Culture: April 2010 Archives


Today is the eighth anniversary of this blog.

I said it last year, and I'm delighted and incredibly privileged to say it again: This is also the anniversary of what turned out to be the most important event in my life, the night Barry and I met (now nineteen years ago).

Last year I also wrote, looking at the world outside our circle of close friends, that I was "more upbeat about the world" than I had been the year before, the eighth year of our second Bush, adding, "but only a bit". That hasn't changed, a bit.

And happy birthday, Paddy Johnson!

[the image is of a portion of the street number on the glass above one of the Art Deco entrances of the former Port Authority Commerce Building (1932), 111 Eighth Avenue the wall seen several feet behind the glass is covered with gold leaf]


Brothers Mike and Doug Starn's Metropolitan Museum roof installation, "Bambú: You Can't, You Don't, and You Won't Stop", opens today, April 27. Barry and I were at the press preview yesterday morning. I'm sharing here a few of the images with which I returned.

I'm not really drawn to openings (of any kind, galleries, performances or film) just for the sake of being there first. There has to be some other lure; it might be the prospect of being around creative friends. And only the promise of something very special, also something which almost has to be experienced in the relative isolation of a preview could normally bring me to the Upper East Side before noon, but there we were yesterday at 11 am, standing in the rain on the roof of the Met, and there wasn't a friend of any kind in sight.

Oh yes, I admit that I was also there because I was looking forward to some terrific, uncrowded photo opportunities, even if we weren't going to be able to scale the heights of the bamboo cloud surrounding us.

It turned out that the "Bambú" itself was friendly enough, even if the wet-blankets working at the underwriting desks of the museum's insurance company refused to let anyone enter the internal footpaths. It's a prohibition which can be expected to be applied, throughout the spring, summer and early fall, whenever the surfaces become wet.

The Starn's piece will not move across the roof, as did their earlier bamboo sculpture at the former Tallix factory in Beacon, New York. There the structure, assembled inside an enormous, 320-foot space, was continuously reconstructed by dismantling individual poles and carrying them down the floor to be reassembled into (another?) monumental piece, several times over and over, and then back again.

The forest at the Met will continue to grow in height throughout the spring and summer, and the existing paths constructed within it (in the sky, so to speak) will be extended further during at least much of that time. Visitors who are not so unfortunate as to show up on a drizzly day can expect to encounter a number of sturdy rock climbers, mustered from northern New England and the European Alps, working on the piece above their heads.

The other friendly faces we encountered were those of the Starns themselves. I've been encountering their work for more than 25 years, and I've never been disappointed by what I've seen as they've reconfigured the world around them. On Monday they were completely generous with their time and open to any queries from the press.

"Bambú" likely represents the most complete transformation of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden in the twenty-three years of the space's history. It may also turn out to be the most successful, not least because for its visitors it's probably going to be the most exciting ever.

I thought it was a pretty awesome piece, not least for the fact that its rather serious scale depends on only a rather smallish carbon footprint, and for being a frankly ephemeral construction (ephemeral except in the memory of those who will experience it). The very fact that it was done at all is a remarkable accomplishment for the artists, the Museum, and, yes, that insurance company too.



Now I'm thinking about the piece as art. It's a maze, with elements both random and designed. It's a forest of natural, wooden materials, yet bound together with synthetic, nylon cords. But this "forest" has been planted in the middle of, and yet above, a great artificial metropolis by the hand of man alone. It has been accomplished through the borrowing of the products of nature as well as human genius. It displays attributes of chaos as well as order, and the contributions made by nature and by man both exhibit each of those. Every piece in it was assembled, arranged, and bound into place by artists, although working closely with their collaborators. Every element of the structure has an intelligence and a rhythm. Not one part of it is quite accidental or entirely superfluous.

The forest maze closes forever on October 31. I wish instead that we could flood the roof and watch it grow forever.




the artists: Doug (l.) and Mike

It's probably not technically a pop-up show. It's also not merely another spawn (if here a silver lining) of our continuing Great Recession, like most of the new spaces hosting new art in New York and elsewhere. Then could we be watching the birth of a Greenpoint Biannual, a shelter for the emerging artists' own periodic "cross section of contemporary art production", to borrow a phrase from the Whitney itself?

Barry and I were in the former Catholic St. Cecilia Convent last Sunday for the second time in six months. Once again Father Jim, the pastor of the parish had generously and visionarily turned the space over to some young curators and artists. The Round Robin Collective's "ECSTATIC", both an exhibition and a series of events and performances, assembled by a group of invited artists, ends its four-week run this Sunday. An excerpt from the statement which appears on the show's website:

While some of the participating artists' work deals directly with notions of ecstasy, the title of the show does not allude to an overt theme in the work presented; rather, it refers to the process of making and encountering art and the results produced from inspired relationships.


Three floors of the formerly-empty rooms of the nearly century-old building are filled by underknown artists with interesting new work in virtually every medium. I had been eagerly anticipating a visit, because of the pleasures we had encountered last September in the show put together by a different group of artists, but almost as soon as we walked in I thought I had died and gone to heaven. There are certainly great pleasures to be found in visiting museums and galleries, but they are nothing like those associated with the immediacy and serendipity of sharing in the work of good artists in any medium when they decide to put on a show with only a minimum of structure or system provided from without.

While some of the work may not completely unfold while competing with the intrusiveness of the abandoned-convent environment (just about the opposite of the clean white box so associated with the exhibition of art in the late twentieth century), in many if not most cases the circumstances of the installations seem ideal, oddly better than what a gallery might provide.

