Friday, December 17, 2010

that niggling feeling

In recent weeks, a lot of artists have been thinking about and discussing the late David Wojnarowicz and the Smithsonian Institution’s decision to remove his video “Fire in My Belly” from  "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture." Hide/Seek is the current exhibition of gay portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

As an artist and an American, I am mortified by the removal of the work that came in response to the protests of a small conservative Catholic organization and certain members of Congress. The decision is, in effect, censorship that violates any notion of the separation of church and state; that denies the value of individual vision and opinion; and that refuses to acknowledge that those offended by the work may not at all understand it.

Frankly, I don’t think the removal of the work has anything to do with God. I have a niggling feeling that it comes from money and fear. The fear that someone could be questioning another’s faith and that that question will cause the fearful to stop giving money. What a lack of faith indeed.

As a Catholic, I am deeply saddened by the move. If you have read any of Wojnarowicz’s biography, it is obvious that he was disenfranchised his entire life. Given the cultural response to and paralyzing fear around AIDS in the late 1980’s, his diagnosis could only have exacerbated his anger and disillusionment.  As a Catholic, I also believe that God is love and loves the angry, doubtful and disillusioned most. In the garden, even Christ questioned his Father.

Thus, I also must believe that God loves those that demanded the removal of the work. By imposing their desire that the work be removed, they are certainly demonstrating their own doubt. Emerson said, “The faith that stands on authority is not faith.” [1] My hope is that these individuals could open themselves up to that which they are so afraid of.

My own experience has taught me that my deepest hours of doubt are often followed by profound experiences of faith and in those moments of faith I am most open to the emotions, thoughts and ideas of others. Museums and galleries across the country are now showing the video and it is widely available on the Internet. The funny thing is that, thanks to the censorship, “Fire in My Belly” has now been seen by hundreds of thousands of people that never would have travelled to the exhibit in the first place.

God is good.

[1] Emerson, Essays -First Series

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

for men only

boys playing
13 x 20, oil on shellacked paper 
(c) 2010 sioban lombardi

You are free. You no longer have a mortgage nor any loans to pay. There’s no grass that needs cutting, nor a walk to be shoveled. You no longer have a spouse, partner, and/or family to support. You don’t have aging parents to worry about. There’s no more tuition to pay. You have adequate money. You don’t have to answer to a boss, or a client, or a customer. You don’t have any competitors. Your health is excellent. You can eat what you want, sleep when you want, read what you want, go where you want, see who you want, and do what you want. Whenever you want. What do you want? Please tell me, I’m interested.

Please provide as many answers as you want to the following questions in the comments section. You may answer anonymously.

What would you do?

Where would you go?

How would you get there?

What would you own?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

11.9 likes and dislikes

Seven Days in the Art World, Sarah Thornton
One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse

Listening to:
Old mystery dramas on itunes radio

Luc Tuymans
homemade soup
the smell of burning leaves
my bed
Easter Seals Society
cloudy days
M-W-F morning check in calls

video (except William Kentridge, Kate Gilmore and Bill Viola)
a lot of romantic fiction
inflated qualifications
cling wrap
Christmas before Thanksgiving
injected lips
the tea party
the views of Sen. Jim DeMint

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

please be inconvenienced…

You're probably very busy today. But before you convince yourself that you have no time to VOTE, please remember the countless numbers of men and women who gave their lives so that we could have the privilege of being inconvenienced today.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

the thingliness of things

During the past month I volunteered at the previously discussed Art Loop Open. On Friday a couple of fresh, young journalism students interviewed me based on my role as a participating artist. The interview was not planned and I had to think fast on my feet to respond to their questions.

Of course, there was the usual question, ”How has the experience of participating in this event been valuable?”  I responded that I had not encountered any of the benefits that can be analyzed with metrics valued in the marketing community. There had been no increased traffic to my website, nor any inquiries about my work. What had occurred was the opportunity to meet and interact with some remarkably talented, smart people. Having moved home from New York in June, I have been missing “my tribe”. Now, I am starting to assemble one, and for that I am extremely grateful.

Next, one of the students asked about the value of art in public spaces and the justification of installing that art with taxpayer dollars. To the first part of the question, I believe that publicly installed art allows people to view it in a familiar environment. Many people outside the cultural sphere like art, but are intimidated by the rarified air of commercial galleries and/or the expense of museum attendance. Encountering art “out in the world” demystifies it and enhances our rather mundane, day-to-day experiences.

