Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Art Fairs '12: Dependent

Here are a few snapshots from the Dependent Art Fair, held at the Comfort Inn on Ludlow in the lower east side. Hotel shows are usually cramped, but here one felt like Kevin Smith in a single airplane seat.

The Occupy Wall Street folks had several flyers announcing events, making statements, and disseminating info.

Below left: bed to ceiling construction/installation.

Below right: Fishtank tub - best use of the bathtub in a hotel show ever.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Art Fairs '12: VOLTA

VOLTA is different than other art fairs in that most of the booths feature only one artist. If memory serves, another rule is that galleries have to show different artists each year. Galleri Flach from Stockholm, Sweden, featured pop-up books by young artist, Andreas Johansson, titled "From where the sun now stands." A white-gloved assistant turned the pages (see photo) of these books which are a cross between children's books and a photo journal of mostly urban sites. Excellent craftsmanship and intriguing imagery.

Carl Emanuel Wolff created an eye-catching installation of six figures that appear to be on a golf outing with an axle of a vehicle in front of them. Each figure is completely covered with strings of fireworks, accented by the red walls of Schuebbe Projects' booth. Reading the statement surprisingly talked of this piece being anti-institution where artwork is "sealed-off," "neutralized," and "reduced to a commodity." Wolff shows in unusual places, photos showed this exhibit in a wooded area. It talked of things from Romantic art to dissolving the lines between art and life and so on, but not about the obvious effect the art had: an unsettling feeling that these were walking bombs, terrorists with firecrackers and M-80s, which is very relevant these days especially in a city that suffered a terrible attack.

Throughout the fairs was quite a bit of geometric sculpture and 2D work. Rachel Beach showed a mash-up of both (right) in her booth at Blackston Gallery.

Francesco Merletti at Magrorocca Gallery from Milan showed several painted portraits of his wife. He plays the role of director as well, dressing her in clothing and headgear to interpret "different roles." Her Marty Feldman-like eyes (the British comedian who famously played Igor in "Young Frankenstein") add to these off-beat realistic portraits that seem from another era.

Kent Christensen had playful paintings exploring modern addictions and pleasures at Eleven Fine Art from London. Subjects included ice cream, candy, and Pez dispensers (below). Christensen, a Mormon, refers to sugar as "Mormon heroin."

VOLTA is always a solid show. The booths also have pamphlets about the artist and the installation, a nice touch for attendees. They inform as well as raise questions, a wonderful combination.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Art Fairs '12: Fountain

The Fountain Art Fair debuted at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lex and 25th, moving from the tugboat off 12th Ave of previous years. More than most of the other fairs, Fountain has an edge, a vivaciousness of art-making that some of the others lack. Here you'll see artists working at their booth, several street artists working on a giant piece, and live music. There are established galleries as well as individual artists doing the DIY thang, and what lacks in skill is usually made up with enthusiasm. Evo Love returned with a large, well designed booth featuring her outsider-ish assemblages. Some have a theme, like tributes to fallen hip hop stars, and others seem like simply a mash-up of materials. The thematic pieces work better, giving some more flesh to the pieces than just visual fun.
Several galleries from Korea were present, with a wide array of work from traditional still life to anime (which has a growing presence throughout all the fairs). Inyoung Seoung had intricate pen on canvas drawings of delicate anemone-like shapes. Across from them was 5Pointz Art Space with several pencil drawings by Soojin Kim that from a distance looked like abstract shapes. Closer inspection netted a fun surprise as these were actually whole and broken Oreo cookies, tightly rendered and well-executed.
In an earlier post I wrote about Dacia Gallery, a new space in the LES. There was work by Leah Yerpe who usually does large (as in room length) realistic drawings of people floating, tumbling together in pencil and/or charcoal on white paper. Think Robert Longo on steroids. In their booth they had one of these pieces, appr 7-9' in length and pictured here. Just the execution of something that size, in charcoal, on white paper, in realism - quite a feat in itself, and these transcend mere deft handling of a material.

Munch Gallery, one of a number in a growing gallery presence in the LES (245 Broome St) had a group exhibit including these two, "If You Check Me, I Check You, Boy" and "If You Check Me, I Check You, Girl."
Both are 51x47" in acrylic, by Finnish artist Rauha Makila. They have the appearance of an ad, separating the two figures and deleting all info except most of each figure with thick strokes of white. The thick white, almost like house paint, is an interesting contrast to her washy rendering of the figures.

