Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Greetings and 2010 highlights from Arts Without Borders!

Season's Greetings!

In the spirit of the season and annual ritual of selecting highlights from the past year, I submit a few of my favorite art experiences of 2010 in chronological order, one per month starting in April when I began Arts Without Borders. May the New Year be as filled with art and creativity!

April: Nudes at MoMA: Why are we surprised?
Marina Abramović's controversial show at the Museum of Modern Art in NY

May: The opening of the Lynden Sculpture Garden.
Public opening of the formerly private Bradley Sculpture Garden in Milwaukee

June: A day in Chicago: a 3-part series.
Matisse at the Art Institute, Bearden and others at the Cultural Center, and various shows at the Smart Museum of Art

July: A visit to the Walker in Minneapolis.
Inside and outside at the Walker Museum of Contemporary Art

August: WPCA show on refugees in Milwaukee
A documentary photography project by John Ruebartsch and Sally Kuzma

September: War: missing in action?
War: Humanity in the Crosshairs at Merge Gallery in Milwaukee

October: Day of the Dead at Chicago's National Museum of Mexican Art
Some of the best ofrendas anywhere, honoring the dead; plus a second post about Milwaukee's Day of the Dead exhibits

November: Milwaukee Art Museum is "world's sexiest building"
A provocative look at the designation by VirtualTourist

December: 100 Acres of art and nature in Indianapolis
An art and nature park next to the Indianapolis Museum of Art

And in a separate category, my favorite movie of the year, hands down: Winter's Bone.
(Runners up: Black Swan and Exit Through the Gift Shop.)

The image at the top is a contemporary version of a haiga. Haiga originated in Japan where it is a hybrid form that combines a haiku with an image, traditionally an ink drawing. My humble offering shows a frosty dawn on the Rock River in Rockford, IL.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Recommended viewing: Black Swan

Witnessing madness elicits emotions that range from compassion and fascination to revulsion and horror. It is difficult to see in real life, for various reasons, and as with a physical deformity, we are socialized not to stare. Art, of course, encourages us to stare and in Black Swan, cinematic art allows us a profound view into normally private psychological depths. But do we turn from manifestations of madness in life because it isn’t polite or do we fear the erosion of our own grip on reality? In art our horror may be the result of clever direction and filmmaking, but there also may be something more elemental in our reactions. We can watch with equanimity and distance ourselves when stories put characters in dangerous situations that we don’t expect to encounter. But what if the danger lies inside ourselves?

Black Swan opened yesterday amid overwhelmingly favorable reviews (see and I am happy to add to the applause. I think it’s great! Briefly, it is a story about a dancer who seeks to play the dual parts of the white and black queens in Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky’s famous Romantic tragedy. The white queen succumbs to a spell transforming her into a swan from which she can only be rescued by true love. The prince who comes to her rescue is seduced by the evil black queen. The two characters usually are played by different dancers but the director wants to inject the familiar ballet with new drama and symbolism by adding this dramatic twist. It puts tremendous stress on the principle dancer, for each of the parts is physically demanding. But it is the psychological stresses that threaten to overwhelm the character of Nina, played brilliantly by Natalie Portman.

Black Swan plays subtly with stereotypes as well as our expectations. The dancers are jealous and ready to do whatever it takes to make the lead, including grueling workouts with over-the-hill dance coaches who have foreign accents. The director is aloof, arbitrary, and demanding. He is also sexually provocative and intimidating. Nina’s mother is overbearing and protective. But where is the line between stereotype and archetype? A lesser cinematic achievement would’ve resulted in clichés. But they are subverted in the same moment that Nina’s grip on reality comes into question. We constantly wonder what is real and what the result of her disturbed imagination.