As for the taxpayer dollars, every day I hear individuals bemoaning the fact that all manufacturing jobs have gone overseas. Certainly, not in the arts. Consider the Creative Economy. It includes advertising, architecture, art, crafts, design, fashion, film, music, performing arts, publishing, R&D, software, toys and games, TV and radio, and video games. Adjacent to the Creative Economy exists the Cultural Economy. It’s composed of cultural tourism and heritage, museums and libraries, sports and outdoor activities.

The creative process is one of intellectual and material problem solving: How can I make something that successfully conveys an idea or enhances day-to-day life. It is also one of the few generators of manufactured goods made in the United States. As a painter, I make things. The materials I buy to make these things are purchased at local hardware and art supply stores. Most of the materials I purchase are made in the United States. When I advertise or publish information about my work, the materials are printed in the United States. When the objects I manufacture are sold, they are sold by an organization that employs people in the United States. And I am just one painter.

All of this is food for thought as government is repeatedly asked to stop spending in the arts and schools drop arts education. It has been demonstrated that students exposed to music early on, develop acuity for math and science. We spend millions of dollars creating young business people, only to send them to so-called creative workshops once they are employed. That stupid, overused catchphrase, Think Outside the Box keeps reverberating. The only box that exists is one that we have, as a society, built.

Artists are not a curiosity. Perhaps we can adjust our thinking and see the value in our creative community. Perhaps we can understand the investment in it. Perhaps the MFA is the new MBA. After all, look at where those MBAs …forget it.

As to that new political faction causing so many problems, remember, somebody designed that tea bag.

Interesting sources:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

cash and prizes

a flashcard for a secret language: meat and candy.12 x 9,  oil on shellacked paper. (c) sioban lombardi 2009

Friday, organizers of the Art Loop Open (ALO) revoked the eligibility of one of its 10 announced finalists, due to alleged cheating. The integrity of what started as an exciting event, promoting the unique and gifted artists of Chicago has now been called into question, and again at stake is local support for artists in the community.

The ALO is a first-time competition, similar to the ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. The organizing committee is a combination of the Chicago Loop Alliance and the Chicago Artist’s Coalition. The competition offers substantial cash prizes totaling more than $50,000 to winners selected from ten finalists. The finalists were selected by public vote. In hope of encouraging public interest in and attendance at the event, votes could only be cast by text message or smart phone tag scanning.  Artists were prohibited from emailing, texting or publishing their identifying number on any social media network.

In the spirit of full transparency, I was one of the artists selected for the first round of the competition. It was a tremendous honor to be selected form more than 700 submissions by a credentialed, astute and noteworthy jury. There was a lot of very good art in the competition that was scattered throughout a number of venues in Chicago. I returned home to Chicago in June after two years away. The ALO has been a great way to meet other artists and see their work. The scope of the project was enormous. What the organizing committee was able to accomplish in a relatively short amount of time was remarkable. Kudos too, to the countless volunteers who have worked so hard to get and keep this event running.

I was not one of the ten finalists, nor did I expect to be. The majority of my friends and family, whom I invited, either did not understand the nature of the competition, didn’t bring their phones, are not tech savvy or live in the suburbs and could not venture down to the city. If anyone did promote my number via text message or social network, I am unaware of it.

And I’m not going to lie, had I been chosen, I would have been ecstatic.

All of that being said, the ALO is now being called into question. The events, as they have unfolded since Friday, appear as follows:

The ten finalists were announced on the afternoon of Friday, October 22, 2010. I received the emailed announcement at 12:55 pm. I was pleased that I had predicted two of the finalists.

Sometime around 7:30 pm on Friday, one of the finalists was contacted and informed that his submission and status as a finalist had been revoked. (This finalist was one I had predicted). Another finalist was announced in their place. Apparently, someone had produced a flier, allegedly circulated in student mailboxes at a local college.

The artist has denied knowledge of this and has not seen the flier in question.

The ALO, through their page on a popular social networking site explained, “It was brought to our attention early in the first round of public voting that some artists were unfairly benefiting from third party promotion. Seeking to guarantee an even playing field for all artists, we took the position that publication of specific artist ALO numbers is grounds for disqualification. Accordingly, artists were disqualified from the public voting process in Round 1.”

