Culture: July 2010 Archives

Kristof Wickman Untitled 2008 laminate, mixed media 28" x 18" x 22" [installation view, including a floor section of a work by Jorge Pardo]

"Other Spaces", an elegantly-installed two-week-long show of work by seven artists, curated by Jayne Drost, is located inside Center 548, the latest designation for the former Dia Center for the Arts space on West 22nd Street.

The small temporary gallery has been carved out of a section of the museum's former book store, which had itself been reconfigured in 2001 by the artist Jorge Pardo.

The artists in the show are Palma Blank, Leah Dixon, Sam Falls, Left Coast, Daniel Turner, Timothy Uriah Steele, Kristof Wickman.

I was there at the opening on July 18. Because of the crowd, this image of Wickman's tender, anthropomorphic, warm/hard sculpture was the only clear shot I was able to get with my temporary replacement lens*.

"Other Spaces" closes tomorrow, Friday, at 7.

I'm using my Nikkor 60mm macro (equivalent to 90mm on a 35 mm film camera) while my jammed 18-70 zoom is being repaired; I love the macro. It's a terrific instrument, and for years I used it as a standard lens on my old FM, where it really was a 60, but it just doesn't work if I want to document art inside galleries and studios, especially with the digital Nikon box I use now.

George Tooker Landscape with Figures 1965-1966 egg tempera on pressed wood 25.5" x 29.5"

we are alone . . . but we are not alone

Their nightmare began only two years ago, and no one can undue the psychological damage done to Clay Green and Harold Scull or return to the surviving spouse the home and virtually all the property and personal possessions the two men had shared for 20 years, but their injuries have finally been acknowledged.

Last Friday, just two days before his suit would have been opened in court, California's Sonoma County, agreed to a settle Greene's complaint out of court, for the amount of $653,000. Greene will retain $275,000, his lawyers will take $300,000*, and Scull's estate will be given the remainder. It was announced in the San Francisco Chronicle that the nursing home will pay $53,000, but it was not made clear where it will end up.

Greene's suit against Sonoma had claimed that his sexual orientation was the reason social workers had separated him and his dying partner and why the county had summarily sold off their belongings, including shared personal mementos.

Under the terms of the agreement Sonoma County did not admit it had discriminated against the two elderly men, but the county's lawyer, Gregory Spaulding admitted that there had been “procedural errors” in the disposal of the property.

The Sonoma County Press Democrat** reports that Spaulding said that the error had led to policy improvements at the Public Guardian's office regarding property disposition and case management, but that he had also spoken on the subject of the Harold and Clay's own status before the law:

He said the dispute might have been avoided if the men had been able to be legally married or if they had registered as domestic partners. Because they weren't, their funds were viewed as separate, he said.

“Marital status played a role in what options were available to them,” Spaulding said.

In my April post I pointed out that, while Harold and Clay may not, and today could not, have been married, they had been a couple for 25 years and ". . . had taken the precaution of naming each other both beneficiaries of their respective estates and agents for medical decisions, and the authorities still proceeded as if they had no personal or legal relationship."

Barry and I know any number of heterosexual couples as friends, and we occasionally ask them whether they have ever had to prove they were married. They inevitably answer no, that they are never asked to furnish copies of their marriage certificates. Some of them in fact had never actually married, and yet they have been able to take advantage of all of the perquisites which are attached to a state which is supposedly carefully circumscribed by law.

People like Harold and Clay - and Barry and James, our friends Jill and Gabriella and others, and millions of other couples around the world - don't even get to be asked.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco had represented Greene, and Amy Todd-Gher was his lawyer, so I'm wondering about this compensation figure.

I and a number of other bloggers had complained months ago that like most of the commercial media, the Sonoma County, New York Times-owned paper, the Press Democrat, had long refused to cover this story altogether. The paper has finally acquitted itself with its coverage of the settlement, but this excerpt from the paper's July 22 post however is a bit disingenuous:

The case grabbed national media attention with its shocking claims of abuse at the hands of those meant to protect the frail and vulnerable. Gay rights groups pummeled county officials with strident e-mail and some threatened a boycott on county tourism and wines.