Don’t go to see Black Swan expecting a pleasant story about ballet (and don’t take the children.) If you’ve seen Requiem for a Dream, also by the director, Aronofsky, you will have an inkling of how dark his work can be. The movie that this most closely resembles for me, however, is one that I haven’t thought about since I saw it in the 1970’s, but which came bubbling spontaneously out of my subconscious: Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. Such is the power of art to live on even beyond conscious awareness. Both movies explore psychological tensions that result from sexual repression and loss of control. Black Swan sets this tension in the maelstrom of the backstage world of top level dancers where the struggle for artistic success is relentless. It questions the price of perfection and suggests that an overzealous pursuit of art itself might lead to madness. “Is the fault, dear Brutus, in our stars or in ourselves, that we…” will not be underlings?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Help Portrait Milwaukee at St. Ben’s meal program

How revealing a turn of phrase can be! Instead of “taking” pictures, as we so commonly say, the photographers who volunteer with Help-Portrait Milwaukee give them.

Jim Stingl’s unerring eye for the human interest stories of Milwaukee landed on this one in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Read Jim’s column.

Help-Portrait was started in Nashville by Jeremy Cowart and has grown into an international project. Volunteers offer their "time, gear, and expertise" to those in need who don’t normally have ready access to photography that most of us take for granted. They shoot and then they give away the prints to their subjects.
What a fabulous idea!

The Milwaukee effort was spearheaded by Matt Heltsley and includes others who are members of CoPA, Milwaukee's Coalition of Photographic Arts. It should be mentioned – without diminishing the good work that Help-Portrait is doing there – that the people who eat at St. Ben’s have had an in house photographer for years. Leroy Skalstad takes – and gives – photographs and produces a calendar each year for St. Ben’s. (Full disclosure: although I haven’t given photographs there, I have given much time over the years as a volunteer at the St. Ben’s Meal Program. I have long appreciated the unheralded work that Leroy does there. This year's calendar sits next to my computer. I'm also a CoPA member.)

ArtsWithoutBorders salutes Help-Portrait, Leroy, and St. Ben’s!

And please check out the Help-Portrait Milwaukee website to see the wonderful people featured there. It’s bound to make you smile yourself to see their bright faces.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

100 acres of art and nature in Indianapolis

One of 15 unique benches, by Jeppe Hein

Contemplate this phrase: art and nature park. Consider how that might differ from this more common phrase: sculpture garden. At the newly opened Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park – usually referred to simply as 100 Acres – the difference is both real and, more importantly, intentional. According to their mission statement, the park’s art works and programming are “designed to strengthen the public’s understanding of the unique, reciprocal relationships between contemporary art and the natural world.” If the mission is implemented as intended, this goes well beyond the placement of art in a carefully designed landscape, which is what happens in even the best of sculpture gardens. (If you’ve been following ArtsWithoutBorders for long you know I love sculpture gardens. See links below.)

Team Building (Align) by Type A (foreground) with Park of the Laments (background)

100 Acres combines aspects of the traditional sculpture garden with aspects of the traditional nature center. The result, it can be hoped, will be anything but traditional. In fact, their mission goes on to say, they expect that some visitors will come with an aesthetic eye for art and some with a scientist’s or naturalist’s eye for the landscape. But – and this is what intrigues me most – they say that while “projects in 100 Acres will accommodate and mix these agendas in surprising ways,” sometimes the revelation will be that “the categories are artificial.” (emphasis mine.)

View of the White River

In the mid-19th century, Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School took a cue from Thoreau and the Transcendentalists. Hudson River School artists didn’t choose the landscape merely because it offered a rich source of subject matter – that had been done before. They expressed a deeply held belief in a harmony of the human with the natural world. Furthermore, their concept exceeded previous notions in Western art of this relationship to include wild nature as well as the more traditional pastoral landscape. They succeeded in breaking down a few artificial categories and pointed the way, as art can do so powerfully, towards a conservation movement that was just beginning to emerge in isolated pockets like California’s Yosemite Valley. Some of these artists became standard bearers who revealed distant wonders of the American West to an astonished public and helped convince congress to establish the world’s first national park at Yellowstone.

