Culture: March 2004 Archives

Wangechi Mutu (view of a work in progress)

I should have known better. The Studio Museum in Harlem opened the studios of its current artists in residence this afternoon, and there I was initially so dazzled by the work of Wangechi Mutu that I didn't give a thought to whether it had yet been widely seen. It turns out that it definitely has, and, silly I, even by me, both at Momenta and in The New Museum. Still, I think it must never have looked so mature, in fact so damn brilliant as it did today in her cluttered atelier on the third floor.

The work there was all on paper, painted and collaged with magazine cutouts into voluptuous, almost sculptural forms which defy an easy identity for either their medium or their portraiture, but they do sing.

Mutu is included in a group show which just opened at Chicago's Rhona Hoffman Gallery. Simon Warson is responsible for the terrific roster, whose other names are Tim Lokiec, Nick Mauss, Bradley McCallum & Jacqueline Tarry, Paul P., Adam Pendleton, Aida Ruilova, and Mickalene Thomas.

See Susan Vielmetter for images from 2002 and 2003.

[image, of a work in progress, captured off the artist's studio wall on Sunday]

UPDATED: caption added to image, second image removed, line with link to Susan Vielmutter gallery added, bracketed attribution at bottom revised

just hanging out with friends

Two nights ago Bloggy seemed to be suggesting that "a certain Icelandic singer" would show up at the Jack the Pelican Presents opening tonight, and sure enough, the fans were not disappointed. A certain perhaps-the-most-famous-American-artist-in-the-world, her very biggest fan, was also there, by many reliable accounts, but unfortunately we never saw him.

The gallery installation was the North American debut of the three women of The Icelandic Love Corporation collaborative. Oh yes, Hrafnhildur Arnardottir was there as well. Is there anyone left in Iceland who isn't an artist?

Judging from our modest experience, Björk regularly shows up looking like a fairy princess on a visit from another galaxy, but she doesn't just breeze in with courtiers and disappear into protected space or speed back out the door. Like the last time we saw her at a gallery opening, she was comfortable in the midst of the crowd and, although she was already there when we arrived, she showed no interest in leaving even by the time our own group had tired of the festivities.

The crowd was gentle with celebrity. Hey, it's not only New York, it's Williamsburg. We're all famous.

image of Tracey Baran image

The image was irresistible, and it remains irresistible even through these layers. A self-portrait, it's one of the photographs included in Tracey Baran's current show at Leslie Tonkonow.


Updated: typo fixes.

Brian Alfred, still from video, Artflick.001:painter_BrianAlfred

After checking out the Ester Partegas show at Foxy Production and talking to Tracey Baran at the opening of her amazing show at Leslie Tonkonow last Saturday we thought we only had energy for a quick stop at Max Protech Gallery, but once we were inside we decided to stay for a while.

The show was Brian Alfred's "Overload" and it was . . . cool, made more cool by the music of dj E*VAX (Audiodregs Records) and some excellent sake. I loved the small discomforting collages even more than the paintings, but both were beautifully morphed by the disturbingly elegant computer-animated video projected in a separate room.

Of course the people were equally stunning, and none of them seemed discomforted in the least, but rather as happy to be there as we were, no less for seeing Josie* looking so stunning in what appeared to be an electric green Miyake vest.

Hmmm, on April 16 the gallery will host a special event, Computer/Animation Screening/Performance, at 7 pm, featuring Cory Archangel, Mumbleboy, Scott Roberts and Paperrad. Sounds wonderful, and I'm sure it will.

For a mini-tour of 35 years of art and of Max Protech, click onto "About Max Protech Gallery" on the gallery site.


*the gallery Director, Josie Browne


Updated: typo fixes.

Peter Maxwell Davies

The great British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies has been appointed Master of the Queen's Music.

The Guardian site begins its report thus:

Buckingham Palace yesterday admitted that the Queen has chosen Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, a gay, self-styled "old-fashioned socialist" and republican, as the Master of her Music.

The fact that Maxwell Davies is also perhaps the pre-eminent British composer of the day appears not to have been a handicap for a job which has seen some previous musical talents overlooked in favour of justly obscure nonentities.

Although previous incumbents have included Sir Edward Elgar and Arnold Bax, the 380 year-old post inaugurated by King Charles I has also been held by the likes of Nicholas Staggins and Maurice Greene, chosen instead of Henry Purcell and George Frederick Handel.

