tag:artopticon.us,2013:/posts ArtOpticon.us 2017-09-21T04:10:57Z 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)
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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

 

 




 

 
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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.

 

 

 

 

 
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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

 

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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

 

 

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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.


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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






 
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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

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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.



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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

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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.


 

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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








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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



     
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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.
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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.

 

 

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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

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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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
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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.

 

 

 

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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. 


 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

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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!

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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


 

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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1154451 2017-05-16T14:32:41Z 2017-05-16T14:32:42Z Disturbing Subject Matter (from VisualArtSource.com, April 2017)


Disturbing Subject Matter

 In case you have been in a media fast for the past week, the big news in the little art world has been the heated controversy over the painting by Dana Schutz, shown in the current Whitney Biennial, called “Open Casket.” (If you are already heartily sick of this subject, after wave upon wave of angry rhetoric crashing over your screen, please surf on.) The painting is a semi-abstract depiction of the black teenager, Emmett Till, savagely murdered and mutilated in 1955 by bigots enraged by his alleged whistling at a white woman — a fabrication, she has now admitted. (Sometimes one longs for Dante’s specialized departments of hell.) Till’s mother demanded that his coffin be open so that viewers could “see what I have seen,” in all its graphic glory, and the painter used the photo as a starting point for handling—for processing through paint and painting— her own emotions of fear and insecurity as a mother, she pointed out, in these nasty times of snapping and snarling.

 What could be more important than to educate complacent, ignorant Americans about this stain on national history and honor?  Alas, nothing is ever simple in the art world. The painting aroused fierce opposition from the left, nicely described Robert Smith in her New York Times article, “Should Art That Angers Remain on View?” (March 27, 2017). Two black artists took extreme umbrage at what Smith wittily characterized as Schulz’s possibly  “Inappropriate appropriation.” Parker Bright stood in front of the painting, blocking the view to other museumgoers, while wearing a T-shirt imprinted “Black Death Spectacle.” Hannah Black denounced Schulz’s exploitation of “black subject matter … for profit and fun.” Many in my social media feed denounced the work as typical white hubris continuing to perpetrate the idea of black victimhood; and even, through its opting for abstraction rather than realism, whitewashing black history through aesthetic distancing. And if Schutz had replicated the graphic detail….?

 Race relations in the US are a mess. The interlude of liberal rationality that Obama hoped to inaugurate—the extended teachable moment— clearly failed, a victim to white working class economic rage  exacerbated by eight years of right-wing animus, sensationalism and alternate facts. (If no Alex Jones and Bill O’Reilly types failed to fan the flames on Schutzgate, it’s only because they were distracted by James Brown wig and the premature announcement of the death of Obamacare,.

 But to return to the artwork, which is successful on its own terms, not as a political statement—an interpretation which the artist never claimed, yet one which its detractors opted to emphasize. (To be fait, Schultz does seem to gravitate to s sensationalistic celebrity deaths, at times.) Smith adduces, in defense of creative freedom of speech, several powerful art-historical precedents: Ben Shahn’s moving tribute to the unjustly executed Sacco and Vanzetti (despite his being Jewish and the victims Italian);  Abel Meeropol’s song about race lynchings in the South, “Strange Fruit” (again by a Jewish person, and not just any, but one of the adopted orphan sons of the executed Ethel and Julius Rosenberg; and the white William Styron’s brilliantly complex novel about Nat Turner, the less-than-exemplary or heroic leader of the 1831 black slave revolt in rural Virginia. One could cite many other examples of the depiction of suffering by sympathetic cultural or racial outsiders: Delacroix’s Massacre at Chios, about Turkish atrocities; Dorotha Lange’s Migrant Mother, about the Depression tribulations of displaced Okies; or Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, still shocking today, five centuries after its creation, with its painfully mortal King of the Jews.  Any crucifixion painting, in fact, rebuts the racial exclusivity idea.. Kara Walker, who explores the horrors of slavery culture in her silhouette drawings, concurs, in opposing the ensorship and destruction of the painting sought by some; Smith: “[Walker] concluded that an artwork can be generative regardless of how it offends or falls short, giving ‘rise to deeper inquiries and better art. It can only do this when it is seen.’”  Another artist, Clifford Owens, similarly declared his opposition to what is in effect, to my eye, a kind of politically correct iconoclasm: “I don’t know anything about Hannah Black, or the artists who’ve co-signed her breezy and bitter letter, but I’m not down with artists who censor artists.”Why so much furor from the art world left then? The painting is unobjectionable in itself — but for its provocative title. The black artist Henry Taylor, in the same Whitney show, depicted, with a greater degree of realism than Schultz employs, the police murder of Philando Castile, and aroused no animosity. It is my belief that certain ideas that were almost universally taught in universities in the 80s and 90s—identity art, postmodernist relativism— have hardened into dogma, and can become  exaggerated and counter-productive. Making, seeing and ‘using’ art primarily or solely as Tendenzkunst, as propaganda, as the hypostatization or reification of sacred truths, is bad for the country and bad for art. Let creative people make their work, and let a thousand exegetical flowers bloom.; but let’s not become cultural commissars. Artists and citizens should be truth-seekers, not avoiders of trigger issues. We have serious challenges; one painting in one biennial—and it’s not as if all blacks are furious about it, as some imply—is a molehill, if that. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize, not minor distractions. —DeWitt Cheng