A section of woodland

At the beginning of the 21st century we may be at a similar nexus of understanding about our relationship with the natural world. As an artist concerned about the environment, I visited 100 Acres last weekend with great anticipation, for I believe in that power of art and I believe that we must break down the divisions that result from seeing in terms of categories. If the world needed a park like Yellowstone in the 19th century to spark the preservation movement, it needs urban parks now to bring home to city dwellers the immediacy of their relationship to the earth. Art can – and should – speak to that relationship.

Another of 15 unique benches by Jeppe Hein

I arrived the day after the first significant snowfall of the season. Light flurries softened the stark, leafless scenery. I had to imagine how beautiful it would be in the full foliage of summer, but the wintry character held its own – and I had 100 acres of woodlands bordered by the White River nearly to myself. I would have been happy even without the art. In fact, if you plan to go there just for the art you might be surprised to find so little of it. The work of eight artists is currently installed, mostly clustered somewhat randomly in one corner of the park. All are described as temporary site-specific commissions (and the park intends to proceed with a regular program of such temporary works – in contrast, once again, with the traditional sculpture garden.) However, when I think of temporary installations, nothing comes to mind like this mammoth piece, entitled Park of the Laments, by Alfredo Jaar. It is as wide as a football field, solid as the monastery walls that it evokes. Inside it has the meditative stillness of a cloister, one topped, however, not by the spires of a cathedral but the black trunks and twisted branches of winter-stripped trees all around.

Park of the Laments by Alfredo Jaar

I’ve promised myself I’d keep my posts brief, and I’m trying. I hope this teaser will encourage you to check out the website and, someday, to visit 100 Acres. Oh! I would be cruelly remiss if I didn’t add that this wonderful park is located adjacent to the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), which is definitely worth a trip in itself. They have a fairly standard, encyclopedic collection of western art – but the examples are a cut above average. I found their gallery of African art to be especially exciting. After my excursion in the park, I didn’t have time to do this collection justice, so I have two reasons to return. The other is to see what new commissions appear in 100 Acres.

Light and Space III by Robert Irwin in the escalator atrium of IMA

Related posts:

Lynden Sculpture Garden in snow – and illumination!

Good news! The Outside portions of Inside/Outside at the Lynden Sculpture Garden have been transformed by the recent snowfall and are worth a second glance (well, in my opinion!) But, there are other reasons galore to visit the gardens. The Lynden has a program this Sunday called Light Up the Garden that sounds marvelous. I plan to be there.

Oh, and Inside/Outside has been extended through January 5, so if you can’t make it this Sunday there is still time.

Click here for my previous post describing Inside/Outside.

Since I was out of town when it snowed last weekend (see my latest post on 100 Acres in Indianapolis) I had to rely on my collaborator, Phil Krejcarek, for these images.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Julien Berthier's Shipwrecked Sculpture

Have you heard the one about the sculptor who sits on his shipwrecked sailboat waiting for other boaters to come to his rescue? Only it's not a shipwrecked sailboat, but a sculpture that looks like one? It's not a joke.

Or is it?

Julien Berthier decided to make a sculpture that resembles a sailboat about to sink. As you can see from the image, it's very convincing. According to reports, when he takes his sculpture out for a ride (it is fully seaworthy and he can pilot it) he is the frequent recipient of attempts to rescue him from his distressed situation. As you can imagine.

OK, it's clever. I wonder, though, was it worth the effort? It's kind of like a very expensive and elaborate visual pun, a one-liner. Or is there something more to it that I'm missing? Is this Surrealism's postmodern offspring, something that owes a debt to Magritte? Maybe he should title it "this is not a shipwreck." Below is what it looks like in a gallery setting. Not quite the same effect.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A new book promotes pro bono architecture

Scanning quickly through a new book on architecture reveals page after page of carefully composed photographs of a wide variety of structures that are beautiful, dynamic and imaginative. In other words, the types of buildings, the excellence of design, and the quality of the presentation are indistinguishable from the many other thick surveys of contemporary architecture that proliferate in the architecture sections of bookstores. That is intentional. What sets this volume apart is its purpose and perspective. The Power of Pro Bono: 40 Stories about Design for the Public Good by Architects and Their Clients demonstrates that pro bono work can be held to the same standards as any other architecture. It highlights exemplary built projects and argues for the value—and power—of pro bono to benefit not only the public good but the architectural profession as well.

