Monday, March 29, 2010

Work in Progress: Mentors and Students

"Art 21" is not only a series of programs produced for public TV - but it is also the site of an informative blog that has recently turned its attention to art education, sponsoring a competition for art students who want to publish their views online. Wouldn't it be good for educators to know what their students are really looking for when they sign up for art classes? Articulate student artists are going to help shape the future so we better be listening.

If you read Sarah Thornton's chatty "Seven Days in the Art World" you may have suffered through the chapter on "The Crit". An unwieldy but necessary affair, the critique can be a test of nerves for both students and their mentors.. The critique needs to be decoded for the reader, it can be a form of confession on the part of students and a way to deconstruct the process they went through to achieve what is being scrutinized. Teachers can be cheerleaders, while at other times they are the referee and the jury. At art school, perhaps
you believe as James Elkins has recently written in "Why Art Cannot be Taught" that we know very little about how art is taught, and what it is that we expect students to learn.

The art teacher still has the authority to be a role model for students. Visit The Geisel Gallery at Bausch & Lomb World Headquarters during the weekdays to see Don Arday's elegant solo show of digital art now on view through April 30th. Theme and variation is the working premise, with an influence of cubism, Leger and Picabia in kaleidoscopic compositions framed in nearly identical vertical formats. Don Arday teaches digital illustration at R.I.T. and his art has a meticulous craftsmanship and a restrained vocabulary of color and geometric shape.

Students are rarely given the opportunity to have a one person show, often because they don't have a body of cohesive artwork. That is not the case with Robyn Neill in his new exhibition at The Joy Gallery on Genesee Street. "Ascension" is the title of his series of paintings on thick wood panels which have been cut and shaped by jigsaw. These paintings have high ambitions with titles like "Confidence", "Hesitation" and "Heartache", the latter including an interior video screen featuring a palpitating heart.

Themes of contemporary faith, desire, and political instability were arrived at in contemplation which is the artist's prerogative. For some students it is the misapprehension of what their teachers teach that drives them forward, but not so for Robyn Neill. With his new installations he effectively incorporates constructive criticism to make his art more cogent. As Luvon Sheppard (the Director of The Joy Gallery and Robyn's teacher) say's, "the mission of this gallery will enable artists of ability who are relatively unknown to be featured in a professional way". The support and respect that is given at The Joy Gallery most importantly has been earned, so artists and visitors feel the benefit from a high level of commitment; part of process on a path towards achieving artistic maturity.

Image credits: 
Don Arday Chair, School of Art "Unresolved Face" digital art
Robyn Neill, paintings in progress

Saturday, March 13, 2010


You don't have to be a textile collector to appreciate "Fashioning Kimono: Art Deco and Modernism in Japan" now on view at The Memorial Art Gallery. Just develop a taste for the dramatic, graphic and colorful formal clothing that Japanese artisans have been creating for hundreds of years. Then again, you just might be interested in seeing how an Asian culture reflects on original European and American design.

The lucky people wearing these fashionable garments must have looked like walking paintings, or animated architecture - as the case may be. The argument for making a comparison with architecture comes from the title of this exhibition itself. Would you know what the defining characteristics of Art Deco look like? If it were not for buildings in our midst such as the Empire State Building or Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan ( and even some buildings in Rochester ) we wouldn't have a clue.

The strongest, longest lasting impression we have of Modernism and of Art Deco is that of a streamlining, and simplification of design, and the banishment of embellishment or ornament. Looking at the Kimonos on view at the MAG, you see a sublime craftsmanship, a profound sense of graphic design, and mouth watering color in the best pieces on exhibit.

Bold red and electric blue identifies a great Kimono in the main gallery. A sumptious catalog identifies this costume ( item 77 with a "Wood Assembly" motif ) as "Early Showa period, 1930's-1940's made of silk crepe with hand tie-dyed warp threads". There is no equivalent of these Kimonos in the west, yet I am reminded of the wearing blankets of the Navajo Indians in the late 19th and early 20th century that employ similar designs.

This exhibition also reminds me of the pioneering shows on view at the Japan Society over 20 years ago that sparked an interest in pattern painting. The objects in " Fashioning Kimono.." are drawn from the Jeffrey Montgomery collection of Lugano, Switzerland - known as the most comprehensive collection of Japanese folk art outside of Japan.

Separate sections of the exhibit at the MAG are devoted to children's kimonos ( look for the biplanes and battleships on the 1930's boy's kimono ) and mens ' and womens' garments. Particularly striking are the hand painted men's silk formal jackets with subdued color, the gigantic chrysanthemums on a women's kimono of the late Meiji period, and the wisteria motif of the kimono on your right as you enter the exhibition.

How self-effacing this art form is - I leave without ever knowing who the artists were that created these eye catching, fetching costumes.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

In Manhattan, A Sea of Cultural Artifacts

Early March is the season to sail into port, drop anchor for a few
hours and amble through "The Armory Show". Now, in its
eleventh season, this sprawling show takes over the west side's
Pier 94 and gives the intrepid art lover entertainment for a least
a few hours. Ticket prices were up ( $30 per person ), and sales
may have lagged, but the show goes on and on.