The Mighty Tanaka Gallery from Brooklyn was in full effect with a large 2-3 booth group show, a long way from when we first met in a small hotel room art fair (Red Dot?) years ago. Featuring over 3 dozen artists, their exhibit was a solid array of street, graffiti, pop surreal, and work inspired by those styles. "Baltimore Sunset" by Adam Void was created as a result of his doing graffiti in an over-pass or industrial space that was inhabited by bats overhead, and upon looking down he found a rubber bat toy and that synchronicity resulted in this piece. Too often found object work is cluttered or slapped together, but there's a strong graphic simplicity here that is very appealing.
This is a good example of the best reasons to go to art fairs, which is the ability to chat with the artist or the folks who curate. We've all gone to galleries, seen work and thought, "WTF?? Why are they showing this?!" A painter friend, Jim Kendall, gave me this advice many years ago which has proved fruitful time and again. In that situation, simply ask, "What is it about this artist's work that excited you and made you want to exhibit it?" More often than not, I walked away enlightened (not necessarily excited, but enlightened) and with an improved appreciation of a style or genre of art, an understanding of the work or an interesting story.

In the tradition of a gallery owner helping support a young artist they believe in, Marianne Nems (Gallery) has done this with street artist Ugly Kid Gumo. She showed me several of his graffiti based works and looking at them chronologically, one can see a progression in his skill and composition. Too often street artists tend to over-do an image that is their calling card, sometimes sticking it in a piece simply to have it there rather than it having any relevance. It's a way of establishing their individuality on the street, but it's not necessary in gallery work as much and hopefully with time and guidance they become more judicious with it. Gumo mixes pop culture images like Batman with rendering of people, shapes and color quite successfully.

Kudos to Johnny Leo and the entire Fountain crew on a great debut at the new location!
(click on art to view a larger image of it)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Art Fairs '12-Scope & Independent

When I go to look at art, I go with an open mind as to the what, why, when and where of what I'm looking at. Of course, this IS a blog, so personal preferences and opinions are a major component of these posts. I'm always enthused about the Art Fairs. They are exciting and educational and since most artists work in solitude, they present an excellent opportunity to talk about art. Due to the small spaces inhabited by each gallery, it's very easy to strike up conversations about a particular work or artist they're showing. As an artist, it gives me the chance to find new galleries to send my work to and to keep in touch with gallery owners that I've already established a connection with. As a collector, I get to see loads of art. As a soon-to-be-once-again gallery owner/curator, I keep my eye out for work I may want to show.
Yesterday was a wild ride - Scope was good, but the Independent gave me a reaction I didn't expect. Scope was a solid but not spectacular show. Many galleries were showing the same artists they've shown before, and others showed work that was a mix of safe and perplexing. Video art seems to be having a resurgence, but more as a component of a piece rather than simply a monitor. Even when it was just a screen, it was encased in a fancy frame. A German gallery had a photo of a young woman with large sunglasses, each lens being a video flat screen of her eyes. Another had 2 young girls sitting in a train car chatting, and this was incorporated into a larger Lichtenstein-ish image of a living room. The same gallery had the creepy babies crawling on a wall (above right). Text pieces were well represented, but most were one-liners or uninteresting, except for the amusing one about glitter shown here.

White Walls Gallery
from San Fran had new work by Greg Gossel, large pieces that were totally collaged from billboards etc. His previous work incorporated silkscreens, these had none. These seem more transitional for him than a new direction, but they're solid and I'm curious to see where he goes next. Notable simply because of their playfulness and enthusiasm were paintings on wood by self-taught Ferris Plock. He spent time in Kyoto and became enamored with Japanese fabrics and "samurai" designs, and did these pieces that mix in modern hipster elements like skateboards with traditional imagery.

Corey Helford Gallery from LA had several pop surreal pieces, notably a 55x55" framed piece by the enigmatic Ray Caesar. He does truly amazing work on computer that look like detailed paintings. "Second Sight" is a one-off, he usually does editions, and this was layered with coats of varnish.
Please click on the image to see a large version.

I snapped a shot of this giant blue shape with an orange line through it as an example of one of the worst pieces I saw there, turns out this foreshadowed the Independent.