Lavezzorio Community Center, Chicago, IL
Studio Gang Architects

The book is edited by John Cary, who is the former executive director of Public Architecture. An award-winning non-profit organization, Public Architecture "acts as a catalyst for public discourse through education, advocacy, and the design of public spaces and amenities." (Full disclosure: I've known John Cary since he was in high school, when my class was his first exposure to architecture. It is truly invigorating to see how far he's taken it.)

"Pro bono" is often misconstrued to mean "for free" because the work that is done is not billed to the client (or sometimes billed at a substantial discount). Pro bono actually is short for pro bono publicum, which means "for the public good." The common conception that the service is "for free" is a product of our consumer culture, in which cost is a primary consideration. "For the public good" suggests a greater sense of social responsibility. However, this focus on the social fabric does not have to come at the expense of the bottom line. In his introduction, John Peterson, founder of Public Architecture, says that "pro bono projects routinely generate deeper client/architect relationships than conventional fee-generating work." Cary goes on to say that through their involvement in these kinds of projects architects "often find a new dimension of personal and professional purpose."

Robin Hood L!brary Initiative, New York, NY
HMA2 Architects

All architecture exists within the intertwining contexts of setting and function. It is the most social of arts and inevitably affects the public sphere. Yet, surprisingly, the profession has no historical commitment to pro bono work as does the legal profession, for example. The Power of Pro Bono seeks to change this and provides not only a rationale but cogent arguments for why such a change would benefit both the public and the profession. The many examples cited in this book and the many firms that now actively include pro bono work as a regular practice seem to indicate that the profession is ready to step up to the plate. Cary says "It turns out that pro bono work doesn't just benefit those who are served; it fortifies and inspires those who serve."

Kudos to John Cary, Public Architecture, and The Power of Pro Bono!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

New photos from the Lynden Sculpture Garden

Inside/Outside at the Lynden Sculpture Garden continues through Dec. 12. I visited yesterday and got a few more shots of the installations outside. These are just a sample. To see more, go to my flickr page.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

A day of reflection; a day of remembrance; a day of togetherness. My offering on this day: this week’s spectacular, stormy sunset on the County Grounds and an old favorite poem by Mary Oliver.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

© Mary Oliver

Monday, November 22, 2010

Project 50/50 helps the homeless

Shay Kelley is 25 and she's homeless. Instead of becoming another statistic, she chose to become an advocate for other homeless people. She's on her way to visiting all 50 states in 50 weeks, collecting food and not a small amount of attention along the way. The food she donates to shelters and food banks. The fame she uses to leverage more action to help homeless people. She has 14,000 "friends" on facebook but she insists that those numbers mean nothing if people don't DO something about homelessness.

I heard the story on NPR (gotta love those stories on NPR, hey!). Click here to check that out.

Or go to her website. She's a photographer, so the site is full of her images, which are of all kinds of things she has seen on her route through the 50 states. The two here are samples from California. Arts Without Borders salutes Shay Kelley. I predict she won't be homeless long after she finishes her project in December - though she claims she can never live a "normal" life after living in her pickup for 50 weeks. (Oh, to be 25 again!)

Yale to return artifacts to Peru

One of the more contentious and longstanding examples of what's become a common issue in the art world seems to be resolved as Yale University announced on Friday that it would return thousands of Peruvian artifacts that were taken when Machu Picchu was excavated a hundred years ago. Having witnessed sunrise from the Puerta del Sol on the Inca Trail above Machu Picchu, I freely admit to being under its influence.

Click here for the story as attributed to the Associated Press and reported on NPR. (Go NPR! Hey, I'm not biassed.)

