Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Far Out Man

Kenny Irwin Jr.

1077 Granvia Valmonte,
Palm Springs, CA.
5$ donation at the gate

Kenny Irwin has created his own amusement park and my stay in Palm Springs would not be complete if I didn't go for a visit.  Some people have to go and see the Bob Hope house, but don't miss this - this is too much!

Robolights, a 4 acre site, not far from Frank Sinatra Way in a palmy suburb, was where I found an amazing array of folk art from the hands of one very driven person who has a vision and will not stop until every nook and cranny is filled...  did anyone say "obsession? "

Alan Singer gathers materials for the
blog you are reading

If you grew up playing with Legos, Transformers and other mechanical mayhem, this perpetual show will be right up your alley.  Especially captivating were the stags emerging from a line of toilets in a central square where a huge golden stage coach was parked and instead of a team of horses pulling the carriage, we have a fleet of yellow manikins.

Kenny Irwin Jr. has been developing this park on the family estate for many years.
Around every corner there is something to marvel at.

This personal theme park has been built by hand ( maybe with the exception of the Macy's balloon parade which floats above parts of the constructions).  Private tours can be arranged by appointment and if you just want to stay a little while you can make a donation at the front.  Your money literally goes down the drain, and you can proceed on the paths towards the end.  Look up and you will see millions of lights!

I think the artist must have grown up watching old Pee Wee's Playhouse reruns.  My friend Gary Panter would no doubt approve, since he designed many of the crazy props for Pee Wee's sets.  But you haven't seen anything quite like this - are you ready for it?

Many of the constructions have been put together with cast-off collections, old pails, skulls, and odd assortments of lumber painted in the brightest colors.  There is a carousel of sorts, a mad green whirling head, and an anatomical ticket taker and so much more.  Plan to stay after dusk, the place is truly a Coney Island of the Mind!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Way Out West

2015, Welcome the New Year
Palm Springs Art Museum
Palm Springs, California

There is a chill in the air on a sunny day in December.  We're in Palm Springs and we walk up the steps to the museum.

Palm Springs has doubled in size since we were last in these precincts, and this is the busy time of the year here.  I am looking up at the banners outside the museum advertising the shows of contemporary glass, and the special exhibition from the studio of the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei.

Yesterday, we walked around Joshua Tree National Park and it features views with a fascinating geology that goes for miles and miles, and today we are taking in a different form of visual culture.  Walking up to the museum we are greeted in the  sculpture gardens with  works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth among others.

There is a traveling show of Australian modern glass called "LINKS" which looks enticing. We go upstairs in the elevator and begin our tour seeing manipulated photos and gazing out over the atrium.

Atrium of the Palm Springs Art Museum

We take in the paintings by Anselm Keifer, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly, and a convex circle by Anish Kapoor. There is a dress made in 1964 at the Andy Warhol studio of a Brillo Box and some printed yellow cloth.  One of my favorite works on the upper floor was a  "quadtych" by Brian Wills of a spectrum consisting of four parallel wooden shelves surrounded by color threads.

Horizontal Spectrum by Brian Wills, 2013

There was a big operatic painting by Jennifer Bartlett " Fire, Table, Cone" from 1988-89 that has some staying power with the actual objects of a orange red table and black cone placed in front of the painted images being consumed by flames.  Is this an allegory of how forms are used up in the art world? Forms are used and then re-invented or re-packaged as seen downstairs in the horoscope of heads by the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei.

Tableaux of Cone, Table and Painting by
Jennifer Bartlett

We sat and watched a short video about the sculpture of Ai Wei Wei, and had a look into his studio practice as the horoscope heads were being built by his studio assistants.  Clay models were being cast and two editions were made: one in bronze and one in gold.  On view at the Palm Springs Art Museum were a set of twelve heads in gold - each on a pedestal. They were effective as a group and as individual pieces, to a greater or lesser extent - each person may have a favorite…

Ai Wei Wei

As far as studio production goes, these twelve heads were interesting, and the set helps to place where Chinese contemporary art happens to be at the moment.  Ai Wei Wei may be the most well-known Chinese artist, and that may be due to his activism, and all the controversy surrounding his house arrest.

