Wednesday, January 30

Out of My Mind

One of the lasting myths about artists is that they are mad geniuses-- opting out of society and living in near starvation in a bohemian lifestyle. Choosing a sparse life of the barest necessesity to give breath to a richness of vision. The visionary artist and visionary madman often overlap.The murderous mad Carrivagio who faked his own death or so we think, Van Gogh who cut his own ear off, Klimt who spent his last days in an a sanitarium. Madness is part of life and perhaps in those moments of we are deeply human. One particularly fruitful intersection of art life and madness is art Brut, a branch of European outsider art, which is tied to the mental hospitals in Germany and France. I once herd Phyllis Kind, the notable outsider art dealer say that there are two kinds of obsession, those that you can momentarily let go of during your normal day and those obsessions that regardless of your will, won't let go of you.Some artists are called to art, from birth probably, but it is always in them and some artists come to art out of discovery that they cannot live with out it. In Rilke's letters to a young poet he poses this all important question to a young student, "ask yourself" he says, if in your darkest hour "...must I have art in order to live?" Rilke insists that art is not a profession, no one he says needs an artist. An artists must have a deep inner need for creating. The artist Bruce Nauman came to art by way of studying behavioral psychology. While in school he took an art class and this forever changed his life--he is one of the most influential living artists. Much of his work comes from his passion for psychology and the dark, complex working of the mind.At first I found his work too obscure and difficult. This was my fault, I simply didn't understand what Nauman was getting at.

Private World in Public Spcace

I saw his work in four major museums in four different cites and never grasp his voice and nuances. This is because Nauman is hard to exhibit in a museum, the work because grand, larger than life, elevated to a higher level by the austerity and reverence of the museum. Nauman's work is full of reverence, but for small, everyday, overlooked miracles. The first Nauman piece that grasp me and never let go was this kind of inescapable human moment. On two TV screens facing each other Nauman jumped up and down, saying "No,No,No,No" over and over in a haunting but natural repitition. Instantly his obsession became mine. I still live that piece in my head every time I picture it--the sound and movement simply perfect.The exhibition "Slightly Unbalanced" in the Yates gallery at the Chicago Cultural Center presents works of art expressing in some way neurosis. As the curator noted it is always a problem creating a thematic exhibition and trying to find works that fit the theme--you run the risk of having art work simply illustrate an idea. It is better to have art work in mind and let the idea somehow evolve. If any work in the exhibition somehow holds all the contradictions of neuorsis and art it is the Bruce Nauman work. On first entering the exhibition there is a small empty room larger than a walk in closet, but not much larger. A bare lightbulb hangs from the ceiling. It is like stepping into one of the unknowable frames that always seem to box in figures in Francis Bacon paintings. The void of the empty room does not feel of emptiness. Sulfur yellow light flickering from the naked bulb overhead gives the room a lonely feel. There is a strangeness and de ja vu a familiarity that arises and a voice from the walls mumbles unintelligible at first. If emptiness is letting go, not holding on to ideas or desires, the space in the room is displaced by a voice and idea. "Get out of my head" and "Get out of this room" repeat over and over in a haunting way. The voice arises and passes, and arises again, till the sound sticks. We cannot get out of our heads anymore than we can get the sound we are hearing out of our head. Nauman knows all our world is bound by our mind, but he shows us something more-- a kind of radical acceptance of what is. The voice is like a dynamic meditation, focusing on a repeated mantra it becomes the sound of what is happening.

Childhood: Our youth is a rich source inspiration.

Tuesday, January 29

I sing the body electric

Time: Consider objects as events.
Scale: Objects are all connected.

Approaching the glass front of Rhona Hoffman's Gallery on Peoria Street, one is struck by the neon green mass glowing in the window. The hazy color is so bright and inviting that you want to jump through the window and get inside the field of green. The big blurry object is actually made up of countless threads of brilliantly colored yarn, creating an almost floating sculptural box. Once inside the gallery, the familiar sculpture transforms into an event in space.

The big sculpture, at first like a familiar as a solid shape is surprisingly made of many little strings and even more surprisingly actually a single giant string, 40 yards long yarn wrapped around a huge frame. Most of Anne Wilson's work moves between seemingly separate discrete objects and many interconnected objects. In her new exhibition "Portable City, Notations, Wind-Up" three separate works of art are placed in three separate rooms of the gallery. "Wind-Up" is the large scale field of green yarn. To make it, Wilson and her collaborators spent a week in the gallery carefully wrapping one long thread around a steel frame. This large scale wrap is both a finished work and a starting point for a new work. As Wilson describes it, she created the first step in weaving the large wrap into fabric. She is generously passing the sculpture onto another artist to transform into wearable fabric.

"Notions" is performance of musical score and photographs that come together. This work comes together with "Wind-up" as dual events in a larger milieu. The embeddedness of all the works in gallery with each other helps us see the events that generated each work part in a larger systems, forming connections and links between each other.