Although the suit was filed in August 2009, it didn't become widely known until a report about it ran in April on the website of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

[image from eric reber]





Barry and I went to Dance Theater Workshop [DTW] last night for a performance of "roadkill", a dance, text, video and music work choreographed by Johannes Wieland. The performers were Ryan Mason and Eva Mohn. They were doubled by their own moving images in the huge projection which dominated half of the far wall. It was a video by Wieland, who was also responsible for the text, the set and the costumes. The music was by Ben Frost.

The piece itself was phenomenal, even by the standards of DTW, and the performers were incredible.

Mohn is an extraordinary dancer and actor (and musician, and one of the most hauntingly beautiful women I've ever seen. Mason was no less beautiful, with an incredibly elegant athleticism. He seemed to be in almost constant motion, leaping and spinning in midair, frenetic but disciplined, much of the time dressed in some serious layers of clothing. We watched his body do things I had I would not have thought possible for a mere mortal. Barry said it almost seemed like they both could turn their waists 360 degrees.

The music perfectly matched the dance and the theater; Frost was clearly a full partner in the success of the work.

Don't miss it.

At the beginning of the performance, a young man and woman in ordinary street clothes are seen stranded on a barren airplane landing strip which is suggested on the stage by random weeds and paper debris. The two people, who appear à quatre, on a real runway through the magic of light, are alternately delighted and frightened by the sudden bizarre circumstances in which they have suddenly found themselves.

I experienced the piece largely as an abstraction, but its recurring and richly-drawn suggestions of narrative and purpose were probably as tantalizing for me and the rest of the audience as they were for the the fictive couples on the floor and on the screen. The press release offers this clue:

As foreigners in their own lives, they awaken with the touchdown of reality.
Delighted in their surreal circumstances, they watch the inevitable chaos of life unfold.

There is a "trailer" of sorts on the DTW site, but it's just a teaser; in this video of Mason in an excerpt from "Second Hand Luck", another piece choreographed by Wieland, the dancer does what YouTube label describes as his "underpants dance". It's over the top.

These are the "roadkill" performance details:

Performances are tonight, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m.
Tickets are $15; $12 for students
The location is Chelsea, 219 West 19th Street
(212) 924-0077

While we waited for the lights to go down (Mohn and Mason were already hugging the masonry to the right of the screen, with their backs to the audience), I overheard a phrase spoken by someone sitting behind us, something to the effect of, "it's German, so it will be dark".

I'm going to step over the basis for that premise here (I'm referring to the common and unaccountably tenacious fallacy about the heaviness, even dismalness, of all things German), but not before I say that it describes a prejudice which I have never been able to share. Mostly because I am pretty familiar with things German, including both historic and contemporary Germanic culture, as well as the people who preserve it and continuously shape it anew, I know there is plenty of both the dark and the light, and everything between as well.

And by the way, "roadkill" isn't dark. Like all art, it asks only for involvement.

Wieland is a native German, although the dancers and much of the creative team are not. The most German part of the production and the company is probably the form of its patronage: Wieland is fully appreciated as an artist in his own country, and he's generously supported, by the state.

He originally established his company in New York, in 2002. He's gone on to amass a large resume with work in the U.S., but in 2007 he was appointed artistic director/choreographer for the resident theater company at the State Theater of Kassel, a town of less than 200,000 people in Hesse, a state with just over 6 million. There he has the full support of the local government, serving the culture at large. Because of this largesse he is able to undertake productions with 30 or more performers, with live musicians, and full orchestras, on all three stages of a modern destination theater.

Kassel, a modest town on the Fulda River, which for over 50 years has played host to Documenta, has an impressive record of support for theater and performance. The history of the State Theater began with the Ottoneum, built in 1604. It was the first purpose-built theater on the continent.

[images provided by the artist Sebastian Lemm]

New Alternatives marched in the 2010 NYC Pride Parade last month

A July 10 benefit for New Alternatives for LGBT Homeless Youth will offer both some incredible book bargains and the opportunity to do something for some of the most vulnerable (yet spunkiest) folks in New York. The organization was founded by activist Kate Barnhart, whom I first met some 20 years ago, when she was just about the youngest and most fearless member of ACT UP (and there was serious competition for both roles). She hasn't slowed down since.