This last statement by the ALO demonstrates one of the inconsistencies that have become apparent. If they disqualified such artists early on, why did they publish that artist’s name as a finalist on Friday, only to change their list of finalists later in the day? This lack of professionalism reflects poorly on everyone connected with the event.

ALO organizers also explained, “We created Art Loop Open with the intention of showcasing Chicago’s artistic community. We are proud of this competition, which in its first week, engaged an audience of thousands and provided invaluable exposure for artists. As with any first time event, we encountered unanticipated issues.”

The event did successfully engage the public and of course, errors happen with any event, but the stakes were very high with this one, perhaps too high. Artists, already undervalued in American society have particularly felt the effects of this long, drawn out recession. When large sums of money are involved, irrationality can prevail and loopholes attractive. Look at our nation’s financial crisis if you need proof. Grand Rapids’ Art Prize requires voters to register, in person, with ID. This may be the only way to prevent overzealous friends, family and students from promoting their favorite artist.

Indeed, there should also be a process in place, through which an artist can respond to accusations before being summarily dismissed. The fact that this flyer appears to have been produced after the finalists were announced seems a bit wonky and smells of sour grapes.

A more astute and experienced committee may have been better equipped to identify potential problems in advance. With so much at stake, management of this competition must be beyond reproach, and of the highest professional level. Good intentions fare poorly, and reputations can be ruined.

Eventually I imagine, the legal profession will settle this issue. How unfortunate. The cost of this may prohibit future competitions, damage the reputation and perhaps even end the existence of at least one of those organizations that seeks to promote the talents of local artists.

As I’ve stated before, it’s time for those larger institutions with deeper pockets to promote local talent. Art Institute? MCA? Where are you? Have a spine and bring back the Chicago and Vicinity Show, or a meritorious, equally credentialed version of it. Let the prize be inclusion and start supporting local artists as they have supported you. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

the mind's eye

image (c) Jane Huntington

Perhaps it’s a symptom of the insistent Recession, perhaps it’s a broader admission of cultural defeat, but much of the photography I’ve recently observed is heavy with abandoned spaces, peeling paint, cracked concrete and rusted infrastructure. Indeed, these works comment on a broken identity, a failed system, or even the existence of lead paint as a larger metaphor for the conspiracy of capitalism. Occasionally a photographer transcends these usual admonishments. Such is the work of photographer Jane Huntington. Within her work, Huntington manages to locate that same sense of desertion in those sites still in use. Sometimes she conjures an entirely different set of responses within places customarily limited to social commentary.

My path intersected with Huntington’s at Pratt Institute, where we were fellow graduate students. I am quite familiar with many of the locales she selected.  The worlds she implies are very different from the actual places that I passed through or inhabited for two years. Her photographs revise them, navigating meaning between fact and fiction, accessible and forbidden, coded and arbitrary. Huntington has stated, “I walk around taking in the world around me, trying to apply lessons learned, fixating and assessing potential for either hazard or joy. Places where I’m not allowed and are unfamiliar are of particular temptation. Chance encounters lead me from one thing to the next.”

Though she has an extensive editorial CV, Huntington brings these same qualities to her portrait photography. It is only her subject’s contemporary attire that reveals their present day existence. They lack and are laden with history. They are still, quiet, timeless and essential.

It is this transformation of site and individual that activates an unlearning of the places, individuals and assumed histories that I formulate every day. Huntington’s work provokes my imagination. I am anxious to see more of it as she unveils the hidden or imagined histories of an under-noticed and richly packed world some have only dismissed as failure.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Dear Molly and Dharun,

We have never actually met, but I want to apologize to you. I’m sorry that I taught you to believe that the actions you took were okay.  I regret that I didn’t teach you to value, respect, and care for your fellows. I never demonstrated that it is indeed our differences that make the human family rich. It is kindness and tolerance that strengthen us. Instead, I taught you to take actions that violate the rights, comfort and happiness of others. I could have been an example; instead I neglected the development of your character.

When I treated you badly, called you names, and made fun of you, I made you feel different from your fellows. This was wrong. Not only did I hurt you, but also I taught you believe that this was acceptable behavior. In doing so, I aided and abetted actions that ended the life of one individual and damaged future happiness for you and those closest to you.

I realize that I am responsible for the tragedy that took place last week, and every other such loss occurring to date. Because of this, my wish is to change my behavior. If, each day, I can grow in respect and tolerance for others, I can act as a small pebble tossed into the larger pond. Maybe then, we all will get to experience the gifts that individuals like Tyler, Phoebe, Asher and indeed the two of you, might have shared with the world.

