Posted: May 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

no kidding

“An Orchestrated Vision,” in the Saint Louis Art Museum Theater of Contemporary Photography features over 40 photographs exploring the tension between fact and fiction now until May 13th, 2012. The exhibit examines the rise of theatrics in photography and the technological advantage of today’s artists to fabricate, distort, and surprise.

1. Photography is inhabiting the new exhibition space at SLAM for the next few weeks as the show “An Orchestrated Vision,” winds down. Over forty photographs ranging over thematic concerns — the public stage, elusive narrative, constructed space, and portrait and performance. It is an exhibit designed to complicate our view of photography, of what constitutes a photograph as opposed to a painting; the exhibit asks who is the photographer and who is the viewer.

2. Each category in the exhibition creates a different headspace, as it were, a critical lens for ways of seeing the frame image on the wall and provides a space on the spectrum of subjectivity. In public spaces the objective world is not tinkered with as much as, say, constructed spaces. All photographs and their classifications ask for concentration and discernment.

3. It is evident the vision here is blurry in a sense that in almost every framed instanced the curator is asking the viewer to think again, look again, look harder, to worry at what is shown and in some cases, not shown. It’s a slippery slope because once asked to skew one tends to slouch. In other words, once the moral of the story is known its narrative threads are far less interesting.

4. I truly loathed this exhibition. It was so heavy-handed and frankly boring. Every single photograph yelled at you — I’M NOT WHAT I SEEM — that its monotony was enough to produce nausea. One photograph after another stood there smirking in self-congratulation all but denying edification of process. An hour of staged irony in a world drowning in simulation and simulacrum is not art; it’s banal redundancy. It’s a one-trick pony. Consider this: I ask you to lift a 10-lb dumbbell by curling your arm. Very shortly the muscles in that arm grows tired and exhausted. The brain is the muscle for lifting in art; should your brain be asked to complete the same processing over and over and over again, as if does every single day of its postmodern life, then surely this muscle will grow tired, taxed and spent. This show does nothing new. Redundancy in art is a trope that focuses the attention, yes, but when the redundancy is timeworn and dead, it’s useless. We get it. There’s a man behind the curtain, and the whale is white, and the killers are clowns, and grandmothers love to rap… Beautifully photographed all, to be sure, and great photographers and their works especially Andrew Moore’s “Palace Theater, Gary, Indiana” and Paul Graham’s “American Night.”

It’s unfortunate SLAM forgot art patrons are a pretty smart bunch.


Posted: May 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

Found: Kate Chopin

Posted: April 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

It would be enough to be home/birthplace to one of the best poets (T.S. Eliot), but St. Louis is also home to one of the best American prose writers — Kate Chopin (1850-1904). This impressive bust can be seen at the corner of McPherson and Euclid, right as you go to enter the incredibly-hip eyewear establishment (with a perky little bichon frise as a greeter) The Eyebar. There’s a brass relief of Eliot in the Christ Church Cathedral, 13th and Locust Streets, but it’s not as well done as this bust of Chopin. Head over, pardon the pun, and read a little Bayou Folk or from her classic novel The Awakening. She was born with a silver spoon, in high society here in River City, raised by her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother after her father died when Kate was four. She attended the St. Louis Academy of Sacred Heart, still in St. Charles. Ms Chopin spent some time down south — hence the bayou stories – moving there with her husband. When her husband died in 1884, Kate Chopin returned to St. Louis where she wrote for the rest of her life. Oh, and she raised six children. Fine Catholic woman.

Read: “The Story of an Hour,” which begins: “Knowing that Mrs. Maitland was afflicted with heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death.” (more at: http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/webtexts/hour/)


Google “Red.”

About 5,610,000,000 results (0.18 seconds), the engine that could tell us. Red the band. Red the movement. Red the action movie for Septuagenarians. For me, Red is a play about Mark Rothko by John Logan; Red is the color of Carl G. Jung’s famous book of visions of the unconscious called The Red Book — which I am reading and annotating on my other site: http://readingthereadbook.blogspot.com. Red it is the color of passion, for most, a shock of color in the eyeglasses the intelligentsia wear. Santa Claus suits. Lolita lips. Red is everywhere, a cultural hue rivaled by few other colors.