Here's a shot from my trip in 2009. Stay tuned for my upcoming exhibit, Seeing Peru: Layered Realities, which opens January 16 at Mt. Mary College. You can see two sets of images from Peru on my flickr page.

Friday, November 19, 2010

“Venerate” at the UWM Union Gallery

Venerate: Collectors of the Human Condition opened last night at the UWM Union Art Gallery. It is a two person show of paintings, sculptures, and installation. It’s worth a visit. These snaps are a teaser, but don't do the work justice.

 Unfortunately, I came late and missed the gallery talk by Marco Zamora. Here he is next to his wall piece.

This installation of piled backpacks dominates the space and is an example of the kind of site specific installations that the Union, with its enormous ceiling height and dramatic architecture, does often and well.

An example of the lovely sculptures, inspired by hurricane Katrina, by Loren Schwerd.

This detail shows Schwerd’s incorporation of human hair into the work. See more at Loren Schwerd’s website.

Schwerd will give a gallery talk at 7 pm on Thursday, Dec. 2.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom: the depressive personality

Do you occasionally feel unaccountably ill at ease? I know I do. I usually chalk it up to the latest bad news or a low pressure system moving in with days of sunless weather. (I won’t discount the effects of the last election, but that’s not unaccountably.) Sometimes I wonder if it’s something more fundamental, but I hope it’s not in my genes.

I’ve been unaccountably content lately. Which feels good, of course, but, since I’m not certain why, I hesitate to trust it. I’m one of those who often has to work hard to see the glass half full. If it comes easily I wonder when the other shoe will drop.

I’m reading Freedom, the bestselling novel so celebrated that the author, Jonathan Franzen, made the cover of Time magazine recently and reviews bandy phrases like “great American novel” and such. I’m about a third of the way through and although the story is engrossing, my internal jury is still out; I’m not yet convinced it lives up to the hype.

But last night I came across the following passage, which struck a chord and, well, I’m hoping it doesn’t describe my personality too much! One of the main characters in the book is Richard Katz, a middle-aged musician who has been, up until this point in the story, blithely if not blissfully unsuccessful.

“Katz had read extensively in popular sociobiology, and his understanding of the depressive personality type and its seemingly perverse persistence in the human gene pool was that depression was a successful adaptation to ceaseless pain and hardship. Pessimism, feelings of worthlessness and lack of entitlement, inability to derive satisfaction from pleasure, a tormenting awareness of the world’s general crappiness: for Katz’s Jewish paternal forebears, who’d been driven from shtetl to shtetl by implacable anti-Semites, as for the old Angles and Saxons on his mother’s side, who’d labored to grow rye and barley in the poor soils and short summer of northern Europe, feeling bad all the time and expecting the worst had been natural ways of equilibriating [sic] themselves with the lousiness of their circumstances. Few things gratified depressives, after all, more than really bad news. This obviously wasn’t’ an optimal way to live, but it had its evolutionary advantages. Depressives in grim situations, handed down their genes, however despairingly, while the self-improvers converted to Christianity or moved away to sunnier locales. Grim situations were Katz’s niche the way murky water was a carp’s.”

Art imitates life – I just don’t want it to imitate my life. No, it’s not me – at least not today!

(Now, how did I get old Jim Croce’s “Workin’ at the Carwash Blues” stuck in my head?)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Beaver "art" along the Menomonee River Parkway?

It looks like art, but what do you call it if it was chewed by a beaver?

Read the story behind my discovery of this natural artist and see more pictures at Urban Wilderness.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Milwaukee Art Museum is “world’s sexiest building”

Never mind the titillating Victoria’s Secret ad that was filmed there, a website called VirtualTourist has named the curvy Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion itself as the world’s sexiest building. Which begs the question, how does one decide what makes a building sexy? Victoria’s Secret doesn’t leave that question much latitude, but architecture is another thing. Is “sexy” simply a provocative way to say “cool” or the latest in trendy design? (Some of their choices are decidedly old.) Are there formal qualities of shape and proportion that deliver innuendoes?  Or can there be something sensual about a building that actually evokes or at least symbolizes the physical attraction that “sexy” denotes?