The horoscope heads are not consistent, in terms of style and impact.. some of the "necks" are more interesting, some of the descriptive heads are better, some are a bit slick, and remind me of certain characters in children's literature.   Never-the-less I am happy to have seen this set.

Acoma ceramic pot

There is a section of the museum dedicated to paintings of the Southwest, and there was a favorite small study by Thomas Moran of the Grand Canyon.  Also on view: a selection of Navajo pottery, and weavings, like this pictorial Germantown blanket circa 1880.

Germantown Textile, circa 1880

Contemporary glass is all fired up!  The show at Palm Springs Art Museum features Australian glass art and it is simply beautiful.  Also it is inventive, and subtle, and striking, especially in the way the show titled: LINKS is mounted.  Every piece of glass in the exhibition is given space to breathe ( which is one thing missing from many of the shows I have seen at Corning for example ).  There are glass panels that look like paintings, and there are several striking images that are minimal and essential.

Giles Bettison creates patterns in the glassworks he makes and I found this one striking for its subtle color range.  There is a interesting story to tell with these new Australian glass artists.

Giles Bettison
glass art with textile patterns, 2010

Monday, December 22, 2014

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Arthur and Alan Singer
from their book "State Birds"
published by Lodestar Books

Season's Greetings to you all.  We do have reasons to be cheerful - in our neck of the woods we will now have a ban on fracking.  That's right, here in New York State - Anna Sears and Nedra Harvey among others, have been diligent in their fight for clean air, clean water, and they have battled the forces lined up against them in the oil industry - and these activists have prevailed! CONGRATULATIONS!

We want to see the sun so we are on our way out west and my next report will be from way out yonder. Now that I have gotten my grades in, I can think about next semester in sunnier climes.

Rochester Contemporary Art Center
24th Annual Members Exhibition

Before I leave, I want to thank Blue Cease and the volunteers at Rochester Contemporary Art Center for putting together an encyclopedic Annual show.  There is so much artwork, in so many styles that it is hard to sum up.  I did see that a few pieces have already been sold, and people were busy putting their yellow dot of appreciation next to the artwork that they liked the best.

Tom Lightfoot's
mixed media portrait
on the right

A few people I know were in the show, and it is always good to see some of my students past and present in the mix.  Melissa Mance had a fine portrait of a Snowy Owl on the wall, and my friend and colleague - Tom Lightfoot had an interesting mixed media portrait next to a mosaic in a window frame.  In the back was a large piece by John Kastner that had his usual blend of mayhem.  Patti Ambrogi had a very calm and peaceful ( and green) forest photo, and there were many other interesting creative pieces on display.  Take some time to go and see this show and the great variety of talent we have right here around us.

Patti Ambrogi  below

See, I told you there were reasons to be cheerful!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What Did You See Today

Eric T. Kunsman at the Dyer Art Center
Rochester Institute of Technology
til January 21, 2015

Sometimes art takes you places that you never forget.  That is the case with the bold new photographs that have come to stay for a while at the Dyer Art Center. Eric T. Kunsman is the photographer ( he is the owner of the Booksmart Studio ) and he has filled the gallery spaces with documentary photos of the Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania - but this is more than just fine photos - it is really a society, a sociology and life's lessons on view.  In a pile, on a pedestal, there are old certificates of fact, the papers that were used to log in the inmates, noting what they did and didn't do, how they behaved with one another, who got pardoned, who died in jail, etc.

The old jail hasn't been used for quite a while, so it became a destination for a field trip that Eric took, and he just kept going back to document what he saw there between 2003 and 2005.  The building looks like a Civil War relic, a stockade whose walls are peeling and corroding, the photos made inside this prison give one the chills.  This could be the scene of a horror movie, and it probably was for some who sat out their days behind bars.

