Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Art Writing

The Brooklyn Rail is an engaging read, especially if you are interested in contemporary art and want some feeling of community.  I found that this past month there was a long interview with Jed Perl who has just published a biography of Alexander Calder.

Calder's Early Years by Jed Perl

If you don't already subscribe, take a look at Brooklyn Rail.  Here is a link:https://brooklynrail.org/

New Art City ( 2005 ) by Jed Perl

If you don't know the writing of Jed Perl, he is now a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, and in the past he has been a critic for The New Criterion, for Vogue Magazine, and for The New Republic.  I met Jed Perl many years ago, and he has been a guest speaker in my class at Rochester Institute of Technology.

I share an interest in representational painters with Jed Perl, and in reading his interview in The Brooklyn Rail, I found out that he practiced painting for a while before his writing assignments began to dominate his time.  Jed Perl has written about artists whom he feels should not be overlooked.  His book from 2005 - "New Art City" - Manhattan in Mid-Century not only followed careers of the big name brand artists but also included stories about people who deserve a deeper look like Edwin Dickinson, Fairfield Porter, Nell Blaine, and Jane Freilicher.

The Brooklyn Rail

Reading the interview with Jed Perl in the February issue of The Brooklyn Rail, you really get a sense of what it is like to follow developments in visual art, and even working on overcoming a stigma that his viewpoint was considered a reactionary position ( defending figurative art in an era of minimalism and conceptualism ).   Jed Perl's writing is getting better and I look forward to his pages on Calder.

Barry Schwabsky at R.I.T.

This month also brings in another voice that I have followed over many years.  The poet and art critic for The Nation  - Barry Schwabsky has a new article and a new book called "Heretics of Language".
His new article has a focus on another poet and art critic - the late John Ashbery.    Barry takes us back to "What's Happening" - a phrase from late 20th Century when John Ashbery wrote about the visual arts for New York Magazine among other publications and was frequently grouped with the artists of the New York School.

Just published: "Heretics of Language"
Barry Schwabsky

Barry is also someone I have met, and he has been a guest speaker in my classroom at R.I.T. as well as making a presentation to folks at The Memorial Art Gallery.  Barry's writing is so insightful, I always try to read what he has to say about the current scene.  In his article for The Nation, he goes back to the tumultuous years in the art world when John Ashbery was active and speaks of how surrealism was the key to writing about the surprising developments  that Ashbery  covered.
Trying to be an art critic who can follow all the trends is a real stretch for most people, and John Ashbery makes a comment that he felt most of his art criticism was crap,  with the exception of what he wrote about Brice Marden.  So, if you want to find out why - pick up a copy of The Nation and read what his justification was for that comment...it is most illuminating!

April 8, 2018 in The Nation
Barry Schwabsky

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Planet Earth

Portrait of a Planet: Photographer in Space

March 22, 2018 was an unusual day in The University Gallery at Rochester Institute of Technology.  On the walls there is a photography show - unusual even for the land of Kodak, here in Rochester.

Photographer: Donald Pettit

The students and gallery goers had the opportunity to meet the photographer who was really out-of-this- world.  Donald Pettit stood in front of an audience and recalled what it was like to race around planet Earth doing his day job as an astronaut and making a record of the wonders that passed below   on his off hours.  AS the sign says: "Art is an inevitable consequence of being human - even in space"....

Donald Pettit answers questions from earth at R.I.T.

Actually, Pettit didn't always know what was below because he could so easily be turned upside down  in the space craft.  Being up in space, you begin to be struck by the wonder of it all, but having his camera meant that he could create a journal of images, and report on what he has seen.  This show of giant photographic prints gives just a suggestion of some of the miracles of observation ( out of nearly 500,000 images ) that can occur on this kind of voyage.  Here is a point of view most will never experience first hand, and it can be disorienting at first.  Since there is so much digital art out in the world, it is hard to at first believe that this show is REAL..!

Over the Indian sub-continent
by Donald Pettit

While answering questions about what it is like to be an astronaut with a camera, folks in the audience asked what he missed most while being up in space.  His reflection on this was that after you miss your family the most, you get involved in what you are doing - and then you don't want to miss anything that happens on the space ship.  His photos that you see in the show are unique.  The visual events documented here give you a sense of the immensity of the universe we inhabit, just take a look at the image above of the Indian sub-continent and you get the idea.

Blue Moon by Donald Pettit

The photos of this wild world give you a new sense of perspective, and they certainly leave you with a feeling of just how tiny the human being is in the scheme of things.  You want to come back down to earth, then walk upstairs to the William Harris Gallery on the third floor at R.I.T. and look in on a show called "Hiding from Rain".  I found images like a wonderful cloud quilt of photos by Brett Starr.  These cyanotypes made a nice counterpoint to the images of deep space found in The University Gallery.

Cyanotypes from Brett Starr

"Hiding from Rain" presents a set of images from ten different students who each make a separate part of this group show.  They are finishing up this chapter  of their lives and looking forward to the next challenge.  Who knows?  Maybe one day we will see their images when they come back from a voyage in deep space!

