Sunday, October 27, 2019

Here's The Scoop On Art Writing

In Rochester:
RoCo Director, Bleu Cease introduces the Art Writers
Thursday, October 24, 2019
photo by Alan Singer

A dilemma:  The current capitalist system allows payments for goods and services as a way of making a living, and artists and other creative types ( like writers ) have to accept this fact and learn to deal with it.  Just try to find a market for what you like to do!

In past years I was paid to write about art by editors of magazines and other publishers - but that was long ago.  Now I write because I am free to do so,  and this is another way of saying that I self-support my  creative impulse.

Another dilemma:  At R.I.T. when I teach, I often bring with me reference books to share with my class, but my students rarely show the slightest interest - preferring just to google it. If you once made a living writing for a newspaper or publishing a book once in a while, it is getting much harder to sell your product to the publishers and to your intended audience,  hence some publishers go out of business.

Where there is no visible means of support, is there a way forward for creative folks?  We will find out.....

At Rochester Contemporary Art Center this past Thursday evening I attended a panel discussion on the current state of Art Writing.  In the photo above Bleu Cease introduced the invited speakers who are from left to right: Colin Dabkowski, Karen vanMeenen, Rebecca Rafferty, Robin L. Flanigan, and Sarah Webb.

The stage was set and each panelist had a few minutes to share their background stories and bring us up-to-date on what was happening in the media.  We learned from Colin that he recently left the newspaper business in Buffalo after years as an art critic who was re-assigned to the sports desk.  From Karen we heard the story that afterimage would be published now by the University of California under her leadership.  Rebecca Rafferty told the audience that CITY Newspaper has been acquired by WXXI and that hopefully arts coverage would continue to flourish.  Robin L. Flanigan spoke about how difficult it has become to pitch a story related to the visual arts at the Democrat & Chronicle, and Sarah had some reflections on "Current Seen" - a biennial show presented by many small venues in Rochester that is currently drawing attention.

Our cultural scene needs art writers to inform a public about what is happening and why, especially now when the field of visual art is so diverse.

Then there was the question from the audience about whether the art writer provides criticism or is it just promotion?  Writing about art in a way is like translation, one is trying to put into words - something that is primarily a visual experience, and it is not that easy!

A Must Read!  new collection by Peter Schjeldahl

Along those lines a new collection from the critic Peter Schjeldahl would be a must read for aspiring art writers...not that you have to agree with every opinion you come across in this book.  I just think his way with language, the poetry of it, is worth the price of admission.  From my experience we have gone through many seasons of reading books by art writers.  When I was in grad school I had the opportunity to sit down at the dinner table with Clement Greenberg and Friedl Dzubas in Ithaca, years ago.  I listened as the eminent critic Greenberg disparaged so many artists that it made me a very nervous guest at the table.  I learned a  important lesson in that moment to not rule out so many paths to take.  Later, as an art teacher at R.I.T. my practice is to leave the doors open and not close them down, and the practice of being an artist is not such an exclusive club as Greenberg had once imagined. 

In the face of a dilemma the creative person will be just that - creative.  You have to go with what works, and if you select this direction for your life, stay with it!  You are in good company....

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Seasoned Pros in Autumn

Entrance to The Memorial Art Gallery
500 University Ave.,  Rochester,  New York

On Sunday, I was in attendance for an interesting interview after the opening of the Alphonse Mucha ( 1860 -1939 ) exhibition at The Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York.  I had noticed when I was at the member's preview that some of the Mucha images on view came from the private collection of Frances and Albert Paley.  Up to that moment it had not occurred to me that the Paleys were collectors of Art Nouveau.  Getting back to the interview - it was conducted by R.Roger Remington with Albert Paley on stage in the MAG Auditorium.  Both Albert and Roger have a long association with R.I.T. ( Roger has been with R.I.T. for over fifty years! ) and I gathered during the stage presentation that this is not the first time that Roger has interviewed Albert.