Anne Wilson has for a long time worked with found fabric, thread, table linen, lace, and wire to make her art. She is one of the founders of a field called "fiber art" related both to sculpture and fashion and often associated with feminism. Her early small personal works incorporated human hair into found lace breathing life into the torn or discarded fabrics by translating them into surprising quirky little shapes. Here, in her new work she returns to old themes of growth, gestation, microcosms which come together in a network to form macrocosms.

One strand that runs throughout her work is that sculpture objects are a temporal practice. Her work seems like still shapes in space but given a moment unfolds into carefully controlled events. Each sculpture deals with sequencing, composition and memory. The video work animates the little sculptures into a series of choreographed movements, and shows us that what we see as an object in space is also unfolding in time. The sculptures are all connected, each a frozen moment in the process of growth and development that comes to life when we encounter them.

Friday, January 18

The Outlaw Outsider!

Intuit is opening tonight with two fantastics exhibition: Henry Darger Exhibition and
Least Wanted: A Century of American Mugshots

From the INTUIT site:
"In the making for nearly eight years, the Henry Darger Room Collection will be unveiled in the Study Center Gallery. In conjunction with the opening of the Henry Darger Room Collection, Intuit will present the Henry Darger Exhibition, an exhibition of 11 collage watercolors by Henry Darger."

If you haven't seen Henry Darger's work-- this is an incredible opportunity to learn so much about one of Chicago's most visionary artists.

Monday, January 14


estudiotres is opening Friday January 18th with the group show--Thaw: Winter won't last forever.

Samia Mirza presents her work Conjoined Snowmen (We all Fall Down) which is a beautiful and sad sculpture. I have variously interpreted this sculpture through many different readings. Mirza's work is an inspiration for me and has helpped me understand how "art in the present-tense" must be experienced in the moment. Standing before the sculpture we are transported to the moment of pre-reflective wonderment, where a child creates his very first sculpture before he even understands words. This pre-reflective moment of joy, intuition, gut feeling and wonder comes from birth. Imagine the shock of being born, of coming out of the whom and seeing the world for the first time.

Mirza's work brings us back to ourselves. Importantly, her work brings her back to herself, telling us stories of who she is.

Alternatively, I have seen this work through pre-modern, modern, fruedian, post-modern, feminist, semiotic and even queer lens. Conjoined Snowman reminds me that much great art is open ended, free to be interpreted and reinterpreted through different views and new sets of eyes.

Through a certain lens I see the two snowman as a sad impossible homoerotic love, two of the same kind, lovers who can't make love work-- collapsed on the floor. Or maybe forbidden desire, larger than any of us.

New Season of Art Openings

A new art season kicks off this week with a thick list of openings last Friday.

*Russell Bowman Gallery in River North opened the year with a Kiki Smith exhibition that is solid offering of recent work. Collaborating with Pace gallery Russell Bowman transported a recent larger than life bronze sculpture that is the center-piece of the exhibition. This exhibition like so many others at Bowman gallery is carefully installed and beautifully lit.

*Carl Hammer opened with a provocative exhibition Black Gravity, works from the recent School of the Art Institute graduate SEUNG WOOK SIM. There is something magnetic about these works that really draws you in-- they are dark, sexy, mystical and fantastic.

Sunday, January 13

Advice from a Caterpillar

In one of the most exciting and memorable passage of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, she encounters a sleepy hookah-smoking caterpillar. He asks her the all-important question, a question essential to all of us-- "Who are YOU?"

The hookah-smoking caterpillar is more direct than most of us. But one question I get asked at parties or bars is: "Where are you from?" This is a tricky question to answer, because at its core it is about geography relates to identity. Where I am from relates to who I am-- a gay Jewish east-coaster. But actually I was born in Chicago, yet I don't feel like a midwesterner.

Like Alice, I am constantly changing and "my self" is radically fractured. I agree with Alice that `all I know is, it would feel very queer to ME.'

Alice feels very queer and indeed she is. But the caterpillar, older, wiser and more centered gives her some solid advice.

The old caterpillars who will soon undergo the most incredible change, the transformation into a butterfly. Says that change is hard but must be embraced. The spectacular metamorphsis happens through the comming together of 'imaginal cells', which the caterpillar immune system resists and fights against, but eventualy the imaginal cells take over the caterpillar cells and give birth to a butterfly.

I am not just a gay New York Jew, I am also, a global citizen, post-gay, post-New York, post-Jew. We live in a post-ethnic world were we can choose what part of our identity we want to express, what part of Jewish or what part of gay. The Spertus musuem has an incredible exhibition, “The New Authentics.” The gay Canadian/American artist David Altmejd is the star of the show and is deffinately post-jew. "Free to choose their affiliations, they are Jewish culturally, religiously, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, partially, biologically, or invisibly."