Cloud Cyanotypes from Brett Starr
William Harris Gallery at
Rochester Institute of Technology

Sunday, March 18, 2018


"Cavern"  oil on canvas by Melissa Huang
Makers Gallery, 34 Elton Street, Third Floor
Rochester, New York

Up on a sunny 3rd floor of an old industrial building at 34 Elton Street you will find the Makers Gallery and for a few weeks you will have a chance to look over the artwork of an imaginative artist and former R.I.T. student - Melissa Huang.  You may have already seen her paintings in a nice layout in the first edition of Art House Press, or you may have viewed her work carried by Shop One on the campus of R.I.T.  Either way, this is an instance where you can see a cross section of her latest endeavors ( but by no means her only interests ) in the art world.

Melissa Huang on opening night
Makers Gallery

In this new exhibition we have some of her portraits that combine realism with an unusual take on the inner life of her subjects.  Many of her figures have a jewel encrusted inner sanctum.  In one portrait she calls "Cavern" there is a natural person and it turns out that they are characterized by an amethyst geode.  Melissa Huang is a rock collector and she is making the argument in her paintings that her family and friends really show another aspect in their lives that only the painter can reveal for us to see.  As she writes: "Cavern explores the relationship between how we view ourselves and others; what is shown on the outside is often at odds with inner emotions and experiences."

"Good King Neptune", a 6" x 6" print 
Alan Singer

There are other jewels coming soon to Rochester Contemporary Art Center, and you will find them in the show they call: 6x6.  I have submitted work for the show like the print I made ( above ) that I call "Good King Neptune" which I made in a small edition.  I have also purchased many pieces for my collection ( a bargain at $20 per piece ).  Here is one print that I loved from a recent show made by Tarrant Clements.  It is fun going around to try to match up what I know of an artists work, and see if I can find the pieces they have donated for this once a year opportunity.

Tarrant Clements found at the 6x6 show
Rochester Contemporary Art Center

I support what the artists are doing when they donate art for this show and in the long run I am supporting what RoCo is doing by helping sustain a community and playing an active role.

As a working artist, the efforts that Rochester Contemporary Art Center make to bring visual art to our community can not be overestimated.  The vital art that is on display at any given time is an important aspect of why I am living here in this area, why I am working in this neighborhood, and also something to be very thankful for.

So, you may want to get together with some friends to create artworks - no larger than 6" x 6" - and submit them to the show by the deadline of April 15th.  It is much more fun than just doing your taxes!

6 x 6  at Rochester Contemporary Art Center

For more information go to the source: 137 East Avenue in Rochester or go online and see what the details are for this coming year.  Here is a link: roco6x6.org/

Thursday, March 15, 2018


Anna Sears and Alan Singer
present the artwork of Arthur Singer
University of Massachusetts
Sunday, March 11, 2018

We spent the day in Boston at The University of Massachusetts which occupies a portion of a peninsula just south of the city center.  We were participants at a conference for bird enthusiasts arranged by MASS Audubon, and we presented artwork by Arthur Singer as well as our new illustrated biography of the artist published by RIT Press.  Nice to speak to so many people who know my father's artwork, and have used his Golden Guide to Birds of North America.

University of Massachusetts, Boston, Mass.

Later in the day, we went off on a drive west towards North Adams and MASS MOCA which is one of the finest contemporary art museums anywhere in this country.  The old industrial buildings that house their art date back a century, but the big spaces are just perfect for viewing an exhibition of wall works by Sol Lewitt.  

Entrance to MASS MOCA, North Adams, Mass.

They have had some serious snow in the area but we were lucky that the roads were dry as we headed into the parking lot.

Three levels of Sol Lewitt ( 1928-2007 )

Inside MASS MOCA you have a lot of territory to cover.  We head first upstairs to view the wall works that are on extended exhibition ( 25 years from the opening in 2008 ) and we were knocked out by what we saw.  Sol Lewitt's art is divided up into three sections: early, middle, and late.  These wall works were created on site by a team of artists working to Lewitt's specifications and sets of rules that he developed that go back to the 1960's amidst the periods of conceptualism and minimalism that he helped formulate.

Isometric Cubes by Sol Lewitt

Upon entering the show there is a short video worth seeing with a host of sorts in Robert Storr who is a curator, critic, and ex-dean of the School of Art at Yale University.  You get to hear from artists on the crew in the video who created the actual wall works on view, and you get a better sense of what it is like to "make" one of these paintings.

Middle Period of Sol Lewitt

Sol Lewitt is all about measurement and geometry - so there are a strict set of rules on how to create his art, and the early wall works give you a sense of detail that is truly breathtaking... I have a little Sol Lewitt print at home that I bought from Deborah Ronnen years ago, and I look at it every day and am captivated by the basic color and strict sensibility.  The early works on view now at MASS MOCA present grids and the proof of what look like charts of possible moves that art can take, almost like calculating moves on a chess board in the mind of a master.