These are the details of the benefit:

Huge Book Sale on July 10
At LGBT Community Center on West 13th Street
Will Benefit Homeless LGBT Youth

“Buy a book, save a young life” fundraiser
Offers ten thousand new volumes on sale
For $10 per shopping bag

NEW YORK, NY, June 28, 2010 – A huge sale of more than ten thousand new and used books will take place in the West Village on July 10, with the proceeds going to charity. The event, called “Buy a Book, Save a Young Life,” will take place on Saturday, July 10 from Noon-6pm at the LGBT Community Center on 13th Street.

The books on sale encompass every subject and genre, including children’s, art, classic and modern literature, as well as collectables and rarities. These books were donated by veteran bookseller Robert Warren, who recently closed his landmark New York bookstore, Skyline Books. Admission is free to this event, and people can fill a shopping bag full of books and pay $10 per bag.

All proceeds of the “Buy a Book, Save a Young Life” sale will benefit New Alternatives, the East Village program based at Middle Collegiate Church. New Alternatives provides desperately needed services to LGBT homeless youth, including hot meals, emergency housing referrals, case management, and life skills training.

There will be a special pre-sale on July 10 for dealers and collectors. For an admission fee of $25 (also going to New Alternatives), shoppers can get a jump on the crowd from 11am-Noon. Admission includes one free bag of books. Additional bags of books will be $25 each.

For hardcore bargain hunters, from 5pm to the 6pm closing, the price plummets to $1 per bag of books.

To match New Alternatives goals of promoting HIV awareness and safer-sex education, each bag of books comes with free condoms, and New Alternatives promises a fun festive atmosphere. In addition to great book bargains the event will include performances from queer and queer-friendly acts such as Circus Amok, Rude Mechanical Orchestra, and The Church Ladies for Choice. Expect music, stilt walking, juggling and a good vibe to abound.

ADDENDUM: See Karen Ramspacher's brief description of the group in her comment on Bloggy

[image from New Alternatives]

wrought iron trivet, likely late eighteenth century, probably Rhode Island 7" x 5.75" x 1.75"

I'm normally almost dysfunctional if asked to speak in front of a group, but I hardly hesitated when Austin Thomas asked if I would be a part of “One Image, One Minute: Significant People Present Significant Images”. The event, hosted at Hyperallergic on June 22, was a benefit for Camp Pocket Utopia, a creative summer project, social school and free arts camp for kids, being put together by Thomas and the nonprofit space Norte Maar. Their ambitious program, to be located at Rouses Point in upstate New York, will be based on a learning model created at Black Mountain College, as interpreted by Thomas, who describes it further:

The Camp hopes to inspire a conversation amongst artists, creative thinkers, and the community, empowering participants and observers to think for themselves while offering a free arts camp for the kids of Rouses Point, NY, and the surrounding North Country.

I was honored, and eventually psyched (almost) to be a part of the terrific "show and tell" organized as a fundraiser for the project. Thomas had asked twenty-five people to each submit an image of something very important to them, and to talk about it for one minute. Almost immediately I thought of the trivet shown at the top of this post, and told her I would contribute, since I knew I wouldn't have any trouble talking about something I know well and which has meant a lot to me.

I only had to stand up there for 60 seconds. How hard could that be? It turned out that the hardest part was the time restriction. I didn't want to read from notes, and I didn't want to stress out by doing too much preparation, but, less than an hour before leaving for Williamsburg, when I first did a run-through, I realized I had enough material for five or ten times my time slot.

We were told we would be called up in alphabetical order, so I had plenty of time while I waited. Grade school flashback: Once again Wagner was going to be the last to give his report (I'd like to think Austin had thought of that conceit, for its connection to her larger, school-ish project). I managed to pare it down a lot from my piece while I sat waiting my turn, but much of the story survived.

It was a successful experiment. It made for a thought-provoking evening, and it drew a great group of people - on both sides of the tiny apron stage.

One of the reasons the trivet had come to my mind must have been that it was a simple and beautiful thing. It was a rough material, yet it had left the forge with an awesome grace. It was totally functional, but perfectly sculpted: Each of its branches was chamfered along its entire length and the 90-degree twist of the longest arm was an artist's aesthetic gesture and, perhaps, a strengthening fillip.

It was also a thing whose description, and even its personal importance, I originally thought could be described in one minute.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, my enthusiasm for contemporary visual art, It had not occurred to me to look there for a subject. The reservoir was too vast, and I probably sensed that I'd never be able to focus on the one work which, using the adjective in Austin's invitation, was particularly "important to me". I had looked elsewhere for my subject.

