Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Who is C. Matthew Luther and why does he like Superfund sites?

Path of Least Resistance
I interviewed C. Matthew Luther for JSOnline's Art City recently. He spends time in places around Wisconsin that have been so polluted that they are designated Superfund sites by the Environmental Protection Agency. Then he makes art.

Read my interview at Art City Asks C. Matthew Luther.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

"Still Life" takes dramatic twist in Lynden Sculpture Garden show

When I say "still life" what comes to mind? Carefully arranged tableware, flowers, bowls of fruit, probably. Dead animals, maybe. The operative word is "still." Or put another way, inert.

Bach's Organ
Robin Jebavy's still life paintings, on glorious view in the Lynden Sculpture Garden gallery, are anything but inert. True, they are composed of carefully arranged tableware, mostly glass or other transparent, shiny and reflective objects. Janet Fish's paintings might, appropriately, come to mind. But what sets Jebavy's work apart is the tensions she creates between pairs of opposing principles. Transparency vies with opacity. Shape and color fight for dominance. Frenetic movement resolves towards calm. Complexity is contained by an organizing symmetry that suggests the form of a mandala without ever arriving at such specificity.

A mesmerizing amount of detail invites close scrutiny while the large scale of the overall compositions rewards a step back to take it all in, to ponder intensely.

Robin Jebavy: Recent Paintings is on view through May 31.

Lynden Sculpture Garden is at 2145 W. Brown Deer Road. More information on its website.

Full disclosure: I am currently one of the artists in residence at the Lynden Sculpture Garden.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Sense of Place at Wisconsin Lutheran College

Eddee Daniel
I am honored to be included in an exhibit at Wisconsin Lutheran College entitled "A Sense of Place." The other artists in the show are Leon Travanti, James Smessaert and Elizabeth Carr Whitmore.

The opening reception is Friday, Feb 27 from 6 - 8 pm.

Kristin Gjerdset, who heads the college's Art Department, was the curator. Here is her statement describing the show:

Wisconsin artists present their perspective on place, whether a geographical location or in the mind. Travanti’s paintings reflect his travels to Asia, inspired by “the rhythms, patterns and colors of exotically decorated people, animals and architecture.” Smessaert’s wood constructions connect with early recollections of tree and forest and “the free play of childhood that still lives within him.” Whitmore’s series of “felted wool landscapes detail her exploration through unfamiliar landscapes of Eastern Europe and South America.” Daniel’s photographs “explore the intersection of nature and humanity.”  Together the artists are represented in various art collections locally, nationally and internationally, and have years of experience in exhibitions and artist residencies.

Wisconsin Lutheran College's Schlueter Art Gallery is located at 8815 W. Wisconsin Avenue in Wauwatosa. The gallery is free and open to the public. Hours: Mon-Sat 9-9, Sun 1-9.

If you've never been to this gallery, it is beautiful and is inside the dramatic Center for Arts & Performance. I hope you'll join me for the opening.

Here are samples of each of the artists' work. Except for my own, these are details of larger works and, in my opinion, don't do them justice. When I delivered my work today I saw the others' pieces for the first time. It's a great show! I'm glad to be part of it.

Leon Travanti
James Smessaert
Elizabeth Carr Whitmore
Eddee Daniel

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Winter Carnival animates the Lynden Sculpture Garden

Giggles, belly laughs and expressions of amazement emanated from the gigantic, colorful inflated sculpture. Powered by a dozen delighted people hidden inside, the bulbous, floppy form lurched around the snowy grounds of the Lynden Sculpture Garden. The enormous interactive “sculptural event” was created, choreographed and guided by Chicago artist Claire Ashley.

Claire Ashley
Entitled “My Little Pony,” Ashley said it was loosely inspired by the famous Trojan horse. With its resemblance to circus tents and hot air balloons it was the perfect centerpiece for the Lynden’s daylong Winter Carnival on Saturday.