Last year's standouts were back, and the nuevo primitivo
Nick Cave, gives us a set of shaman shrub figures made of red
branches and pearlescent beady wire that look like they got
off at the wrong subway stop when they were really headed for
the Museum of Natural History.

I would say the crowds were light on the first day, so seeing the
art was relatively easy; one could linger in front of the little
porthole at the Pierogi Gallery booth and stare at Patrick Jacob's
green grass meadow diorama and wonder how he could have the
unworldly patience to assemble this marvel.

This year is not one for innovation, or so it would seem.
The gallerists are being cautious but there were real rewards
for those who look closely. International art stars and up and
comers are the order of the day. A wonderfully mesmerizing
ultramarine concavity of Anish Kapoor could stop you in your
tracks as does a bevy of sublime paintings of Giorgio Morandi
on the elder side of the pier show.

Along the way, I stopped for a suite of photos by Sze Tsung Leong
called "Horizons" which have an astringent aesthetic that satisfies, as does the tall collage
of Arturo Herrera at Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

If you weren't swamped by "The Armory Show", there is always a choice to see "Scope"
at Lincloln Center, or "Pulse" along the west side, but I chose to go over to The Museum
of Modern Art and visit the William Kentridge extravaganza. This South African artist
is fixated by what drawing can do for the mind and body and here it is almost palpable.

Visit MOMA to see the unforgettable stage scenes from Kentridge's production of
"The Magic Flute"; stay long enough to get the full impact of this animated set and see
the films projected in this show called "Five Themes".

Before you pull up anchor, go next door to see the one and only showing of
Thomas Chambers ( 1808 - 1869 ) a marine and landscape painter at the Folk Art Museum.
A self described "fancy painter" whose work has great graphic instincts characterized the
Hudson River Valley with a kind of stylization that shows up later in the 20th century in
artists like Thomas Hart Benton.

Going down the "Great White Way", watch out for the changing traffic patterns on Broadway,
but really - what a grand tour we had before heading out to sea!

Monday, March 1, 2010

"A Nice Place To Visit"

Printmaking is a chameleon art form, always changing its spots. This month a polished selection of provocative prints goes on view in the recently renovated Davis Gallery of Houghton House on the campus of Hobart William & Smith College in Geneva, New York. A place to come and meditate, to experience new art; but what are all those weeds growing up and around the windows and doors?

Nick Ruth ( an artist on the faculty at Hobart ) is the guiding light and curator for "Nice Place To Visit": Printmaking and the Anxious Landscape; he describes Kim Beck's vinyl leaves encircling the doors, as part of nature's revenge, a plant's protest lodged against a local architecture of the gallery space. At least in this instance weeds dominate and the art takes control. Weeds = Art.

A statement of purpose is to explore some of printmaking's new territory where artists make their home ( provisional as that may be ). In the wake of devastating earthquakes, tidal waves and global warming, where you live does matter. At the entrance you encounter Erik Waterkotte's "Over the Drained Lake", 2007. Extending the range of how a print is made (digital, relief, etching, and chine-colle) it is fun to speculate on which technique makes which mark on the paper. What it all adds up to is an image of a battlefield, tiny dark blots on red monuments. The artist writes: "I am compelled by imagery of disaster, broken architecture, voids of space and atmosphere that distort a once decipherable place".

Each of the nine artists presented here has a distinct vision, yet some of the images look remarkably cool and analytical: Kevin Haas' Trent Avenue lithographs are muffled in gray and black - solitary without giving away their location and Sean Morrisey keeps the geometry pure but lets the space collide and dematerialize, as if contemporary building materials suddenly became translucent and started to dance.

Warming up one corner of the exhibition are a suite of Nick Ruth's relief prints with some hot color and a repeating ball motif that is present in each frame. In "Tempest, 2009" we have a red ( explosive ) shower falling into a green cup, symbolic of a simple system where, as Nick says, "our natural selves battle our rational selves".

If seeing is believing, do you know what you are looking at when you see Mitch Mitchell's photo gravure prints? A landscape without horizon results in space without scale, and then there is the bubbling black ooze that is so disturbing. Artists are dreamers, but Mitch Mitchell's art is real and a result of visiting the Tar Sands of Alberta, Canada to stage the miniature tableaux he
captures in a gorgeous series of otherworldly images.

Yoonmi Nam contributes lithographs of structures once built and now demolished. This could be a recipe for a transitional existence which is a statement made more poignant in Erika Walker's etchings of finely drawn gears and dials succumbing to primordial forces.

Finally, four of my recent hybrid prints round out a show of places where the unexpected event occurs with greater regularity. There are few images of humanity directly presented here but the effects of human enterprise is all over this exhibit. I think we are all a bit terrified about what we have wrought on this planet.

Also on view is a fine small installation of book art by Sarah Bryant and Big Jump Press.
Gallery Hours are Monday thru Friday, 9-5, and Saturday 1-5