 

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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1153924 2017-05-14T17:49:33Z 2017-05-14T17:49:33Z Stuart Davis: In Full Swing at DeYoung Museum (from VisualArtSource.com, May 12, 2017)



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 in hosting three exemplary painting shows: young Monet at the Legion of Honor; Diebenkorn and Matisse at SFMOMA; and, less heralded but no less important or inspiring, or revelatory, Stuart Davis at the de Young. Davis is 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 artists 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 watercolor artist 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 chronologically, for the most part (although the careful viewer will need to look at dates, as the direction of pedestrian traffic flow is not always clear).  Deviating from this chronological 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’s longtime passions, beginning in his youth, when, “hep to the jive,” he frequented  the rough bars of Newark NJ, and continuing through his life.  A playful but telling inscription from Duke Ellington in American Painting (1932/1952-44) 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, whose cavalier attitude toward politics ended his friendship with Davis, who had 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 admired Davis’s stand on pictorial flatness and pure abstract forms, and killed himself in 1946, when the painting was yet unfinished, may be the figure who has been canceled out.)

While Davis’s 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. (Cubism did this, too , but on  the lesser scale of the Parisian café, calmer than the dynamic, commercial  American street.)  To follow Davis’s 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.

 

 

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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1153713 2017-05-13T14:10:53Z 2017-05-13T14:10:53Z John Herschend: “YOUR LOST SHOE (or everything that happened since the last time)” at Gallery 16

SAN FRANCISCO

John Herschend: “YOUR LOST SHOE (or everything that happened since the last time)”

at Gallery 16

(Art Ltd magazine, May-June 2017)

 Corporate employment in the exciting widget business was treated with satirical gusto in the 1961 musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, with its catchy anthem. The Company Way. John Herschend’s YOUR LOST SHOE (or everything that has happened since the last time, with its similarly long, humorous title, continues the San Francisco artist’s wry fictional narrative of love and loss at work—previously treated in performances, installations, mock-educational videos and faux infomercials—in painting.

 Ten oils on panel, seven watercolors on paper, a bronze sculpture, and a digital projection depict Herschend’s uninhabited office stage sets. Although the paintings are not hung sequentially, there is a back story, which we join in progress. The Narrator works for a company that designs and fabricates amusement park rides (echoing the artist’s background). He loves Lisa, a co-worker; his romantic rivalry with Mark, another co-worker, leads to a break-room wrestling match, and the Narrator’s theft of Mark’s loafer, which he tosses into a drainpipe. (Alas, no boat shoe,) The workplace scenes of this drama are sketchily rendered in monochromatic or subdued palettes against white backgrounds. Projection screens, houseplants, copy machines, conference tables, ash trays, and desk lamps sit in oblique corners, as if lurking, or sit atop desktop landscapes, parallel to the picture plane, like Saul Steinberg’s deskscapes. “Collapse no. 1” shows a man’s hand, the fingers so stubby as to suggest a paw, and the arm seemingly boneless, grasping papers from a desk; it returns in the bronze sculpture, “The Sad Hand,” and the watercolor, “Deskscape Thursday 11:42AM.” In two “Copy Trouble” paintings, the small machines sit forlornly amid tangles of wires, smudged whiteboard messages or caption balloons, and grassy stubble emerging from the carpeting—nature invading culture?