I am so sorry.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Murder in the Birches No. 2, oil on linen, 46 x 54, © Sioban Lombardi, 2010

No artist can deny the influence of his or her personal life when conceiving work. It seeps in despite the most universal of issues that you may be expressing. This does not mean art making is always autobiography. It can be, but the presence of the artist is already intrinsic in the authorship. In fact, autobiography veiled as fiction can be the most tedious, self-important and unsuccessful work. In my own experience the illusion painting creates is itself a fiction. Best to leave fiction and autobiography separate.

Back to the seeping in, over the past few months I have been listening to old radio mysteries while painting. They mediate my focus without visually distracting me from the task at hand. The sparse language in the radio dramas provides just enough information to afford one’s own visual interpretation. Most of the dramas are mid-twentieth century and could be categorized as Noir. Customarily, my paintings have been non-narrative, but this genre was too rich to pass up. Thus I began Murder in the Birches, a noir narrative in paint, and I am soliciting your contributions to the narrative. It will be interesting to see if certain tropes that have already been suggested are generally prevalent.

As I said, you will find certain facts about the narrative below. Please submit your suggestions to in the form of non-descriptive facts. For example, “even as a child, Marion had been unattractive” is correct. “Marion had always been ugly; possessing a flat face, a broad nose, weak chin and plain brown eyes” is too descriptive - you have to let me do my work.. Your sentences will determine one or multiple story lines. Submit as often as the Muse permits. Feel free to contribute characters as well.

Here are the established facts:

Isabel and Marion are the murderers.

They have been friends since childhood.

Isabel is beautiful with red hair and green eyes.

Marion is ugly.

They murder Dirk, in a birch grove.

Dirk is Isabel’s husband.

Tommy is the only witness.

As the paintings progress, I will post images and the developing story here. Thanks, and now its time to get to work.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Several years ago while talking with some friends, I commented that almost all of the buildings in Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project had been torn down. The near-north property had become too valuable for the often-dangerous housing project to continue. One friend sympathetically asked aloud, “Where will those poor people go?” My thought was that perhaps they could move to the comfortable, 86% white suburb in which she resides. To be fair, my friend’s statement was completely well intentioned. But it is this type of sympathy that has lulled us into believing that we are doing the right thing. It is the same type of thinking that convinces us shopping at Whole Foods fulfills our responsibility to the environment. It is the same thinking that, as if somnambulating, we condoned a war in Iraq based on the fictitious construction of weapons of mass destruction.

I will be honest, I am glad Cabrini Green is gone. High-rise housing projects were another utopian failure.  Residents were geographically at risk of falling prey to the many ne’er-do-wells that took advantage of the architecture and segregation. But I don’t want the diversity of my neighborhood to change and I welcome mixed-income, subsidized housing developments that appear more successful, for both residents and the community.

Once upon a time, identity politics gave voice to the underserved and disenfranchised of this country. But over the last twenty years, perhaps even longer, identity has been rendered a marketing implement that sedates every constituency into the belief that they either are or are not getting what they need.  So, while the economy remains in the pisser, feminist artists contest the kitchen as a site of male repression, the Courts are tied-up with same sex marriage, and PETA is protesting the use of a chimp in a car advertisement; a malicious, bigoted, loosely organized and increasingly powerful group is capitalizing on the fears of individuals in this country. Should they achieve their goal in November’s mid-tem elections, we will see any hope for equal rights for EVERY American go up in smoke. We will be left with a white, so-called christian government where legalized handguns do the dirty work, corporations rape the land and the middle class, and the Texas Book Board mandates what is taught in public schools.  When do we progressives begin to look at the good of the whole, rather than the good of the identity?

In this twilight of the American era, I wish the legacy we pass on to history reflected the angels of our better nature. Sadly, I see us returning to the 17th century and the puritanical thinking that sought to destroy anything unfamiliar, progressive and open-minded.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

proustian inclinations

For years I have been reading the simulated Proust questionnaire in Vanity Fair Magazine and thought - I would love to do this. Being a little slow on the uptake, I finally decided to answer the  original questions as posed to Proust. Proust completed the survey twice, and the questions differed slightly. This survey is a hybrid of the two versions. If you’re so inclined, complete your own interview in the comments section.