If sensuous curves are the criteria, why Milwaukee? There are Calatrava buildings all over the world that compete with this one, along with any number by Frank Gehry, whose Disney Opera House made the list of top ten. On the other hand, if you check out the complete list you will find it includes the Sonneveld House in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, which is all straight lines and right angles. They call it the “strong silent type” but how imaginative is that? If that’s the criteria, let’s start with Mies van der Rohe's masterpiece, the Seagram Building and work our way down to a brutalist hulk like John Madin’s Central Library in Birmingham, England (below).

OK, maybe that's not very sexy, but masculine sexual metaphors are definitely in a token minority on the VirtualTourist top ten list. Curves clearly dominate. The Absolute World Towers in Missassauga, Canada (top), tall and twisty as well as curvy, are described as the “supermodel of modern architecture.” A bridge (there are two sexy bridges on the list) in Malaysia is “slinky as a screen siren…slithering across the water.” Gaudí made the list, as well he should. But Milwaukee’s Calatrava? Perhaps I’m making too much of what is no doubt a PR ploy to attract customers to its website. Maybe VirtualTourist makes a new list every year and has to come up with new choices. That could be why they choose Milwaukee over, just to pick one of Calatrava’s more outrageous designs, the Tenerife Opera House (below).

But, hey, why not Milwaukee? If sexy is in the eye of the beholder (shall we ask the Supreme Court?), then the Quadracci Pavilion can stand the scrutiny. Georgia O’Keeffe continually denied that her giant flowers were meant to be interpreted as sexual in the face of almost universal disagreement. How unlike her Calla lilies is this magnificent edifice?

(I still marvel at it every time I see this building. Not that it exists, but that it’s here, in Milwaukee!)
And thanks to Mary Louise Schumacher at Art City for bringing this to my attention!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day of the Dead at Latino Arts and Walker’s Point

As promised, I recently visited the exhibit of ofrendas at the Latino Arts Gallery in the United Community Center. Then I also visited a very similar exhibit at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts (WPCA). Although Halloween is today, the exhibits continue. I recommend them both for their devotion to the theme and the diversity of their installations.

Unfortunately, I missed the parade. But, here is my Halloween and Dia de los Muertos postcard/album from my visits. The descriptions are excerpted from exhibition text panels.

At the Latino Arts Gallery:

“Al pie de la tumba” by Emiliano Lake-Herrera

“This is a visual anthem to the intense nostalgia one experiences with the loss of a loved one.”

"La santa muerte" by Jose Chavez.
For some in Mexico the angel of death is sent by God to take you to Him. Considered a cult, la santa muerte is not sanctioned by the church, but is very much a part of Mexican lore.

Untitled mixed media painting by Luis de la Torre

Luis says he grew up Mexican in the U.S. and his work reveals “two cultures, two histories, and two distinct worlds fused together into a single enigmatic hallucination.”

 “Remember Aztecs” by students at Bruce Guadalupe Elementary School

 “Fronteras/Borders” by Ximena Soza

“Many cross the borders of the world. For some this is a nice dream; for others it is a nightmare.”

At the Walker's Point Center for the Arts:

 Although I missed the parade, I did get to hear these attractive skeletons play a lively tune, along with other performances, for the opening at WPCA. 

 Rosario Cabrera: the first female Mexican painter

Ofrenda dedicated to Cabrera made by the after-school Hands-On class at WPCA.

 Ximena Soza and Christian Munoz

Ofrenda “dedicated to the Chilean miners that for generations have opened the womb of the earth, to those who never left the mine and lived between the dirt and the metal until they died...” and “to the 33 miners who lived in the depth of the Atacama desert for 70 days and were able to be reborn…” and “to their children and grandchildren, so that they don’t have to die in any other mine to remind us that human dignity is worth more than…any metal.”