The third Independent Art Fair is more open, less the grid box cubicles of other fairs. In the NY Times today, Roberta Smith called it "perhaps NY's most exclusive, self-consciously hip contemporary-art fair." As written at the beginning of this post, I go to art shows with a very open mind. It has been years since I felt that mix of frustration/disdain/confusion like I experienced yesterday. Yes, one has to cut some slack for cutting edge art as it pushes boundaries and uncharted waters. Too often I looked at pieces thinking things like, "There's the requisite hut made of found objects, there's the big assemblage that looks like a college 3D project, oh, and there's the plain white canvas displayed as if it's some ground-breaking triumph of minimalism - AGAIN." Why would a gallery from Europe pay thousands of dollars for a booth and only show a green metallic square? Most of the painting there was simply awful - awful palette, awful application, awful composition. Maybe the point was to be awful? It's possible.
Andrea Bowers's tree-sitting apparatus at Andrew Kreps was a piece that I looked at and sarcastically thought, "Yep, that'll be in the Times" and viola! There 'tis. Much of the work at Independent seemed to be referential, which raises a host of questions (which is indeed a good thing, at least) about it being too insider? too pedantic? help or hindrance? So much here seemed to be fodder for the average and the uneducated to snicker and sneer at, yet, it was difficult to fight back the thought that they might be right. Uggh. On the positive side, there were interesting small abstract works throughout, and some mixed media constructions were intriguing and I humbly admit, merited more time than I gave them.
However, today I rise up and shaking it off ala Charlie Chaplin at the end of one of his romps, I'll continue down the road to other Art Fairs with a fresh outlook and tucked away sarcasm.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ghirlandaio's "An Old Man and His Grandson"

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY: "The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini" til 3/18/12

One of my favorite portraits is in this exhibition, a Renaissance classic and standard in art history books, "An Old Man and His Grandson" by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1480, on loan from the Louvre. The obvious thing that makes this piece stand out is the grandfather's nose, riddled with lumps from a sinus disease. Compositionally it's interesting to note that the nose is in the exact center of the painting. The second thing that stands out about it is the pose. It's one of the most naturalistic portraits of the time, informal like a snapshot rather than a posed portrait.

The thing I love about this painting is this: ever watch grandparents and grandchildren? No matter how old, fat, unattractive, immobile, unhappy, missing teeth or hair, uneducated, or smelling like mothballs the grandparent is, no matter how many negatives about that grandparent -- the kid doesn't care. It's pure love. And it goes both ways. Look at the grandson in this painting. He is not fazed one bit by his grandfather's appearance. He might stare, he might ask about those lumps with a child's naivete, but it does not impact his love one iota. As for grandpa, can't you sense his love and patience towards the kid? This is a timeless painting. I can walk to any park in the world and see this same image from 1480 acted out every day, and Ghirlandaio nailed it here.

Emotional impact aside, the painting itself is excellent, and the overpowering presence of the two figures overshadows the classic landscape outside the window. One can attempt an argument that it's a bit of a trompe l'oeil of a landscape painting and not a window, but most agree it's not. Don't miss the chance to see this and other classic Renaissance portraits if you are in the NY area.

Below is text from

Ghirlandaio, Domenico (1449-94). Florentine painter. He trained with Baldovinetti and possibly with Verrocchio. His style was solid, prosaic, and rather old-fashioned (especially when compared with that of his great contemporary Botticelli), but he was an excellent craftsman and good businessman and had one of the most prosperous workshops in Florence. This he ran in collaboration with his two younger brothers, Benedetto (1458-97) and Davide (1452-1525). His largest undertaking was the fresco cycle in the choir of Sta Maria Novella, Florence, illustrating Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and St John the Baptist (1486-90). This was commissioned by Giovanni Tornabuoni, a partner in the Medici bank, and Ghirlandaio depicts the sacred story as if it had taken place in the home of a wealthy Florentine burgher. It is this talent for portraying the life and manners of his time (he often included portraits in his religious works) that has made Ghirlandaio popular with many visitors to Florence. But he also had considerable skill in the management of complex compositions and a certain grandeur of conception that sometimes hints at the High Renaissance.

Ghirlandaio worked on frescos in Pisa, San Gimignano, and Rome (in the Sistine Chapel) as well as in Florence, and his studio produced numerous altarpieces. He also painted portraits, the finest of which is Old Man and his Grandson (Louvre); this depicts the grandfather's diseased features with ruthless realism, but has a remarkable air of tenderness. Ghirlandaio's son and pupil Ridolfo (1483-1561) was a friend of Raphael and a portrait painter of some distinction. His most famous pupil, however, was Michelangelo.