R. Roger Remington on left, and Albert Paley on right
at the Alphonse Mucha exhibition held at The Memorial Art Gallery

Art Nouveau artist/genius:   Alphonse Mucha

R. Roger Remington is a Professor, a graphic design historian and printmaker who has a deep connection to leaders in the field of design such as the late Massimo Vignelli.  Roger is responsible for the Vignelli Design Center at R.I.T. which holds a vast archive of design work going back through the mid-20th Century.  Roger is also a noted author, and had some interesting questions to ask Albert Paley about his relationship to Art Nouveau, and it suddenly dawns on me that certain Paley sculptures have a wavy line of sorts that could be a look back to that prior era.

Albert Paley sculpture at R.I.T.

Just at this moment there are several shows of artwork from seasoned professionals that have contributed SO MUCH to our experience of the arts here in Rochester. As far as Albert Paley is concerned,  I don't think that our experience of Rochester would be nearly the same without his gates and towering sculpture and the like.  Along with Albert and Roger Remington we now have a new exhibition at the R.I.T. University Gallery  of the paintings and sculpture of William ( "Bill") Keyser.

Paintings and Sculpture by William  "Bill" Keyser 2009-2019
at University Gallery
Rochester Institute of Technology

Bill Keyser  also has had a long association with R.I.T. having taught there in the School for American Craft and later as a student earning a Master's degree in painting in the School of Art.  I had the pleasure of working with Bill on his MFA and had the opportunity to watch his work unfold from the more practical applied art of making furniture to the more experimental work that he is now involved with.

Laminated wood sculpture "Little Pretzel" by William Keyser

Mr. Keyser seems to have an insatiable taste for experiments in his art that range from the colorful abstract paintings he makes to the equally engaging sculptures that  we find in this large and impressive show.

William Keyser's painting called; "Romulus and Remus"

As autumn begins to roll in I also have had the chance to take in a show of three women who have been making really interesting prints for decades, and this is all brought out to the public in their exhibition now ending a long run in the Geisel Gallery in downtown Rochester.  The emphasis is on a vision of a landscape that is evocative, poetic, and enigmatic - all at the same time.  There is striking color - like the encaustic work that greets a visitor at the entrance to the show by Constance Mauro.

At the Geisel Gallery:
Art by g.a.Sheller, Constance Mauro, and Elizabeth Durand now thru October 30th, 2019

"Delta Blues" by Constance Mauro

So, take the voyage "From Here to There" and check out the roomful of artwork - many multi-media prints and works on paper by these three artists who have had a long friendship and have really contributed to our community!  Fine Works to see, so check it out!

Print by Elizabeth Durand
The Geisel Gallery
Rochester, New York


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Art Workers

October Light by Alan Singer

This week in The New York Times, critic Michael Kimmelman remarked about the expansion of The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, that the new layout allows the curators to strike a new path by re-hanging the art to show the many diverse histories that visitors can see if they choose.  Modern art is and has been much more diverse than has been expressed by our cultural institutions especially because they had so much invested in telling a story about a certain straight line ( from Impressionism thru Modernism ) - which left out loads of art workers from around the globe.

New book by artist and writer John Seed

Sometimes we get an inside story of that change of opinion, for how things should work.  I read recently a new book by John Seed who comments about this in "My Art World".  He has been published in the Huffington Post, and here in his new book he tells a story that begins on the west coast, and he brings us into contact with Bay area painters like Richard Diebenkorn, Nathan Oliveira, Joan Brown and art dealer Larry Gagosian, to name a few.  John Seed writes a short chapter on Robert DeNiro, Sr. ( who I knew in New York City ) - and DeNiro's advice to John when he was a young artist was this: "Don't worry about whether your work looks like anyone else's....simply ask yourself as you work --is it any good?

"Ghost Ranch" by Beverly Rafferty
at Whitman Works Company

The implication is that we sometimes set up goals in artwork that cater to other people's opinions when we should really steer ourselves by our own compass.  By doing this - you risk a lot,  but stay true to yourself earning strength by maintaining your integrity.  I got that feeling from looking at the paintings from one of our R.I.T. students:  Beverly Rafferty who has a new show of landscape paintings she calls "The Romance of Western Vistas, or How The West Was One".

That her paintings have an attractive quality not only has to do with the view but also how that vista is conceived and executed.  In particular, I liked one of her works ( "Ghost Ranch") that called to mind the artist Marsden Hartley.  In Beverly Rafferty's painting there is a stony ledge and a foreground of fan shaped marks that blend and blur - which is kind of idiosyncratic.