 Jose Chavez

This detail of Jose’s marvelous installation in the WPCA storefront resonated with me for what I hope is an obvious reason!

“Grandmother’s Kitchen” by Lisa Formanek and Dara Larson

“…Dedicated to the memory and importance of …the grandmother as nurturer, teacher, and keeper of family recipes….” This elaborate and intricate altar was also meant to be interactive. Visitors were invited to enter their own grandmothers’ special recipes into a handmade book. I did.

I offer these photos to provide a taste of the significance and beauty of these installations. But the images don’t do them justice. I hope you will visit and enjoy them in person.

The Day of the Dead continues through Nov. 19 at Latino Arts
and through Nov. 23 at Walker's Point Center for the Arts.
And don't forget, it also runs through Dec. 13 at the National Museum of Mexican Arts. To see my previous post about that excellent exhibit click here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Who is JR the “Photograffeur”?

Banksy, the infamous graffiti artist, inflated his notoriety with the mockumentary called “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” I found both his movie and his art intriguing (see previous post). But I just came across another elusive street artist whose work I find truly captivating. His nom de guerre is simply JR. Calling himself a “photograffeur,” he wants his art to do more than tweak the establishment. He wants to change the world with photographic graffiti. A recent body of work called “Women are Heroes” has been plastered all over trains, on rooftops, and other public places in strife-torn countries in an effort to empower women. Although trains sound like a normal place to find normal graffiti, what he does to them is so much larger and more potent it goes beyond even the advertisements that consume entire busses.

The work is incredible. I came across this one example (above) today when I opened National Geographic. But they only published this single image with little explanation, other than it being part of a “global art project.” It took a bit of searching to discover the true nature of the project. Like Banksy, his work lacks official permission and shows up in unexpected public places. Unlike Banksy, JR combines his subversive artworks with lofty humanitarian goals; he solicits help from the communities where the work will be seen; and the results combine massive appeal, powerful messages, and archetypal resonance.

And he’s being rewarded for his anonymous and illicit creations. My search for JR’s images turned up a website called the TED Prize, which gives an annual award of $100,000 to an “exceptional individual” who has an idea that can change the world. Check it out at TED Prize. Apparently JR plans to come out of the closet to accept his prize, but until now has remained anonymous despite the ambitious and collaborative nature of the work.

He does have a website. Here is how his (anonymous) bio begins:

“JR owns the biggest art gallery in the world. He exhibits freely in the streets of the world, catching the attention of people who are not the museum visitors. His work mixes Art and Act, talks about commitment, freedom, identity and limit.”

In addition to “Women are Heroes” my favorite JR intervention, called “Face2Face” is a series of monumental faces peering and grinning at passersby from the wall separating Israel from Palestine.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Not-so-accidental art at the Lynden Sculpture Garden

If you’re on my email list you already should have received an invitation from me to attend the opening of Inside/Outside, which opens this Sunday. This is a sneak preview of and brief introduction to the show, on which I collaborated with Phil Krejcarek.

If you have not seen the invitation, here are “just the facts:”

Inside/Outside: Eddee Daniel and Phil Krejcarek opening reception, 2-4 pm. Oct. 24.
The show runs through Dec. 12.

The opening is free to all. (There is normally a fee for entry. See the Lynden Garden website for details.)

The story behind this show begins several years ago when, during my Urban Wilderness book project, I discovered a 3-mile section of the Little Menomonee River that was “under construction.” Long story short, I found the construction fences that had been strung through woods and wetlands to be aesthetically arresting and conceptually engaging. I produced a series of photographs that I called Accidental Art to indicate that the visual effects created by the installation of fences were an unintended consequence of their utilitarian function. My contribution to the “inside” portion of Inside/Outside includes some of these images, but is more than a reprise of earlier exhibitions. I have continued to experiment with the fence as an aesthetic element, making compositions that are more abstract than my earlier ones. “Shroud” (above) is one example. Phil’s contribution to “inside” is a series of small construction themed sculptures.

