As many of you may know, thanks to financial support from the Rosalie Chauncey Scholarship, I was able to study painting in Paris this summer. As a service to prospective students applying for the Chauncey this year, I will be giving a presentation in Melchers 207 Thursday September 25th, at 5:00 PM. I will briefly present on my experiences in Paris and the opportunity provided by the Chauncey scholarship, which will be followed by a question and answer/discussion section. All are welcome. More info and images below… Keep reading →
September 23rd, 2008 by roblog · 4 Comments
September 12th, 2008 by roblog · 9 Comments
Okay, Okay, I know its been a long time since I added any meaningful content to this blog, but with the semester now well underway and an enormous mound of projects started, I have finally returned to the internet after a long summer of international travel, painting, exhibition-visiting, but mostly engaged in the (unsuccessful) de-groundhogging my barn, all of which will be subjects of their own exciting posts in the coming days.
Since the theme of most of my projects this semester involves my longstanding fascination with the structure of newspaper comics, I’m going to do my best to integrate some cartoon-style illustrations into the posts, as well as use this as a forum to document the progress of my work, rather than the usual exhibit-able final product.
September 8th, 2008 by roblog · 4 Comments
Now that we’re hitting the homestretch of a three year Presidential campaign that has lasted longer than most major wars, its a fitting time to look back at the recent history of the American presidency through the eyes of the inimitable Washington post cartoonist Herbert Block, who caricatured every president between Franklin Roosevelt and George W. Bush until his death in 2001 (at the time, newspapers lamented in his obituary the added frustration of losing the perspective of Herblock shortly after September 11th–after all, he had helped give perspective to a nation during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Watergate, the Cuban Missle Crises, the Iran Hostage and most national tragedies and hardships of the 20th century). Check out the exhibition of original cartoons the National Portrait Gallery has on display.
Going by the trade name of Herblock, he coined the term “McCarthyism,” now a required vocabulary word for every 11th grade American history student, and gave us some of the most memorable images of Richard Nixon ever drawn. The exhibition includes his minimal set of drawing supplies and the beautifully goofy bronze National Cartoonist Society’s Rueben Award (named after Rube Goldberg. It looks sorta like this). Most interesting of all is the opportunity to see how the artist worked–the still visible non-photo-blue pencil drawings, his large, fluid sketchy inkings, and the frequently whited out and taped over faces he corrected again and again and again.
In short, this is a real gem of an exhibition, rare in its unusual subject and scope, well curated (except for a curious shortage of George W. Bush cartoons), and universally fascinating. My major critique of the exhibition is that the exhibition designers bought into the growing trend of putting a group of labels far from the artwork (to be less distracting). This works beautifully for adding existential weight to the purity of color field paintings and the like, but when you have to keep walking back and forth to read the title ofan artwork that doubles as the caption of the cartoon, it is just inappropriate and discouraging to the viewer.
(Thanks to a voracious appetite for anything resembling a cartoon, I first started reading Herblock around age 9 with no understanding of the political topics the work touched upon, and received his autobiography for Christmas from some encouraging family member around the same time. My copy is now pitifully worn and dog eared, looking a little bit like it was dragged through the political unrest of the 20th century itself, and I can safely say that Herblock was a primary influence in both my political interest and development as a painter.)
September 5th, 2008 by roblog · Comments Off on Most of the time, I wish I lived in Jim Henson’s Fantastic World
If you go to D.C. between now and October 5th, do yourself the favor of suspending reality long enough to believe in puppets and go to the Smithsonian International Gallery’s exhibition Jim Henson’s Fantastic World.
I can’t really give an objective critique of this exhibition because I hold the Muppets in the same special place in my heart reserved for Calvin and Hobbes, the American Flag, going back for seconds at Thanksgiving dinner, the Washington Redskins and coming down the stairs on Christmas mornings. I love these things in a way that transcends rationality, so I’m not going to muck about in things like logic and arguments.
Therefore: go to this exhibition. See Henson’s early cartoon work. Say hello to puppets of Rowlf and Bert & Ernie. See the most touching photograph of a human/felt conversation ever taken. Also, the exhibition is far from a highbrow art exhibition–it has zany sounds, rare early videos of the Muppets, bright colored walls, and an actual do-it-yourself puppetry studio for kids, so go ahead and take children. I mean with you. (There are probably laws against taking the children at the exhibition)
July 8th, 2008 by roblog · 2 Comments
The innate abilities of human beings to see certain objects as something else, the part of thought that turns the surface of the moon into a face, is a defining interest of most of my work. Therefore, in any medium I work in, I repurpose the human experience, with its jumbled elements of language, communication and past associations, in order to create open ended visual shorthands in a minimum number of steps.