Your favorite virtue.
Your favorite qualities in a man.
wisdom, passion, certainty, integrity
Your favorite qualities in a woman.
The same that I despise: her ability to do absolutely anything, to get what she wants
Your chief characteristic.
I’m a mixed bag, but I think resilience
What you appreciate the most in your friends?
their forgiveness
Your main fault.
there are many, but currently: vanity, avarice, sloth, judgment, arrogance, gluttony and envy
Your favorite occupation.
Your idea of happiness.
living with Mat, in France: painting, cooking and gardening
Your idea of misery.
losing my sight - no potter’s wheel for me
If not yourself, who would you be?
me is fine
Where would you like to live?
Your favorite color and flower.
all colors and peonies
Your  favorite bird.
Your favorite prose authors.
right now? Gabriel García Márquez, C.S. Lewis, Joan Didion
Your favorite poets.
Wallace Stevens, T.S. Elliott, W.H. Auden
Your favorite heroes in fiction.
Atticus Finch
My favorite heroines in fiction.
My favorite composers.
Bach, Lennon & McCartney, Mat Lombardi
My favorite painters.
too many to elaborate
Your heroes in real life.
St. Thomas More, Dr. Edward Mahama, Alexander Flemming, Robert Holbrook Smith
Your favorite heroines in real life.
The ones you never hear about
What characters in history do you most dislike?
of course - the usual suspects: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. Others that I think have done tremendous damage…Phyllis Schlafly, founders of the KKK, the previous Administration

Your heroines in World history
the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth I
Your favorite food and drink.
pastry and coffee
Your favorite names.
Phoebe and Algernon
What I hate the most.
The military event I admire the most.
The Battle of Agincourt
The reform I admire the most.
the one that hasn’t happened yet: when every single human is granted exactly the same rights, honor and dignity
The natural talent I'd like to be gifted with
How I wish to die.
What is your present state of mind.
Faults for which I have the most indulgence.
My motto.
“There is No New”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

a little garden

I’ve finally returned to my marriage, my home and my life in Chicago. My studio is set and I look ahead to a productive fall. I have never perceived autumn as a harbinger of death, cold and decay. It is a new season of anticipation and hope, just as the start of every school year was.

Gardens and their many metaphors are a present topic on some of the blogs I follow. With all of the Midwest’s horticultural bounty so readily available, how could they not? I bought these zinnias at the farmer’s market yesterday and while walking home I reflected on my childhood garden.

Apparently I showed some interest in my mother’s roses, and when I was 10, she designated a small area that I could cultivate. The first year I planted rows of seed according to the flower's established height. (My varietal preference would develop in time.)  Entirely responsible for the care, watering and weeding, I was delighted in July and August when my labors yielded beautiful flowers. I had learned patience, responsibility and planning. Things I forgot for a long time.

One can draw analogies between the garden and so many areas of life: love, friendship, care and responsibility. Plants that are forced and controlled can become unnatural, dependant and stunted. They lack the characteristics that gave them their initial beauty and hardiness. Similarly, the garden left untended falls prey to recalcitrant weeds and invasive pests. It may wither or go to seed. As in life, the balance between neglect and cultivation is delicate.

Though an avowed Francophile, I am uncomfortable in their highly manicured gardens. I much prefer the English garden where plants are selected for their peculiar attributes and then tended so they grow according to their own design, not the gardener’s. But of course, these are lessons learned, forgotten and learned again.

Monday, June 28, 2010

dog dazed

Art & Thinking is on hiatus for a bit while it gets acclimated to the new/old digs.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

blah, blah, blah, blah, blah

Tonight is the BIG NIGHT when the previously discussed Work of Art premiers on television’s BRAVO network. If you are going to view the program, I highly recommend reading Art Fag City’s supplemental program guide and all show-related posts Jesse P. Martin has written at PURPLE LINKS. My own contribution is the proposed week-to-week episode breakdown as follows:

Establishing Myth: describe the narrative and metaphor of an ancient myth through installation. Only materials to be used are plastic Pokémon characters.

