Bowie, who has commissioned many works; he once boosted Ray’s credibility at Bill Graham Presents by asking an exec for the poster artist’s autograph. 

In 1997, Ray, who’d always considered himself “too feral to hold a real job,” found himself rebelling against the designerly strictures of his corporate success, “needing to do something very simple and relaxing, like knitting-something my hands could do without much thought-but employing a process uniquely my own. I had no agenda other than my own pleasure. So every evening I’d leave work by turning off the phones and computers and start cutting up magazines… I’d tumble my way through references to 20th-century Modernism, nature, the body, Fluxus, Surrealism, hard-edged abstraction, kitsch patterns, popular culture of the ’60s and ’70s, building a theme park of aesthetic liberation.”

The hundreds of collages on watercolor paper resulting from those quiet evenings have been joined by work in other media: medium-sized resin-covered collages on wood panel; archival digital prints; and large, kaleidoscopic, botanically themed collages on canvas- the tropics on psychotropics. Hand-painted paper and digitally printed patterns supplant the magazine cutouts in these larger works, but the exuberant playfulness and virtuoso execution remain: the swooningly graceful curve of one piece is picked up effortlessly in another, and figure and space dance a spirited minuet. Ray plays both trompe l’oeil and trompe l’esprit: the eye sees colors overlapping and creates space, and the mind creates metaphors from his exquisitely wrought ambiguities: eye and mind are fooled, and they adore it. While the blobby pseudopod shapes may draw inspiration from late Surrealism, the unmodeled color areas from Abstraction Expressionism, and the bright sensibility from Pop and the Pattern & Decoration movement, ultimately, these irresistibly witty abstractions seem, above all, formed and informed by the pleasure principle.

 

 

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1162804 2017-06-11T17:17:56Z 2017-06-11T18:48:52Z Art History vs Cultural Amnesia Matter (reprinted VisualArtSource.com editorial from 1/18/17)

 


Art History vs Cultural Amnesia

The end of an empire
Is messy at best
And this empire's ending
Like all the rest
Like the Spanish Armada
Adrift on the sea
We're adrift in the land of the brave
And the home of the free
Goodbye.
Goodbye.
Goodbye.
Goodbye.
—Excerpt from Randy Newman’s “A Few Words in Defense of America”
 
The January 2 death of the art critic and Renaissance man John Berger adds another painful tombstone to the art world’s death toll for 2016. Granted, I’m fudging with the calendar a little, but it really does seem that entropy is king in America these days, with rationality, perspective and respectful discourse at a low ebb.  Art, which used to provide a kind of ideal alt-universe to messy reality, no longer fulfills that adversarial function; it is now, no less than the political leadership, bereft of moral authority, just another arena for careerism and consumerism. See Michel Lind’s critique of the German Romantic idea of genius, now construed, in our no-authorities, no-standards celebrity age, as immunity to criticism (http://thesmartset.com/originality-versus-the-arts/).

Since the election, I’ve been taking my usual holiday reading/video break (when not following the news with grim, heartsick resolve). This December, I spent watched the Great Courses art history lectures of Professor William Kloss, an independent art historian affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. Kloss’s professorial demeanor, his drily humorous, courtly lecture style (”I thank you for your kind attention.”) and his encyclopedic knowledge lead me to recommend Kloss’s lectures—on European art from 800 to 2000, 17c Dutch painting, and Italian Renaissance art—to anyone planning a serious art-centric Grand Tour, or seeking a refresher from fake FoxKoch news. Iron butt a prerequisite.

 How do we foster both an informed electorate and an art audience immune to hucksterism? Noah Charney in “The art of learning: Why art history might be the most important subject you could study today” (http://tinyurl.com/jh4zmcr) questions the technical, market-based emphasis of contemporary education,that scants the liberal arts because, in this view, only STEM learning (i.e., Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) “makes money or increases power.” Charney disagrees, citing Berger’s 1972 book, Ways of Seeing, and the TV series adapted from it:

Berger … taught us how to unpack what we do see, to separate the wheat from the chaff, the truth from the fiction, and to uncloak hidden ideologies in visual images. For instance, the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) way in which women are objectified by everything from Renaissance paintings to contemporary TV ads. This could not be more relevant today, with messages, overt and covert, presented in speeches, the television news, promotional videos, body language (during televised presidential debates, for instance) and more. Our culture is far more barraged by images than Berger’s was in 1972, only heightening the relevance of his lessons (the main addition being that the images, these days, are moving and are consumed on laptops and phones).