 A beautiful, sunny day brought out crowds of people, including many families with children of all ages. A full complement of staff and volunteers had prepared a diverse array of activities to keep everyone engaged. There were art-making projects outdoors and in the studio, face-painting, guided tree-walks, bird watching, and even a mediated cloud watching experience. People came with show shoes and cross-country skis to enjoy the grounds. In addition to Ashley, other guest artists also had been invited to create installations for the day.

Here is a photographic tour of some of the festivities and participants.

courtesy Rachel Lokken
Performance artist and current artist-in-residence Pegi Christiansen used logs, dried weeds, pinecones and other natural materials to create what she called Winter Forest.

All of the materials had been collected on the Lynden grounds earlier in the fall.

The trailer, appropriated by Christiansen for the occasion, was itself a performative sculpture called Sightseer by Brian Nigus.

Although unable to be present in person, environmental artist Roy Staab, who has participated in past Winter Carnivals, contributed a conceptual scheme for a colorful snow city.

Under the direction of Lynden volunteers, it was executed by visitors, who added snow forms onto it and joyfully colored it with powdered pigments throughout the course of the day.

Robbie, a junior at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, could be found reclining in a chaise longue overlooking the frozen pond. Passersby were invited to join him for the conceptual performance piece.

A large hand-painted representation of grocery store shelves served as an informal portrait studio as subjects posed with cut out shapes of vegetables.

 Some folks, like Todd and Aayla, took time to admire the permanent collection of sculptures. There was a “scavenger hunt” to help motivate young and old to identify the artists. This is “Pin Oak I” by John Henry.

Periodically, the huge “Trojan Horse” was tipped on its side so that a new group of game volunteers could squeeze into it through 12 openings in the bottom.

Then off they would go in a lumbering dance to music playing through loudspeakers. Ashley directed the action from the outside by pressing up against the fabric and calling out moves to those on the inside. Hilarity generally ensued. Disembodied voices were heard coming through the fabric along with laughter. “I had the craziest dream last night,” a man’s voice said, “and it turned out to be completely accurate!”

courtesy Rachel Lokken
Despite the resemblance, it was clearly more than a circus-like attraction. Enchantment led to thoughtful reflection for more than a few participants. “Talk about an immersive art experience!” exclaimed Kelly as she emerged after her stint on the inside.

Caroline, when her daughter Luca poked her head out and then squeezed back through the puckered fabric opening, said “It’s like being born again.”

After photographing the action several times I decided to holster my camera and climb inside to see it for myself. The looks on people’s faces once inside ranged from gleeful to awestruck. The fabric that had seemed opaque from the outside glowed like stained glass. Movement was tricky, requiring coordination with 11 other people and faith in those on the outside to guide our blind progress.

courtesy Rachel Lokken
In addition to “My Little Pony,” Ashley had brought along two similar but smaller, pillow-like sculptures. Meant for two individuals who would dance around or bump into each other, these were called “Double Disco.”

We ended the day by gathering around a bonfire. But, like most of the activities at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, the fire had an artistic purpose as well as a social one. Pegi Christiansen invited people to help her disassemble the “Winter Forest,” remove the branches, weeds and other natural materials from their little shelter and bring them to the fire.  

Pegi Christiansen (left)
After having been thoughtfully collected from the natural surroundings and carefully arranged into a sculpture, the collective burning had the air of ritualistic celebration.

Winter Carnival happens once a year, but the Lynden Sculpture Garden is open 6 days a week and has programming throughout the year. Check the website for more information. Full disclosure: I am one of the Lynden’s 2015 contingent of Artists in Residence. I would also like to thank Rachel Lokken, a senior at MIAD, for her assistance at this event. As indicated, some of the photos are hers.

For more images of the Winter Carnival go to my flickr album.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sneak preview: Distressed Structures – The Weathering of Ecology opens Friday at Jazz Gallery

The Riverwest Artists Association presents an exhibit called Distressed Structures - The Weathering of Ecology at its Jazz Gallery with an opening on Friday, January 23.

This group exhibit has been curated by C. Matthew Luther, MIAD instructor and newly appointed president of the Riverwest Artists Association. I have the honor of being among the five featured artists. My work includes this portrait of Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Cheryl Nenn, who will also be giving a presentation at the gallery (see below).