Identity Paintbrush Challenge: draw a paintbrush from the bucket, and make an artwork informed by or addressing the labeled constituency. Identities include: second wave hunter-gatherers, neoevangelists, the Tang party, puppies and bunnies, pantomime environmentalists, niche marketers, microglobalists, pipsters, proprietary vegetarians, and urban jamokes

It is What never Was: visually reconstruct the simulacra - cannot use self portraiture

Cut! #1: make a video

Cut! #2: remake the same video

Cut! #3: remake the remade same video

None for You: make a work of art so ephemeral, it cannot be sold

Name the Null Set: Minimalism with a capital M

The Object Found: Utilize a slaughtered chicken

Koonsian: have another contestant make your art for you

The Body as Medium: demonstrate Lars von Triers’ personification of women in a performance piece

THE FINAL CHALLENGE: written exam, closed notes.
Question: Compare and contrast in theoretical, historic and critical context, the notion of beauty in at least three periods of art prior to 1800 and after Modernism. Codify those notions as they apply to Clement Greenberg’s article Avant-Garde and Kitch, Juvenile and Preteen Beauty Pageants, Lady Gaga and your experience on this program. You have 45 minutes.


While I love all spring flowers, I think my favorite is the Peony. It used to be lilacs, but that was youthful romance, and they now elicit a tiny tinge of morbid nostalgia. But the peony - even when white, or the palest pastel pink, is a little bit naughty. Certainly flirtatious, peonies possess a joie de vivre that not even exquisitely controlled Chinese painting can keep in check. When you invite them into your home, like the Trojan horse, they release their hidden delegation of ants. Peonies are a bit subversive.

Some friends and I had dinner at a former professor’s home recently. The bucolic landscape, some wonderful food and her giant intellect generated great conversation. She has always stressed the importance of social action, participation and activism, but on a personal scale. The professor asked us if an artist had to make political art to be subversive. My answer was no. I believe that the choice to make art - if it even is a choice - goes against the grain of the general population. It’s a choice that often commits one to a life contrary to everything the rest of the world is seeking: wealth, security, comfort.

It’s a difficult choice, especially in a world where the individual is marketed to 24/7. The payoff is a stunning level of intellectual freedom. And, in the end, artists will not have dumped countless gallons of oil into the Gulf, created a subprime mortgage bubble, hedged on the bets of others’ failure, or created a worldwide financial collapse. And that’s fine.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

draw winky

I remember this advertisement from magazines and matchbooks when I was a child. The idea intrigued me, although I never actually drew “Winky” or “the pirate”. Why? I didn’t think I could, that I was good enough. Next week, the equivalent of this contest will premiere on TV’s Bravo Network as Work of Art - The Next Great Artist. So continues the latest installment of the Top Chef cum Project Runway slash Real House Wives of American Idol culture to which we have been reduced.  Jumping on the bandwagon, every art blogger seems to have become an apologist and gone Gaga for it. I will not.

I read the bios of a number of the contestants and many of them have already achieved a meritorious level of accomplishment. However, I would rather see a portfolio than a carefully edited bio. One artist works in “carbon based media”, hmmnnn…. ground breaking… pencil? Charcoal?  Everyone should watch the hilarious clips on Bravo’s website. Trembling and tearful, an artist pleads that she wants her art to show in a Museum. Eureka! She's discovered fudge covered cookies! In fact, the winner of this glorified game show will receive a substantial cash award and a one-person show at a major Museum. I personally believe that that type of accolade comes from a lifetime of achievement or singular genius. Here that honor will be bestowed after 14 weeks of assessment by a group of merchants.

I wonder if there will be any discussions of art in critical, historical or theoretical context? I wonder if the program will show the time working alone in the studio, filled with indecision and doubt, dirty, messy, tired without sleep, fashion, jewelry and make-up. I wonder if they will capture the genetic predisposition that forces the artist to constantly doubt, question and navigate the world in visual terms. I wonder if there will be anything real here at all or just have a depiction of what people think the life of an artist is like. Will they really be giving these artists assignments every week? I can see it now, “Your assignment Scatological Assemblage!” After  all, isn’t this whole thing a scatological assemblage?

Call me an elitist; call me a snob, I’m happy to assume either of those mantles. But I would like to make a suggestion. Don't watch this crap. Learn about art through you own experience. Go to galleries and museums in your community, support local not-for-profit art venues, encourage arts programs in your school districts, go to the library and check out books and videos of artists and their work.  My father was a physician who always hated doctor dramas on television. I can understand why.