1. It’s for this reason that Atrium Gallery’s latest exhibit “Red,” caught my attention. Carefully curated by gallery director/owner Carolyn Miles the show features a small array of red, but a number of pleasant surprises in its bid to explore this most prominent of colors. “Red” is a small, intimate show in a pleasant gallery in the tres hip Central West End Quarter at 4728 McPherson Avenue; a large wooden man acts as greeter and easy way to find the gallery amongst the other shops. If like me, you like to go through an exhibit in order, pay attention because “Red” begins the millisecond you step into the gallery (or perhaps it begins on the sidewalk). A small white pin on the wall to your left, near the window and a feature window wall, tells you it’s #1. So you begin with Willem de Looper’s “Color Music #1″ 19″x19” acrylic on board, mounted on panel; to #2 Frederick Nelson’s “Exodus,” 41″x61″ pastel on rag paper; #3 Steven Sorman “next to this” 27 1/8″x45 1/2″ etching, woodcut, aquatint, hand painting, chine collie on various papers; #4 Jeanine Coupe Ryding “Red Dream,” 74 1/2″x12″ woodcut print; #5 Kirk Pedersen “Red Wall, Dalian, China” 40″x60″ lambda digital C print; #6 Doug Salveson “Boxtop Bird II” 21 1/4″x17″ collage and acrylic on cardboard and his #7 “Brookside” 21 1/4″x17″ acrylic on paper with collage; #8 Karen Kunc “At the Shoreline” 36 9/16″x62 1/16″ woodcut, mixed media on artist-made paper of pigmented linen and kozo; #9 de Looper’s “Color Music #8″ 19″x19” acrylic on board (mounted on panel); #10 Katy Stone “Red Fall II (Chords)” 92″x23″x5″ acrylic on duralar; #11 de Looper’s “Untitled” 45″x65″ acrylic on paper; #12 Sorman’s “February 2″ 10″x8”.

In this way you wend around the perimeter of Miles’ space enraptured, listening to cool jazz, and surrounded by red.

2. Frederich Nietzsche writing in The Birth of Tragedy says there are two main creative impulses, divergence and convergence, or Dionysian and Apollonian. In other words, some artists and their art serves to embrace the goo of the unbridled unconscious, where other artists want to clean up all the mess and make it just so. The “Red” show is more of the former than the latter, for in only one piece does representation get its fully address. The others then are mostly abstract expressions or conceptualizations of emotions or engines of emotive opportunity. One could come away from the show cold as a stone, others still, burning a red-hot coal; it depends on the viewer. Save for two, maybe three pieces I was seeking more Apollo and less Dionysus.

3. It is a brave and interesting curator who is willing to choose a theme so open to interpretation twelve utterly different pieces could easily have been on display. Unfortunately, this might have been what was produced. Given the opportunity to evoke what “red” means surely some would have been chosen for more concrete illustrations. After all when we ask someone what they think of when we say “red” it hardly helps when they reply “the golden ratio.” An abstraction in answer to an abstraction simply obfuscates. What I mean is, a little less abstract expression would have rendered the conversation less insular. All of the pieces struck me, singly, and in a very good way; their grouping, while problematic still allowed for a few to stand out from the red fog.

4. Stand outs you should spend some time with are: #2 Frederick Nelson’s “Exodus,” 41″x61″ pastel on rag paper; #3 Steven Sorman “next to this” 27 1/8″x45 1/2″ etching, woodcut, aquatint, hand painting, chine collie on various papers; #5 Kirk Pedersen “Red Wall, Dalian, China” 40″x60″ lambda digital C print. But my favorite was #10 Katy Stone “Red Fall II (Chords)” 92″x23″x5″ acrylic on duralar. It strikes you right away, as soon as you step into the gallery proper, there on the right wall gushing, and hanging and dripping resplendently. Up close the acrylic shimmers, throws shadows on the floor, festooned with blood red teardrop impasto, one flowing translucent, imprinted ribbon in front of another, and another, and another; interspersed with filigree and flourishes of red. Beautiful, only marred by the presence of small white thumb tacks to secure the strips to its white ceiling box. But that’s nothing. This is beautiful, and red.

Google “Red” and see if anything this magical catches your eye.

Posted: March 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

Corner of N. Brentwood and Maryland, spring blooms

<Ernest Trova “Walking Jackman”>

Posted: March 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

Ozymandias Is that You?

Posted: March 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

1. Behind the generic library in Chesterfield, MO (a fairly affluent suburb of St. Louis), near a parking lot and bucolic verdant park you’ll find struggling to break free of the loam a seventeen feet tall man. Seward Johnson’s “The Awakening,” is a 4,700 pound, five-part, cast-aluminum piece cast and installed in 2009, which has a progeny first cast into the soil of Washington, DC in 1980. The piece is some seventy feet long, and is dark against the grass and surrounding environs. The sculpture would bring to many minds the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley:


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

2. In the innocuous environments of American suburbia the landscape is often pierced in some kind of defiance against sameness with large sculptures, rarely abstract, almost always symbolic of the neighborhood’s tenor or hoped for élan. We see deer in mid jump or bronzes of fairy tale creatures, and outside libraries one is apt to come across founders reading to children or some other familial scene of literacy and love. The man outside the Chesterfield library — affectionately known as The Giant — is entitled “The Awakening,” and so in some regard breaks free of the standard suburban civic fare.

