Thursday, September 30, 2010

I live my life in widening circles

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I've been circling for thousands of years
and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?
~ Ranier Maria Rilke ~

 (Rilke’s Book of Hours:Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)

 Ich lebe mein Leben im wachsenden Ringen

Ich lebe mein leben im wachsenden Ringen,
die sich über die Dingen ziehen.
Ich werde den letzen vielleicht nicht volbringen,
aber versuchen will ich ihn.

Ich kreise um Gott, um den uralten Turm,
und ich kreise jahrtausendelang;
und ich weiß nocht nicht: bin ich ein Falke, ein Sturm
oder ein großer Gesang.

Rainer Maria Rilke (Paris, 1913)

The Andean Condor above is from my Peru project
coming to the Marion Gallery at Mt. Mary College in January.
I heard the poem recently and wanted to share it.
This being Arts Without Borders, I found it in the original German too.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Memo to Milwaukee Film: ARE YOU KIDDING!!

I suppose it could be seen as an odd kind of experiment: if the entire audience of the large central screen in the Oriental Theater were strung out in a single line, how far would it extend? Just before the doors opened at about 7:30 last night there were a thousand people lined up along Farwell to the corner of Ivanhoe Pl., all the way down to the corner of Prospect Ave. and then most of the distance to the next corner, well over halfway around the entire city block.

The crowd, all ticket-holders and therefore assured (presumably) of a seat, remained calm and good-natured about it, but cell phones were buzzing along the entire line. I guess it could also be seen as a test of Milwaukeeans' patience. One does have to wonder how it would have played out on a cold, rainy day.

Is this a measure of the festival's success or simply someone's misjudgement? Is the movie schedule too crowded to allow one audience to exit the theater in time to let a new audience in without waiting outside?

The good news for the festival is that they are selling a lot of tickets and filling the theater. The festival has endured a couple rocky years and it's great to see the enthusiasm. In order to maintain this momentum, festival organizers will have to consider how to prevent an embarrassing repeat of this situation. The good news for me was that I got in to see the movie this time (see yesterday's post.)

And it was definitely worth waiting for (in the pleasant conditions and with the cooperative crowd.) A Funny Kind of Story takes us inside a psych ward - and inside the head of Craig, the depressive main character who can't quite commit to following through with his suicidal inclinations. Vaguely reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, this is a more restrained, subtle, and introspective story. It is clever, funny, and thoughtful. Although it's been a long time since I was an adolescent myself, I could easily identify with Craig's internal confusion and tribulations. After convincing the ER doctor to admit him to the psych ward, Craig quickly decides that he's in over his head and the audience, too, is subjected to the relativity of mental distress. Craig seems so normal. (I'm crazier than him!) How many kids grow up today driven by familial and societal pressures to this malaise, this vague unease and incipient anxiety? How many of us, even as adults, need to be medicated to withstand a world full of ever-increasing pressures--to succeed, to consume, to raise healthy children, to see this show, to write about that, to do the right thing?

Again, to see more about the Milwaukee Film Festival, go to Milwaukee Film.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Kids are Alright and the Milwaukee Film Festival is even better!

At least if you go by the size of the audience it is. I guess it’s a good problem to have, though I’m not on the inside of Milwaukee Film and know little about the logistics of scheduling and less about their bottom line. What I do know is that lots of people went to the Oriental Theater Friday evening to see the festival offerings and many could not get in to see what they came for. Lynn and I went there to see Baraboo only to find ourselves at the tail end of a long rush line of people hoping that those who had the foresight to buy advance tickets wouldn’t show up to claim their seats.

Our hectic lives make it difficult to plan ahead and in the many previous years of the festival we had never been shut out of a movie before. I hope this means success for the festival. Perhaps it means they needed to book a larger venue and if they had they’d have sold more tickets.

We ended up skipping the long, futile line and seeing the one non-festival moving left playing at the Oriental, The Kids are Alright. More evidence that someone hadn’t planned the Oriental’s screening schedule with sufficient prescience came as we entered and found ourselves among eight or ten people enjoying the pre-movie organ music as it echoed in the huge, ornate, empty theater. We also discovered that this movie deserved a larger audience!