 Accompanying the paintings are bound copies of A Quarterly Report from the Forest Office, comprising the Narrator’s account of events in the forest office, and an Arden Valley Community Wellness Center report by John Touchstone, PhD, aka artist Anthony Discenza, on the patient’s treatment with Alprazolam and art therapy. Shakespearians will note the reference to the sylvan setting of As You Like It; all the world’s a stage, including the tragical-comical-pastoral office. —DeWitt Cheng

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 


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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1152269 2017-05-07T17:07:49Z 2017-05-07T17:07:49Z Gardens of Abstraction: Carol Inez Charney, Christy Lee Rogers, and Diane Rosenblum at Slate Contemporary, Oakland Pre modernist painting seen through contemporary photography. 
Gallery website:

Gardens of Abstraction presents three contemporary photographers who are grappling with the history of painting and the question of how to be an artist in this photographic age. All three are working in large formats, using digital printing technology, and referencing, to various degrees, narratives of old master painting.

Carol Inez Charney has taken paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh, Chagall, and Matisse, as her subject, appropriating them and then re-presenting them through her own personal lens of water moving on glass. Christy Lee Rogerscreates underwater scenes using multiple figures, elaborate costumes, and dramatic lighting that reference 17th and 18th century Mannerist and Baroque paintings. Diane Rosenblum, on the other hand, has turned to landscape paintings by the Hudson River School, digitizing them, sampling colors, and pulling them out into pixel-like blocks to emphasize the distance between these artists’ 19th century romantic vision of nature, and our contemporary tendency to filter experience (of both nature and culture), through photographic and digital media.

I wrote about Charney’s work several months ago.

CAROL INEZ CHARNEY: After Painting

 In 2013, I first saw Carol Inez Charney’s striking semi-abstract photographs depicting details of modernist architecture partially obscured by and refracted by water. These large photographs, printed on aluminum, and unframed, were photographic, naturally, but also painterly, with the streams of water that seemingly flowed down an invisible, interposed glass pane both breaking up the image and reassembling it into painterly abstractions reminiscent of the works by Pollock, Still, Rauschenberg, Johns and others that had fascinated Charney as a student, launching her art career.

 In her latest body of work, After Painting, from 2016, Charney focuses completely on culture, i.e., universally beloved paintings by Leonardo, Van Eyck, Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse, Chagall and Picasso, all made before 1923, and now in the public domain. Using high-quality downloaded internet images, posters and reproductions from art books or posters, Charney rephotographs details from the works and groups them in twos and threes—into diptychs or triptychs, to employ the art-historical term used for multi-panel paintings. The ‘After’ designation refers to the art-historian’s way of labeling copies of old artworks made by admiring younger artists, a common practice before the advent of photography, and a way of paying homage to and learning from the past: Van Gogh copied Rubens, and Rubens copied Leonardo, and so on. Sometimes this hands-on method of assimilation resulted in creative variations, like Picasso’s innumerable Velasquez variations, or Manet’s quotations (or parodies) of Giorgione and Titian.

 Charney’s gradual shift of interest from the natural world to the world of visual culture is not unique in our postmodernist age, which looks at and to  cultural production in the way that past artists looked at and to nature. If collage was the core of modernist art, appropriation, the quotation or sampling of previous art, could be said to be postmodernism’s. Sherrie Levine in her 1980s After Walker Evans photographs rephotographed the great social documentarian’s photos of the 1930s. Cindy Sherman’s faux movie stills, with the photographer costumed and made up to resemble archetypal movie heroines, but from movies never made, are another example of art deriving from other art.

