Sunday, October 26, 2008

IPCNY show

Check out the International Print Center of NY's new show. There's all sorts of good work (as there always is at this should-be-better-known resource), but especially go to see Sarah Sze's mind bending construction. It absolutely busts the idea of what a print or work on paper can be.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Book Dummies show

This is a not-to-be-missed show. It's in a place that is unfamiliar to many in NYC, but it is worth the time to find it and take a look. The show explores the relationship between an artist book and the artistic process. Specifically, curator Victor Sira wanted to see if making dummies to prepare photobooks for publication was a process that changed the art itself. Also, in a related idea, he wanted to see if working on the dummies created unexpected art objects in the dummies themselves.

If this show is any indicator, the answer to both questions is yes. I quote from the show's press release:

"Book Dummies" is an exhibition that gives insight into the process of making a photo book. It reveals the many layers of the process, giving a step-by-step view of the approach used by the photographers whose book dummies make up the exhibition. Through a selection of dummies, photographs, installations and videos, "Book Dummies" brings together some 50 works by 7 artists. The objective of the exhibition is to explore and give equal weight to the process of making a book, as much to the final outcome of this process: the book object itself. The question of what went into the making of each book supersedes the question of what it is."

Artists included in the show are:
Morten Andersen
Stephanie Cardon
Yuichi Hibi
Leigh Ledare
Esther Levine
Pax Paloscia
Victor Sira

While there are many pleasures to be found in this exhibit, I was completely taken with one piece that was neither photo nor book. Mr. Sira included a framed cutting board from his darkroom. It was displayed partly as an artifact of the hard work that goes into the photographic process but it took on a life of its own. Like the sharpening stone of some master sword maker or the well worn sauté pan of a professional chef, this tool has taken on the marks and scars of so much considered use that it becomes sculpture itself. With it's grid lines and ink smudges, Agnes Martin and Cy Twombly both came to mind. This is a sublimely beautiful piece.

Not well-known to NY audiences, it was great to see Stephanie Cardon's beautiful yet intellectually rigorous New England landscapes on display. Though I had seen her work in dummies in Europe, the contrast between her work in book form and how she chooses to display it on the wall illuminated the soul of the show; photobooks show a side of an artist that a gallery cannot. Don't miss this. It's a treat and unlike anything in NYC right now.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Elizabeth Foundation Open Studios Tour

I spent a very satisfying few hours last week at the open studios of the Elizabeth Foundation of the Arts on 39th St. I've been going to this annual event for a few years now, and so, far, it has been a reliable window into some new, exciting work for me. Part of the pleasure is in finding new artists, and the additional pleasure is seeing the progress of work by artists who have been in residence for more than a year.

Here is a link to all current full-time EFA studio members, many with hyper links to see more of their work.

The studio that I would have easily missed without some prior knowledge was Sarah Oppenheimer. Regular readers of this blog may remember how impressed I was by her installation at a Dara Meyer-Kingsley curated show at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh last summer. Since there were no completed works in her studio, it was easy to pass her by. But if one ventured in, you were treated to drawings of in process work, photos of completed ones, and a few maquettes of upcoming ideas.

Sarah consistently explores the idea of space; what is interior and what is exterior. Her installations challenge our preconceptions of the veracity of our point of view. What seems near is far; what seems far is near. The constructions I've seen use relatively simple tools and methods, but use those tools to bend our ideas of space and boundaries. I am eager to see more.

Brian Whitney is a photographer who has been working at EFA for a few years now. I like his work more and more each time I see it. He appeals to my process wonk self in that he uses x-ray photos, negative printing, and, most recently, duraclear film installations in his work. But Mr. Whitney is no slave to technique for the sake of novelty or to show off his knowledge of arcane process. Each technique is carefully chosen to illuminate an idea or to support a conceptual philosophy. Check him out here.

I was unfamiliar with the work of Cui Fei. I quote here from John Goodman's article about her from Art in America, 2003:

In Manuscript of Nature V (2003), Cui created a fairly large installation composed of tendrils pinned in vertical rows on a wall. From a distance, the small, linear forms looked like calligraphy; up close, they revealed themselves in eccentricities, curling up and out against the wall and generally maintaining a poetic grace. In A Letter from Home (1999), Cui pinned tiny leaves to white foam board in horizontal rows, mimicking the form of a letter written in a Western language in exactly the 8 1/2-by-11-inch size of a standard page. The brown leaves are pinned at various angles to one another and spaced as if forming words, but their solidity rather than linear openness recalls cuneiform. She may be setting the universality of natural materials against the near-universality of written communications, without tying this expression to a particular culture.