Painter, Beverly Rafferty at Whitman Works on Penfield Road

I sometimes remind my students that when painting most artists don't set out to create a photo realist work - they really try to grapple with how to indicate what they see in front of them.  Often it is the idiosyncrasy - that small special thing that happens in your work that gives it character - so be aware and don't remove it!

"State of the City" at RoCo

In the Flower City, we have had many wonderful events so far this month including "Current Seen" which is now on through November 17th, and last night was the member's preview at The Memorial Art Gallery of an exhibition of a collection of art by Alphonse Mucha.  I found this show to be quite a revelation because I knew so little about this artist and his work as a graphic designer, printmaker and artist.

Memorial Art Gallery presents Alphonse Mucha

During the 1960s his work became famous ( once again ) because of a connection that was made between his art nouveau vision, and the hippies in San Francisco who were busy rolling their own joints.  That drugs and the visions they induced were part of the mix here may cloud my memory, and I must admit that the art part of what Alphonse Mucha created was lost for a time, so I am glad that we have this chance to re-examine his life and his prolific outpouring of artistic creation.

Alphonse Mucha poster design

Now, we get a chance to study at length what this artist has brought to the world back when he was in his prime at the beginning of the 20th century.  He was in demand for his art and illustration especially for poster designs.  What we find in his work is a glorified vision of nature, often with a young model portrayed again and again.  The story being told is not too different than it is now - a poster needs to get your attention and make the sale!

I will go back to study the effect of each work in the show.  Opening night was so busy that I need some time to let it all soak in!

Alphonse Mucha sculptural portrait
at The Memorial Art Gallery
Rochester, New York

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Scene One, Take Two

Sticky Memo Ball
RIT CITY Art Space
part of  "Current Seen"

By design, I think about how things look, what they mean, and how they work.  Recently, I read about all of the tons of plastic that have ended up in the world's oceans, and how that plastic gets pulverized - turning into nearly microscopic chunks that become part of the seafood we eat.  If we are what we eat, than how are we to deal with what we may become - given this plastic scenario..?  I don't know why I have to think about these things now, but here I am in RIT's new CITY Art Space looking at wonderful design work on exhibition here and hoping that some of our students at R.I.T. will start to deal with this plastics crisis!

"Blockitecture" by James Paulius

"Blockitecture"  takes a children's toy and revitalizes the concept of urban planning by treating it as a strategy, recognizing the need to reconfigure our cities - one "block" at a time.   These painted wooden blocks can be stacked and easily set up to represent new ideas, dealing with the changing needs of towns and cities.  This is just one part of a large exhibition space along with "Best Foot Forward" curated by Cecily Culver that you will find opposite the Liberty Pole in the center of Rochester, New York.

Now it is getting dark and I am walking towards East Avenue and I passed another exhibit that is part of "Current Seen" at 245 East Main.  This interactive video display is from W. Michele Harris and she calls it: " In Their Wake" - drawing attention to African-Americans, some of whom worked on the Underground Railroad in the 19th century, and then made their way up to Rochester.  Generations later we are still dealing with racial division and inequality that this exhibition highlights.

Installation "Observation Towers" by Heather Swenson
just east of RoCo

A sculptural installation from Heather Swenson is just outside of Rochester Contemporary Art Center.  I am used to seeing Heather Swenson as a printmaker, so this is a bit of a departure that allows her to bring her art out into a public space.  When I look at these "towers"  they have a surreal presence and I think of some science fiction fantasy, as well as some of Nick Ruth's recent art that we featured in the "Process & Purpose show that I curated.  How do these constructions relate to Ms. Swenson's work as a printmaker?  I can't wait to ask her that question..

Rochester Contemporary 
137 East Avenue, Rochester, NY
"Current Seen"

Inside RoCo, the joint is jumping!  I turn to look and see this set of pictograms developed by Michael Goldman.  I get into a conversation with him and about his art - because years ago ( before I came to Rochester ) I actually designed some of these same signs with my brother Paul Singer - and now you see our pictograms all across the country!  I had something in common with Michael Goldman, and I enjoyed seeing how he dealt with some of our surroundings here, how he digests things we see and know ( like the Garbage Plate ) and then come up with a memorable image.

