Saturday, December 29, 2012

Interview with Jongil Ma.

Conducted by Eliot Markell

The artist.

EM: Jong what can you tell me about your Socrates Sculpture Park installation “To You, Little Bigger Than A  Sweet Summer Pink Peach” and how it was affected by hurricane Hanna in 2008?

Started the installation in middle of July, I had prepared the material way before July. Weather was dry and very hot during the August, the major installation period.
My face so tanned, completely dark, after working over the summer. My Mia, my jackrusell terrier, struggling over the summer with the pregnancy. Sometimes I saw her belly was touching the ground because of her short legs. On 31st she gave a birth, one of the three puppies. She was struggling for another one, but Mia was too small for the one. The puppy died. She screamed. I cried. I asked forgiveness to her for my ignorance. 
Through all the drama, on the 3rd of September, I was thrilled to complete the piece. Next day there will be an opening, glorious indeed. From around 3 o’clock I started to feel some raindrops. I was rushing the final touch. There had been a Weather forecasting kept repeating that the major hurricane, Hannah will be NY state area by tonight. Around 5 PM rain was pouring. I did not know if the heavy rain was making the ground muddy, soft. Maybe the heaviest rain amount ever since I move to NY. Even the rain was more after 7 PM. I could not keep working. I stopped. Cleaned the site. Came home around 8 pm.
I throw all the wet stuff away into the bathroom.
Took a shower. My body was dried, felt so good.  After a long time finally I was in peace. I slept, dreaming to see in tomorrow opening, my glorious offspring, “To You, A Little Bigger Than A Sweet Summer Pink Peach”.
I slept 9:30 am. Wake up noticed that the director of the park left an urgent message. I rush to the park. Weather was incredibly calm and clear blue sky. Under the blue sky, I saw 2/3rd of my offspring peacefully laid down. It was still beautiful and sad. Many people in the opening even did not know what was happening. They thought that was the original state or intention of the artist.
I erected the piece after three more weeks of working. And it had stayed for the entire 7 months, until March of 2009. I was surprised that a whole processing for the installation was very the same as my life journey. 

Jong's sculpture To You, A Little Bigger Than A Sweet Summer Pink Peach”shortly after blow  down.


 Detail; “To You, A Little Bigger Than A Sweet Summer Pink Peach”. 

EM: Would you say your Korean heritage affects how your art has evolved?

The life in the nature, the limited openness to various cultures obviously makes grow something inside of me. 
I grew up in the very rural southern Korean village. I got naked until I was 7 years old. Major my toys were sand, stone, wood, bamboo and soil. I always made something by cutting down some pine trees, bamboo and other natural material. Other wise life would have been too boring.
No cars no electricity until I was 2nd year in the elementary school. When all the adult people went out to the farm around late spring, I used hear mourning dove breaking absolute silence and I hated it. 
When Winter season, we fire the ‘Ondol’ Korean way of heating floors/rooms. The floor made with thin-wide flat rocks and smoothed out with mud. The floor located few feet above the firing place underneath.
An hour firing heats the floor until early in the morning. I rested and slept on warm rock floor and went out running around on the snow, spinning tops, or fly kite then came back to the room to warm my body up.

When I was 8, I nagged my father to send me to Seoul. I knew what was the city like because I traveled there by myself since I was 5th grade. I was very excited to experience so many new people, tall buildings and new culture, like film theater, restaurants. I moved to Seoul when I was 8th grade. Just two months before I graduated the high school I started work in Daewoo as an accountant and regular office work. The second military dictator, Jun Doo Whan, occupied president office.  I served for three years of mandatory military service in the DMZ.
I came back to the office right after complete the military service. The military experience gave me a lot of positive energy during the time but now I think there had been so much unreasonable abuse too. I often, these days keep thinking about the relationship between an individual and the nation.
After jumping around here and there for learning some basic design or fashion design I decided my real job should be to become an artist because I thought this is the only way to live freedom of life.  I struggled for few years and finally I came to NY.

EM: What was it like immigrating to the US as an unknown art student without any support network?

I was not exposed to foreign culture when I came here. Upon my arriving I was like dry sponge absorbing new culture. Everything was excited to see, feel and experience. Some art, music is still making me feel excited now. I studied English for a year. It was a big challenging. I still could not pass the English proficiency test until the beginning year of senior period in SVA. I started fine arts major in SVA in 1997. For studying fine arts, SVA was the greatest place. Many teachers were actively showing their works in the galleries. Discussions in the class, frequently toured major galleries almost every month were major impact to my soul as an artist. I thought I almost saw my dream is coming to be true. I almost touched it. Even after full 12 hours of labor in the supermarket during the night hours, I could be very excited and enjoyed the class. I acquainted friends. I took an advantage to see a lot of films when I lived near the Kim’s Video around 1999.
After the physical labor it was not easy to read books. Instead I decided to see some great films. Those of great film directors, Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Abbas Kiarostam internationally renowned, their intensity of creativeness, changed my perspective as an artist meanwhile I feel a shame that I did not know those hard working artists before coming to NY.
After a serious pondering about what to do as an artist, I felt wood really connects to my body.
I started to make a simple figure with wood, and that is my base of current works.

EM: I really enjoyed both your Governors Island installation for LMCC and your Taller Boricua piece. Please give me some idea of your process and purpose with these 2 works.

In the LMCC new gallery opening exhibition in Governors Island, I was focusing on two different matters, one was to express my own idea, which bring the structural essence of modern bridges, building and its delicate balance. This was a metaphor to our complex political, social relationships. It is a kind of so sublime meanwhile so dangerous and very temporary ephemeral life aspects in particular. The key word was tension. Each pieces have the very right amount of tension to stay as it stay in the right position. If it was too week strip then added to another or twist it to have the right amount of tension to be exist and hold another around the piece.
Another my concern was that how I participate with the audiences who are mostly not the professional artist to the Island. It was always a matter to me spending time whether I pursue my own pure idea or consider the circumstance, another way of telling, what is an artist’s contribution to the society or how I mingle myself with the viewers.
As other my previous pieces did the pieces allowed people walk around or into the piece. It provided all different images as you look from the different side.
It was mostly the same intention when I did the installation in Taller Boricua gallery except I tried a lot more trying to be improvising it many moments.