I love faux text work. The idea that something can have the appearance of language while not actually communicating words is tremendously communicative to me. I find this work immensely seductive and beautiful. It ties to a tradition of Asian calligraphic practice while being completely sculptural and modern in its execution. She also photographs her work. Unlike many artists who use photographs to expand their commercial range, Cui Fei's photos seem honest and distinct enough to stand on their own. Very much worth a look.

That's a quick look at a few of the artists who particularly caught my eye. There were more, and I could go on and on, but it's much more fun to go and look for yourself. Sign up for email notification of the next open studio days and make time to go take a look. It's great.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Off the beaten path art tourism

I was reading Peter Schjeldahl's book of collected art essays the other day. (Link to the Amazon page for the book). There is a chapter on the Chinati Foundation's home in Marfa, Texas, founded by Donald Judd. (Chinati Foundation webpage). It sounds like a magical place. I was reminded of my trip to Naoshima, Japan last year which I blogged about here. These are places most of us would never dream of visiting if they weren't filled with amazing art of one kind or another. Schjeldahl mentions Brancusi's home of Târgu-Jiu as another locale that could be added to that list. (Wikipedia page for Târgu-Jiu).
I started to wonder where else there might be that would qualify as this kind of wacky art tourism? I think it doesn't count if it's a great museum in a town that maybe isn't so popular (like Detroit or Toledo, Ohio). I also thought about places like Storm King in upstate New York. But places like Storm King and DIA/Beacon are in such easy proximity to a major metro area, it's hard to call them off the beaten path. Same deal with Taliesin and Taliesin West. So, let's make a list. Where else do you know about that is in the middle of nowhere, and the only reason to go is that it has remarkable art?

Naoshima, Japan
Marfa, Texas
Târgu-Jiu, Romania

Friday, October 17, 2008

Chris McCaw


Last week I went to the opening of Chris McCaw's new work from his Sunburn Series at Michael Mazzeo's gallery. I had seen the work before when Mr. Mazzeo showed it as part of a group show last year. I remain impressed. I don't know why I'm so taken by process oriented work lately. I'm becoming a real process wonk. Still, it would be hard not to be engaged by the method by which Mr. McCaw creates his art. I quote here from the gallery press release:

Employing only the most basic elements of the medium: camera, lens and paper, McCaw documents a celestial and terrestrial landscape transformed by long exposures of the sun traversing the sky, scorching, and often burning its path completely through the photographic paper. The intense light further alters the image, paradoxically turning day into night. The large-format Gelatin Silver Paper Negatives, each created in-camera, range in size from 8 x 10 inches to 20 x 24 inches.

I understand from speaking with Mr. Mazzeo that McCaw discovered his method by accident. He fell asleep one day while making an extra long exposure of a sunny landscape. He woke to find his camera literally smoking. Curious to find out what was left on the film, he developed the damaged negatives. He was dissatisfied with the results, but, sure that he had a kernel of a good idea, he continued to experiment with the process for 3 more years until he found the path to the work he wanted.

The foundation of his process goes back to the very foundation of photography itself. We know that the first photographers who successfully fixed images on paper used a printing out process that used the sun to reverse light sensitive chemicals. His work also relates to the much used photogram idea, like Man Ray and Maholy-Nagy made famous. The difference is that a classic photogram is a camera-less process, while Mr. McCaw's is very much dependent on a camera and a lens. It's kind of a combination of a Camera Obscura and a photogram.

Even though the burning of the paper is unique, the aesthetic principal has been explored by a few others. I think of the Sea series of Hiroshi Yamazaki:

I think of the Concetto Spaziale series of Lucio Fontana:

And most directly, I think of the Heavenly Bodies series of Richard Misrach:

But that is not to say that this series is derivative in any way. Mr. McCaw speaks with his own sure voice. I hope he takes it as a compliment that I am inspired to relate his work to the art of these other great artists. The most successful works to me are the pictures which focus on the destruction of the paper as an abstract device within a composition which is at the fringes of abstraction. I love the tension between what I know to be a once-in-a-lifetime moment that is captured photographically and an image which is virtually unrecognizable as nature. Just as in Fontana, I love to see the violence in the paper; the burned edges and gaps which explode the illusion of 3 dimensionality in a 2 dimensional sheet of paper. The charred holes both diminish the effectiveness of the object as a photo and expand its effectiveness as a work of art with layered meaning. Super. Check it out.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Auction house previews

I spent yesterday afternoon previewing the upcoming sales at Christie's, Sotheby's and Bloomsbury, and then peeked in at Phillips the next day. I thought I would make a few notes about lots and displays that I found compelling. This is in NO WAY a suggestion of good deals, market recommendations, or an indication of what I may want to bid on. It's a simple aesthetic comment on what I found appealing in my previews.