On one level, The Kids are Alright is a pretty standard comedy about two parents trying to raise two teenagers. The plot revolves around the kids’ secret decision to locate the man who had donated sperm to their mothers eighteen and fifteen years ago respectively. The story moves along a fairly predictable trajectory that includes a clandestine meeting, discovery, recriminations, jealousy, sexual shenanigans, guilt, etc. There are a couple twists I won’t reveal. A relationship-driven story like this depends upon the actors’ abilities to create believable characters and the entire ensemble is seamless. There’s the uptight, over-involved breadwinning parent, the insecure, lassez-faire stay-at-home parent, the introverted, overachieving high school graduate ambivalent about leaving the nest, and the emotionally withdrawn star athlete. Then there’s the organic food-growing, motorcycle-riding, happy-go-lucky sperm donor who drives a wedge into the familial mix with iconoclastic charm. I write this as if they’re all stereotypes, but they don’t come across that way because of the exceptional acting and honest depiction of family interactions. Annette Benning’s performance as the overwrought, overprotective doctor is especially engaging.

The thing that separates The Kids are Alright from similar stories is the fact that it is all happening to a family with two lesbian parents, played with intelligence, compassion, and gritty realism by Benning and Julianne Moore. But what is most remarkable, I think, is how completely matter-of-fact this is. How refreshing to see a story of such unself-conscious normality! Let’s hope life in the U.S. can imitate art because the kids are alright.

If you want to read more reviews of this highly rated film, go to Rottentomatoes.

To learn more about the Milwaukee Film Festival, go to Milwaukee Film.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Milwaukee Film Festival starts today!

Clear your calendar for the next week and a half. I know, it's hard. I've tried in past years with varying success. But when I made it to more movies I found it was worth it. You don't see movies like these in regular theater schedules.

Living in Tosa as I do I miss having festival movies at the Times Cinema. It would help us west siders to bring that back!

If you don't have the print version of the schedule, go to Milwaukee Film.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Revisiting Vietnam: The photography of Larry D’Attilio

“Get to know your subject” is an appropriate mantra for aspiring and veteran photographers alike. Many of the most admired photographers have been known as much for their subjects as for style, technique, or conceptual approach to the medium. Yosemite Valley belongs to Ansel Adams; the lowly green pepper became Edward Weston’s forever monumentalized icon, and although many photographers have trained their cameras on wars, none is so enduringly identified with that vast subject as Robert Capa.

If people don’t soon begin to associate contemporary Vietnam with Lawrence D’Attilio it won’t be for his lack of trying. Over the past four years, D’Attilio has traveled to that distant land many times, often spending months on location. The depth of his exposure is clearly evident in the work that is on view at Redline Milwaukee through the end of September. This is no travelogue. In fact, in this unconventional installation, with a trio of shows related only by their common subject, formal experimentation almost eclipses the artist’s mission to bring Americans up to date on this complex land. The desire to express that very complexity is what integrates three rather distinct bodies of work.

Tucked in a back corner gallery, color prints in a traditional documentary style depict entrepreneurial women who have managed to create small businesses with the aid of a microloan program. But D’Attilio is not content to show us neat rows of carefully framed images. The other two legs of this triadic exhibit have less in common with traditional photographs than with installation art in other media. Upon entering the main gallery, one is confronted first by enormous mixed media collages that the artist titles “Time for New Women.” The physicality of these pieces combined with their larger than life depictions of young Vietnamese women elevates them from commonplace portraiture; they become totemic metaphors for an ever-changing and unpredictable contemporary global culture.

The third and most unexpected component of this installation occupies the center of the gallery space. Large transparent black and white images on film are suspended from wires. They swing freely as visitors pass in between and around them. A reductive process has created stark graphic images that almost seem hand drawn. During the opening reception this installation was accompanied by a jarringly discordant sound track of music and ambient sounds of traffic recorded in streets of Hanoi. We are transported out of our normal lives to the frenetic and mysterious culture of Vietnam that shifts even as we try to make sense of it.

It is an exhibition that could be called “photography without borders” so of course I was intrigued. Redline, with its open spaces and flexible display systems, is the perfect venue for such a complex show. Vietnam, which continues to confound most Americans 35 years after the cessation of hostilities, is a challenging subject and the scope of D’Attilio’s examination of it is ambitious. Try to see it before it closes Sept. 30.

For more information go to Redline Milwaukee.

But wait…there’s more! Ambitious as this show is, D’Attilio has two additional concurrent exhibits of photography from Vietnam in the Crossman Gallery at the University of WI – Whitewater.