Here is his description of the show:

Distressed Structures is a transient glimpse at Milwaukee artists who use ecology as a literal or conceptual theme in their work. Artists around the world produce art that questions our consumer culture and ideas of the landscape. This exhibition takes a look at local artists that use nature as a form of dialogue about the human relationship to the physical, temporal, and ephemeral affects of ecology.
            On the one hand, there is certainly no shortage of picturesque landscape paintings and photographs to adorn the walls of country homes. On the other hand,  there is a continual evolution in our understanding of how we view the landscape through the lens of art and what pictures mean. We need to examine the history of nature and the history of the painted, photographed, and sculpted landscape, along with current ecological theory as one continuum. The two have become intertwined. The pictorial landscape must now position itself within not only the history of art and painting, but history itself, land use, the rise of environmentalism, sustainability, and the social value of nature.

Featured artists: Melanie Ariens, Eddee Daniel, Matthew Lee, Nathaniel Stern, Corbett Toomsen. Scroll down to see samples of each artist's work.

The exhibit runs January 23rd to Febrary 15th.

Opening Reception January 23rd, 6-9 pm.

Three community programs will be presented in conjunction with the exhibit:
Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Cheryl Nenn, Presentation Thursday January 29th at 6:30pm
Artist Panel Thursday February 5th at 6:30pm
Milwaukee Water Commons Presentation Thursday February 12th at 6:30pm

All are free and open to the public.

Untitled, Melanie Ariens
Diligent Truth, Matthew Warren Lee

Syncopated, Nathaniel Stern

Yosemite, Corbett Toomsen

Jazz Gallery is at 926 East Center Street in Milwaukee.
Gallery hours: Tue. 6 - 9 and Sat. 12 - 5.
More info at RAA.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Order and disorder: The arts go long in Boston

“Order and Disorder” is the title of a magnificent exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) featuring the peerless work of Goya. But it may as well have been a general theme for much of what we saw both there and at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). I’ll return in a moment to Goya and the MFA.

Ito wa ito Naomi Kobayashi
From the perspective of hindsight, order seems to have ruled the day, for the most part, in the ICA’s big show called Fiber: Sculpture 1960present, the museum’s first major exhibition of fiber art in 40 years. That’s because 50+ years on we as audience have grown accustomed to fiber sculptures that don’t lay flat on the wall and because fiber artists generally hew to rigorous craftsmanship even when challenging prevailing norms. But, as this exhibit demonstrates, in 1960 that idea was a radical break from tradition. Before that time fiber art was generally known as weaving or tapestry, not sculpture.

Élément spatial (Spatial Element) Elsi Giauque
According to the show’s curators, “This radical shift in fiber from wall hanging to sculpture was played out against a backdrop of social and cultural tumult—the civil rights move­ment, the women’s movement, and antiwar activism—at a time when artists were rejecting prevailing orthodoxies.” Disorder indeed.

With over 40 artists from all around the globe, I was gratified to discover that Wisconsin was represented by Sheboygan artist Jean Stamsta (who died in 2013). Her piece, called “Orange Twist” (above), was lent by the Museum of Wisconsin Art, in West Bend. The museum’s information calls her work “folksy,” whimsical and distinct from other fiber sculptors.
Carpet Style Tilework on Canvases
Tensions between order and disorder lie much closer to the surface, literally in some cases, in the work of Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão. Considered one of Brazil’s foremost artists, much of Varejão’s work deals with race, class and ethnicity.

Polvo Portraits (three paintings) and Polvo Oil Colors deal directly with ethnic identity. Polvo is a reference to skin color. The tubes of paint in the vitrine are all shades of skin colors identified with names gleaned from individual responses to census survey questions of ethnic background. Examples include “Sapecada (flirting with freckles), Café com Leite (coffee with milk) and Queimada de Sol (sun-kissed).”

This piece, entitled Folds, is one of a series where the surface of the painting, rendered to look like tile erupts with highly realistic, three-dimensional protrusions of viscera. Again, order and disorder.