For the “outside” portion of our show we did a true collaboration. I had previously installed orange and black construction fencing in and around a gallery exhibit of my photos in order to encourage viewers to reassess the visual impact of fences in the environment. The appeal of installing fencing in and around the sculpture garden was immediate for me and for Phil – who came up with the ideal complement to construction fences: sculptural ladder-like forms.

In order to avoid any inadvertent direct references to Christo’s ambitious earthworks, to which these installations bear superficial resemblance, our fences are intended to remain stubbornly non-sculptural, apparently utilitarian intrusions in the landscape. As such they are meant to symbolically replicate the experience I had of discovering construction fences along the river. As a contrast, both aesthetically and conceptually, Phil created stubbornly non-functional ladder-like sculptures. The orientation of these “ladders” varies with site specific intentions, some but not all of which relate directly to the fences. Among other things, the effect is intended to create tension between notions of what constitutes an art object vs. a functional object.

If you haven’t yet been to see the Lynden Sculpture Garden, which was only recently opened to the public on a regular basis, here is a good excuse to get out there. It is, of course, a premier destination for art in and of itself. If you come to the opening of Inside/Outside you get to see the incredible permanent collection too – free!

For more information about the show, go to Lynden Sculpture Garden.

To see more images of the outside installation, click here.
To read more about Accidental Art and see examples, click here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Día de Los Muertos at Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art

Detail of La Flor de Cempasúchil: Flower of the Dead

The annual exhibit of ofrendas and cultural event of el Día de Los Muertos – the Day of the Dead – opens at the Latino Arts Gallery at Milwaukee’s United Community Center this Friday. It’s my favorite Milwaukee version and I’ll be sure to see it there. I encourage you to visit if you’ve never been. Ofrendas tradionally take the form of altars and pay tribute to the lives of people who have died, usually family members. Skull and skeleton imagery abounds.

However, if you have the chance to go to Chicago anytime between now and Dec. 13, don’t miss the ofrendas at the National Museum of Mexican Art. It is the largest Día de Los Muertos exhibit in the country and the artists who create installations there often go way beyond the traditional forms. There is one tableau that fills an entire gallery with life size skeletal figures, includes a video display, and has a "ground" image with railroad tracks that visitors walk over. The displays also go beyond the traditional personal memorials to celebrate a wide variety of historical and topical themes. It being 2010, one entire room of the gallery was devoted to memorials representing the bicentennial of Mexican independence from Spain in 1810 and centennial of the Mexican revolution in 1910.

This example, called “The overlooked heroines of the Centennial and Bicentennial,” is dedicated to Mexican women who fought during the two wars.

Detail of above

This detail (below) from another one called “The Encounter of Two Worlds: Battle Scene” shows how explicit – and political – some of these displays can get.

Another room included this thoughtful homage to earthquake victims in both Haiti and Chile. It was a massive group undertaking by school children grades 1-8 at Stone Scholastic Academy, a Chicago public school.

The detail shows some of the poetry written to express the tragic loss and sympathy for the people who
have suffered. According to the display panel, the students understood that the Day of the Dead is about “rejoicing death as the second half of the journey” and that their project should be festive like a birthday party – “remembering the good of people and celebrating their entrance into a new world.”

This more traditional ofrenda (below) features La Flor de Cempasúchil: Flower of the Dead. Cempasúchil flowers have been used as offerings for centuries and symbolize the illumination of the night the way the sun illuminates the day.

And as a bonus, if you visit the museum before Nov. 28, you can also see a second exhibit called Millas y Kilómetros. This brings together the work of nine artists of Mexican descent currently working in Chiapas and Chicago. Here is just one sample by Juan Chawuk called “Migrant Nahual.”



Website links:
National Museum of Mexican Art
Latino Arts Gallery at the United Community Center

Read my post about Milwaukee's two Day of the Dead exhibits here.

P.S. I apologise if the spacing on this post looks a bit screwy. Blogger is giving me a lot of trouble (and I'm not happy about it! - is anyone at Blogger listening?!!!)