Can the discipline of art history, commonly seen as frivolous, save the world? Even Barack Obama, one of the most cultured and thoughtful men ever to occupy the presidency, once mocked art history degrees as the epitome of impracticality. (He later apologized, after predictable pushback from powerful art-history lobbies.) But I would agree, with Charney and Berger, that those in the arts, who struggle every day with questions of presentation and illusion, have better BS detectors than those who scoff at fancy-pants degrees in ‘soft’ disciplines. (We artsters have other Achiles’ heels.) Let’s stop being amnesiacs, unthinking reeds bending to prevailing cultural winds.

Here’s an illustration. Goya, that consummate walker of political and artistic tightropes (matched only perhaps by his contemporary, J.L. David), revolutionary and counterrevolutionary, painted in 1800-1 a portrait of power that is now famous for its sly subvertion and mocking of its subjects. Charles IV of Spain and His Family, a huge work, presents thirteen members of the royal family, accompanied by the painter himself, standing at the canvas, in the shadows. Brightly illuminated and sumptuously dressed, the royal couple, (famously characterized by critic Théophile Gautier as “the corner baker and his wife after they won the lottery”) and their lackluster issue are revealed as vapid nonentities devoid of character or intelligence. Fred Licht in Goya: The Origins of the Modern Temper in Art wonders (as we all do) how the artist, the official Bourbon court painter, got away with this “degrading…description of human bankruptcy.”

The answer is that Goya cleverly patterned the composition on a beloved earlier court portrait, Velasquez’s 1656 Las Meninas (The Bridesmaids), with its tiny mirror at the far end of a huge room, reflecting the king and queen. Since we see what they see, we are, in effect, transformed into the royals in this cleverly constructed, subtly flattering image, safely steering clear of dangerous lese-majesté. Goya flatters his royals, too, ostensibly, with beautiful color and brushwork in their costumes and decorations, but he uses Velasquez’s mirror idea irreverently, to undermine monarchical authority. Licht:

In the Goya, too, the attentive glances of most of the portrait subjects are just as strongly focused on an object outside the picture…. But we look in vain for the one object that might yield a clue as to what all these people are looking at. After all the trouble to which Goya has gone to base his composition on Las Meninas, he withholds the one element that makes Las Meninas take on meaning: he withholds the mirror and its telltale reflection.

Licht: “The mirror is still there, but it is no longer within the picture. It is the picture.” We viewers, as with Velasquez, become the subjects: in this case, the aimless, nondescript, overdressed royals, contemplating our estimable likenesses with considerable self-satisfaction. Pierre Gassier describes Goya’s royals as placed on a "stage facing the public, while in the shadow of the wings the painter, with a grim smile, points and says: 'Look at them and judge for yourself!'"[

May we count on your support? Thanks for your kind attention. 


 

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1159696 2017-06-01T16:47:25Z 2017-06-01T16:47:25Z :Expats, or, Leaving Your San Francisco Heart


Expats

 We who are fortunate enough to live in dynamic, diverse and scenic San Francisco are watching the real–estate news these days with increasing feelings of trepidation. With the tech boom, housing prices and rents have been skyrocketing. The latest figures show a median apartment rent of around $3800, with no flattening of the upward trend in sight. This has occasioned various protests against the tech interlopers and their disruptions: blockades of the Google buses that ferry IT hipsters from the Mission District down the peninsula to Silicon Valley; and calls for more low-income housing (some of which is coming on line, to use a now wry figure of speech) and special protections for artists. While some of this may come to pass in the fullness of time, many of us are close to being resigned to exiting San Francisco eventually for the dreaded suburbs, and probably sooner rather than later. We worry about the viability of an art world largely depopulated of artists, except for the lucky, talented few whose work will resonate with the new mogul class.