Perhaps understandably, there is little in the Guardian article about his musical production. We have just about every recording of his music ever available in the U.S., so for us at least the music needs no introduction. The paper also neglects describing just how beautiful a man Davies is [very], but it seems to have missed little else in composing a report that succeds in being exquisitely provocative.
The composer made clear at the weekend that had the job been offered by the government he would not have accepted because of his opposition to Tony Blair and the Iraq war, which he described as the worst foreign policy decision since the crusades.

The Sunday Times quoted him as saying: "I voted for Blair twice, but never again. He has betrayed the principles of the Labour party, not just on Iraq, but on tuition fees and foundation hospitals. Yes, I'm an old-fashioned socialist and I feel utterly let-down."

His principles did not prevent him accepting a knighthood in 1987, as an honour for music, though he threatened to send it back seven years later because of plans to amalgamate London's orchestras.

He has accepted the job for 10 years, rather than for life, on the basis that it may be used to promote music, rather than for the composition of anthems and other ceremonial music for royal occasions.

A palace spokeswoman said tactfully yesterday that the post, which carries with it a small stipend, placed no obligations on its holder.

. . . .

His works have been performed all over the world and are said to be becoming more accessible to general audiences, which may come as a relief to a royal family of generally limited musical interests - the Queen paid her first visit to the Proms for 50 years last summer.

She may be relieved to know that Maxwell Davies has been known to write compositions to mark propitious events, including a lullaby for the first baby born on the Orcadian Island of Hoy for 25 years. She may be less impressed that his previously best-known work about royalty, Eight Songs for a Mad King, was a meditation on the insanity of George III.

This is also the man who composed the extraordinary opera of the Antichrist, "Resurrection", described in these excerpts from an amazing review in the NYTimes [byline uncredited]:
Begun in the early 1960s but not performed until 1987, Resurrection, with music and libretto by Mr. Davies, is one of the fiercest works of social criticism ever to come from the pen of a classical composer.

. . . .

The savage parody could easily turn preachy and heavy-handed, and it is to Mr. Davies's credit that he, like Weill, knows how to handle such material with an irreverent, comic touch. The libretto is witty, often ingenious and viciously anticlerical. (A minister sings: "For we can make the Book mean just anything we please,/And use it as a weapon to bring you to your knees,/With the promise of salvation shining on your steadfast face,/By the word of God, this Book, we can keep you in your place.")

The composer helpfully describes in clinical detail the transformation he has in mind during the metamorphosis of the patient into the Antichrist: "Despite the lack of testes, which the Surgeons removed, the Patient's penis slowly becomes erect - a huge submachine gun, directed over the audience."

. . . .

It is also a protest against the sexual conformity demanded in a Thatcherite England and a Reaganite America. A recurring theme of Resurrection is the homophobia spouted by the hypocritcal political and religious establishments. In one particularly memorable scene, three of society's supposed moral guardians - a Policeman, a Judge and a Bishop - have an unscheduled meeting in a stall of a public lavatory.

. . . .

It is impossible to listen to the opera without finding it chillingly timely. The message of Resurrection could easily be transplanted to the United States, circa 1996. But it is doubtful that it could be staged in the present [January 1996] political climate. Somehow, one imagines that Federal, state and corporate support would not be forthcoming.'

Ain't opera grand?

[image from MaxOpus]

Maybe Chinatown isn't going to be the next Soho, Chelsea, or Williamsburg, but it is going to be the next Chinatown. Maybe it can be sui generis. It sure would be nice to see the big guys stay elsewhere. There's a place for a Chelsea, especially if it stays sprinkled with alternative spaces, and Williamsburg is just fine as it is.

Anyway, whatever happens elsewhere, watch for a number of new gallery spaces to open in one of the last "unimproved" neighborhoods in the southern half of Manhattan. It's going to happen. Economics will drive it, but its integrity, energy and good subway accessibility will all be part of the attraction of the Canal Street area.

There seems to be room for more. Especially in New York, people want art. Art just seems to make us happy. Sometimes it makes gallery people happy too. It's best when that happens.

I sure hope that galleries in Chinatown will be good for the people already there. Judging from the gallery presence already dotting southeastern Manhattan it seems at least likely to be good for everyone else.

I wrote about Michele Maccarone's space, Maccarone, Inc., last October, raving about the Phil Collins show, and we returned recently to see Chivas Clem's installation [officially closed one week earlier, I think] of re-contexualized media images, once again spread through the three floors of a small, barely-spruced-up old commercial building on Canal Street near the Manhattan Bridge. The intrepid explorer Holland Cotter reviewed [scroll down] the show early last month.