EM: I know the AIM program gave your career a big boost, how would you compare that to receiving your recent Pollack/Krasner award?

Through the AIM program I have some great chances to expose myself to the public. I had a pretty big project in Randalls’ Island in the summer 2011. As I wish I could install my piece in between Hell Gate Bridge and Tri borough bridge.
I had a great amount of support from the city park organization. Right before I started this piece there was AIM biennial exhibition. I had a chance to install in the lobby of the Bronx Art Museum.
After all these busy schedule, the difficult life was not resolved as an artist. But eventually at the end of the year, just before the Christmas, I got a phone call from the Pollack Krasner about the approving of the grant.

EM: Your new furniture pieces seem to bridge references to fine art and high-level craft. Are you familiar with the early 20th century arts & crafts movement has it affected the way you think about your art objects? Do you see your furniture pieces connecting to your art or as something in between or even separate?

It was not the idea of early 20th century art & crafts movement.
After many times of my strong egoistic trial in those installation pieces, I was becoming a little bit skeptical about what I have been creating, a lot of times, specially in certain local place where most neighbors not so familiar with current art world. Furniture was my attempt to bring the tight relationship between artist and viewers. My furniture piece always will be separated with my artworks. However when I make some furniture pieces I try very hard to bring authenticity and unique creativity.

EM: What would/does your ideal career as an artist looks like?

I can talk about my role model to answer to this question. My role models are Neil Young and Martin Puryear.
Neil Young is the one has great energy for creating music and playing it. Meanwhile he has brought constantly to let the people know about cruel human power.
Martin Puryear is the one persistently trying himself in the position to separate from the absurd commercial art world. As a result he has very clear own aesthetic language in his career. Currently I am having unbelievable difficulty as an artist because of lacking of financial support either from out side or by my own sales activity. I aware how much difficult matter it would be as an artist to keep away from the commercial influence and keep his own purity. These two people are perfect example for the good and it is true power to make our society exist for the right future. 

Left, detail. Right, street view of Jongil Ma's installation at The Rodger Smith Hotel.

Photograph by John F. Morgan 14’ x 50’ x 12’
Wood, Rope
Wow Baby, That Sounds Fantastic And You Look So Beautiful Indeed
Photograph by John F. Morgan 14’x22’x9'
Wood, String, Tape
After Having A Wonderful Dinner With Beautiful People, He Went Back To The Place He Was Supposed To Belong To

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Salon Style; to be or not to be?

 SS Champlain Presents: Leslie Brack “Kinda Verbal”
“S.S. Champlain Presents, is a salon inspired by Gertrude Stein, Floreine Stettheimer and other visionaries who cultivated art and good conversation. It’s moniker is taken from the steamship that ferried Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas from New York to Europe, after Stein's successful American book tour.

A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to please or to educate" ("aut delectare aut prodesse est"). Salons, commonly associated with French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, were carried on until quite recently in urban settings.

The modernist yet convivial enclave of Suzy Spence’s SS Champlain Presents proposes an intriguing premise; can we, as contemporary NY artists, overcome our incessant careerist urge to network and promote, and rediscover the principle of a “euphoric” interaction found in salons during the Age of Enlightenment?
 This may sound like a cynically rhetorical query, but the constant stress of marketing art in an arena saturated by a Sandy-esque storm surge of baby boomer liberal arts competitors, could make the salon ideal of a dialogue encompassing all levels of social and professional accomplishment, without the politicking and envy endemic to most art world gatherings seem an elusive quantity.  
It seems to me a successful salon is not just about ingratiating social niceties in a locally homogenous group, but should involve an inclusive demographic that extends beyond a particular cliques comfort zone. The salon experience should broaden the participant’s perspectives and breed other forums to expound on further issues.
Perhaps a thriving, broad based salon culture as occurred in 18th century France could be thought of as an intellectual and cultural insurgency; a way for the proletariat to level the playing field controlled by an aloof elite at the expense of the under represented. This is not as Marxist a premise as it sounds. 

In fact 'The Blue Stockings Club” were a conservative salon of English ladies that on one occasion refused entry to The Duke of Wellington because the color of his stockings were unacceptable to the hostesses. How anarchic is that?
Although the Salon De Paris eventually became an aristocratic art showroom for the chosen few (sound familiar?), Napoleon came to the rescue with the Salon des Refusés. Under-recognized art has ever since promulgated a “left bank”, and the resulting bohemian denizens have had to institute underground forums to propagate their mediums outside the prevailing academy.  

The visual arts salon tradition is probably most well known for cramming art floor to ceiling with no regard for rhyme, reason or status. I suppose it could be said that this might reflect the democratic notion of a melting pot; a broad constituency thrown together and left to sort things out for themselves. But I think most artists consider the salon exhibition model as a low probability opportunity to stand out from the mob, and see the odds of being nominated to higher artistic stature as slim. But there is also a certain appeal to being part of a crowd, and hanging your art shoulder to shoulder imbues a sense of solidarity with all the other hoi polloi yearning for an encouraging word.
However in a clever turn of events “Kinda Verbal” turns the prevailing salon stack on its head. Making full use of the high ceilings and open wall space of SS Champlain, Ms Brack & Ms Spence have placed the art pieces in a variety of novel juxtapositions. As though to acknowledge a phantom horde of art, Brack’s work is spread about floor to ceiling affording a salon feel without the sweaty overcrowded effect of a Sideshow spectacular.       

 The SS Champlain event is based on the traditional Salon De Paris format via Stein & Toklas. Suzy Spence, an accomplished illustrator, painter and novelist was our gracious informed hostess, filmmaker and raconteur David Dickson was the charismatic MC (and founder of  “Moonlighter Presents”, a salon-esque sounding program of diverse cultural content).
About midway through the 6-9 PM schedule, everyone assembled in the main room to begin the symposium. Brack offered a modest and slightly cryptic glimpse into her artistic process as she adroitly fielded questions and comments from everyone.
Brack’s work lent itself nicely to this kind of forum. Her intricately devised collages frequently use appropriated imagery to instigate a stimulating dichotomy between her deft skills as a painter, and the implications of wry socio-political commentary.  