Later wall work by Sol Lewitt can be wavy and wild

Upstairs, the colors attract like a festive birthday cake, with texture and taste.  Geometric forms become inside-out puzzles where geometry can do strange tricks with your eyesight.  The mid-career and late works can be characterized by color and  form, and sometimes the flow is wavy and wild.  Dewitt's final pieces are austere webs of scribbles that are remarkable in their directness and simplicity.

Late career images from Sol Lewitt

Once you have gone through three floors of artwork by Sol Lewitt you can stop an see the facets of a giant mirror from the likes of Anish Kapoor.  The form is a circle and the surface breaks up reflected light the way a cut diamond works on you.

Anish Kapoor

My wife, Anna, studied music at Bennington College in the 1970's with Gunnar Schonbeck, so she was surprised to see the weird and wonderful instruments he had created that were also on view at MASS  MOCA.  We plucked and drummed the instruments made of metal and wood, and had fun thinking of the music they could make.

Gunnar Schönbeck " No Experience Required "
musical instrument inventions

Before we left the museum, we duck into a darkened gallery to see a suite of expressive drawings from Laurie Anderson.  The large scale drawings ( 10 x 14 feet ) are a tribute to her pet Lolabelle,
and they take into account Anderson's faith as a practicing Buddhist in the afterlife.  The drawings  imagine her favorite dog in Bardo,  a state of being that one enters after death in preparation for reincarnation.

Laurie Anderson's drawings of Lolabelle in Bardo

I remember meeting Laurie Anderson after her performance at "Light in Winter" in 2006.  We were in Ithaca, New York, and there was a reception for performers at State of the Art Gallery.  I had given a talk on birds in art, and we just had a chance to chat with Laurie Anderson with her dog Lolabelle who followed her everywhere she went.

Laurie Anderson chats with Alan Singer
Light in Winter, 2006, Ithaca, New York

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Snow Scene With Birds

Museum of American Bird Art
MASS Audubon, Canton,  Massachusetts

We dodged the worst of the snow storms driving east through western Massachusetts on the way to Canton, and MASS Audubon.  Going to give a talk, and introduce the artwork of Arthur Singer for the gallery goers and visitors to the best public museum collection of birds in art, here in the east.  Want to know more?  This is a link to their website:  https://www.massaudubon.org/learn/museum-of-american-bird-art

Signage at the entry to Museum of American Bird Art

My brother Paul Singer, and I have been planning on this exhibition for a while and so we were delighted to be asked to show some of our father's artwork.

The town of Canton is a suburb of Boston, and the museum is located on a woodsy spot that includes a 121 acre wildlife sanctuary with trails along with the buildings that house their collection of art.

Great Grey Owl, painting by Arthur Singer
collection of Ed Woodin

Birds in art has attracted attention through a kind of citizen science - where almost anyone can get involved - as long as you are interested in being outdoors, and maybe own a pair of binoculars.  From the time my brother and I were little kids, we were taken out to parks and bird sanctuaries by our father, and we became aware of the natural world through our parent's encouragement.  Also from a young age, I watched my father painting in his studio at home, so I saw what it took to create a realistic painting of a bird in a natural setting.  If you are born into a family of artists, what better way to learn about this branch of our culture!   It didn't hurt that Arthur Singer was able to provide for his family and even set the direction that we would all take later on in life.  In the early 1950's when my father's career began to take off, it was probably very doubtful that one could make a living painting bird portraits.  He proved that it could be done and also it made a big difference, because we all became aware of environmentalism and the need to conserve our natural heritage.

Visitors to the show
Paintings by Arthur Singer

My father's many illustrated books spanning a forty year career sold well enough, and some are still in print, though in later editions. Now, we have a recently published book: Arthur Singer, The Wildlife Art of an American Master that we are presenting at MASS Audubon. Paul wrote most of the book and designed it as well.  We did a lot of research on this blend of science and art, and we  fit right in when we landed in Canton, Massachusetts.

Golden Eagle Over Sagebrush, by Arthur Singer

Museum of American Bird Art

The present museum is in a building that had been an art studio for the family that owned these acres earlier on and lately this organization has mounted shows that really attract your attention.  On view today is an exhibition titled: "WATERBIRDS" - all from the museum's collection, as well as our showing of Arthur Singer's paintings.  We borrow a few works from Ed Woodin in Maine for this particular moment including a Great Grey Owl that Arthur Singer painted towards the end of his career.

Museum Director Amy Montague with painting by Keith Shackelton

If you walk around the building you can find great examples by some artists who are working today and you can also catch up on the history of birds in art by looking at examples from artists who are no longer active, or alive.  Over the mantel piece for example is a large Andy Warhol featuring a Bald Eagle.  Nearby is a terrific seascape by the painter Keith Shackelton who I became aware of when I was compiling a book in the late 1990's called "Wildlife Art" published by Rockport Press.  You will be surprised by the interesting artists at work today in the field.  Below we have an example by the painter Barry Van Dusen who has painted all over Massachusetts, often from life.

A Least Tern by painter Barry Van Dusen

Paul Singer talks
about the life and career of Arthur Singer
Museum of American Bird Art