Monday, April 23, 2012

Down Memory Lane

Jackson Pollock
Convergence, 1952
courtesy of the Albright Knox Art Gallery

Maybe it's not a lane,  - maybe a super-highway, and I took the ride west to the Albright Knox Art Gallery and beyond.  My goal was to get down to Jamestown, New York to visit the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, but first I stopped in Buffalo to reconnoiter.  There is always something to see at the Albright Knox, and I first wanted to see the stairway with the sublime Sol Lewitt "murals" installed, as I walked up to the exhibition "Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo Avant-garde in the 1970's".

Today, I look through my visual history in Buffalo where a certain germinal element of the "Pictures" generation of artists got down to work in the early 1970's and began to feed a collaborative activity which preceded and anticipated whole oceans of artwork.

Buffalo was the central location partly because of Hallwalls, and because of academic departments of the universities that supported some radical visual investigations.  Step into the room upstairs that used to house the Clyfford Still paintings and you will find the structural cinema of Paul Sharits.  Several film projectors call attention to themselves, not hidden from view, inside the darkened room - there is the sound of shattering glass, and you see blocks of color projected onto the side wall.  The colors vibrate, nudge each other and try to defy change.  This is a movie that doesn't move, like looking at one of the colorfield paintings from the collection downstairs, maybe a meditation on Mark Rothko.

I became aware of the Buffalo connection when I was an undergrad at The Cooper Union, because my teacher -Hollis Frampton had been engaged with a group of filmmakers in western New York.  Also, I couldn't miss the photos of Cindy Sherman ( now at MOMA ) that began to show up along with the disjointed paintings of Robert Longo among others.  I learned a lot more from this exhibition than I can write about here, but it seems that an environment (Buffalo in the early 1970's) can do a lot to stimulate a group of people to go beyond the norm (and beyond what is considered beautiful) - and really change the direction of the artworld.

Some highlights for me included the paper bag masks of Rafael Ferrer, the early "movie stills" of Cindy Sherman, a striking wall work from Sol Lewitt, landmark sculptural proposals from Nancy Holt, and paintings by Charles Clough.  This artwork, when I first saw it in the 1970's made me stop and wonder, and, I think, because it was so different than what I was practicing at the time - it really had an impact.

On my way down to Jamestown, I thought more about the environment I grew up in.  I was on the road to the Roger Tory Peterson Institute.  Roger was a guest in our house from time to time, and I had never visited this repository of his artwork.  One of our remarkable grad students from R.I.T. was having a full blown opening with over 50 works of art on view, along with carved wooden waterfowl from her late father.  I responded immediately to this exhibition and to the place in which it was held.

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute is like a rustic castle built to house the artwork and library of this celebrated artist.  Around where we lived , Peterson was a household word - because he was the author and artist whose book created a revolution in understanding and identifying wild birds - beyond what you might find in your backyard.  Peterson's attention to detail, attention to diagnostic elements in describing a bird was really important in our household, because my father was trying to use his talents to update and upgrade what Peterson had wrought.  So my father was a bird artist too, and he worked at home with great patience and care for the "plates" that he began to paint for his books.  Roger was a role model.

So on the walls now, on view at The Roger Tory Peterson Institute, you may find paintings on canvas by Melissa Mance-Coniglio, and drawings that are engaging in color and composition.  She gets the details right, and the pose of the bird is often active and engaging.  I am impressed with the ease with which she captures a robin on a nest, or the colorful reflections of water as a loon races by.  There is something so familiar in the nature that is portrayed here: it is familiar - but yet has a mystery about it - a special painting made in a particular moment by someone with a certain gift.

Melissa Mance-Coniglio
at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Home of the Grid

The Mano Project
a collaborative work created
by poets C.D.Wright and Forrest Gander
and artists Rick Hirsch and Michael Rogers
at the Vignelli Center at R.I.T. in April

In my past life as an illustrator and designer, I worked on a number of publishing projects that were governed by grids created by the designer Massimo Vignelli, so I thought it was totally apt to feature a collaborative work of art that projects that familiar format in the Vignelli Center at R.I.T.  The Vignelli Center (which really should be called "The Home of the Grid") has many displays that feature the ubiquitous designs that Massimo and his wife Lella Vignelli have created over a long and adventurous career as international graphic artists.  When I was living in Manhattan the Vignelli designs were all around me on my worktable, when I went into the subway (a famous map of the NYC subway system), on the buses (watch your step!) and shopping bags (for Bloomingdales among others), and so much more.