April 26th, 2008 by roblog · 2 Comments
In this work, the cord to an electric light is threaded through a stack that constitutes the artist’s collection of (relatively) expensive art textbooks, which are the artists most valuable possessions, both fiscally and sentimentally. The drilled hole inherently devalues the resale value of the books, and, to a degree, diminishes their usability, incorporating destruction of worthwhile materials into the junk-art idiom.
April 25th, 2008 by roblog · 1 Comment
A Little League baseball pierced with a red pencil and hung from Jeffersonian-revival architecture offers a menacing look at the heavy-handed nostalgia of Americanism: as the title implies, this sculpture could be a jury-rigged version of the colonial hole-ball game where children idly attempted to catch a small wooden ball on a stick (a game mainly preserved in nostalgic toys sold in places such as downtown Fredericksburg and Colonial Williamsburg), but even so, this game has been repurposed: it is in midair, suggesting flight, while the pencil becomes an arrow which dually suggests direction and harm. The additional duality of the title refers to the weighty phrase uttered by play-by-play announcers at particularly important moments in a baseball game, one where the outcome can be essentially decided in what would otherwise be an ordinary event. Taken together, these elements inform a larger theme: a deadpan satire on the direness of American nostalgia, collecting (European-influenced) American iconography that is heavily dependant on reverie for the past and placing it squarely on the shoulder of generations that have not experienced that past.
For the record, I almost critically injured one of my esteemed professors while setting this up.
April 25th, 2008 by roblog · Comments Off on Sculpture: Support Group I (My Arcadian Woods)
Like “Storm Tossed Ship,” the title of this work alludes to an art historical standard: in this case, the Arcadian landscape. The tradition of Arcadian landscape incorporates the idea of nature as a pastoral extension of man’s dominance of the earth; this work casts such support relationships into doubt: is the wood holding up the architecture or is the architecture holding up the wood? By extension, the classical-revival architecture plays the role of the Arcadian society, while the wooden planks take on the role of the natural world, greatly undermined by their subjugation to human purposes. Finally, the exposed wood suggests the whole structure is decaying or sinking into this dangerous earth, a feeling of uneasiness reinforced by the precipitous location of the viewer inside of the architecture.
April 24th, 2008 by roblog · 1 Comment
The following material made up the basis for a presentation given to the Spore Collective in April 2008:
Unmonumental: Junk Sculpture In The 21st Century
In December of 2007, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City opened the doors of its new location, in the Bowery district of lower Manhattan. The museum relocated to this gritty Chinese restaurant supply district from its previous home in SoHo in a deliberate attempt to distance itself from an art scene that has become increasingly reliant on gentrification and established artistic celebrity. Therefore, for the inaugural exhibition at its new home, the museum staged “Unmonumental: The Object In the Twenty-First Century,” a three part exhibition incorporating more than eighty works by thirty international artists, mostly “mid-career” and under forty years of age.1
The common thread of the exhibition is junk art, a sharp contrast to the polished, monumental crowd-pleaser exhibitions that have become the standard museum fare of major national galleries. Essentially, the goal of the exhibition is to define low tech assemblage sculpture, with its raggedy looks and unconservability, as the most dynamic form of contemporary art today, fighting the otherwise dominant forces of market absorption and pop cultural monumentality by its very nature.2
Of course, Unmonumental is not the first ever exhibition of junk-sculpture. The medium has been around as an accepted artistic practice for close to a century. The following is a brief, and no where near comprehensive, look at the history of junk assemblage:
A Brief History Of Junk Sculpture:
SLIDE 3 DUCHAMP
Junk art arguably began with Marcel Duchamp and the Dada movement, who deliberately brought “readymades” (itself an importance practice in Unmonumental) and the objects of real life into the art realm in an attempt to blur the lines between art and life. Often described as an attempt to destroy art, Dada assemblage is better thought of as an attempt to change the role of the artists. In the words of Duchamp “I never tried to destroy art for anyone but myself”3
Junk art thrived through the surrealist movement, thanks to such artists as Man Ray and Meret Oppenheim. Its best known practitioner was the American artist Joseph Cornell, whose homemade boxes full of junk-store bric-a-brac have come to define the medium. His constructions were complex odes to beautiful ideals, especially birds and Hollywood starlets, and took on the distinctive feel of manic folk construction.4
In the nineteen sixties, Junk art took center stage in the attempt to overthrow the formalist dominance of Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting on the New York Avant Garde. Junk art, then, is no stranger to this role of other that it finds itself in during Unmonumental–it was forged in such an environment with Dada, and has been put to the role multiple times in the past. In this period, Robert Rauschenberg, a major influence in the Unmonumental exhibition, pushed junk assemblage to the limits of its structural, aesthetic and conservable integrity.5 Rauschenberg, along with his close contemporary Jasper Johns, is often classified as Neo-Dada, a nod to the Duchampian roots of the medium. 6
Since Raushenberg, assemblage art has gone in a vast array of directions, and it would be ingeniune to pretend to cover them all here. But to sample one of the best known works of the politically charged counter-art scene of the 1970s, here is Betty Saar’s 1972 work the Liberation of Aunt Jemima, which appropriates folk imagery into a junk assemblage in an attempt to change the meaning of dominant cultural iconography through this physical manipulation.