Great shows, but still no website and this time not even a press release or card for a visitor, at least by the time we got there. Nobody said art was easy, even for its fans.

down the hall, turn left, first door on the right, "come in, we're open"

The improbably-named Canada [no, the principals aren't even Canadian] tries a little harder. Here on Chrystie Street just north of Canal, once you track down the space and navigate the hallway, you'll find some very sweet people and the usual artist informationals. Two weeks ago we visited Michael Mahalchick's wonderful soft sculptures and the videos of sound art by other artists Mahalchick had invited to further enrich the funky gallery space. They have a real website.

Michael Mahalchick Billie

Not to take away anything form the shows we've seen in the "formal" exhibition spaces, but the best thing about Canada may be the promise (and reward) of the goodies hanging or lying about in their back room. While we were there this time we made nusiances of ourselves asking to see and hear more about everything we could get our eyes on, work of artists who had already shown in the gallery or who would or might be seen there in the future.

Oddly, none of the work I'm going to mention here really comes across in photo reproduction, because of textures materials or dimension, but we were very excited about every collage we saw by Brian Belott, and Sarah Braman looks better every time I see the work, especially if you can look at the pieces inside and out. Even the fact that the one piece we saw by Carrie Moyer looked better than what we have seen in other venues may be a testament to the gallery. The Sunday we last visited we spoke to Constance Feydy.

These are very savvy gallerists, and I hope they stay on the edge even if their intelligence and judgment means they are not likely to remain only on the periphery.

detail view of one wall in Sterling Ruby's exhibition

Michael Gillespie and John Thomson run one of the smartest galleries around, Foxy Production, and these two guys are also just about the nicest people around, in or outside of the art world.

Unfortunately we messed up our [very modest] responsibility to the outside world last month by not getting to their exhibition of L.A. artist Sterling Ruby's work until the very last day, but some images are available on their site, and several of the works themselves can still be seen in the back space of their gallery.

I thought I needed some help when we first walked in, but Michael was easily able to set the scene for us. In fact however the work can stand on its own, once eyes and mind adjust to an eccentric aesthetic exercised in as many media as are found here. Beautiful things smartly done, and not easily revealing their layers of real intelligence.

We did get to the opening of their current show, "CIVILIZATION IS OVERRATED", of sculpture and works on paper and mylar by Ester Partegas. The single, large [ok, it's literally gallery-sized] construction in the main room, of mostly paper and vinyl, seems to be at least partly a comment on the trash we consume and the trash we create. But it and the three framed works in the rear may be the most beautiful dreck I've ever seen.

Ester Partegas, detail from her installation, "CIVILIZATION IS OVERRATED" (2004) plastic, wood, paper, metal, enamel, 13' x 13.2' x 13.2'

Ester Partegas Polylumplous Tetraflacidontics (2004) enamel paint on mylar, 29" x 82"

Alex Lee Barbera Face 2 (2004) Dreamland Blue Series, acrylic paint and magazine page in 11"x14" frame

Alex Lee Ferragamo Face (2003) Dreamland Blue Series, acrylic paint and magazine page in 11"x14" frame

Alex Lee Jacobs Face (2004) Dreamland Blue Series, acrylic paint and magazine page in 11"x14" frame

This is another follow up to my earlier post describing our visit to the Riviera Gallery in Williamsburg. These are images of three of Alex Lee's works now in the group show there.

Lee has written about an experience which describes some of the inspiration for the imagery he uses:

While I was living in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1996, and staying at friends of my parents', I noticed that my hosts' collection of empty frames displayed in their living room and bedrooms. Usually sitting on a buffet or end table, these would be regular desk-size wood or metal frames, pre-fabricated for the mass-market, similar to the kind one would find anywhere at any department and discount stores in the US. These frames would have a plexiglass or glass inside them as well as a sheet of paper on which would be printed a generic stock image, acting as an example for what could be inserted inside of the picture frame. The image would resemble a stock-photograph of kind, depicting a happy couple in embrace, a little boy and his dog, a little girl holding a bouquet of flowers; in short, the archetypes of what the west considers a relevant, joyfull moment fit for remembrance and display in a home or work environment. Upon interrogation, I learnt that what I considered empty frames, they thought embodied the epitome of what the West had to offer, an ideal of happiness and wealth as projected by the image inside of the frame. Just as they would hang auspicious Chinesecharacters calligraphed on red papers in their home, they displayed these Western photo frames, as icons of social wealth.

[images furnished by the artist]

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