You can also see more of D’Attilio’s work on his website.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

War: Missing in Action? An interactive installation at Merge Gallery

The United States has been at war for nine years. But, while our tax dollars have poured into Afghanistan and Iraq and our young men and women have fought and died, for the most part, our attention has been elsewhere. I don’t believe Americans typically think about being at war on a regular basis. The evidence doesn’t support such a conclusion. Unless you have a family member or friend in the military (which I don’t), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rarely intrude on our daily lives. They show up in the news with some regularity, of course, but these are wars interrupted by commercial messages—often overshadowed by commercial messages.

Along with the general public, artists largely go on about their business despite the ongoing wars. This is true of my own art work, although I try to keep abreast of world events. However, it is emphatically not true of the two artists who collaborate on an installation at Merge Gallery in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. It is called War: Humanity in the Crosshairs. Although the show has been up since the Fourth of July—no coincidence—I just got around to seeing it last weekend. Merge occupies a small space tucked away in a second-floor corner of the Marshall Building. The walls are rough bare brick. It’s a good setting for the stark, often rough images that surround you as you enter. Rows of what appear to be heavy caliber bullets (they are really metal pressure valves) are hung from the ceiling, creating an immersive experience; one must weave around them to see the work. It is immediately clear that this is not going to be standard art gallery fare.

War: Humanity in the Crosshairs is a collaborative installation by gallery owners Valerie J. Christell and Tori Tasch. They work separately in a variety of media, but their individual contributions complement each other beautifully and create a powerful and engaging combination.

This image from the installation pairs Christell’s “Residual Pain/Mines” (top) with Tasch’s image of a World War II era pin-up girl surrounded by the scrawled musings of sailors. The latter was inspired by the artist’s recent visit to the USS Bowfin, of WWII vintage. Christell’s work relates to the current conflict and sometimes incorporates photographs taken in Afghanistan by her son. Of this and similar pairings Christell says “the similarity between the gestures of sex and death is powerful.” It is indeed and so is the total effect of the installation, which has provoked many “thoughtful conversations.” I am not surprised. Art can—and should—serve many functions. Unfortunately, in my opinion, its function as the conscience of the culture seems to have gone out of fashion. But at what cost? The Merge installation seems to have tapped into an unsated hunger. Christell shared this observation: “Over and over I hear [from visitors] that, in spite of how tough the images/concepts are, this is needed.” I agree and I applaud Merge for providing it.

The mission of Merge Gallery is “to broaden audience awareness of social issues through the blending of artistic viewpoints.” Christell and Tasch plan to present a new theme related to contemporary issues and current events every three months. I for one look forward to the next installation. We need a venue for art that tackles the tough issues.

War: Humanity in the Crosshairs will be on display through October 2. Merge is located at 207 E. Buffalo St, Suite 204. Hours are noon – 4 pm Fridays and Saturdays.

You can see more images from the show at Valerie Christell’s website.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Starving Artists smile at Mount Mary College

To misquote one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite old movies, Little Big Man—“It’s a good day to starve.” Today was one of those perfect, crisp, almost-autumn, apple-picking days when the sun melts over everyone like hot caramel. I did go apple-picking at Barthel’s farm in Mequon. Then, on my way home, I stopped at Mount Mary College to check out their Starving Artists Fair.

I’ve always worried over that name—“starving artists.” Doesn’t it sound just the teensiest bit patronizing? But it seems to work as a marketing ploy, not only for the art-buying public, but for the artists, too. I spoke with several who unanimously agreed it had been a great day. I arrived late, after the grass had been completely flattened and some of the booths stripped of their wares. Photographer Fred Fischer said I should have been here at 10 a.m. when they opened the gates. Apparently it was like opening the doors of the mall on Black Friday. Or, to outrageously mix my metaphors, like the start of the running of the bulls in a china shop!

Life imitates art?

With low booth fees and lots of sales, the artists did well. (They come from all over the state year after year; it has to be worth it.) With the maximum value set at $100, the price conscious art-buying public did well. (For the artists that’s a thankfully higher maximum than past fairs.) And with hordes of people paying $5 entry fees and buying refreshments, the college did well. Sounds like a win-win-win to me. Although, by design, this fair caters to lowest economic denominators of art (I overheard one potter confide that he brought only his ‘seconds’ along), it’s nothing to shake a rag at when art sells during a recession.

And, just as the old Indian in Little Big Man didn’t die that day, no one at Mt. Mary seems to have starved either.

Art reflects life?