Then after about 15 minutes as the event seemed to be going along swimmingly, abruptly and without warning the more formal aspect of speaker and audience participation ended.
I chalked this up to the novel aspect of an experiment still in development, structuring the ebb and flow of dialogue and ideas takes some practice, and this seemed like a good enough start. There were about 20 or 25 people in attendance, which I thought was the maximum for the right balance of interpersonal flux. After the Q&A session ended, the group divided up into a default format of those who knew each other previously, and although there was some continued discussion of how to proceed in any future salons, the spirit seemed to devolve into standard opening or party mode.
The challenges to conducting an effective salon may be more daunting than one might think. 

There is the constant risk of veering into the realm of a group critique, that post grad ordeal of a trial before your peers whence most are found guilty until proven innocent. 
When exhibiting individual artists work resolving the balance between a gallery's promotional activities, and the more altruistic notion of a salon presenting art for arts sake could be perceived as a conflict of interest. 
Keeping everyone disciplined enough to maintain a salon syntax, but allowing for unexpected twists and turns to occur depends on a focused group that can take direction, yet think outside the box, while anticipating a results oriented goal for the evening. 

Food, booze, and enough seating also seem key to maintaining enough of an anchor to keep everyone feeling sufficiently salubrious.
The baby boomers are the last of a breed born into an analog world long gone. The impetus for 21st century artists to share their work and aesthetic interests informally may now be mostly relegated to social media and other online enclaves that would be uninhabitable to the slovenly paint splattered sloths of yesteryear. It could be that lacking in this digital Age Of Enlightenment is the need for those antique modes of artistic sanctuary such as the Cedar Tavern and jazz lofts, which like the rotary phone could be museum relics in their own right.
There is a recent precedent for the salon experience. Louise Bourgeois ran a regular Sunday program for many years. Who better than a French woman from the early 20th century to promulgate such a rich tradition of doyenne’s dispensing drama?               

Bourgeois’s approach was apparently more “trickle down” and less supply side, yet who could complain? Invitees were strongly encouraged to ply Her Highness with bourbon and bon-bons, but could still be subjected to scorn and banishment at her whim. Overall her reactions seemed to vary from rubber stamped approval, to the occasionally in-depth evaluation of a lucky participants work.
It may be that the contemporary salon model needs an influential figurehead like Bourgeois to thrive today. Can the compelling (to me) notion of small town connectedness motivate artistic communities enough to shuck the keyboard, and get out the door despite a
potential lack of big shot incentives that benefit upward mobility more than creative insight?    

Exceprts from:
Remembrances of Louise Bourgeois’s Salons
By Jerry Saltz

Donna Ruff

There was a man there who was kind of acting as her spokesperson, as she was fairly frail. I brought an altered book piece which the spokesperson liked a lot. Louise frowned as he showed her how it was made. She did not approve of cutting up books. I told her the books were in a rubbish bin in a Paris bookshop, about to be thrown out. Her retort? "The French never throw anything out." However, she was quite interested in a woman's red high heels and had a photo taken of them. She was quite girly when it came to fashion.

Hyewon Yi

There was an American female student writer who recited several poems for her. One of her poems was about "dance," but Louise didn't hear this young woman very well. She mistakenly thought the poem was going to be about "anger" and she became instantly very excited. She said, "I like to hear about ANGER." But as soon as the young woman corrected her, Louise B. became very disappointed. She lost her interest in this woman's poem.

Deborah Renee Kaplan

I was so traumatized by the time I spent with her that I turned around all the books I had in my apartment with her name on it, so I would not be reminded of her. This will sound dramatic or forced or made-up, but it's simply my impression: This woman did not walk into the room, she appeared ... the afternoon was fully orchestrated by her. I became aware of the darker side of her work having met her.

Interview with Wendy Williams, Managing Director of Louise Bourgeois Studio

With the Louise Bourgeois exhibition up at MOCA in Los Angeles, I cannot think of anything else.  I heard that Louise's assistant, Jerry Gorovoy, was in town helping with the exhibition and I started wondering more and more about what occurs in Louise's studio.  Jerry was already back in New York by the time I could get ahold of anyone, but Wendy Williams, the manager of the Louise Bourgeois Studio was so kind as to answer some of my burning questions over email.
- Sasha Bergstrom-Katz

Sasha Bergstrom-Katz: 

As a young artist, I am extremely intrigued by Louise's Sunday salons. Do either of you attend? If so, can you tell me about it? Or share an anecdote?
Wendy Williams: 

Yes, I've attended a few Salons over the years. It's open to all artists, writers, musicians and poets. The only requirement is that participants bring a sample of their own work to share with the others.  Each Salon has its own character, depending on the participants.  Sometimes it's like group therapy. Other times, things become hostile, with the Salon ending in tears or with people storming out. At best, the Salon provides an environment for pure discussion. At worst, participants come with the hope that Louise will further their career. Because of this, many years ago, Louise wrote:

What do you do for a living?

How do you eat and pay your rent?

You have to go to a shelter for the homeless, or you may have to go to the hospital.

I am not an employment agency, and I am not a publishing firm.

You are invading my privacy, and I am going to call the police.

To call yourself an artist is not an excuse.

Unsolicited material ends in the garbage pail outside.

Show and Tell: Louise Bourgeois and her Sunday salon
by Kelly Devine Thomas

The wooden floors creak. Stuff is everywhere. Crammed on a table in the corner are a large bottle of aspirin, a shiny red heart, a can of Lysol, two lamps, rubbing alcohol, paper towels, and a bulky calculator. Filing cabinets and bookshelves line the room. A bulletin board that runs the length of one wall is layered with old museum and gallery posters, articles, and a bumper sticker that reads “Honk If You Hate Fission.”
In the hallway Gorovoy and Paulo Herkenhoff, a former curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art who attended his first salon in 1985, survey the prospects. “Sometimes there are only a few people,” says Gorovoy, Bourgeois’s assistant for the past 25 years. “Other times, so many people show up they literally have to be turned away.” Artists are advised to call ahead for an invitation. Bourgeois’s number is publicly listed, and all are welcome. “There are only two rules,” says Gorovoy. “You can’t have a cold, and you have to bring your work.”