For many years I had created, and still cherish, an environment pretty much removed from modernism of any kind. I chose to share something from that world; I chose this trivet, a humble piece of worked ("wrought") iron.

It was created in southeastern New England, probably somewhere in Rhode Island, and probably in the late eighteenth century. Its working purpose: to elevate a plate, pan or heavy pot above hot coals spread onto a hearth, or, alternatively, above a table surface which would be damaged by a hot vessel.

The material is bog iron, which was once found locally near the surface of the ground (no longer of any practical interest except to antiquarians). It's a very low-carbon metal (unlike steel), and easily malleable. It was the work of a skilled blacksmith. It has a characteristic "grain" (again, unlike steel). Because of its purity, it's extremely resistant to rusting.

I brought it with me from Rhode Island 25 years ago, when I decided to give up the simple mid-eighteenth-century clapboard house in Providence which I and my partner at the time had bought (in 1970). We restored it [I have to say, "lovingly" restored it] over a number of years, until it looked like it had never needed restoring. It was both a home and a house museum: I thought we would live there until we died, and it was furnished entirely with things appropriate to its date, its geography and the particular economic circumstances of its original occupants. There was essentially no upholstered furniture.

This trivet was a working part of that house, and so was I.

The curatorial assignment my partner and I had undertaken (after we learned the real antiquity of what we had initially thought was just an old rundown house, a very rundown house) precluded living with contemporary art, in spite of the interest we both had for the art of our own time. Instead, for 15 years I lived with art that was contemporary to the earliest period of the house, and there was very little of that.

In the years of assembling things for the house I consciously avoided interesting examples of regional New England folk art, even though it wouldn't have been difficult to secure such things, because it seemed so unlikely that the interior of our very modest, and genuinely urban, house would have seen much of the folksy kind of decoration so prized today. Also, Shaker design did not yet exist at the time the house was built, and when it did, the communities which produced it were nowhere near Rhode Island. Much of what I did have may have looked "Shaker", but I can't say any of it was.

But I kept my passion for both historic and contemporary art, even if I was sheltered under a very old roof and beside a large, fully-equipped cooking hearth. Beyond my newly-founded antiquarian interests, I still wanted to be surrounded by art. The house itself was an incredibly understated design, and I found myself going for the simplest, most elegant forms of practical furniture and artifacts, in wood, glass, metal and pottery: There was that fabulous Mochaware mug with a geometric shape and pattern which would not have looked out of place in the Bauhaus, and that beautiful provincial Sheraton side chair with squared, vertical splats, that could have posed as a Josef Hoffman prototype.

I did some serious cooking in that house, in both the almost-modern kitchen and on the open hearth (I cook more than ever today, but without those wood fires), so I'm not surprised that I almost immediately fell in love with the small tool which I had picked up, probably in an old barn, soon after we were first able to use the fireplaces.

My partner and I broke up, and when I finally decided to decamp to New York, in 1985, I sold much of its contents and put the house up for sale.

I brought the trivet with me. Today it rests only on the counter or the table. Its cooking days may be over, but I prize it as much as I ever did, for its function, its beauty and its associations. Although there are hundreds of drawings and paintings hanging on our walls, when guests are here, especially for dinner, I'm just as likely to pull this little black tripod off the kitchen counter and play "show and tell" with it as anything else in the apartment.

So is it sculpture? I seems to defy categories. Although it may end up on the table at many meals, while the pot it supports will return to the kitchen, the trivet remains. I never tire of looking at it.

The other presenters at the benefit were Laura Braslow, Deborah Brown, Paul D'Agostino, Anna D'Agrosa, Jen Dalton, Kianga Ellis, Louise Fishman, Veken Gueyikian, Rachel Gugelberger, Chris Harding, Valerie Hegarty, Roger Hodge, Lars Kremer, Ellen Letcher, Matthew Miller, Brooke Moyse, Ellie Murphy, James Panero, Gravelle Pierre, Cathy Nan Quinlan, Paul Rome, Adam Simon, Jonathan Stevenson, and Douglas Utter.

[someday soon I hope to set up a gallery devoted specifically to images of the house]

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