If you missed this one and have a hankering to go to an art fair, you’re in luck! The Hidden River Art Festival in Brookfield is next weekend.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Christo accused of being an “eco-terrorist”

Christo is famous for wrapping both landmarks and landscapes with immense amounts of fabric. His most recent project was the widely celebrated “Gates,” for which he erected 7,500 gate-like structures draped with saffron colored curtains in Central Park, New York City in 2005. His current project, if allowed to proceed, will cover 42 miles of the Arkansas River in Colorado with a fabric “roof,” as illustrated in the design collages below. He calls it “Over the River.”

Christo doesn’t take the “if allowed to proceed” caveat lightly. In fact, much of the years of time and effort that goes into his monumental and temporary works of art are devoted to obtaining the necessary official permissions and convincing a skeptical, sometimes hostile, public that it should be allowed to proceed. Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published a story entitled “Christo vs. Colorado” about the controversy and economic implications of this project. I won’t repeat the whole story, since I’m hoping you’ll click on the link and read it for yourself.

Christo’s work is always controversial for a variety of reasons that range from politics to concerns for the environment. I find it remarkable that, aside from its staggering cost—the “Gates,” which had a two-week duration, cost $21 million—the value of the work as art is less often called into question than how much disruption it will cause. That is the case in Colorado, where, according to the article, some of the most vocal opponents live in the town of Cotopaxi (pop. 3,220) where they have a single two-lane road going in and out of town and object to the prospect of two weeks of traffic jams caused by the tourists (estimates range up to 300, 000) who will flock to the region.

In what seems to be a particularly egregious example of the hyperbolic and vitriolic extremes typical of what passes for public discourse in the U.S. today, an opposition group calling itself “Rags Over the Arkansas River” has labeled Christo an eco-terrorist. (Exhaustive environmental impact studies, along with negotiations with all sorts of regulatory agencies, are standard to his planning.)

If you are a regular reader of Arts Without Borders you may have noted that the Wall Street Journal is not my usual source of news. Someone who knows my interest in art passed it on to me. I found the article fascinating as much for what it didn’t cover as what it did. It’s a thorough and interesting account of the planning, logistics, financial considerations, and (of course) controversies that surround Christo’s work. But, except for some brief quotes by the artist himself, the reporter never describes the aesthetics of the work or offers any kind of critique of it as art. (I guess I won’t pick up a subscription.)

The article says that this “may be his last major project.” Christo is 75 and recently lost his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude. That and the long time it takes to accomplish his projects make it seem likely, unfortunately. If the residents of Cotopaxi relent, the project is expected to be erected in 2013, so hold off on reserving your tickets to Colorado.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Unofficial gallery night this Friday in Milwaukee

Officially, gallery night (and day) comes around four times a year. I enjoy gallery night, especially when the weather is good. It’s great to rub shoulders with so many folks out to see art—and in some of the busier locations I often literally do rub shoulders; it has gotten that popular. But there’s a down side to gallery night, and it’s due largely to its popularity. The art seems to be taking a back seat to the socializing.

I’m all for socializing, especially with people who like art. It beats sitting home alone—and it’s good for one’s mental health as well.

On the other hand, if you want to see art, this Friday is shaping up to be a mini gallery night, judging from the surprising number of openings. Not being an official gallery night, you’re less likely to run into the pure socialites and more likely to run into to pure art lovers.

Here are my picks for Friday, Sep. 10. There are others, but one can only do so much and I hope I make it to all of these. Unfortunately, they are all over the map! (Which will make it hard to get to them all, but is also nice to note.)

Walker’s Point Center for the Arts is having its annual membership show opening. Their website is down for some reason, but you can still get the info and address by clicking here.

Alverno College is showing Pause to See: A Photographic Journey through Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand and Ecuador by Suzanne Garr. Sounds to me like she’s covering a lot of territory there. Click here for info.

Cardinal Stritch University is hosting the “90-day lawn ornament” by Gary John Gresl. The title itself is intriguing but for anyone who knows Gary’s penchant for intricate and provocative assemblages, this sounds like a must-see. Click here for info.

There is always something happening in the Marshall Building in the Third Ward. Light Ideas Gallery is opening "The Freetimers Book of Light"—a group photography show to benefit AWE (Artists Working in Education), a great program to support! Click here for info.

If the Latino Arts Gallery at the United Community Center is not on your list of regulars, I recommend you add it. The show that opens Friday is Luis Barragán Legacy. Barragán is one of Mexico's most important architects and probably THE most important modernist. The image below is from this show. Oh, and you don't want to be late for this opening - the UCC puts out the best appetisers and they go fast! Click here for info.