Solo Goya (Only Goya)
I couldn’t possibly do justice to the Museum of Fine Arts. Even a review of the Goya exhibit will have to be far too brief, a tease really. Like many museums, the MFA has adopted a lenient stance towards photography in most of its galleries. (We have social media and the free publicity it makes possible to thank, I’m told.) However, as expected, this doesn’t extend to special exhibits and works on loan.

Time and the Old Woman
Fortunately, much of Goya’s vast oeuvre is readily available online. These few selections were all in the exhibit, which did a good job illustrating its theme of “order and disorder.” I feel fortunate to have visited the Prado and so I was prepared to enjoy revisiting works with which I was familiar. There were plenty. But I was also pleasantly surprised to see quite a few unfamiliar works, paintings and prints.

The most unexpected treat was the side-by-side comparisons of Goya’s studies (known as “cartoons”) for tapestries and the tapestries themselves. The “cartoons” were polished paintings that invariably made the tapestries look flat and ironically cartoonish.

Order was represented primarily by the many prints and paintings that Goya did of the royal family and court, such as the famous, The Parasol.

I’ve always found Goya’s many treatments of disorder far more compelling. It is hard to imagine living through the experiences he depicts so graphically, particularly his horrific Disasters of War series. Harder still to comprehend the compulsion to not only observe the atrocities but to laboriously record them, whether through drawings, paintings or the various printmaking media he employed.

The exhibit opened with selections from Los Caprichos, including his most famous from that satirical series about human folly and foible, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (top) and, tellingly, a self-portrait. Inadvertently no doubt, the exhibit also closed with what I can’t help thinking Goya would have interpreted as a contemporary example of Los Caprichos: As always in today’s hyper-marketed world, we had to “exit through the giftshop.”

In a first-ever comprehensive retrospective the MFA demonstrates that Jamie Wyeth’s professional career followed a perhaps not so surprising trajectory from order to disorder, in my opinion if not the curator’s. While the evidence for my opinion seemed manifest in the works of art, I admit I am speculating about what I interpreted as increasingly disorderly psychological states. Perhaps I was simply over-sensitized by the Goya show. In any case, Jamie, third in a distinguished line of artists, began as a chronicler of the hip and famous, including J. F. Kennedy, Andy Warhol, and (here) Nureyev.

While never renouncing the realism that may have been genetically inherited, his late works display a far looser, more painterly approach. His cycle of paintings depicting the Seven Deadly Sins using seagulls as his allegorical subjects have emotional power that transcends realism. It was a thought-provoking show.

There were Sunday Mornings
It wasn’t a complete surprise but it was certainly intriguing how seamlessly Shinique Smith’s work translates considerations of order and disorder into her distinctive contemporary style. I’ve enjoyed seeing the variety of her output over time but many of the works in this show were newer or unfamiliar.

The Power to See
The show, called BRIGHT MATTER, “surveys 30 key works from the past decade while debuting more than a dozen new pieces, including painting, sculpture, full-room installation, video, and performance.”
Breath and Line
Maybe this is a stretch, but I couldn’t help thinking that if Goya were alive today his work might look something like Smith’s.

Finally, a few random artworks that not only caught my eye and interest, but also suggest a connection with the theme of order and disorder. At least for me.

Pedro Reyes crafted a musical instrument by soldering together steel parts of weapons confiscated and destroyed by Mexican authorities.

Jeremy Deller created a spectacular video installation for the 2013 Venice Biennale. It addresses British society—its people, icons, folklore and history—conflates events from the past, present and an imagined future. I wish I could share a link to the video but the two that a Google search found had been removed from their respective sites (one being Deller’s own website.)

Okay, I suppose if Goya were alive today his work is far more likely to resemble something Anselm Kiefer would make. As with Goya, disorder tends to win out in most of Kiefer’s work. This one, called Rising, Rising, Falling Down, is a curious mix, not only of characteristically unusual materials but of disorderly content neatly framed in a glass case like one might see in a natural history museum.

This is the second in a pair of reviews from my recent trip to Massachusetts. To read the first, about MASS MoCA, clickhere.