This brings us the Unmonumental itself. In general, the goal of the show has seen both critical acclaim and immediate influence: Peter Schjeldahl describes, bluntly: “At issue is a restoration of studio romance (the artist in what-the-hell action) after a spate of market sex (the artist as deluxe fabricator)”.7 This years Whitney Biennial soon echoed the same theme, but lacked the gauntlet-throwing impact, which the New Yorker described “If it were a sound, it would be the muttering of a cast awaiting the inexplicably delayed rise of a curtain.”8
These works come in sharp contrast to the current standard, which involves large scale, fantastically expensive commissioned works from celebrity-artists. For example, both Jeff Koons and Cai Guo Qiang have solo exhibitions on display this spring that reflect the exact method of exhibition Unmonumental is reacting to.
For all of the excitement it has generated, the exhibition is not without criticism. First of all, for all its groundbreaking attitude, the exhibition is inexplicably western-centric, fielding the majority of its artists from the United States and Europe. The feeble defense by the curators–that this results from more material waste in these locations–is undermined by the emphasis on African junk art at last years Venice Biennale.9 Meanwhile, head New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldalh decried what he felt was a conservative perspective on assemblage: “Most of the works are neat and clean. You could take them home, and, in the case of powerful congeries of this and that by Isa Genzken, you might want to.”10
The impact of Unmonumental and junk assemblage is evident in the exhibitions currently on view in New York. A smattering of junk shows include:
Nayland Blake at Matthew Marks gallery. Blake is another established artist working in the Unmonumental mode: his sculptures are mostly “made up of humble materials gathered on his daily walks, and taken together they constitute a diary of his obsessions and sensibility.” Blake incorporates his own biases and aesthetics as an automatic system with which to govern his work, which frequently inverts issues of race and sexuality.11
In a slightly more disturbing bent, Jeffrey Dietch selected artist couple Tim Noble and Sue Webster to set up a single work in his Projects Gallery: Polymorphous Perverse, a moving, breathing, pulsing Toy-Story-esque horror show of junk assemblage.
One of the Mid Career artists on display at Unmonumental was Tom Burr, whose exhibition Addict-Love (title taken from a Frank O’Hara poem) showed concurrently at the Sculpture Center in Queens. Burr limits assemblage sculpture to its barest elements: an arrangement of props, lights and specific functional forms to suggest the cleanliness of his modernist background coupled with the very anti-modernist nature of the media themselves.
In the basement of the same building, a second exhibition, In Practice Projects shows an alternative side to the junk sculpture medium. If Unmonumental was notable for sticking only to mid-career artists, In Practice Projects is laudable for its focus on emerging artists. Most of the work was extremely bizarre, fitting into the catacomb-like basement of the building in a much less polite way than the white-cube viewer oriented work of the New Museum’s exhibition. For instance, Agathe Snow’s installation “THE ASSHOLE OF NYC! THE BEST JOB IN THE UNIVERSE (AN ATTEMPT AT CONVERSATION)” includes a string marked PULL, setting all the hanging vacuums into abrupt, engine roaring motion when yanked.12 In Practice Projects seemed, to a great degree, infused with the sort of excitement we’ve achieved with the Spirit of the Spore! I could definitely see our collective creating this sort of installation exhibition.
April 12th, 2008 by roblog · Comments Off on Photos From CANNONCANNONCANNON
Now that CANNONCANNONCANNON (take a breath…) has closed, I just wanted to thank everyone who made it to our senior exhibition, whether you came to our opening, First Friday reception, or daily visiting hours. All the artists were thrilled about the enthusiasm we received from all visitors, art-goers, non-art-goers, Fredericksburgers and out -of-towners alike.
If you missed it (and shoo-ee, boy did you miss it: them tunes were hoppin’ and the bar-b-que was fan-tas-tic!), take a look at these photos from the opening. Later this week I hope to put up some more shots of the artwork itself (in case you were in Australia or something).
Steve Griffin & The For Rent Band (Thats the Williamses on Fiddle and Banjo)
The artists collected in the opera-box
A behind-the-scenes installation shot. That’s Molly Sheldon’s unicorn transported by Eric Norman and Mike Mosley.