I put a link up on this blog to the Vignelli Canon, a book with great lessons in mass communication skills and a primer for all graphic designers.  Grids help orient us in space, whether it is a two dimensional page, or a three dimensional sculpture or even a time based animation.

If you walk into the Vignelli Center during this month you will not only be in a very beautiful, tall exhibition space, but you will also find artworks by Frances and Albert Paley, and in the center of the main room a collaborative sculptural work between two poets - C.D. Wright and Forrest Gander of Rhode Island and two artists from R.I.T. - Rick Hirsch and Michael Rogers.

The Mano Project has been two years in the making - it took an initial inspiration from a poem by Forrest Gander and the creative talents of well regarded artists such as Rick Hirsch and Michael Rogers and their dedicated students to make and put the parts together out of clay and glass.

An oversize mortar and pestle dominate the tableau, which sits on a checkerboard of glass or ceramic tiles that amplify the grid of the light grey floor at the Vignelli Center.  At the opposite end of the tile "map" stand eight clear glass jars filled with grains of various colors which can remind one of a rich outdoor marketplace with piles of spices or a ritual and or spiritual place portrayed in a Persian miniature. The Mano Project throws into high relief the personal artistic alchemy that takes basic elements of the earth and creates a sensitive work of art.

Another interesting grid I found across town at 176 Anderson Avenue in the inaugural exhibition held at the Axom Gallery, in the same building as the Steve Carpenter studios.  Paul Garland is the artist
and I found the grid of small paintings quite fascinating and worth the visit.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

To Spring Ahead

art critic for
The Nation,  Barry Schwabsky
visiting Rochester Institute of Technology
and the Bevier Gallery

Along with the aroma of sweet magnolias blooming in my front yard, the relative freedom of Spring has burst upon us.  It has been my plan to host Barry Schwabsky, the art critic for The Nation as my guest speaker and I am grateful that he has taken this opportunity to present a performance concerning contemporary drawing for one evening at The Memorial Art Gallery.  The specific drawings come from a Chicago collector Irving Stenn and you can look at this link for more detail:

After I introduced Barry to the audience,  we heard an extended philosophical prose poem while flashing images of contemporary drawings were seen on a large screen behind the speaker.  Barry explained at the start that he had thought about researching artists to find their images and apt quotes but then determined that the best way to proceed would be to write his own statements and submit them as "anonymous quotes".  So from the stage he commenced to intone 116 of them, and with the projected drawings it was like a mental concert.  Trying to get to the heart of what the act of drawing is like - so difficult, yet so much fun!

Earlier in the day at R.I.T., Barry and I dialog on how to prepare for a life as an art critic and what the publishing field is like for this career path!  We only scratched the surface..  Upstairs in the Bevier Gallery some R.I.T. graduate students were having their Thesis exhibitions.  An Asian student, Wen-Hua Chen has painted a floral motif on a baby grand piano, surrounding her were rows of watercolors and prints as she practiced her Bach for opening night. Barry and I check out Marchelo Vera's prints and video installation talking about the tech revolution and how it effects the up-and-coming artist.

Wen-Hua Chen at the piano

At the Bevier Gallery you can find Marchelo Vera's prints which were made in collaboration with a composer,  and the prints are used as a kind of score to be translated into audible tones.  On a monitor a visitor can interact with an ongoing animation of a spinning globe wrapped with one of the print images (all very high tech) and the result is an engaging linear networking - all very black and white.
Across town, there is another exhibition that has a remarkable similarity - prints by Kristine Bouyoucos in the Project Room of the Rochester Contemporary Art Center.  Her prints in color are indebted to classical music composition and the images include parts of musical scores in tribute to the composers.

WORK IT is the show that addresses labor and employment issues for the public and artists alike now at The Rochester Contemporary Art Center.  A wall of photos by artist Clark Conde represents a kind of field guide to the working world in and around Rochester.  One photo is presented for each day of the year, along with a little story about the featured workers and what they do.  At this show there are also 3d silk screened objects that parody children's consumer products by Jonathan Stewart, some fairly straight photo realist paintings of abandoned factory sites by Morgan Craig, and map-like quilts made by Kathryn Clark that show neighborhoods in red.  Zones in these quilts correspond to foreclosed properties that draw our attention to a financial disaster that hits so many so hard.