Eric T. Kunsman photography at The Dyer Art Center, R.I.T.

Eric's vision of this place is all texture, and he brings a remarkable sense of light and detail into these gloomy precincts.  Sometimes his photos bring a softness that is less foreboding, and then you can go back and read the scripture of the warden in charge who writes that a certain prisoner has learned to write, or read while incarcerated, or that a certain person has been discharged, or transferred with little hope for his last days.  It is very moving stuff!

Len Urso unveils his portrait of Mondavi

Across campus at R.I.T. there was an unveiling of a huge sculptural portrait of the vintner Robert Mondavi.  Richard Sands, the art patron and owner of the recently acquired Mondavi Winery commissioned my colleague Len Urso to create this giant head that somehow reminds me of the Easter Island moai, seen here sitting outside in the cool breeze.  

Richard Sands introduces Len Urso at The Vignelli Design Center

At the celebration for the artist and patron, a short video was projected that gives one an idea of where the new sculpture will be situated, and then the crowd could go outside on a wintry afternoon to inspect the work.  Made of thick copper sheet metal welded together and hammered out, this is no small order for an artwork of formal rigor that serves as a reminder of the "bigger-than-life" approach that Mondavi brought to his business, and that is carried forward in this likeness to be installed in California during the spring of 2015.

Len Urso on left with Carlos Caballero Perez
and new Mondavi portrait in copper

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Back in Town

John Retallack's photo of book artist Scott McCarney
at the
Link Gallery, 30 Church Street, in downtown Rochester, New York

At City Hall on Church Street, there is the Link Gallery, a hallway exhibition space recently inhabited by photos from John Retallack.  John worked for many years at Rochester Institute of Technology as a professor in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences and only a few years ago published a book of portraits ( I was one of them ) titled: "Colleagues", written with my friend Anne C. Coon.  John is a highly skilled studio photographer and the interesting thing about this show is that his photos are often diptychs - pairs of images that are related, and this broadens the story that they tell.

For example, there is a host of photos of war veterans, and the pairing of photos often shows the way they look today with a photo of them as a younger person.  Instantly, we look for similarities in the face, and then we look for the differences - and how they have changed!  I also like some of his informal shots of a simple fence half buried in sand.

John Retallack at Link Gallery

Wm. A. Root 
at Warren Phillips, 1115 East Main Street, Rochester, NY

Warren Phillips, who has a frame shop and gallery attached just moved into my studio building - The Hungerford - at 1115 East Main Street, and opened a curious show titled "Assemblage".  I stopped in to see these works by artist William A. Root and I found the art engaging and playful, and this show brought out similarities between these predominantly wood forms and the combinations that Louise Nevelson used to show when she was alive in New York City.  When I asked about Mr. Root, I was told that for years he made window displays, and he has been a part of the art community here for years, but this is the first time that I have seen a show of these sculptures, and they have a strong modernist impulse - I could imagine an artist like Picabia making paintings of similar constructions.

Emily Glass in the "Faculty Show",  The Bevier Gallery
at Rochester Institute of Technology

The School of Art, is represented in the Faculty Exhibition, at the Bevier Gallery in Booth Building of R.I.T. and a visitor is drawn to the far wall of the show where there hangs a large painting of two massive frogs by the artist Emily Glass.  They are a bit gothic, without being a menace, and they are convincingly painted.  A few other birds and animals caught my eye including a wonderful little painting of a screech owl by Robert Dorsey ( see below ), and a drawing of an egret by Bill Finewood.

Painting by Robert Dorsey

Denton Crawford had a lively painting of hanging feathers, and next to that was a series of caricatures of the Beatles by Jay Lincoln.  There was also a parade of figure drawings from Keith Howard, who is better known for his leadership in the Non-Toxic Printmaking world, but Keith has taught figure drawing for many years and all that practice shows.

The Beatles by Jay Lincoln
at the Bevier Gallery to January 9, 2015