Michael Goldman at RoCo
"State of the City"

In Rochester we have to develop strategies that can bring people together - and the visual arts can do that without being heavy handed.  We could hope that the people who are portrayed by Richmond Futch Jr. in his drawings on view at RoCo, can come and see their portraits and stay a while to see other aspects of "State of the City".  That there are many folks in our midst who are disadvantaged should not come as a surprise, but what are we doing about it?  The portraits along the wall leave you with the impression that there are many voices of the dispossessed longing to be seen and heard, and they have stories to tell...Thanks for these many portraits and the hopeful feelings that they bestow.

Portrait artist: Richmond Futch Jr. 
at RoCo

I have only scratched the surface of "Current Seen" , so in my next post I will continue on around and see what's up....

Sunday, October 6, 2019

One Planet, One People

"Current Seen"
Rochester, New York
October 4, -- November 17, 2019

Betye Saar gave a long interview to the New York Times recently with art writer Holland Cotter, and this gem about politics caught my eye: "One Planet, One People".  This could be a bumper sticker or a chant at a rally.  In any case, this artist in her way, gave me a moment of hope in this climate of division and distrust.

You may want or need to turn your attention toward a more positive development in our area - so feel free to dig deeply into "Current Seen" an ambitious new Biennial for the visual arts that opened this past Friday here in Rochester.  I was listening to a radio broadcast when Bleu Cease, the director at RoCo, said that this was not a "festival", but it certainly seemed like one - when I went around on opening night!

30 Years of
FUA  Krew
Joy Gallery, 498 West Main Street, Rochester, NY

Beginning on West Main Street, I walked into the Joy Gallery to find: FROM UP ABOVE "30 Years of FUA Krew" which was spearheaded by Erich Lehman of 1975 Gallery fame.  Established as a group in the late 1980s, FUA represents a sector of Rochester devoted to graffiti arts.
Erich Lehman connects with this group in this rich selection of artworks some of which originated in the subway systems and recently presented in the hallway of The Memorial Art Gallery here in town ( see my post from this past June called: Exhibition Hours ).

FUA means What?
"From Up Above"

Graffiti has spread far and wide - wherever young artists have the space and the inclination to make their tags, and leave their mark.  At the Joy Gallery, documentary photos supplement the group showing of more than 22 artists with many works offered for sale. Immerse yourself in this experience and you begin to see how deep into our culture this art scene has become.

Zombie by Bile
Joy Gallery

I think that the concept of Wall/Therapy arose out of this graffiti movement here in town, maybe by giving the artists a greater legitimacy.  In any case, in this show the  recognition is welcome for these artists whose work was considered underground for a long while.

FUA  Krew at Joy Gallery

For me, it was time to move on down the road to see what was new at the RIT CITY Art Space, and it was alive!  The shows called: "Best Foot Forward" and  "Blockitecture" provide some sense of how arts and industry may develop a mutually beneficial relationship.  There on the walls of this gallery there is evidence that this is not just an academic exercise, here designers and artists put their thinking  caps on and develop things that will make our world a better place.

RIT CITY Art Space
Liberty Pole Plaza
Rochester, NY

I will return to my story about "Current Seen" in my next post too.  For the moment, I want to see more of what is going on in this Biennial, and then share my views.  Meanwhile, I can take a look at the little guidebook that was published along with the shows, and  spend some time on the website that acts as a guide to the locations for all the small venues.

Liberty Pole Plaza, Rochester, NY

"Current Seen" has been in the works for a while, and the timing couldn't be better -as an alternative to the usual schedule of art shows that come and go.  That there is a common structure that links the visual arts in this "image city" to the people who would and should support it is IMPORTANT!  I remember a time, talking with Ned Corman who dreamt up the Rochester Jazz Festival - and he told me that he was really interested in having an art and music affair, similar to what they produce in places like Aspen, Colorado.  Getting together a structure where both kinds of art would be offered seemed like a daunting prospect - how would you raise money for such a thing? - but you can see that the Jazz Festival has really taken off while the visual arts until now have lagged behind.  Maybe now that their is a lot more liveliness in the city center, the visual arts will begin to find a new and larger audience.  I plan to help when and where I can;  so show your support by being engaged too!