3. Seward Johnson’s arising super-sized plebeian appears to be a symbol to all who carouse the park, its undulating hills, and the nearby library that you can rise up from the dregs or the shackles of your holding fast, you can rise from the dirt to do something beyond your inevitable return for the eternal dirt nap. Hand outstretched, fingers curled back; anguish etched on the awakening visage. Up up we go, work to be done, we will not be daunted.

4. My wife thinks the hand should be more open, as if reaching for the heavens above in exaltation. Prior to knowing the piece’s title, I disagreed with her thinking instead it was a hand cursing the fates (Charleston Heston’s fist-pumping the sand in Planet of the Apes comes to mind too), the ignobility of the human condition. It bugs her to no end, since we drive by the claw en route to the nearby mall. It should be open. And for a title such as “The Awakening,” I think I now agree with her. A nearly clenched fist hardly says — wow, hello morning! The face too, full of strum and drang, doesn’t say arousal of the kind I can only imagine the folks of Chesterfield were hankering for. I can only imagine Soccer Moms and Live Strong Armstrong Yellow Wrist Band Fathers telling their sprogs to get off the grouchy guy. Too Nietzsche. Too Shelley. Too much to explain. Too much thinking. This is the suburbs. Yet I like it. I like it because I think Seward Johnson knew exactly what he was doing when he placed it in the ground. Gotta plant seeds to have a garden.

from an old notebook, some new thoughts

Beuys | Flannel Suit @ SLAM

Susanne Langer in The Problems of Art suggests that art, a painting, does not have meaning beyond its own presence. “In a work of art we have the direct presentation of a feeling, not a sign that points to it.” Art is rather than suggests. To put it another way: Timelessness is, it’s not suggested. God is; the art doesn’t suggest the possibility. “It formulates and objectifies experience from direct intellectual perception, or intuition, but it does not abstract a concept for discursive thought.” She goes on to say that the painting is a single entity, composed of materials that contribute, but do not in and of themselves constitute still more symbolism. It’s true that artists may use symbols in their art, but it is believed that these symbols lie on a different “semantic level,” (Langer) and that they are not a part of the larger works importance. In the end, a painting once nothing more than canvas, frame and paint is a new space, a “created apparition.” 

It is winter as I write this and in New York’s Central Park 7,500 gates have been installed with free-hanging saffron-colored fabric panels. The installation is called The Gates and it is the art work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude—individuals who were born in the same hour on the same day June 13, 1935. Christo was born Vladimirov Javacheff in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, of a Bulgarian industrialist family. Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon was born in Casablanca, Morocco, of a French military family. They would first meet one another in Paris, in 1958, while Christo was working on Packages and Wrapped Objects. Their only child, the poet Cyril Christo, was born May 11, 1960. In 1964, the artists moved to New York City. Since the sixties they have been producing art outside the walls of museums and frames. They have been very busy with the world at large.

For decades, Christo and Jeanne-Claude have inspired the world with their art, which has been displayed on four continents and seen by millions. Other works by the artists include Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin, 1971-95; The Pont Neuf Wrapped, Paris, 1975-85; Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980-83; Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76; and Valley Curtain, Grand Hogback, Rifle, Colorado, 1970-72.

What is striking about this art latest installation, in a public place, is that it exists for only a short period of time, as did most, if not all, of the artist’s work. By the end of a few weeks The Gates will be gone. What remains? What exists now outside the installation itself that we could point to and say that is art? Is the art also the problems and hurdles placed before the artists in their attempt to have the installation come to fruition? They began their quest to have The Gates installed in the park in 1979. Is the art also the public discourse over the validity of The Gates as art? What does it say when a public place is infused with a private  moment—the realization one gets looking at the art, going through The Gates that they are partaking in something that has been created and that they are part of it? Is not in a park in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world, 7,500 thresholds through which sojourners may enter the sacred? Since they are temporary erections, I wonder if years from now contemporaries will have to convince generations that The Gates were even there; or that Jeanne-Claude’s wispy bouffant was bottle-saffron; will we have to convince people that there was among us a man named Christo?

What of two paintings recently discovered beneath two paintings by Picasso. One was found beneath Rue de Montmartre and another was found beneath La Gommeuse. It is called underpainting, when an artist too poor to purchase a canvas will paint over an earlier, perhaps inferior work. The underpainting isn’t discovered until a collector or curator x-rays the painting or when a painting is rematted—on the reverse side of La Gommeuse a new Picasso was discovered.

… Alexander The Great is buried there. In Siwa, Egypt the ephemeral nature of art is explored. Recently, in late November, for five days the desert surrounding this oasis was abloom with color—in the sky. Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang had children fly 300 kites he produced, which while in the sky ignited in an explosive blaze. This place is for this kind of exploration: Desert, temporary, wandering. Richard Long, another artist, fulfills this rather nicely recently when he walked into the desert alone to install his work: the wind blew the piece away before anyone else could see it.