 Charney’s creative reuse of master paintings, however, reflects none of the postmodernist questioning of originality cited above. With degrees in both painting and photography, Charney is an admitted “frustrated painter” who found photography more congenial than painting, but still seeks the complex ‘conversation,’ or moment’ provided by the slower, handmade medium. In Charney’s carefully assembled diptychs and triptychs, we see iconic modernist paintings anew, through the artist’s curtain of rivulets, enriched by water’s metaphorical associations with time, change, metamorphosis and the unconscious. A century ago, Marcel Duchamp mocked what he considered at the time the connoisseur’s fetishistic  interest in the painter’s hand and touch; Charney’s photographic studies, which “reinterpret classical painting,” let us revel in that handiwork, made invisible to us through familiarity, perhaps, through her sharp eye and lens

 Framed like paintings, within floater frames, Charney’s photographs “look at art in a new way and reinterpret it in a new way”— combining two media, photography and painting, and merging two aesthetic sensibilities, hers and that of, say, Picasso— separated by decades and centuries. If you have seen Werner Herzog’s 2010 film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, you may remember that one of the prehistoric wall paintings lovingly documented in that films was a collaboration of two artists who lived and worked in that Chauvet cave five thousand years apart. —DeWitt Cheng

Photos from the show, below: 





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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1152190 2017-05-07T03:52:03Z 2017-05-07T03:52:04Z Matt Kleeberg and Woody DeOthello at Johansson Projects, Oakland (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com) Matt Kleeberg and Woody DeOthello
Johansson Projects, Oakland, California  
Recommendation by DeWitt Cheng  
Continuing through May 20, 2017

This engagingly titled show, “Knocked Kneed and Bow Legged,” pairs Matt Kleeberg’s paintings and Woody De Othello’s ceramic sculptures. Both examine the cultural moment’s unsettling instabilities — the gallery press release’s “curious alternate realities within unsettling social climates” — with beauty and humor.


   

Kleeberg’s large oil and paintstick canvases have the bright palette of 1960s hard-edge abstraction, but none of its dogmatic insistence on flatness, materiality and literal interpretation. Indeed, they play with the old metaphor of painted space as a virtual world framed by the painting’s edges, with their arched doorways, arcades, and doorlike niches, all walled up, so to speak, without exterior views. They are framed here and there by colored stripes and faux swatches of deckle-edged torn paper. Two of the paintings ("Sanctionary Sanctuary" and "Bike Sock Shock Jock") cheerfully take the isometric perspective used in architectural rendering and squeeze it almost flat. Notice also Kleeberg’s humorous titles, including the likes of "Dancin’ Dave Dickel (Bad Hombre)" and "Fire and Brownstone."

  

De Othello’s humanized, weirdly comical objects come from the Bay Area Funk tradition, think Robert Arneson, Robert Brady and Tom Rippon, among others. Five of these pieces rest atop ceramic footstools (or ceramic stands) with bendy, wobbly legs. In “Down" an orangeish tooth shape sprouts a stem, nose or spigot from its side. In "Wig Holder" a fish-mouthed vase, seemingly squeezed breathless, erupts with fingerlike protrusions; if your mind suggests less innocent protuberances, you didn’t hear it from me. "Cat Scratcher" is not so much a carpeted pet haven as a Surrealist tree for catching kitties.

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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1151878 2017-05-05T16:35:06Z 2017-05-08T21:35:36Z Erica Deeman's black portraiture at Berkeley Art Museum (reprinted from East Bay Monthly, May 2017)


Erica Deeman Shoots Timeless Profiles

 The recent flap over the Whitney Museum Biennial’s inclusion of a semi-abstract painting of Emmitt Till—the young black boy murdered and mutilated by southern racists—shows what a tangled web artists and viewers negotiate with inflammatory material like American race relations. Black artists seem to be able to explore the theme, understandably, with more discrimination, than some white artists, who can easily be accused of ideological carpetbagging, scandal being one of the major options in the careerist’s toolkit, as the controversies of the 1980s prove.