Rather than continue to bemoan this wave of change, let’s consider how the decentralization of San Francisco’s art world throughout the region—to outlying cities like Vallejo, Richmond, Fremont, Hayward and beyond—may have some beneficial side effects. Artists in general come from middle-class backgrounds, so we’re not exactly bedraggled refuges with our household goods and gods piled onto pushcarts, so the question is: can the art diaspora actually help?

Some considerations:

—Art schools will continue incubating talent in the stimulating urban environment. Artists after graduation will continue to band together for moral and aesthetic support, as in the past. If San Francisco never had a central gathering place like New York’s Cedar Bar in the Abstract Expressionist 1950s, it has had informal, ad hoc affinity groups that operate autonomously but come together at times, some of them served by local nonprofit venues with a mission of presenting the new. Social media have made ‘chilling’ easier than ever, so mere proximity is less important, and new cohorts will form on the urban peri[phery. Artists are nothing if not creative and flexible.

—If the group mind is useful for young artists, groupthink is destructive to mature artists. It is naïve to believe that creativity comes only from bringing a critical mass of talented people together; indeed, sometimes isolation is essential: read Anthony Storr’s Solitude: A Return to the Self. In our contemporary culture of mass distraction, we all need time to think and hear ourselves think. Those artists who have persisted with their work past the blush of youth, into their forties (and beyond!) and have created dazzling, profound and beautiful work—largely unknown (alas) to the art market—bear this out.

—Can contemporary art, which has for several generations set its sights on the authoritative tastemakers at the top of the social pyramid, regain its footing as a vehicle for mass communication and transformation? The modernist, utopian goal of shocking the bourgeoisie in order to create a new sensibility has devolved into the postmodernist goal of pandering to the status-anxious and not necessarily informed collector/consumer. Art education, in my humble opinion, went off the rails when it sidelined the teaching of art history (which should be artists’ common frame of reference) to focus on philosophy and aesthetic theory, which inculcate, despite a superficial Marxism, a cynical pandering to snobbery and self-satisfied irony—some revolution! The art historian Suzi Gablik in Has Modernism Failed? (1984) blamed the modernist retreat from society into pure abstraction for art’s perceived descent into frivolity, but, whatever their faults, modernists took themselves and their art seriously (even those iconoclastic Dadaists). I think that too much Pomo art, despite its stated communitarian ideals (which Gablik championed in The Re-Enchantment of Art (1991), to mixed effect), continues to preach to the MFA/PhD-socialized crowd. Can artists out in ‘real’ American connect with average people? I work in Silicon Valley, where people are smart as can be, but there’s less art consciousness than I would like, certainly. Are there potential Herb and Dorothy Vogels out there who simply never saw art, correctly or not, as important or relevant?

It is received wisdom, of course, that art scenes develop and thrive with a fortuitous combination of surplus money, creative energy, and a critical mass of talent both in the creation and dissemination (marketing) of art. Can a geographically decentralized, somewhat diffused art scene—perhaps less trendy—be a good thing for an art world overly driven by money and fashion, by financial egotism rather than aesthetic ambition? Time will tell, but we will have to make change our friend, as someone in Hillary’s circle used to say. See you on the Facebook holodeck and at the eating court in the mall.

PS. Josef and Anni Albers, Bauhaus culture heroes, loved buying furniture for their ranch-style New Haven home from Montgomery Ward: applied modernism via the American system.— DeWitt Cheng

 

 

 

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1155598 2017-05-20T19:34:15Z 2017-05-21T17:20:12Z East Bay Artist Cyrus Tilton: A Powerful Legacy Lives On (from Oakland and Alameda magazines, June 2017)



Artist Cyrus Tilton Leaves Powerful Legacy

 The recent art-world flap over the semi-abstract painting of  civil-rights martyr Emmett Till  points up how confusing it is nowadays interpreting sociopolitical art. Such is not the case, however, with the powerful and sometimes disturbing art of Cyrus Tilton, the young artist who died a few weeks ago of cancer.  From his first show, in 2010, at Oakland’s Vessel Gallery, it was clear that this young artist (he was then thirty-two), was uncommonly gifted both technically and conceptually, and that his would be a career to follow. Blending surrealism seamlessly with social critique, Tilton showed that imaginative art could be trenchantly observant about contemporary life, yet illuminate the human condition in all its complexity.