Sotheby's most eye-catching lot was a spectacular albumen print by Carlton Watkins. There was another copy of this image in the recent Met show taken mostly from Gilman Paper Collection acquisition. That print caught my eye a few months ago as one of the richest landscape albumen prints I had ever seen. This was in every way its equal. A treat to see. Also fun to see was a Man Ray negative print made from an autochrome positive. As a process wonk, I just love this. My first impression was that this was the usual Sabattier effect (solarized) print that one expects from Man Ray. That the process was from an almost-out-of-date autochrome glass plate made it really neat-o cool. In addition, I was seduced by a few of the Baron de Meyer pictorialist portraits. I confess I'm pretty ignorant about this artist on a connoisseurship level, but these were a treat to see even for a tyro viewer like me.

Christie's was not too exciting for me. I guess the best was the roomful of William Egglestons that made up their own catalog. Many brilliant dye transfers - brilliant both in concept and in jewel like color. A couple of great Louise Lawlers including "Plate", "Still Life (candle)", and "Champagne for lunch". There was an interesting P-L di Corcia of men on Wall Street that seemed nostalgic and menacing in light of recent events.

At Bloomsbury I was surprised by the graphical effectiveness of a Lewis Baltz warehouse facade. Of no surprise was my pleasure in an Aurthur Siegel photogram. Beautiful work from Chicago I.D. Another surprise was a Sally Mann print form her Deep South series. This was a silver gelatin print, toned with tea, and the negative plate scratched and altered by the artist. It shows as dark and murky in the catalog, but is a real stunner in person.

At Phillips I was impressed with the gallery style hanging of much of the work. The interplay presented between adjacent work was really exciting. My favorite was a wall with 2 Joel Meyerowitz California landscapes on the sides framing a set of Wessels sunlit photos of brightly colored houses. Very effective. A few Sternfelds on adjacent walls added to the theme. Again from the process wonk front, I loved the Vera Lutter HUGE camera obscura of East River docks. But my very favorite of the show were two Helena Almeida works. I noted this artist after seeing her work in Lisbon last year. She is way under known here, and it was good to see work on the secondary market. If I had 20k burning a hole in my pocket, I'd be after those in a big way.

Swann has a wacky Ansel Adams of a woman behind a screen door. I've never seen anything like this kind of work by Adams before. I haven't actually previewed the lots yet, so I'll stop there for now. I must say it's kinda' liberating to go to the previews with no money to buy! I can just concentrate on the aesthetic pleasures and disappointments; looking at the work as a kind of gallery show. I'm sure the auction house specialists hate to hear that, but with their whopping premium hikes in the last year, I don't have much sympathy.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Jane Hammond at Lelong

Absolutely stunning, engaging, complex show of photographs at Galerie Lelong by Jane Hammond. It's a show one shouldn't miss. I was bowled over.

Lelong website

T.R. Ericsson at Paul Kasmin

Really fun show at Paul Kasmin Gallery by T.R Ericsson where the artist uses nicoltine as the "ink" in a photo/silkscreen process. I quote here from the gallery website:

In creating these works on paper, Ericsson uses a silkscreen process, essentially an intensified version of the process through which his mother's white ceiling became stained yellow. Digital photographs are burned into silkscreens. Subsequently the images are recreated in nicotine as ashtrays filled with smoldering cigarettes are placed beneath the screens, slowly creating pictorial stains while destroying the screen. The process requires anywhere from fifteen to six hundred cigarettes to create a single image.

I love the interplay between family history and process. I hope the nicotine is more friendly over the long term to the paper than it was to his mother's lungs, but, archival questions aside, this is potent, layered work. It's amazing how the nicotine creates a nostalgic and antique veneer in every picture. It reminds me a bit of the Polaroid transfers of Rick Hocks I spoke of a few posts ago. Both are full of comment on process and progress though the emotional message between them is quite different.

A link to Paul Kasmin's website