Always On Sunday
By Brian D. Leitch
Published: August 18, 2002
In its 30th year, the Sunday salon at Louise Bourgeois's house in Chelsea is suddenly getting quite famous. If you've got a certain flair with the cold call, work to show and if you can hack the possibility of being reduced to ''a hair in the soup,'' as Louise says, it's a fascinating trip.
Louise Bourgeois, like the giant mother-spider sculpture she created several years ago, has been spinning a web of weirdly magnificent work for more than six decades -- and finally, at 90, she's getting her full due. ''A woman has no place as an artist unless she proves, over and over again, she won't be eliminated,'' she said more than 25 years ago, when a mere girl in her 60's. To meet Louise is to know she won't be eliminated.
In attendance on the Sunday I went: Matthew Riva, 25, painter, poet and great-grandson of Marlene Dietrich; Brent Howard, the welder, who helped put Louise's giant spiders together; Jean-Louis, her son, who is fanning himself with a piece of cardboard with the word ''obsession'' or ''confession'' scrawled on one side; Pouran Esrafily, who is filming us; Robert Storr, the former senior curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art and Louise's biographer; and six young artists, some extremely good, some less so. A self-described Charles Manson-meets-Yanni look-alike called Cloud sits next to a guy who has brought along a head shot, a television and his girlfriend. Quietly, perhaps cruelly, he's nicknamed Dysfunctional Model. Cliques are forming. We sit in Louise's web, a wonderfully tatty parlor, watching the paint peel, waiting nervously. There is a round coffee table with a dozen bottles of liquor on it. Esrafily pours and says: ''Louder! Like we're having a party. If she thinks she's missing a party, she'll come down.'' Cloud taunts us: ''Man, she's gonna lay waste. I call this place the smack-down shack, 'cause it ends in tears, man.''
Then she appears, and it's hard to imagine this small, opalescent woman in a pink tunic, black slip over black leggings and tiny black Nikes smacking anybody down.
We'll see. Later Louise will tell me: ''I want them to have a good time and drink a lot. They say, 'I want to show you my work,' and what they really mean is, 'I want to be endorsed, and congratulated.'''
First up is Riva. He has brought a large, Rothko-like canvas made with blue gesso and marble dust. Louise tilts the lamp toward it. ''And tell everyone -- you are the grandson of who?'' she asks.
''She's been dead since I was 15,'' Riva says of Great-Granny Dietrich, ''so I should have my name used.''
Louise passes no judgment, but asks the others to assess it, as she often will. The comments are astute, intelligent and competitive. Louise is intrigued by the title, ''When the Echoes Never Ring,'' which leads unexpectedly to a discussion of words, and a volume of ''journal'' poetry in his bag. (Oh no.) ''Read,'' she says. He does. ''Again,'' she says. ''Again.'' Louise's face lifts. The poems are startlingly good, sending a little shiver through the group, save for one -- Dysfunctional Model takes issue with the word ''whence'' and calls Riva pretentious. To show him how it's done, he pulls out a notebook and slavers through a reading of his own verse -- yelping, panting, whispering, acting out all the parts. Yes, well. We carry on.
Others show their work. But this little thundercloud is a gathering storm, which will eventually culminate in the loud and dramatic expulsion of Dysfunctional Model -- head shot, TV, girlfriend and offending ''artwork'' in tow. The bolt of lightning -- a tricked-out rap video of Sept. 11 that he showed us -- wasn't the problem. It was the violent and sustained reaction he had to those who were deeply offended by it. As Robert Storr said, ''An artist cannot stand beside his work and defend it.''
Louise refuses to defend or explain her work. It's part of the glamour and privilege of fame in old age, the tant pis pose that comes with being late for your life. Becoming a cult figure, and a sexual outlaw in your 80's, is probably not the shortest distance to a fashion shoot, but it may be the most compelling: in 1997 she deigned to appear in an advertising campaign for Helmut Lang. ''I enjoy his work, and I enjoy him,'' Louise says.

Louise Bourgeois Eats A Truffle, David Waddell discusses the Artist's Salon

I read about Louise Bourgeois’s Sunday Salon in the June ’06 ArtNews. I was excited by the thought of a salon. Salon is romanticized. Art students desire to emulate the aura of Paris, the Dada movement, Surrealism and de Kooning’s drinking days at the Tavern. This seemed like a worthwhile trip. The salon was touted as being an opportunity for feedback from art royalty. 
My anticipation differed from my experience. I question the positioning and morality of how the salon is currently run. The salon has been in session for 30 years, since Bourgeois was 64. The woman I hold in contention is the documentary filmmaker, Pouran Esrafily. She has been filming the salon for the past 12 years, since Bourgeois was 82 years old. Pouran quickly volunteered her own name without me catching it; rather I figured it out through reading Devine’s article. 
The experience was not an adventure into the art giant’s world but a painful visit to grandma’s house… a reminder of the fragility of life and the diminishing of a powerhouse and a force in her prime. For what purpose does this salon still exist? I question the choice of people who surround this aging artist in her final days. These issues must be examined. ArtNews was descriptively accurate without tackling the issues of control and critique of the salon. It could be that on the day I was present, Ersafily was running the show rather than Jerry Gorovoy, who facilitated during Devine’s visit. 
We wait for Bourgeois to enter the room. A muffled noise comes from the other room. It is Louise small voice. Pouran Esrafily demands that we sit. She requests that we act delighted to see Bourgeois. We should not glare as Bourgeois maneuvers with her walker through the room. Everyone holds her breath until the grand act of walking and then sitting is a success. 
Bourgeois’s wardrobe resembles the black-and-white animation of Steamboat Willie whistling while steering the steamboat. Bourgeois’s ensemble includes a white silk shirt, and black slip/shorts with suspenders constructed out of yarn. I might have imagined two white large buttons where the pants meet the suspenders. 
Once situated, each artist was to present their work in the designated area that would frame Louise Bourgeois appearing to view artwork. Then the work is turned to Esrafily’s camera. Louise Bourgeois’ has three phrases, “Yes, yes.” “I see.” and “Verrry goot.” When asked a direct question, she would shake her head no, and say, “I don’t remember” or “I don’t know them.” 
Ersafily was very demanding as how to approach and engage Louise. A generous curator came with a box of truffles as a gift. Ersafily insists that she would not indulge in even a single piece. We should open the gift before Bourgeois arrives. I wanted to place a bet on this act of eating a truffle. Bourgeois eats the truffle and proves Ersafily wrong.
What does Bourgeois want? She wanted a truffle. But, does she enjoy the presence of strangers in her house? Or is this what Esrafily wants? Like any family, there are protective members who are in denial about a loved one aging. These same people often oppose a certain individual’s management over the elderly. In this instance, I am the grandchild who does not get a sincere vibe from Ersafily. But, I could have been rubbed the wrong way. 
Bourgeois is certainly present and conscious. She had strong opinions about her environment. Bourgeois’s most vocal point of the day is when she insists that the living room doors are shut and barred from the outside. It was an important and urgent request. People volunteer to close the door, but Ersafily quickly notes that she is the only one who knows how to properly seal the door shut. Later, Bourgeois complains about light. A small desk lamp facing a wall is the only source of light. But it is too bright for her. 
I am sure she would indicate if she did not want to receive guests. But does she want to look at work? She would glance, and then doze. She had a peaceful presence. However, there was no true critique from her. There was thoughtful discussion among the twelve artists in the room. The salon could have been held elsewhere. 
Ersafily was demeaning towards women her own age. She announced that Louise was excited about young artists. Ersafily decides the pecking line. The older women suspiciously went last. And contrary to Ersafily’s remarks, Bourgeois perks up to listen to these women.
Ersafily also disregarded those with curatorial powers. An ex-curator from the Brooklyn museum insisted that an ICA.Boston curator speak. Ersafily begrudgingly allows the woman to have a few words.
Louise Bourgeois is a device in this situation. Ersafily could be riding her famed coattails to promote her documentary. She clearly feels threatened by those that she perceives to be in the know and hopes that her own status can be elevated through association with Bourgeois for a younger generation. I recommend reading Robert Storr’s biography that will be released in the future rather than watching this documentary. 
I signed a release form which I regret. And I felt awful after I left. The same kind of awful feeling when you leave a retirement community and you pass by the intensive care unit.


Painting plein air at the C-Town

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

“Heroes” a group exhibit created by Julie Torres at Small Black Door Gallery.


An online interview conducted by Eliot Markell.

Julie Torres follows her collaborative instincts with Heroes, a well construed if slightly (but pleasantly) scattered collection of offbeat objects, sculptures, and flat art ensconced in the semi subterranean confines of Small Black Door.
Mz Torres prefaces this diverse group of artists as collectively contributing to support the larger community of visual artists by their dedication to blogging, running galleries, and generally promoting the welfare of creative types other than themselves.
This altruistic premise lends a compelling notion to Heroes; can/will the art world respond to pay-it-forward karma in this era of GO Brooklyn career contests?
Indeed Mz Torres is a genuinely gregarious proponent of art making as a shared group activity. Her proclivity for extended hour art events such as the Camel Art Space “48 Hour Art Making Marathon” and her artwork “My 12 Hours With Austin Thomas” seem to celebrate the social networking nature of art for fun’s sake.

EM: Julie, do you see your curator role as more about revealing personal artistic interactions and process, rather than the traditional presentation of art objects as a means to an end?

JT: Hi Eliot, thanks for writing! Gosh, I don’t know. I guess there are both perspectives in there. I did intend to highlight some cool relationships between several artists’ work, and their distinct ways of working—but also to simply show the work with limited interference. I think that artists who curate other artists’ work typically do wind up revealing a lot about themselves in the process, and I think there is a lot of me and my own process in there.

EM: Well put, Heroes is your creation if not your art.
Could you describe any exhibition strategy you had for the art you wanted for the show? Were the artists given any parameters for what to contribute?

JT: That part was funny! I did find that most artists had very specific ideas about what they intended to show, but I shut that down right away! I was more interested in exploring their studios and really digging through things— one of my greatest pleasures. You learn so much about a person that way. I did a fair share of arm-twisting to show work that was perhaps a little unexpected from their point of view—work that is very personal, that they have never shown, that they perhaps never intended to show. That was the stuff I gravitated to, and it was exciting!

EM: What I find intriguing about your choices in this show are not only the personnel, but also the personal nature of what’s exhibited. Looking at Austin Thomas’s little sketchbook on a shelf reminded me of a diary, could you tell me more about it?

JT: Yes, it IS a diary! Austin made that beautiful little piece, Small Black Book, specifically for the show. It’s an intimate time capsule chronicling the period between her opening of Pocket Utopia on Flushing Ave in 2007, and her current space on the Lower East Side. All the shows, friends, work, gatherings—there is a lot of love in there. It’s one of my favorites.

EM: I also found James Prez’s work reminiscent of Joseph Cornell (with out the box), his intimate and intricate constructions using common looking materials and objects seem freighted with a monkish isolation. What is his role as a “Hero” in the art world? Did you have a specific intent with his art (or any other artist) to anchor the exhibition’s theme?

JT: Jim is probably one of the lesser-known heroes, at least around these parts. Artists in Brooklyn and Queens know him as the guy they see at all the shows, but most folks I talked to weren’t aware that he makes his own work! However, when you enter his home—it’s like an art factory! You can barely move around in there—it’s just work piled floor to ceiling. So he’s a social guy who goes to all the openings, but a very private artist. He’s a talented private curator, an art champion, and a personal hero of mine. Watch out for this guy.

EM:  Lars Kremer’s State Snacks really caught my eye. As an art trucker I’m on the road quite a bit and collect those little state refrigerator magnets. I got a chuckle out of those, what were your thoughts about including them?

JT: Lars is particularly playful in his work— he can be fairly ‘punny’ actually. He recently showed a sculptural piece at Lesley Heller using the letters H-I-D-E, but cutting them off in the middle, so that they disappear into the ceiling. I love the humor that his State Snacks bring to the show, and I have heard quite a few chuckles coming from that area.

EM: Getting back to the idea of an anchor it seems clear to me that Chris Harding steals the show. The way he combines a family narrative and macho construction materials with a delicate perch on the floor, ends up delineating a precarious looking comfort zone.
Did you consider his piece as fundamental to the show; has he made other sculpture in this vein?

JT: I love Chris’s piece. That was a case in which I left it entirely up to him about what he’d show. He’s a very physical guy and I was thrilled that he was building something specifically for HEROES, and that it was centered around this idea of family, gathering—this nurturing yet hard object. He texted me progress shots along the way and I could tell that it was going to be a knockout. He is the coolest, nicest guy—and a doting father, so the piece is just perfect. He said he’s going to use the structure for future cookouts in the courtyard at English Kills—it’s fully functional! I can’t wait.

EM: I also found Rob de Oude’s wall piece to be visually compelling. I’m not usually tuned in to tight geometrics, but the curvilinear optical oscillation derived from his linear hard edge's transcends the notion of straight (the thermostat adds a witty aside).
Was presenting architectural design elements part of your scheme?

JT: The only scheme I had was that I wanted one of Rob’s murals! It almost didn’t happen because Rob is a very busy guy. He’s got 3 shows coming up, he had another opening in New Jersey the same night as ours—and during the day he cares for his twin 4-year-olds! But he showed up the night of our install with a bag full of tape, and he was pretty psyched to play with this idea of showing the tape itself, as the actual mural. Usually, he’ll use the tape to create lines, paint over it, and then peel the tape off. So this was the first time he left the tape layer and simply showed that—It was a great idea, and also a smart way of addressing our time limitations. He finished the tape layer at 1am. I’m so glad he decided to leave it just as it is, because it’s a beautiful showstopper!

EM: Mike Olin’s painting got my attention. I love all the little gestures and textures.  I can’t imagine he was reticent about showing this was he?
BTW, Pioneers Of Inspiration mission’s statement rang true (excerpt):
“POI members also include philosophers, musicians, scientists and moonshiners.”
It never ceases to amaze me how much grassroots action there is going on under the (or at least my) radar.

JT: No, Mike and Joy Curtis (they’re married) were both very open to what I was thinking. I spent a good amount of time walking between their studios in their apartment, and Mike helped me carry some of his larger paintings in and out of Joy’s studio so I could eyeball them. I knew I wanted to show their work together, and that I wanted to create an intimate conversation between the pieces. It wasn’t hard because their work naturally relates and speaks to each other. They are both brilliant artists—I love Joy’s Hydrocal pieces and her drawings, and Mike is one of my favorite painters around.

EM: I liked Ellen Letcher’s pink taped collages. Sometimes artists get too precious hanging unframed works on paper. I'd be tempted to steal the pink tape approach.
What has she been up to since Famous Accountants closed?

JT: Ellen has been quite busy in her studio! The space that Famous Accountants inhabited was actually Ellen’s studio, and for the entire time the gallery was running, Ellen worked in a very small room in the back. So the silver lining for all of us now that they gallery’s not there is—Ellen has her big, beautiful studio back! And you can really tell. Her work is stronger than ever—I was very inspired being in her space and sifting through literally hundreds of pieces. Ellen recently had an exquisite solo show at Austin Thomas’s Pocket Utopia on the Lower East Side. So she’s been busy.

EM: Matthew Mahler’s grouping is quite striking (the founder of Small Black Door, along with Jonathan Terranova). The jailhouse technique of using burned carbon deposits from matches seems to conjure up a tribal iconography with a comic book vibe. Did he create these as a group?

JT: I was over the moon to show these brand new pieces of Matt’s—They are amazing, aren’t they?? He just recently began experimenting with these smoking and burning elements, creating lines and forms right in the wood. It’s so smart and the result is mesmerizing, almost mystical. These are some of the first he’s made of this new series, and I’m sure he’ll be making more. I feel really lucky to have shown them.

EM: How did you end up doing Heroes at SBD? Do you have any future plans for putting together a show?

JT: Having the show at Small Black Door was a dream—it couldn’t have worked out better. It’s one of my favorite spaces. I was sitting in a coffee shop when I first had the idea, and sketched out the basic concept on a napkin. Then I immediately called Fred Valentine because I knew his space was empty (it was August). But Fred wanted to keep his space empty so he could get his own work done, and my next call was to Matt. Matt’s response was, ‘Sounds great. How about September?’ And that was that.
As for future plans…….. I try not to make them. But sometimes they make themselves!
We will have mimosas at the gallery this Sunday, Sept 23, 1 - 6pm

EM: Thanks for all your great work on this interview Julie. Sorry I couldn’t get to everyone in the show, all the work is deserving of mention. Hope to see you for mimosas on Sun!

Liz Atzberger (Airplane), John Avelluto (Bay Ridge Storefront Art Walk), Brett Baker (Painters' Table), Paul Behnke (Structure and Imagery), Deborah Brown (Storefront Bushwick), Sharon Butler (Two Coats of Paint), Kevin Curran (Airplane), Joy Curtis (Pioneers of Inspiration), Paul D'Agostino (Centotto), Rob De Oude (Parallel Art Space), Lacey Fekishazy (Sardine), Enrico Gomez (Parallel Art Space), Chris Harding (English Kills), Katarina Hybenova (Bushwick Daily), Lars Kremer (Airplane), Ellen Letcher (Famous Accountants), Amy Lincoln (The Laundromat), Loren Munk (The James Kalm Report), Matthew Mahler (Small Black Door), Mike Olin (Pioneers of Inspiration), James Prez (artist/organizer), Kevin Regan (Famous Accountants), Jonathan Terranova (Small Black Door), Austin Thomas (Pocket Utopia)

Julie Torres, a blur of motion!

James Prez

James Prez

Matthew Mahler

Rob De Oude

Chris Harding

Ellen Letcher

Lars Kremer

Kevin Curran

Mike Olin

Jeanne is tall, door is small (and black).

Gandy Brodie; Ten Tenements

Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, June 2012

As a former student at “The Gandy Brodie School of Fine Art” situated in his barn in Newfane VT in 1972, I was of course very pleased to see this small but comprehensive exhibit, and some overdue recognition of Brodie’s iconoclastic career. Lets hope more of the estate gets out into the light of day soon.
This essay is more a remembrance than a review. Please refer to John Yau’s excellent 2-part review in HyperAllergic for a more concise review of the SHFAP exhibit. 
Indeed, my formative experience as a youthful longhaired “wheat germ freak” of an artist occurred on a warm summer day in Newfane Vermont when Gandy invited me into his barn and asked me what I thought one of his paintings looked like.
Responding “it looks like painting” (duh), I established a niche for myself in the barn, and with a certain wickedly subversive delight Gandy took me under his painterly wing that summer.
Gandy grew up a poor Jew on the Lower East Side and was pretty much self-taught. I believe Gandy prided himself on not being a part of any particular art clique, and made a concerted effort to identify himself as a rogue practitioner of paint. Despite his resistance to networking he managed to gain some notoriety as a product of the Provincetown MA and E 10th St gallery scenes in New York in the 50’s. He knew all the Cedar Bar Ab Ex luminaries of the time, and by the 60’s had met with enough success to move to Vermont and paint in a barn.
An excerpt from the essay I wrote on my web site:
“The barn was his studio but he also ran a “school” there. Inclusion for a few of us local post college art kids meant a chance to try out our brushwork around a painterly guru. Although Gandy was a no-nonsense critic and would let you know in no uncertain terms if he thought you were painting something crass, he was also a flower child at heart. His preferred lesson plan for painting from nature was to get outside with only charcoal and paper, feel your flavor, and assimilate random marks.”
I was then given marching orders by my mentor to leave the cushy confines of Brattleboro and move to a “cold water loft” in NYC if I wanted to be a real artist.
Brodie had a small cult following of former students in NY where he had also taken a spacious loft on Greene St. I recall watching one of his large “Astronaut” paintings take shape on Greene St before the Smithsonian acquired it. This heavily armored and painted figure still managed to drift weightlessly in the orgone void. (Brodie was a disciple of Wilhelm Reich and encouraged all his students to get naked and sit in the orgone box. I participated in Orgone therapy with Dr Sobey, a Reichian trained therapist on E 9th St, but it was never deemed necessary for me to enter the dank looking contraption about the size of a phone booth)
Gandy was prone to painting over his canvases for a period of years. I recall watching a self-portrait evolve over a period of years into a painting of an icicle. It was so encrusted with impasto that it must have been several inches thick.
Gandy’s sublime gift was an otherworldly ability to imbue his art with a truly transcendent sensation of tangible psyche. You could look at a simple painting of a small sailboat floating in a sea of monochromatic pigment that was like being inside of his brain as it dreamed of painting the sailboat.
His uncanny ability to make paintings as an extension of self was a primarily a sensually physical act that ended up as a pictorial version of his body reinvented as scenes from nature.
In particular his “Birth of a Fawn” series epitomized this process of transference; to quote John Yau: “At the heart of Brodie’s’s worldview is a profound understanding of neglect and solitariness”.
There were also the “Dead Bird” and “Falling Tree” themes, all worthy of his best work.
I think the sense of fragile decay and the inevitability of entropy in his painting stemmed from a dichotomy of sensation rooted in his pictorial narrative. He always warned his students to be wary of sentimental content, and to avoid sentimentality by embracing an authentic motif of native experience. Simplicity vs simplistic.
Gandy was actually somewhat intolerant of most contemporary art. He was not particularly interested in intellectual investigation. He found abstract art generally lacking the impetus of pictorial substance found in Cezanne, Corbet, and other artists that worked representionally from nature.
Near the end of life Gandy seemed depressed, I remember hanging out with him in SoHo one afternoon, his eyes were wells of painfully agonizingly awareness. He knew he was sick, and had always suffered from a psyche wracked by insecurity and uncertainty. I guess you could say he wore his heart on his sleeve, you knew when he was enjoying life and when it was tormenting him.
But that’s why he was such a great mentor and teacher. His lessons and art were interchangeable, and the wealth of artistic mores and completely non-cynical career orientation his students gained were invaluable. Nobody who knew Gandy ever left feeling like he didn’t give the most of himself; and you were always the better for it.
Brodie collapsed and died on the sidewalk from heart failure after visiting his art dealer in 1975.


 (Sorry I don't have captions for all of these. Please contact SHFAP as most were in his show)

City Tree

Anemonie in Rusted Can
Mixed media on paper


ERIC DOLPHY, Come Sunday (Duke Ellington)

For me this is the most artful (in the context of Coltrane’s improvisational revolution) performance of Ellington’s masterpiece.
Davis’s slow hand bass sounds like a violin, and lends a brooding, pensive stature to sublimely melodic harmonies that meld in a painterly fusion of bluesy tonal bliss.  

3rd track from Dolphy's "Iron Man" Album. Recorded 1 and 4 Jul 1963 NYC.
Eric Dolphy - bass clarinet; J.C. Moses - drums; Eddie Khan - bass; Huey Simmons - alto saxophone;
Richard Davis - bass; Bobby Hutcherson - vibes; Woody Shaw - trumpet; Clifford Jordan - soprano saxophone; Prince Lasha - flute.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Prints in the Provinces; reThink INK: 25 Years at Mixit Print Studio

Boston Public Library, The McKim Building

Since the hometown team was taking yet another spring beat down it seemed like a good Saturday to avoid Fenway Park. I instead followed my sister’s advice and we visited her place of employment, the Boston Public Library to see reThink Ink.
reThink Ink is displayed in three different spaces in the library which might have been distracting, but actually provides a good opportunity to explore the rich diversity of this museum-like venue.  

  BPL’s 1895 McKim building is a pleasing pastiche of European architectural styles and 19th century public art, featuring a keystone by Saint-Gaudens. The airy, expansive scale of Copley Square and Trinity Church lend a “palazzo” feel to the library façade.
Lush interior architectural details abound; aside from all the spectacular murals by John Singer Sargent and the like, are two exquisite marble or alabaster drinking fountains. The beautifully landscaped interior courtyard is a perfect sanctuary for a library; gently gurgling fountains soothe the psyche of harried patrons. 

A most intriguing exhibit at the library are the Wiggin Gallery Dioramas built in the 1940s. This small dark room in a corner of the 3rd floor contains a series of 12 intricately assembled miniature stage sets depicting famous artists in the process of creating some of their most well known plein air works or art in situ.
I’ve always been captivated by the diorama format; static yet animated theater that narrates a poignant fragment of historical content. Of course as the grand theater of the dioramas seen at NY’s Museum of Natural History trump all others in grandeur and spectacle, these modest little vignettes offer an intimate, almost voyeuristic view into seemingly archaic versions of art history.       

Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669)
This story concerns Rembrandt’s wager that he could dash off an etching in the time it took Jan Six’s servant to go out and get mustard. Hmm, do you think they had some nice rye & pastrami waiting?

F.L. Griggs (1876-1938)
This British illustrator contributed to an early roadway guide, Highways and Byways for Macmillans. Here he is drawing one of the first Holiday Inn’s.

Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827)
Help, Tommy fell over! Gotta wind proof your plein air set up. From “A Party Angling on the Thames at Twickenham”

   Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931)
   This French lithographer is represented in his studio from a surviving photograph.
   He appears to be a tad cranky from all that peering & leering.

Sir Muirhead Bone (1876-1953)
This Scottish etcher was known for his architecturally precise renderings of urban construction and demolition sites. His precarious perch is seen here as he worked on “Manhattan Excavation” during the 1920’s.
How about that name?!

George Bellows (1882-1925)
This 3D version of “Stag at Sharkeys” is the most eye grabbing of the bunch. You can almost hear the thudding thumps of pugilistic thuggery.

  Henri De Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901)
My favorite in the group. (please excuse the limited photographic clarity, these things were difficult to photograph with an I Phone) Depicting HTL sketching in a circus, this masterful dollhouse construction includes two separate rooms with performers and miniature reproductions of HTL posters on the walls.

reThink Ink, a comprehensive exhibit of Beantown print makers, is an invigorating collection of two and three-dimensional print media that extend the boundaries of traditional technique. Culled from the artistic endeavors of Mixit Print Studio members in Somerville MA, the efforts of this distinguished and adventurous group of print makers encompasses a wide range technical expertise and innovative concept.
Although this show features only artists from the 25-year history of Mixit’s existence, the BPL has a long history of supporting Boston area print making artists with a large permanent print collection extending back decades.
Indeed, the more contemporary aspects of the permanent collection from Mixit artists are well represented here.  Of particular interest is the work of Robert Siegelman. His flamboyant but controlled abstracts nicely balance the dichotomy between decoration and gesture, while lending a fluid grace to playful compositions.

  ROBERT SIEGELMAN, Untitled (#2424-35) (1987) Monotype with watercolor crayon.

The Portfolio Project contains 66 prints “that exemplify the variety and inventiveness of contemporary printmaking taking place in the Boston area”.
Part of the Portfolio Project, Kim Berman’s  “Rethinking Ink: A Pathway” combines compellingly poignant landscape representation that invokes a toxic waste dump, with a socially relevant statement that doesn’t rely on an overtly demagogic narrative. All activist artists should be so artful.

KIM BERMAN, Rethinking Ink: A Pathway (2012). Aquatint and line etching on steel with a surface roll printed with Akua Intaglio inks on Hahnemuhle paper.

I found reThink Ink’s “Installations: Challenging Tradition” selections to be the most overtly engaging aspect of this exhibit overall.
Ilana Manolson’ s “Terra Flow” is rightly given prime wall space and takes full advantage of muted natural light flowing in from a main ground floor entryway. This chart-like, landscape oriented relief construction details intuitively conceived earthly contours, while fragile root forms connect floating sections that might otherwise drift apart.
Manolson also has an evocative print on display downstairs in the juried section. “Ghost of Tea Times Past” which features succinct use of figure/ground relationships anchored by finely tuned chromatic layering.

  ILANA MANOLSON, Terra Flow (2012). Maps from the Boston Public Library Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, root structures from my local neighboorhood and the Arnold Arboretum, plaster, and oil paint. 

 Ilana Manolson, "Ghost Of Tea Times Past" monotype 1996

Jan Arabas has found a way to suspend her print portraits of Cambodian children in a seemingly lighter-than-air kite-like contraption influenced by Cambodian craft and fabric. This simple yet elegant display case invites us to interact by strolling all around its delicate structure.

JAN ARABAS, Dtrou (2011). Double-sided monoprints hung in a red silk organza box suspended in a wooden armature. 

By contrast, in “Hyperion” Mary Sherwood Brock’s collection of dental/oral orifices, bulging eyes, and other variously garish body parts, demands and commands our attention. Clever use of serving plates hung in an oval-ish grid focus on printmaking craft as grotesquerie, effectively drawing the viewer in for a closer look at that which we might not otherwise care to see.

  MARY SHERWOOD BROCK, Hyperion (2011). Intaglio, chine collé, screenprint, and polymer litho prints framed under glass plates.

Heddi Vaughan Siebel’s inverted dingy framework on sawhorses invites us to share in autobiographical histories. This skeletal craft is adorned by tags scripted with short messages from viewers that engage in a kind of disjointed dialogue. The artist’s intent may have been to revisit ancestral identities, but the result is a form of unintentional social media; a sort of wishing well of amusingly Tweet-ish indulgences.

  HEDDI VAUGHAN SIEBEL, Far, and Further (2012). Monoprints with film loop on gampi and mulberry papers. 

Kudos to the BPL curators for installing such a well-coordinated, yet diverse review of Mixit artists. I do wish the well organized and informative website for the exhibit had included a post of the great video playing on the ground floor entrance to the show. Detailing some of the artists at work making prints, it’s a revealing and educational inside look at the printmaking process.