Samia Mirza is a young up-and-coming artist here in Chicago who is a mixed race women with incredible sculptures, with perverted childhood wonderment. Her don't miss exhibition is opening this Friday at the estudiotres gallery in Andersonville.

One last bit of advice from Alice's Adventures :

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

And so we are all a little mad.

Sunday, January 6

Unmonumental reflection of life

The New Museum is one of the most interesting institutions in the New York arts world. The founder and first curator, Marcia Tucker the legendary and passionate pioneer trail blazer who kicked opened the doors for daring and innovative arts. The New Museum is a staple in thriving lower Manhattan arts scene, founded in 1977 it is the only museum in New York City devoted to global contemporary art. A new permanent home for the museum opened on December 1 to much acclaim and celebration. I visited the New Museum to see the amazing building and current exhibition. One museum-wide show took up all three exhibition floors- Unmonumental.The show points to an important shift in the way art is being made and the way we are all participating in the arts. Most of the artist in the exhibition creat work from assamblage-- that is putting together and arranging found objects with enormous care and precision.At the heart of assembalage is taking care to bring disperate small things into an arrangement full of meaning. This is the point of Unmonumental to point to things that help us reflect of the world. Across New York city at the Whitney is an retrospective of Lawrence Wiener-- who also asks us to reflect on the world and the important relationships between things.Unmonumental is an exhibition of young international artists who grew up in a globalized and digital world with an entirely new set of problems to face. Although the important issues in their work: spirituality, love, forgiveness and death are timeless, they ask us to reflect upon the most pressing issues of the present. Iza Genzken, the oldest and hippest artist in the show creates a huge Elephant out of trash she found in and around Berlin. This is the largest single work in the show and full of surprises, moments of profound transformation. Many of the younger artist have room to grow-- but Ms. Genzken's mature works reveal an artist in her prime. Elephant asks us to reflect on important issues of fractured identity, or loss of faith or loss of icons. What can we make of radically decentered world and of the rapid progress of globalization and international trade? One thing is to make small gestures with profound transformational power. My boyfriend who prefers more traditional art but really likes elephants, appreciated this sculpture for the surprising way the artist creates a recognizable likeness out of disgarded dolls, fake flowers, blankets,pipes, plastic scraps, tubing, using simple geometric shapes. There is also a sense of the spiritual in her composition, a way of understanding god through simple everyday materials. And although elephant is a large sculpture, the scale is still human and approachable.Ms. Genzken shows us the value of the undervalued-- she elevates the most mundane to the most transcendent.In the end her work is just a perfectly balanced sculpture of junk, but its temporal nature and impermanent materials suggest new possibilities in a new world.

Art and Design

I spent the last half of 2007 thinking about the important relationship between art and design. When I press the issue and try to dig into the ways design relates and fine art and vice versa, I find the line between them is often an illusion. Some of the most interesting things happening in both art and design seem to blur the line and even walk the line.

Erik Wenzel posted about figurines that The National Gallery produced from some notable paintings, taking the two dimensional work as a starting point and creating three dimensional objects. The most interesting thing is that three-dimensional objects can now be printed and not necessarily molded and cast.

Three-dimensional rapid prototyping is now coming of age and cheap 3D printers and being mass produced. Just last year 3D printing was limited to very few uses, costly and complicated. In the coming year 3D prints will become more common place and useful in more sectors.

Unfortunately, the figures from the National Gallery were not 3D printed and were also not actually made by artists. I am very interested in artist produced and created multiples.

Cereal Art is currently one of the best company around for producing artist multiples and they have worked with some incredible contemporary artists.

Friday, January 4

New York City Update

I took the past few days to see three important exhibitions in New York. All centered around black artists. This is a rare once in a lifetime moment where three major museums are exhibiting the art work of Africa at the same time.

My first stop was the MOMA to see the Martin Puryear. The exhibitions is one of the best in city-- because Puryear is possibly one of the all time great sculptors. He is so careful and reserved that seeing his works together in one place gives you a better sense of his aims as an artist. On the main mezzanine of the museum is a perfect grouping of three free standing sculptures that enhance, compliment and dance off each other in perfect balance. This is culmination of the entire exhibition.

The best sculpture in the show, and one of the best in the museum is the piece "Ladder for Booker T." Technically this is not a free standing sculpture because it is suspended from the ceiling with thin cables which are easily ignored for the illusion of a floating ladder. This is one of Puryear's few daring works and after seeing the entire exhibition one can sense he took a chance on this piece and it was well worth the risk. One other risky work is right next to the ladder and is giant animal machine with huge wheels and a stick reaching to the sky. Actually, Puryear brings life to many essential forms taken from rural life which are also African hunting symbols. From Africa he also takes his most lasting image. The abstracted face that come from a gibon mask, with only enough markings to recognize features-- he exaggerates the essential and adds his own voice by making the huge mask into an explosion on a wheelbarrow.