Let me know where you’ll be going and I’ll try to bump into you there. (gently.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Google makes graphic design fun

It may not be Fine Art, but go to Google right now and watch what happens when you roll your cursor over the logo. (There's a reason this blog is called Arts Without Borders.) It's fun and interactive graphic design. I teach logo design and I love the way Google frequently livens their logo with designs that are not only creative and visually interesting but which often lead to something informative if you click on them. (Not today.)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Magic happens at the Lynden Sculpture Garden

Anyone who has been following Arts Without Borders knows of my fondness for sculpture parks, places with that delightful dual personality so appealing to my own dual predilections: art and the wilderness. You will also have heard of Milwaukee’s lovely example, the Lynden Sculpture Garden, which opened to the public in May. (If not, see previous post.) Well, today I learned that the Lynden Garden is not simply delightful; it is magical.

The air was fresh and the lawn soggy with last night’s rain. The brown-eyed susans and goldenrod were resplendent in that slanted glow of early morning light that is soon to be dimmed by an approaching storm. As I strolled along the edge of the pond, volley after volley of tiny frogs erupted from its grassy verge, hundreds of them plopping with tiny splashes into the water. A flock of geese flew over, circled round, and fled, for once without a sound. All the while I walked along, enchanted by the contrast of motionless sculptures and restless scenery. And that was marvelous enough, but when I reached Linda Vitamas’s installation I almost felt like I’d entered a fairy tale. (OK, now if you didn’t read my earlier review of Linda’s piece, catch up by clicking here.)

When last seen . . . (imagine a low register organ in hushed tones), meager remnants of the diminutive unfired earthenware bowls lay crumbled and slowly dissolving into the rusting steel beam on which they had been so lovingly placed. But, lo and behold…(crescendo!), they have miraculously reappeared!

If you missed the original installation—as I did—now you can see the piece as it was intended to be seen when installed. Except that there is a significant difference: the current iteration of the piece combines the new little pots—sprung up on the steel bar like mushrooms after a rain—with the last residual crumbs of the old. Most of the original pottery has returned to its earthen nature, some has washed entirely away. The new little bowls, in casual stacks, contain puddles of yesterday’s rain, the beginnings of the next cycle of decay and dissolution. “And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from,” in T.S. Eliot’s famous words.

Lovely. The artist as Tinkerbell, waves her wand and up sprout new little art forms. I’m enthralled.

But—full disclosure—I am not a dispassionate observer. (Passionate, definitely passionate!) I was on the grounds today to do my own bit of conjuring. As I reported earlier, Vitamas and Kevin Giese collaborated in an on-going project of the Garden called Inside/Outside. I am honored to have been invited to do the next installation in the series. My collaborator is Phil Krejcarek, professor of art at Carroll University, which hosted my installation last year called Accidental Art: construction fences in the landscape. Stay tuned for more details to follow, but the show, which opens Oct. 24, will involve fences and sculptures.

To see examples from Accidental Art, go to my website.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Portraits of Oaxaca at Gallery H2O

There’s something about Oaxaca, something hard to define, hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there. Oaxaca is one of those places—I’ve been to a few—where, no matter how long it’s been since your last visit, you want to go back. I’ve only been once, too long ago now, and I’ve just seen a marvelous little exhibit of photographs that reminds me that I want to go back.

Oaxaca is one of the most diverse states in Mexico, with rugged terrains, the seacoast, and ancient cultures. Textiles, ceramics, the distinctive brightly painted wood carvings, and numerous other arts and crafts make it a paradise for aesthetes like me. The food…! Don’t get me started. (Molé sauces to die for!)

Ah, but the people…. It is the beautiful Oaxacan people that Milwaukee photographer Claire Ruzicka focuses on, quite literally. Her carefully composed and exquisitely printed black and white images show the people at ease amid the bustle and patterned backgrounds of daily life. Reading from the accompanying text, I found it remarkable to learn that she had been there but a short while. The comfort that her subjects display in front of her camera usually requires the kind of bond that doesn’t happen quickly.

I happened across this exhibit at Gallery H2O in Milwaukee’s Third Ward (221 N. Water St.) when I stopped in for some of Mary’s excellent soup—the gallery’s alter ego is Soup’s On. It’s always fun to stop in and see the eclectic variety of work on the walls there. Make sure you try the homemade soup while you’re there, too! And say hi to Mary for me. Tell her Eddee sent you.

P.S. Ruzicka's photos will be on display through Oct. 8, so there's plenty of time to stop by.