 A Place In-Between, featured figurative sculptures with moving parts controlled by the turning of a crank, so that the viewer becomes physically and psychically involved with the subjects. “Relation" depicts a man, white as a plaster cast, seated atop a stool; turn the crank, and sepia-toned watercolor paintings flip by, showing him doing a stiff-necked head roll. "The Falling Dream" mounts a white oval sculpture of six slightly rotated faces with varying features (like double Trinities) atop a hand drill’s crank mechanism; the group head has been cut into independently movable eye, nose, and mouth sections, so that new face permutations emerge when the spinning stops. Other, non-kinetic pieces explore magic and metamorphosis, and the transubstantiations of art:  Tilton’s finely modeled figures are broken or incomplete in areas, exposing the steel armatures beneath.

 In 2011, Tilton topped even his ambitious debut show, with “The Cycle,” an three- part show analogizing human depredation of the earth with the recurrent devastations inflicted by locust swarms. Locusts are grasshoppers that mutate when overcrowded; Tilton: "… Something happens to change the balance of the insects' ecosystem and all of a sudden, they're out of control, everything goes into overdrive .... They swarm. They eat themselves out of house and home and move on to another area." With the help of fifty volunteers, Tilton assembled “Individuals,” an eye-popping array of almost five hundred locusts, their whirring wings nicely rendered in gathered tulle; suspended like puppets on fishing line from a loosely articulated bamboo lattice that undulates, controlled by a motorized crankshaft, they drift back and forth, hypnotically, like reef fish in invisible currents.  Accompanying this tour de force was another showpiece, “The Lovers, “a huge pair of breeding locusts fashioned from steel tubing covered in beeswax-infused muslin, anatomically correct in their mouthparts, eye stripes, and tibia spurs. The third element of the show, “Potentials,” comprised mixed-media wall reliefs depicting, with the scientific precision Tilton learned in his work at Scientific Art Studio, in Richmond, cross sections of loose soil embedded with insect eggs and pierced by tunnels. 

 Fortunately, this psychological/environmental artwork will continue to gain a wider audience. The Crocker Museum in Sacramento will be exhibiting “The Cycle” beginning  March 25, 2018, thanks to Curator Scott Shields, and Lonnie Lee of Vessel Gallery has created a Kickstarter campaign to fund the donation of “The Lovers” to that institution. Crowd-sourcing to place our best local art in public collections? Yes, we are all individuals!

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1155414 2017-05-20T05:12:41Z 2017-05-20T05:12:42Z Dorothea Lange at Oakland Museum of California (from East Bay Monthly, June 2017)

Dorothea Lange photos document Great Depression 

Sociopolitical art is back on the art menu these days, after a three-generation hiatus in the wilderness, banned by abstractionist and succeeding dogmas. If today’s art engagé suffers at times, however, from being overly abstract, \the career of the Bay Area photographer Dorothea Lange offers a counter-example of direct, sympathetic engagement. Her iconic photo, “Migrant Mother,” made while Lange worked for the Farm Services Administration, is universally known and admired. In 1936, Lange, driving home after a day’s shooting near Nipomo, saw a sign directing others to a roadside camp; Lange obeyed her instincts and turned around to investigate.

 I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet…. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.

 The photo of the careworn Florence Owens Thompson flanked by her children, was used to build support for New Deal social programs, and became such a powerful symbol of the Depression years that Lange grew heartily sick of it and jokingly declared herself ‘divorced’ from it. Some hundred of Lange’s other works, donated by the Berkeley artist to the Oakland Museum in 1967, will be on view in Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing, along with vintage prints from this and other bodies of work, proof sheets, historic objects and personal memorabilia. As Faulkner said, the past isn’t even past. Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing runs through August 13; Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak Street, Oakland, (888) 625-6873; museum.ca.org. —DeWitt Cheng


 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng