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I’ve always been captivated by the diorama format; static yet animated theater that narrates a poignant fragment of historical content.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.


Over The Head Chicken Swinging, “naïf “ Art & Religion at Hebrew Union College

Nathan Hilu’s Journal: Word, Image, Memory
Jewish Institute of Religion Museum

“The Scapegoat”
Among some orthodox Jews there is a custom called “Kappres”. This involved swinging a live chicken over one’s head to atone for one’s sins, a rooster for a male, and a hen for a female. A prayer is recited: This is my substitute, this is my pardon, this is my atonement, this rooster/hen goes to death and I shall enter a long, happy and peaceful life”.
The bird is then ritually slaughtered and given to the poor. The chicken becomes the scapegoat.  

Nathan Hilu epitomizes the hardscrabble Jewish art for art’s sake ethos of Soutine, Chagall, and another lesser-known lower east side contemporary, Gandy Brodie. These artists all made images that to one degree or another reflected their Jewish cultural identity, but Hilu alone has created a non-fictional, lifetime narrative rooted in traditional religious practices and Jewish historical observations that might otherwise have gone by the way.
What other artist sketched portraits of Nazi war criminals while guarding them at Nuremburg, or traded his art for Challah and pastry?
Hilo’s work is so packed with wit, personality, and verve that theres no room for conventionally fashionable art world irony or stylistic preening. Whether or not he was “trained” (or ruined, some might say) by more informed and connected masters of the craft is beside the point here. Hilu’s talent is indeed “native” and his art is all the better for it. We may label him “outsider”, and much to his benefit he truly is.

Nathan Hilu was born in New York City in 1926 and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He served in the U.S. Army from 1945–1957. In Germany he served as a prison guard at Nuremberg, attached to the 6850th Internal Security Detachment where he guarded high ranking Nazis Party members, German military servicemen, and German government officials on trial for war crimes. Following the end of World War II, he continued his military service in Japan and various bases in the United States before being honorably discharged in 1957.
After his return to civilian life, Hilu settled in New York and achieved renown as an artist reflecting his life and times. The phrase art brut, coined by Jean Dubuffet in 1922, best describes Hilu’s style — naïf, or outsider art that does not adhere to the mainstream. His 2008 series of drawings of the Nuremberg prison and its occupants are currently held at the Holocaust Resource Center Archives at Queensborough Community College, and a showcase of his work, "Nathan Hilu’s Journal: Word, Image, Memory" is currently on display at the museum of the Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, New York. Hilu continues to draw daily.

I was preparing a show for the Educational Alliance’s Ernest Rubenstein Gallery when the Art School’s director, Walter O’Neill, noticed my affection for the wild drawings. He suggested that if I wanted to show them, I could get in touch with the artist the same way he did – by visiting the bakeries Nathan frequented and leaving notes for him. This was quite different from trying to show the work of other artists, which usually just involved lots of emails to gallerists.
I left notes to no avail, but convinced one baker to lend me a few of the drawings Nathan had traded for cake. They were stained and sticky, like cola had been spilled on them. Many of the drawings were based on a single photograph of the owner, Rivka, as a younger woman holding a large Challah. Some had a return address label slapped onto their fronts. I used the address to write Nathan a letter. He showed up on the night of the opening with more drawings. 

From Nathan Hilu: Not An Outsider Artist by Audrey Hope

“My work is cartooning, that’s what I do,” he said. We looked at his drawings of the Bialystoker Synagogue, Shapiro’s Wine, Doughnut Plant, and a Spanish restaurant, among others. “You see, what I’m trying to show here, because this is the Lower East Side, I’m putting Jewish, Chinese, Latin all together,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye.

                                                     Nathan Hilu at his Educational Alliance exhibit.

Front Room Gallery's annual WagMag Benefit at The Boiler

“WAGMAG a Brooklyn Art Guide, is a monthly art guide that promotes art venues and exhibitions in Brooklyn, New York, with a listing service of art exhibitions and events, with locations and times, community maps and critical reviews.
WAGMAG was established in 2001 by a visionary arts team to promote the arts in their local communities of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Over the years WAGMAG has grown to include other communities in north Brooklyn, and in 2008, in conjunction with ARTfront, Inc., re-launched its program as a non-profit guide to the arts in all of Brooklyn’s varied art communities

The WagMag benefits are usually entertaining affairs, last year there were scantily clad ladies slithering about on drapery hung from the ceiling. No dangling lasses this year, but since The Boiler has at least 30’ ceilings that might have been a tricky proposition.
Plying the patrons and artists with absinthe, wine from a local Brooklyn vinter, and a loud DJ got the juices flowing. Jeanne had generously donated a nice framed work on paper, curmudgeon that I am, I offered moral support only.
Contemporary benefit art auctions can be fraught with peril for artist and collector, especially the kind of grass roots action typical at WagMag benefits. Frequently fellow artists are holding auction tickets, and the chances are you may know the person who acquires your work (or not). Flattery will get you everywhere!
Auction tickets are sold in advance for $225 each, and then all ducats are placed in a wacky looking contraption with an aluminum foil wrapped vacuum hose that’s supposed to suck random tickets up into an empty water cooler drum. There are usually some fairly well known artists that have donated art, so if you’re lucky enough to have your number picked early you might walk off with a little sack of art world equity.
On the other hand if you’re just some low level schmuck no one’s ever heard of and you donated a substandard work to begin with, you might find your piece still on the wall at the end of the night. (jeez, you can’t even give it away!)
As a collector if your number comes up later in the evening you’ve probably watched all your favorite picks get swept off the wall. Powerless, you just have to keep standing there crossing off your list ‘till all that’s left is the unknown dufus art.
Of course there may yet be some diamonds in the rough. It could be that the first tickets grabbed all the big shot artists, while missing the less obvious unheralded gems that only those with an insightful eye and insider savvy will swoop down to snatch at the last minute.
Jeanne and I lasted about 2 hours into it and then with her piece (and many others) still unclaimed we called it a night. Later on we heard that a well-connected artist we both knew had picked Jeanne’s piece not long after we left.
Ah, the drama wouldn’t have missed it for the (art) world. 

Art handling babes handling sold art.

Artist babe (mine).

A Surf Shack Grows in Brooklyn/ The Perfect Nothing Catalog

216 India St, Greenpoint
The rural environs of a vacant lot right off McGuinness Blvd have given rise to a very post hippie happening this spring. Brooklyn Grange opened their farm store, and right next door Frank Traynor has set up his ice fishing shack as a kind of Zen gift shop.
Not only will you find Jeanne Tremel’s (my wife) cat head portraits fashioned from antique pottery shards and beach glass found strewn about various shorelines and salvaged by her, but other odd ball oddities and vintage bits.
You may have missed the opening night cookout of grilled apples, carrots, and peppers (so did we, I was hungry), but Frank will be there (soft) peddling his wares all summer.
Wed-Sat, about 12 N-8 PM, better to call ahead 218 240 9350.

Seen In Bushwick

The ultimate souped-up wheelchair found (and left padlocked) on the corner of Porter St & Harrison Pl.
Could it really be a ploy to rent studio space?

Outsider art? This little guy is mounted over the entrance to an auto repair joint on Flushing Ave.