 Erica Deeman, a black photographer born in England and now living in San Francisco, steps into this minefield with a series of photographs of anonymous black women that is stylistically conservative (and thus mildly subversive) but no less compelling for it. She shoots large color photographs of her backlit subjects in profile, or cameo, with the white background subtly modeling the women’s features, creating depth and dimensionality, possibly a metaphor for how people see others initially by skin color, and only later, with more exposure, come to see them as unique individuals. While the series in entitled Silhouettes, with a nod to Kara Walker’s cut-paper depictions of the racial crimes of the past—unbearable if depicted realistically (like the photo of Till in his coffin)—Deeman’s images are more correctly profiles, or cameos, a form far older than silhouettes, which take their eponym from Etienne de Silhouette, the 18th-century French minister of finance forced to impose economic austerities on the French people, lending his name, by metaphorical extension, to the ‘cheap’ cut-paper portraits popular at the time. (I do not believe that Kaspar Lavater’s physiognomic theories about race are relevant to a discussion of silhouettes.) The art-historically-minded will remember that cameos and silhouettes appear in ancient art in coins and medallions, and in early Renaissance portraits of the nobility, modeled after antiquity. Deeman’s contemporary photographs thus resurrect an ancient style in order to lend the weight and dignity of art history to her subjects; while stylistically unspectacular, their quiet authority and beauty will stand the test of time. Silhouettes runs through June 11; Berkeley Art Museum, 2155 Center Street, Berkeley (510) 642-0808; bampfa.org. —DeWitt Cheng

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1151778 2017-05-05T04:59:20Z 2017-05-05T04:59:20Z Andreina Davila, Ytaelena Lopez and /eE.l.os/ (their collaboration name) at Secession Art & Design

Two Venezuelan artists are showing their individual paintings, plus works done in collaboration. at Secession Art & Design, 3235 Mission Street (not far from Cesar Chavez), San Francisco. 
I wrote about ?eE.l.os? a few months ago: 

/eE.l.os/

or Threads, a creative partnership between Bay Area painters

Andreina Davila and Ytaelena Lopez

/eE.l/os/ highlights the potential harmony existing between the environment and human beings. Our goal is to incorporate the Greek concept of Kalos Kagathos, or beauty with purpose. The possibility of two artists working together toward an unforeseen yet beautiful outcome inspires hope and maybe encourages others to explore themselves and their connection with the world around them. /eE.l.os/ aims to connect and at the same time blur the lines between the work of the two artists. One plus one equals many.—Andreina Davila and Ytaelena Lopez 

We in the art world are accustomed to consider artmaking primarily a solitary activity, and artwork as reflecting a single sensibility. In general, that is the case, so we normally scant the idea of artistic collaborations. In the Renaissance, painters learned their craft in workshops headed by master artists. Remember, for example, Andrea del Verrocchio’s Baptism of Christ (1470-5 or so), with its radiant angel, the contribution of a young Leonardo da Vinci. The creative marriage —or mountain-climbing expedition, depending on which metaphor you find more striking—of Picasso and Georges Braque during the early years of Analytic Cubism is another creative collaboration, producing paintings that, although painted separately, were indistinguishable even to their creators. Picasso also maintained a serious rivalry with Matisse, each painter challenging the other—as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael had, five centuries earlier: collaboration as parallel evolution. 

The Venezuelan painters Andreina Davila and Ytaelena Lopez, who met in the Bay Area, entered, in February, 2015, into an artistic partnership, entitled /eE.l.os/. The word, a typographical variation of hilos, threads in Spanish, reflects their interest in the question of identity and its malleable relationship to place, natural concerns to immigrants in this multicultural time in this diverse place. The threads also serve, according to the artists’ joint statement, as connectors between people and nature, bridging realms usually considered separate; in visual terms, they connect and unify Lopez’s portraits and animals and Davila’s painterly abstractions, synthesizing drawing and color, opposing aesthetic camps in the early nineteenth century painting, but now, in the twenty-first century, partners. While the paintings, which the artists pass back and forth, sometimes over long periods, have resemblances to their individual works, it’s clear that the partnership creates, in effect, a third artist, and that this tertiary work feeds their solo works as much as they in turn nourish /eE.l.os/. 

The product of a long discussion between friends during a long drive, and subsequent brainstorming, the artists’ FAUNA series examines animals’ ability to adapt to changes in their environment, a lesson in flexibility and realism easily extrapolated to humans now facing environmental challenges. /eE.l..os/’s artist statement:

The subject of this series is the process of transformation where the individual, depicted as an animal, becomes one with the place. The animal becomes the place and the place becomes the animal. For the artists, as native Spanish speakers, the verb “TO BE” can have two meanings: the state of being in a place (‘estar’) and a definition of who we are (“ser”). This duality is central to the dialog that takes place between the environment and the animal. They interact with each other, developing a joint identity, much as it happens in life, where our actions help define and shape us and the environment around us…. Each painting starts with the abstraction of a place. Andreina gives, color, texture and form to the idea of an open, yet inviting environment. Then, Ytaelena imagines who could inhabit here, and, line by line, an animal form comes to life. Last, we weave this interaction between the two different forms: fauna and place become one… In a time when our relation to what we call “home” is questioned by issues like climate change, immigration and gentrification, Fauna represents a break, a moment to breathe and imagine what would be possible. (From website, http://eelos.com/About-eE-Io-s)

