Wednesday, February 24, 2010

chewed gum and serious masters

You are walking down the street and you notice a discarded piece of bubblegum on the sidewalk. The shiny surface of the bluish-pink gob alludes to its freshness, yet the buildup of dust collecting at the edges belies its not-so-recent deposit. In addition, bits of urban detritus are beginning to adhere: candy wrappers, dried leaves, cigarette butts, perhaps a condom, bits of cellophane and dirt. It is organic and plastic, ugly and beautiful, fascinating and grotesque. It has its own story. If it could get up and go home it would, and that home exists in one of Russell Tyler’s paintings, on view now through March 20, 2010 at Freight + Volume in Chelsea.

The first time I saw one of the strange conical characters inhabiting Tyler’s canvases, I thought of the b-movie monster Frank Zappa referenced in his intro to “Cheepnis”. Certainly, these paintings crisscross the demilitarization zone between high and low art. In contemporary terms, Tyler’s loaded material application and expansive palette address our penchant for acquisition and accumulation. The scale and somewhat off-kilter space speak to this media culture, and suggest our inability to avoid or even shake off the bombardment of words and pictures assaulting us on a daily basis. But in new painting I also look for the lineage, and it too exists here. The unctuous paint in works such as Wolfman and Neapolitan Head can locate their provenance the work of 16th century painter Giuseppe Archimboldo as well as postwar Britain’s Frank Auerbach. Other works including What am I Doing? overtly display their classical family tree.

For those less interested in historical roots the chewing gum gob characters marching through No Ice Cream and Decomposing in the Land of Paradise, there is still the aforementioned b-movie monster movie It Conquered the World.

In the end, the multiple layers of meaning that Tyler packs into his paintings substantiate serious works that one can have fun with. If I am decomposing and this is paradise, I want to go out wearing those same red boots that Tyler’s creatures wear.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

save the date


APRIL 19 - 23, 2010
gallery hours: 11AM - 7PM

Steuben West Gallery
200 Willoughby Avenue, Brooklyn,NY
opening reception: april 19, 2010    5 - 9 PM
closing reception: april 23, 2010      5 - 9 PM

image "Angel Valley No. 3", 84" x 84", oil on canvas
(c) sioban lombardi 2010

Monday, February 15, 2010

cherchez le chat

Olympia, Édouard Manet, 1863, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
I‘ve just returned from the College Art Association Conference in Chicago, where I got to cram even more about art into my already crowded brain. I love when something old becomes new again. In this case it is Edouard Manet.
I remember studying this painting in college. I remember that Olympia is an important document in the development of modern art. I know that Manet is arguably the first modern painter. What’s amusing is that all of the socio/historical/aesthetic reasons that convinced me then that this was an important work of modern art have recently been amended. In truth, what I previously barely noticed, appears to be the lynch pin of this work’s and Manet’s modernity.
Certainly, the 19th century’s ascension of the middle class drove the desire for and the accumulation of objects. The devotional, narrative and didactic were no longer requirements. While those elements may still exist within a work, they didn’t have to. A painting or sculpture could exist just to be looked at. This objectness required an audience, and this was new.
In addition, Manet’s reductive form and use of color were revolutionary. Consider his marvelous blacks. A shadow reduced to a single black plane, a void, still perfectly describing form.
Then, there is the subject. As an undergrad at an all-women’s college, Olympia loomed large in the feminist psyche. First of all, she was a courtesan - an elevated class of prostitute - shocking subject matter! Then there was her nakedness rather than her nudity; her unapologetic gaze; her sexual freedom; the flip attitude of her dainty shoes.
But what Olympia truly declares is, “I am a painting, and I know that you are looking at me.” It is not the courtesan that does this. Her gaze is distracted and self-absorbed. She could just as easily be looking at a mirror. What confirms our presence is the cat - the cat! Unlike all of the other elements in the painting, it is the cat that engages the viewer.
Even in the scores of socio/psychological evaluations speculating the painting’s symbolism, each asserts that the cat reacts to and with the viewer. It is that assertion that demonstrates the self-awareness of this object, the painting, as an object, and that is the key.
Time to return to the 19th century and more Manet, I think…

Sunday, February 7, 2010

a tale of several cities

"Strip", oil on linen, (c) 2009, sioban lombardi

It’s been a while so here’s a long one. In a few months I will most likely move back to my hometown Chicago. Though I love Chicago, and cannot wait to once again cohabitate with my husband, I am suspect of opportunities in the Visual Arts that exist there. It’s not the fault of museums and gallerists, they are there, certainly in quality, if not number. With the School of the Art Institute at their helm, Chicago’s academic Institutions too represent heavy hitters in the visual arts. UIC and Columbia College are increasingly identified on the east coast, joining their learned elders, the University of Chicago and Northwestern. There are the Cooperatives such as the well known A.R.C. and start-ups like Margin. Finally, there are the labors of love such as the Chicago Artists Coalition that provide opportunities for any artist that wants to participate.

Still, local support for architecture, drama and improv comedy far outdistance support for the visual arts. Once upon a time, I think the last was around 1985; there was the Chicago and Vicinity Show. Exhibited at the Art Institute, it was a juried show taking place every two years - a sort of Biennial. It was a big deal. Then came the Chicago Show, which was mired in controversy due to lack of ethnic diversity. Now there is Art Chicago, which is just another art fair.

Today, while perusing the Chicago Gallery Guide’s website I counted approximately one hundred venues listed under galleries. Thirty-six of these are either museums, retail operations for functional art and/or crafts, auction houses or galleries representing work made prior to the mid-twentieth century. Granted, I was drinking from a tainted source, but there are more than 500 galleries in New York and probably as many individuals writing about art (7 of us love you Ken Johnson).That is what’s wrong in Chicago.

What is missing is critical interest. Compare the “on-line” front pages of 5 American Newspapers: The New York Times, Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle all list “Arts” on the front page Index. With the Los Angeles Times, you must first click on Entertainment (natch), but then a sub-index title for the Arts appears as a choice. With the Chicago Tribune, one must first click on Entertainment, then on Events. At the bottom of the “events” page there exists a section called “On the Town” where you may or may not find an article or review covering the Visual Arts in Chicago. As a matter of fact, last year the Chicago Tribune laid-off its sole art critic Alan Artner. He had been a fixture for decades, albeit an increasingly lonely one.

True, I am an elitist when it comes to the criticism and production of art, but not to the dissemination of information about it. I believe the character of a city is rendered more valuable by the quality and variance of the culture represented. That only happens when people are exposed to that culture. Thank God for new media and the little guy! Fortunately blogs and podcasts such as Bad at Sports and Chicago Art Magazine and small publications like New City continue to grow and provide a vibrant voice. I will read and reference them with enthusiasm. As newspapers go the way of the milkman, access to our cultural vehicles doesn’t have to. It may not be dropped off on your doorstep each morning, but you can get it anywhere. I encourage everyone to do so.

If you have a favorite blog/website related to art in your city - please let me know.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

the verdict

David Salle
King Kong
123" by 96" by 26"
acrylic, light bulb, oil/canvas, wood
courtesy Mary Boone Gallery

So he said… that I’m “a pretty good painter” … I’ll take that!