The list of artists includes: Lisa Boumstein-Smalley, Mary Billyou, Amanda Browder & Stuart Keeler, Caroline Burghardt, Lisa Caccioppoli, Ofri Cnaani, Chris Cobb, David Coyle, Jeff DeGolier, Martin Esteves, Gisela Insuaste, Jamie Kim, Stephanie Liner, Deirdre McConnell, Katherin McInnis, Emcee C.M., Master of None, Huong Ngo, Christopher Rose, Stephanie Rothenberg, Dorothy Royle, Matthew Spiegelman, Janos Stone, Cassie Thorton + Action Club, Jenny Vogel & David McBride, and Audra Wolowiec.

For more on "ECSTATIC", see Daniel Pearce's piece on IDIOM.

Stephanie Rothenberg

Stephanie Rothenberg installed a fairly-convincing office environment in a room just inside the front door of the convent. This image is of only one of a handful of posters suggesting advertising for an imagined employment agency. From the "Ecstatic" site:

Stephanie Rothenberg's interdisciplinary practice merges performance, installation and networked media to create provocative interactions that question the boundaries and social constructs of manufactured desires. Her recent work investigates new models of online labor and the virtualization of the global workplace, referencing post-colonial as well as DIY historical precedents.

Martin Esteves Come to Mock Stay to Rock and Audra Woloweic howl and sounds of silence

The advertised sole purpose of this five-foot-tall phallic standing sculpture, the work of Martin Esteves, was to fulfill the role occasionally assigned to its medium: Something you bump into while looking at the art on the walls. In this case, neither the sculpture, which rocks on a soft base, nor the bumpee's soft rump would likely be harmed.

The filed-down vinyl records mounted on the wall are the work of Audra Woloweic, whose work addresses sounds, forms of communication and, according to the statement on her own site, "ephemeral moments of the everyday".

Jeff DeGolier Stride 2009 hair, woodglue, duracell batteries, hair, spraypaint, housepaint, electric motor, wire, glue bottle, etc. on found canvas

Jeff DeGolier's gently-animated piece appeared to be both an integral part of the disintegrating interior of the old building and its (please excuse the expression in this context) its transfiguration.

David B. Smith and Brina Thurston

David B. Smith collaborated with Brina Thurston to de-install her large site specific outdoor sculpture from a show ending at Socrates Sculpture Park, cut it into pieces small enough to fit into his car, and re-install it in a small residential room in the convent. The original sculpture, entitled Master-Station, is a life-size replica of a NYC subway entrance, complete with functioning globe lamps.

Janos Stone I Never Thought I Would Meet Someone Like You

Janos Stone's installation began with his creation of a monstrously-muscled heroic nude male figure upon which three distinct images were projected, changing male and female faces of porn actors at the top, pornographic videos in the center, and at the bottom a colorful Second Life figure. I've checked out his site since leaving "ECSTATIC" and we both visited with the artist on Friday night at his current show at SLAG Gallery, "LMIRL", and talked to him about his future projects. My head's now spinning.

David Coyle I Killed the Monster 2008 oil on canvas 24" x 20"

David Coyle's paintings appear somewhat unremarkable at first, but their severe honesty, humor, and (I don't think I've used this word before) painterly grace brought me back to their small cell-like room several times.

Mary Billyou Subspace Face

A simply-rigged monitor showed Mary Billyou's looped video combining a severe frontal view of the artist's own face with a simple matrix, and was a part of a larger installation with a strong historical context. While it was fairly mesmerizing it remained pretty enigmatic absent more information.

Dorothy Royle

Dorothy Royle's installation of a glass vase of hand-made forsythia branches just inside a window was literally an unfolding performance: The artist visits the site regularly to gradually open up, and wither. The label informed us also that ". . . bright green leaves will grow from ends of the strongest branches. Inevitably, some petals will fall".

Emcee C.M., Master of None Reading/Radio Room

The installation by this collaborative, which tells us that its work always "combines large-scale public, social and collaborative event-based projects with a more internal process of self-reflection through fiction, storytelling, and filmmaking. This corner of the building, titled "Reading/Radio Room", could easily cocoon a visitor for hours.

Ofri Cnaani

Ofri Cnaani's art evokes the magic of the ancient magic lantern, but she addresses gender, architectural space, myth and reality in seductive imagery and movement. I first encountered her work in 2008 and I find myself captivated once again.

Matthew Spiegelman

Matthew Spiegelman has assembled several lighting installations inside the convent, each of them abstracted from homey old lighting fixtures and each more infectiously joyful - and oddly spooky - than the next.

Amanda Browder Future Telling 2010 discarded (found): painted canvas, embroidery, marker, fur

Amanda Browder's piece was in a room which appeared to include both her own work and pieces done in collaboration with Stuart Keeler, but this piece appears to be identified as her own creation.

Cassie Thornton + Action Club

I haven't been able to track down anything on the installation identified as "Cassie Thornton + Action Club" (or, variously, "Action Team"), but the planned chaos of the broom closet-size installation pictured here, and the scrim composed of countless found objects of all sizes which has been assembled in front of the third-floor hallway window just beyond, somehow suggested an advanced postmodern intelligence, and the scrappy art which can ultimately humanize it.

[Janos Stone image from the artist]

This page is an archive of entries in the Culture category from April 2010.

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