The mixed-media works on panel depict wild animals in natural environments, but they are far from naturalistic, or, at least, merely naturalistic. Ytaelena Lopez’s freely but incisively sketched animals are recognizable, but her meandering black line (which recalls Egon Schiele’s)—complemented by white lines and shades of ink wash—follows realism only loosely, even playfully, carving the picture space into animal form, or perhaps spirit-animal form: the animals are often left white, suggesting absences, or rendered as semi-transparent, with the background coming through. Deer, coyotes, foxes, lions, capybaras, chimpanzees, chameleons, whales — each species is memorialized and commemorated, the living individual being transformed into a representative of its species, perhaps endangered or already extinct. A century ago, the German Expressionist painter Franz Marc depicted animals—spiritual blue horses and yellow cows, famously—as embodiments of purity and instinct, sometimes in harmony with their surroundings, sometimes threatened by invisible forces. (Marc was killed at the Somme, in 1916.) Frederick S. Levine, in his study of Marc, described expressionism as

…a socially involved art, an art that sought to communicate the depths of its involvement with and concern for mankind….Expressionism sought to reach out beyond the confines of the individual selk and to establish contact with the broad mass of humanity. Indeed, Expressionism reflected an anguished longing for community which, when carried to its extreme, represented an attempt to establish a unified and harmonious relationship between the mortal isolated individual and the eternity and universality of the cosmos.1

I see the innocent animals of /eE.l.os/ as performing a similar service for our endangered and not-so-innocent anthropogenic era. If this sounds overly serious to viewers who resist what George Grosz called Tendenzkunst, tendentious art, or sociopolitical art, the works, like Marc’s and unlike Grosz’s, are visually complex and surprising, and quite beautiful.  Ytaelena Lopez’s stylized, semi-abstract backgrounds—large patches of pure color modulated by tones and organic textures to suggest natural habitats, phenomena and processes—offer aesthetic delight and even mystical transport that transcend the current realities of politics and business. The abstract and the figurative merge, just as the artists’ individual personalities merge into the creative partnership, creating a visionary, spiritualized world reminiscent of the peaceable kingdom paintings of the nineteenth-century Quaker artist, Edward Hicks.

The supposed conflict between beauty and seriousness in art that we take for granted nowadays is incorrect: art need not choose between being either eye candy, superficial or sublime, or politically correct propaganda, bitter, but good for you, or, that egregious synthesis of vapidity harnessed to pretentiousness. The art critic and philosopher Arthur Danto wrote, about what he calls our kalliphobia, our fear and hatred of beauty, as inherited from the Dadaists, disgusted by the hypocrisy and waste of the Great War. Unfortunately, the desire to shock and disgust, “to make people scream,”2 in Max Ernst’s words, has now become the established practice taught in art schools; it has been co-opted by the market.

Davila and Lopez cite in their artist statement the ancient Greek term kalokagathos, or kalo k’agathos, “beautiful on the outside and noble on the inside.”3 Carried to extremes, it is a dubious equation, of course; the execution of the homely seventy-year-old gadfly, Socrates, by gym-toned Athenians (considered middle-aged at thirty) ought to make us wary of superficial judgments based on appearance. However, given the current enslavement of contemporary art to market forces, perhaps it is time to acknowledge again, with Keats, that truth can be beauty, and vice versa, and reconsider artworks like those created by that third person, /eE.l.os/, that function as beautiful and wise kaloi k’agathoi.

1 Frederick S. Levine, The Apocalyptic Vision: The Art of Franz Marc as German Expressionism, p.5

2 Arthur Danto, “Kalliphobia in Contemporary Art; Or, What Ever Happened to Beauty?” reprinted in Unnattural Wonders: Essays from the Gap Between Art and Life (2005), p. 323

3 Bettany Hughes, The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life, p. 234


 

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Dewitt Cheng