Me? I think I’ll watch Jeopardy instead. Maybe I’ll learn something.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

warm swell

"We had intended if it were a pleasant day to go to the country it was a very beautiful day and we carried out our intention # 47”
Pencil, watercolor, gouache, cut-and-pasted paper on handmade paper

22" x 30"
© Cyrilla Mozenter

I have been trying to get current with art on exhibit in New York. Last Thursday I visited three very different venues. My first stop was at the Drawing Center to see Live & Die Like a Lion?, the late drawings of Leon Golub. I have always admired Golub’s work. As a political provocateur, Golub somehow managed to articulate the brutalities of war and power with masterful and luxurious paint. His paintings can lure you in and bludgeon you in one fell stroke. Seeing the politically charged artist so overtly concerned with his late-in-life virility left me bereft.

My next stop was the 2010 Whitney Biennial. Though I have ardently studied previous catalogues this was my first opportunity to see the Biennial live and in person. With the exception The Bruce High Quality Foundation, Charles Ray, Nina Berman, Theaster Gates, and Kate Gilmore, I was again disappointed. However, the show is dense and I am still processing it. I plan to return and reassess.

I had one final stop and that was at Adam Baumgold Gallery to see Warm Snow by artist Cyrilla Mozenter. It was unseasonably warm and humid that day and I felt tired, crabby and grimy. However, when I entered the diminutive yet elegant gallery, the temperature seemed to drop twenty degrees.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I know Mozenter personally. She was my MFA Thesis advisor. I admire both the artist and her work. Because I prefer to write about work that I like, I feel no loss of objectivity here. In fact, it’s harder to write about the work of someone you know.

Mozenter has been working for some time with industrial felt, hand-stitched and molded together to create two and three-dimensional works. The material recalls Joseph Beuys’ use of felt and his invoked mythology. Certainly mythology is present here. Yet there is a less Teutonic side to Mozenter’s mythology that I can only describe as enchantment. At the same time, a series of felt vessels suggest both the Holy Grail and a fancy ice cream dish. This show includes her recent series Polar Bear Pass VI. Throughout many cultures the bear inhabits a fabled station, particular and varied. Here there is the sense of great strength, warmth, and protection.

A number of works on paper are also included in Warm Snow. I have always been drawn to artists that appear to possess a secret language. Two works suggest that this might be the case with Mozenter.  We had Intended..., pictured above, is faintly inscribed with the words: bear, boat, mitten, cave, boot and castle. I don’t need to know why these words are here, but they are satisfying. Another work, Slow Wide Turn, suggests cautionary instructions that cross one’s mind when approaching a turn on either a snowy road, or indeed, in life.

Warm Snow will remain on view at Adam Baumgold, 40 E. 75th Street, through June 26, 2010.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

exiting MoMA

Last Friday I made a trip to the Museum of Modern Art to see the William Kentridge exhibit Five Themes. I would almost say that it is a pity that the exhibit coincided with Marina Abramović, the Artist is Present, but that is like saying that melted butter on warm, home-made bread is almost too delicious. Both shows work as documents of prolific and powerful art making careers. The bonus round was the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit, and I didn’t even attempt the Picasso. Kentridge has closed, but with Abramović, Cartier-Bresson, and Picasso, there is an abundance of riches at MoMA right now.

I only spent a short time with Abramović. I want to return and devote my full attention to this incredibly dense exhibit. While I would like to sit with the artist, I don’t share the burning need for catharsis or enlightenment that some museum goers appear to seek.

What is a pity is much of the commentary floating around the interweb right now regarding the Abramović show. Most of it deals with issues irrelevant to the work. Some are going gaga over the means by which Ms. Abramović is urinating under that supposedly designed-by-Prada gown. Then there are warnings about the naked performers. There are the Who’s Who rosters of celebrities showing up to sit with Ms. Abramović. Finally there is the proposal that Lady Gaga’s attendance at the retrospective supports the elevation of her status to that of performance artist.

The depth and consequence of Abramović’ opus far exceeds any of these trite and pointless discussions. However, in the spirit of my lower self, I offer the following thoughts:

It doesn’t mater how she is peeing, but why don’t you just ask her? No one said you couldn’t.

Some noteworthy bloggers would be well served to follow her lead and wear Prada. (you know who you are)

Celebrities get to go to museums too.

Lady Gaga is a pop star. I like good shoes, but it doesn’t make me a cobbler.

If you are so strapped for a glimpse of naked people, you can still view them in National Geographic. Don’t embarrass yourself in a museum. Better yet, follow the moving billboard parked outside the Museum. It’s pictured above.